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    Why Hollywood Stays Woke

    I want to precede this post by saying I, unlike a lot of critics, have enjoyed "woke" films. In 2016, The Legend of Tarzan was released. Despite having a disappointing box office reception, the film accurately depicted the reality of colonial Africa at the time Edgar Rice Borroughs set his character. (With a budget of $180 million, it did $356.7 million at the box office.)

    Within the film was the real life figure of George Washington Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson, a former Civil War soldier who was active in drawing attention to Belgian colonial exploitation in Congo. When Belgium colonized the Congo, they claimed initially that they were combating the Arab slave trade and Williams put significant effort in to trying to publicize the reality - that Belgians, like other colonial powers, were simply using pre-existing forms of oppression to excessively exploit Africa.

    It's hard to imagine such a depiction ever happening in preceding eras of cinema. I first read about Williams in the excellent book King Leopold's Ghost. Williams was described by author Adam Hochschild as a "hustler" and not exactly a honest broker in his own right. This is depicted expertly by director David Yates and screenwriters Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad - Tarzan is seen as clearly annoyed when Williams asks naive questions about Africa (a place that Williams never actually lived in and only looked at romantically) and even holds him by the throat in fury as his actions while in the Congo with Tarzan resulted in the kidnapping of his wife and several Congolese. If you compare such a depiction to the one dimensional portrayal of nearly all "people of color" in the Indiana Jones trilogy or The Mummy, this is indeed a breath of fresh air.

    While I was reading today about a woke relaunch of Indiana Jones, it began to crystallize why Hollywood, which engaged in all sorts of stereotypes as recently as a few years ago, is suddenly so woke: 

    On Screen Rant, you can read "Indiana Jones: Everything that Went Wrong With Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Needless to say, a lot of people didn't like this movie. I remember at the time hearing someone say (I live on the left coast) that the indeed absurd depiction of Indiana Jones surviving a nuclear test blast by locking himself in a metal safe was offensive to the experience of Japanese.

    Computer animation didn't quite work out with the magic of the original trilogy either, Harrison Ford didn't seem like the same person as he was in the 1980s (whereas in the new Star Wars trilogy, he played exactly the person that he is now), and the plot with ancient aliens seemed gimmicky and weird. To be honest, it seemed like Ford didn't want to be in that movie at all, making his expression when he got out of that metal canister after surviving getting tossed around during a nuclear explosion the most believable part of the movie.

    Crystal Skull capped off an era of relaunching various beloved franchises with new gimmicks - computer animation, more edgy DVD or graphic novel artwork or a collector's edition, etc. In the case of comic books, there was an endless run of retellings of origins - Superman: For All Seasons, Daredevil: Yellow, Daredevil: Marvel Knights, Heroes Reborn, Heroes Return, Hulk: Grey, Batman: Black and White, Batman: Year One, etc. They did it literally every year. Marvel even realize a "Noir" series that imagined its big superheroes in the 1930s and 1940s.

    Hollywood wants to hold on to these franchises as they are assured money makers and less of a gamble than putting all their investment in new ideas. Flipping the script on a primary character's gender or racial identity might well seem like a gimmick to some - but given that we genuinely are treated differently by the world based on what it thinks we are - this provides for a more substantial story break than reimagining a character in a different time period.


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