Noah and his White(wash) Saviour Complex

April 23rd, 2014 by

Braveheart has had a remake on a cruise ship. Robin Hood (since murdering Kevin Costner) asked Hermione for a spell for the animals, before docking in Turkey for the final 18-30 Club Med party tour. My version of Noah is, of course, functioning with about as much relevance and loyalty to the fable’s roots as co-screenwriter Darren Aronofsky bothered with: “From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race,” Aronofsky said in an interview on why not a single Person of Colour appears in his newest film: “What we realised is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter.”

I should probably just leave this here. The race of the individual doesn’t matter.

Still awkward?

Shit, quick, someone say something about how it’s “just a film”.

“You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it,” Aronofsky says, “or you just say, ‘Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with the everyman.’” It’s shameful really, how much attention PoC call for; constantly surveilled by police, attention-seeking our way into stop-and-search, racial stereotypes and jokes, spotted by airport staff and distracting them from their otherwise peaceful routines. Unlawful detention at an airport for having a Muslim surname, anyone? Me! Me please! Over here! But seriously, guys, ease up, let the white actors get noticed for once. White people – according to Aronofsky – are, after all, “stand-ins for all people.” And don’t we know it.

(On that note, I’m looking for a stand-in the next time I can’t renew my British passport due to my Middle Eastern heritage. Email if you want the role.)

This never really was about “just a film”. The closest I have come to caring about Noah is when he played Dr Carter in ER. We can even spare the descriptions of how fiction works and suspending one’s disbelief, which Aronofsky is keen to hammer home: “Looking at this story through that kind of lens,” he continues, “is the same as saying, ‘Would the ark float and is it big enough to get all the species in there?’ That’s irrelevant to the questions because the questions are operating on a different plane than that; they’re operating on the mythical plane.” Understand your imagination, people. They want you to extend it, imagine, visualise it now, a world, where people who aren’t white only exist in our thoughts and never in flesh. Ah, that’s better, isn’t it? Dream it up. Take it all in.

Let us forget for a second that the story of Noah is as intrinsic to Judaism and Islam as it is Christianity. Let us ignore for a brief moment that Christians aren’t all white, or that the story (fiction, guys! I get it!) is set in a part of the world that would make the characters Middle Eastern and African. Let’s move this all to one side to register that this is 2014. And it’s nice to just have equal opportunities in the workplace. Because what is not mythological is the film industry. What is not fiction is the underrepresentation of PoC; as actors, as characters in film and literature, as politicians, journalists, mainstream feminists, writers, story-tellers, musicians, academics. People of Colour are invisible. Unless they are gangsters in films, or terrorists, or slaves, or walking down the road, or renewing their passports, or applying for jobs, or saying “white people” without the word “some” in front of it.

It is not uncommon to hear that Women of Colour have given up on shows like “Girls”. Though well written, the lack of racial diversity leaves it unconnectable, cold and on the outside of what is presented as the omniscient story of womanhood. The all representing title, yet girls who are not white are nowhere to be seen. Dunham’s clarification is not miles from Aronofksy’s: “The race of the individuals doesn’t matter.” A patronising simplification of fiction, characters who are “colourless”, a white canvas (so to speak) that we may project onto, ergo “representation” can be found in this manner. Dunham and Aronofsky are the white guy at the house party, leaning against the kitchen counter in harem pants and fez saying, “Oh, me? I just don’t see colour.” We have all met this idiot. The one with no comprehension of how it is to have your ethnicity swept away at all given points, yet the first to have an opinion on it.

Ever since Jesus went for the blonde look, a relentless makeover in whitewashing has been applied to just about anything. Cleopatra as a pale Elizabeth Taylor, the legs of a thousand charging white American Spartans, Maria in A West Side Story, Jake Gylfdfgnfgnhall as Prince of Persia, and sun-dried tomatoes. It plays a cruel trick, one in which even as a writer I cannot create my own characters without imagining them to be white first.

If I’d like my culture and race to be given on-screen representation, perhaps I can find it through Nigel Farage pub-crawling between TV channels so I may hear what a xenophobic Lambert & Butler sounds like. Lucky for People of Colour, we have been illustrated for the masses to see! As welfare stealing, useless, liars that politics wants to debate through the medium of reality TV. Finally, the audiences say, a politician you can go for a pint with, the everyman, a stand-in for all people.

Of course when Kidulthood portrayed a harsh London life of drug dealing, knife fights and gang crime, it was not a case in which the “race of the individuals did not matter.” Denzel Washington’s gangster in Training Day saw the bad cop exploit his job to murder and beat women in his shady underworld. Heavily laden in gold chains and du-rag, race was not interchangeable here. The terrorist, gangster, cleaner, rude-boy, car thief, rapist, are seldom played by the white actor portraying “everybody”. When interest in a potential role for Donald Glover as Peter Parker circulated, the backlash against a black Spiderman was so vast the role was never pursued. A white character! Played by a black man! Whatever next, Christian Bale to play Moses?! I jehst. But it’s only fiction, guys! Looking at this story of Peter Parker through that kind of lens is the same as saying, “Would the spider bite have super powers? Would the ark the spider came over on float, and is it big enough to get all the spider species in there?” That’s irrelevant to the question. Because the questions are operating on a different plane than that. We’re operating on a mythical plane, where even in imagination People of Colour are not considered.