FEATURE: Bright's Race Problem

December 27, 2017

This past Friday Bright was finally released on Netflix after the much-inflated hype and a huge multimedia marketing push, and surprising some but not others the film has not been very well received. It shouldn’t be that big of a shock to people as it comes to us from David Ayer, a director who seems now content with producing hired studio blockbuster work, from a screenplay by the increasingly fruitless one hit wonder child Max Landis.


There’s not a great deal to dig into concerning why it’s bad overall as a feature; it's badly written and shot, monotonously structured with weak performances and even weaker characters. But what really kicks this down to the bowels of the worst films that anyone attached has made to date is its complete ineptitude to coalesce its tired and borrowed fantasy elements with the gritty urban action crime film that Ayer is shooting it as. For a world heavily populated with creatures such a centaurs, orcs, fairies and magic welding elves pretty much every fight scene is just people with guns shooting each other in poorly lit bars and abandoned houses.


Although based a contemporary Los Angeles where the social strata have been reorganised into more direct analogues by to the introduction of fantasy species, with the elves as members of the 1% and the orcs as oppressed minorities, the world building is shockingly poor even for a film with such a high concept.

Screenwriter Max Landis, who disowned the project in the months following its production yet still has his name attached, is very good at selling unique and initially appealing pitches for prospective features by going into structural detail and broad general ideas, but that’s pretty much where most of his talents start and end. It’s very clear that this started as a cool and different original property concept but the spitballing of broad strokes never grew into anything more substantial and it raises so many more questions than answers as to how this world is supposed to function.


These are all distractions though and it's only worth dwelling on with such intensity because the story that they’ve chosen to tell is so boring and simplistic that you end up wishing for a more interesting product.


The most concerning thing though that the film completely mishandles is the issue of racial identification and its commentary on prejudice and racism in relation to the orcs. The orcs are clearly labelled in a manner as stand-in’s for minority underclasses, but the disgusting way in which it translates it only makes it more questionable.

You see the orcs are looked down on because 2000 years ago in the war against The Dark One (how imaginative), the orc ancestors sided with the enemy and upon the loss reduced to the lowest rungs of society in a forced repression that has existed since. Apparently, this incredibly long-standing and simmering resentment has never changed or grown over in a 21st-century society and people still see them as if it's their fault that they’re the way they are as gang members and crime statistics.


This is troubling, but the film does nothing to rectify it and takes a sick gleeful enjoyment out of stamping on movements such as Black Lives Matter (“Fairy lives don’t matter today” says Will Smith as he beats a fairy with a broom), or racial slurs such as being called pigs or Shrek. The film plays this for laughs instead of serious retrospection and every one of them falls painfully flat as its tone-deaf execution tries for anything that might seem like a commentary but sits there as a fat ugly text instead of a subtext, and not even a good text at that.

Even more confusing is the casting of Will Smith in the lead. His performance is awful anyway (he’s not officially been in more bad films than good, how sad is that?), but while his position as a black leading man might seem encouragingly colour-blind, it actually works against what the film is trying to establish. As said before, Smith is referred to in good-humoured terms by another black neighbour as “N***er”, which only begs the question as to whether or not segregation and slavery still happened in this universe, and if so why was there no similar issue for the orcs and who was responsible for the slave trade in the first place?


There’s no insight as to how this universes logic is supposed to work other than to just accept its half-hearted efforts at contemporary observation. While the racist cop figures are against Joel Edgerton’s orc being a member of the police force due to a diversity programme (which is only set up after they’re introduced as being partners curiously enough), why is this happening in the 21st century when it would be more appropriate to a mid 20th century setting? Unless the film is really that regressive in its standing that it still feels that there should be a stigma toward Orcs after 2000 years.


This could be gone over more and more as to the plethora of disturbing questions it raises, but most of it would be futile to turn over as nobody involved was clearly thinking ahead or even in depth about its internal logic. There’s even a dragon in the background of a shot flying through the sky at one point, which I suppose sums up the whole mess. The dragon is there because it looked cool as a visual and nobody considered looking into the consequences or reasons as to why a dangerous animal might be flying over a heavily populated city, such as how airline systems might work.

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