Thursday, January 16, 2014

"The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" and Character Building Via POC

"The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" is a Ben Stiller film based on a short story of the same name by James Thurber. I read the short story in an American literature class a year or so ago. I don't remember much except that me and Walter had a lot in common as far as daydreaming went, and that I didn't find the story as impressive as the teacher made it out to be. The movie I quite enjoyed. It was cute, and it left me feeling happy, sometimes that's all I want out of a film.
There were, as with all films, several problematic elements. One I want to focus on though, is the treatment of POC in the film. Before I start into this, I want to make a point. The treatment of people of color in this movie is not unique to this film but is a constant problem in almost all mainstream movies. By pointing it out here I hope you will be able to identify it in other films/books/ television shows, whatever types of media you enjoy.
The biggest issue I had with the movie was that it rehashed the old "white person goes out into the world to find their true self" plot. This causes problems because it quite often treats POC as props an plot devices for the white main character, and in "Walter Mitty" that is exactly what happens. When Walter Mitty leaves Scandinavia and heads to Yemen, none of the POC populating the background say a word. The white characters from Greenland and Iceland are fleshed out and given names and personalities, but the PoC (including the Inuit people depicted in Greenland) are reduced to silent or nearly mute caricatures. They become setting and props in the grand play of Walter Mitty's self-realization. Now I understand that this is a character centered film and Mitty is the main character, but the writers found time to give individuality and voice to the white, Americans, Greenlanders and Icelandic folks, why not the rest of the characters.
Overall I liked Walter Mitty, I liked it a lot. It was cute and it made me laugh. I might even go see it again with my girlfriend, and I'll definitely watch it if it comes on Netflix. I can enjoy Walter Mitty while criticizing its issues because like I said this isn't a problem unique to one film. Using minorities as tools to show the development of a privileged person is an unfortunately common trope. Not only is it lazy writing not to research your subject enough to write well-rounded minority characters, it marginalizes minority voices in favor of the stories of the privileged which, honestly, are getting a little. old.

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