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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unintended Musings on Bad Cinema

So, 2 summers ago I went to see Hancock in the theater. I think I was on a summer movie kick or something. For those who don't know, Hancock is an action movie starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman (he was on Arrested Development), and Charlize Theron. RottenTomatoes (the film critic site) gives the movie a 40%.

A brief (spoilery) overview of the plot is that there's this guy who has super powers (Will Smith, heretofore referred to as Will Smith) who the whole town thinks is a giant asshole, cause he sort of is. He's been around for as long as anyone can remember and he never ages and he just sort of uses his super powers (flight, super strength, speed, imperviousness to weapons) to engage in chaotic amoral things, and to drink until he passes out. One day, he saves the life of a down on his luck PR guy (Jason Bateman), who decides to remake Will Smith's image. Jason Bateman's wife (Charlize Theron) hates this idea, and basically implies that she thinks that Will Smith is an evil idiot, even though she's never met him. But, Jason Bateman decides to start this campaign anyway, and gets Will Smith to stop drinking, teaches him about not pissing off local police, gets him a superhero costume, etc.

Then we find out that actually Charlize Theron knows Will Smith because they're both of a race of ancient angel people who all (but them two) died out. They are all super strong, fast, invulnerable, etc... except that all of them are one half of a pair (Charlize is Will's other half), who are all opposites (as far as I could tell all this refers to is race and gender), and inextricably drawn to each other. When the pairs spend much time together they start to become human, which is neat, other than then other people generally don't like interracial couples and they've all been murdered. Will Smith doesn't remember any of this because the last time that he and Charlize spent time together, a mob attacked them and gave him a concussion and by the time he magic healed, his memory was gone.

Then there's lots of drama with an escaped criminal and Will Smith almost dying blah blah.

Anyway, so I was driving home the other day and thinking about this movie, and thinking about that "opposites" bit (there are a few other weird/interesting things, like how at the end the three of them are sort of in an V relationship where Will and Charlize never actually see each other), and well... obviously Black people aren't actually opposites of White people. What about Asians? And Latino/as? And Native/Indigenous Peoples? Whose opposites are they?

I just see a lot of erasure, especially in the US, when talking about "racial differences" or "race relations" of all the groups that aren't White/Black. And I think even the naming of the groups as "white" and "black" feeds into that a lot. Because with colors, white and black *ARE* opposite, but in some movie where "opposites attract" what the fuck does that mean for people?

And really, even if in the world of this movie somehow the ethnic/racial groupings of white people and black people were opposite, obviously the characters aren't "opposite" in a whole ton of other ways (I reject the idea that men and women are opposite, but for the sake of argument): they both have superpowers, they are both tall for their respective sexes, they are both skinny, they are both temporarily able-bodied, they are both cisgender/cissexual, and they are both straight.

But really, how do we work past this conception of duality, or binary as it were, when it comes to race?


  1. ...I really never thought of them as being opposites. And the race thing NEVER entered my mind- it's such a none-issue to me that the only thing that popped into my head at any point during the two or three times I've seen the film (and during the discussions on it) was when she tried to claim they were siblings.
    Which, you know, what with them being ancient mystical beings and all, I supposed there's some potential argument that proves how that can be possible- but still. Siblings suggests some sort of shared genetic material. Which they clearly didn't have, so I don't know why she even tried it.

  2. If you aren't USA based (I don't know), that might explain why the "opposites" didn't come out as strongly for you. The history in this country (the USA) around interracial relationships is Totally Fucked Up.

    When you take into consideration that the legality of interracial couples was in question within the past 50 years (in the US), the fact that Will Smith and Charlize Theron would be an interracial couple jumps out as being very very taboo and salient to the violence they faced. Additionally, I believe (though couldn't say for certain) that his amnesia stems from the early half of the 20th century, and that it's framed as him having been jumped by thugs while walking with Charlize. Which again, it was really common for Black men/boys to be attacked for any perception of "disrespect" towards a White woman (and being in a committed relationship constituted "disrespect"), just look up Emmett Till if you'd like a particularly gruesome example of the violence.

    In any case, I can't find specific instances of him or her saying anything exactly about them being "opposites," however I feel like there are allusions to magnetism, which requires opposite/opposing charges to work.


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