Filmmaker Tim Burton is known for his love of the supernatural and his unorthodox way of filmmaking. Burton has revolutionized the landscape of film with hits such as “Edward Scissor-Hands,” and, a personal favorite, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” among many others. Burton has a career that should be celebrated. However, all of this went by the wayside when it came out last week that Burton was an immoral, unethical and undeniable racist.
In what was supposed to be a publicity interview for his then upcoming film “Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children,” Burton sparked a media and racial firestorm. When asked why, in almost all of his films, his cast is so inherently and consistently ‘white’, Burton stated quite plainly: “I remember back when I was a child watching ‘The Brady Bunch’ and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black..,” and just like that, a social media firestorm ensued (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/09/29/tim-burton/).
The only thing that was truly offensive about Burton’s opinions were the comments that ensued on social media after he made them. Attacked on Twitter and Facebook and repeatedly called a ‘racist’ as well as yet ‘another whitewasher’ in Hollywood for his views on race in cinema, Burton was made to appear as a serial racist hell-bent on making movies with only white actors and actresses.
Compounded with the recent and sensitive issues surrounding race in the United States, people have suggested that Burton is systematically disenfranchising qualified minority actors and actresses from being involved in his movies. The takeaway that people are getting from Tim Burton’s comments is that as an institution, cinema and the arts must allow for all movies to be diverse, even if that means taking discretion away from the director and writers. This is simply and unequivocally wrong.
Making a movie is first and foremost an art, a form of inherent free speech. Directors and writers are tasked with sharing their vision with the world. It is imperative, then, that the true intention must be kept throughout the process. This holds true even if that process or idea does not conform to an individual’s ‘ideals’ of what makes a good movie.
Therefore, to subjugate a quota, to require a balance of diversity in films, which is what has indirectly suggested by some in the aftermath of Burton’s comments, would delegitimize the business of film and its impact on culture and our society. This fact has been reiterated by many in the business. Ethan Coen of the Coen brother duo said, “It’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity — or it might not”. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/09/29/tim-burton/ )
The moment that we, as a society, condone the act of institutionalized inclusion in the arts, solely on the basis of appeasing our misconstrued notion of diversity for the sake of ‘making ourselves feel better’ is when the business of film and its impact on society would be totally and completely invalidated. Actors want and should be given a role for their merit and talent, not because someone thinks there should be “a little more color” in a film. If anything is disturbing, it is the idea that by somehow assembling together a diverse cast, that the underlying problems concerning race in this country will go away.
Hollywood does indeed have a very controversial history concerning the topic of race. From the era of Al Jolson to years of mistreatment and miscasting of African-Americans, Native Americans and others, but that is not the argument here. Years of such treatment have justly made many groups sensitive to this discussion. When Mel Brooks was asked whether his blockbuster “Blazing Saddles” would be made amidst the fervor of political correctness and the fear of potential ‘racial’ backlash Brooks answered with a loud “No!” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/21/mel-brooks-looks-back-blazing-saddles-could-never-get-made-today.html)
Tim Burton’s comments were worded incorrectly and should be scrutinized as such. But under no circumstances should someone be called a racist where no true qualifications exist.