| December 02, 2019 11:51 AM
Ford v Ferrari is a biopic about white guys, yet some people are complaining that it contains too many white guys.
The film tells the (fictionalized) true story of car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles, who collaborated to help Ford beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. They were both white guys, and this is a problem for Bloomberg writer Hannah Elliott.
“This is a film celebrating those nostalgic golden days when white men ruled,” Elliott writes. “No fraction of the storyline is devoted to parsing the thoughts and feelings of any female who appears, even peripherally, on screen.”
The film certainly doesn’t pass the so-called Bechdel test — the standard named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel that requires that two female characters in a film have a conversation about something other than a man. A number of great films don’t pass it, from The Godfather to Casablanca. Of course, films might benefit from more female representation, but a biopic about car guys in the 1960s might not be the film for it.
Elliott also complains that Ford v Ferrari celebrates Shelby, a notorious womanizer who enjoyed big game hunting and was sued for sexual harassment. Shelby wasn’t really the benign if hardheaded creative that he’s shown to be in the film. But to that criticism, the film wasn’t trying to portray the real Shelby, anyway.
“Speaking as a director of actors, I’ve seen overly researching get majorly in the way,” director James Mangold said at Ford v Ferrari’s world premiere. “You aren’t playing the real person, you’re playing the character in service of the story.”
Elliott isn’t the only one tired of seeing white guys on screen. Another review of Ford v Ferrari on the climate and social justice-oriented website Grist complains about the film’s “white masculinity” and calls it a “climate change horror film.”
And Ford v Ferrari isn’t the only film with an alleged whiteness problem. “In the American imagination, Bonnie and Clyde are always white,” Vox tweeted last week. “The new movie Queen and Slim reinvents this doomed love story, and challenges viewers to re-evaluate how they racialize the runaway lover trope.”
Bonnie and Clyde are always white, it’s true, but that’s probably because the two notorious criminals were — wait for it — white. Vox’s review of the new film Queen & Slim, which centers on a black couple who become fugitives after killing a racist cop, claims that the film is a retelling of Bonnie and Clyde, and that’s a good thing:
It’s a subversive and powerful way to retell the Bonnie and Clyde myth for a new era — but also to reexamine what that myth has meant (something that Thelma and Louise’s feminist retelling did as well). It was possible to shade the story of a gun-toting white couple on the run from the law as glamorous and electric, a symbol of freedom and rebellion on the open road. But in the American imagination, that pair always had to be white, even if all the other details were fictionalized.
But the real Bonnie and Clyde were not heroes. They were greedy killers who probably murdered more than a dozen people. As one Twitter user pointed out, “This isn’t exactly a victory for civil rights if this character archetype goes cross racial.”
On-screen representation is not a frivolous concern, but sometimes the demands for superficial equality don’t even make sense. Apollo 13 is also a movie mainly about white guys. So was The Imitation Game. Some movies are just about white people, and that’s that.
So, when you complain that white guys are playing white guys, or that black actors haven’t had the opportunity to play villainous murderers, you might be taking social justice in the wrong direction.