K and I watched the film Giant last night, I was blown away at how ahead of its time it was (released in 1956) and how relevant its themes are to this day. I loved Leslie Lynnton (played by Elizabeth Taylor) not from the moment when Bick Benedict (played by Rock Hudson) was taken by the sight of her riding a black stallion in one of the early scenes, but from the moment she opened her mouth, broke polite table talk social convention and called out “the greedy look” on her mom’s face when Bick reveals the size of his Texas ranch.
Leslie Lynnton breaks social convention throughout the film; she challenges gender roles, racial barriers, and classist forms of thinking. She’s clearly feminist af and it was a delight to watch every single minute of the 3 hour and 21 minute film.
I did find it strange that most of the Mexican characters were played by white people doing brown face. This is a common practice in Hollywood so it’s not shocking (white people playing different ethnicities, see: Westside Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Argo, The 33, The Last Airbender, Othello, Iron Fist, The Lone Ranger, Dragon Seed, Cleopatra, 21, A Beautiful Mind, The Conqueror, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Short Circuit, Ghost in the Shell, The House of Spirits, The Teahouse of the August Moon, The King and I, The Good Earth, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises, The Mast of Fu Manchu, Drive, and on and on…). However, because one of Giant ’s central themes is racial equality, the white people with what basically looked like brown shoe polish rubbed on their faces made me feel all jeeby in the gut.
There’ve been advances in the 61 years since Giant was released. And yet, Hollywood can do much better. Pop culture is powerful. How minorities are represented in films affects viewer’s perceptions. My Easter wish (that’s not really a thing but I just made it a thing because that’s how things work—that’s how change happens—sudden and sometimes from seemingly nowhere but it’s really been brewing out of sight for awhile) is that Hollywood starts making films that contradict the narratives that news shoves down our throats on the daily. I don’t want to see Muslims in a superficial way. I want to see their full humanity. I want to see more films like Moonlight. I want to go see a film that’s basically 13 Going on 30, but starring an Asian lead. I want the people in Hollywood who tell themselves they’re forward thinking to use their positions of privilege to do something to advance humanity. Do something, and keep on doing. Because I see great potential when it comes to Hollywood’s power right now. #OscarsSoWhite is a start, but unless it’s followed up with daily practice of fixing that situation, blackface/brownface/yellowface will still happen. And that’s just tragic. For all of us.