Diversity Aboveground: Dwayne Johnson Rock Bottoms Hollywood

Aug 29, 2015

Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson first cultivated his good looks, charisma and excellent sense of timing into a multi-million dollar business with WWE. After the Rock became a household name, he expanded to films under his real name. While he’s had a couple of bombs like Southland Tales and Faster, the rest of his acting roles have been hits. Even the under-performing San Andreas made almost half a billion dollars world-wide. As a leading man, his films have made 3.7 billion dollars world-wide.

His continued presence with the WWE has made Dwayne Johnson into an action star but his acting choices also showcased his other skills in The Game Plan, Gridiron Gang and The Tooth Fairy. Most of his roles are also such where they could have easily cast any random male Caucasian but they cast Johnson and he made it into a hit. With this kind of power, Johnson can become the deciding factor about whether a project lives or dies. Yes, this does include producing on and off since the 2009 documentary, Racing Dreams. So, will Johnson use this clout to help other minorities get their story told?

Moana

Moana Waialiki is a young woman living around the turn of B.C.E. turning into C.E. She’s been told all her life about the gods and the powers they have over everything around them. The difference is that this is the South Sea and Polynesian Gods instead of Zeus or Jupiter. As she navigates her first voyage alone, she’ll come to the aid of Maui (Dwayne Johnson). His character is a demigod; born to a human parent but raised among the gods so he feels like he belongs to neither group. It has been hinted that Moana can control water and may be a demigod herself.

In the tradition of Frozen, it will be a musical with Johnson supplying his own singing. Lyrics and melodies are being written by Opetaia Foa’i: who leads a Pacific Islander music group, Mark Mancina: Disney score veteran, and Lin-Manuel Miranda: creator of the new musical that uses rap and hip-hop to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the United States. It is garnering rave reviews and President Obama called it “Phenomenal”. This is also a similar strategy to when they snapped up the composers and lyricists from Avenue Q and The Book or Mormon to write Frozen.

Moana and Maui, the ass shot

Moana and Maui

Dwayne Johnson has been very vocal about his support of the film. He acknowledged last month that “this is a very cool moment” because “this is my heritage. I’m proudly half-Samoan, half-black. To tell a story inspired by the South Pacific is a great honor.” Maui in the actual Polynesian mythology is a Trickster god who bought back fire for humans. In the August issue of Esquire, Johnson also explains “In Polynesian culture, the men run 300, 350 pounds and the women are even bigger. But Polynesian men are known for singing in a pitch that is soft falsetto singing. It sounds amazing. That’s just how they sing, at a very high pitch in an octave that’s very falsetto and soft. I fool them with my voice. I’m singing in Disney’s next animated musical, called Moana.” It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any further parallels between Johnson and Maui both having parents from very different cultures.

This will be Disney’s second Polynesian centered animated film but the first to have an “official” Polynesian Disney princess. Princess Elena of Avalor will debut on Sofia the First next year as the first Latina princess but there is no information on when Disney will have a Latina princess in the movie theatres.

Baywatch

Go ahead, name a major character from the original television series Baywatch that was a person of color. Go ahead, take your time. We’ll wait.

Come up with any?

There were actually three. In the entire twelve year span of the series, there were three. The new film reboot promises to place Dwayne Johnson as the leader in a similar position as David Hasselhoff in the original. However, it’s expected to be an R rated comedy with action elements like the film versions of 21 Jump Street. Co-star Zac Efron describes it as “We want to make it badass. That’s what Dwayne wants.” The best part is that the vast majority of R rated comedies star Caucasians so a large budget film like this could shift those casting decisions the same way that Bridemaids made things a tiny bit easier for females to star in raunchy comedies.

Jungle Cruise

Dwayne Johnson meets Goofy

Courtesy of Dwayne Johnson

It sounds a little scary being based off a Disney attraction but bringing in the writing and producing talent from Focus and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. suggests that this will be a crime caper. Although most of the ride is cute baby elephants and a menacing tiger, there are also references to headhunters, cannibalism, poachers, a plane crash, angry gods, pirates and the tour company being corrupt. There’s plenty of material for whatever the film may turn into. The film will also be influenced by the original inspiration for the Jungle Cruise, The African Queen.

With the original ride taking place in Africa, India, Southeast Asia and South America, how much of the cast will be diverse and represent these actual places? The casting of Dwayne Johnson is a positive sign that they won’t make a predominately Caucasian film.

************************************************************Remember last year when the Little League World Series seemed to revolve around Mo’ne Davis, whose 70 MPH fastball struck out every hitter she pitched against? She was the first African-American girl and only the fourth girl from the United States to participate in the games.

This year, despite an increase of 20-30% female participation in the United States, there are no girls at the Little League World Series. Davis became too old for eligibility but what happened to everyone else? Should Major League Baseball abolish their ban on female athletes to help Little League attract more girls?

Next week will tackle the issue of what Marvel needs to do with Marvel’s Most Wanted.

 

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