Who’s to Blame for Hollywood Whitewashing?

After seeing Ghost in the Shell and reviewing it, I looked at the controversy of how much fans hated having Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. The film’s story is from a Japanese manga and many folks wanted an Asian woman as Major. Let’s push it a little further. This movie should have been full of Asian actors. Yet the only real noticeable ones were Major’s boss and one guy on the team. Every single person of importance, from the loving doctor down to the company bad guy, was of some other race, mostly white. So focusing on Johansson as Major is only part of the issue. The entire movie should have featured Asians.

The whitewashing problem is not new. It is just as obvious in movies such as Dr. Strange where Tilda Swinton played an Asian mystic.  But who is really to blame for this whitewashing? The answer is simple.

You.

And me.

Well, not just you specifically but the millions of movie goers that flock to films featuring predominantly white actors while being less enthusiastic about movies with largely minority casts.

Let me break it down for you. Hollywood is not about art. People think it should be but it is not. The Hollywood film machine is about money. Massive, soul-corrupting amounts of cash that could feed armies or support small countries. They don’t care about equality, fairness, or justice. The Hollywood moguls care about return on investment. Movies are expensive, but they are also a magnificent money cows if they are done right. Being “done right” means they are aimed at attracting the largest audiences possible. Uncomfortable stories and films with lesser known actors either don’t get made, are never large moneymakers, or sit on the shelf for years until one of the actors in it become a big star.

Thus, film companies are going to make movies that sell tons of tickets and are aimed at the richest, most entertainment-oriented population available. That tends to currently still be mostly white people simply because they fill more of the wealthier demographics.

The other factor is that folks of like seeing actors of their race or ethnicity because they can personally identify with those characters more. As a white woman, I can picture myself in a story when that character is a white woman. Making her southern even helps more. I love the Wolverine movies but have never pictured myself as a clawed, hulking male. Yet I easily can see myself as Phoenix in a liplock with him. When I watched Hidden Figures (excellent movie, by the way), I didn’t picture myself as one of those ladies because that experience was too different from my life. I did love seeing the story and it made me feel ashamed about the way they were treated, but it had a lesser impact on an emotional level since I couldn’t viscerally relate to what they had to overcome.

Hollywood knows these facts and will continue to exploit them by whitewashing stories and roles that should go to minority actors. To appease the folks crying out for equality in movies, producers or directors may throw in a Black or Latino in secondary roles, just to make everyone feel better about themselves. However, it is not done with a lot of thought or care to the sensibilities of the minority groups. Case in point: how often is the minority guy only the best friend, background character, or the first one to die?

Some exceptions do exist. Samuel Jackson clearly ruled as head of a stellar cast in The Hateful Eight. Denzel Washington dominated The Magnificent Seven along with great actors Lee Byung-hun and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. These occasional movies show that times are changing, but that attitude evolution crawls along at a snail’s pace.

Is it fair or right? Hell no.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that the producers and decisions makers are supporting more minority actors in roles, and more minority-oriented movies are getting made, with bigger budgets than ever before in cinema history. Great actors of any race deserve a chance and the bookstores are filled with great stories featuring minority characters that should be on the silver screen.

However, white people movies make better box-office blockbusters. If you don’t like this fact, then change it.

How?

Vote with your money.

Go see a film you normally wouldn’t because it has a mostly minority cast. No one will throw you out. While you are raging about whitewashing in some films, also cheer on others which truly support a mixed cast like Rogue One or Get Out. Be vocal in your displeasure about how films like Ghost in the Shell should have been cast differently.  If the idea really offends you, then DON’T see the whitewash film, no matter how good it is.

If you want to be an instrument of equal representation, then vote with your money and your opinion as often as possible. Make it bad business to whitewash great stories. Only when Hollywood is hurting in the pocketbook will they change. Only the movie goers can bring about that change.

 

Logan is Like X-men Meets Road Warrior

(Spoiler Alert!)

As the final Hugh Jackman film in the Wolverine franchise, Logan is filled with the usual clawed action, angst, and gritty heroism. Unlike the previous ones, however, this film pushes the emotions harder and on different levels. Once the action begins, it starts to resemble a Road Warrior tale. The big, bad hero herds innocents to a promised land while battling better-armed enemies. Although lacking in RW mohawks and fire spitting machines, it does feature cyber-enhanced men, some rednecks, not-smart mercenaries, and a lot of nearly overdone chase scenes.

Logan posterThe X-men based movie begins with a limping, pained Logan  in a harsher world where mutants have seemingly disappeared. He’s getting by as a El Paso chauffeur while staying off of the grid and self-medicating with alcohol. We soon learn that he also supports and cares for two other mutants, Charles Xavier (by the wonderful Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), each also tortured by their own demons. In addition, the great fighter carries an adamantium bullet and contemplates suicide because of his decreasing powers and declining health. His frustration and the mood of the film is depicted in multiple subtle ways such as fouler language than in any of the previous films, no clear romance, and more graphic violence. The audience is not supposed to ever feel comfortable with this story.

One of the subtle parts of this film involves Logan, historically an emotionally stunted loner, in a caregiver role over the dementia patient, Charles. In past movies, their relationship was brusque but friendly, but nothing indicated a father-son type of love. Yet anyone who has worked as a caregiver knows it to be a horrible, thankless, stressful job, which is caught quite well in this film. Set in the near future, Charles has become a danger to society because of his dementia, yet Logan fights to keep him alive, choosing to medicate him rather than mercifully killing him. That factor displays love on an exceptional level that goes beyond any sense of duty. Those deep feelings are specifically portrayed when Charles is removed from the picture.

The obvious emotional relationship, and the heart of the story, is Logan’s interaction with a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen). She demonstrates a definite Wolverine-esque ability and rage that she doesn’t control well. She thrusts herself into his care and he must come to terms with becoming emotionally involved with her. Wanting to get rid of her at one point, he states that his relationships all end badly and frequently rejects the girl, who also looks a little like his lost love, Jean Grey. This similarity could simply be coincidental to the film. The director and writers never make a clear point about it, but the familiarity would give Logan more reason to like the child.

The girl is the key to a vast corporate conspiracy and the secret to the disappearance of mutants. Once their fugitive journey begins, the action continues at a breakneck speed, giving little time for emotional introspection. This is to the detriment of the film for we find little reason to like the girl since she is more emotionally remote than Logan himself. Their relationship is opposite that of Logan and Charles. No real bond forms between them except out of desperation, and, although Jackman’s character feels empathy for the child, she never sees him as anything but a tool to get what she wants. Although the film drops hints that we should feel something more between the two characters, we simply don’t. Could it be the relationship was a cutting-room floor victim, giving way to the face-pasted action? Possibly. However, even when the child shows sadness at Logan’s death, her sentiment comes too little and too late for us to care.

If I had to rate this film, it would be only at three stars. As a huge fan of Hugh Jackman and a devoted follower of the X-men movies, I expected to be weeping in great sympathy while watching. The trailers had told us to expect to love and lose the Wolverine. None of the expected emotions materialized. I felt more moved at Charles’ death mainly because it came during a sense of clarity for the character and a feeling of betrayal. The frequent foul language put me off, as did the flying body parts. Jackman’s acting was excellent since c he is so comfortable with this character, but Dafne Keen failed to deliver the emotional punch. In switching too quickly between extreme action and tender moment, the film destroyed what should have been the great tear-jerking climax.

In the end, I liked the movie but Logan will not go down in history as any great comic book film. Yet his ending felt right for the iconic character. He had come full circle to where he began: not likeable, at war with himself, and ever striving to do the right thing.