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Tim Burton and the Pernicious Racial Bias of "Realism"

By Genevieve Burgess | Think Pieces | September 30, 2016 | Comments ()

By Genevieve Burgess | Think Pieces | September 30, 2016 |


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Racial diversity in films has become something of a hot topic in recent years, which is overall a good thing. Being attuned to and aware of the representation that we’re passively absorbing is part of understanding our own perceptions of the world and unconscious biases. Tim Burton was interviewed about the racial diversity, or rather lack thereof, in his new movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and had this to say:

“Nowadays, people are talking about it more,” he says regarding on-screen diversity. But “things either call for things, or they don’t. I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”

This idea that all people socialize and live in racially homogenous groups, and any deviation from that is blatant tokenism, is a pretty pernicious form of racial bias on Burton’s part. There’s no denying that the US is still a heavily segregated society, but I lived somewhere where I was sometimes the only white girl in a class, and in a different area we had one black kid or Asian kid in the class sometimes. Not because we were stage-directed and “cast” that way, but because that’s how life works sometimes. It’s a real experience that real people have lived through. Obviously a “one and only” situation isn’t ideal, but saying that you can’t cast even one person of color because it’s just not realistic is absurd. And it feeds into the vicious cycle of homogeneous casts.

Racial diversity isn’t something that needs to be worked over and hand-wrung over to the degree that a lot of people in Hollywood seem to think. If you open up the casting process to ALL children within the target age range and keep an open mind, it will probably happen naturally. Just like it can, and does, in the real world. Besides, as long as we’re talking about “realism” this is a movie that’s basically “X-Men for Indoor Kids” and features a woman who turns into a bird, among other far more impossible scenarios than maybe a few children of color in the mix.


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