Racism in Post-Racial Hollywood

I was working on my Netflix queue yesterday and as part of this watched The Harder They Fall. It’s a pretty new western with all the named characters being black. (And yes, like the movie informs us in the beginning, there were plenty of black people in the so-called Wild West.)

It’s nice that movies are finally ready to discuss their own racist history in such a way, even if the racial aspect is only mentioned in the beginning and is not a major component of the story (but it does come up). The movie does get somewhat indulgent in it’s stylishness, but it’s a pretty good movie.

I also finally got around to watching The Trial of the Chicago 7. I was not as impressed. While it had some interesting decisions, it felt pretty regular Oscar Bait (it did get nominations, but didn’t win any). The movie is about these seven people (early on eight) who are accused of inciting a riot in protest of the Vietnam war. For this reason one of them keeps recording the names of the dead American soldiers each day.

This actually happened. Rennie Davis did this every day. However, what the movie doesn’t tell you is that Rennie Davis actually didn’t limit himself to the Americans. He would also record the names of all the Vietnamese soldiers as well. I don’t know how he got these names, but apparently he did manage to get them somehow.

So, for some reason, the writer-director Aaron Sorkin decided to leave this out. This seems pretty puzzling to me. The fact that the guy actually cared about the poor Vietnamese people, who were the actual victims in all of this, is a positive characteristic and the movie does do it’s best to paint the seven in a positive light. So, did the Sorkin think the audience wouldn’t react well to seeing this happen? Did he think the audience wouldn’t care, so it was not worth mentioning?

I mean, sure, the United States was pumping huge amounts of money into the war and many Americans were dying because of it, but that is not the real story here. That’s actually a shitty way of looking at this. Vietnam had a population of around 38 million at the time and there around four million casualties, over half of which were civilians, meaning well over 10% of the population died in this war. While you can’t put the blame solely on Americans (as these figures include the war with France as well), that is a devastating number. Add the wounded and the damage to both the enviroment from chemical warfare and the damage to the infrastructure and you can’t not come to the conclusion that these are the people you should be symphatizing with.

And why did all this happen? For no real reason. Americans supposedly wanted to stop the Chinese influence from spreading into Vietnam, but as McNamara’s counterpart from Vietnam put it (and I’m paraphrasing), the Vietnamese people had been fighting a millenium to keep the Chinese out of their country. Still, Sorkin chooses not to just forget about them. They are meaningless in this equation.

Not that the developing world gets any sort of positive attention from Hollywood. Take Black Panther for example (and this is a spoiler). At the end of the movie, T’Challa has finally decided to use the immense wealth of his country to help Africans. So, where does he go to? To California, of course. Sure, there’s two additional things to consider here: First, this was the hood his uncle and cousin tried to work to make the area better, and secondly, Africa is not as messy a place as a whole as we are often lead to believe.

Still, it does seem weird that if you are going to use your resources to help Africans, you’d start from the country which has the resources to do this themselves. There’s plenty of people in Africa who could use the help as well, but apparently, they are not a priority. Just add a little piece of news, where the story is that some mysterious benefactor has bought all the debts of African countries and then forgiven it. Based on the lore, T’Challa would have enough resources to just do it.

But for Hollywood, if you are outside of the developed world, you are not a human. You are just a number at best, unless a white savior happens to notice you, in which case you get to represent your people.

I know the developing world isn’t the most lucrative market for these movies, but we still need to see these people as humans, who have as much of a right to exist as we do. If we would get into an argument about this, it would be quite easy to argue that maybe they have even a stronger right than us. I mean, people in Africa aren’t causing the climate change despite there being around billion of them. Nor should the fact that we’ve been exploiting the developing world for hundreds of years give us any kind of superiority. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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