Diversity Aboveground: Ant-Man’s Racist Trainwreck?
Two very different films came out last weekend: Trainwreck and Ant-Man. How did both handle diversity? Was there a winner?
Trainwreck is the first film directed by Judd Apatow where he wasn’t involved in the writing. Since his film directing debut, Apatow has been known for films about men who tend to be immature and have little use for women except for sex and money. His work was branded “sexist” and even Katherine Heigl, who starred in his 2007 film, Knocked Up, complained in Vanity Fair that year how the film was “a little sexist” and “paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. … I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy?” Apatow had complained himself about other Hollywood films, “In a lot of these movies, the females are an afterthought. I think when you care about the characters and they aren’t just a prop to the guys, the movie is that much better.” Under the usual circumstances, most filmmakers would argue how their films weren’t sexist, make one grand gesture and spend the rest of their life reminding everyone of this one grand gesture.
However, as 2007 became the past and the present became 2010, more complaints were lodged against comedy in general. There were no comedy blockbusters starring women. The 2009 New York Comedy Festival lacked any female headliners at all. Three of the late night talk shows didn’t employ women writers. It could have been easily ignored but Apatow actually did something about it. He produced a colleague’s film, Bridesmaids, which was almost entirely about women.The hit has inspired Paul Feig to make women the focus of all his comedies since then, including the upcoming Ghostbusters. Apatow didn’t stop there. He helped a young director get her own series on HBO. Lena Dunham has become a household name from her popular Girls. Then, there’s Trainwreck, starring Amy Schumer who also wrote the script. In a recent interview in Australia, Schumer was upset when the film was summarized as being about Amy getting a boyfriend. Schumer argued, “I think you’re wrong. I think the point is that she realizes she’s hurting herself and the people around her.” It’s an easy mistake when all the marketing has tried to make it into a romantic comedy.
Of course, fighting for women doesn’t excuse the complaints of racism. None of his films have featured people of color in large roles. Some like Maya Rudolph or LeBron James have been supporting characters, but that’s not the same. Even Dunham’s Girls seems to be a New York devoid of diversity most of the time. However, Trainwreck seems to openly acknowledge the racism and portray it negatively. One of Amy’s most importance relationships is with her father who she freely admits to being racist and “an awful person”. Her sister’s baby shower is a sea of WASPs who include homophobes. Her boyfriend asks her to produce a photo on her phone of an African-American friend. He calls her out for the only photo being her waiter. Amy’s employment is no better with a lone Asian-American male. Her employment is negatively portrayed, including their lack of color. One co-worker awkwardly hits on an African-American later by saying that she had “dated a black guy” once before. Amy later assumes a subway rider knows why the train stopped because of the “Black Boss Lady” trope. This week, Apatow was on The Nightly Show‘s own parody, The Whitely Show. This is a great start but now, you have to actually…you know…support people of color who also want to star, direct and write comedies?
Ant-Man‘s script, attributed to no less than seven different people including former Apatow coworkers Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, has been taken multiple ways. The main two are:
Ant-Man: Best Diverse Marvel Film Yet!
First of all, the hero, Scott Lang, is a convicted felon, or as many politicians would call him…a thug. However, he is shown in a sympathetic light as they show the honest truth about how hard it is to give up crime. Felons are heavily restricted in employment, housing and representation. This is even more important because felons are disproportionately made up of people of color. 6.5% of adults, excluding African-Americans, have felony convictions but in the African-American community, about 25% of adults are convicted felons. The restrictions felons face often give them no alternative but to return to crime exactly as Lang does.
Lang’s apartment complex has residents of all races. There appears to be a perpetual rave, but this could also be a commentary on the United States drug culture and how it criminalizes users so that they can either only afford the low rent district to support their hobby or they’re former felons themselves from drug convictions.
Luis (Michael Pena) is an upbeat Mexican-American. His referring to his dad being deported puts a more human face on the debate while bringing up the subject for millions of children watching it. With Marvel’s last two Latino characters dead under questionable loyalties, it’s important to have one that’s loyal, brave and would risk his life to save a stranger. Lang’s other two cohorts are an African-American and a Russian immigrant because it’s hard to be an immigrant no matter what your skin color is.
Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) has two important scenes. The main scene is that he’s been entrusted to defend the entire training base established at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yes, this also means he sees more action here than he did in that previous film. Later, he’s seen talking to a reporter who’s a female Asian-American. Is this the MCU’s Leila Taylor even though that character was African-American in the comics or is this a friend of Taylor? Either way, this should be explored in the future.
Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is given her own superhero suit by the end and Cassie Lang (Abby Ryder Fortson) becomes a Young Avenger in the comics. Both had the strongest female characters of the film, driving the actions of plot and Ant-Mans forward. Cassie’s bedroom includes toys from the “boy” section like Thomas the Tank Engine, regular Lincoln logs and cars.
Ant-Man: Most Bigoted Marvel Film Yet!
So, Lang was a beloved Robin Hood figure? Where was his GoFundMe?
Despite Lang’s apartment complex having such a variety of people, where are the homosexuals and transgender? Those in the transgender community often have a hard time with jobs, housing and other things just like felons because of bigotry, including legal discrimination. Most states make it incredibly difficult to change their birth gender and/or name so they are forced to keep their wrong identity. The hardship has made many turn to crime to survive and convicted felons do account for 16% of the transgender population. Also, if Kevin Feige was waiting for “the opportune moment” to “organically” add other sexualities to the films, this was it! A couple kissing in the background would have been better than nothing.
Luis enjoys wine tastings and art galleries but both were played for laughs, playing into Mexican stereotypes. There was also his van that played “La Cucuracha” with the horn. The Russian immigrant uses the “G” word. This could be used to show his ignorance or the bigoted views that the Roma face but after the problems during the press tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron, why use that word at all? It could have easily been snipped out in post-production.
Hope is established as the most competent at the Ant-Man suit and what they need to be done but isn’t allowed to actually be the main hero. Her strained relationship with her father is supposed to contrast with Cassie’s unending faith in her father but it still feels like a gimmick to keep the focus on the two Ant-Mans without having a Wasp. The other main female is Cassie’s mom who only exists to nag, demand money or look worried. While Cassie did have a variety of toys, she didn’t have any superhero figures. This seems strange especially when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. confirmed they exist in this universe. Or does Black Widow not have her own figure within the MCU either?
Now, if people continue to complain about Judd Apatow as sexist despite his attempts to help female comics, why does Adam Sandler get a free pass? Why isn’t the whole internet ganging up on him?
Just over a month ago, Rose McGowan Tweeted the notes she received for an audition, “Please make sure to read the attached script before coming in so you understand the context of the scenes. Wardrobe note: Black (or dark) form-fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push-up bras encouraged). And formfitting leggings or jeans. Nothing white.” She also revealed it was for an Adam Sandler film and was promptly let go by her agent. It’s been forgotten in the recesses of what happened before Comic-Con.
This week, Sandler released Pixels. It’s a film about video games in which no females actually play them. THERE ARE NO FEMALE GAMERS IN THIS FILM!
Don’t even try to argue that this is a film specifically about gamers from the 1980s. There were female gamers back then. How do I know this? I was a female gamer back in 1980s. I’m even a survivor of the horror that was E.T. for the Atari 2600. This is unacceptable that a film in 2015 wouldn’t acknowledge female gamers.
So, Juliet Capulet will have to wait another week to get her due but she’s already waited over 400 years so it’s not that big a deal.
What did you think of Ant-Man and Trainwreck?