Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Tim Burton's White World

Somehow, I missed the entertainment news stories back in 2016 about director Tim Burton's interview where he explained that his movies only have white casts because "things either call for things, or they don't." And gosh, somehow his movies just... didn't. It's as if he has no control over how his movies are shaped and cast, they just spring full-born out of his head like Athena. Which makes no sense.  

For some reason, this five-year-old interview was mentioned in various places in the past few days and I looked into it. The best analysis of what Burton said and why that is not an acceptable answer was on Huffington Post.

The writers of the article, who are also directors, do a great job of exploring Burton's many unexamined assumptions:

If by "things," he means "the source material," meaning that initial the book series was all white..., once again he is abdicating responsibility for his personal decisions by pretending that he's but a faithful reproducer of the source material. Where was this desire to faithfully reproduce the book when he was directing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example? ...Burton...deviated in multiple ways from the book. Is whiteness the only inviolable aspect of source material?

The writers go into more aspects of Burton's work, but the thing sticks with me about his attitude is the way it implies that white people are race-neutral:

When a work is just about "people" — when the story has nothing to do with race specifically — if you then think the work "calls out" for whiteness because you see white as "neutral," you have, at the very least, a failure of imagination.

They're connecting here with a common idea in critical analysis of cultural texts: the assumption of the marked and unmarked. Women must be marked in language and description, while men are unmarked, assumed as "normal." In U.S. and British culture, as Burton demonstrates, white people are unmarked. And of course the same follows for heterosexuals, the cisgendered, and the able-bodied.

I acknowledge that it's hard to get your head out of the society you live in, but it seems as though a creator should try a lot harder than Tim Burton appears to, especially once you're successful and have significant creative control of your output.


1 comment:

Jean said...

Yeah, that is less than impressive.