Ari Handel, Your Tone-Deaf Conclusion That Race In Mythology Doesn’t Matter Is Insulting And Kind Of Racist

Same old same old: Good guys white, bad guys not white or not necessary.
Publish date:
April 17, 2014
movies, race, entertainment, noah, The Hobbit, mythology

“From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter.” This is Noah co-screenwriter Ari Handel’s explanation for the film’s all white cast.

Ari Handel: I am not your mama and you are not my ten-year-old child who tried but you struck out on the game-ending at-bat, so you and co-screenwriter/director Darren Aronofsky will not be getting an “E is for Effort” pizza party at Chuck E. Cheese just because you spent half a second thinking about including POCs (people of color) before excluding them from your film. At this point, you’re not even going to get a sympathetic pat on the head.

Why? Because your tone-deaf conclusion that race when it comes to myths doesn’t matter is insulting, and kind of racist. It does matter and intelligent people like you should know that.

History has shown that mythology is relevant when nations are overthrown along with their cultures, traditions, and mythologies –- all of which typically serve to ingrain lessons on how not to behave, also known as morality tales. And in the heroic ones, these lessons become ideals, physical or otherwise, that people should strive towards. That is why when civilizations are taken over one of the first things to change is the standard of beauty, because power is often linked to the aesthetic of those in leadership positions.

And that is why in the movie Noah, even though the story takes places in a region (the Middle East) where the people should likely be the complexion of a cardboard box, its titular character, who is one of the most legendary mythological heroes of all time, looks and sounds like the Australian narrator in the Outback Steakhouse commercials. Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No, because this is not the first time that mythology, especially on the silver screen, has been used as a weapon of whitewashing.

A few years ago, controversy swirled around The Hobbit after reports surfaced that Naz Humphreys, a British actress with Pakistani lineage, had been rebuffed by someone in the casting department with the following explanation:

"We are looking for light-skinned people. I'm not trying to be...whatever. It's just the brief. You've got to look like a hobbit."

Hobbits aren’t real, yet Hollywood apparently still asserted this ridiculous standard when it came to their appearance. A standard that should not be ignored when you consider this fact about The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Good guys such as the elves are heavenly and paler than the foam in a can of Scrubbing Bubbles while the villains are dark-skinned. Clearly, subliminal messaging is happening -- white is right and dark is evil -- so to deny its existence is head-scratching and in the case of Handel, it’s also dangerous because he seems to ignore that skin color in storytelling is, in fact, not arbitrary, but is often used as a short hand to connote good or evil.

He’s not doing this out of malice, rather he’s merely perpetuating what has been ingrained in him and in our society: white is good, right, and most importantly, the default. This seems to be the case as he continues his defense of the film’s lack of diversity:

“They’re [the cast of Noah] supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Benetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise. You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it [race], or you just say, 'Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.'”

Key word being “everyman.” The word is used lot in cinema and society at large. Tom Hanks is considered an everyman actor, yet Denzel Washington is not, because what “everyman” really means is white. So each time it’s used, is to further cement the everyman equals white correlation -- to the point that it’s acceptably undetected because it is normalized. Subsequently, stories about everymen tend to eliminate anyone non-white.

It also explains why people like Handel function without really understanding (or caring) what their actions are implying. If only there was some way Hollywood could fix this problem -- and not the default problem solver for Hollywood: A magical Negro. Paging Bagger Vance! Eh, on second thought,maybe just hire more POC as movie executives and screenwriters who know that everyman should actually reflect every man.