Friday, May 29, 2020

About movie posters

In February, Black History Month, the US book chain Barnes & Noble added special covers  featuring “people of color” (I have issues with that phrase but it’s the one they used) to a range of classic novels; the logic was that nowhere in the texts does it say that Dorothy Gale or Frankenstein’s monster or Captain Ahab is white, so why not make them black or Asian or Hispanic. There was a backlash. This was “literary blackface” according to one critic, and instead of blacking up characters in books by white authors, B & N should have been promoting books by black authors instead. (Of course, the real problem with focusing on texts by non-white writers to the exclusion of all else is that you give the impression that there was very little literature before World War II; just as a focus on female authors turns everything before 1800 into a creative wasteland. Even Virginia Woolf didn’t argue that we shouldn’t read Shakespeare.)

The BFI is, I guess, making itself liable to similar accusations by commissioning new covers for its Film Classics series, with a new focus on “women, LGBTIQ+, black, Asian, mixed ethnicity and the Global South”. It’s a tougher call than book covers, because while you can plausibly imagine that Frank Baum’s Dorothy is black or Bhutanese, there’s no such wriggle room when you’re presented with Judy Garland in the role. The BFI cleverly got round this by offering the artists “a short description of the film, along with an idea of certain characters or a scene central to the film”. Rather than telling them to, uh, watch the film, which may have confused the issue.

PS: Vaguely connected with both the above: a review of a talk about female artists that spent so long raging about the sins of male artists (among other stuff) that hardly any women got a mention. Includes a visceral condemnation of Gauguin by someone who admits to knowing nothing about Gauguin.

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