As the movies change, so does culture

Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Ready Player One, a Spielberg film, has taken the weekend box office racking in an
impressive fifty three million dollars while also performing very well in foreign markets like China, equally impressive is the Taraji P Henson driven film Acrimony portraying the actress as character Melinda Gayle.

For me, this has been an amazing weekend of film as I very much enjoy Taraji P Henson as an actress and most certainly Steven Spielberg as a director. Yet even more interesting is how both projects speak to diversity within the industry today. As Hollywood seeks to be even more equitable among the sexes creating a more represented world we have seen various individuals start to include inclusion riders as part of their contracts for their projects, Michael B. Jordan, and director Paul Feig being some. I love and hate this idea as my personal hope is that inclusion riders won’t be necessary in the future, that we might simply adopt an attitude of inclusion as a means of ideal.

What I mean by the latter is that it could be more powerful to provide someone an opportunity not out of a quota but because they are simply the best person for that opportunity. It is part of the reason why it has been so great to see another film driven by a lead female lead protagonist partnered with an African American male in producer Tyler Perry for the film Acrimony. This actually marks two female lead films sitting atop the top ten list in the weekend box office with the other being Tomb Raider.

The only criticism I have when considering Acrimony would be starting Taraji P. Henson in such a familiar place with respect to her character. We play pretty close to stereotypes with regard to the “angry woman” straddling the line between power and vengeful tirade which one may argue is the point of the film… no spoilers… but the latter places the film close to stereotypes of old. I would love to see Taraji in more films that allowed her to be even more far removed from social constructs.

With Ready Player One, I felt the opposite dynamic play out, a movie where characters escape stereotypes and social themes to literally be whatever they wanted through their avatars in a place rightfully entitled the Oasis. I have actually always been a gamer enjoying most things adventure based from old school nintendo to virtual reality which is part of the reason why I connected so well to the story. However, with all my favorite movies there is always a fair amount of subtext that takes it beyond a film into a classic and Ready Player One is no different because of the characters. Most notably Olivia Cooke and Tye Sheridan’s characters, Wade and Samantha, who set off on a journey that you’ll have to see in the film but one that deals with themes of equality and personhood through its virtual reality world.

When I see this as an African American performer as I watch my female artist
companions, it feels like opportunities are becoming more diverse with traditional rules being broken on what can be successful when not subscribing to the traditional model of what a hero is supposed to be. A hero is different for everyone, which is why it is beneficial and nice to see different types both male and female represented on screen. I consider the rhetoric that women and African American films don’t perform well, aren’t interesting, etc. To be honest, in the past there may have been some truth to this given the small amount of roles women and African Americans were set to play.

I think back to blaxploitation films like Foxy Brown mixing stereotype with sex appeal. I think of other films of today where women have typically been portrayed as moms or housewives. But even with those films there have been positive aspects, the mere sense of representation on screen from underrepresented groups leading to more interesting opportunities for future screen work to where the better parts of a culture or sex could be highlighted. I consider some of the more powerful films and projects in the last couple years such as the beautifully shot Black Panther utilizing a female cinematographer in the talented Rachel Morrison. I consider Hidden Figures and their amazing cast. I consider some of the projects I’ve had the pleasure of being apart of. All this consideration has shown me that when given a shot, we are all able to advance, I as an African American man, my female companions, talented filmmakers, everyone willing to contribute to a greater goal beyond themselves.