Imperium’s Portrayal of White Supremacists

Imperium (2016) follows Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) as he infiltrates a white supremacist group in order to prevent an act of domestic terrorism. I was originally intending to do a review of the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Radcliffe is amazing as Foster, and Toni Collette is masterful as his supervising officer, Angela Zamparo.

I decided to forgo a review and focus on the film’s portrayal of white supremacists. I tried to go to IMDB to discuss the film itself, its acting, its ending etc. However, most posters are still hung up on the film’s portrayal of white supremacists. In many ways, they come across as people offended or amused by how white supremacists are represented. Or they are simply annoyed that a film on white supremacy was made.

Imperium interested me when I first heard about the film, due to its exploration of white supremacy through the eyes of an undercover agent. I have previously discussed Imperium on this blog, since the backlash the film received was highly indicative of racism. IMDB was filled with one thread after another criticizing Hollywood for creating more “left wing propaganda” that was attacking white men and making them “feel guilty”.

White supremacists exist, and we shouldn’t be banned from showing them on screen because some insecure people might see it as a personal attack. Of course, these same people will argue that anyone who complains about negative portrayals of minorities in films are “politically correct” or “social justice warriors”. To them, it only matters if American society’s dominant group, straight white men, are depicted negatively. Imperium does not depict all white men in the film as bad guys. After all, Radcliffe’s character and his supervising officer are both white people, but the alt-right doesn’t want to see any white people portrayed negatively. Meanwhile, minorities must simply disregard every single negative portrayal of themselves since it is “just a movie”. These negative portrayals don’t make us “feel guilty” but they do bother us since we see them so often.

One of the alt-right’s most popular arguments is that Imperium should focus on more pressing issues, like Islamic extremism. Firstly, most terrorist acts in the US are committed by non-Muslim Americans. Even if Muslims were the most deadly terrorists in the US, is a film only allowed to show a fictionalized version of society’s most pressing issues? Would these same people criticize films about serial killers because most murders aren’t caused by serial killers?

Of course, there were also IMDB users who openly defend groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nation since there is nothing wrong with having white pride. Even groups that are openly racist reject the label of “racist”, which is why phrases like “I’m not racist but…” are so popular nowadays. I won’t spend anytime trying to enlighten such people.

I read American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate for a university assignment and was interested to see if this film would reflect any of the case studies explored in the book.

One key theme of the book is that white supremacists are no longer just uneducated rednecks. It is comforting to think that white supremacists all live in the back woods, but that is not fact. American Swastika explored white supremacists of varying education levels, classes and careers. Off the top of my head, one of them was a manager at a technical support company. Many of the ones studied were middle-class or upper-middle class, just like the white supremacists we see in the film. Many of the white supremacists in American Swastika were typical suburban families in many ways, which only makes them more unsettling. The whole point of the book is that someone in your neighbourhood, or maybe even your neighbour, could be a white supremacist.

There was one post on IMDB where a user criticized the film for showing a white supremacist barbecue where one of the wives was serving cupcakes decorated with swastikas.

The cupcakes might seem over the top but American Swastika describes birthday parties where parents would decorate their children’s cakes with white supremacist symbols. Homes are a “safe space” where people can invite other like-minded individuals and unabashedly embrace their views. However, it is easier to see the cupcakes and dismiss it as the work of liberals instead of realizing that such gatherings happen every year in the US. This poster obviously didn’t do his own research either. He saw the cupcakes, and assumed that they were a ridiculous Hollywood creation. Since he calls out “liberals” for their supposed mistake, we can assume he is a conservative and probably someone who was watching the movie feeling like he was personally being attacked. Therefore, he was eager to pick apart the film’s premise and portrayal of white supremacists.

White supremacists aren’t such a fanatical “lunatic fringe” any longer. They realize the importance of blending in from day to day, whether it is in the suburbs, or in a diverse urban environment. Imperium portrays them accurately and if this accurate portrayal scares you, good. It’s supposed to.

 

Alien: Covenant Trailer Thoughts

I know it’s a little late but since I’ve been thinking about it a lot, I thought I would share my thoughts on the Alien: Covenant trailer.

Prometheus was a disappointment for many people, myself included. I didn’t find it as confusing as most people did but I thought that the film did sport some weak dialogue and some poor writing. However, the performances and the visuals were great. Michael Fassbender’s role as David cemented him as one of my favourite actors and Noomi Rapace was lovely as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. With that said, I am probably more excited about Covenant than the average person.

Ridley Scott is back in the director’s chair, which probably helps to satiate a lot of fan worries. Although I am hopeful,  I also remember Exodus: Gods and Kings. That film is the best proof that a legendary director can still direct a bad film. Whitewashing aside, a lot of the writing, acting and special effects left a lot to be desired.

There was originally talk of director Neill Blompkamp (Elysium, Chappie) being signed on for a fifth Alien film, which would serve as a direct sequel to Alien: Resurrection (1997). Sigourney Weaver also confirmed that she would return as Ellen Ripley, but the project was cancelled in October 2015. Now Ridley Scott has confirmed that Alien: Covenant is the first of three planned sequels to Prometheus. Scott plans to pursue another Alien film once these sequels are completed.

With that said, a fifth Alien film likely won’t happen if Covenant or any of the sequels don’t do well enough at the box office. Michael Fassbender’s presence and my love of the Alien lore guaranteed I would be seeing Covenant anyway. This first trailer also did a great job of building my excitement.

It starts off with some of the dark (literally) imagery that is reminiscent of Alien  (1979) with its dark hallways and dim lighting, all of which help to disguise the uninvited visitor aboard the spaceship. We see Carmen Ejogo’s character pleading to be released from one of the ship’s rooms, while her roommate’s back begins to erupt in bloody fashion. There appears to be a new xenomorph type, which will burst from someone’s back instead of their chest.I knew the trailer was a red-band version but this shot still shocked me and makes it clear this film, like Prometheus, is embracing the franchise’s horror roots.

The trailer synopsis available on Wikipedia says that The Covenant is a colony ship looking for worlds to inhabit, and that David has been stranded on this world when they arrive. Fassbender also plays Walter, another synthetic (android) that arrives with The Covenant. There is no sighting of Shaw in the trailer, but she has shot scenes for the film. It is likely she could be in flashbacks or that her role is just being kept under wraps for now. Shaw and David were both headed towards the Engineer’s homeworld at the end of Prometheus, so it appears that this film takes place on the engineer homeworld or perhaps some other world that they encountered on route.

One scene that seems divisive among viewers is the trailer’s ending shower scene. While a couple are enjoying some down time together a xenomorph tail snaking between their legs, shortly before its shadow appears outside of the shower. The female of the couple is then showered in blood once the man is killed.

A lot of the criticism is due to the fact that people interpret the scene as something that doesn’t belong in a sci-fi/horror film. It’s slasher territory. I didn’t mind it though since the original Alien had some elements of a shasher film. The antagonist wasn’t a man in a hockey mask but the film did involve the population of a location being picked off one by one.

That scene also gets me thinking that James Franco may have been the one to die in that scene. The actress sprayed in blood looks like it could be Katherine Waterston, who plays Franco’s wife in the film. Franco was announced as the ship’s captain but we see Billy Crudup as the new captain in the film. He also listed as the “new captain” on Wikipedia. Franco’s death could either come before the ship lands on this new planet or perhaps Crudup gets a promotion thanks to a xenomorph. Killing off one of the most famous actors early on would mirror the surprise of Drew Barrymore being killed first in Scream (1996).

Aside from the footage, I am also happy that this film will be using more practical effects for the xenomorphs. Danny McBride has confirmed that every xenomorph is brought to life by someone in a suit, like Alien. If handled well, this can make them much more terrifying than a computer generated image. It is likely the aliens could be touched up or enhanced with CGI as well.

Speaking of McBride, I also wonder how he will handle a more serious role. His presence was one reservation coming out of this trailer. Another is an issue that people still harp on about Prometheus. A lot of people hated the fact that the ship crew seemingly made stupid decisions, such as removing their helmets on an alien planet. Dr. Holloway did this because he suspected the air inside the room was breathable, and the rest of the team followed. At the time I could understand but this trailer does bring up one of the issues of removing your helmet, even if you can breathe. A crew member steps on a plant and released black spores that travel into his ear canal.

Even though they can breathe the air, they didn’t account for alien pathogens. If the ship is specifically a colony ship then this should be a known risk. It does beg the question of why a crew wouldn’t keep their helmets on while they are still learning more about a new world.

What are your thoughts on Prometheus and Alien: Covenant?

Episode VIII

Spoilers for Rogue One and Episode VII

Rogue One is still on my mind, and feel free to check out my review. While Rogue One managed to be a prequel that had its own style, Episode VII was pretty much a remake of Episode IV. We follow a young orphan, Rey (Luke) who must come to terms with her Jedi powers and combat The First Order (The Empire). We get Kylo Ren (Darth Vader) , who is revealed to be related to one of the protagonists. We even get another death star (Starkiller base).

I discussed all the similarities with a friend and he argued that J.J Abrams would be hesitant to deviate from the original trilogy much, after the backlash that the prequels received. Episode VII played it safe, relying on the return of the old cast to generate hype and satiate the droves that turned out to see the film.

The prequels had some great moments, with Episode III being the strongest. However, the prequels left much to be desired. The performances by Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, the overuse of CGI, pod-racing etc. With that said, the prequels were not bad simply because they did something new. Rogue One is a great example of how the new star war films can respect the past and continuity, while also giving us fresh characters, locations, conflicts etc.

Kylo Ren’s character seemed like a metaphor for Abrams’s fears of not living up to the original trilogy. Ren is a character who wants nothing more than to live up to Darth Vader (the original trilogy) and is worried that he is seen as nothing but a unworthy imitation. One oft-cited piece of wisdom is that one should not try to replicate something that is deemed as great or untouchable. Sometimes, the only approach is to try something new.

Let’s hope we can see something new with Episode VIII.

Rogue One Review

After I saw Episode VII: The Force Awakens I took some time to analyze the film before launching into a  review. I was initially committed to doing the same thing for Rogue One, but since I got back I have been re-watching any scenes I can get my hands on, visiting IMDB and fighting the urge to watch Episode IV. I figured I would put this mood into something more productive.

I liked Episode VII, especially since it showed us the old cast again, but was disappointed that it was a rehash of a New Hope. Rogue One could have been a rehash as well. A prequel can seem like a money grab but the film may be my favourite Star Wars film, showing us new characters and new worlds that we don’t see anywhere else in the trilogy. Episode IV began with an opening crawl that tells us that rebels stole the plans for the Death Star, which is what led to the rebels knowing about the Death Star’s weakness.

Rogue One takes place only a few days before (with the exception of flashbacks) and tells us how the rebels acquired the plans. Firstly, I will say that the squad of new characters do not get that much development. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the central figure and gets the lion share of backstory. Diego Luna’s Captain Cassian Andor comes the closest to Erso’s level of backstory. With that said, the film still managed to make me attached to this new crop of characters. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe is sure to become a fan favourite and is one of the highlights. Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO is also a scene-stealer and is my favourite droid in the Star Wars universe. After his performance as Sonny in I,Robot it’s pretty clear that Tudyk is a chameleon. Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook and Wen Jiang’s Baze Malbus bring up the flank for our main rebels and are both highly competent in their roles, even if they may not be as memorable in comparison to their partners.

Jones and Luna both carry the film well as two morally grey characters attempting to navigate their mission. They are also supported by Ben Mendelsohn, who plays the villainous Krennic.

Krennic reports directly to Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry), which brings up one issue with the film. Peter Cushing originally played Tarkin in Episode IV but since he passed away, his face was digitally added to Henry’s body. The friend I saw the film with didn’t realize Tarkin’s face was digitally created but since I knew going in, it did bother me at times. The film did a much better job with this task than Tron: Legacy did with Clu, but it could have been improved as well. Most of the special effects in the film are amazing, with Tarkin and one scene in particular being the only stand out for subpar effects.

Forest Whitaker plays Saw Gerrera, a militant rebel who is at odds with the rest of the rebel alliance. He is also a central figure in Erso’s backstory, which makes him a pretty important character for the film. Whitaker’s performance is somewhat hampered by an accent that affects his line delivery, making some lines clunky and harder to make out. The character was also in the Star Wars: Rebels series and the character doesn’t have a similar accent in the show. With that said, I will say that the film left me wanting to find out more about the character.

Saw was involved in over a decade of combat with the empire, and this film brings some exciting combat of its own to the screen. Yen’s fight scenes are an obvious stand out but the film also creates great aerial and ground battles throughout. The last act is especially riveting and helped to clear up one of my biggest concerns about the movie.

When there was news of rewrites, it was rumoured that the rewrites were being done to lighten up the script. I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney truly did that since Thor 3: Ragnarok was changed for that same reason. The last act makes it clear that the writers didn’t care about making the film light-hearted. Since the old trilogy never showed us the characters who stole the death star plans, you can guess what happens to them. Rogue One shows us. One issue from the rewrites is that a lot of scenes appeared to have been cut. Some of my favourite shots from the trailer were conspicuously absent from the film. There may be an extended cut but it is likely that some scenes were simply removed all together.

The Death Star’s weakness has been lampooned mercilessly, but Rogue One actually clears up the reason for the weakness. Rogue One also has several easter eggs and nods to the rest of the franchise. At one point Erso bumps into the same duo who accosted Luke in the bar in The Cantina, and we see Erso’s parents drinking the infamous blue milk. By the end of the film you’ll also want to watch Episode IV since Rogue One ends right where that one starts.

Speaking of the franchise, we see its most famous character in all his glory once again. Darth Vader is in the film for less than ten minutes, but every minute is glorious. There has been some criticism online for one of his lines, which many people saw as a corny joke. Maybe I was just happy to hear James Earl Jones again, but I didn’t mind the line at all. One thing that definitely wasn’t cheesy was Vader’s final scene in the film. It is filmed like a horror movie and deftly shows why he is such a feared figure.

Rogue One may not give us the most fleshed out characters but I give the film credit for making me care about the characters anyway. I also appreciated how well it tied in with the series’ continuity. I enjoyed it from start to finish and it leaves me wanting to watch the old trilogy all over again.

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I have missed out on seeing Arrival, which was one of my most anticipated films due to the director’s previous work with Prisoners and Sicario. A big issue has been my schedule so far but I am hoping to have more free time later this month to see Rogue One, ideally during opening weekend.

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The original Star Wars trilogy wasn’t perfect by any means, with episode IV featuring some weak acting from Mark Hamill. However, his and Harrison Ford’s skills developed as the series progressed. The story was creative and executed better than the prequels, with less time devoted to a tepid love story between Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman), played terribly by both parties. The effects for the original trilogy have obviously aged, but many of them were groundbreaking for the time. With the prequels, we got cartoonish special effects in many places where sets, actors and makeup would have been better. I have no problem with special effects, but the prequels overused them and also had poorly rendered special effects in numerous places.

The special effects were much improved in Star Wars: Episode VII and the filmmakers made better use of motion capture to create more realistic CGI characters. Episode VII was also aided by better performances from its entire cast. Less Jake Lloyd, less Hayden Christensen, less Natalie Portman. Portman has been great in other roles but Star Wars was not one of them.

Getting to see the original cast and characters again was pretty much worth the price of admission for episode VII and was probably the greatest appeal. I also loved Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s performances. Kylo Ren wasn’t as great as Darth Vader but I did like him as a villain, even if he was slightly disappointing. I expected the world, and the character fell short of that, but was still a good villain. As I look back on the film, or watch parts of it on Netflix, I empathize with one of the main criticisms: It is a rehash of a New Hope. Finding a young orphan on a desert planet (Rey) who comes to grasp with her Jedi skill to help defeat an evil empire. We even got our third death star and another revelation about unexpected familial bonds.

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Once I finally quieted the fanboy in me, and looked at the film more subjectively, I was disappointed by all of the rehashed material. Rogue One could obviously end up being the same since it is a prequel, but the trailers already show us some interesting new characters and new worlds. There are also other star wars spin-offs in the works such as Han Solo, with Donald Glover cast as the lead. Initially, I saw these films as a sign of greed and excess by Disney. They still could be, and obviously money is a factor even if it isn’t the main one. After Episode VII I do appreciate the chance to see a new crop of characters, new villains, new plots and new worlds. Maybe even some heroes and villains who aren’t related to one another.

I won’t begrudge Disney their profit if they hire a team that brings new, exciting and skillfully crafted Star Wars stories to a hungry audience.

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Third Time The Charm for The Flash?

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The Flash (2018), starring Ezra Miller, was originally going to be directed by Seth Grahame-Smith. The Flash would have marked Smith’s directorial debut. Prior to his appointment as director, Smith served as a writer for the film adaptation of his novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Smith seemed like an odd choice at the time but I didn’t want to worry too much since unlikely or unknown directors have made great films previously. A great recent example are the Russo Brothers and their work with Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War.

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Smith later left the project due to unspecified creative differences in late April. Five months ago, director Rick Famuyiwa (Dope) signed on to direct. This also seemed like an odd choice, since Rick’s latest work was far removed in terms of genre and scale. However, I realized that Dope‘s tone could work very well for a Flash film. Although Barry Allen’s stories are not always light-hearted a character as people may think (e.g. Flashpoint Paradox) there is still a lot of room for humour in the series. Out of all the upcoming solo films, humour belongs in The Flash the most. The Flash was also one of my most anticipated solo films, after The Batman and Wonder Woman.

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Today, Famuyiwa also left the project due to creative differences. I am sure there are other directors out there who can step up to the plate and do a great job. Having two directors drop out is worrisome, but I am more worried about what this can indicate. BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad both suffered from changes made by Warner Bros. in post production. The uncut version of BatmanvSuperman is much more coherent, and Suicide Squad had its first hour drowned in pop songs to make it more light-hearted.

I am now worried that the creative differences in both cases were due to ideas Warner Bros insisted on; ones that will bring the final film down yet again.  I am more worried about this since the creative differences pop up months after a new director is attached. It appears WB may like their original pitch but have more grievances as more directorial decisions come to light. I respect Smith and Famuyiwa for sticking to their vision and not becoming corporate slaves who simply want to make a blockbuster film for the exposure and money. I can’t imagine how hard that decision must be.

Another troubling aspect is that The Flash is set for a March 2018 release date. 2016 is nearly over and a director is not even signed on yet. Smith’s script is still being used but filming will obviously come to a halt without a director. The film will likely need almost a year to film, plus post-production. It is likely the release date could be pushed back at this point.

Let’s hope the third director is the final one. Will the studio opt for another unknown director, an indie one, or will they try to get a bigger name? The problem is that a bigger name may wish to stay clear of a project that two directors have already left. Any director may take two directors leaving as a bad sign. Plenty of fans do and events like this are also an early Christmas present for Marvel fans trapped in the “Marvel V DC” mentality.

Let’s see what happens.

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Logan Looks Like The Conclusion Wolverine Deserves

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The final Wolverine solo film now has an official title and its first trailer. I uploaded my thoughts to YouTube yesterday, but I also wanted to discuss the trailer on the blog. Attention spans are short when it comes to blog posts, but they can actually be worse with YouTube. I try to aim to make videos less than seven minutes long so I often have to condense all my thoughts and points. The blog gives me a little more breathing room, even though there may still be plenty of people who think “TL:DR”.

Wolverine: Origins was terrible, I think most people agree with me on that. A butchered version of Deadpool is the film’s most infamous creation but there was plenty more to hate. Terrible dialogue and CGI as far as the eye can see. Let’s not forget the boxing scene with the blob.

Wolverine was an improvement, although that is not saying much. I loved the idea of wolverine losing his powers and the question that the film raises: How much suffering can one man take? However, the film is brought down by a weak third act and some weak characters. I’m looking at you Viper.

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Not only is Logan the last Wolverine solo film, it is also Hugh Jackman’s last outing as the title character. He was the first character to portray Wolverine in a live-action Hollywood film and by the time this film comes out, it will be  seventeen years (2000-2017). Hugh Jackman is a great actor and regardless of the quality of the films, I believe he has always delivered a great performance. I have no doubt he will be remembered as one of the best comic book film castings. With all that said, I am hoping this final film gives the actor and character a strong finish.

The first trailer gives me hope that my dream will come true. Director James Mangold has said that he was aiming for a Western vibe with the film, which is also aided by the song choice. Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt”, originally by Nine Inch Nails, conveys the loneliness and grief that is omnipresent in the trailer. Although we know that the film will not closely follow Mark Millar’s “Old Man Logan”, there are plenty of similarities.

In Old Man Logan, an aging Wolverine escorts a blind Hawkeye as he delivers cargo across a post-apocalyptic US that is controlled by super villains. After one coordinated attack, the super villains were able to eliminate most of the heroes. Years later, Logan has settled down with a new family with his days of heroism long behind him. His family is bullied by his landlords, inbred children of Hulk and She-Hulk, and his healing factor has greatly diminished.

In the trailer, Logan says that mutants are gone, implying that he and the Professor are the few ones remaining. We see an older, scarred wolverine who is helping an ailing Professor X transport a young girl to safety. Additionally, plot synopses do say that a group of mutant-hunting cyborgs called “Reavers” will serve as the film’s antagonists. The “Reavers” may serve as the super villains that lead to the near-extinction of mutants in this timeline.

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There is one shot of Professor X laying in bed, and another shot of Wolverine carrying someone who appears to be the Professor. With how much older Wolverine looks, the Professor is likely near the end of his days.  Additionally, the last shot in the trailer shows Wolverine holding a shovel and standing over what appears to be a grave. There is already a lot of speculation that he buried the Professor. This also seems likely since the words playing over this shot could be the Professor’s last words.

Logan also sports numerous scars, and Mangold has confirmed that this is due to Logan’s aging. Like the comic, his age is taking its toll on his body and it can’t repair itself as well as it used to.

X-23 ( a female clone of Wolverine )will likely introduced as well. From what Professor X says the young girl is “very much like” Wolverine. I already know that Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman will be great in their roles, let’s hope the actress for X23 doesn’t bring the film down. Child actors always make me wary.

We still don’t know what X-23’s purpose will be. She is clearly the person being escorted, but we don’t know for what purpose. That is fine with me. IMDB is already swarmed with people asking why Wolverine has scars, why he looks so old etc. Some people need all their answers in the trailer and seem unable to give a film a chance to answer some questions. The teaser got me excited without giving away too much. The red band trailer also showed a glimpse of the R-Rated footage that many fans have been craving. Mangold and Jackman both acknowledge the importance of ending strong so I think that we finally have a Wolverine film that will live up to the hype.

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The Power Rangers Trailer Is Not Too “Serious”, “Dark” or “Gritty”

The first trailer for the Power Rangers (2017) was released over the weekend and in short, I think it sucks. I wasn’t intending to write about the trailer at all since I was underwhelmed by it and figured that this would be another film that would come and go under the radar for me. However, a friend on Facebook linked to an article that criticizes the trailer as being too serious and dark. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know that this is one of my most hated criticisms. I always thought that the mindset that films need to be “fun” was limited specifically to comic book films, but it seems that it is becoming more widespread.

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The writer also criticizes the abundance of night-time scenes, as if she doesn’t realize that “dark” does not usually refer to the lighting, it refers to the tone. This just made me think the article is satirical, similar to The Onion. Even if the writer is joking, the comments are serious and many of them share the view that the trailer was too dark.

Nothing in this trailer struck me as being “dark” or “gritty” in any way, shape, or form.  The trailer has a Breakfast Club meets Chronicle vibe, beginning with the rangers in some sort of detention program, then cutting to them finding the rings and discovering their powers. There is grade B acting and some cheesy humour, which just makes me wonder what it takes for a film to be regarded as “fun” if it doesn’t have a Marvel logo in front of it. The trailers for Doctor Strange are much more serious than this, yet Doctor Strange doesn’t have droves of people saying that it’s too serious. Maybe the trailers need to start with the actors doing a stand up-routine, Seinfeld style.

seinfeld-plane-family-guy                                                                                                             And what’s the deal with the villain anyway?

 

I was hanging out with a friend this weekend, and he remarked that the poems on my @wmoviegrapevine Instagram account are dark and depressing. I didn’t mind him saying that, but it made me realize that I may have a different perspective than some people when it comes to my views on entertainment. Since I am used to writing dark stories, maybe I am less sensitive to “darkness” than the average person. This is a valid point but I think that some of my previous arguments about the “make it fun” mentality still stand. Everything is relative when it comes to entertainment. People see DC as dark in comparison to the MCU films, and it appears that people think this trailer is dark in comparison to the old tv show.

For anyone who remembers the tv show, or is bothered to look up a clip on YouTube, you will see that the show was ridiculously cheesy and campy. It seems like people are comparing the tone of this trailer to the tone of the show. So of course, anything that isn’t as campy will be viewed as too serious, “dark” or “gritty” in comparison. There are plenty of people complaining that the trailer doesn’t have any of the cheesiness or “fun” in the original tv show. My question is, why would you want this film to have the same cheesiness as the show? It makes me wonder if people thought Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was too dark when it came out, since it wasn’t as “fun” as the Adam West show.

We should strive to copy the same tone if it fits the story and the characters, not just because we want to copy the original. The trailer does have humour and some lightheartedness (although the dialogue and some of the acting sucks). A film as cheesy as the tv show would be horrible. People need to stop thinking that “fun” always equals good. Batman and Robin was fun too. Batman and Robin also captured the tone of the original Adam West tv show, but that didn’t mean it was the right way to go

Zootopia and Race

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Zootopia.

I remember watching the Zootopia sloth trailer in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and laughing just as hard as everyone else in the theater. However, when the release date came around I was preoccupied with the hype for BatmanvSuperman and the film slipped by my radar. Zootopia returned to my radar after hearing about its box office success, and especially after a friend gave it a glowing review.

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One of the things that my friend liked the most was how the film tackled the issue of race. He said it wasn’t preachy or overly sentimental, but worked in allegories that were easily identifiable. I remember the one he told me about was the use of the word “cute”. In the film, it is okay for bunnies to call one another cute, but it is offensive if another species uses the word. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the similarity to the word “nigga”.

Another light-hearted allegory that got my attention was a scene where Nicholas “Nick” Wilde (Jason Bateman) touches a sheep’s hair, remarking on how fluffy it is. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) then whispers that he can’t just touch a sheep’s wool. I can remember grade eight at Southbank International School in London, England. I was one of two black kids, out of a student body of at least 100, and my classmates often touched my hair. I am sure a lot of other black people, and women especially, can relate to someone treating them like an animal in a petting zoo and touching their hair without permission. I remember that a Buzzfeed article on Zootopia was filled with people arguing that this happens to anyone with curly hair. Black people, on average, are more likely to have curly or “kinky” hair so I think it is fair to say that the sheep wool can be interpreted as kinky hair.

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Aside from these smaller vignettes, Zootopia is loaded with messages of discrimination. What I like most about the film is that most of these messages or lessons don’t come from the depiction of highly vocal bigots. I have no sympathy for ignorant people but most of the discrimination in the film is presented as ingrained biases from otherwise decent people who do not seem to know any better. I have no problem with the depiction of more staunch bigotry (such as Imperium or American History X) but in this age of supposed “colour-blindness” it is important to see how people who claim to be tolerant can adopt stereotypes of other races.

Within the city of Zootopia, mammals (predator and prey) now live in harmony. The film revolves around the disappearance of fourteen mammals in Zootopia.  Their disappearance is revealed to be a move by Mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K Simmons) to hide the fact that predators are going “savage”- reverting to their desire to attack and consume prey. Co-screenwriter Jared Bush has explained that predators in Zootopia only eat plant-based proteins and insects. Going “savage” causes the animals to lose the capacity for speech and return to the predator-prey mindset. Hopps, aided by Wilde, must uncover why the animals are going savage.

Wilde’s identify as a fox gives us one of our first insights into discrimination in this fictional world. In the film foxes have a reputation for being sly and deceitful. Hopps’s parents are wary of her living among them when she leaves their farm and goes to Zootopia. They make sure to give her fox-repellent, similar to pepper spray. Although Judy criticizes their bigotry she still brings the fox-repellent with her on her first day of work. Like real-life, someone who is outwardly accepting can still be affected by stereotypes that they have picked up from the media, friends, parents etc. I have had well-meaning friends tell me I speak well for a black guy, and Hopps also applauds Nick for how articulate he is. Nick has heard the compliment before, and thanks Hopps for not being patronizing (although his tone implies that he is not truly happy to hear the compliment again).

Wilde has long been the victim of prejudice, with the most pivotal moment being an incident of childhood bullying. Wilde had hopes of being the first fox scout, but was pranked and muzzled during his supposed induction ceremony. Zootopia is founded on the idea that anyone who arrives can be anything they want to be, similar to the American Dream. However, Wilde believes that all you can really be is what’s on the outside.  He knows other people only see a fox when they look at him, so he stopped trying to be different and became a con-artist. Obviously, I am not trying to say every criminal is simply misunderstood, and I don’t think the film is either. Wilde is simply an example of someone who is disillusioned with the world’s supposed equality, which he has yet to experience.

Meanwhile, Hopps is the first bunny cop, who is enlisted as part of a Mammalian inclusion initiative. Although she is accepted, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) has little faith in her ability and assigns her to parking duty.

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Hopps and Wilde are able to form a bond over their treatment, but the bond is tested after they find the missing mammals. Hopps’s takes the stage for her first press conference, with Wilde watching close by, and is quick to reveal that all of the savage animals were predators. When probed, Hopps remarks that the predators might be returning to their old instincts. Wilde doesn’t approve of the comments, and Hopps initially dismisses him. She argues that Wilde should know she wasn’t talking about him, just “them”.

“I remember a mom of a friend of mine in the suburbs made some comment about a black person and – I had to be 12, about 60 pounds – and I said something and she said: ‘Oh no, not you. You are not black. You are great.’- Jesse Williams

That quote leapt into my mind during this scene. We end up being a “credit to our kind”, differentiated from “them”, the masses that deserve hate or mistrust.

It is later revealed that a serum, derived from a poisonous plant, is responsible for the mammals going savage. Mayor Dawn Bellwether (promoted after Lionheart is imprisoned) reveals herself as the mastermind behind the plot, aiming to use the public’s fear to eliminate the predator minority from Zootopia. Using a hitman of sorts, she was able to target predators all over the city and create an atmosphere of fear and distrust. This scheme isn’t just fiction; Donald Trump probably read an early draft of the screenplay and used it as a manual on running a Presidential campaign. As Bellwether says “Fear always works!”

I remember thinking about Zootopia unapologetically explored issues that many people are too afraid to nowadays. In many ways, this Disney film had more guts than most of the Disney produced Marvel films. There is a childhood scene where Hopps is attacked by a child fox, and when he moves to scratch her I was sure that she would be saved at the last minute somehow. Instead, we see Hopps sporting a scar on her left cheek. Life isn’t a fairy tale, and this movie isn’t afraid to let us know that. No pretty princesses, no flowery songs.  Zootopia has a great motto of equality but Hopps acknowledges it is only a motto and that the dream is a work in progress.

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The Unwhitewashing of Geek Culture

“The title of this post is in reference to this blog post I came across a few days ago. The post examines recent and upcoming instances of white comic book characters, such as Iris West on The Flash, being cast with people of colour (poc).

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The blog post has a very optimistic mindset, arguing that those who focus on instances of whitewashing are ignoring the progress being made. I disagree with the writer, but unlike some of my other posts, I don’t aim to vilify her. The idea for this blog post actually came out of our pleasant exchanges in the comment section.

Some successes do not overweigh failures in Hollywood’s casting decisions. Of course, I am happy for these successes but I believe that we can’t rely on the mindset that “things are so much better” to avoid pushing for things to be right. Of course, some progress is being made in terms of diversity in Hollywood and I am happy to see it. The author is right to say that we have come a long way but I don’t think complaints of whitewashing overshadow the positives, I think the positives overshadow the continuing legacy of whitewashing. The 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report showed that 17% of lead roles in Hollywood films go to a minority. This is despite the fact that minorities nearly make up 40% of the US population. Some may be quick to argue that there must be a shortage of actors from people of other races, but I don’t think I even have to dignify that argument with precise statistics. If there was a severe shortage of aspiring poc actors, we wouldn’t be able to make productions like The Get Down, Luke Cage and Straight Outta Compton. Not to mention a slew of diverse or minority dominated indie films like Dope. These indie films have numerous poc who wish to be on the big screen someday.

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Some may also argue that poc just aren’t as talented, but doesn’t their talent become a moot point if they are denied a role because their race isn’t viewed as marketable enough? Let’s use Ridley Scott’s Mohammad so-and-so comment to illustrate. Ridley Scott originally argued that Exodus featured a white cast since Ancient Egypt was a “confluence of cultures”. He later admitted he just couldn’t cast Mohammad so-and-so to get a film financed.  Very few people will deny that Hollywood favours white people for roles. They just find ways to defend it: “best actor for the part, race doesn’t matter” “It’s not about race, it’s about being relatable and marketable”. Yet if a character that is supposed to white is played by a poc then it is “reverse racism” “political correctness” or a “liberal agenda”. I have already discussed this blatant double standard in depth in two articles.

With those two arguments out of the way, I wanted to discuss the part of my conversation with the blogger that interested me most. I do enjoy my ongoing discussion with the blogger so yet again, this isn’t meant to vilify her. However, our discussion brought up a very important misconception about America that fuels Hollywood’s casting decisions, and is also created by them. The blogger used the oft-cited argument that whitewashing is about “relatability”- creating characters people can identify with. Firstly, this argument assumes that someone must be of the same race for you to relate to them. It is possible to relate to someone’s motivations, upbringing, struggles etc. if you are not of the same race. Why does Hollywood and members of its audience think that people can care about robots and talking animals, but not care about poc? Next, you don’t have to be able to relate to a character to care about them. Also, poc are meant to care about characters that are a different race and would likely be considered racist if they skipped out on a movie because it had too many white people. Main point: Hollywood creates the idea that whiteness is universal. Everyone will go to see white people, but only blacks will see blacks, Asians will see Asians etc.

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If someone needs to look like you to be “relatable” or marketable why was this movie so successful?

Once I responded with these facts, the blogger then brought up the misconception. When I referred to movies with mostly poc casts, she assumed I meant foreign ones; arguing that their lack of popularity is more related to the influence of their respective industries, which will likely pale in comparison to Hollywood. I was talking about American productions, like the ones I mentioned above. Hollywood has, for the most part, presented a very white America. Obviously there are prominent poc actors, but compare their numbers to the prominent white ones. Although people always deny the societal impact of films, films are shown to have a significant impact on how people view a certain city, region, country etc.

https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/portrayal.htm

“Considerable public concern has arisen over the issue of media diversity, as it is generally accepted that mass media has strong social and psychological effects on viewers. Film and television, for example, provide many children with their first exposure to people of other races, ethnicities, religions and cultures. What they see onscreen, therefore, can impact their attitudes about the treatment of others. One study found, for instance, that two years of viewing Sesame Street by European-American preschoolers was associated with more positive attitudes toward African and Latino Americans. Another study found that white children exposed to a negative television portrayal of African-Americans had a negative change in attitude toward blacks. (Diversity in film and television: MediaScope)”

People may be quick to argue that they are much less impressionable than children but ask yourself honestly: Has the depiction of a certain area on tv or in a movie, ever affected your perception of the area, whether it be the demographics or crime of that region? I have heard plenty of friends complain of a region being depicted as too diverse, too crime-ridden and so on. People do notice these things and I don’t believe it is a stretch to say that someone who is unfamiliar with an area can form an impression of it from films. This blogger is likely American and also is not white, so she likely knows what America looks like. Yet years of Hollywood films disproportionately dominated by white people still creates the assumption that a mostly poc cast is the work of foreigners. Such a thing does not exist in America. The blogger has not responded to my most recent post where I pointed this assumption out, so we will see what other insights come from this. Either way, I thought it was a great example of how the impact of films.

 

Update: My last comment to the poster appears to have been deleted. I am assuming that the blogger is the only one who is allowed to do this, so it appears she didn’t take kindly to me calling her out on her assumption.