This summer has been both rewarding and disappointing in terms of movies. There've been great hits (Harry Potter, I'm looking at you), crazy misses (why Sucker Punch, why?) - but over all, I and the sisters have been pleased. More often than not we've walked out of the theater thinking those $11 were well spent. But we've noticed something else, too - Hollywood likes to revise history. A lot.
It took a while before I noticed - for a while I was just glad that there were characters of color who a) didn't die off in the first half of the film or b) weren't cast as villains (and even some of my favorites couldn't deliver on this). But whenever I and the sisters sat down to discuss some of our favorite films of the summer, there was always that - something that was clearly inaccurate, or omitted. X-Men: First Class was a fantastic movie - great characterization, and the writers did a fantastic job of weaving the history of the '60's with the imagined world of the mutants. But there was a gaping hole - during the Cold War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Darwin's death and Angel's defection from the X-Men to what would become the Brotherhood of Mutants - the Civil Right's Movement. Gone. As if it had never existed or wouldn't impact the lives of the mutants (especially Darwin's, Angel's and Erik's).
More recently we went to see Captain America (okay film, more set up than anything else). Lo and behold, there is an African American who is part of the core team (yay!), fits no stereotypes, speaks French and attended university before he was drafted. But, as an op-ed pointed out in the New York Times, the United States Military wasn't integrated during the second World War. The African American men that were allowed to fight were segregated from white units for fear of polluting the rest of the military. Seeing Gabe Jones' character accepted and celebrated among his fellow soldiers (and not dead), though refreshing, was false. And it made me wonder: why write it that way? Why turn away from years of painful history? Why ignore it when the entire story is about wanting to belong, and loss and displacement?
Something I hear a lot from many different people doing different things is this: we live in post-race America. Our president is African American. People of color are doing all sorts of amazing things. There was the civil rights movement! Why are you guys (you guys being minorities, people of color, etc) so upset/angry/bitter about things that are no longer happening? Racism doesn't exist!
And so on and so forth. This is, of course, not true. But it becomes a little difficult to disprove, and very easy to see where these assumptions come from when the media depicts a world where racism never existed. How can it exist now, how can it be a fight we're still fighting, when it didn't exist then? And it makes me uncomfortable and sad that Hollywood erases these stories and in doing so, makes them irrelevant (or at least helps in making them so).
This is the reason I love Mad Men. The show is littered with moments of discomfort for the viewer - but it's accurate. The show depicts men and women dealing with misogyny and racism and the ways in which they work through that. It shows that we are now here because we were once there. And I think that is incredibly important.
What about you all? Opinions? Comments? Disagreement? I want to hear it!
Further reading: My Very Own Captain America, and Go#%$ Hollywood!