Alexandra Shipp: Blackish

The Thursday announcement that Disney has acquired 21st Century Fox properties, including X-Men, led to a lot of speculation concerning the future of the X-Men film universe. I shared some of my own thoughts on this, and while sharing the link on Twitter I came across another conversation. There were retweets all over my feed revealing one post after another arguing that Alexandra Shipp, who portrays Storm in X:Men Apocalypse and the upcoming Dark Phoenix, is too light-skinned to play Storm.

I didn’t comment on the argument at the time because I wanted to let it develop more, so that more contextual info would be available before I shared my thoughts. Two days after the conversation began, it is now easy to trace its inception.

This debate began after a fan asked Shipp if she would like Storm to meet Thor, now that the universes would likely be merged. Shipp’s enthusiastic response was then met with criticism from one fan, “Disney is re-casting the whole team, boo. Sorry. Dark Phoenix will be your last. We getting a dark skinned non-racially Ambiguous Storm like we deserve.”

Shipp then retorted:

Presumably, the debate that I viewed on Thursday originated from this exchange. It is not confirmed if Disney will start fresh with X-Men and recast after Dark Phoenix but that isn’t really the point here.

Maybe Disney will re-cast, and also usher in a jarring tone change (as I suspect). However, I don’t think that Shipp’s skin tone should be an issue central to her potential re-casting. If a darker-skinned actor takes her place I have no problem with that, but I also don’t think that Shipp’s skin tone gives us a bastardization of the character.

Shipp’s response reminds me of statements Halle Berry made concerning her own racial identity. Like Shipp, Berry is mixed and chose to identify as black from a young age, because she knew that is how the world would perceive her. For example, a white guy who says he doesn’t date black girls, would still see Berry as a black girl, instead of a white one.

While Shipp says she has never been “treated white” it is a fact that there is pervasive colourism in the world and in Hollywood. Even in Jamaica, a country that is 90% black, dark-skinned black people are performing skin bleaching to lighten their skin because they realize lighter-skin is viewed as more attractive. In other areas, such as Latin America, South East Asia and the Middle East, lighter skin is inherently viewed as more attractive than darker skin. The preference for lighter skin often coincides with a preference for other features typically associated with whiteness, such as straighter hair, thinner lips and thinner noses. Light skin goes beyond the aesthetic, becoming a marker of status and privilege due to the legacy of slavery or colonialism. For someone like Shipp, she may benefit from this colourism in some situations, while also being subjected to racism like any other black person in other situations.

There is a trend in entertainment- whether it is music videos, television or film- to cast the lightest-skinned black people possible, especially if they are love interests or eye candy. After a while it isn’t simple happenstance that most of the attractive black women in entertainment have “sun-kissed skin”, it is a deliberate choice by casting executives. They can get people who are ethnic without being “too dark”. As Viola Davis says,  there is a pervasive conception that “If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy.” Of course, Hollywood sometimes graces us with an exception, but the word “exception” means that they are a minority within a minority. I have been over the “best actor for the part” argument, and the slate of talented black actors that seemingly come out of nowhere for productions like Luke Cage and Straight Outta Compton make it clear there is plenty of black talent out there, they just need opportunities for good roles.

Respect to Bad Boys II for its dark-skinned love interest

It is possible that I am setting the bar somewhat low for Storm since I am so used to roles being whitewashed anyway. Even films based on true stories, like 21, are not safe from Hollywood’s attempts to make it more “marketable”. Storm seems like one of the few untouchable characters, and this may be why fans are even more protective when it comes to her portrayal.

There were plenty of users arguing that the discussion of whether a black actress is black enough is divisive and racist in itself. I ignored most of these comments simply because this is the same logic used to shut down any discussion of racism nowadays. You complain about white supremacist marches in Charlottesville? You’re being divisive. You complain about another unarmed black kid getting killed? You’re divisive. You complain about a public figure saying something racist? You’re divisive.

In principle, I don’t think it is racist or “divisive” to complain about an actress’s skin tone. Especially since I am sure that many of the people using this “divisive” excuse routinely defend whitewashing in films, thereby enabling racist practices in Hollywood.

Now, there are also people who understand the implications of whitewashing in film, and genuinely just believe that there is nothing wrong with Shipp’s skin tone. The character is black, and Shipp is black as well. Shipp is mixed, but Apocalypse never states that the character is mixed, and Shipp is a visibly black individual. In terms of skin colour, she may not be Viola Davis or Lupita Nyong’o, but she definitely isn’t Paula Patton or Meghan Markle either.

All of this to say that while I don’t agree with the backlash against Shipp in this case, I can understand where the detractors are coming from. If Shipp did a poor job with the role I would probably be more likely to support them. However, I thought Shipp was great as Storm. Maybe I’m not the best person to judge but her accent also seemed a lot more authentic than whatever Halle Berry tried to do in X-Men 1 (2000). Although Apocalypse was a disappointing film I was looking forward to seeing more of this iteration of Storm and I hope that if she is recast, fans don’t cheer simply because she was too light-skinned for them.

X-Men Apocalypse Review

Rating: 7/10

Feel free to check out my video review.

The critical and commercial success of Days of Future Past made it clear to everyone that Apocalypse had a lot to live up to. After seeing the film yesterday, I have to say that Apocalypse does not exceed or meet its predecessor. That is not to say the film is downright bad, but it isn’t amazing either.

Apocalypse picks up with the new timeline, following the younger versions of the X-Men. Picking up ten years later, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) now continues to grow the school with the help of Beast. Meanwhile, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) now works to bring mutants to safety, through a sort of underground railroad for mutant misfits. Erik Lensherr now leads life with a new identity in his native Poland, along with his wife and daughter. With this backdrop, comes the introduction of new mutants such as Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and a new threat.

After lying dormant for thousands of years, the world’s first mutant is revived and now seeks to create a new world order where only the strongest mutants survive.

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Firstly, I want to start off discussing the aspect of the film that bothered me most leading up to its release. The marketing emphasized Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, depicting her as this figure Beast seeks out to lead the X-Men. Especially since her role in defeating Magneto in the last film has now made Mystique a revered figure among mutants. I did like this development but it did bother me that Mystique is actually shown in her blue form for a relatively small portion of her screen time The film’s explanation is that Mystique doesn’t feel like she can no longer represent “mutant and proud” since she doesn’t believe in it anymore. . It obviously makes sense for Mystique to stay hidden when in public, but even when other mutants surround her, it is still mostly Jlaw on screen. I could not help but think Jlaw’s star power contributed to that. This thought surfaces even more since Lawrence is one of the film’s most forgettable performances, being overshadowed by McAvoy, Fassbender, Evans, Isaac etc.

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Speaking of Oscar Isaac, the makeup could be better but I did enjoy his presence on screen. He was soothing when he needed to be, then menacing and vindictive when necessary. His dialogue was great and Oscar Isaac delivered a great performance, yet I feel like the character could have been fleshed out more. Which brings me to one of my biggest criticisms.

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One of my main criticisms brings up the issues of trying to introduce numerous new characters (or versions) of characters without any previous build up. I do hate the Marvel V DC talk, but Civil War does provide a good case study. Although some characters felt tacked on, like Spider-Man, many of them did not since they were already introduced through previous films. With Apocalypse, we get a younger version of Cyclops, Storm, Jean, Nightcrawler, as well as Angel, Psylocke and Apocalypse. This is in addition to building on previous characters and relationships. As a result, some characters suffer. Psylocke literally has less than ten lines. Her and Angel were both very forgettable, getting lost in the muddle of all the other characters and relationships the film wanted to introduce or flesh out. I would have liked to see more of the Xavier and Magneto relationship, which has always been a strength of this trilogy, but that had to get pushed aside to make more room for Apocalypse. He could have used some more development too but they also needed to develop the new heroes. This issue also leads to some pacing issues that hampered the film leading up to the third act.

 

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There are some truly great scenes and set pieces. Quicksilver steals the show again, in a scene that actually manages to outdo the kitchen scene in DOFP. The scene is a huge tonal shift, switching the film from dark, to light and then back again. Yet it still works so well.

 

There is also an Auschwitz scene that was stunning and one of the film’s most emotionally powerful scenes. The third act had its own set pieces but although there was a great war raging between mutants on the field, the best part of the third act is a mental battle between Charles and Apocalypse. Even though the mental battle is more muted and slower paced than the rest of the action, it was still more exciting for me; Probably because I cared about these characters the most and because they were some of the best actors.

 

Sophie Turner does a decent job as Jean Grey, but she came across as somewhat forgettable and replaceable. Cyclops and Nightcrawler were both great additions to the new X-Men team and I am looking forward to seeing more of their characters, but yet again, they weren’t developed that well. Of course there is more room for this in future movies, but I ultimately have to judge this film as a single unit. Alexandra Shipp actually plays Storm with an African accent, and maybe people will disagree, but the accent actually sounds good to me. I thought she was pretty good in the role, but yet again, limited lines, limited development.

To end on a more positive note, the ending was perfect. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling it.

Overall, I do believe Apocalypse is worth checking out in the theater and I am glad that I saw it. However, it falls short of the high bar set by DOFP.

 

 

 

Jennifer Lawrence- The Taylor Swift Effect and X-Men Apocalypse

After this latest trailer the Suicide Squad has quickly moved to the #2 spot of my most anticipated comic book film of 2016. Deadpool is still #1 and it comes out in less than a month so Suicide Squad will occupy my #1 spot for most of the year.

X-Men’s themes of discrimination and oppression have always resonated with me and I thought X-Men Apocalypse would easily beat out Suicide Squad. I was fine with less Wolverine, and I know that many viewers (even those who loved the films) still wished they focused on Wolverine less and let other characters shine. With the exception of X3 and the Wolverine solo films, the X-Men films are some of the best comic book films to date.

Which is why it was disappointing to see the first trailer for Apocalypse and realize that Jennifer Lawrence has apparently been given a bigger role. Step aside Wolverine, make way for Mystique. I used to like Jennifer Lawrence. I enjoyed the first Hunger Games film and also enjoyed her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. As time passed though, Lawrence quickly became the Taylor Swift of Hollywood: ridiculously overrated and overexposed (in my opinion). For that reason I refuse to watch any more of the Hunger Games films, American Hustle, Joy or any other films she will appear in.

Lawrence was already an A-lister and every teen girl’s idol when the script was originally written. Therefore, I do not think it is a coincidence that the most marketable actor in the film, now has a much bigger role. This would be understandable, if the move was really necessary. X-Men First Class still managed to make a decent profit, despite the absence of the franchise’s most marketable character and actor (Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine). Additionally, Apocalypse was in a position to build off the hype of Days of Future Past instead of pandering to one actor’s fan base.

Lawrence’s acting was a weak link in Days of Future Past and the few lines in the trailer make her sound like she’s half-asleep. Hopefully they sound better in context, but if Days of Future Past is any indication, they may not. What makes Lawrence’s position even more frustrating is the fact that her character does not have to be an important figure in this storyline. First Class revamped Mystique as a central heroic figure, as opposed to a super-villain. Days of Future Past transitioned her into an anti-hero and X-Men Apocalypse could have continued by having her as a periphery figure who is deciding which side to join (Apocalypse or the X-Men). Instead, Mystique will now replace Wolverine, wasting an opportunity to develop other characters. After the cyclops we had in the original trilogy, I was hoping this film would help to flesh Cyclops out more. Instead, that might be pushed aside for more Lawrence or more Sophie Turner (Jean Grey). Turner’s few lines in the trailer make it clear she has brought her whiny Sansa Stark voice over to this film, so my hopes are not too high for her performance. Then again, we will see. Perhaps I will be proven wrong: Turner and Lawrence will be great, and all of the characters will get their chance to shine. However, I doubt it.