The idea of Daniel Craig and Halle Berry starring together in a movie should be exciting, but a recently-announced project starring the pair has some people questioning why the movie is happening at all.
On June 28, Deadline reported that Craig has signed on to star opposite Berry in a new movie from Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze called "Kings." The film will tell a fictional story set during the LA Riots of 1992, and will star Craig as Ollie, one of the few white residents of South Central, who "befriends Berry’s character, a tough, protective mother who looks after a group of kids." When the riots begin, Craig's character must work with Berry (who is in love with him) to save her kids from the violence of the riots.
While Gamze is a lauded director and Berry and Craig both talented and capable actors, the film's synopsis has caused many a raised eyebrow (and an eye-roll) on social media. Why? Because a film about the LA Riots will star a white man, and be directed by a non-black director.
The LA Riots erupted on April 29, 1992, after a jury acquitted four white police officers for the brutal beating of Rodney King. Over six days, the whole world watched as protests, looting, violence, and property damage engulfed Los Angeles.
Some defenders might encourage nay-sayers to see the movie before passing final judgement, but the reality is that making a movie about the LA Riots, and therefore the Rodney King case, is extremely loaded. We must remember, "Kings" is in development during a cultural moment wherein conversations about Hollywood diversity and representation parallel conversations about racism and police brutality. And so, as Hollywood Reporter writer Miriam Bale aptly asks: "Why center whiteness in this story, and especially with a white savior?"
There have been so many misconceptions about the LA Riots, about what motivated them, about who the "bad guy" was. Black people were criticized for destroying public property, as if public property had more value than black life. (Decades later, the same criticism was echoed in the reaction to protests in Ferguson and Baltimore). In the process of this criticism, the individual stories, the unrest, the frustration that led up to the riots was obscured by a narrative created by and for the benefit of white people.
To center the narrative, even in part, on this magical white man who saves the day by railing against black people in protest of state-sanctioned violence and then gets the (black) girl seems to only further obscure the story.
This isn't to say that the film can't be entertaining or won't be imbued with some nuance. But it's not entirely surprising that black people might be skeptical -- "white savior" movies and movies that use interracial relationships as a metaphor for "solving" racial problems have often tried and failed. We've seen this in "Crash," in "Black and White," in "Gran Torino," in "Freedom Writers," in "The Last Samurai," in "Dancing with Wolves," in "Django Unchained," in "Free State of Jones..." The list goes on and on.
Not all of these movies are` objectively bad movies. But their focus on the perspectives, desires, and motivations of white people in the midst of the oppression of non-white people speaks volumes. Deniz Gamze is a phenomenal director. It's very likely that the film might have interesting things to say -- perhaps it will even challenge the "white savior" trope in ways we can't even anticipate. If it doesn't, though, it will be an unfortunate wasted opportunity to explore a historical moment that still reverberates in America today.