(Photo credit: Disney, who needs to treat my boy Aladdin right.)
For the amount of times Disney’s live-action Aladdin has been in the news for the right (and hot) reasons, there’s just as many times the company has put its film in the limelight for highly controversial reasons. It seems like Disney still hasn’t gotten enough of being controversial with this film; they managed to find a way to inject brownface into the proceedings
According to Deadline, The Daily Mail and The Sunday Times both reported that the film had been tanning up white actors needed for background roles, stunt positions, “camel handlers” and dancers during filming at Longcross Studios near London. The Times went further by quoting Kaushal Odedra, an extra hired for filming, who said he saw at least 20 “very fair skinned” actors waiting in line at make-up tents “waiting to have their skin darkened.”
“Disney are sending out a message that your skin colour, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can be powered on and washed off,” he told the newspaper (beware: you need an account to read the rest of the article on the Times’ website).
Disney has since put out a statement via a spokesperson that doesn’t help matters. If anything, it makes things worse.
“Great care was taken to put together one of the largest most diverse casts ever seen on screen. Diversity of our cast and background performers was a requirement and only in a handful of instances when it was a matter of specialty skills, safety and control (special effects rigs, stunt performers and handling of animals) were crew made up to blend in.”
On the one hand, it’s bold for the company to not deny the fact that brownface was used. The fact that they didn’t shy away from it isn’t why I hate this statement. I hate the statement because it acts like brownface was a necessary evil for this movie, when in fact brownface can be avoided at all costs all the time.
If Agrabah is being positioned as a multicultural place—according to Deadline, a reported 400 of 500 of the background actors and performers are Middle Eastern, Indian, African, Asian and Mediterranean, then why can’t the white dancers, animal handlers, stunt people, etc., just be left as they are? Why was it necessary that they “blend in” if there’s already a white person cast as part of the main cast of the movie? In 2017, Billy Magnussen was cast in a brand-new role made exclusively for this film. So why the need for brownface? Color me confused.
Disney, can you please just make this film without any further complications and scandals? I just want Aladdin and Jasmine, two of my favorite Disney prince and princess combos, to be presented right and with some dignity. Please. Thanks.
Disney’s Mulan is headed in the right direction finally, at least with casting its main star. Say hello to our Mulan–Liu Yifei, star of international films The Forbidden Kingdom, Outcast, and The Chinese Widow.
Liu, otherwise known as Crystal Liu in the States, has gotten the royal treatment from Disney, including a Mulan-themed photo shoot to celebrate the casting news. The photos, which Liu posted to her Instagram page, give a tease as to what Liu might look as a cinematic Mulan–of course, she’s wearing high fashion in these photos, but you can see she definitely knows how to work a camera and pose with a sword (she is a model and ambassador for fashion houses like Dior).
Mulan is expected to come to theaters in 2019. Hopefully we’ll know if we have a bisexual Li Shang by that point, if we even have Shang at all–at last check, the film is planning on totally rewriting the role into a new character, which is not only annoying, but a missed opportunity for some LGBT representation. But for now, let’s bask in the cool photos; I’ll save that axe to grind at a later date.
Coco has premiered to great fanfare at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico, and so far, the buzz is positive! Hearing about good buzz is different than actually reading it, so here are seven reviews from both American and Mexican critics, all of which have something positive to say about the film that finally breaks through Pixar’s color and non-Western cultural barrier.
“A walk among the Mexicans”
The general impression is one of admiration and even respect [;].although it does not give us one of the biggest Pixar movies, at least it gives the world the possibility of dreaming of a walk among the Mexicans.—Alonso Díaz de la Vega, El Universal [translation]
“Coco [points] toward a less-homogenized…future”
“There’s no getting around that Disney/Pixar hope “Coco” absolves them of past ethnic-representation sins in forging popular movie fare. But the honest feeling coursing through “Coco” is its own marigold bridge in a way, pointing toward a less-homogenized, but no less universal-in-theme future for creators of animated movies.”–Robert Abele, The Wrap
“[Coco speaks] of a real knowledge of the world that it wants to portray.”
“[T]here is a series of data, winks, images, phrases and faces that speak of a real knowledge of the world that it wants to portray, fruit undoubtedly of a deep investigation and without hurries. Coco gets it not without stumbling, but with a kindness that will leave you open-mouthed more than once.”–Erick Estrada, CineGarage [translation]
“[Coco is] free of the watering down or whitewashing [in] Americanized appropriations.”
“Delivering a universal message about family bonds while adhering to folkloric traditions free of the watering down or whitewashing that have often typified Americanized appropriations of cultural heritage, the gorgeous production also boasts vibrant visuals and a peerless voice cast populated almost entirely by Mexican and Latino actors.”–Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter
“Unkrich and his team [demonstrate] an essential understanding of the Mexican tradition.”
“Unkrich and his team avoid reductionism by demonstrating an essential understanding of the Mexican tradition through a respectful and caring approach, and seeking the opportune moment to pay tribute to iconic Mexican cultural icons such as El Santo, Frida Kahlo, Cantinflas, Pedro Infante and, Of course, José Guadalupe Posada, whose engravings immortalized the figure of La Catrina. Although the film abuses the somewhat naive and childish physical gags – almost all linked to the ease with which the dead manipulate or lose their own bones – Coco is a film about the celebration of the family, the importance of memories and the connection through the generations[.]–Luis Fernando Galván, En Filme [translation, links added]
“Unkrich…embraces and incorporates the customs and folklore of Día de Muertos into the very fabric of the film.”
“For Mexican audiences — or those who live in California, Texas, or any place with a visible Latino presence — the cultural iconography of the Land of the Dead ought to look quite familiar, as Unkrich (who previously oversaw “Toy Story 3”) embraces and incorporates the customs and folklore of Día de Muertos into the very fabric of the film.”–Peter Debruge, Variety
“The most risky Pixar film and, therefore, the most fruitful.”
“One thing is for sure: the creators of Coco did the homework.The various research trips they made to the country are evident in what could be the most risky Pixar film and, therefore, the most fruitful and even hopeful[.]”–Jessica Oliva, Cine Premiere [translation]
Coco comes to theaters Nov. 22.
It’s official–he MCU finally has a confirmed LGBT character! According to Tessa Thompson (in response to someone else who was being antagonistic), her Thor: Ragnarok character Valkyrie is bisexual, just like how she is in the comic books.
She’s bi. And yes, she cares very little about what men think of her. What a joy to play! https://t.co/d0LZKTHCfL
— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) October 21, 2017
She later tweeted this clarification.
YES! Val is Bi in the comics & I was faithful to that in her depiction. But her sexuality isn’t explicitly addressed in Thor: Ragnarok. https://t.co/hmb5lYN5to
— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) October 23, 2017
When the news broke, the internet was decidedly of two camps–one who felt Thompson’s admission was proof of Marvel (aka Disney) finally giving much-needed bisexual representation, and the other, who felt like it was still Marvel/Disney trying to have their cake and eat it too.
Guess what? Both camps are right. Here’s why.
1. Yes, it is a step in the right direction
Even though an actor admitting that her character is still canonically bi shouldn’t be that big of a deal (i.e. when Ryan Reynolds said Deadpool was still going to be bi in his film adaptations), for a place as faux-liberal as Disney, it’s a very big deal. This is coming from a company that has created their Marvel franchise into a world of toxic and fragile masculinity, where even crying gets seen as a girly thing to do.
Even though fans have long had their speculations about certain characters, this is the first time anyone from the MCU has finally gone on record as saying their character is part of the LGBT spectrum. For many fans, this will mean they can finally, canonically claim someone as a positive representation. They’ll be able to go see Thor: Ragnarok and feel happy that finally there’s someone like them on screen. Also, for some, the fact that her sexuality isn’t expressed could be a positive; the ultimate goal for LGBT characters is for their sexuality to be treated like a non-issue; for some viewers, having it as a “non-issue” means that it’s not used as Valkyrie’s defining quality.
2. Valkyrie’s bisexuality not being physically represented could be a problem.
Comic book writer Gail Simone tweeted this sentiment, and I don’t think she’s alone.
I want to be happy about this but…
Dang it, why is this stuff still coded and ‘implied?’ https://t.co/jQLN227J2C
— GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) October 24, 2017
For as many people who are happy just to her that Valkyrie is still bisexual in the films, there are just as many who will feel like Disney hasn’t gone far enough. It’s one thing to have an actor say that their character is still canon-compliant as far as their sexual orientation goes; it’s another to actually have that character express that orientation on screen. If it’s not a big deal, then why can’t she be seen with a girlfriend or a boyfriend?
To be fair, Thompson implied to a Twitter follower that a blonde valkyrie seen with her character is, in fact, our Valkyrie’s girlfriend, but the implication is made with a winking emoji, not words. To use Simone’s words, it’s still an implication, not an outright fact.
What can we take from this?
To look at this thing from a macro view, Disney is a company that has many branches that don’t often work together. For instance, the Disney Channel is making its own network history by having its first openly gay storyline in its popular show Andi Mack. And earlier this year, Disney Junior showcased its first lesbian couple on the massively popular Doc McStuffins. ABC routinely focuses on LGBT storylines through How to Get Away with Murder, Grey’s Anatomy, Fresh Off the Boat, black-ish, When We Rise and The Real O’Neals (recently cancelled).
Disney proper has also dabbled with gay representation, to clumsy effect, in Beauty and the Beast (it’s the thought that counts, but still, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as it was made out to be, and it was made worse by Josh Gad severely backtracking for no reason). But while its offshoots have a much more nimble time delving into LGBT-friendly storylines, Disney itself has trouble, as evidenced by that Beauty and the Beast scenario and the severe lack of storylines in Lucasfilm and Marvel movies. Maybe Valkyrie is the first true step for LGBT representation in Marvel films. If that’s the case, then maybe their next foray will be less timid and more boisterous.