Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island

I know I've already posted enough about this movie to encourage a few of you to say "Fuck that guy," and remove me from your feed, and I get that, but let's talk some more about race.

The internet is often very quick to (rightly) call out whitewashing and white saviour complex in films these days. I commend that. But while we're all knocking on Cameron Crowe (or his casting director) for casting Emma Stone as a half-Asian Hawaiian or bagging on Matt Damon for being The Hero of China before anyone has even seen The Great Wall, movies like Kong: Skull Island seem to get a free pass and I think that's the wrong way around.

When a white actor is cast to play a character from a different race it's disappointing. It's disappointing for the real life opportunities for actors of underrepresented races, and it's disappointing for an audience to miss out on the opportunity to see someone take on a role with a more true-to-life experience in that characters shoes.

When characters of other races are deliberately (or ignorantly) underwritten, it paints a picture to viewers of non-white races that they are unimportant. It's a pervasive insinuation that the white race is important, and everyone else is a supporting player at best. A film like Kong: Skull Island commits this sin more than most, as Chinese and African American scientists are completely ignored, American G.I.'s of mixed race are just followers to their boss, who is both African American and The bad guy. There is also an indigenous culture in the film, a fictitious tribal South East Asian culture, who are there to add colour and texture to the film but hold no value for knowledge or character. This film is not exclusive in this respect by any stretch, but it is one where I have seen mostly positive things from Letterboxers and very little backlash, and that concerns me.

To continue on Kong specifically, there is also the approach to the Vietnamese people and the Vietnam war. All of a sudden it appears to be cool again to be a soldier in Da Nang. As Joe, a Letterboxer I follow and respect keenly observed, "Vietnam is now the joke war for Hollywood fodder."
A horrifying thought to look back on an unjust occupation of a country this lightheartedly. What would we think if a German filmmaker began to make movies that looked back on being in the Blitzkreig as a cool thing for a young German? (Hi @GreatSatan, it's me, Godwin!)One would assume, when going to an uncharted island in South East Asia, perhaps a South East Asian person may be a useful member of the party? It's uncharted, sure, but the landscape is classic Vietnam. Surely someone local to the landscape is far better suited to someone who was born in the land of peat and frost.

Despite all of this Kong: Skull Island has been a 4 star average review in my approximation, and I get that we're looking at it as an action adventure film and not a serious drama. What I don't understand is, in the same year that Moonlight wins an Oscar, Kong: Skull Island's treatment of race and diversity is deemed acceptable and not worth mentioning.

In high school, I remember when kids first learned about racism, and the response would be any time a persons race was mentioned someone would point and yell "racism!" and that childish and alarmist behavior is far from what I'm about. That we recognize that scripting and on-screen representation of the roles played by people of non-white races is equally as damaging as that of casting a white person in an Asian role (looking at you also Tilda Swinton, claiming it not to be an Asian character and dressing like a Tibetan monk). You don't need an ethnically diverse cast to be the star of every movie. It's okay to be white and it's okay to have a white character lead a film; However, if it's not a one person locked in a soundstage movie, it's a multicultural world - heroes come in all colors, and those that are not directly heroic can be of equal value - and films need to start representing that. If it can be done white, it can be done black, and all the shades in between. The janitor can be white too, the CEO can be Hispanic, the cab driver can be French-Algerian and the journalist can be Arabic...and all of these job titles can be given more to do than react to the hero.

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