Saturday, January 30, 2016

Adventures in Racism

Yesterday there was post that went up on The A.V. Club which contained a video showing off many notable instances of whitewashing in film. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s when there are characters in a film who are cast with white actors despite the characters being very not white. A good recent example of this is the fact that Joseph Fiennes was just cast to play Michael Jackson in a movie. For an older example, John Wayne played Genghis Khan.

Yeah, old Hollywood wasn't exactly known for its cultural sensitivity. Or accuracy.

There are a lot more offensive uses of this though, like the film Exodus: Gods and Kings which features a mostly white cast in make-up to make them appear darker. Oh yeah, a whole movie where people are essentially running around in blackface. It's good to see we've come so far. So, anyway, every now and then I decide to traverse into the comments sections of articles I read on other sites and it either ends with me shaking my head and walking away or...I decide to fuck with assholes the litter the comments section. As I've had a lot of difficulty getting any reviews written because I have hit this wall, I found myself with no good reason not to have fun. I dove into there and it was a sight to behold.

I had no idea white people were so oppressed and passionate about that oppression.
Now, if you've delved into these deep chasms of awful, you know what to expect. A whole lot of white guys complaining and acting as if white people are somehow being attacked, even though there is no actual ire being directed at white people but rather at the broken system that perpetuates rather racist practices like whitewashing. Now, when the discussion of race in films comes up we always end up in the same place and hear the same thing: "they're just characters and can be any race" and "what about (non-white actor) in (movie) playing (perceived white role)". We've seen these posts everywhere at one time or another and they reek of clear racism. But that's the thing, they don't think they're being racist. They think it's exactly the same thing for Moses to be played by a white guy in blackface and for Johnny Storm to be played by Michael B. Jordan.

Yeah, because Johnny Storm being black was totally what held that movie back.
There were several major arguments going on, so we're going to focus on those for the most part and the points brought up there. First, the major recurring one was about whether Idris Elba playing Heimdall was offensive as it is a Norse god and the perception is that Norse gods must clearly all be white, like Norsemen themselves. Now, first off, this ignores the fact that in actuality not all Norsemen were white. There are historians who seem to believe  that actually there were both black vikings and Celts. Not too shocking when you remember that they would spread their seed far and wide on their journeys and may have sired offspring with women in those distant places.

Which opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities.
Now, whether that is completely true or not I couldn't say for sure. I'm not a historian. But it is believable enough for me to lean towards it being likely. It's definitely more likely than aliens building the pyramids, that's for certain. the other factor that gets ignored here though is that Norse gods aren't Norsemen. They're gods. They could have glowing hot pink skin with rainbow coloured eyes for a ll we know, as gods are gods and can be whatever they please. But the final thing to note here? Idris Elba's Heimdall is a fictional version based on the Norse god, not the actual Norse god. It's a character from a comic book based film about aliens called Asgardians who humans believed to be gods. It's a movie about aliens who, while looking rather human, are not humans. So, yeah, this whole argument falls apart when you look at all of that. It just becomes what it really is: a old white guy bitching about a black guy. That in itself isn't racist though. The fact that he is specifically getting bent out of shape that this non-human character is played by a black guy rather than a white guy though? Yeah, that's treading into bad territory.

Speaking as a white guy, my only problem with Elba's Heimdall is that he doesn't get nearly enough screen time.
Moving on to the next argument going on, we've got the subject of Princess Tiger Lily being touched. Specifically, the fact that she's played by Rooney Mara in the Pan film rather than an actual Native American actress. Now the excuse is made that it's because they are Neverland natives...buuuuut in the work of J. M. Barrie they are referred to as both redskins and natives, clearly driving home that he's talking about Native Americans in it. In old illustrations they are also clearly depicted as such too. Cue the white outrage that we dare to assume Tiger Lily shouldn't be white. Do you see the problem here or do I have to spell it out for you? I mean, I'm going to talk about it more, but please tell me you see the problem here.

"Coming soon, from the makers of Pan: Pocahontas! The true story! We swear!"
You can try to argue in wearing a headdress in cultural appropriation but I don't think you can really pretend that characters described as "redskins" should be played by group of white actors who don't even have tans. This is a pretty bad case of some people simply not getting it because, surprise, they're too selfish to look beyond their own personal viewpoint. I wish I had that ability sometimes. Maybe then I could just shut my brain off and watch shitty movies without feeling like I'm dying inside. But I can't do that because I have too much empathy and sense to just blindly walk through life unaware and uncaring of shitty things. And pretending it's not incredibly offensive to cast characters who everyone knows are meant to be Native Americans as a group white people is pretty shitty. It's also sad because you're defending Pan, which is a terrible movie. it can be entertaining, sure, but it's still awful.

And I'm pretty sure she killed the McDonald's Fry Kids to make that headdress.
The third argument that stood out was regarding the video listing off David Carradine's portrayal of Kwai Chang Caine. Now, I love me some David Carradine and Kung Fu...but yeah, it's a pretty sketchy thing. A lot of what makes it especially sketchy is the fact that the concept of the series is essentially a straight take-off of a concept that Bruce Lee created, a point that his widow has pointed out quite strongly. He wanted to make a show about a martial artist in the old west and have himself in the lead, which would make sense as he's both familiar with television acting and martial arts. But he's also the wrong skin colour for executives to bite. Sure, he can be a sidekick on Green Hornet, but he can't be the lead. Because he's not white. It's all too true, sadly, that back then there was almost no way a non-white actor would be cast in the lead on a show. Even if it's a show that is literally designed for an Asian actor. But rather than working with Lee and making his show, they summarily ripped his concept off and put out the exact same show with a white guy in the lead.

Well, at least he's not Peter Sellers in make-up with fake teeth.
This is a problem that we need to stop pretending doesn't exist. While I don't really fancy changing a character's ethnicity from medium to medium, there's a major difference between making Jimmy Olsen black and making Tiger Lily white. Jimmy Olsen isn't defined in any way as being a specific ethnicity. Changing the colour of his skin doesn't change who Jimmy is. Bad writing can, but not the colour of his skin. But hey, we live in a society where Jesus is always played by white guys despite being middle eastern and we've got a presidential candidate who is persecuting people based on their religion. I bet Jewish people really love that little bit of history attempting to repeat itself.

Not that I'm saying Trump reminds me of anyone with his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant tirades or anything.
It's hard not to make political commentary about this too as people saying these things always drag politics into it. If you dare to believe that they're wrong you get called a liberal pussy or a SJW just out to bring them down with your "PC bullshit". It's politically correct to be a decent human being, I guess. It does make me snicker to get called these things when I'm the guy who laughed and laughed over a zombie biting a guy's dick off in a porn. I'm totally PC, everyone. Remember that. What have we learned? Well, other than the fact that comment sections should probably be avoided, we've learned that it doesn't take much for insecure white guys on the internet to tread into racist waters. All it really takes is...well, anything not being about them, I guess. And that's incredibly sad. Just like the Fry Kids being dead. Later days, bleeders.

In memoriam....never forget their sacrifice.

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