Hollywood does not exactly have a great reputation as far as diversity and inclusion.
Or plainer, Hollywood is mad racist and sexist… but let’s focus on that racism for a second. From where I’m sitting, it is morphing. There is an understanding that straight up black face is no longer palatable for widespread distribution if you expect return on investment. So where do you go? What do you do when you have a potentially subconscious agenda to promote white supremacy? There seem to be many heads to the monster, but I want to start with revisionist history.
What if instead of focusing on the negative stories about other races, you found a way to smudge, blur, or even eradicate the moral confines of your own. What I mean is taking publicly perceived villains and providing a background that makes them a sympathetic figure. Take Barry Seal for example…
In 2017’s American Made, Tom Cruise plays Barry Seal. Seal was a TWA pilot turned CIA informant, turned drug smuggler double agent, turned snitch, turned dead man… he lived a life. American Made is overall a fun :return to form” performance for Cruise. He uses he age-old charm to show you Seal was a lovable scamp, caught in the middle of the Pablo Escobar and the CIA, just trying to do his best to stay alive and keep his family happy. Except… no… no we was not.
Seal was not initially approached by his country because of his talents. He was a damn criminal long before that, guilty of :::wait for it::: SMUGGLING! There is no confirmed interaction with the government until he became a DEA snitch. The man helped fortify the cartels and countries are still recovering TODAY from the havoc they caused. Director Doug Liman calls his film “a fun lie based on a true story”, but in today’s society of headline only consumption, no one is fact checking the story presented. But maybe you weren’t familiar with Seal before, so let’s tackle someone you may be more familiar with…
Tonya Harding is one of those people who will forever be synonymous with one dark moment/decision in their life. Kim Kardashian has her sex tape, OJ has the Bronco chase, and Tonya Harding has the Nancy Kerrigan assault. Harding’s ex-huband arranged to have Tonya’s rival (and teammate) Nancy Kerrigan put out of commission before the ’94 Olympic trials. Harding claims to have not known about the attack, but did confess to finding out her ex was connected afterwards and withholding that information from investigators. It’s movie worthy enough, but no… let’s make this into a “fish out of water” dark comedy.
“I, Tonya” is, again, entertaining and funny. The blended documentary/straight narrative/4th wall breaking style makes for a very engaging film… but why? Unfortunate as it may be, Tonya’s international spotlight was never brighter than “the incident”. Did we need to know the hell she went through to become a great skater thank you an abusive mother and husband? Hell, do we even know if any of it was true. The movie starts off by saying that they filmmakers received so many different accounts of basic events that it’s hard to tell who’s telling the truth. One again, someone deemed foul in the court of public opinion is made sympathetic.
This is just one piece of the puzzle. This is not Maleficent or Wicked. While finding out the “true” torturous back story of how villains became villains is intriguing, it draw comes from that key word… TRUE. When you take a bunch of untraceable details and present them as fact, or even intentionally manipulate them, the characters lose the credibility of the sympathy the narrative attempts to generate. This trend of romanticizing real world criminals in film is the same principle of mass media circuits making every white male active shooter “depressed and misunderstood and ‘wholesome’ according to neighbors”.
Perhaps now more than ever, we need to not only appreciate a film for the artistry, but also examine what lies at its core. “Fact” and “truth” are an expendable luxury in the Hollywood hills.