Scott Hardie | July 31, 2017
What are your thoughts on the controversy around Confederate?

Aaron Shurtleff | August 1, 2017
I can't.

Scott Hardie | August 2, 2017
I may have tipped my hand by asking for opinions about the controversy rather than opinions about the show. I don't see the use in forming an opinion about a show that hasn't even been fully developed or written yet. The creators may well screw it up and be insensitive; they themselves have acknowledged that risk in an interview. But they seem to be operating in good faith and with a great deal of caution as to how their work will be seen and interpreted, and I'm sure the controversy has made them even more sensitive. (I do wonder why the white Benioff and Weiss are credited as "creators" while the black Spellmans are merely credited as writers and producers, when it sounds from that interview like they're full partners, a disparity that doesn't help with the optics. But perhaps it's a contractual thing with HBO; Hollywood is weird about titles.)

I don't believe that a show set in a modern-day Confederacy must inherently be racist or offensive or unworkable as a concept. A decade ago, the alternate-history documentary C.S.A. was sharp and brilliant and "woke as hell" as today's kids would say. It was made by a black history professor who wanted to demonstrate how we don't see slavery all around us because it has been absorbed into our culture and normalized; everything from Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben to modern-day sambo characters on sitcoms like 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (both overseen by Tina Fey, hmm) are part of the slavery narrative tradition. The message of C.S.A. is that this racism in our real culture is largely the same as in a fictional Confederacy; the only difference is the explicity. I don't see why HBO's Confederate couldn't take a similar approach, which would satisfy the progressive voices angry about the show.

The universal human tendency to try to block or censor art that we disagree with is insidious and ancient. Progressives champion some non-conventional artists and make themselves hypocrites by trying to silence other artists. Hey progressives: This #NoConfederate shit is one reason why they call us elitists. The fact that Benioff and Weiss are white should not bar them from having an opportunity to make art that concerns the black experience. I'm all for appreciating art through the lens of its creator's identity, but I resent the tendency to ban art entirely because of its creator's identity. This is a bit of a tangent, but when I hear the phrase "cultural appropriation" used to police who is and isn't allowed to make art, I cringe. We have to be free to interpret and build on each other's art and experiences or our culture will stagnate. Sure, Elvis was wrong to steal black musicians' rock and roll songs and perform them himself without credit or compensation, but to say that no white artist should be allowed to play black music at all would have precluded us from ever getting the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Dead, Zeppelin, Bowie, Springsteen, and countless more. My feelings about this are similar to my feelings about copyright, which is that the timeframe should be much shorter so that work enters the public domain much sooner, the reason being the great art that is made possible when we are allowed to interpret and build upon each other's work. I have no particular interest in seeing Confederate, but I will strenuously defend its right to exist and its creators' right to make it. Let's give Benioff and Weiss a chance, and judge the show after it has been made.

Scott Hardie | August 2, 2017
One more thing: To be clear, I'm not completely naive about how media is received. If you happened to watch that C.S.A. trailer that I linked above, you can tell that the tone is very in-your-face; it does not couch racism in gentle metaphors. That movie got away with it because it was a micro-budgeted indie film that barely played in theaters and was seen by very few people. If HBO produced something just like that today and put it on the air, there would be a thousand shocked and outraged thinkpieces across the web within hours, and angry protestors picketing outside of HBO's headquarters the next day. When I say that C.S.A. could be one successful model for Confederate to follow, I refer to its progressivism, not its directness.

Samir Mehta | August 2, 2017
[hidden by author request]

Aaron Shurtleff | August 2, 2017
Has anyone heard about the...I hate to call it a counter-show, because it sounds like it's been in the works for a while, but...show coming soon on Amazon called "Black America"? It is apparently of a similar vein, except in this case, after the war, black americans were given Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana in reparations for slavery, and they form their own country. Seems there's a lot of this going around...

Scott Hardie | August 7, 2017
Samir: When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, the Vietnam War dominated all media. The trauma of the fighting overseas, the aggravation of the politics at home, the lingering scars and resentment of the mistreated soldiers -- they seemed so potent and so commonplace in movies and television. Now? The war is all but forgotten in the national consciousness. What was the last major Hollywood film about the war? We Were Soldiers in the early 2000s? It's strange how some events linger and others don't.

Aaron: I have heard about Black America and it sounds at least a little more interesting. No doubt the two shows will be compared, if Confederate ever actually gets produced.

It seems like part of the problem with Confederate is how it was announced: HBO just sort of clumsily (accidentally?) mentioned it in passing at a press event, without any marketing input or creative elements to show off, and without any concrete details really even having been decided yet. HBO should have been way more careful about how it let this one out into the world, and I'm sure they won't make that mistake again.

Samir Mehta | August 8, 2017
[hidden by author request]

Scott Hardie | April 14, 2018
Following up on my rant/tangent about cultural appropriation above: It's quite frustrating to me that Isle of Dogs is being accused of it, and not just because I liked the movie so much. I've read several thinkpieces similar to that Hollywood Reporter editorial, and none of them seem to have a firm grasp on what "cultural appropriation" is, or why it's wrong, or where to draw the line for a movie like Isle of Dogs. It doesn't seem complicated to me:

Cultural appropriation is the stealing of someone else's culture for your own enrichment, without regard for them and without your own creative take on it. Elvis Presley is guilty of it for performing black artists' songs without credit or remuneration to them; the Rolling Stones are not because they took black music and wove it into something new and frequently credited their heroes. Wes Anderson did not remake Japanese art without crediting the source; he made his inspirations and collaborations explicit, and he has obviously crafted something new out of Japanese culture.

I refuse to accept the (very recent) progressive belief that no one should be allowed to make art based on someone else's culture; doing so would result in signifcant artistic stagnation. All art, literally every single piece of art that has ever been made after the very first cave drawing, draws inspiration and context from what came before it and what is around it; it is impossible to make art in a vacuum. If it's wrong to take from someone else's culture, then it's wrong to take from someone else, and when you cannot make something new that depends on an understanding of what came before it, you cannot make anything. Besides, banning any art is a dangerous proposition; art must be free to challenge the powerful and speak for the individual, and it cannot do that when only "acceptable" art is tolerated.

Where do we draw the line on white Westerners incorporating elements of Japanese culture into their work? Was Arthur Golden wrong to write Memoirs of a Geisha or Ian Fleming to write You Only Live Twice? Is Disney's Epcot wrong to have a Japanese pavilion? Was Celebrity Goo Game wrong to have maneki-neko (lucky cats) and a pagoda? Some of my favorite games are Tsuro and King of Tokyo and Sushi Go; I guess I should throw them away now. (At least I'd still have Machi Koro.)

The nearest parallel to Isle of Dogs that I can think of is Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, which I also liked, but which was subjected to similar accusations of cultural appropriation even though that term wasn't in common use at the time. (Sofia's brother Roman is one of the credited writers of Isle of Dogs, so he clearly didn't learn from the backlash that Sofia faced.) If I recall correctly, that film was accused of "othering" Japanese people, of portraying them as alien and exotic, and focusing on the point of view of Americans to the exclusion of the Japanese characters. Excuse me, but that was the point! That movie was about what it felt like to be stranded in a foreign land and to find solace in the company of a fellow national, something that anyone from any culture can feel wherever they go in the world. That movie wouldn't have worked with a Japanese point of view or if the Japanese characters had been less exotic or unfamiliar. As for Isle of Dogs, I call bullshit on the claim made in several thinkpieces that the dogs are essentially "American" because they have American voices with American accents and they don't understand the "exotic" Japanese language. The dogs in that movie are clearly Japanese dogs; the opening prologue shows how long dogs have been around in Japan. The movie has them not understand Japanese language because it's funny and appropriate for dogs not to be able to understand human words in an animated film with scenes told from dogs' point of view. It does not "other" Japanese people; they are main characters in the film who are portrayed with a variety of personalities and viewpoints (we literally see numerous scenes from Atari's eyes), and the film never leaves Japan. The only non-Japanese character in the film is a foreign exchange student, who I trust was only included so that the American movie has an excuse for some of the dialogue to be in English.

When I asked Kelly what she thought about the whole "cultural appropriation" debate around Isle of Dogs, she summed it up well: "It sounds like people looking for something to be upset about."

Scott Hardie | April 14, 2018
Just to be super clear:

- I think cultural appropriation is a real thing and a real problem. I just don't think that most of the art accused of it is guilty, because I think people misunderstand what term means or why we have it.

- I think American films can be and have been guilty of misusing and abusing foreign culture, from hacks and from respected filmmakers alike. I just don't think any American film that features foreign culture automatically qualifies.

- I think that the idea that "othering" foreigners is wrong, however, is pretty much bullshit. Any work of art that has characters of different cultures interacting, and that settles on one point of view, is going to be guilty of this. It can't be avoided and it isn't inherently harmful.

I suppose the point is that an American movie about a foreign land shouldn't always have an American hero who sees the land as "exotic" and "different," but i fail to see why such a story is inherently wrong; I could fly to Tokyo today and have that experience for real, so why can't a movie tell that story? If anything, what's wrong is that this same tale gets told over and over again by Hollywood, to the exclusion of tales about foreigners themselves, but that doesn't make each individual story invalid or wrong.

Scott Hardie | May 3, 2018
The latest round of anger over cultural appropriation is ridiculous.

There's just no sense of nuance or context or proportion when the righteousness kicks in. It's like a few members of the local community watch saw police detain someone for public intoxication, and now they're going around making citizen's arrests of anyone who takes a sip of beer at a bar.

One should not have to bring respect to the act of borrowing from another culture; lack of disrespect should be sufficient. The girl wearing the prom dress didn't mock anyone, or plagarize, or profit from it. She did nothing more than like the dress and wear it. That style of dress is pretty and intended for the purpose of looking pretty; it's not religious or sacred or otherwise inappropriate to wear to a prom. She should not have to "do research" and "educate herself" and "show respect" when she didn't she didn't do anything wrong. Let's keep the lines drawn at reasonable places on this sort of thing. (And for the bowing photo: That's her group of friends imitating YouTube characters that they like, not doing a racist pose to imitate Asian people. A case could be made that the characters are inappropriate, but the dress is what people are mad about and so that's what I'm talking about.)

Scott Hardie | May 12, 2018
Here's an appreciation of Isle of Dogs from a Japanese viewer. Whether or not you think the film committed cultural appropriation, it went to a lot of trouble to portray tiny details about Japanese life accurately.


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