Our digital age has left us unable to deal with fiction. At least The Revenant seeks to free us from reality
There is a lot to like about the Latif test. Like the driving experiment, and that one that involves protruding a knife in a cake and realizing if it comes out sticky, it is undeniably useful. Checks and equilibriums may well be needed to help kerb Hollywood prejudice. And unlike most other tests IQ, STD, GCSE it is pithy, on-point and wittily written.
Devised by two sisters from London, Nadia and Leila Latif, it aims to gauge a films latent racism by levelling at it a series of questions. These include: are there two characters of colour in the film? Do they have calls? Do they speak? About something other than a lily-white hero? And merely to check are they emphatically not magic?
Three heartens for this sort of light-touch lawfulness. Hinted early in the manufacture process, such steers would undoubtedly be instructive. But Im less keen on its willy-nilly wheel-out; likewise a boycott of those movies that dont make the grade or their own bodies that give them prizes.
Writing in the Guardian earlier this week, the Latifs bemoaned the facts of the case that when you inspect this years best-picture Oscar nominees, three of them pass( The Big Short, The Martian and The Revenant ), two miscarry( Mad Max and Room ), and, worst of all, three do not contain a single identified attribute of colour( Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn and Spotlight ).
Yet sometimes to miscarry is more dignified than to triumph. All three of the worst offenders are interval pieces. Two are based, somewhat strictly, on real-life occurrences. Colour-blind casting “wouldve been” odd in Spotlight( Boston Globe reporters disclose a reverberate of paedophile priests) and in Bridge of Spies( Washington lawyer negotiates a cold-war captive swap in Berlin ). Brooklyn set forth in 1952, half in a small village in County Wexford and half in an Irish expat boarding house run by Julie Walters.
For many decades cinema botched this issue spectacularly. It worked on the assumption that audiences dont interpret colour as long as the actors are white. John Wayne played Genghis Khan and Charlton Heston Moses. It is merely relatively recently that eye-rolling over such casting replaced blind acceptance. Now such oversight is glaring and is also possible fatal.
Joel Egertons Egyptian pharaoh in Exodus: Divinities and Kings cost the movie dear; likewise Emma Stones Hawaiian in last years Aloha. The Latif test is admirably trying to redress the balance. But if enforced to the extreme, it risks being a retrograde step.
Nowadays, to sacrifice accuracy in the services offered of diversity “wasnt just” iffy it is counterproductive. It undermines the achievement of movies such as 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueens best-picture Oscar-winner, whose power derives in part from its scrupulous truthfulness. To randomly slot attributes into stories that would have been different had they been present is to tell a lie.
And once you abandon historical context, you restriction grasp. When this is lost, read is curtailed and advances threatened. People did things differently then. If we dont acknowledge this as well as the facts of the case 2016 was not able to the endpoint of human tolerance and understanding we may find ourselves in an endless, goldfish present in which we forever thud our skulls against the walls of the tank.
But this is the destination “were about” hastening towards anyway. Living for the moment isnt just the motto were meant to yell as we bungee happily off a cliff, it is an inevitable product of our conditioning. We are saturated in facts, in a report churn that induces us fidgety when dealing with anything without obvious reference to our own experience.
The engine for this the echo chamber of social media is also what encourages people to insist the Latif test be followed to the letter. It is Twitter that cannot only stimulates people to grip the wrong terminate of the stick, but likewise substantiates their muddle-headedness. By the time weve arrived at the stage of #OscarsSoWhite in the Hollywood race debate, “its too late” the very end of the process. Not only of cinema production but of record so far itself a record that has invariably been cruel, unfair and imperialist.
Our insistence that the past not offend the present is another iteration of our apparently insatiable desire for artistry that shows the contemporary. The sleeper movie hittings of this year ought to have Ex Machina, a sci-fi set in the present day that tackles matters that difficulties many gamers( should I trust a sexy robot ?) and The Big Short, in which Ryan Gosling fills us in on what actually happened during the 2007 -0 8 fiscal crash.
On TV, we lap up Making a Murderer. On radio, we are addicted to Serial. Soaps seem thin unless propped up by real demise and sorrow. The digital revolution has left us increasingly incapable of processing story. Daydreaming is defunct now we all have phones to scroll. The clevernes of childhood has been replaced by the prescribed fictions of PlayStation. What stories there are carefully accommodate current teen concerns: what if my best good mate illusions the same girl as me( Harry Potter )? How will I be received if I go on a reality display( The Hunger Game )? And so the fishtank shrinks a little tighter.
So it is encouraged by the fact that the movie that will actually win all the Oscars this year isnt only one of the three that passes the Latif test; but is also the only movie on the index truly born of the dream factory. The Revenant is a cinema that does not appear interested in providing contemporary resonance. Instead, it seems to seek to tap into subconscious. It winches our very eyes up to the stars, its eyesight untethered to earthy concerns.
How do we respond? By remorselessly carrying it into the present day. We ask Ray Mears to tell us how practicable sleep in a pony carcass really is( buffalo would have been better ), and whether raw bison liver would be a wise dinner selection if only we starving to death( yes ). We enrol on tie-in survival courses run by the Bear Grylls academy on the outskirts of Luton. We tell each other that Leonardo DiCaprio got cold on the kill, and that the large-scale mountain of skulls was actually Styrofoam.
For me, the key image of this years Oscar race so far rose last week. Its of Glenn Ennis, a 6ft 4in stuntman who played the suffer that assaults DiCaprio in one of the movies most extraordinary panoramas. Ennis grins beneath his blue dres and hockey mask; on top of his whisker is a oil, papier-mache endures manager, like a homemade pinata, also painted blue.
We just cant cope with not knowing, can we? We only have to keep it real.
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