Monday, June 6, 2011

White-Men: First Class

Race in films is a subject rarely thought about until it rears its head in a dramatic way. Take 2010’s The Last Airbender, a film that received heavy criticism for its use of Caucasian actors in Asian roles, before the film received heavy criticism for sucking. Then there are occasions where the role itself doesn’t call for white actors, but the casting sheet does (see the upcoming Hunger Games). The problem with simply supporting these causes is that it misses out on confronting the larger issue: that if a role is for any race, it will probably go to a Caucasian.

My three favorite American films so far this year (Source Code, Bridesmaids and X-Men: First Class) all star predominantly white actors. Or, more importantly, it fills the roles of heroes with the white actors. The semi-corrupt leader of the Source Code in the movie of the same name is African American. Maya Rudolph may be a bi-racial bride, but all of her bridesmaids stick to the singular Caucasian. And, and here’s where the slight spoilers begin, the only non-white members of the X-Men are evil or dead by the halfway point of the film. Here I’ll mainly discuss X-Men, because there are a number of reasons non-white actors not only could have been cast, but also should have been.

X-Men: First Class is a damn good movie, the best superhero film since The Dark Knight. The writing is solid (if occasionally extremely cheesy). Matthew Vaughn has proved with this film and Kick-Ass that he can direct the hell out of an action scene, and just may be the best action director there is out there today (at least in America). The scene where Kevin Bacon (who is very enjoyable here) and his gang break into the CIA’s building is tense, and thrilling and a tad heartbreaking. The final, Cuban Missile Crisis sequence of the film is pretty incredible. There’s enough buildup that when shit finally goes down, it’s incredibly thrilling. And the build-up itself is an enjoyable mix of cartoony and tense. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender giving performances far better than necessary, especially the latter as the emotionally damaged Magneto. The rest of the cast (wretched January Jones aside) is solid, and overall the film is a blast.

Here’s the big problem: the film is accepting what you are despite what society says. It takes place in the 60’s. Even if they didn’t want to push the metaphor too far, would it have been that difficult to cast an African-American actor in a heroic role? A line repeated throughout the film, “Mutant and Proud”, could easily be paralleled with Black Pride. While in many films casting only white actors seems like a harsh oversight, here it seems like a missed opportunity. This isn’t to say that the film would have to discuss the similarities between society’s attitudes with mutants and those with African-Americans in the 60s. Rather, if you’re going to make the moral of your film to accept people despite their physical differences, you could back that up with your casting decisions.

One excuse I could see is source material. These characters are white in the comic books, so they must be here. This is partly why we have never seen a non-white Spiderman, Batman or Superman and probably never will. This is not a valid excuse at all, but even assuming it is, there is still a major issue. TWO OF YOUR CHARACTERS ARE BLUE. Beast and Mystique both assume an obviously non-human form by the time the credits roll. As much as I love Jennifer Lawrence, neither of the actors gives good enough performances to assume there was no one better for the job. Sure, there are two non-white actors. They just happen to play Bacon’s evil henchmen and are not allowed to develop any personality.

As depressing as this is, let’s at least give the rest of the summer films a chance:

  • Super 8
  • Green Lantern
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  • Bad Teacher
  • Transformer 3
  • Larry Crowne
  • Horrible Bosses
  • The Zookeeper
  • Harry Potter 7, Part 2
  • Captain America
  • Cowboys & Aliens
  • The Change-Up

Oh. Shit.

No comments:

Post a Comment