Sunday, November 9, 2014

Know Your Role

The Cool Girl

The Hero

The Rebel

Places everyone. 

Look at these 3 pictures. 2014 has shown us that living up to someone else's expectations only ends in character assassination. If these films are about anything, they are about wringing out the water on people's perceptions on gender, fame and race. Whether the setting is in a house, on a stage, or on a campus. 

The society and environments these characters inhabit help push them along into their respective roles. Riggan Thomson is an actor who used to play a superhero who is now directing and acting a play. Amy Dunn is living in a society where in order to be cool girl you have to be hot, smart, funny and loves sports. Samantha White finds herself thrust into the role of being the strong, take-no-shit leader when she gets elected as the Head of the House on campus. All three are told to play the hand they are dealt. 

In Dear White People, Coco Conners wants to climb the social hierarchy when she hears about a producer is looking at the campus for stories and people. In Gone Girl, Amy Dunne uses the media to her advantage to paint the character of her accused husband as the reason as to her disappearance. In Birdman, Riggan Thompson is someone who is trying to survive after the cameras stopped rolling and the curtains started rising. All three use it differently in the context of the situation they are in. 

When looking at the effects of fame in even a passive way, both Amy Dunne and Riggan Thompson's daughter Sam share some DNA. No, Sam is not nearly as cold as Amy Dunne. But their parents' obsession with the spotlight has had major effects on their personalities. For Amy, her parents would turn all her failures into triumphs through a series of books titled Amazing Amy. Sam Thompson is the child of a blockbuster film star. But his neglect and pursuit of the spotlight would turn Sam into who she is now. 

Dear White People, Justin Simien's first feature film, is an assured debut that is as promising as it is abrasive. In an interview, Simien states his influences being Woody Allen and Wes Anderson. Something I love. I admit, the trailer for the film brought to mind School Daze. So a straight line was forming from Simien to Spike Lee. The director does say Do the Right Thing was an influence but  I was happily proved wrong when I thought it was the only influence. This is a filmmaker and film that refuses to fit into the round little holes Hollywood hands out. 

The main characters of DWP all stare into the camera at some point. We see the anger, rejection, and fear run through their veins and pour onto the screen in cutting dialogue. They are not caricatures. Though to some in the film, that is exactly what they are. Or at least what they are conditioned and taught to believe. 

Role playing. That is one of the major themes of Dear White People and can even be extended to Gone Girl and Birdman. So lets break it down. 

  1. Birdman takes the literal approach where the character of Birdman haunts Riggan Thomson and chides him into donning the suit one last time. A comeback. Or as Norma Demond would want to say, a return. In a career defining performance, Michael Keaton inhabits the character with dreams of delusional grandeur. 
  2. Gone Girl deconstructs the notion of the female victim with surgical precision and clarity. Amy Dunne didn't just end up the way she did. Nor did Nick Dunne for that matter. Societal conditioning and the way thy were brought up created the characters they are in the film. How the media takes the narrative of something and runs with it, then when confronted with the real story, they exonerate themselves and their past coverage gets swept under the rug. It's an ugly beast and it all feeds into itself. 
  3. Coco Conners, Samantha White, Tony Fairbanks, and Lionel Huggins  are presented, on the surface level, as The Rebel, The Diva, The Poster Child and The Token. The characters manage to circumvent their respective labels and make the audience think about real issues about what it means to be black in the supposed Post Racial America. It's not easily digestible. Nor should it be. When confronted with the notion that racism is still institutionalized in a country whose president is a person of color, there is nothing easy about it. This is wisely manifested in all of the main characters on campus. 

The characters refused to be boxed in, labeled and given an identity. They deconstruct the social concepts of race, gender and fame and in turn give us people we will never forget. 

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