Review: Netflix’s Bright: Were It Not For Blatant Racism, It Could Have Begun A Great New Franchise | Blog#42
We watched Bright as a family last week. We were riveted from start to finish. On a technical level, the movie is very well executed. Bright is very fast-paced and visually engaging. The marriage of cop thriller and fantasy genres works well.
Within the first half hour, the disorientation of this dystopian version of Los Angeles gets an explanation and the viewer is told how the Orcs, elves and fairies came to share life on earth with their human counterparts. Without spoiling any of the plot, one can say that Bright was definitely written with more installments in mind. The lead character and protagonists’ conflicts were developed in a manner that makes it possible to easily do another two or three installments.
That said, some things bothered me about the movie, and I couldn’t put my finger on their magnitude until I saw this post on Son of Baldwin’s Facebook page. Then, it all clicked.
I found Bright’s portrayal of Los Angeles very disorienting and that nagged at me all throughout the movie. After reading Son of Baldwin’s post, it finally dawned on me why that was.
Every last racial cliche was represented in this movie, right down to the erasure of Black women from the main character’s life. I say erasure because, aside from the fact that Smith’s character is married to a white woman, there are no Black women in a speaking role in the entire movie. Moreover, the three Black women who do appear in this film are uncredited according to IMDB. As for the way Black men are portrayed, specifically in relation to the main character, it reaffirms every consciously and subconsciously biased mental image white people have of African Americans when they move into their neighborhood.
Did the bad guys all have to be Latino? This portrayal of Mexican gangs seems to have been lifted right out of Election 2016’s Trumpian scaremongering. It isn’t as if LA doesn’t have its share of white supremacist gangs to draw bad guy examples from. Heck, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map,” we even have the Klan here! In retrospect, one wonders about this configuration of this nation’s racial makeup… What metaphorical racial group do the Orcs really represent?
Other than Will Smith, there really were no Black characters to speak of in this movie, not counting the odd bystander in street shots and at the police station, or Smith’s home value-reducing gangsta neighbors. Nearly all of the cops Smith interacts with, except for his Orc partner (portrayed by a white actor) are white, with the exception of the Latino Los Angeles Sheriff and Smith’s corrupt sergeant, portrayed by Margaret Cho as… Sargent Ching. Ching? How creative…
One truly cringeworthy moment comes early on, as Smith is dispatched by his wife on a fairy-killing mission. That a cop-thriller movie includes violence is a given. Hearing Smith say “fairy lives don’t matter” as he gives the fairy a final whack was horrifying.
It boggles the mind, in the post-Obama, Black Lives Matter era, a year into the Trump presidency, that a moviemaker snags $90 million in funding and gets away with this kind of casting, racial framing, and gets turned into a franchise, when we have a shining example of everything done right in the Black Panther movie, and the now cancelled comic book series, Black Panther: World of Wakanda, under Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay’s leadership.
So, who do we fault for these lapses?
For starters, Netflix for not investing in a cadre of people whose job it is to critique and then bring some semblance of balance to the social relevance of scripts that are greenlighted?
Will Smith for being blind to glaring racial stereotyping in a movie he accepted a role in and not demanding a modicum of changes? I am being kind here. In the trailer, Smith says “All of the races are different. Just ’cause they’re different doesn’t mean anybody’s better or worse than anybody.” As a non-Black person, I won’t step outside my lane and write about what Smith’s responsibilities are here. I will say, however, that I noticed the difference between what he said and what the movie ends up portraying.
The bulk of the blame has to go to the film’s director and scriptwriter, Max Landis, for embodying James Baldwin’s famous quote about white people?
“Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”
The Fire Next Time (1963)
After all, this alternative reality of Los Angeles with its portrayal of its people are his creation.
Business Insider reported, two days before Bright’s premiere, that Netflix has already ordered a sequel. It is my hope, since the next installment of this will be a reality, that this and other social critiques will filter up to Mr. Landis and he will not only take them to heart, but work very hard to correct the terrible blunders pointed out here and elsewhere. Without major corrections and some owning up to these glaring lapses from Max Landis, Bright2 will be a no-go for me.