Exercising “Escapism” in Modern Black Cinema
I actually hope that more black movies follow in the direction of ‘Get Out’ and ‘Sorry to Bother You’ in regards to utilizing various genres to approach social commentary and political satire with layers of content. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate films such as ‘Dope’, ‘First Match’ or ‘BlacKkKlansman’, however, it’s easier to find myself engaged when the messages are intertwined with entertainment that first serves as a form of escapism, instead of a hammered lesson that I’ll feel like is only worth a viewing or two.
I look back and I’m actually surprised by how many of my favorite films have anti-capitalist themes. From ‘Daybreakers’ (which has parallels to veganism), to ‘Snowpiercer’, ‘Repo Men’, to ‘American Beauty’ (which I felt was more about self-actualization as a man, the first time I saw it).
There’s so much that can be tackled without the confines of uninspired urbanism, which creates disinterest for me in a project when I notice it as the main theme. I’ve seen hundreds of wildly artistic movies that you could swap the cast out with black actors/actresses without making much of a cultural difference, and it shouldn’t be seen as “different” as there shouldn’t be a definitive black experience in the case of representation. That’s not to say that the topic of race shouldn’t be brought up at all, as that would be a bit unrealistic. It’s allowing more than just a couple of perspectives in an unbiased manner that I’m more concerned with. I don’t want limitations being placed on creativity because of the fear of judgment from peers.
Issues with the movie aside, I still find it perplexing as to why Spike Lee would choose to cast Josh Brolin as Oh Dae-su/Joe Doucett in the American remake of ‘Oldboy’ when it would have been a great opportunity to employ a black cast, which would have brought in a larger audience and encourage tweaks for an already too familiar script. The incestual element would have proven controversial, but also daring. Much like Ari Aster’s short film ‘The Strange Thing About the Johnsons’. Ironically, this was done on a much lower scale by a prior film in 2012 that was inspired by the Korean adaptation of ‘Oldboy’ called ‘The Samaritan’ starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ruth Negga.
That said, the possible choice Spike Lee could have made might have caused the remake to be labeled as the “black version” of ‘Oldboy’, even though cultural differences would be due more to it being an American translation than race. There’s really nothing that could be done to change that perception because precedents may have been set, thanks to movies like ‘The Wiz’ and other content we create that blackwash white characters in order to “fill the need” for diversity instead of taking the time to create it. Until we move away from that, any well-intentioned remake will be seen as a desperate copy.
I’m speculating at this point, but I believe part of the problem is what creators are exposed to. I’m not hard-pressed to find comedic Instagram videos or dramatic short films, yet anything else that takes influence from relatively obscure sources is few and far between. I’ve said the same thing about the fascination of Japanese culture and implementing Kanji. It was a personal decision of mine to fuse African-inspired culture as modern placement in my work because I wanted to motivate others to see it as an extension of my heritage, rather than latch on to one that’s developed enough popularity. I don’t want it used as a momentary phase of hype when accessibility can assist with the reach of followers that are invested long-term because of overall quality.