Monday, August 8, 2011
Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Playing in the Dark
Then, I remembered that, ummmm, the primary folks who read here wouldn't go there. So onward.
Despite a few now typical "post racial" approaches and moments throughout the movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes had these interesting instances of 'playing in the dark,' which is to say these instances of engaging in seemingly lighthearted activities with racial undertones.
Similar to the movie Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes relies on one group coming from a jungle and coming into contact with folks from a drastically more civilized, scientific, and presumably white world. The contrast between light and dark, good and bad, and so forth give Rise and Avatar as well as many other movies and narratives their energy.
Among other things, I did enjoy aspects of Caesar's story and the processes by which he organized his fellow apes to liberate themselves from captivity. It was fun and fascinating watching how he got the crew ready to take on their captors and move toward more, hmmmm, dignity.
Will Rodman (James Franco) - Caesar's initial owner/caretaker - is amiable, caring, and well-meaning. He works at a scientific research facility and seeks to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease by running tests on chimpanzees. Notably, Will's boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) is black, and later, Will's romantic interest
Caroline (Freida Pinto) is South Asian.
Beyond the idea that Will's boss and girlfriend add ethnic diversity to the movie, their presence actually serves other important purposes as well. With people of color in the roles of boss and girlfriend, a narrative about oppressive white people vs. oppressed apes would have likely been too unsettling for mainstream audiences. If Will, a white guy, also had a white boss and a white girlfriend, moviegoers may have been compelled to deal a little more and too seriously with the racial implications.
Thus, the addition of two nonwhite central characters softens or slightly masks the prevalence of whiteness in the film. Utilizing a couple of "diverse" characters to that whiteness is indeed an instance of playing in the dark.