So, last night my best friend and I watched the Netflix movie Bright that everyone’s talking about. I had avoided a lot of the very divided criticism because I wanted to make my own decisions about it. A little under three hours later (we paused it a few times for necessary moments of reprieve and for me to talk on the phone) the movie was over and I have to say I felt a way. The movie is nowhere near the “worst film of the year”, but dear Lord did it have its share of issues. (It should go without saying that from here on, there be spoilers)
First and foremost, the first twenty minutes of the movie HAVE GOT TO GO. Every single scene in the first twenty minutes is problematic as hell, from Will Smith’s daughter’s (apparently her name was Sophia) comments about Orcs being dumb to the whole narrative reading straight out of one of those “First Black person to __________” stories. Quick rundown: there are Orcs, Elves, Fairies, Centaurs, and Humans in this world and none of them really like each other because of some ancient war. Apparently there was a Dark Lord (that’s all we get. I don’t know if he’s Voldemort or Satan itself) who took over as Dark Lord’s tend to do. The Orcs helped him rise to power and, as a result of the Dark Lord being taken down by the nine armies, are an oppressed group. The Orcs are only gangstas, thugs, and chauffeurs in the film, with Nick Jakoby (the one in the header that’s not Will Smith) being the only “upstanding citizen”. So naturally, as the first Orc cop, it’s up to him to show that Orcs are cool people. Along for the ride is Daryl Ward, playing the part of angry racist white cop. Yes, I know I’m talking about Will Smith, but his role (especially in the first twenty minutes) could’ve been played by Darren Wilson and I wouldn’t have known the difference. What’s worse, is that’s only the tip of the iceberg in the first twenty minutes.
I think I have to start with the most egregious bullshit in the whole movie. After his wife tells him to get rid of the fairy outside, Will Smith beats the thing to death with a broom, but not before proclaiming, “Fairy Lives Don’t Matter Today”. Now, that is a really, really, REALLY loaded statement to have a Black person, especially a Black police officer (with the LAPD no less!) make. I get it, he’s an asshole cop who believes the badge is more important than any other identity. He flat out tells Jakoby that he is a cop first not ten minutes later. But to have a prominent Black actor poking fun at a movement surrounding the very real deaths of Black people every damn day is tone deaf AT BEST. He jokes that police brutality is what he does after the poor thing is dead, and even though his neighbors mildly admonish him for killing the fairy, nobody bats an eye that the LAPD is still out here brutalizing people for fun. Oh, and it’s not lost on me that a cishet Black man brutalizes or flat out murders a fairy and nobody cares. Sounds really familiar. And the movie hasn’t even been on for ten minutes by this time!
There are other things that are pure unadulterated bull in these first twenty minutes. Things like Jakoby being mild-mannered and trying his best to fit in like a good little token, the speech from another cop that there’s a good chance one of the actors have said in real life with only a few changes (for clarity, the line is: “I’ll drop an Orc; I don’t give a fuck. My ancestors killed them by the thousand in Russia”. Chance was right about how it handles racism) and just general cop fuckery. Really, all this does is lead back to my personal belief that fantasy races like the ones in this film should NEVER be used as stand ins for real racism. One, because as this movie proves, people will miss the metaphor unless you make it abundantly clear. Two, it always requires that the rest of the people in the world are on some post-racial stuff (am I supposed to believe that even with elves looming over all humans that whiteness allowed Black, Asian, and Hispanic people on the same level? And that those marginalized people are ALL okay with treating others like shit? Nah.) Three, it erases intersectionality. Soooo what about gay Orcs? Orc women? Are they treated the same? What about intersections of humans? Are queer Black women on the same level as Orcs? A notch above? And fourth, it forces stupid stereotypes for people to be able to understand who the fantasy race is supposed to represent. See: the gangsta Orcs or the line about “not being a mutant” (in X2). The whole racist society aspect of Bright really falls short, and really didn’t have to be so shallow or heavy handed to get the message across. Maybe that’s because the movie is wrapped up A LOT in old school fantasy tropes.
Old school fantasy, I’m talking Tolkien, Hubbard, Lewis, and the like, specialized in having different races represent different ethnic groups and some other foundational writing tropes that some writers still hold on to. Stuff like the fragile but stupidly powerful white woman who the heroes must protect (see most JRPGs, or movies like The Fifth Element), the lack of women of color (the only Black women or girls were Sophia and a topless stripper, and they were only in two scenes each. The only other WOC is a Dragon Lady who gets killed early on.), the “Chosen One”, and a literal prophecy. The whole movie is built on old-school fantasy tropes, which even in a modern setting aren’t fresh enough to make me want to sit through them again. We’ve made way too many advancements in the speculative arts to STILL be using tropes from the early 1900s. However, even with all of my many issues with Bright, I would never say it is “the worst movie of the year” or that it sets a precedent for other terrible movies. It just wasn’t THAT deep.
I don’t care to delve into reviewing politics, but I do know that folks don’t like Black leads (or hell even Black characters) in fantasy films, white folks don’t like to face the fact that cops are often crooked, and a lot of people just don’t wanna deal with racial issues at all. Add that to the fact that the first twenty minutes of the movie are so astronomically problematic that I almost turned it off (and know a few people who did) and that even after that the movie only got to be okay, and you have a movie that people are READY to trash and trash freely. By no means is Bright a masterpiece, but it certainly isn’t worse than many of these flat ass white led movies on Netflix. All in all, its an okay popcorn flick once you get past the first twenty minutes, and one that I’m hoping a sequel will greatly improve on. (it’s already greenlit) It had good intentions, good ideas, but it just didn’t really execute it. But don't take my word for it. Check it out yourself. Meanwhile, I'm gonna go skim Netflix for myself.
What did you think about Bright? Do you agree with my points? Be sure to leave your comments, questions, and concerns below, and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!