Some Movie-Related News: 'Extraordinary Measures,' 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan'
Some news to pass along...
1. Another whitewashing case over in Hollywood. The movie Extraordinary Measures, starring Harrison Ford as a brilliant scientist, is based on real-life Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen and his research while at Duke University. Dr. Chen has been mentioned as a possible future Nobel Prize winner for his research, and now heads a research institute in Taiwan. Roger Ebert called out the movie's whitewashing in his recent review. Add this to the list of recent Hollywood movies that have whitewashed characters: from 21, to Avatar: Last Airbender, to remakes (more like near-copies) like The Departed.
2. Hugh Jackman is set to star in Hollywood's next White Knight-genre film. According to one movie site, "Set in 19th-century remote China, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan revolves around the lifelong friendship of Lily and Snow Flower and their imprisonment by rigid cultural codes of conduct for women." The film is based on the book by Lisa See and will be directed by Wayne Wang, a veteran of the White Knight genre after his pandering work The Joy Luck Club. The film is co-produced by Wendi Murdoch, who also acts in the film.
Based on the author's own description of the book, it depicts illiterate women, whose feet were bound, isolated in single-window rooms. It also features physically abusive husbands. I'm not surprised to see the author's page list what the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about her book: "With Snow Flower, See has written a novel that ranks with the best fiction of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, the modern luminaries of Chinese storytelling." Entertainment Weekly wrote, "You can relish See's extraordinary fourth novel as a meticulously researched account of women's lives in 19th-century China, where it is 'better to have a dog than a daughter.' (And where the girls' feet are bound in a stomach-turning ritual that See describes with admirable precision and coolness)." Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston rave about the book as well on the author's page -- no surprise there.
Color me not amused.
When will there be a movie set in 19th-century Britain or America, about illiterate women who must wear suffocating and damaging corsets, who can be legally raped/beaten and are treated like property, who must give all their possessions and wealth to their husbands, who must obey marriage laws and a religion which specifically describes them as 2nd-class, who are blocked from education or work, and who are not considered citizens? There probably aren't enough self-righteous consumers in Asia, or elsewhere outside the United States, to create an 'Asian Knight' art market for works like that, in a way that exists in the United States.
Here is what one blogger had to say about white privilege in film. This writer asks why movies like Avatar (and also District 9, Dances with Wolves, Last Samurai, etc) must insist on using a white protagonist in order to be "relatable" to audiences. In these stories, the white protagonists side with foreigners and must save/lead the people against whatever aspect of Western civilization endangers them. The White Knight genre is related to this as well, and is an even worse case of white privilege, where a white protagonist character is needed to save oppressed (and more backwards) people from their own savage and uncivilized cultures. It becomes even more damaging when minority artists themselves help to create works that pander or support these existing white-privilege structures, consumer tastes, or ideologies, and give them credibility.