Netflix's "Bright," Will Smith, & Joel Edgerton: The Sequel I Am Here For
I began writing a review on Bright, starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, weeks ago after watching it for the first time but time got away from me. Seeing it again this past weekend, I realized the smarter parts of the film are still being overlooked. The movie dubbed a disaster, brutal, worst movie of 2017 was a success for Netflix, but the film's handling of racism was largely unpopular with critics. Due to my interest in social issues, I decided I'd go ahead and finish my thoughts on the film and respond to some of its critique.
Following Bright's release there were quite a bit of reviews I side-eyed. A series of tweets by Chance The Rapper, were particularly bemusing (see below):
I will address why Chance missed the mark, but first, some introductory background and commentary on the movie itself.
Bright essentially is a modern day Lord of the Rings with fairies, Orcs, Elves, and Man. Considering the level of production that goes into a richly designed fantasy film, Netflix proved that it could be done, done well, and just as impactful an experience from the comfort of one's own home. This surely is worrisome for studios and movie theaters that are banking on dollars from pricey movie tickets to recoup investment.
Mood in Hollywood:
If documentaries, war movies, and sports films, etc. are more of your jam, this may not be the film for you. Bright is not all fast paced action, emotional proselytizing, or pedantic pedagogy. Much of the nuance in the film may go unappreciated if you prefer certain issues presented more "seriously."
Chance presumed Orcs are the bottom of spectrum blackness which falls short as it prioritized "institutional racism" as a focal point of the film. The numerous references to cultural/class distinctions, e.g. Jacoby himself, the Orc Chauffeur in Elf Town, as well as the Orc gang, lends itself more to class being the larger issue. What would be the point of "blooding" if this is just about racism? Bright intentionally sets up this distinction and repeats its importance throughout the film. Chance also mentioned the discussion "outside" with Ward's deputy friend Rodriguez, played by Jay Hernandez, as dispositive of Orcs being the bottom of this spectrum. I disagree. If that is solely the case, why doesn't Rodriguez shoot Jacoby on sight? I feel the scene was more about the pesky fact that Jacoby is the first and ONLY Orc cop. Yes, racial discrimination is a factor, but not the only one. Maybe if Rodriguez intended only to handcuff Jacoby and not Ward I would feel differently.
I can understand why Chance reviewed Bright through a lens of institutionalized racism given Will Smith's line "fairy lives don't matter" and the genuine and pervasive reality of racism in America. However, I feel Chance was incorrect in centering black racism. Class hierarchy/classissm appeared as a bigger focus with racial discrimination attendant to that reality. Everyone in the film has the same problem. Money, resources, and ELVES.
There is no denying "fairy lives don't matter" is related to Black Lives Matter. However, the line comes off as a glib reference to all of the other types of causes taken up and routinely prioritized over people issues. The full line was "fairy lives don't matter TODAY." Maybe it is in poor taste given the purpose of the movement, but the line is mostly corny.
Still, I don't find the film to be shallow. We must remember Bright is an urban fantasy crime film with broad power dynamics, not just one. Bright: Selma, mystical creature edition, it is not. Now, if Bright intended to focus on a singular racial disparity then Chance was solid in his assessment but, as stated earlier, the film seemed to be going for something a bit more inclusive. Everyone, Ward, Jacoby, the police, Orcs & other creatures, as well as humans of all ethnicities and races (both black and white) are the 99% to Elves 1%. Jacoby does not seem no more or less situated than his colleagues, Rodriguez, or Ward. Everyone is living a life rife with different struggles at various financial levels, and the Elves, well the Elves are living the good life. The only limitation to their ultimate dominion appears to be restrictions on practicing magic monitored by the Department of Homeland Security's Magic Task Force; and this restriction, powerful elves seek to do away with. Sound familiar? Concentration of wealth and power, limitations of said power, trying to remove limitations on power at the expense of everyone else.
Bright is not perfect. Although there are some special effects handicaps and holes in the story, it is a captivating and enjoyable film. Joel Edgarton is endearing as Jacoby and a great match to Will Smith's gruff and honorable Ward. A sequel has been announced for the film but the original screenwriter, Max Landis, will not be returning. David Ayer will return to write and direct.
Netflix's gumption coupled with Smith and Edgardton's chemistry is a great formula and I look forward to seeing what's next. I hope Ayer's doesn't lose sight of the sociocultural realities while filling in the story gaps. Either way, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a modern day Gandalf will never be a bad idea to me so I cannot wait.
Don't argue with me, argue with your barista.