Sunday

The new racism

So yeah, there's a lot of racism around at the moment. But you have to look for it.

I've been watching the red letter media 'half in the bag' reviews with increasing obsessiveness, but the captain america review got me thinking along these lines.



The two critics talk about how the film happily makes historical inaccuracies about 10 minutes in; they're talking about how it makes them uncomfortable that the designs look futuristic, when they should look old but with sci-fi elements. They should look like laser guns that were designed in 1940, not 2100. They're nerds; schticklers for detail. Then they speak about political correctness.

What they say isn't technically racist; they speak about how there were african americans that fought in world war 2*, but they were assigned to separate units and the film should reflect the segregation of the time rather than lie about it. Fair enough; they're after accuracy. But they complain about the ethnically diverse team of superheroes; correctly they point out that there's no women in the team (women obviously have even further to go with their struggle for equality). But "The asian guy with the emo haircut who was talking on his cellphone just threw me out of the movie."

These are not racist comments. But they are striving for historical accuracy above employment opportunities for an ethnically diverse range of actors. Which is more important?

What they don't say - that I was crying out for - was "why set this in world war 2 at all?" Iron Man wasn't set in the 60s, when Tony Stark first appeared; Rhodes, his African American sidekick didn't arrive until 1979, but was included in the film. Maybe Captain America is more strongly associated with national struggles and the military, but there's something more here. I'm deeply suspicious of the current fashion for 50s and 60s-set media, such as 'madmen', the forthcoming 'xcom', and our 'the hour'; historical accuracy is a great excuse for not allowing ethnic minorities on the screen.

(In their review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, they praise the diverse cast. But I wonder if in this case, the producers of the film wanted to move away from the race metaphors of the original book/film, by casting the main antagonist as a black man. This leads us to think that the the apes are rising - sorry, the planet of the apes is rising - against all of humanity, not just whitey. I dunno, I've not seen it.)


All this, as we enter an age where finally, we have series like Luther, where a black actor, Idris Elba, plays the lead character with no whisper of a plot line surrounding his ethnic heritage. I think this would have been unimaginable even 10 years ago.

Last time I saw a Shakespeare play, it was played by actors of no fixed ethnicity. I had no trouble believing that the Montagues could consist of such a diverse group of people; that brothers would have entirely different skin tones. Some people would argue against this, and the only hope actors from ethnic minorities would have of getting to play the great Dane would be if some visionary director decided to stage the play around a different nationality. It would be segregation again.

Look, I love Lord of the Rings as much as the next person (chortle), but you have to say: it's pretty damn honky. But why are we obsessed with continuing to set fiction in times where discrimination was acceptable? Why does Lord of the rings - a fantasy land - have to have an all white cast, to please the nerds, and yet adaptations of the Earthsea books (where Ursula le Guin stipulated a darker-than-caucasion skin tone) whites? Middle Earth is a fantasy land. Isn't their room for ethnic diversity in there? and I'm not talking about the evil 'Southrons', who stood in for Arabs. I'm really disturbed by the whiteness of LOTR. I can understand that you're going for a certain look; the books were written 70 years ago. But I hold it to be a discriminatory one that I don't agree with. If Idris Elba went for an audition for a part in LOTR, what would they say? 'Sorry, we aren't hiring people of your skin colour?' How is this acceptable?

I seriously suggest that there's something going wrong here, that there's a deluge of productions which conveniently exclude minorities. I'm not suggesting a conspiracy, just a handy work around to maintain a predominantly-white casting policy. Until we get the corollary to mad men - the 'what all the black people in new york were doing at the same time' show - I believe I have a case.

*I actually can't stand the term 'world war 2', but for convience, and lack of a better suggestion, I'll use it here.
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