It is really beginning to seem that way…
This week, we are discussing race and its portrayal in media, in particular, film.
From Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird to Tony Kaye’s American History X, race has been an issue explored in film. However it is not the films which utilise race as a motif to drive the plot which seem to be the issue, problems are arising when a film neglects to present a certain race and their issues but instead chooses to explore this through different characters of a different race. Congruently an issue we discussed in class arises when an actor of a particular race is playing a character of another race.
For context of these ideas we will mostly be looking into the 2012 film, The Impossible which follows a British family who are tourists caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. David Cox from the guardian depicts the backlash received by the films producers for what ultimately comes down to racism. Although the film in no way utilises race as a motif or even directly deals with it, audiences around the world took offence to the characters being predominately white and thereby not showing the extent of which the disaster damaged the local people. The New York Times author, A. O. Scott describes the film as;
To some extent, I agree with this statement, the film itself rather trivialises the whole disaster and quite literally ‘white washes’ the story (which can be argued is to generate empathy from white audiences) but I do not believe it is inherently racist. The film was not created to raise awareness for the disaster, it was created to entertain and generate profit, it the producers/directors decide that having a white cast will best uphold these goals then it is their decision to make. Cox concludes his article highlighting that Chinese and Indian film makers are finding more success in hiring white people for their films rather than using local actors, so perhaps there is certain fondness of Anglo-Saxon actors in foreign films.
Robert Downey Junior’s character in Tropic Thunder is rather difficult to identify, however the simplistic version is that Downey Junior is a white man who put on black face for a role.
Questions of racism arise from this character as a white person using black face has cultural ties with undeniable racism in American Culture. Often being categorised into the idea of ‘black face is black face’ implying that any sense of it is inherently wrong. I believe that this film is not racist. The character does not fit into any of black-face.com ‘s stereotypical black people, infact the character could have been white without loosing much comical effect.
I guess this brings me to my final point (and as to why I included the video at the beginning). In many cases, not all, but many, I feel that race is only an issue if you make it one.