The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


The revelation of the meaning of the title is somewhat anti-climactic. The film is darker than its predecessors, and somewhat more dependant upon them, would probably be more confusing for the three people left in the Western World who are unaware of the saga of the Chosen One and He Who Shall Not Be Named.


However, that stuff aside, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is something of a marvel, not in its singularity, but for the position it holds in one of the most remarkable film series of all time. How wonderful it has been to actually watch these kids mature along with their roles! "Prince" is positively awash in teen hormones and angst, and scenes dealing with these issues are among the most charming of the entire series. Really, if you're a Potter fan, there's no way you'll miss this, the penultimate story of one of the great children's literary sagas...and fantasy sagas...and popular fiction sagas.Rowlingsdeserves her success, and so does everyone associated with the film project. An easy "A" for Potter fans. For general audiences, a "B+".




I mean that in the sense that I'm going to discuss racial issues, and many have no interest in such things. Fair enough. What I wanted to say is that as with the original "Star Wars" the firstPottterfilm, supposedly set in a universe embracing wizards from (what? Around the world? Around the British Empire? I'm not clear on that) actually is about the union of white wizards from around the world. Or the Empire. Or whatever. Like I said--I'm not clear on that. I'm sure that if you were to ask the filmmakers, they would say "the most powerful wizards in the world." And "the most promising magic students from around the world." Or something like that. But look at the films, and it is clear that every major character as well as everyone who determines a plot point or shows any power at all is white. Now, that's just long as you can be honest about it.


But my sense watching this latest film is that the filmmakers got their hands slapped a little. Someone asked them if that was the intent, and they blinked. They didn't realize that that was the universe they were creating: anexternalizationofRowlings' inner world. And the inner world of almost anyone will reflect their own ethnicity. THIS is why it is important for people to complain, to let studios know that our dollars are valuable too, and that unless they want us to assume the all-white casting is deliberate, they need to be a bit more inclusive. And so the series has over the years. Although they have no major roles (other than a Chinese girl and a black girl mooning over Harry. Countered by a black kid making out with Ron's sister! Way to go!) the inclusion of non-white background characters inQuiddichgames, in the dining hall, in classrooms and makes a difference. It allows non-white kids to fantasize that they, too, attendHogwarts, and imagine the adventures they are having when the camera goes the other way. IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE. And I appreciate their efforts in this direction: it makes Jason's world a better one than mine was. Thank God.


"SomeSplainingto do." Apparently SenatorCoburnsaid this to SoniaSotomayor, and theblogosphereand talk radio were humming over this reference to Ricky Ricardo. Was this deliberately offensive? I doubt it. Was it offensive at all? I'd need to hear from some Hispanics on that. But until then, let me look at it from my perspective, and from my perspective? A bit wince-inducing, but not much more. It might even be funny. After all, Ricky Ricardo was one of the most beloved characters in Television history. He was created by, and was the alter-ego of,DesiArnaz, anabsolutlybrilliant performer and producer who basically created syndication and got filthy rich in the process. The character of Ricky was physically fit and attractive, successful in his career (very), and quite sexual. "I Love Lucy" was the first television show to have a pregnant housewife, something that was quite scandalous at the time. In other words, he had everything that I want for black images in film. Lucy, the woman he was married to, was the alter ego of Lucille Ball, who, with CarolBurnette, was arguably the finest comedienne in the history of television. Their routines are still beloved forty years later. In fact, Ricky's relationship with Lucy is Exhibit A in my argument that barriers for Latinos are far lower than those for blacks--unless they are Latinos with African features or dark skin, of course. All of this is to say that the "Lucy! You've got someSplaining' to do" catch phrase was not at the expense of was aimed at Lucy. And Lucille Ball owned her own production company and was the most powerful woman on television for a decade. She knew EXACTLY what she was doing, sufficient to stay on top of the game for almost thirty years. No victims here. The line is part of Americana.


That said, wouldCoburnhave been as likely to say it to a non-Hispanic? I doubt it. But that's human nature. If there is one black person at a party, the chances are that someone is going to say something that reflects race. One woman, and someone is likely to say something reflective of gender. We notice these differences, and it is in our minds. No matter how careful we are, we let these things slip out. I think it is clear that for many, the most important thing aboutSotomayoris that she is Hispanic and a woman. As the most important thing aboutObama(for many people) is that he is black with a Muslim name. It is hard for them to avoid making jokes that relate to these specific things, because humor is a release of tension. This ain't going away any time soon, and it is NOT a terrible or bigoted thing. I understand people flinching over it, but frankly, we've got bigger fish to fry.


The question of the day is: is it appropriate for special interest groups to pressure Hollywood to be more inclusive of race, gender, body type, sexual orientation etcetera in films and television? Why or why not?

My attitude: it is perfectly fair to tell Hollywood that if they want my dollars, they have to listen to my requests. They then have the right to say "no--we don't care."  And I then have the right to either avoid certain films, or peacefully communicate my displeasure through blogging, protest, NPR articles or anything else.  And people who just say: "go make your own movies" generally have no idea how the industry works: from top to bottom, from script to financing to production to post-production to distribution and exhibition, the structures have been in place for almost a century, and no one can avoid dealing with it, not Oprah or Tyler Perry or anyone.  Ultimately, you are dealing with the system.  So the sensible thing is to appeal to those within the system who are either fair-minded and unbigoted, or interested in my money.  

What do you think?



Christian H. said...

The question of the day is: is it appropriate for special interest groups to pressure Hollywood to be more inclusive of race, gender, body type, sexual orientation etcetera in films and television? Why or why not?

It's better if they pressure rich blacks to put their money where their mouth is.

Oprah bought a "black" movie from Sundance about a retarded fat girl who was pregnant by her step-father in a drug-infested slum.

How heartening!!!

Sure, Hollywood should think about smaller groups, but blacks have a GNP higher than several countries.

But we always seem to make "ghetto" movies. Are we saying that we don't want movies like Juno or Knocked Up?

I'm working hard to make positive movies - especially for our women. I'll get there.

Anonymous said...

Great question, Steve. I'm Mexican-American, and when I was growing up we were more even more rare than blacks on TV and in the movies. The highest-profile and most-hired U.S. actor of Mexican ancestry in the old days - Anthony "Quinn" Quinones - hid his origins in order to get work. And non-Mexican like (the thoroughly excellent) Eli Wallach played Mexicans in multiple movies. For that matter, in the Magnificent Seven (one of my favorite movies), the two main "Mexican" characters were played by the American Wallach and by a young German actor. Of course, there were few actors of any ancestry as talented as Wallach, so I have very little problem with his having gotten roles as Mexicans. Who of Mexican ancestry (in the early 70s) could have played Tuco so well? If Wallach had not been in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it would still have been a good movie - but it would not have been a great one.

Thankfully, there is a lot more representation of people of Mexican ancestry in the U.S. media today. This didn't come about due to pressure from race hustlers, but because of demographic change and following the money, and a decrease in racism due to the fact that a great many whites have friends or associates who are of Mexican ancestry. People not of Mexican ancestry had a trail-blazing impact too, such as Ricky Ricardo and many black entertainers.

Anyway, I like the changes that I've seen, but Chicano rights groups specializing in victimology had little or nothing to do with these changes, though the more traditional civil rights movement had an indirect impact, of course.


Reluctant Lawyer said...

I'm all for the market protest - if you want to demean my group or pretend that we do not exist (often the case in science fiction - many of the novels/movies/shows could be set in Norway), then don't expect me to pay for that "right."

As long as I can choose where to put my entertainment dollars, I'll choose to support the work of good artists who show blacks in a positive, or at least human, light.

Some guy said...

It seems completely fair to have special interest groups pressuring Hollywood for a more diverse range of characters. After all, special interest groups like the censorship board - I forget the official name - already have huge influence over the contents of the films.

However, a lot of these opinions are probably just going to be blown off. It seems like establishing a direct link to the green would be more persuasive. As a silly example, coming up with a little market research that establishes that such-and-such a movie with a strong black character starring or in an important supporting role drew 73% more black viewers than the average movie might be more likely to persuade Hollywood management than "Hey, we want more black characters." Basically, coming up with hard numbers from some apparently neutral source that producers and such can easily translate into an exact number of additional dollars. Greed may not be good, but sometimes it's more persuasive...

Anonymous said...

"The question of the day is: is it appropriate for special interest groups to pressure Hollywood to be more inclusive of race, gender, body type, sexual orientation etcetera in films and television?

Constituencies and individuals always pressure Mass Media to pursue their agendas through hard currency. Blockbusters owe their success to the audience championing their content; flops are rejected messages. A movie ticket's a ballot.


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Christian H. said...

All I can say is that Sundance is filled with movies that don't come from studios.

Producers get content and believe in it enough to spend some money. They raise funds from Hedges and private investors. They get themselves a Guarantor. They make a movie.

The only time the majors - or major money - are required is when you want a large public release.

There are plenty of theaters that will take a good indie. Especially when the demo is well-targeted.

And nowadays, things like Section 181 and excellent state incentives make it easier to get the money.

There were a few movies that got made just by leveraging the tax incentives.

I can put you in touch with my very expensive lawyer if you want.

I'm actually "stalking" a well-known producer (he doesn't know it yet) on the premise that there is no risk. Section 181 provides a 100% tax write off for individuals and corporations.

And certain states are offering up to 35% rebates on qualified in-state purchases and payroll.

I'd rather just make them come to me by creating good content and getting it to the people who really matter: THE TICKET-BUYERS.

Sean Butler said...

I love this movie and will def. be getting the Blu-Ray...!!!

Foxessa said...

Among what is revealed by his disgusting 'order' is his profound ignorance of peoples of Spanish-speaking heritage. THEY ARE NOT ALL THE SAME AT ALL.

Desi Arnaz was a Santiaguero aristo from Oriente de cuba. His father left Cuba with bags of moola. Judge Sotomayor is a Nuyorican, who came up by her bootstraps, whose family in Puerto Rico were the sorts of workers Arnez's father ruled. Their español are very different, in terms of heritage, place and era.

That he deliberately invoked a wife-scolding comic Cubano from the 50's with which to scold a working justice in the 21st century shows just how much he wants to turn back the clock on women and people of color.

Christian H. said...

Maybe I can be a little more clear. I am currently a SW developer and I rarely find a 13% (current black population) distribution in the offices I work at.

THat means that there is less a pool. I would bet that if you were to look at Tisch, USC, UCLA and the other Fine Arts schools you will find fewer Black, Hispanic and Asians there.

So if minorities want more representation there need to be more of us there. That may be why they have so many rappers in movies. There aren't enough 20-something actors to pick from.

I know there are very few black screenwriters doing something other than ghetto movies, so again that's not the establishment's fault.

Kindred said...

I have to say I'm sick of the ghetto black movies and even more sick of the fact that black people are putting them out.

Coming To America had an all black cast and did well at the box office, but look how long that has been. Until it's proven that non stereotypical movies with minority leads and all minority casts can make substantial money we will continue to see this disparity.

I recently sent a script to Our Stories the movie production company owned by Robert Johnson the billionaire. In my rejection letter they said my script was original and compelling but they passed on it. Wow, I guess that's not what a black company wants that makes the likes of Who's Your Caddy and an untitled Queen Latifah project about a welfare queen. Minority writers have no chance when we stereotype ourselves.

Daniel said...

Steve, I have to say, it's a little jumping the gun in my opinion to say that Harry Potter has a lack of minorities. I mean, can we be honest? It's a school for magic in Great Britain. The books make note that there are places of magical education all over the world. There have been speaking parts for black kids in past movies, but Dean Thomas and Blaise Zabini are two black characters, and mentioned in multiple books. And I believe Rowling was making a point by putting Blaise into Slytherin House. He's both as prejudiced as say Draco, but Draco, as a white kid has no issues whatsoever with Blaise. Equality, but not really what we'd want.

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