Zazie Beetz – Deadpool and “Blackwashing”

I posted this video a few weeks ago discussing the reaction people have to Zazie Beetz’s casting as Domino in Deadpool 2. Like many other videos, I emphasized the double standard present in people’s reactions to whitewashing versus “blackwashing” e.g. when a character is whitewashed, people argue that talent or marketability should trump race. If a character is blackwashed, people complain it is wrong to change the race of beloved characters and that the actor was selected only due to their race. If a white actor plays a character of colour it is because they were the most talented person to try out for the role. Vice versa, and the actor of colour was picked only due to their race. Whitewashing becomes a common sense business move, while blackwashing is just “pandering” to minorities. People tend to ignore how whitewashing also “panders” to white people, since one of the most common arguments used to defend whitewashing is that more whiteness in a film makes it more appealing to white people. Some people will even go so far as to say the film will be an economic failure if the film wasn’t whitewashed. Of course, the success of films like Straight Outta Compton disprove this theory.

I presented numerous different examples and clearly laid out how this double standard serves to reinforce the idea that white is inherently better, and the video was met with a wave of dislikes and comments where people repeatedly go back to the same double standards that I laid out in my video. One comment after another said it was wrong to change the race of characters, that the actress doesn’t look like the character etc. The video was sitting at less than two hundred views for a while but got a new influx of new viewers over the past week, leading me to believe it might have been shared on a website, or possibly got more traffic after the first picture of Beetz as Domino was released.

Keep in mind, my video came out before we got our first pic of Beetz as Domino. While some people complain about how she looks in terms of her hairstyle, clothing etc., my video was made for people criticizing the fact that a black actress got the part. This detail, along with just about all relevant details, were ignored by the people who swarmed to my video. Some even admitted they didn’t even watch the full video before commenting.

I previously discussed how the right-wing often uses the word “triggered” to criticize anyone who doesn’t endorse bigotry. Here we see triggered people who likely saw the title of my video or watched a minute of it before rushing to the comments. I have often disagreed with the views expressed in other videos, but I have never commented on a video that I didn’t bother to finish watching. If I disagreed I did not ignore every point made. I made sure I fully understood what the uploader was trying to say, because I wanted to respond with counter-arguments that actually disprove their points. My video was only five minutes long so I don’t think the issue is that my video is too long either. People simply came across something they didn’t want to hear and refused to engage with the facts I laid out, hence the repeated defferal to all of the same arguments and double standards that my video criticizes.

I pointed out the tendency for people to criticize hypothetical examples of whitewashing that they said they would criticize e.g. White Luke Cage, to take attention away from all of the real examples of whitewashing they supported.

“Ok I guess we’ll have white Blade….right? or Chinese wolverine… right?….hindu superman?….right…….. yeah… Fuck out of here!! Stick to the true origin !! fucking social justice warriors jerk offs!!”

I pointed out the tendency for people to appeal to the “colour-blind” mantra or the simplistic notion that a character should look the way they are supposed to (which also ignores all the times whitewashing was supported)

“I don’t have a single problem seeing minorities on the screen.I just wanted Domino, the character I love to be portrayed as the character I love. Very, very simple.”

I avoided appealing to emotion, and thought that a clearly laid out set of arguments and counter-arguments could break through to some people on the other side of the aisle. The only positive comments I received are ones from people who likely already shared my views.

There were some people who probably fancied themselves as enlightened and expressed less vitriol, while also displaying a stunning level of ignorance.

“And for the record, when is the last time you’ve seen anyone in this modern era “Defend whitewashing”?”

This poster could have found examples of whitewashing being defended on THE SAME VIDEO they commented on. Yet again, there is an unwillingness to engage with facts that conflict with their world view. Yes, you can find numerous articles and videos online from major publications that criticize whitewashing. The whole point of the video is that audiences react differently, e.g. the people who swarm the comment sections of those articles with comments like “political correctness”, “reverse racism” and “social justice warriors” to criticize the people who are bothered by whitewashing. This is in contrast to the comments they give in support of whitewasing such as “It’s just a movie”, “Best actor for the part, race doesn’t matter”. Now if “blackwashing” happens the comments will be swarmed with comments saying it is wrong to change the race of characters.

My mom once said you can’t have a debate with people if the ground isn’t fertile for it. This ground isn’t just infertile, it’s scorched.

Norwegian news site NKR is currently using their beta site to test a tool that makes readers take a 15 second quiz before commenting, to ensure that they actually understand the point of the article. Readers don’t have to agree, but the developers hope the quiz will give people time to calm down and ensure that they are less likely to resort to the slew of straw man arguments I see on my video. Ironically, people commenting on the NRK article also added comments that made it clear they misunderstood the purpose of the tool:

“Here we go..thought crime..three questions to make sure you agree with our angle on the story.”

Maybe it’s time to let the terrorists win.

 

Elliot Rodger

Today I was reading an article by Mark Manson, one of my favourite bloggers. The central point of the article is that the common factor in all these shootings is the lack of empathy displayed by people who should have seen it coming.

Before the vitriol pours in to my site or Mark’s, he is not saying victims are at fault. His article looks at different people who were close to the shooters, who ignored obvious signs that the shooters were mentally disturbed and seriously planned to commit violence. In the case of the Columbine shooters, some of their “friends” found the bombs they built, but thought nothing of it. Mark argues that this can ultimately be traced to a lack of empathy or outright apathy for what is going on in someone else’s life. Of course, what I am offering is a very simple thesis of the article. Do yourself a favour and read the whole thing.

Manson breaks down the different arguments brought forward after mass shootings, either as a whole or by referencing arguments used for certain killers. He does not say none of the arguments matter. In fact, he says they are part of a bigger whole. I would be missing the entire point of his article if I said that my grievances made the article invalid. However, I have to mention these arguments because they bring up common misconceptions about some mass shootings.

His first point is that the gun control argument is somewhat flawed since killers like Adam Lanza and Elliot Rodger got their guns legally. A gun control advocate wouldn’t end the argument there. A key part of gun control is arguing for the regulation of the types of funs and types of ammunition that can be sold legally,; as well as arguing for more thorough background checks. They would ask why people were able to obtain such guns so easily. Especially in Rodger’s case since he had a well documented history of mental illness.

The next point is truly the crux of my article.

Manson also argues that the attempts to label Rodger’s killings as a result of misogyny are flawed since Rodger killed mostly men. Now, Manson does later say Rodger “became a misogynist because he was a killer.” Clearly he is not rejecting the misogynist label completely. However, a quick Google search will show you many people who reject the claim of misogyny using the same logic Manson laid out originally. These thoughts are directed to those people.

You might ask why I am bothering to write about a deranged killer from 2014. I tried to understand why I felt compelled to write this too, and I think a part of it comes down to the fact that I actually read Rodger’s “manifesto”. As Manson points out, I only gave into Rodger’s delusions by doing this. I fed his ego and desire for immortality. Unfortunately, curiosity got the best of me.

It is that reading of Rodger’s “My Twisted World” that makes it clear he was a misogynist. Above all else, Rodger was sexually frustrated. At age 22, he was still a virgin and blamed his lack of success mainly on women. According to him, their brains were less developed than men’s. Hence their poor decision making abilities. If that is not misogynist, I don’t know what is.

Yes, Rodger killed men. Let’s not forget his motive though. He was angry at men as well, for having more luck with women than he did. Each man mowed down represented another man in Rodger’s life who was more successful with girls than he was.

After that, I will start luring people into my apartment, knock them out with a hammer, and slit their throats. I will torture some of the good looking people before I kill them, assuming that the good looking ones had the best sex lives. All of that pleasure they had in life, I will punish by bringing them pain and suffering. I have lived a life of pain and suffering, and it was time to bring that pain to people who actually deserve it.”

Let’s not forget that one of Rodger’s first targets was a sorority house, an embodiment of the beautiful women he resented. Due to the gated entry, he could only kill two women outside of it. He then had to find other victims.

With that point out of the way, let’s move on to the idea that Rodger was not racist since he was half-Asian, and some of his victims were Asian.

Shoes won’t help you get white girls. White girls are disgusted by you, silly little Asian.”

Rodger also says:

“Full Asian men are disgustingly ugly and white girls would never go for you. You’re just butthurt that you were born as an asian piece of shit, so you lash out by linking these fake pictures. You even admit that you wish you were half white. You’ll never be half-white and you’ll never fulfill your dream of marrying a white woman. I suggest you jump off a bridge.”

Rodger, half-Asian, posted those comments in a forum on PuaHate.com. Rodger wanted white girls only, and specifically indicates a preference for blondes numerous times in “My Twisted World”.

If you are bothered, you can find plenty of research on mixed people who express racism towards one half of their identity.

Rodger also saves some hate for black guys and Indian guys in his “My Twisted World”, expressing disgust that they can get white girls when he can’t. If you don’t want to read that, just read more forum excerpts from this article.

“Today I drove through the area near my college and saw some things that were extremely rage-inducing.

I passed by this restaurant and I saw this black guy chilling with 4 hot white girls. He didn’t even look good.

Then later on in the day I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and saw an Indian guy with 2 above average White Girls!!!

What rage-inducing sights did you guys see today? Don’t you just hate seeing these things when you go out? It just makes you want to quit life.”

Racist? I think so.

My larger point. Bigotry isn’t always simple or logical and we need to stop using elementary levels of logic to shut down discussions. Manson only used the example of Elliot Rodger as a springboard for his larger argument, but his intentionally hyperbolic statements represent the mindset of millions of people: The millions of people who think they have the world, and all of the ugliness in it, figured out.

It Trailer #2 Thoughts

 

The summer movie season is winding down, and after seeing Dunkirk, there are still a few films I am excited to see. I still need to see Baby Driver and War of the Planet of the Apes. I have some reservations about Justice League but the fanboy in me is still very excited. However, the film I am most excited about at this point is IT. 

The book is one of the first Stephen King ones that I can remember reading, and I definitely plan to re-read it before this film comes out. The book involves a group of eleven year olds known as the Losers Club: Bill, Ben, Bee, Richie, Eddie, Mike and Stan.  Together, they try to combat IT, a supernatural entity in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. IT has the ability to transform into any child’s worst fears, but often takes the form of Pennywise the Clown. The book also follows the Losers Club thirty years later, returning to Derry to combat IT again. From what I understand, a second movie will focus on the Losers Club as adults.

Cary Fukunaga, the director of the first season of True Detective, was originally slated to direct during the film’s long stay in development hell. Andres Muschietti (Mama) was finally brought on board in 2015 to give us the film we’ll see in September.

The marketing campaign has been amazing so far, preceded by promotional images and the two trailers (technically one teaser and one trailer) that preceded. Everything from the music, to the more restrained use of dialogue and images of The Losers club and Pennywise has kept the film mysterious but also interesting.

I usually avoid watching too many trailers so that I don’t spoil the film. Fortunately, this third trailer doesn’t appear to give away the film’s best moments.

We do hear Pennywise speak for the first time, “Here…take it.” His voice was one of the things that book fans speculated about most, and these few words leave me happy that Bill Skarsgard will be able to embody the role.

 

There are more shots of Pennywise this time, and some shots leaves me slightly worried about an overuse of jump scares. Most of the memorable images in the trailer come from its use of unsettling music or imagery and I believe those are always the most effective scares in horror films. Looking back on all the moments that scared me as a child, they were never jump scares. However, I don’t want to rant about jump scares too much since the editing of the trailer itself can make them appear more plentiful than they will be in the actual film.

Bill’s dialogue at the beginning of the trailer, about losing the feeling of being protected as you grow older hits close to home and is a microcosm of the book’s themes about the loss of innocence. I am sure the film will cut out the orgy (yes, really) that happens in the book so it will be great to see this theme portrayed in other ways.

Along with the scenes in the previous trailers, Bill’s lines make me less worried about the child actors’ abilities. I wasn’t worried about Finn Wolfhard specifically since I already saw him as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things. There are exceptions, but there are numerous times when child actors are either a weak link among stronger actors, or are absolutely dreadful. The Jungle Book (2016) comes to mind.

Let’s move back to the film’s most divisive element, Pennywise himself. YouTube and Instagram are littered with comments by people pining for Tim Curry’s version of Pennywise from the 1990 miniseries. This happens with pretty much every adaptation or remake. Some people didn’t want to see Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man before Amazing Spider-Man came out, some people thought no one would ever top Jack Nicholson as The Joker etc. People get attached to the adaptations they see first. Some people might grow up with Tom Holland as their first Spider-Man, and maybe they won’t want to see anyone else in the role if a new series is made twenty years from now. Likewise, this may be the first Pennywise for many people and if another IT adapdation is made in thirty years, they’ll refuse to accept another version.

I don’t like the attachment mindset, but I can understand it. What bothers me more is one of the biggest complaints brought up by Bill Skarsgard detractors. Tim Curry’s version wasn’t as faithful to the books, in terms of his look or his behaviour. He behaved like we expect a clown to. He was energetic and jovial. Lots of fans of the miniseries miss this sense of humour Curry brought to the adaptation and interpret this one as too grim or trying too hard to be scary. However, 2017’s IT (from what we see so far) is what we got in the book. There was no dancing or whimsy. Adaptations typically try to emulate their source material, not just other adaptations. The people who criticize this Pennywise for being too serious make it clear they never read the book. Also, we get little dialogue from Pennywise in the marketing so we can’t judge his level of whimsy just yet.

 

Moving on from misinformed people, I have to say that the music in the trailers continues to stand out. We get more of the creepy chimes from the first trailer, but also get the chants of “You’ll Float Too” throughout the latter half. The chants get louder as the trailer progresses, and your heart beats faster to match it. The music might not scare you per se, but it gets you excited. It’s the horror version of pump up music.

Hopefully, this trailer will be the last. At the very least it will be the last one I watch, I don’t want anything else revealed before I see IT, hopefully on opening weekend.

Dunkirk Review

I saw Dunkirk in IMAX on saturday, and after collecting my thoughts, I’m ready to share them with whoever actually reads my ramblings. I earlier stated that I hoped that this film would be a return to form for Christopher Nolan, since I didn’t like Intersetellar that much. I definitely can’t say Interstellar is a bad film, I just didn’t like it as much as his previous works. After seeing Dunkirk, Inception remains my favourite Christopher Nolan film. The Prestige and The Dark Knight might also edge out Dunkirk but it is nevertheless an engaging and brilliantly executed film.

Dunkirk is Nolan’s dramatization of the Dunkirk evacuation, where Allied Forces were trapped in northern France. Military and civilian boats were then enlisted or requisitioned to evacuate the Allied Forces to England. Dunkirk focuses on three different narratives: land, sea and air. Fionn Whitehead stars as Tommy, an army private. Tom Hardy stars as Farrier, a British pilot and Mark Rylance stars as Mr. Dawson, a civilian heading to Dunkirk. The movie cuts between the three different stories, and the stories intersect more as the film progresses. None of the characters are directly based on historical figures, but some are meant to be composites.

I hate to focus on a film’s visuals, but it must be said that Dunkirk is a beautiful film. I saw the film in IMAX on 70mm, so that probably gave an enhanced experience. Aside from the film’s clarity, it must also be praised for its cinematography and minimal use of CGI. Everything from the planes, ships, explosions etc. are all practical, or at least look like they are all practical effects. There is nothing wrong with CGI in itself, but a film like this benefits from minimal use since you want to be immersed in the history that is being depicted. Nolan succeeds in building and maintaining tension, making you as anxious as the characters as they try to survive one attack after another. Perhaps IMAX made me notice more as well, but I also have to add that the sound effects and sound mixing were masterfully done, recreating everything from the infamous sirens of the German stuka planes to the explosions that are replete throughout the film.

One criticism that has popped up when discussing the film online or with friends, is that the characters were not well-developed. Mark Rylance’s character probably gets the most back story and dialogue, but Whitehead and Hardy both have relatively sparse offerings. However, I didn’t realize this until other people pointed it out. Dunkirk was able to make me invested in characters that were not that fleshed out. The story was enough to keep me interested, and I saw each character as representative of millions of other soldiers’s fear and hopes during Dunkirk. Dunkirk is Whitehead’s debut role, and he does well with his limited time. I was pleasantly surprised by Harry Styles, who arguably steals the spotlight from Whitehead during some scenes. Christopher Nolan says he wasn’t aware of Styles’s fame before casting him and I am willing to say that all of my worries about Styles’s involvement proved to be unwarranted. Fortunately, I also didn’t have to deal with any screaming One Direction fans in the theatre. Kenneth Branagh is somewhat infamous for chewing scenery at times, but he is a stand out here in a more understated performance as Navy Commander Bolton. Cillian Murphy also deserves honourable mention as a shellshocked soldier eager to get back home. There are several other characters introduced throughout and they all form a necessary part of the film’s fabric.

A less capable director could have made Dunkirk dull and repetitive. When you really think about it, the film just depicts one attack after another, with relatively little dialogue between. However, Nolan is able to craft a story of survival that is visceral, entertaining and memorable.

The Persisting Justification of Racism

Note: Been dealing with some formatting issues on the site e..g the spacing in this article. Working on it and will hopefully have it resolved soon.

When I was younger I had stereotypical notions of Texas being the most racist state in America. The Deep South still has a terrible reputation but more recent research I’ve done on America’s racial climate brought Massachusetts, and Boston in particular, to the forefront. As I was looking through an article detailing Boston athletes’ comments on Boston’s racism, I came across this comment:

 

It is no secret that Boston has always worn the label as a racist city. A well deserved one at that. But until people STOP using labels to describe ethnic group it will never stop. And that includes all groups. The African-American community needs to stop using the N word for everything. Lose it from your vocabulary . It doesn’t help your cause when you call each that name excessively. Maybe if the word disappears some of these hateful things can be avoided. Sounds a little naïve but it has to start somewhere”
This poster is right, his comment does sound naive. I almost don’t know where to start with this comment. The article detailed several testimonials about racism athelets received in Boston stadiums and Boston as a whole during their time playing for Boston sports teams. After reading all of the experiences, all this man can say is that maybe things like this wouldn’t happen if we didn’t use the N word.
“You’re the ones we learned it from. I heard nigg** back in 1971.” (Ice Cube: ‘Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It’).
It is not like blacks historically used the N word to refer to themselves, and then white people used it to insult us. The use of the n word is a re-appropriation of a term that is still used to denigrate the black population. I have heard people arguing that the true injustice is that black people can use the term and they can’t. After all, shouldn’t we be equal?
Firstly, this argument is dripping with paternalism and condescension. Secondly, it ignores context and history. Third, I would gladly trade not being allowed to say the n word for all the benefits that come with whiteness.
On average
1) Girls are more likely to date you
2) People will be more welcoming if you move into their neighborhood
3) People will be more willing to send their kids to school with your kids
4) You will be more likely to be hired for a job (Affirmative action actually benefits white women the most)
5) Less likely to get followed when you shop
6) Less likely to get pulled over by police
7) Less likely to get killed by police
Now, if someone said I can get all that but I won’t be allowed to say the n word, I would gladly take that deal. The white people who think they are victims because they can’t say the n word, represent the true “triggered” victims they always mock. They are surrounded by benefits and privileges that make their lives easier (as a whole), but they ignore all of that and focus on things that are trivial in comparison. I remember reading a testimonial from a woman who was upset because she saw a fruit stand that had a black Jesus painted on it. She felt victimized and ranted about how black people would get upset if she put up a white Jesus at her business. I remember reading this piece as part of my research for my Master’s paper, as best I can remember it came from White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism but I may be mistaken.
This woman is blind to how white supremacy has created the popular image of white Jesus. European painters depicting Jesus in the 14-16th century were very unlikely to depict him as anything but white due to their own views on other races. Centuries later, depictions such as the Sistine Chapel still fuel the American conception of Jesus. This has been cemented by the most popular depictions of Jesus on film and on television. So, this woman ignores the dominant images of white Jesus all around her but feels the need to lash out at a fruit stand for showing something different. It is true that recently there have been more rules regarding displays of religion in some workplaces, which can sometimes affect displays of Jesus. That is not an issue of white Jesus vs Black Jesus though, it is often more of an issue of Christianity vs other religions, which is a whole other article.
Moving back to the comment that inspired this article, the poster also says that we can eradicate racism by simply getting rid of labels. It is true that the labels of “black”, “white” etc. were birthed for the purpose of creating legal and social hierarchies. Hence, the frequently cited argument that race is just a social construct. However, people are not blind. They have always noticed skin colour. The desire to create a hierarchy was a result of the idea that people with darker skin were inferior. Even in the bible, the Cushites (called Ethiopians in the King James version) are described as dark-skinned Africans.
People will still see colour if we remove the categories of race. People already factor in skin colour when deciding what areas they want to live in, who looks suspicious, and who they want to date or marry. I have a hard time believing that tendency will disappear simply because the dark-skinned folk aren’t called “black” anymore. Dating profiles will say “no dark-skinned guys” or no “guys of African descent.” People will cross the street when they see a “dark-skinned guy” approaching. You see where I’m going with this.
What truly baffles me about this post is that this poster doesn’t spout the usual “I don’t even see colour” rhetoric that I would associate with his comments. His comments on removing the categories of race displays the same naivety that the colour-blind worldview does, but he, let’s call him “Blind”, actually acknowledged that Boston is a racist city. Many people would be happy to tell the Boston athletes that the racist incidents were very isolated ones or that they brought it on themselves somehow. Blind displays some more conviction but undermines it by shifting the conversation to race labels and the black community’s use of the n word.  Although he might not mean to, he resorts to blaming the victim. It’s the equivalent of asking a rape victim how she was dressed.
Although “Blind” didn’t make this argument, his comments also reminded me of the black-on-black violence cop-out that is often used by racists to shut down discussions of police shootings of black civilians: “Well black people are killing each other all the time anyway. Maybe they should work on that first instead of race-baiting.”
White people are also killed mostly by other white people, at least in the US. The next time a black person kills a white one, can I just retort that white people are killing each other off anyway?
Even the people who can acknowledge that racism is an issue, can have backwards ideas about its causes or resolutions. I believe that part of this problem is that some white people take it personal when you discuss acts of institutional racism or individual prejudice. They hear you discuss racism and get a knee-jerk reaction to accuse you of racism, or to simply discuss how enlightened and colour-blind they are: “I don’t even see colour, you’re so racist for talking about it.”
These people will then get “triggered” if they see a movie where a white character got changed to a black one (even though this happens less than whitewashing) : “Why is Hollywood forcing diversity on us? I hate this liberal propaganda.”
Welcome to the new colour-blind era.

Dunkirk and Harry Styles

Batman Begins was my first Christopher Nolan film, a film that I later discovered marked his transition into high-budget blockbusters. The Dark Knight became one of my favourite films, thanks in large part to Heath Ledger’s performance as my favourite fictional character. Afterwards, I went back to Memento and then added Inception to my favourites list. The Dark Knight Returns and Interstellar were both disappointments, but only disappointing when compared to Nolan’s previous work.

When I heard Christopher Nolan was doing a World War II film it became one of my most anticipated films of 2017. The teaser and the subsequent trailer still managed to exceed my expectations and affirm my belief that this would be a triumphant return to form. However, I couldn’t help but detect one drop of poison in the cauldron. The YouTube comments on the trailers were hijacked by One Directioners, proclaiming their love for Harry Styles and saying that their baby better not die in the film. A co-worker mentioned that Harry Styles was in the film, but I hoped that his role was a small one that would not overshadow Dunkirk. I still don’t know how big Styles’s role as “Alex” is, but the billing online makes it seem like it is pretty significant.

Although I personally loathe (trying to cut down on the use of the word ‘hate’) One Direction I didn’t want to let that hamper my perception of Styles. I have seen actors come from unlikely backgrounds and nail major performances. At one point, people probably thought it was ridiculous that The Fresh Prince would have Oscar-nominated roles. However, the horde of One Directioners that this film is apparently attracting does bring up some concerns.

Firstly, I bet most of the One Directioners barely know anything about World War II, or even care about the story itself. They just want to see their hubby on screen. I like to think of Daisy Ridley as my wife-to-be but there is no way I would watch two hours of a story I have no interest in just to see her on screen. I have never understood this level of fan worship, and I honestly think it represents the worst of fandom. As a matter of fact, the only time I would watch a film just for an actor is if I appreciate their acting talent. I saw Shame simply because Michael Fassbender was in it, but I also had some interest in the story. As much as I love Fassbender, I still avoided Asssasin’s Creed like the plague.

An even bigger issue with Styles is that his addition in this film seems so, for lack of a better word, random. Was his audition truly so spellbinding that it beat all of the competition? There wasn’t a single other talented actor with the right age and look? A co-worker argued that must be the case if he got selected, and part of me hopes that logic holds true. Nolan isn’t Michael Bay, he doesn’t hire actors just because they’re hot or marketable. Yet why was Style’s, an unproven acting commodity, casted before actors like Cillian Murphy? I’m seeing Dunkirk on saturday and if Styles’s performance is anything short of spectacular then I will continue to wonder why I had to see him on screen, while surrounded by screaming Directioners.

Black Mirror: Men Against Fire

Note: I was out of the country for the past week, with limited wi-fi. I am back in Canada now but my schedule will still be busier than normal, likely until the end of August. With that said, I will still do my best to post three times a week.

Also, this piece has spoilers for “Men Against Fire”.

When I started watching “Men Against Fire” I thought it would end up on the bottom half of Black Mirror. The acting was some of the weakest the show’s given us in a while and I initially didn’t find the characters or the world as enthralling as the ones in preceding episodes. Initially, the story was about marines with hi-tech equipment killing zombies. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi and zombie stories but the plot was a sharp contrast to the previous episodes. However, I figured that if I can watch an episode about a man being blackmailed to have sex with a pig, I can give this episode a chance.

The end of some episodes were disappointing, such as “Playtest”, which was dulled by numerous fake-outs throughout the episode. Other preceding episodes also have great ending, especially “White Christmas” and “Shut Up and Dance”. However, those endings were paired with episodes that I found enthralling and entertaining from start to finish. The endings were brilliant, but they only helped to immortalize amazing episodes. “Men Against Fire” might rank as my favourite ending (last 20 minutes) simply due to its ability to elevate what came before it.

“Roaches”, the pale, humanoid monsters that the soldiers eliminate turn out to be humans. Their MASS implants limit their sense of smell and hearing, drowning out the smells and sounds of war. Michael Kelly is a stand out on House of Cards as Doug Stamper, and is also a stand out here as Arquette, the psychologist who shares the twisted truth with “Stripe”. As always with Black Mirror the technology itself isn’t the most interesting part of the story; the most interesting part is the human behaviour it highlights.

Arquette uses the statistic that only 15-20% of men fired their rifles at the enemy in World War II, even when under the threat of immediate danger. Although this statistic is hotly debated, a comment on this page did add that most deaths in the world wars came from artillery fire: long-range, impersonal attacks that avoided the Rambo-esque hacking and shooting of close quarters combat.  Scholarly books such as Denis Winter’s Death Men also assert that most military deaths came from artillery fire, especially during advances.

“Men Against Fire” gets more interesting after a roach shines a laser into Stripe’s eyes. It was obvious that the laser must have some impact on the plot, when Stripe’s senses were affected after being exposed to it. When Hunter and Stripe raid an apartment building there is also a blueprint of the laser in the roach nest. Some online discussion shows that plenty of people say they saw the twist coming, and then also argue that the episode is poor because of that. I have to say that a predictable twist doesn’t have to bring down an episode if it is executed well. I thought I saw a twist coming, but I actually misinterpreted what it was.

Although the roaches appearance is terrifying, you realize that they didn’t initiate an attack in the first raid. Their first instinct is to run, and the sniper who kills squad leader Medina is an exception, probably because the soldiers are closing in on their refuge. The roaches weren’t depicted as the mindless predators we’re familiar with from zombie films. They seemed like mutants trying to live peacefully. The characters frequently mention a global war that passed, and I thought the roaches were the offspring of radiation from that war. For that reason, I thought the laser was a device that was meant to make them only appear normal to others, before they were mutated.  I had an inverse understanding of the twist until it was revealed. The roaches weren’t trying to make Stripe see them as they used to be, they wanted Stripe to see him as they are.

“You see me.”: The words of a refugee on the run from a genocidal society, relieved someone finally sees her as human. The military might be the ones killing the roaches, but the general public are brainwashed to see the roaches as literal monsters. Civilians don’t have MASS implants, the roaches are just other humans to them. However, they are humans that threaten the strength and purity of humanity’s bloodline. Arquette lists a range of defects present in the roaches, from higher susceptibility to diseases, to sexual deviancy and criminal tendencies. Arquette’s speech has all the cornerstones of eugenics and racism, and Trump’s comments on hispanics sadly mirror some of the ideas that criminality is ingrained in certain people.

In the aftermath of the war, one side went through great trouble to dehumanize the other. Cockroaches or “roaches” is what the Hutus called the Tutsis leading up to the Rwandan genocide, and even more recently used by a British politician to refer to refugees. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same term is used here. Dehumanization is a key part of genocide, birthed from propaganda that makes it easier for law-abiding civilians to engage in or support violence against the other. Civilians won’t even touch the food the roaches touched simply because they don’t want to get contaminated by a lesser breed.

“Men Against Fire” transitions from a war movie, to a piece that delves into the dark corner of the human psyche where prejudice reins supreme. As Stripe stands alone outside a dilapidated, graffiti-stained house, he sees a beautiful woman waiting to welcome him to their home. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many other soldiers in this army had their memories wiped after they found out the truth.

Black Mirror: White Christmas

Picking a favourite episode of Black Mirror is a challenge. “The Waldo Moment” and “The National Anthem” aren’t contenders but there are plenty others, ranging from “Shut Up and Dance”, “Be Right Back”, to “The Entire History of You”. Among this list is “White Christmas”, which after careful consideration, I will have to say edges out the competition.

Like my post on “The Entire History of You“, I don’t want to focus on the plot itself. Black Mirror‘s central thesis is that technology can have corrosive effects on how humans interact with one another and I want to focus on how that is displayed here.

Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) is undoubtedly a highlight of the episode, a character who is both charming and repulsive at the same time. The more vile aspects of his character emerge as his story unfolds. His past-life as a wannabe dating guru seems somewhat harmless at first. As a lanky film geek, I’d probably be an easy target for his services. However, it only takes a few seconds to realize that his real-time coaching is a grave invasion of privacy. Aside from the simple act of watching, Trent’s technology (referred to as the Z-Eye) also provides him with face recognition software he can use to research anyone his clients come in contact with, allowing him to feed any pertinent information to a party crasher. It gets only worse when we realize all of the members of his class share in their peers’ experiences, including any luck they get with unsuspecting women. The date that lands Trent in legal trouble also reminds me of the few I’ve had: promising starts with catastrophic endings.

It was great to see Oona Chaplin in another role, after seeing her for the first time in Taboo. She was undoubtedly a weak link on Taboo but does a better job here, portraying Greta, a wealthy woman about to undergo surgery. Prior to her surgery, a digital copy or “cookie” of Greta is created.

This cookie is intended to control Greta’s smart house, serving the rest of its “life” performing functions such as regulating heat and displaying Greta’s schedule. As expected the cookie is reluctant to spend its life this way, but Matt’s job is to make it compliant. By manipulating the time settings in the cookie’s digital world, he is able to make the cookie “live” for months at a time, stuck in a white room with nothing but a control panel. The room itself is only a projection within the cookie, but it is Greta’s prison now.

One of the characters, “Joe” remarks that this is slavery, but Trent believes it isn’t since the cookie isn’t a real being. I have to agree with Joe on this. Any sci-fi story that deals with the issue of consciousness, with Ex-Machina being a recent example, raises the question of what makes a being conscious and the morality of keeping a conscious being captive.

Is Greta’s cookie a conscious being? Matt doesn’t think so, because she’s just a string of code. However, if we analyze consciousness the way it is analyzed in Ex-Machina, then we understand that the components of a being don’t define its eligibility for consciousness. In Ex-Machina, Caleb argues that one of the central tests for consciousness is the “chess” question. A chess computer knows the game of chess and can make good plays, but can it describe what chess is? Does it even know what chess is? Simulation vs consciousness.

This cookie, from what we understand, is mentally no different than the person it was spawned from. We see it panicking as it is extracted from Greta and Matt has to explain the nature of its creation and its assigned purpose. Essentially, a copy of Greta’s mind was grafted and planted into a different environment. Until Matt explained what she was, she thought she was a conscious human being. She may be just code, but consciousness isn’t about matter, it’s about thought.

Although the cookie is the most advanced technology we see in the episode, it is actually not what interests me most. We are probably all familiar with ghosting, the act of ending a relationship with someone by cutting off all communication without explanation. Ghosting is usually discussed in the context of romantic relationships, but can apply to anyone. Someone decides to end the relationship, but decides that they want to avoid the difficult decision, call or text required for that. Instead, they simply cut off the other person. Ghosting preceded technology such as phones and computers, and some may see it is just a new name for something old. However, I believe technology makes it easier to become disconnected from other people. We don’t have to move or  shred letters, we can unfollow, delete or block with a click. Ghosting is convenient for people who have become accustomed to hiding behind screens when they interact. It is spineless and immature, and technology only makes it easier.

When “Joe” confronts his wife about her pregnancy, she is quick to block him. She doesn’t do this on her phone or some app, she blocks his entire body using the technology her world has to offer. She sees nothing but a grey silhouette where he stands and can only hear muffled static when he speaks. When Matt’s wife is confronted with the truth of his actions, she elects to do the same thing. The people who would have previously gone for a walk or tried to avoid their spouse, instead of contronting an issue, can now feel free to block someone’s entire body. The current level of cowardice that we see doesn’t prove effective if you’re likely to see someone again at work, school etc. With the capability to block someone as we see in “White Christmas”, the ghosted may be able to see you but they can’t interact with you. When Joe confronts his wife, after she blocks him, she only walks away and then proceeds to file a restraining order. Blocking becomes legally binding and the argument that you simply wanted to be able to confront someone directly doesn’t protect you. The authorities take the side of someone who decided to block her husband because he insisted on discussing their baby with her.

I have no doubt that authorities would defend this behaviour. Ghosting is already on the rise. Find any article online that discusses it, and allows comments. You will find plenty of people criticizing the practice, but you will also find many supporting it for one reason or another. All of the positive reasons boil down to “It’s easier for me (or both of us)”. Article after article will tell you that people who get ghosted may be able to deal with a relationship ending, but hate the way that their partner decided to do it. Blocking takes ghosting to an almost sadistic level.

Speaking of sadism, “White Christmas” gives us another twisted ending. Once Joe confesses that he murdered his ex-wife’s father, the authorities decide to tamper with the time settings. Each minute becomes 1000 years to Joe’s cookie, leaving him trapped in a projection of the cabin where he committed murder. We’re already living in a society where policemen have killed civilians for a thrill, I can definitely believe law enforcement officials would take a little glee in messing with someone they view as a lowly criminal. Even better, I can believe they would punish a sex offender with not being able to interact with anyone for the rest of his life.

Black Mirror: The Entire History of You

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Black Mirror Season 1. This piece will not include full plot summaries of episodes. It is intended for those who have already seen them.

I completed watching Black Mirror two nights ago and can safely add it to the my list of favourite shows. The series is an anthology with twelve episodes, each focusing on the consequences of technology on society. With each story, the main character is challenged by a development borne from technology that is either common in their world, or is experimental. In most cases, the challenge does not truly come from the technology itself. The challenge comes from people’s misuse or exploitation of it.

Although I enjoyed most of the episodes, with “The Waldo Moment” being an outlier, I didn’t want to write about every one. The episodes that I found most interesting were the ones set in worlds the most similar to our own, e.g unlike “Fifteen Million Merits”.

With that said, I wished to discuss “The Entire History of You” first. The episode follows lawyer Liam Foxwell (Toby Kebbell), who suspects that his wife Ffion (Jodie Whittaker) is having an affair. Liam investigates his wife using the commonplace “grain”, an implanted chip that records everything its users see and hear, and makes it available for replay and display.

Many devices we have now allow us to do this, but of course they are not embedded in our bodies. The grain is used to screen passengers at airports, and it also appears that 9/11 operators rely on it to authenticate calls, as evidenced when an operator hangs up on one of the characters because she doesn’t have a grain.

The aspect of the grain that I found most interesting was how people use it while they perform certain tasks. In particular, we see Liam and Ffion having sex, while using their grains to replay memories of steamier times.

While their bodies move in a half-hearted attempt at intercourse, they both use their grains to replay sex that was probably from the honeymoon phase of the marriage. There may be many people who feel sexually unsatisfied with a partner, and the grain allows them to disconnect and relive those memories, even while they are with their partner. Like our present time, technology removes the intimacy from our encounters. I personally know people who confess that they need visual stimulation, like pornography, to get aroused for sex with a partner. Ffion’s ex-boyfriend, Jonas, openly admits to using the grain to replay or “redo” past sexual experiences so that he can masturbate to them. In a sense, past sexual experiences become the new pornography.

Don’t we all know people who spend half the time at a concert recording it instead of actually experiencing it? Or someone who can’t put their phone down for a few minutes for a conversation?I am not a luddite, but I can’t help but notice that, for some people, the visual proof of an experience becomes more important than the experience itself. We increasingly lose the ability to simply enjoy a moment.With the grain, your Instagram obsessed friend can now interrupt a conversation and use any tv screen in the room to broadcast their latest workout.

The grain also leads to more obsession with the past. Liam’s initial obsession is an appraisal at work, where he redos the moment repeatedly, analyzing the appraisers’ facial expressions and the movements of their hands to judge what they are writing down. His obsession then moves to his wife’s behaviour around her ex-boyfriend, Jonas. Liam scrutinizes and redos the way she looks at Jonas in contrast to him, the way she laughs at Jonas’s terrible jokes etc. When Ffion admits she dated Jonas only for a few months, Liam is able to search his memory archives and find Ffion saying she only dated him for a week.

We find out Liam’s suspicions were warranted. It is implied he has been suspicious for some time, and his suspicions could have led him to analyze his wife’s behaviour more, instead of suspicions arising simply due to the abilities the grain provides. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone could be led to paranoia if they were to overanalyze and replay certain parts of a conversation or encounter. People are already quick to judge their partner as a cheater or potential cheater if they go a certain length of time without responding to texts, if they seem distant one day etc. What happens if an insecure person is able to study every encounter with their partner, the same way Liam can?

“The Entire History of You” is both a story we have seen before, and one we haven’t. Infidelity plots are dime a dozen in entertainment, but Jesse Armstrong’s writing weaves in a science-fiction element to create something that is captivating, heartbreaking and maybe even relatable.

When I was looking up the episode to verify the writer’s name, I came across this review that said this episode is one of the weaker ones because the technology “wasn’t so crucial to the trajectory of the story”. I can enjoy the more technologically focused episodes like “Be Right Back” or  “Men Against Fire”, but I can still appreciate this episode. Sometimes, the best science-fiction stories are ones that only use technology as a backdrop to analyze our tendencies and behaviour. I can enjoy a story about a killer robot being sent back in time but it is also a treat to watch a story that simply asks “How would this development change how people interact with one another?”

Motion Capture

I no longer see films in theatres as much as I used to, and although I like to blame this on adulting, I believe the real culprit is the limited social circle I have where I am currently living. When most of your friends are out of town, you don’t have as many opportunities to go to the theatre. Most of my time in front of a screen is now dominated either by work, television or catching up on older movies. As a result, I sometimes lose track of upcoming releases. Logan was a dominant blip on my radar, and then Wonder Woman, Justice League and Star Wars took over.

Amidst these films I forgot about War of the Planet of the Apes. Its predecessors both exceeded my expectations, and the film’s main actor also brings me back to the character that truly birthed my love of film.

I remember seeing Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers back in 2002, and later learning that Gollum was performed via motion capture. Instead of being solely computer generated, Andy Serkis provided the movements and voice for the character, which was then edited in post production to give us one of the greatest CGI creations in cinematic history. Special effects age fast, but at the time Gollum could easily be mistaken for a real person (albeit a hideous one). Even today, Gollum still looks better than the CGI creations from more recent films.

As I look back on The LOTR trilogy, I can safely say that Gollum is one of the characters that marked my shift from a regular movie-goer to a true cinephile: The type of person that could discuss all details of a film all day. From that moment, I didn’t just talk about how attractive the actors were, like most people. I was interested in what went on behind the scenes, budgets, directors a.k.a all the details most people viewed as boring or geeky.

Andy Serkis is undoubtedly a pioneer of motion capture, which has evolved since his days on the set of Lord of the Rings. Motion capture is becoming more common in films, tv shows and even video games. Productions ranging from The Last of Us to The Revenant have utilized it to create CGI animals or characters whose movements and features are more realistic than ones we could get otherwise. Older films have used humans as props for their CGI e.g. using an actor as a prop who would then be edited in post-production. However, this form of “motion capture” mainly helped the other actor by giving them a spot to look at during filming. One infamous example is The Fellowship of the Ring using a tennis ball as a reference for the Balrog’s location. If this scene was done with true motion capture, the Balrog’s movements would be performed by a human in some form of motion capture suit, like the one scene below for The Last of Us.

Some people used to argue that voice acting isn’t real acting since it is more limited. I never believed this and viewed voice acting as a comparable, if not greater feat, since it deprives actors of the tool of body language for conveying emotions. Many actors end up doing some voice work in post-production, where they have to redo lines in a studio in order to counter all of the background noise from the production reels. In the era of motion capture, many actors become voice actors during principle filming. We don’t see them on screen, but they are the ones providing the movements and/or voice for a character. In the case of Bradley Cooper, he only does the voice for Rocket Racoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, while the director’s brother does the motions. For other productions, such as Grand Theft Auto V the actors end up doing both. Video games increasingly use motion capture and I wouldn’t be surprised if motion capture is involved in every game’s production in fifty years, if virtual entertainment doesn’t dominate by then.

War of the Planet of the Apes will undoubtedly prove to be another marvel of motion capture, just like the series as a whole.If Matt Reeves ends the series on a strong note, it will be all the proof I need that the solo Batman solo film is in good hands.