https://amp.theguardian.com/film/2018/m ... ssion=trueA Wrinkle in Time is an important moment for women of colour but the incessant fanfare undermines its significance
Ava DuVernay, director of A Wrinkle In Time, spoke on the red carpet at the London premiere about how important the film was because of the diversity of the cast and crew, because the main protagonist is female and because it is part of the desire to bring a more diverse range of storytellers to the fore. Mindy Kaling, who is in the film, described DuVernay as a “movement”, and Time magazine wrote about how the movie will change Hollywood.
Reviews suggest the film is dreadful. It has a 40% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Guardian’s Amy Nicholson gave it two stars, and one of those stars was purely for what Oprah did to her eyebrows. I can feel you getting annoyed with me. “What’s the matter, Romesh, are you against diversity? Are you delighted that the patriarchy has been reinforced by the failure of a film with a female protagonist?” Well, no.
Before A Wrinkle In Time came out, you would be hard pushed to find anybody to describe at length what it was about. All the press centred on how great it was to have a female director of colour, to have a female protagonist of colour and how DuVernay “wasn’t just casting actresses” but “leaders – icons”. I’m not suggesting any of this is bad, by the way. This is obviously long overdue. But why does everyone have to bang on about it so much?
Trumpeting diversity undermines what you are trying to achieve in the first place. It should happen without fanfare. There are people who are opposed to this sort of thing, and so when a film wears diversity on its sleeve, and then falls short, they throw up their hands and say things like: “This is what happens when you don’t do things based on merit” and, “Do you remember the good old days when black characters were played by white blokes?” Nobody wants these people to be happy. These people should be presented with diverse films and not told this is part of “a movement”. This is just how it is.
Maybe I’m being unfair. DuVernay probably did not want to focus on these aspects of the film, but that was all she was asked about. And there’s something distasteful about me ignoring all the struggles she will have had as a black female director in Hollywood as I focus on how the film is being promoted. But I do think we all have a responsibility to push the discussion of these sorts of films away from “a cause”.
A recent Kermode and Mayo podcast featured a listener who had written to say they had found Black Panther a bit boring, and hoped that its shortcomings did not remove Hollywood’s appetite for films with a black superhero at the fore. You what, mate? I remember being chased out of school by bullies throwing eggs. I ran to where my mum was waiting. She flipped out and started battering the bullies with her handbag. For two weeks, everyone called me Mummy’s boy and the girl I was going out with split up with me because she couldn’t take the embarrassment. That fortnight was more fun than watching Batman v Superman, but I don’t remember anyone saying that movie was going to undermine the future of films with white men saving the world.
Black Panther is a great film. It has the most compelling villain of any Marvel movie, and it deals admirably with the issue of diminishing jeopardy in a million superhero films where the world is going to end. It also has an almost completely black cast and some kick-ass female characters. It deserves to be judged on its own merits. We should not be talking about this film as a giant leap forward for movie-making; we should be talking about it as one of the most exciting Marvel films for a while. I would also argue that a film set in Africa having a lot of black characters in it should probably be a given, and also that Wesley Snipes must be bloody furious that everyone’s forgotten about Blade.
Ghostbusters is another example. After it was announced the ’Busters would all be women, breaking all stereotypical traditions from the original film except for the one with the underwritten one-dimensional black character (“You guys are really smart about this science stuff, but I know New York and can borrow a car from my uncle!”), the internet cracked under the pressure of a million fanboys expressing disdain from their mum’s basement. The director, Paul Feig, was forced to defend these decisions and the film became a cause, with some reviewers scared to criticise it. It underperformed at the box office and the unfortunate consequence is that a load of internet losers think they’ve been proved right. You can find them now campaigning for the destruction of every copy of The Last Jedi.
Announcing a diversity initiative, or making it a cause, exerts unwanted pressure. This is not restricted to movies. When the BBC’s then director of television, Danny Cohen, announced that it would put at least one woman on every panel show, this made the job of every woman on a panel show more difficult. All three of them were livid. In short, we should all be pushing to make more diverse films, TV shows and business opportunities. But we probably shouldn’t mention it.
Yeah, I think making a fanfare out of diversity is effectively turning it into nothing more than a marketing tool. It's commericalising the idea of diversity instead of a geninue attempt to increase diverse viewpoints in the Hollywood industry.
It feels a little empty, like an attempt of this generation to brag about how much more progress they are making compared to earlier generation.