Working @ the Whitewash: Part One
I’ve been wanting to write something about this for awhile but was never sure how to approach it. The interconnectivity + virtual anonymity provided by social networking allows for a lot of people to maintain a fairly hot simmer about their issues of choice rather than dipping into their personal reservoirs of Reason. I wasn’t sure I wanted a piece of that. Then I thought, “Fuck it.” The paucity of readers of this blog allows me a good deal of room to flex and, as it is my blog, flex I will. Before we get to the Actual Thing here, I need to set some terms. 1) I don’t like Tyler Perry films. There is no circumstance under which I will praise, promote or in ANY way endorse the product created by Mr. P.
2) I don’t like MAN OF STEEL and will not be seeing any more DC Universe films upon which Zak Snyder’s fingerprints exist. These disclosures are not jabs at either creator. As a consumer, it’s my right to enjoy or not, partake or not and opine as I will. Just as it’s yours. However, as I will be using both creators and some of their works to support the points I make here, I don’t want anyone thinking that means I support them. I do not.
All right? Good. Today we’re going to talk about “Whitewashing” as it relates to Hollywood* moviemaking and the resultant outrage that ripples through the affected “minority” communities once the news is out. You can also sub in Gender Switching or Omission of Females. They all work the same. Lately a good deal has been made about the casting of a white actor in the role of IRON FIST ( a white comic book character who is deeply entrenched in the racist tropes of European Orientalism) and of THE ANCIENT ONE ( a character in DR. STRANGE who is also deeply entrenched in the same offensive tropes.)
There’s a lot of “outrage” about both of these and with good reason. “Hollywood” has been doing this to us for longer than pretty much all of us have been alive. The practice is not limited to Marvel films and it should be mentioned that NOT recasting Iron Fist as an Asian American actor doesn’t count as whitewashing.
Just in the last decade MULTIPLE Hollywood films have removed or recast Asian Americans from stories in which they had previously existed. This was even done, to box office disaster, with the otherwise amazingly successful AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER franchise. I participated in the boycott of that film.
After Alex Proyas publicly whined about his film GODS OF EGYPT being unfairly treated by the masses at the direction of snotty professional critics (not what happened. The pro critics where a year late to notice the problem with that film). I wrote him this OPEN LETTER.
We can stipulate that “Hollywood” has a deep and significant problem with casting Asian Americans outside an EXTREMELY narrow band of offensive tropes. We can further stipulate that this problem extends to other “racial” minorities, across the board. We can stipulate that, when a book or other source material features a prominent and interesting non-white character it’s a crap shoot whether or not that character will appear, intact, in the film adaptation.
We can stipulate that, despite the loud and energetic claims to the contrary, this a function of racism rather than commerce.
The American film industry was founded by straight white men and its product ever since has been designed, primarily, to appeal to the lowest common denominator among that group. If you are shocked by these facts stop reading here. I’m not talking to you. I’m only interested in talking to smart people who spend most of their waking hours actually awake.
Go on, shoo. All you people in the back come forward. We’ve got a lot more empty chairs up here. Don’t be shy. Squeeze in together.
For most of “Hollywood” history there was considerable outrage amongst the offended groups but no real way for them to make themselves heard. Then came the internet and all those individual atoms of outrage began to bond, first into molecular clusters and then into what seems to be more complex matter. For my money, that’s mostly an Extremely Good Thing. Racism, Genderism and Sexism work best when their victims feel isolated and unable to find help. Social media cuts through that like an acid-edged blade. Movements like BLACK LIVES MATTER would never have coalesced without social media. Good thing.
The other side of the blade is not so good. With all that access and connectivity we have also gotten cyber-bullying, pirating, stalking and the sort of free range porn that makes even these jaded eyes close tight and this body back away.
The other thing social media has produced is a culture of misguided outrage. SO many people sit at their screens seemingly WAITING to see something that offends them in order to call out the perpetrators of that thing, indiscriminate to who is actually responsible for the thing. Access to our favorite creators (yes, I am both a creator and a fan who DELIGHTS in even the smallest retweet or response from one of my favorite authors) has implied to many that OWNERSHIP of that creator’s work was also conferred, that somehow, in the democratization of our ability to be heard, a sort of editorial democracy was also created. That last, not to put too fine a point on it, is horse shit.
Regardless of our opinions about the relative merits of films like MAN OF STEEL, our editorial contribution to its creation is nil. Zero. Nothing. They make. We consume, or we don’t. The end.
My phone didn’t ring ONCE while Zak Snyder was directing Man of Steel. Nor did I expect that call. I got no frantic texts from Alex Proyas seeking my last-minute thoughts on his casting choices. Nor should I have. Proyas and Snyder create; I consume or, in both of these cases, I didn’t. This current social media generation (including generations X, Y and Millennial) seems to wish to reject this paradigm. They seem to think there’s is a group committee that makes these projects of which we are all part an in which we all have a vote. Again: horse shit.
Not only is this horse shit for creative and ethical reasons (who the hell are WE to tell ANY creator IN ADVANCE not to make any project he or she wishes in whatever way they wish? Nobody, that’s who. A million, million nobodies. Creation is not a democratic act. ) it’s also horse shit because it’s not how it works in actual reality.
They make. We consume. Or not. The end. And that, THE END is important. It’s so important that the social media generation predominantly seems to think it’s the MOST important. “We” line up at the finish line like the villagers in an old monster movie, waiting for the film or show to arrive and make an offending misstep. When it does, we pounce.
“We” crushed GODS OF EGYPT, didn’t we? Ditto, AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER. We stayed away from those movies in such droves that they died, never to be heard from or mentioned again except in cautionary tales told in shadowy taverns where producers and directors meet to whine about diversity tyrants.
The internet lost its damned mind about those projects, made that outrage VERY loudly known, roped in all the pro critics it could for support and, voila! Bye-bye racist movies. Yay. But here’s the thing, The Actual Thing I mentioned up top. Those “wins” changed nothing. Not one little thing. To date there has been no attempt to remake the AIRBENDER film with the appropriate ethnic groups prominent even though that leaves a MASSIVE pile of money on the table unclaimed. Cameron Crowe did not edit Emma Stone out of his Hawaiian movie and reshoot and replace her scenes with an ethnically appropriate actress. Scarlet Johansson WILL be playing Major Kusanagi in the upcoming GHOST IN THE SHELL. She’s cast. Contracts have been signed and it would cost the studio too much money to spike her in that role. So, grow up, pull up your belts and stop whining. “Hollywood” will continue to hide behind the fiction that “stars = box office” despite the fact that this is patently and demonstrably untrue. There are, at this juncture, MAYBE three stars who can “open” a movie. Will Smith. Tom Hanks. Tom Cruise. They are the last stars standing from an era in which OPEN meant, “his presence will guarantee X number of asses in the seats, regardless of the type or quality of film.” And, in fact, none of them can guarantee an OPEN anymore. Not one of them. Yes, a lot of people make a lot of money arguing back and forth about this but facts are, sadly, facts. In “Hollywood” facts are mostly ignored in the face of sexism, racism and genderism. But the fiction that a movie needs a star to open is what put Ms. Johansson in the role of a Japanese cop and, because no one will admit to it being a fiction, all entreaties to face reality will hit brick walls. All the whining will fall under the heading of free advertising for this “controversial” film. Worse, most of the whiners will likely go and see the film anyway, making justifications that hate-watching will make their subsequent reviews and commentaries that much more scathing. Horse Shit.
You’ve been lulled, you see. The immediacy of venting one’s spleen on social media has lulled you into thinking the power of the End User, of the Consumer, exists solely in expressing displeasure. That’s not only terminally lazy thinking, it’s false. Which brings us to Perry and Snyder. Why even mention them, right? They and their work have nothing to do with whitewashing or gender-switching or anything like that.
Snyder’s Superman universe is brought up because it illustrates the weakness of the End User complaint mob. While no one could describe MAN OF STEEL as a flop, its box office receipts fell WELL short of expectations due to people like me. We do not like Snyder’s take on the character and many of us were extremely vocal about why and how we feel he went wrong. Enough of us whined enough about those wrong moves that we cost the film millions of projected dollars. That could be scored as some sort of moral or creative win, I suppose, if that sort of “winning” mattered even a little bit. It does not matter. Not even a little bit. How do we know? Because we just recently saw BATMAN V SUPERMAN sail through the theatres with a fairly impressive opening week. SOMEBODY, in other words, quite likes Mr. Snyder’s take on this subject matter. While I and many others do not share this sentiment, a significant enough number of people loved the first and second forays into this universe that there will be several more films set there. In short, all that whining amounted to dick because what really makes the difference in these cases is MONEY. Falling short of expectations does not mean the film failed. The difference between a MASSIVE blockbuster and decent blockbuster is something for philosophers to debate. In the real world, there isn’t one. The same is true about the bitching about Idris Elba as Heimdall in THOR, the whining about Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in THE FORCE AWAKENS etc. Not only didn’t the whining change one frame of a film that was already shot, it made ZERO difference to the box office receipts of those films. Zero. The list of films where race or gender switching raised public hackles is long. The list of films where that bitching changed those films to suit the concerns of the offended parties is short. In fact there are no films on that list. Nor will there ever be. As I’ve said many times, no one cares about your (or my) opinion. Love the film or hate the film, what’s cared about is that you paid money to SEE the film. The payment is what matters. It is ALL that matters.
So, while I, personally, will not be spending any more cash on the works of Zak Snyder, Mr. S doesn’t have to give a shit about that. There are not enough people like me for him to worry. Or, if there are enough, too many of us are spending money to hatewatch his films for him to do anything but laugh. That is why End User Bitching, while often fun and sometimes cathartic, amounts to absolutely zip. This isn’t my opinion talking. This is the actual history and current events of the “Hollywood” motion picture machine. The only opinion that matters is the one that corresponds to dollars spent or dollars aggressively withheld.
So, as we’ve seen, the stick in this situation pretty much fails to work, pretty much all of the time. Not only doesn’t it work, one can make the case that it can’t due to the nature of the creator-consumer paradigm.
Which brings us to the Carrot.
Which brings us to Tyler Perry. Which means you have to wait because that bit isn’t written yet.