|Can you spot the "Token White" from Fast Five?|
Did I enjoy this movie? Only in a dumb mindless way. It has whatever made the original "XXX" entertaining, but a little less of it. Does it make the slightest sense? Of course not. Its significance has nothing to do with current politics and politicians, the threat of terrorism, and the efficiency of bullet trains. It has everything to do with a seismic shift in popular culture.
Once all action heroes were white. Then they got a black chief of police, who had a big scene where he fired them. Then they got a black partner. Then they were black and had a white partner. Now they are the heroes and don't even need a white guy around, although there is one nerdy white guy in "XXX" who steps in when the plot requires the ineffectual delivery of a wimpy speech. So drastically have things changed that when Ice Cube offers to grab the president and jump off a train and grab a helicopter, all the president can do is look grateful. Oh, and later, in his new State of the Union speech, our nation's leader quotes Tupac, although he doesn't know he does. Well, you can't expect him to know everything.
This buddy cop spoof begins with the triumphant exploits of the NYPD’s coolest cops. In cameos played by Samuel L. Jackson, as the same character he’s done since Pulp Fiction, and Dwayne Johnson, the genial half-Samoan, half-black ex-pro wrestler formerly known as The Rock, the two supercops wreak $12 million in property damage to Manhattan while arresting a smalltime weed dealer. Then Jackson and Johnson take a victory lap around the police station, tossing their unfilled-out paperwork to “The Other Guys,” the precinct’s most pathetic desk jockeys, played by Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, who become the movie’s main characters.
The Other Guys could have been more memorably entitled The White Guys. Much of comedy these days, especially funny TV commercials about doofus dads, gingerly deals with the paradox of a culture in which white guys have seemingly been dethroned from the top of the masculinity pyramid. Yet, the people who have the really good jobs making the movies, TV shows, and ads poking fun at white guys remain, overwhelmingly, white guys like McKay and Ferrell.
|Can white guys play the bad ass hero anymore?|
"I didn't think anybody would ever write a role for me. I didn't fit the bill. I was too multicultural. There was no place for me," was how Vin Diesel explained his early Hollywood reality on an Atlanta set for the Fast Five in October 2010.
Hollywood's "whites only" attitude, especially for leading man roles, is what prompted Diesel to write, produce, direct and star in his 1994 life-as-art frustration short, Multi-Facial about not being black enough or white enough to make the cinematic cut. The short, which landed in the Cannes Film Festival, got Steven Spielberg's attention and the legendary director cast Diesel in a small role in the Oscar-winning Saving Private Ryan. Then, in 2001, Diesel's career got a major jolt with the blockbuster The Fast and the Furious.
A novel approach to the salt-and-pepper buddy flick concept that had successfully paired the likes of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, The Fast and the Furious, coincidentally built around an article from VIBE magazine about street racing, proved to be no laughing matter. Diesel, who was coming off successful runs in Pitch Black and Boiler Room, was the star power that jump-started the film, with the blue-eyed, blonde Hollywood poster boy Paul Walker following his lead. Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez rounded out the main cast but Asian actor Rick Yune and then hip-hop star Ja Rule did have significant input, not to mention the cars themselves. Actually, The Fast and the Furious was a major wake-up call that Detroit no longer dominated the world auto industry.
When Entertainment Weekly listed its five reasons why, a decade later, this franchise is still viable, they put "The Melting Pot" vibe at the top of the list. "Quick, what do Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, and Christopher Nolan's Batman series have in common?" they asked. And the answer was "White people, white people everywhere!" That's certainly not anything the Fast Five is guilty of.
Set in Brazil, whose economy has been deemed the second fastest growing one next to China, Fast Five's cast is comprised of original stars Diesel, Walker and Brewster as well as Tyrese, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Sung Kang, who have been pulled from the other franchises, is more diverse than ever. For added value, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Diesel's multiracial comrade, has been drafted to play the badass cop vowing to catch the robber by any means necessary. Meanwhile, Reggaeton players Tego Calderón and Don Omar help broaden the base even further in supporting roles.
Reviews of Fast Five largely center around the cars as well as the franchise's transitioning from racing to heist genre but that's not the real story. Fast Five, which has already topped the box office in Australia, the UK, New Zealand and South Korea, should be Hollywood's final initiation into the new multicultural, multiracial, global reality. Since people of color have long dominated the population stats, the world has been a rainbow of flavors for a minute now. The difference is that sunburst reality has become increasingly too powerful to ignore yet Hollywood and other Americans are still just peeking at the memo.
While birthers are wasting their time challenging President Obama's citizenship, the world is literally passing them by. Holding on to the crumbling notion of white supremacy and white privilege is definitely a recipe for destruction. To play in this new world arena, it's essential to realize that not living in the "real" world is just no longer an option.
The white action star is a thing of the past; the multiracial action star is the present and the future. It just took marginalizing whites and the manufacturing of positive images of Black people through film to achieve this result.