Thursday, May 12, 2016

Diversity Or Cynical Capitalism?

An image from the first Fantastic Four movie, the never-released-to-the-public low budget 1994 version by Roger Corman.  Despite its great flaws it got the FF basics right.  And unlike the three that followed it, this movie is entertaining  (in its own way.)

I won't waste time writing a disparaging review of the latest Fantastic Four movie (2005).  I wasted enough time watching it.

Instead I want to focus on one controversy that erupted before the movie was released.  The FF are a superhero family even though only two of them are related by blood.  Susan Storm (Invisible Woman) and Johnny Storm (Human Torch) are brother and sister, blond-haired Caucasians.

For the 2015 FF movie it was decided to make Johnny Storm black.  No problem there per se; in this new version Susan was adopted by Johnny's father.

But why was this change made?

Over the years I've heard many cynical stories about dumb decisions made by movie studio executives.  There's the story of a Superman fan turned author trying to pitch a script for a movie about his comic book idol.  During his discussion with an exec with thumbs-up-or-down power the author mentioned the name "Kal-El" a few times.

The exec asks: Who is this Kal-El you're talking about?

But it's not just superhero movies.  The first film version of the Poseidon Adventure (1972) was a big hit, raking in tons of money.  Studio execs -- for humanitarian reasons, of course -- wanted to make a sequel.  They approached one of the original movie's stars, Gene Hackman, to be in the sequel.

Gene Hackman asked the execs:  How can I return?  My character died in the first film.

Simple, replied the execs.  The survivors of the Poseidon disaster are lifted by helicopter from the wrecked ship to terra firma.  When the they debark Gene would run up and say: "What happened to my twin brother?"

I wonder regarding the recent Fantastic Four film disaster what the studio execs were thinking when trying to fix the unbroken FF concept.  Two baby-faced barely-weaned studio executives hold a private meeting. Before they got their jobs via nepotism they had worked the line in a sausage factory, an appropriate background for their present roles.  Neither one reads books, even comic books, because reading hurts their brains.

Maybe the meeting went down something like the following.

*  *  *

EXEC  #1:  The survey came in.  There's money to be made by appealing to black viewers.

EXEC  #2:  That survey was done by the same company that said a majority of consumers preferred new Coke over Classic, right?

EXEC #1:  Yes, I heard they do great work.  Anyway we got to make one of the FF black to draw in those extra bucks.

EXEC #2:  How about the Thing?

EXEC #1:  He's orange.  If we make him black it'll screw up the trademark and the toy line.  According to a survey people like orange.  It's a sunny happy color.

EXEC #2:  How about the Human Torch?  He'll still be red when he's on fire.

EXEC #1:  OK, that could work.

EXEC #2:  I got a brilliant idea.  The Human Torch says "Flame on!" when he goes into action.  But we could give him a better cry, one more edgy.

EXEC #1:  Such as...

EXEC #2:  A great slogan I heard about from the 1960s.  "Burn, Baby, Burn!"

EXEC #1:  Yeah, that sounds sexy.  More so than that stupid "Flame on."  No controversy there.

*  *  *

Then the execs move to another topic, discussing a survey claiming there is great profit potential in appealing to old Jewish movie goers.  Ergo, Woody Allen as Conan the Barbarian.

Whatever the execs really decided about the FF I doubt promoting diversity was at the top of their list.

Diversity should be genuine, not part of a greedy marketing ploy.

1 comment:

X. Dell said...

Actually, as one who has had past contact with Hollywood, I can clearly say without fear of contradiction that mainstream movie producers don't give much thought at all about attracting black audiences. They've instead felt far more comfortable marketing Tyler-Perry-type fare specifically for African American filmgoers.

It could be the actor, or the actor's agency (if there are special contractual obligations that can be brought about) or it could be the current mentality to update familiar remakes in the now-familiar re-boot style.

Then again, the race of the actor playing a fictional character shouldn't really matter all that much unless there's a specific reason for it.