There are about a million articles and a billion YouTube videos saying the same thing: being “Woke” in cinema is ruining cinema and comedy.
Sorry Jerry, the lispy gay guy that was so hysterical 30 years ago stopped being funny 20 years ago. If you want to go to a College Campus and do it, fine, just don’t expect us to laugh at that tired trope.
Here’s a novel idea, when you have a cop interrogating a suspect, how abut NOT mentioning the prospect of prison rape? We’ve seen that scene 100 times before if it ever had entertainment value it’s gone now.
Or maybe when a girl turns a guy down his friends WON’T commiserate with him and strategize with him on how he can win her over. Instead, they’ll say, “She said no, move on with your life, if you continue to pursue her after that it’s creepy harassment”. Perhaps the woman, instead of having an inevitable capitulation- portrayed as a revelation that what she really needed was the man right before her, will instead stand up for herself and also say that continued pursuit after a no is harassment. I know the plot of many romantic comedies will have to change, and that’s a good thing. We’ve seen the plucky guy win over the girl enough. You can have romances with the woman being an active participant rather than a target to pursue. Also, you might help to reduce harassment and rape culture if we stop advancing the idea that no means yes. Or that the no can change with a better sales job. Yes, it will require creativity, but that will make for improved cinema and fiction.
However, the bulk of their criticism for wokeness is with the prospect of making changes to popular culture figures that have already been changed innumerable times. They view white, straight male as the ONE immutable character trait that should never be changed.
Superman, could use an injection of wokeness. Since the introduction of Superman 83 years ago the character has gone from being a Newspaper reporter to a News anchor, he went from being a guy more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound etc. to being a god. Leap tall building? Ha! The guy could fly to the sun and then fly INTO it without being harmed and fly faster than the speed of light (fuck you, Einstein!). I remember one comic where the earth was imperiled. I forgot what the peril was but I sure as hell remember his solution as it made my 9 year old self scream “Come on!” and fling the comic (which is probably worth thousands of dollars now) into the trash. His solution was to move the fucking planet! Yeah, he just flew into it, pushed really hard and moved that sucker out of the way without causing world-wide catastrophe. Then he was able to power several small cities by adding a centrifuge to Einstein and Newton’s grave from all the spinning they were doing (ok, that last part I made up- I mean, that would be ridiculous).
Then there were all the powers added to him, heat vision, X-ray vision, SUPER FUCKING VENTRILOQUISM (I think the newest iterations have forgotten about that idiotic power- but it was there- REALLY!. He could literally be in Metropolis and have just his voice travel to Paris), super breath and super hearing. I’m sure there’s more, but I’m too lazy to research.
Yet all of this was added without a single “Oh come on!”. But as soon as someone had the temerity to even hint at changing his skin color Ben Shapiro was all over it like White on rice (or White on most popular fiction from the past 1000 years).
The only problem with a black Superman is that we haven’t seen a black Superman. But that’s only because having ANY black (or Jewish, or Hispanic or really any minority) heroes in 1938 wasn’t possible. It’s 2021 now, we can and should make him black not because of inclusivity, but because the story would be a hell of a lot more interesting. Wouldn’t there be a more interesting lair of conflict if Ma and Pa Kent’s super child were black? Growing up in Kansas, being the only black guy in the school? Being assumed to be inferior while knowing he is far superior? That’s a story that so many of us can identify with. My own nephew has adopted interracial children, President Obama was raised by a white woman. This is part of our society but it’s barely addressed in our culture.
Tarzan has been problematic since inception and can certainly use a wokeness injection. First off, there’s only two reasons why this guy is white, 1. That it was 1912 when he came out and therefore he HAD to be white and 2. Edgar Rice Burroughs was a virulent racist. The premise of the story is a racist one- the one white guy in Africa is FAR superior to all the black guys put together. Making him black would do away with the idiotic story of French aristocrats being stranded in Africa. We can still make him the heir of a wealthy family but having him be black and African raised in the jungle further illustrates the problems of classism and the disappearing jungle from global warming. By making his birthplace Paris instead of an African city you’re separating him from those conflicts. Fiction 101 states that the more conflict the better the drama. Plus, it would set ERB spinning in his grave helping to power another city!
If Idris Elba did get the part of James Bond imagine the story lines of him dealing with a white supremacist group hell bent on taking over the world. Wouldn’t that storyline be more interesting if the protagonist were a black man? And how would a black James Bond deal with a cop who thinks he has a license to kill while being someone who really has a license to kill?
Imagine the dramatic elements that could be added if Holmes and Watson were solving crimes in Victorian England as “partners” rather than partners. This was at a time when homosexuality was a crime with a penalty of two years hard labor (see Oscar Wilde). What black-mail elements could Moriarty pursue? How would Inspector Lestrade deal with this? Plus, it would explain why Holmes is separate from the police force rather than part of it. Then there’s the increase in dramatic tension as the threat to the life of a co-worker or roommate is nowhere near as fraught as a similar threat to a life-partner
We have real-world examples of Woke improving popular fiction. Spider-Man, into the Spider-Verse, is a great movie, entirely deserving of its Oscar for best animated film. It’s great because it embraced diversity. In fact, its major theme was that anyone can wear the mask, that there was no reason why Spider-Man couldn’t be black. That color and gender shouldn’t stop us from living up to our potential. The ultimate woke message and the film benefited from having it.
Black Panther is considered perhaps the best Marvel film because of its embrace of Woke messaging. A wealthy black King hoarding technology that can help innumerable black men and women suffering all around the world is the hero of the story and a poor black man who comes from poverty to claim a throne so that this wealth can be shared by all is considered the villain. This deals with “Woke” issues like class warfare, racism and even answers the question as to what would happen if an African nation were somehow unaffected by the horror of colonialism. It also has, what the purveyor of the YouTube channel No Bullshit calls, “A suspicious number of women” and is made much better because of it.
The opposite of woke is asleep and one way to avoid putting the audience to sleep is to have these characters change to reflect present day. A black Superman can be faster than a speeding bullet, a black Tarzan can swing on a vine just as nimbly as a white one, a black James Bond can ball a dozen women in between saving the world with the same aplomb as a white one can and a gay Sherlock Holmes can still tell your profession, the number of siblings you have and your place of birth just by making elementary deductions from the way you tip your hat.
None of these characters really make sense and that is part of their fun. But giving them the advantage of supernatural abilities AND making them straight white men is, well, kind of boring. The original authors did not have the option of making these characters anything other than that, but we do. WE should consider this not out of wokeness, or Political Correctness or whatever other nonsense phrase the right wing uses to make racism cool again. We should do it because diversity makes for better stories. Perhaps the best way to add color to the stories is adding color to the characters.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.