"…[T]here are plenty of talented actors and actresses of colour who are looking for work, and they're always welcome additions. By constantly turning a blind eye in favour of white actors and actresses, you're actually being racist."This couldn't be more relevant in light of a recent issue with yet another director: Wes Anderson. Anderson's newest movie, Isle of Dogs, is scheduled for release shortly as of me writing this. I'm sure it'll be delightfully quirky and charming, but I can't help but feel like there's something off about it from as early as the trailers. Whether it's that most of the cast is his white regulars, as opposed to being Japanese, his few Japanese characters smell of stereotypes, or that the Japanese characters are window-dressing, it's hard to get around the racism of this film even if you ignore that it's about, well, dogs.
Then there's the issue of the film's narrative. I won't get into the nitty-gritty, since: a. I haven't seen it yet. b. I don't want to ruin it. c. I think this review does a better job than I could. But outside of that, Isle of Dogs invokes, yet again, the bothersome p-word that I'm not too fond of in general. Still, it's definitely a blight on a winner from a director whose career's defined by them.
It also shouldn't surprise you that I opened my mouth and got myself into trouble yet again on Twitter over this. I won't relay the full conversation, you can read it here, but yeah…not a great impression. Like, at all. As in, I need to heed my own advice and learn when to stop talking.
To clarify, I'm not saying that Wes Anderson isn't to blame. He is. Art is the by-product conscious decisions on every level, such that even its more questionable material isn't accidental. A film conceived and directed by Anderson bears his seal, and, for better or worse, he deserves the brunt for its failings too. Especially given that he could've made completely different decisions than the ones he did.
So when Wes Anderson, master of quirky, oddball comedy-dramas, makes a movie about Japan, a country quite different than his own, this worldview will come into play. It's no different than a Japanese director peering into my culture, aka Judaism: they can try, but unless they understand my history and life experience, it'll never be entirely-successful. Thus is the issue of racial bias: you can take the person out of the culture, but you'll never take the culture out of the person. Whether it's Anderson casting mostly white people for his roles, stereotyping Japanese people, or even limited the scope of what he covers in his story, that racial bias is gonna be there in some form. And that's troubling.
The general perceptions of art need to change too. Hollywood needs to let other voices speak, irrespective of what position they're given. And we, as a collective, have to demand better of artists. It's not like Wonder Woman and Black Panther were only box-office smashers because they were superhero films. That may be part of it, but they also catered to niches not normally represented.
I know some of you don't understand, and I get it. That's your privilege talking, of which I also possess a certain amount. But think about it this way: when Love, Simon came out, there were stories of gay people finally feeling comfortable enough to express their gayness. Amongst them was Joey Pollari, an actor from the film who'd long felt shame. This is a phenomenon not exclusive to gay people or Love, Simon, as it happens whenever a minority of any kind gets a chance in the limelight. Isn't that something we should be celebrating, not shaming?
So yes, I stand by my claim that this isn't entirely Wes Anderson's fault, even if he deserves some of the rap. Because art is also part of a grander system of biases and prejudices. If we're to change that, part of it means acknowledging that Wes Anderson's failings aren't the full picture.