John Boyega- Pacific Rim 2 and Star Wars Episode VIII

 

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John Boyega’s star continues to rise. Star Wars Episode VII and now Pacific Rim 2. Aside from starring in Pacific Rim 2, Boyega will also serve as a producer. UpperRoom Productions, founded by Boyega and agent Femi Oguns, will produce the sequel.

Like many people, I first saw Boyega in Attack The Block, and was thrilled to hear that he was cast in Episode VII. As my review stated, I was disappointed that his character (Finn) mostly ended up being comic relief, which is a role that black characters occupy often. Finn was also not a jedi or padawan like the trailers led us to believe. However, Boyega has hinted the character will grow more in the sequel and a recent picture on instagram revealed a picture of a robe on the set of Episode VII. This is leading some to believe that his character may grow into a jedi in the trilogy.

It’s great to hear official word that Pacific Rim will get a sequel. Boyega will play Stacker Pentecost’s (Idris Elba) son. All other casting is still unconfirmed. Unfortunately, Del Toro will not be returning to direct. Stephen S. DeKnight, who currently serves as the show runner for Daredevil and has previously produced  Spartacus. I’ll keep an open mind about DeKnight. For now, this is a true triumph. People may see Pacific Rim as another generic blockbuster, but I was thrilled to see the mech and kaiju genre brought to the big screen in Hollywood.

Hollywood Brainwashing: Political Correctness and Agendas

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most creative, entertaining and memorable films I have seen in the past few years, if not ever. The acting, writing and of course, the action and visuals were all amazing. The title character, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), has few lines and in many ways isn’t even the main character. I didn’t find this jarring or bothersome since this was similar to Mad Max 2, where the plot revolved around one of the communities Max came across in the apocalyptic landscape. Like Fury Road, Mad Max 2 also focused more on the community and the villain.

However, this fact appears to have been lost on some people. Fury Road has received widespread acclaim and was even nominated for best picture at the golden globes and the Oscars: a huge achievement for an action film that is basically a two hour car chase (albeit a beautifully crafted one). Then again, the loudest voices can often stand out best, even if they are the fewest.

When discussing the film online it seems that praise for Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is closely followed by criticism of “feminist propaganda” or a “feminist agenda”. Searching “Mad Max Fury Road Feminism” brings up numerous articles from outlets such as The Guardian and The New York Post. The presence of strong female characters is hard to ignore, but I think it is a problem when we view strong female characters as indicative of an agenda.

Any discussion of ideological messages in films is often derailed by those who proclaim “It’s just a movie”. Yet as I’ve indicated many times before in blog posts and YouTube videos, this logic does not apply when the ruling class in Hollywood (white men) is affected. We are so used to seeing strong male characters, that seeing a strong female one comes across as “forced”, or “politically correct”.

I was interested in seeing Batman: Bad Blood, one of DC’s animated films. Before I looked into it I thought I would go to IMDB and see what other users thought of the film. One conversation in particular caught my interest:

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Unfortunately the text came out blurred but I figured it would be good to have proof of this conversation. I know people always like to say that people who express discriminatory ideas online are just trolls, but I think that simplifies things far too much. There are definitely people who get amusement from inflammatory comments, but I don’t think that explains every single discriminatory comment online. The internet is an arena where people can express their true feelings anonymously or with a pseudonym.

The person who started this post seems genuinely upset at being called a troll, his words are his “honest thoughts and opinions.” Perhaps the honest opinion he would not reveal in class or at work?

Bad Blood focuses on batman’s sidekicks and their efforts to fight crime in Gotham after his disappearance. While Nightwing and Robin are in the story, Batwoman is too. According to the person who started this conversation, the film would have been better without Batwoman since her sections felt “forced” and her homosexuality felt “heavy handed” (the newest Batwoman is Lesbian) . As another poster points out, this heavy handed homosexuality plays out with one scene of Batwoman flirting with a woman at a bar.

Some people reading this may agree with the original poster, but that brings up the issue I am trying to tackle. If one scene of a woman flirting with another is a heavy-handed depiction of homosexuality, would the scenes of Nightwing flirting with another woman also be heavy-handed heterosexuality? For decades, Hollywood has fed the world a steady diet of entertainment. Most of these characters fit a certain mold: white, male and straight. Years of seeing most heroes fit this mold can then lead to this becoming normalized (Dyer, White, 1997). When whiteness and masculinity becomes normalized in film, it is then easier for women and people of colour to be viewed as subversive. People who are outright bigots can also disguise their prejudice and aversion to seeing minorities and homosexuality on screen by saying that they simply don’t like it if it’s “heavy handed”. As the example above demonstrates, it does not take much for these elements to be viewed as heavy-handed.

A recent example of this which I have discussed before is the reaction to Rey in Star Wars: Episode VII. Rey has been relentlessly criticized for being a Mary Stu, a female character who is often overly skilled and is often viewed as the worst example of “feminist influence”. While it is reasonable to look at Rey’s progression in the film as being highly unrealistic, I just wonder if fans nitpick her progression as much as they nitpick Luke’s in Star Wars: Episode V or any male character’s in pretty much any movie. Can we all say that we have never seen a film where a male character ends up being a prodigy at whatever is important to the plot? Can we honestly say that we tore that characterization apart because it seemed too unrealistic, or did we embrace it and rejoice in how badass the character is?

With all of the bitterness and anger directed towards women on screen it seems that any female character who is on screen to do more than hook up with someone or be a damsel in distress is now viewed as unnatural and unwelcome. The same logic applies to minorities of any kind. If a black character is portrayed as heroic, intelligent and articulate, the movie is too politically correct. If a religious minority is represented as a fleshed out, sympathetic character then it is “propaganda”. Even better, the film is “pushing an agenda”. God forbid, if the film actually discusses discrimination of any kind openly, whether it is racism, sexism or homophobia . As another poster on IMDB said, he hopes The Revenant can win best picture since it is the movie that is a “non-agenda” movie.

Note: This post barely scratches the surfaces of all the things I want to say on this topic, so I will probably revisit the topic and get in the habit of blogging about other examples of this trend.

Works Cited

Dyer, R. (1997). White. London, UK: Routledge.

 

Star Wars: Episode VII-Not Life Changing, and a little disappointing (SPOILERS)

I took a while to start writing this post, mostly because I honestly didn’t know where to start.

Firstly, I would consider myself a pretty big star wars fan. I love the lore, the universe, the characters and I have seen all six movies. Like most, I do agree the acting and writing of the prequels is generally inferior, thanks to Hayden Christen and Jake Lloyd, but I still liked the world they created.

The Force Awakens is on track to potentially be the highest grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation) and it is easy to see why. Hype was unavoidable for Episode VII. Not only was it another Star Wars movie, but we were getting some of the most iconic characters back, along with their original actors. How could we not be excited?

I find that having high expectations for a movie can result in two extremes:

1) mindless praise since subjectivity becomes overshadowed by excitement

2) severe nitpicking because the movie couldn’t live up to very high expectations

This is why I always wait at least a day before truly sharing my thoughts on a film as hyped as Star Wars. After taking a day to collect my own thoughts and scour through news and comments online, I think I am finally ready to add my voice to thousands of others. Some might think, what is the point? I do this for my sanity and to quiet the debate raging in my head over the film’s merits.

1) General Thoughts

I didn’t get to see the film until Wednesday, by which time some of my friends shared their thoughts on how amazing the film was. Maybe that got my hopes up further.

Overall, I believe the film is a solid start to a new trilogy, a 7/10. In true nerd fashion I felt chills seeing the star wars logo on the big screen again, complete with the iconic music and text filling us in on what has happened since Episode VII.

Adam Driver was a standout as Kylo Ren, a character with emotional conflict and rage that truly resonated on screen. This was my first time seeing Driver and I look forward to checking out more of his work.

After Ex-Machina I was looking forward to seeing more of Oscar Isaac’s work but this role is a much smaller one in comparison. Although Isaac does well with what he has, his character does not have that much screen time and doesn’t get that much development. Here hoping that the sequels can better flesh out the ancillary and main characters.

Another Ex-Machina star, Domnhall Gleeson also appears and makes a speech at one point that truly stood out.

My biggest issues and the main reason I felt the need to write this post, were due to the two new central characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega).

I was happy to see that Abrams opted to use lesser known actors, which mimicked the casting practices of the original. Ridley’s first acting credit was in 2013, with a few episodes in different tv shows. Yet I couldn’t tell from her performance in this film. She is amazing in her role. Women will like seeing a strong female lead, while Ridley probably has a lot of new fans just due to her looks.

Next, is Finn. I loved Boyega in Attack The Block and I was very happy to hear that he got this role. When it was announced, I immediately saw this role as one that could help catapult his career. However, it looks like Ridley will benefit from it more. Her character has a bigger part in the film and her skin colour doesn’t bother some fans of the trilogy. It is a fact that Boyega was subject to hundreds of racist tweets when he was cast, and I think it is highly unlikely that every racist tweet came from online trolls who simply wanted attention. Racism is widespread online when discussing Boyega and his character. Hollywood has brainwashed audiences into seeing an all-white or mostly-white cast as a natural one. Hollywood has done this so well since its inception that inserting a black character into an intergalactic story comes across as forced. I would hate to know what the disgruntled racists think of blacks being cast in other movies.

As this movie confirms, Boyega is not meant to be a clone of Jango Fett. By this point in the story, a lot of troopers are no longer clones. So with worries of a black stormtrooper satiated, people still complain simply because they don’t like seeing a black character on screen. These are probably the same people that defend whitewashing since they are “colour-blind”. When a black actor is cast, there is no assumption that he got the role because he was the “best actor for the part”. People assume that the actor has no merit and was selected as some form of “reverse-racism” or “political correctness”.

Some people are arguing there was no need to change the race of characters, but nothing is being changed here, something is being added. If aliens don’t bother you, then black skin shouldn’t. I was discussing the film with a friend on thursday and although I know he is not a racist, he still said something that made it clear he was brainwashed by the whiteness of the mid-century originals. In his own mind, he thought all Jedi were supposed to be white. Although the originals never said or implied this, the on-screen presence of only white Jedis crafted this image. By the time A New Hope begins Jedi are nearly all dead, with Obi-Wan and Luke being the few ones left. We see a more diverse group of Jedi in the prequels, encompassing many human and alien races. Meanwhile, the only black character we get in the original films was Lando Calrissian.

I am not disappointed or angered at seeing a black character. I am disappointed that the black character is reduced to comic-relief and sidekick for the white protagonist (Rey). Boyega is a great actor and was best in the films during his character’s serious scenes. However, those scenes feel relatively scarce. Tie-in material reveals that he is a skilled soldier and marksman, but this is downplayed (emphasis on the word downplayed, we do see some of this) in order to provide a foil for Rey and her skills with the force and mechanics. While Rey is the capable, white heroine, Finn often comes across as the bumbling black sidekick. This comes after a marketing campaign that featured Boyega holding a lightsaber and facing off against Kylo Ren, almost making it look like he would be a Jedi. He is not and I think it was the marketing’s bait and switch that leaves me more disappointed with Finn’s role. While his character is brave, he ultimately is wounded and rendered unconscious by Kylo Ren. At the end of the film, after being saved by Rey numerous times, he is unconscious and in intensive care with the rebels while Rey flies off to meet Luke and presumably train with him.

Some people may not see what the issue is, but that is probably because they lack the proper perspective. There is nothing wrong with comic relief in itself, Han Solo was beloved comic relief in the original films, but black people have a record of disproportionately being used as comic relief in films. They are also routinely used as a supporting actor for a white lead. I was hoping to get something different from Finn, the first black lead in a Star Wars film. I have no doubt that racism plays a part in some of the criticism of Finn and Boyega, but I do believe some criticism of the role he was given is warranted. Yet I still have to ask: Would Boyega’s casting and his character get as much vitriol (i.e. comparisons to Jar Jar Binks) if he was only another white male lead in star wars? Or does his skin colour already indicate to some people that he does not belong?

I also have no doubt that sexism and the manosphere mentality that “sexism is dead and feminism is the enemy” contributes heavily to the criticisms of Rey. Hollywood brainwashing is at work again. Men rarely question the merits of the male hero who is good at whatever the plot requires him to be, and who is irresistible to the opposite sex. Why would they question this hero? It is the ultimate form of wish fulfillment. In contrast, seeing a strong female character, and one who does not hook up with anyone at the end of the story, renders their fantasies null and void. While a strong male character is pretty much taken for granted these days, a strong female one is often regarded as a Mary Sue, a female character who is “usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling.” The term comes from a 1973 article by fanzine writer, Paula Smith, and is now used to refer generally to lazily-written female characters who are loved by all men and are special due to or in spite of their skills (I’m looking at you Bella Swan).

While I have to admit that Rey’s proficiency with the force seemed way advanced for a beginner, I think it is important to ask whether her character’s skill would get picked apart as much if she was a man. After all it is the fact that a woman is doing so well that leads people to criticize the character with terms like Mary Sue or “pc”. We don’t hear people venting over how much of a Marty Stu James Bond is and it seems that people are content to either justify or ignore these double standards.

Another part of this post that I initially struggled with, was how to end it. The paragraph above seemed like too abrupt an end, and I was tempted to continue with a deeper analysis of racism and sexism as it relates to film. Yet I couldn’t bother with that. I wrote my Master’s thesis on racism in film, I have written numerous blog posts and poetry pieces on racism, and have explored racism numerous times in my YouTube videos. I do not discuss the topic only for views or hits, but I still get tired of repeating the same arguments and repeatedly seeing them fall on deaf ears. For every comment that I get applauding my work, there are usually five from people whose defensiveness and anger causes them to resort to straw-man arguments and various other terrible arguments that ignore facts and help people feel more comfortable with the way they see the world. I have yet to experience someone commenting on any of my writing or videos, saying that I changed their mind and helped them see an issue in a different light. I have even had a (formerly) respected family friend accuse me of racism for using the term “my fellow blacks”, in the context of saying that it is a shame films like Joyride 2 and Barbershop 3 are expected to do well at the box office while ones like Selma face relative struggle.

If my point failed to get through to a lot of people with all the other pieces I have done I do not know if it is worth it to preach yet again. Hopefully people can understand where I am coming from.