LINDSAY: The term ‘Oscar Bait’ is relatively new, and although the concept has been around for a few decades, it was the 78th Academy Awards in 2006 that indirectly popularized the term outside of film circles into household use. SNL NARRATOR: Oscar bait checks off all the boxes: Racial tension, Can I help you with your groceries? Haven’t you done enough, whitey? LINDSAY: The 78th Academy Awards became infamous for its Best Picture winner. As it was an exceptionally strong year for thoughtful adult dramas, and as far as the nominees went, there was really only one wrong answer. JACK: And the Oscar goes to: “Crash”. LINDSAY: “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain”, “Capote”, “Good Night and Good Luck”, and “Munich”, despite not winning Best Picture at any other major film awards or even being nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes. Several lessons were learned that night. One, that aggressive ‘for your consideration’ campaigns work, regardless of merit, and two, meditations on the subject of race that placed the root of the problems on flawed individuals rather than historical systemic and structural injustices will win awards. SANDRA: “But if a white person sees two black men walking towards her, and she turns and walks in the other direction, she’s a racist!” I can’t look at you without thinking about the five or six more qualified white men who didn’t get your job. It’s time for you to go. LINDSAY: We have seen this play out time and time again since “Crash” won Best Picture. That said, though “Crash” beating favorite “Brokeback Mountain” was controversial at the time, History has only been more unkind to “Crash”. Yale professor Hsuan Hsu wrote that Crash “imagines racial encounter along the lines of individual experience of hate and forgiveness without exploring questions of structural inequality and public redress.” In 2009 writer and cultural critic Ta-Nehsi Coates called it “the worst movie of the decade,” stating “I don’t think there’s a single human being in ‘Crash’. “Instead you have arguments in propaganda violently bumping into each other, “Impressed with their own quirkiness and calling it the “apotheosis of a kind of unthinking, incurious, nihilisitic, multiculturalism”. You noticed… He’s talking a lot less black. Sorry. You now see, my Blake life… Osama! Plan the jihad on your own time. SANDRA: “And he’s not gonna go sell our key to one of his gangbanger friends the moment he is out our door!” THANDIE: “You thought you saw a white woman blowing a black man, and that just drove your little cracker ass crazy!” Don’t be fuckin sign with me (?) LINDSAY: And there was a point in time when I would have agreed with that, Then “Bright” came along. [Rap Critic sings “Orc Cop”] LINDSAY: There’s this narrative that’s emerged surrounding Netflix’s “Bright”, that audiences loved it and critics hated it. It’s hard to measure “Bright” success against the typical Hollywood release, which measures success with box office returns. Netflix doesn’t release metrics, but according to Nielsen, which has recently started recording metrics for streaming services, “Bright” got about 22 million eyeballs. That is to say about 11 million people (assuming an average of about two eyeballs per person) during the first three days of its release. Assuming every person who watched “Bright” at home would have paid money to see in theaters, that would put it roughly on track with “Transformers 4”, and just behind “Thor: Ragnarok”. Very respectable, especially for a non-franchise film, but this again assumes that everyone who watched “Bright” in those three days in the comfort of their own homes would have gone outside into the world and watched it in theaters. A mighty big jump. The sub-narrative to this is the conspiracy narrative, which is stupid but has become part of the discussion, and must therefore be addressed. That big Hollywood is paying off critics to pan “Bright” because the new model “Bright” represents is a huge threat to their revenue. Which, you know, it kind of is, but you all have got to stop with the conspiracy theories around critics being paid off because the Hollywood Illuminati are trying to crush your movie. There isplentyto dislike about “Bright”. WILL: “Fairy lives don’t matter today.” LINDSAY: It is true that despite the critical reception, “Bright” could possibly represent a paradigm shift in filmmaking – away from the focused theatrical experience and towards streaming, all while not needing to sacrifice big names or budgets. Netflix took a lot of risks with “Bright”, and even if this project wasn’t the greatest triumph, it will be interesting to see where they take other projects in the future. Although I do question their decision not to hire a screenwriter for “Bright”, and to go ahead with the project completely screenwriter-less… I don’t know. They already ordered a sequel from… Trigger Warning Entertainment. (Maybe this time they’ll hire a screenwriter.) LINDSAY: …did I forget to endorse this? Anyway, if this is your trash, I’m not trying to judge. I have seen “Showgirls” dozens of times, and I just released a video defending “Twilight”. That said, even though this movie kind of came and went and everyone else’s already, you know, forgotten about it I cannot stop thinking about “Bright”, so…uh, we’re gonna make a thing out of it. That’s right. We’re making a thing. WILL: “Fairy lives don’t matter today.” LINDSAY: So, to start I am going to simply factually recount the events of the film without commentary, questions or asides. Alright? Alright. LINDSAY: Credits roll with a variety of shots of an alternate reality Los Angeles, mostly consisting of orc graffiti mentioning a Dark Lord and/or antipathy towards the police. The story proper opens with street cop Ward played by Will Smith getting shot by an orc robbing a bodega while his partner Jakoby, also an orc, buys him a burrito. Cut to sometime later. Ward has recovered, his wife tells him that there is a fairy in the bird feeder, she wants him to kill it. He goes outside, criticizes his neighbors for playing into gangsta stereotypes, says this: WARD: “Fairy lives don’t matter today”, LINDSAY: and crushes the fairy to death with a broom. Upstairs Ward explains to his daughter that racism is bad: WARD: All of the races are different, okay? And just cause they’re different doesn’t mean anybody is smarter. LINDSAY: Jakoby shows up to offer Ward a ride to work, embarrassing Ward in front of his neighbors. On the way to work Ward continues to be a jerk to Jakoby, blaming him for getting shot, and Jakoby suggests at the root of wards racism against him is that he isn’t getting laid. They drive through an elf district, Ward complains some more, nothing happens, and then they continue to work. In the locker room, Ward’s co-workers all make bigoted remarks about Jakoby and justify their bigotry by the fact that the orcs had sided with the Dark Lord 2,000 years ago. ACTOR: “Man, you know what they say: once with the Dark Lord, always with the Dark Lord.” LINDSAY: During assignment Ward is assigned to partner with Jakoby, he complains to Margaret Cho who blames the York diversity Department. Jakoby has a ‘kick-me’ sign on his back, his coworkers laugh at him. While on the beat, Ward yells at Jakoby over nothing. They get a call because of a crazy sword wielding dirty man who mentions the Dark Lord returning. They joke with sheriff’s deputy Rodriguez about their shared struggles with racism. SHERIFF: Don’t look at me, man, Mexicans still get shit for the fucking Alamo. LINDSAY: They take in the dirty man, dirty man tells Jakoby in orcish that Ward is special. Back at the station, Internal Affairs goads Ward into forcing Jakoby to admit that he had intentionally let the perp go because they’re both orcs. The magic task force (a.k.a. the magic feds) show up and reveal that the dirty man is in a group called Shield of Light. They talk about a group of renegade elves called the Inferni, who need three magic wands in order to resurrect the Dark Lord. He explains that most brights are elves, but humans can be brights too, if only one in a million. MAGIC FED GUY: There are human brights. DIRTY MAN: One in a million. LINDSAY: Ward and Jakoby get called to a shootout where they find a bunch of supernatural death, this, and a fragile kick-ass waif named Tikka with a magic wand who appears not to speak English. Reinforcements show up, put the magic wand in a bag, and tell Ward that he needs to go outside now and murder Jakoby, or the corrupt cops will kill both of them. Ward goes outside, accuses Jakoby of letting the orc perp go, and Jakoby admits that he did let the perp go, but only because he realizes he chased down the wrong kid after losing the real shooter in the crowd. Inside the house the corrupt cops decide to kill Ward, Jakoby and Tikka no matter what Ward does. They go outside, tell Ward it’s time, CORRUPT COP: It’s time! LINDSAY: …and Ward turns around and murders all four of them. Another group of gangsters show up led by a guy named Poison, declare that the wand belongs to the ‘barrio’. POISION: To the barrio. LINDSAY: They escape, run into an invisible wall, have a terrible slow-mo car crash, which they then walk away from, with no apparent injuries. Inferni leader Leilah arrives with her Inferni at the original scene. They murder an entire Spanish-speaking family of witnesses including a baby and begin the hunt for Ward, Jakoby and Tikka. Ward and Jakoby hide, are discovered by Poison’s gang, one of them grabs the wand and explodes. This is what happens to non-brights who touch magic wands. They escape, hide in a strip club where they are foundyet againby Poison’s gang. A gunfight is about to commence but then the Inferni show up and kill everyone, while failing to capture Ward and Jakoby. Ward and Jakoby escape, talk about their feelings at a gas station bathroom while Leeloo whimpers in the corner. Ward calls Rodriguez, who demands to see the wand. He calls the magic feds, but the Inferni are tapping the phone lines and cut the line with an axe. Rodriguez cuffs them for their own safety, and is then shot and killed by the Inferni. Another fight scene. Ward, Jakoby and Tikka escape yet again, only to be captured by a gang of orcs. WARD: Take your fat Shrek looking ass back to your vehicle and drive thefuckhome to Fiona! LINDSAY: The leader explains that he’s angry that they brought guns into that first club they escaped into. [He] demands the wand, beats them, and then stabs Jakoby. He orders his son, Mikey– LEADER: Mikey. LINDSAY: *giggle-sighs* Mikey the Orc– to shoot Jakoby, but then, wouldn’t you know, it’s the kid Jakoby let go and he can’t kill him. So his dad shoots Jakoby instead. But Tikka rips the wand from her skin, revealing her brightlyhood and resurrects Jakoby while the orcs… let her. The orcs kneel, and then they are allowed to leave without a word. Ward chastises Tikka for not letting them know she is a bright or that she could speak English. WARD: She speaks English pretty good now, too. TIKKA: Now I trust you. She tells them that the Inferni planned to restore the Dark Lord to power. Using the wand has crippled her. She’s dying and Jakoby, grateful for her saving his life, convinces Ward to take her back to the house where they found her. The Inferni are waiting for them, another fight scene, Jakoby shoots Leilah. Ward brings Tikka to the pool of healing. Leilah somehow survives her shooting, hangs Jakoby, this happens: LEILAH: It’s time to come home.
TIKKA: *wimpering* LINDSAY: Jakoby shoots the wand out of Leilah’s hand but runs out of ammo. Ward grabs the wand, surprise surprise: he is a bright. JAKOBY: You’re a… you’re a bright! LINDSAY: Tikka tells him the magic word. TIKKA: The word is (vai-quar-us?) LINDSAY: and he defeats Leilah. Jakoby tries to get them outside the burning house, when he realizes Ward didn’t follow him he goes back into the burning building and rescues him. The orcs that were going to kill them earlier respect him now. [Orc cheering] LINDSAY: After all that Ward says this: WARD: Hey Nick. JAKOBY: Yeah. WARD: Fuck magic. LINDSAY: They explain their side of the story to the magic feds in the hospital. The magic feds take the wand. At the memorial for Rodriguez and the four cops Ward murdered, they see Tikka in the crowd, a fairy flies at the camera, the end. LINDSAY: So, this is not a “Book of Henry” situation. This is not a concept so squirrelly that only a complete change of genre would have salvaged it. Obviously there were huge problems with the screenplay, but nothing that a couple of rewrites couldn’t have fixed. LINDSAY: In the broadest of strokes there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the premise or the story itself: a fantasy setting that resembles our modern universe with the central characters as two cops of different fantasy races that don’t like each other, but have to learn to work together when they come into possession of what is effectively a weapon of mass destruction. You could just as easily imagine the two cops as Legolas and Gimli, and that could make for a fun unique romp. And it’s also not like the elements weren’t in place to make it work, specifically with the two mains. Smith and Edgerton actually have great chemistry. WARD: No holes? JAKOBY: Only the ones that I was born with… How are your holes? WARD: How the fuck can you make a shootout awkward? LINDSAY: Ward is a garden-variety jerk who disrespects Jakoby, who happens to be an awkward dork. JAKOBY: I gotta be nice to give you a ride– WARD: Shut up. LINDSAY: But through shared hardship, they learned to value each other; a modern take on a traditional fantasy trope. GIMLI: Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an elf. LEGOLAS: What about side by side with a friend? LINDSAY: This dynamic doesn’t live up to its potential because of the poor plotting and character development– again, why didn’t they hire a screenwriter?! It’s weird. –but you can see the intent there in a lot of their interactions. WARD: I used to be like you. Think you can save everybody and fix everything… Now I just pretend to be a good dude. LINDSAY: The glut of action scenes is a problem because much of these fight scenes with the Inferni don’t advance anything. Several times they are in danger, escape, exposit some while Leeloo (?), more danger, they escape, repeat. They gain nothing, lose nothing and learn nothing for nearly an hour of the film’s runtime, until Tikka saves Jacoby using the wand. This should have been the midpoint of the film, not the end of act 2, as it is in the final product. And the second half of act 2 should have been built around these three building a dynamic and learning to trust each other, and care about each other, giving us, the audience, the chance to care aboutherbefore she starts dying. And about Jakoby and Ward’s dynamic. If Tikka were to begin trusting Ward and Jakoby during the midpoint, they could have developed a rapport and rather than her overextending herself with the wand being potentially fatal– a plot point which makes no sense because this doesn’t happen to any other wand users –maybe have her be fatally injured in some other way later. And then the audience, having now built up some emotional investment in these characters. Ward and Jakoby spend the third act trying to save her, queue the climax, the end. LINDSAY: My point is, it wouldn’t have been that hard to bring this up to the level of… okay. LINDSAY: A lot of the world building is clumsily explained by characters that have nothing to do with the narrative, like this guy. DIRTY GUY: You ever noticed how most brights are elves… and elves run the world? Coincidence? LINDSAY: Yeah, we never see him again after this scene, and organic world building that is an exposition we’re dumped from characters that are relevant to the plot comes at the cost of unnecessarily long action scenes, that take up so much of the film’s runtime. But this movie is gritty, see? It needs to… reflect harsh truths about… racism in LA. You know, like “Crash” did. Look at all that ‘urban gangsta flava’… [Lindsay gives a long, pained scream] LINDSAY: A major symptom of these structure problems comes in the form of the poor execution of setup and payoff. LINDSAY: The trip to Elf town at the beginning is a setup that never pays off. They go to Elf Town, Elf Town is set up. It is ahugepointed setup. WARD: Ain’t nothing over here but rich-ass elves. Just running the world and shopping. Not only do they never go back to Elf Town again, Elf Town isn’t even mentioned. Also they couldn’t find a better name for it than Elf Town? Like, Beverly Hills Isn’t called ‘wealth town’. Also, where the fuck is this supposed to be? It looks like downtown LA, but Beverly Hills is like 10 miles away… Nevermind. The fact that Ward has a loving family totally undermines the character they’re going for. You don’t want me as a friend. Yeah… cause, besides taking out the fairy LAPD style, you seem to be doing alright. You have a loving family… you know, a daughter you care for, a wife who makes you coffee with napkins… and you know, you joke around with. -I’m being honest with you. Alright?
-Please. I don’t fuck with no fairies. You need to fuck with that one. Made doubly confusing by this line. I believe that you’re lacking in love, Ward. -I’m what?
-By love I mean… like… physical love. A relic from an earlier draft of the script where Ward was estranged from his wife. But if they were going to give Ward a nice wife and give them a happy relationship, then they probably should have cut this exchange. And the setup of the family pays off not at all. All it does is undermine the badass loner thing they’re trying to go for with Ward. It is a weak incentive for him to maybe betray Jakoby, maybe for a little bit. But really, why does he even have a wife and daughter? They get the family out of danger immediately, and then the family only comes back at the very end. If you want to play up this ‘I’m a bad dude with no friends’ angle, don’t give him a family. These are wasted story elements in a story with already way too much clumsy, inorganic world building. Poison’s gang, for instance. They are never mentioned again after the titty-bar shootout. We gonna titty-bar-gunfight die. Which wouldn’t be so bad if there had been some growth or development during the previous… three shootouts with Poison’s gang? But there isn’t. What is that? A fucking Labradoodle you dipped in ink? All we get is that *this* is what happens when a non bright touches a wand, a thing that we already knew, and the orcs getting mad at the trio as justification to capture them and shoot Jakoby later, a plot point which is really weak. These three spend a full half-hour of the film on the run from Poison’s gang, who does not matter and has nothing to do with the plot. And moreover, no one seems to care that even if they get this magic wand, they cannot use it. Perhaps the worst failure of setup and payoff is that Mikey the Orc, the kid whom Jakoby helped escape earlier, that we meet later in the orc hideout, at first you’re like, “Hey some setup that was paid off”. Jakoby’s mercy and good deeds saves him. But then Mikey’s dad shoots Jakoby anyway. And Tikka has to use the wand to resurrect him. So this setup, the fact that Jakoby showed Mikey mercy, is of no consequence There is no meaningful outcome to Jakoby showing this kid mercy. He gets shot either way. Bad setup and payoff. And once again in the earlier draft of the script, Mikey the Orc actually did spare Jakoby. but in the David Ayer rewrite, it was decided that apparently that wasn’t dramatic enough. And as in the example the estranged wife, they kept the setup where the payoff no longer makes sense. I started with the focus on structure because, flawed though it is, the story is there and this could have easily been fixed in the screenplay stage. This could have worked. But really, the devil is in the details. A major part of film editing is just as much deciding what to cut out as what to keep in. Elements in a story need narrative utility. Let’s examine a scene: Ward kills the fairy. What narrative purpose does this serve? Fairies in this universe appear to be pests, which is fine. But either way Ward solution is cruel and inhumane. So from a narrative utility standpoint, either it’s trying to demonstrate Ward’s antipathy towards fantasy things, or it is setting up Ward as a blood psychopath. Here’s why neither of these things work: one, in universe magic is seen as separate from all things normal. That’s magic right there. Does whatever you want. The magic wand is magic but that doesn’t mean that orcs, elves, humans or fairies are. They just exist in this universe and they share it. Therefore humans aren’t necessarily separate from it. They are just another race in this world. Like they are in the “Lord of the Rings”. So using this as setup as Ward magic-hater doesn’t work because the fairy is just another non magical element in this universe; Number two, is it setting up Ward as a blood psychopath? Well, he’s kind of a jerk but he isn’t exceptionally cruel after this scene. He drops his four corrupt colleagues because he correctly assumes they are about to kill both of them. Either way we never see him abusing his power in relation to relative powerlessness, as it relates to him killing what is, in this universe, effectively an animal. So he doesn’t grow from this, learn to be more kind to the powerless, nor is it foreshadowing some other cruelty. Like, imagine if this movie had begun with Ward instead killing like a rat, or a raccoon, or a cat or something in the same manner. “Yikes”, we might say, “not a good dude. This must be going somewhere”, but it doesn’t. That’s what I do! And this isn’t about Will Smith being mean, it’s about nobody acts like a person… in this movie. The worst offender is the climactic scene in which Ward discovers that he is a bright. Everyone is beaten up pretty badly and then Leilah starts with this: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SISTER? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HER? Which neither sets up anything or pays off anything or relates to anything that we’ve learned about the Inferni. And don’t start with “It’s setting up extended universe” crap. Jakoby breaks free of being hungm shoots the wand out of Leilah’s hand and then Ward starts like, sassing him? Nick, if you were aiming at the wand that was a really good shot. But shoot her in her head! And nobody is like moving, or hiding, or trying to defend themselves as they might be doing in a tense shootout. And Jakoby moves to shoot her again, but I can’t, I’m out. He says this like he’s got a headache and he just realizes he left his aspirin at home. And all of these characters are within about 10 feet of each other. Nothing is stopping Leilah from lunging for the wand with her other not blown off hand, or Jakoby from bum-rushing her. And it takes like a full minute for Ward to grab that wand and then he gets it, and he’s like “What do I do?” Hey Nick, I got the wand… but uh, what now? And still nobody’s moving like they’re still in their spots like, well, they can’t move or that would ruin the blocking. The unkillable Leilah doesn’t even stand up when Leeloo tells ward the magic word. The word is (?) Dracarys! And in the time it takes him to process this, Leilah still could have grabbed it from him, but she doesn’t. But like, you know we couldn’t set up the magic word before this scene somehow. This scene is just astonishing and how much it doesn’t work from every angle because no one acts like a person… who is in danger. I’m out. But it’s Tikka who stands out as the biggest problem character development wise as there’s never any reason for Ward or Jakoby or the audience to be emotionally invested in her. Tthere’s no reason for her to withhold that she speaks English as long as she does, She speaks English pretty good now, too. Now I trust you. or her brightlyhood, or to follow them around as long as she does if no trust her emotional bond has been built up. By the end of the movie when she’s dying, neither Ward nor Jakoby nor the audience have any reason to care about her. Tikka acting like a weird child alien is… yep, you guessed it, a relic from an earlier draft, where she was a literal elf child and that’s why they were carding her around. So I guess when they added the titty-bar gunfight. We gonna titty-bar gunfight die. that means they couldn’t have Tikka be a literal child anymore, so they aged her up to like a 25 year old, but changed literally nothing else. But Tikka is emblematic of the bigger problem with the film, as it ties in to theme and world building. She’s just poorly thought out. She’s just as much a MacGuffin as the wand is. When she has deigned the thinnest of backstories, it is pure function. You’re gonna need to unfuck this. No motivation, no emotional core, nothing. Her defection from the inferni is motivated by nothing other than… Dark Lord bad? But we never have any idea of who she is, so there’s never any reason to care about her. The only character who even consistently comes close to acting like a person with pathos and motivations is Jakoby. Hey Sophia, what’s up, rockstar? So like “Crash” feels like it was written by space aliens trying to understand why humans are racist YOU get on YOUR knees, and suck my motherfucking dick while you’re down there. so too it applies to “Bright”. To paraphrase Ta-Nehsi Coates’ comments on “Crash” I don’t think there is a single human being in “Bright”, except for arguably the orc. Both “Crash” and “Bright” reach to capture a truth, but capture nothing. Because it fails utterly to capture the way people talk and think and act, or how systems work within a society. And you know what they say, once with the Dark Lord, always with the Dark Lord. Now this normally wouldn’t be that noteworthy. It would just be a premise with lots of potential that unfortunately led to a bad movie. But then “Bright” had to go and make ‘bright-self’ about race. The intellectual grandfather of the type of fantasy shown in “Bright” is J.R.R. Tolkien, whose works directly influenced all contemporary fantasy from “Dungeons and Dragons” to “Willow” to “Skyrim” to “Bright”. “Lord of the Rings” is also a launching point of discussion as it pertains to allegory and racial coding as it applies to works of fantasy. Many over the years have pointed to the “Lord of the Rings” as an obvious allegory for, for instance, World War II, a claim which Tolkien virulently denied. Stating in a preface to a reprint of “Fellowship of the Ring”: “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and weary enough to detect its presence.” Tolkien’s attitude was that if people are going to read allegory into his work, fine, have a party, but not to assume that he intended any to be there. He drew from history, yes, but he wasn’t making an intentional statement about it. Now the thing is, Tolkien of course existed in, absorbed and reproduced the colonialist worldview of his day. No, I don’t think he did it on purpose, but I also don’t think it occurred to him to question the implications of making the dark-skinned races of men side with Sauron. I’m not saying Tolkien was a bad guy. I’m just saying he was a man of his time, and critical race theory didn’t really exist yet. However, it is also important to differentiate between allegory, story elements that are meant to have a one-to-one correlation with something outside of the storys as for instance Aslan in the Narnia book as Christ’s allegory, or “Animal farm” as allegory for totalitarian communism, and of course there’s “Mother!” which is the rare modern movie that is just oops-all-allegory. I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING! Allegory is not the same as coding, Why don’t you get a haircut with your bitch-ass? which lifts elements from the real world to provide a shorthand message, based on the presumed worldview of the audience. I.e. the aliens in Avatar being coded as indigenous is shorthand for them being more pure and in touch with nature. And again coding is one of those terms that has become politicized and is often read as negative when in fact it is a neutral term in academia, it describes a sociological phenomenon. Coding is a neutral term. Allegory exist as a statement of authorial intent, coding may or may not even be a conscious choice. With stories made by and for humans, there is always coding. There’s especially coding in fantasy worlds, derived from the worlds of Tolkien. Some that were there in the books His sense of duty was no less than yours. some that weren’t. And on some levels this is kind of inescapable because it’s basically impossible to create fantasy races that aren’t at least a little bit derived from the author’s perception of human cultures. Humans have a natural in-group, out-group mentality. And we’ve divvied ourselves up into lots and lots of groups, so cultural and racial coding sneaks into stories, intentional or not. If we look at “Skyrim” for example, we have the Nords, who are a coded Scandinavian mishmash. Gormlaith the fearless, glad-hearted in battle. We also have the race of the Khajiit. Here, we have a race of nomadic cat people with these accents Much snow in Skyrim. Enough snow. M’aiq doesn’t want anymore. They also make very good thieves. They like their skooma. Yeah, yeah… they’re Romani. They’re just… they’re Romani, they’re cat Romani, we get it. You with one of the trade caravans, Khajiit? Your kind always seems to find trouble And then of course there are orcs. Written variations on orcs have been around in English folklore as far back as Beowulf. But it was Tolkien who collated the modern idea of the orc. Tolkien described his orcs as corruptions of the human form. “Squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned with wide mouths and slant eyes, in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the, to Europeans, least lovely Mongol types…” Nice. The works of Tolkien influenced “Dungeons & Dragons” which influenced “Warhammer” which influenced “World of Warcraft” which influenced the “Elder Scrolls” games which influenced “Bright”. Orcs in all of these absorbed coding from ethnic groups from across the world, from ancient Celts to Scots to the Zulu and of course the least lovely Mongol types. So while some fantasy fans want to suggest that fantasy races sprung fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus with no real world influences, “Bright” isn’t completely off the mark by applying racial coding to its orcs. And in a perverse way there is something cogent about “Bright” putting its orcs in chains and sports jerseys and do-rags. And wearing baseball caps with the name of their gang lovingly embroidered on the front. Just like real gangs do. [More screaming] According to Tolkien: “I think that many confuse applicability with allegory. But the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the proposed domination of the author.” In other words, for something to be considered allegorical, there needs to be a authorial intent, and authors can’t really help it if people read into their work something that they did not intend. But coding does not require authorial intent. Coding is often careless or unintentional, born from reappropriating tropes without delving into the history of why they’re even there in the first place. Mesa called Jar Jar Binks. Mesa your humble servant. Coding in “Bright” is way too on-the-nose to be ignorant. But it certainly raises questions. Can racial coding in science fiction and fantasy used to make some one-to-one allegory about interracial relationships ever actually work? One observation that’s kind of flown under the radar is the comparison of “Bright” to the almost identical 1988 film “Alien Nation”. Which has a very similar premise right down to the first alien cop in the LAPD played by Mandy Patinkin. And the aliens as thinly veiled allegories for black and Hispanic communities in LA. Why do we have to take them? Why can’t they go to Russia or someplace like that? The list of newcomer informants is about as long as a list of Mexican war heros. -Hey! Hey, come on!
-Nobody talks to nobody down there. And half of them don’t even speak English. That movie also sucks, but “Alien Nation” has one crucial difference, as does “District 9”. The aliens are relative newcomers to this universe and therefore, they don’t conflict with the rest of history as we, the audience, knows it. Now, “District 9” is controversial because it does some of the things that “Bright” does, namely using aliens as an allegory for racial injustice. It’s also gotten huge pushback for its portrayal of the Nigerian gangsters, and I’m not gonna disagree with that, but while “District 9” is far from perfect, I’m going to quickly point out where I think it succeeds in its allegory where “Bright”fails. One, the aliens are alien, and with the exception of Christopher Johnson, largely incomprehensible. Yes, there is racial coding woven in because there always is, but they aren’t wearing do-rags and chains and sports jerseys… God damn it, “Bright”! Two, our history in the movie’s history diverged like 20 years earlier. The recently divergent histories means that interhuman racism was allowed to develop and thrive and does not feel out of place in this universe the way it does in “Bright”. Three, you spend a lot of time with Christopher Johnson and see the actual shit he and his family live under, and it’s not just stupid lip service like a ‘kick-me” sign at work. Four, “District 9” does not pussyfoot around what it thinks is a cute metaphor. It does not place the blame of racism on flawed individuals, but rather on vast systems in which individuals are willingly complicit because they benefit from those systems. But perhaps the most applicable comparison to “Bright” is “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. What could have possibly happened to you that turn you into such a sourpuss? You wanna know? I’ll tell you. A toon killed my brother. A toon!? No… First of all, sometimes it is actually better to just not explain how we got here. “Roger Rabbit” never explains the history of how toons came to be and, to be clear, that is a good thing because we do not need it in this story. It’s also a clever reflection on how black entertainers were valued as commodities in the 1940s. In many instances not even allowed to be patrons in some establishments in which they themselves were headliners A toon review. Strictly humans only, okay? But the most important facet of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is that the plot of the corporate scheme to bulldoze toontown is perfectly interwoven with both the themes of the toons as an exploited underclass, and with the protagonists own internal conflict and nascent anti-toon racism. So when you look at the above examples, especially “Roger Rabbit”, the laziness of the world building and allegory in “Bright” comes into sharp focus. Racism is bad, orcs are oppressed, now here’s a movie about some cops playing keep-away with a magic wand for 90 minutes. Really, a lot of these problems could have been avoided if they hadn’t taken a poorly thought-out fantasy based alternate reality of our own world and used it to make a comment on the tragedy of modern racial relations. And the real irony is, if you look at earlier drafts of the script, they’re not really there! The hackey lines about the Alamo, words like gangbanger and homies. Those appear to be Ayer additions. And playing up those elements only makes the movie make less sense. Like, the master race of elves here means nothing because the baddies are outliers. It drops this very juicy idea that this is a very vertical society, and then does nothing with it, and it ends up meaning nothing to the world. More to the point, the plot itself -keep the magic wand away from Leilah- has fuck all to do with the oppression of orcs or Mexicans or whoever. The entire first act sets up this world of oppression, but once the wand comes along the theme of racism-is-bad is just window dressing. Yeah, the film still would have had racial coding because all fantasy does, but did the orcs really need to be wearing sports jerseys? Did we need *this*? I’m not sure embracing all that ‘urban gangsta flava’ and leaning in really, really hard into that racial coding while still also keeping the racism we have in the real world like, between humans, was the right right way to go. So you note in the examples that work, like “District 9” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, not only are the actual plots of these movies about the exploitation of this underclass, and the direct effects of the systemic oppression, they are actually clever about how oppression manifests in these alternate universe. They have their own in-universe prejudices and stereotypes. Toons… Jirak was unblooded like me, an orc nobody cared about. He united the Nine Armies, and they defeated the Dark Lord. Wow. That sounds like kind of a big deal. Like the kind of big deal that, I don’t know, might lead to a totally different intervening 2000 years of history. He was a farmer who changed the world. According to the world of “Bright”, there was a war of nine races 2000 years ago, where a Dark Lord was bad, and the orcs supported the Dark Lord, but then there was an unblooded orc named Jirak who defected from the Dark Lord, united the nine races and led to his defeat. Regardless of the fact that JIrak was the hero, everyone points to this little bit of ancient history as the reason why orcs are discriminated against in the modern day. You know what they say, once with the Dark Lord, always with the Dark Lord. Let’s take a quick look at other fantasy stories that take place in the modern day. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” “Harry Potter” “Underworld” “American Gods” “Gargoyles” All of these have a secret underworld that exists alongside the world that we know, and therefore does not contradict it. This makes “Bright” unique, but to its detriment. It never thinks through the implications of building an alternate history. Alternate reality stories are relatively rare compared to secret underworld stories, but they’re not impossible to find. “BioShock Infinite” and “Watchmen” are popular alternate reality stories, but both have relatively recent divergent points in history and massively different outcomes. The point I’m making is that the 2000 years of backstory all of the characters make such a huge deal about would have led to massively different universe than just… LA with orc homies. And when people talk about the squandered potential of “Bright”, to me this is the worst part. There is no imagination put into the history of the world past the central conceit of a modern setting with orcs and elves in it. And then when Ayer rewrote the project, instead of developing a fully realized world, he had to go ahead and end up with gritty edginess and add all that ‘urban gangsta flava’. So you end up with this. Fairy lives don’t matter today So I’m going to ignore how tone-deaf that reference is, and just stick with the inherent implication of the line: either ‘black lives matter’ exists in the universe and Ward is referencing it, or this is for the benefit of the audience and means to telegraph that this is a movie about race. Or it’s just a bad ad-lib and Ayer didn’t think through the implication of keeping it in. Ahem. Here’s a list of things that exist in the “Bright” universe: The Crips
-Just crip-walk your asses on back to the barbecue. Shrek
-To take your fat Shrek lookin ass– The Alamo
-Hey, don’t look at me, man, Mexicans still get shit for the fucking Alamo. Los Angeles, dragons over Los Angeles Fairy lives don’t matter today Well, we’re gonna go through that point-by-point. I’m sorry, I had to, “Bright” made me do it, this fucking mov– Number 1, the Crips Just crip-walk your asses on back to the barbecue. The history of the Crips stems from a variety of factors namely segregationist housing policies leading up to World War II and the FBI systemic eradication of the original Black Panther Party in the late 1960s, leaving a power vacuum in South Central LA and a lot of 17-year olds with guns. These segregationist housing policies arose not long after Jim Crow forced many black southerners to immigrate to the west coast in the early 20th century, which directly results from the Diaspora after the Civil War, which was fought over slavery? Ergo it follows that the Atlantic slave trade existed in the “Bright” universe. Number 2, Shrek exists. To take your fat Shrek looking ass back to your vehicle and drive the fuck home to Fiona! Meaning that Jeffrey Katzenberg exists, and the Disney Company exists, And it made its bread and butter from fairy tales, which are just normal tales in this universe? But okay, meaning that Jeffrey Katzenberg was let go from the Disney Company after 15 years and an acrimonious multi-million dollar settlement of several lawsuits and after several failed attempts at 2D animation DreamWorks broke through with its pastiche inversion of fairy tale troops Shrek The Alamo exists. Hey, don’t look at me, man. Mexicans still get shit for the fucking Alamo. were there orcs there, too? if there’s so much at strike between non-human races why is there inter-human racism? Was there chattel slavery of orcs in addition to black people? And that’s why orcs seem to all have European white surnames? Was the Alamo a bigger deal in this universe? Because Mexican Americans get shit for a lot of things. I thought you were out
having your, like, zillionth baby. The Alamo is not one of those things What was the nine races? Were Mexicans one of the nine races? I see you, I see you type in those comments about how I’m overthinking this,– and you know yeah, it’s true, but why are you watching this channel anyway? –but you know, I can’t… I can’t help it. And people say that they’re interested in the world-building of “Bright”. And I’m like, it’s… but there isn’t any! it’s just our world, with with some fantasy stuff slapped on top. Los Angeles exists, meaning a Franciscan mission settlement was built in the 18th century, meaning the Catholic Church maintained its dominion over Spain, meaning the war of the nine races, a thing that is so big a deal that in two thousand years after the fact it warrants graffiti, was not such a big deal that emperor Constantine couldn’t make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD. You cannot include elements from our real world without importing the history that comes with them. I mean, you can, it’s just, you know, it’s lazy, and it sucks. This is why modern sci-fi and fantasy with alternate histories are so rare and the ones you do see, like “The Man in the High Castle” and “BioShock Infinite” have relatively recent divergent points in history. Sure, you could give us an alternate fantasy past that resulted in a similar present with cars and stuff, but the histories can’t be the same. LA wouldn’t exist, Shrek wouldn’t exist, the Crips wouldn’t exist, it doesn’t make sense for there to be racism against Mexicans or black people if, if we’re so bigoted against orcs? Everywhere I go, where I’ve worked, orcs always gotta be the bad guys. And, and elves… it’s just So instead of an organic world where the history is woven in, it’s just our world with fantasy elements slapped on top, like magnets on a fridge I I know, building an alternate history and weaving it in would have been difficult, so they just didn’t bother, and it’s just lazy, and it sucks. We will not be listening to no orcish music. The whole route of this entire monstrosity of a video of me complaining about “Bright” for 45 minutes, which you have now sat through–
good for you, thanks for that –is because I could not stop thinking about this one line from sheriff’s deputy Rodriguez. Hey, don’t look at me, man. Mexicans still get shit for the fucking Alamo. No Rodriguez, they don’t. And it’s played as a joke like we the audience are supposed to get and understand it, Like, yes, ha ha ha, we do give Mexicans shit for the Alamo. I personally told my neighbor Jorge to remember it just the other day. But it reveals both the ignorance and the in curiosity of the filmmakers. It understands that movies about racism win awards. …and the troops are coming, jacked up humans with guns looking for an orc who’d shot a cop! You think that kid had a chance? Go, go! They would’ve fucking drop him on the spot! But has no curiosity to its causes or its roots, so by reducing bigotry to single definable and justifiable historical events, like a lot of the fantasy genre does with its world-building, reducing bigotry to single justifiable and even understandable conflicts makes racism feel that much more reasonable. Logical even. Mexicans get shit because of the Alamo orcs get shit because of the Dark Lord. Racism is bad, buuut you know, people have legit reasons for being racist. Like black men consciously playing into stereotypes, and the Alamo. This is a massive shortcoming of movies like “Crash” and “Bright”. They seek to understand the logic behind racism, but racism isn’t logical, and you can’t logic people out of a mindset they did not logic themselves into. Chance the Rapper commented in a tweet after watching “Bright”: “I always feel a little cheated when I see allegorical racism in movies cause that racism usually stems from human emotion or tolerance but not by law or systems the way it is in real life”. The world of this movie reaches for edgy and topical but is just lazy and careless. All it wants is to import the facade of ‘urban gangsta flava’, and the language of bigotry in these movies is so cartoonish that no one would see it in themselves. Dwarves have mad hops. This is a popular go-to when trying to capture the language of casual racism in movies: the focus on historical events The army of nine races fought shoulder to shoulder to give you the world you neglect! the focus on affirmative action And what happens if they hire more of them? I can’t look at you without thinking about the five or six more qualified white men I didn’t get your job. What the fuck about my demeanor gives you the impression that I want to be a target on the department’s work diversity radar? Yes, white bitterness about affirmative action in corporate diversity initiatives is certainly a thing, but this captures that bitterness poorly because if you use the actual language of casual racism, you run the risk of offending casual racists which is a huge demographic. Hey, isn’t that your cousin? No… So you use the language of cartoon casual racism and never have to run the risk of making the audience question whether they are seeing themselves in the bad guys. How many orcs play pro basketball? None. They’re slow, they’re heavy. That’s why half the NFL defensive lines are orcish. It’s not racism, it’s physics. Reduce the outcome of racism to a ‘kick-me’ sign, and justify racism and bigotry by pointing to historical events where entire ethnic groups made an ‘oopsie-daisy’. Hey, don’t look at me, man. Mexicans still get shit for the fucking Alamo. Fantasy world building is always going to be a reflection of the author’s experiences, and you will have blind spots or biases that will manifest themselves in the work. The problem isn’t just that this world is too close to our own, so inevitably you can’t help but impose our world logic onto it. It isn’t just that being on the nose with your race allegory might read it’s tone-deaf, Fairy lives don’t matter today and it isn’t just that fairy lives don’t matter Really, it’s just that it’s incurious and lazy, but it doesn’t want to be. And *that* is what makes it disappointing. [Rap Critic sings “Orc Cop”]