By Editor Jay Pade
From Black Mirror to Orange Is the New Black, to Star Wars, to Black Panther, to Moonlight, and Crazy Rich Asians, nearly all movies have had their fair share of criticism for being “politically” driven for including a cast beyond shades of pale. Critics claim that politics and entertainment should be kept separate due to their natures being completely unrelated. However, it would be fallacious to state that entertainment and politics were strangers, even before Hollywood began more diverse casting.
In 1915, the notorious Birth of a Nation was released. The controversial film, lauded by Woodrow Wilson at the time, depicted the infamous Ku Klux Klan as heroes of a resurgent south, riding to work with Northerners to save America from the sexually indecent, violent, malicious, and kleptomaniacal African Americans plaguing the American Dream. Movies like Casablanca and Alphaville from the 1950s and 1960s were about the crushing effect on the livelihoods and spirits of human beings when governments become too powerful. They depicted how far people will go to be who they are and help those who are persecuted by governments out of control.
Entertainment has always been about telling stories that reflect what people are enduring.. Rod Sterling’s 1960s Twilight Zone series discussed fascism, nuclear annihilation, immigration, racism, plastic surgery, climate, mental illness and much more— all concerns of the era.
Yet now more than ever, swathes of film and TV critics maintain that film isn’t supposed to be political, a critique rooted in a reality where film occurs in a vacuum rather than the real world. In our world, the good guys don’t always win and the bad guys do a lot more than we’d like to admit. It’s a world where the same story sounds a lot different when you hear it from another perspective.
Entertainment is about stories that we can relate to. There wouldn’t be a point in someone telling us a story if they weren’t trying to tell us or show us something. The best stories entertain us without us ever knowing we learned something, while the rest leave us confused.
Recently, many of the stories entertainment has been telling haven’t been anything new, just the same stories told through different perspectives. Black Panther was a classic coming-of-age superhero movie, and Crazy Rich Asians was a traditional star-crossed romance. Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone is about some of the same themes as the original, only told through different stories, different perspectives, and different contexts. That may be where many critics see the issue.
While many critics cry out titles from yesteryear and solemnly swear they were bereft of politics, that’s not at all true. The truth is that the same messages are made for different people now. Maybe a message to a little boy or girl about being yourself starts to be political once the screen shows color.
Maybe the stories on the big screen these days aren’t about the same people they used to be. Maybe it’s a hard pill to swallow that all kinds of people, black, white, gay or not just want to live their lives, grow up and be a hero, or at least be proud of who they are. They want to grow up to be respected and treated like they are worth something. Stories used to only be about a certain set of people, and now that they aren’t, it’s teaching underrepresented people that heroes look like them and talk like them and walk like them.
The stories don’t change. The words may change and the people in them switch places, like a game of musical chairs, but the song is the same and always will be. It won’t ever matter what people look like— someone is always going to be growing up. People will always band together to fight for what’s right and suffer for what they love. It hasn’t changed in fifty years and won’t change in a hundred. Stories never got political; the dominant people just stopped relating when all the characters weren’t just like them.
I, for one, cannot wait for Black Panther 2.