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A disturbance in the force

I took the kids to see the latest Pixar movie, Coco, yesterday. It’s a great film with a typically Pixar emotional punch (yes, I cried) and some truly exceptional CG, and it’s notable for being set in Mexico and based on Mexican folklore.

It’s interesting to discover what went on away from the computers. The film was initially greeted with great concern by Latino commentators, not least because Pixar’s owner Disney initially attempted to trademark “Día de los Muertos” – Day of the Dead. The thought of the House of Mouse appropriating Mexican culture wasn’t exactly a happy one.

Pixar responded to the concerns in a very Pixar way: it hired its most vocal critics, not for PR gloss but to ensure that it didn’t screw up. A group including artist Lalo Alcaraz, playwright Octavio Solis and former Mexican Heritage Corp. CEO Marcela Davison Aviles acted as cultural consultants for the film.

The result? It quickly became the second-highest-grossing animated film in the history of the Mexican film market (the first was Toy Story 3). And it’s a really good film.

While I was waiting for it to come on, there was a trailer for the forthcoming A Wrinkle in Time, a live action fantasy with some serious star power among the inevitable CGI. And it took me a moment to realise what was unusual about the trailer.

It had people of colour in it.

Not as a statement — for example, something like Black Panther, which is also being trailed in the cinema at the moment, is a film specifically about a black superhero — or as sidekicks. But as the main characters.

As Latonya Pennington writes:

Not only do we get a Black female protagonist played by Storm Reid, but we also get Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling in prominent roles.

…When the trailer for “A Wrinkle in Time” was first released, my eyes grew wide, my heart swelled with excitement, and I smiled so big. I’ve loved fantasy fiction since I was a kid and seeing that trailer reminded me of the joy I felt as I devoured book after book. Although I’ve never read the book the film is based on, I’ve always longed to see more fantasy films with Black female leads.

With the release of “A Wrinkle In Time”, young Black girls will get to see someone that looks like them be a hero.

That’s great, obviously. But you have to wonder why in 2018 it should be in any way remarkable to see women of colour in lead roles, why kids still don’t see people like them on screen as the norm rather than the exception. It shouldn’t be notable to have actors such as Kelly Marie Tran in a Star Wars film or Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok.

And then you read the first (and so far only) comment on Pennington’s piece.

Are non white women really that pathetic that they need to see someone who looks like them succeeding in a fictional setting in order for them to feel better about themselves? You do realise that all your examples are fiction right? It’s not real. Quite frankly, your either a bigot for wanting to see less whites in film, or a self-hating loser whose self esteem needs to be stroked by fictional characters in order to feel better about themselves.

Guess what colour and gender the poster is.

Such posts are a gift to bloggers, of course, because a single “your a bigot” illustrates the problem better than 1,000 words of carefully crafted argument.

Some people — and by people I mean straight white men people — are so used to seeing themselves on screen that when a film dares to feature people who aren’t straight white men people, or when someone who isn’t a straight white man dares to write about how great it is to see a film that isn’t written from the perspective of a straight white man, they lose their tiny little minds.

It’s the kind of privileged thinking that leads to some clown making a version of Star Wars: The Last Jedi without “Girlz Powah and other silly stuff”. Among other things the edit removes “female officers commanding people around/having ideas”, scenes where a woman “is making some important statement” and “Leia’s nitpicking”.

I do like Last Jedi director Rian Johnson’s Twitter response:

(Inevitably and rather brilliantly, another user has trolled the trolls by making an edit without the men, an edit that substantially cuts down on “characters whining about not getting their way”.)

If you can suspend your disbelief to watch films set in far-flung galaxies, films featuring people with impossible powers or films full of CGI characters but have a problem with people of colour or women in decent roles then maybe, just maybe, you’re on the dark side.