Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 31 - Racism in Julie & Julia (pt. 1)

Day 31.

An entire month has passed since I first set out on this crazy journey of mine and yet, I am still here, watching Julie & Julia and blogging away like an idiot. Did I ever plan on making it this far? Honestly, no. But am I glad that you, my devoted readers, have essentially forced me to follow through with your kind, kind words (and threatening notes tied to bricks thrown through my window). So congratulations to all of us (but mostly me) for making it this far! 1 month down, only 11 more to go.

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I'm just gonna come out and say it. Julie & Julia is racist. All four out of the four leads (Julie & Eric Powell, Julia & Paul Child) are white. All of Julie's friends are white (not including her cubicle buddy, who we will touch upon later). Everyone in 1950s France is white. This movie is white, white, white.

Number of white people: 9   Number of non-white people: 0
Number of white people: 3   Number of non-white people: 0
Number of white people: 2   Number of non-white people: 0
Number of white fish: 1   Number of non-white fish: 0

So maybe this seemingly all-white cast is just a product of the stories they're based on, right? I mean, the real-life Julie, Julia and their respective husbands were white, so logically they'd cast white actors to play them. I think that's bullshit. Color-blind casting, people! Ever heard of it? You pick the best actor for the job, regardless of race. If only Nora Ephron wasn't a white supremacist, maybe we could've gotten some truly inspired casting.

You're the MOTHERFUCKING butter to my bread!!

But that being said, just because your leads are white doesn't necessarily mean that your film is racist. It just so happens that this one is. So how do you address this problem? I don't know, maybe try to show a realistic, well-developed non-white character at least once throughout the entire 2 hours of this movie. How do you not address this problem? I don't know, maybe deliberately cast black/non-white actors as peripheral characters in order to appear not racist. That kind of tokenism is just as offensive and racist as leaving them out altogether. It's just another way to say "Hey, this movie isn't bigoted and racist! Look, we have a black guy!"

A black mailman, no less. Not racist at all.

Maybe I'm being too hard on Julie & Julia. After all, Julie's presumably good workplace friend, Ernestine, is black. Ernie, as Julie so endearingly calls her (slave name?), is often there to provide moral support for Julie as the blog becomes more and more successful. Ernestine seems like she could be a strong character, except for the fact that she isn't. For the entire movie, she has three scenes totaling for about 20 seconds of screen time.

This is actually the closest you get to seeing her entire marginalized face.
Julie Powell patronizes her only black friend by playing paddy-cake with her.

So apparently, in the racist world of Julie & Julia, black people are only good for giving encouraging thumbs ups and congratulatory ethnic hand claps. Nice, Nora Ephron, nice. And even though she's in three scenes, she only has one line.

"I didn't tell him, I swear."

Yes, that is her one line in the entire film: "I didn't tell him, I swear." Let me provide some context. Julie has just skipped a day of work in order to cook/work on her blog and now she's in trouble with her boss, who has just asked to see her. Of course, right away, Julie shoots an accusatory look at her black officemate (who has never done anything but give Julie her support), forcing Ernestine to have to defend herself. This kind of thing has clearly happened before, judging by how quickly Ernestine jumps to say that she wasn't the one who ratted her out. Also, it never seems to cross Julie's mind that maybe her boss read that she was playing hooky on the DAILY BLOG that she posts ON THE INTERNET. Judging from what I've seen every day for the last month, Julie is just a racist bitch.

Oh, wait, nevermind--my mistake, Ernestine had four scenes in the film.


I think that's her "afro-styled ethnic hair" in the background there. Or at least that's what the producers of this movie would have probably called it, the racist bastards. Which leads us to a phenomenon I like to call "blackground actors," or in other words, another form of racial tokenism where black actors are placed in the background of shots for the sole purpose of having black people in the movie. Tomorrow, I will investigate this phenomenon further, as I'm pretty sure Julie & Julia employs it on multiple occasions. Until then, I urge you all to begin writing letters to the NAACP.

(To be continued...)

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Julie & Julia
Quote of the Day: "But I think it calls for a great bottle of wine."

10 comments:

  1. This is hilarious. All of this hilarious. Keep it up! (Or else you'll have more bricks thrown through your window - kidding. Maybe.):)

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  2. Make that 5 scenes for Ernestine... check out 1:42:49 after Julie makes the New York Times (again, she's acting as the supportive friend).
    Oh and at 1:42:40 there is another token black person on the subway - totally inferring that black people would have to take the subway and not afford taxis or have an important enough job for a car service... so racist! Feel free to steal/expand on this material for part 2. :-)

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  3. but what are your New Year's Resolutions?

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  4. Blackground actors YES!!!! I am using it. I am telling all my friends to use it! GLORIOUS

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  5. This is hilarious. Nice sleuth work.

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  6. OMG...I'm almost crying, I'm laughing so hard!

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  7. I'm just finding this blog now and love it. The analyses of race is really thoughtful and having read the book, there is a deep anxiety Julie has about people of color. Your blog is giving me lots to think about!

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  8. Yeah the whole "blackground" thing is funny, but it's ridiculous to say that not casting any well-developed characters that are "non-white" is racist. I don't understand why the actors should be non-white when the characters that they are portraying are white. Color-blind casting is a retarded politically-correct idea. What's the point? It's not true to life. This is a film about real-life people and in real-life they are WHITE people. Fuck. -Kelly, hamiltonke@gmail.com.

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