Cloud Atlas and Race
Struggling with critics of late, Cloud Atlas has been greatly misinterpreted — especially Laura Beck at Jezebel – for being racially insensitive. I was stunned to find this out, thanks to Matt Patches on Twitter. I guess folks need something to complain about because there aren’t enough bugs stuck up our asses it seems.
Yes, in Wachowski Starship’s latest enterprise, a live-action telling of David Mitchell’s 2004 mindfuck multi-generational novel Cloud Atlas, we’re treated to a delightful dose of classic yellowface. Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess, white actors, play characters who in some lifetimes are East Asian. So, of course, they just had them perform those roles with their eyes taped to make them look, “Asian.”* I guess John Woo was busy and there are no other Korean actors in the world. Also, as of yet, nobody’s been able to successfully Frankenweenie Mickey Rooney, so there was literally no other way.
What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with it starts in the Wachowski’s unheard of stroke of genius to cast lots of black actors and Asian actors, all of whom play multiple parts – you have black playing white, white playing black, Asian playing non-Asian and on and on it goes. By the end of the film it finally dawns on you that the whole point of that is the much-needed understanding that what we are on the outside is just details, baby, details. Our skin, our eyes, our hair – those describe how we look but not who we are. It is a revolutionary idea now stuffed into a hateful little jar of finger-pointing. You would think anyone would notice how rare it is for a mainstream Hollywood film to cast so many people of color in one film. You would think. But no. It is comments like these that keep Hollywood hamstrung and paralyzed. The end result of this means more movies with only white people in them because there is nothing to criticize. The Wachowskis have done something bold here. God help us if we listen to people like Laura Beck.
Meanwhile, for their part, the Wachowskis, who are a lot more patient than I am, told Christopher Rosen:
Andy Wachowski: Well, that’s good that people are casting a critical eye. We need to cast critical eyes toward these things. What are the motivations behind directors and casting? I totally support it. But our intention is the antithesis of that idea. The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race. The character of this film is humanity, so if you look at our past work and consider what our intention might be, we ask that those people give us a chance and at least see the movie before they start casting judgement.
Lana Wachowski: Their suggestion is that our tribes have to always remain separate. That the things that makes us different are essential elements to our representation and our identity. Why we were attracted to the book is that the book has a bigger perspective. The book suggests that there is a humanity that is beyond our tribe, our ethnic features. A humanity that is beyond our gender. A humanity that unites all of us and transcends our tribal differences. As long as we continue to build these intractable and insurmountable walls between us to make these distinctions, we will continue to have intellectual apparatus that allows us to make wars and that allows to dominate, exploit and destroy others. Because we don’t think of them like we think about our own kind, our own tribe.
Their intention rang loud and clear to anyone whose hearts and minds remain open.