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The Impossible Controversy

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The ImpossibleIn one of the earliest releases of 2013 there’s already been a massive controversy surrounding one of the films. The Impossible  has been criticised heavily for reasons that are possibly oversensitive. Could it be that the world is becoming overly-sensitive in its need for censorship?And if it is a need for censorship, will we ruin the freedom of art? It’s an almost archaic question of the past century as censorship of films and television is becoming too predominant in our culture. Censorship is an evil which infects art by diluting its bloodstream, thinning it for no good reason, ruining it. Thin blood is no good for the life stream of art. Unless it needs Warfarin.

The controversy surrounding this latest flick is the recasting of a Spanish family in Asia as a British family. The rage that has ensued is that it’s breeding homogeneity in the film world by stripping diversity away from films making them all one motion picture of uniformity. Was the thinking that Spanish families have no place in blockbuster cinema, is why they think the change was made, but the reason is much simpler than that… and much less xenophobic and racist. The idea that the replacement was because no one wants to see a Spanish family or because people would sympathise more with white characters is a racist interpretation to have as well as a wrong one. That is a flat view of a much broader topic of film. Shallow Hollywood may be but in this instance it’s for a different shallow reason: money.

Money: why studios make films. There’s no point making a film if it isn’t financially successful. That’s bad investing and the people who run the studios would absolutely despise that mistake. The recasting of a white family is because they have two massive stars in its mitts with massive marketability: Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. These two are the reasons that the film got the funding it got, the budget it needed, the audience it desired. With these two leading the film people will actually see it giving it financial viability. These A-listers gave the project the lift it needed to recreate the devastation of that tragic Boxing Day while still sharing a family’s remarkable story of survival in the most unlikely of situations. Some might say it was almost impossible.

It seems people are nitpicking problems of xenophobia and racism in a film that seemed racist to only Americans if any. The only American characters in it could be interpreted as greedy, selfish people who won’t even share a phone to a lonely, broken man. It’s a moment that could be the only definition of xenophobia within the film. All other nationalities that are represented in it are given dignity, respect and the sympathy they deserve in such a drastic destruction of their surroundings. Within it, it shows that the xenophobia can only be seen by those who are too sensitive.  It seems they’re looking for something to complain about when it comes to modern cinema. And modern blockbuster cinema mainly – as if it’s a smaller project then it has the artistic merit to be overlooked.

Tthe other controversy shrouding this film in the desolate destruction of the wake of a tsunami is that it could be seen as too soon. Now, this one is a bit more understandable, but, again, is an overreaction to a minor situation. The film is in no way disrespectful for those that went through the ordeal. It can be understandable that people deem it unethical to make money off such tragedy but in reality it immortalises the story, the tale, the tragedy that possibly could have been forgotten by the majority of people. When speaking to the director he talks about how the people of Thailand that endured the destruction were happy that their story were getting told instead of through the disconnecting form of the news. A film can help you embrace things, embrace the pain, embrace their reality; this gives you a sense of perspective oddly making the fiction more like reality than the news.

This helps bring back to the forefront making it relevant again in a reminder that this happened, these people suffered, remember those who were lost and respect those that were lost and the aftermath of such a thing. It doesn’t want to be all downhearted, although there are moments it wants to tear you down, it’s more of an uplifting story of a family dragged apart to somehow be reunited so beautifully and luckily that there’s almost a special protective orb around them.

Controversies can be understandable but people seem to be searching to complain about things they deem acceptable for moral high ground. In this, it makes them seem the ethical and moral type when in reality there’s no high ground to have here. This is a tragedy which needs to be remembered. The power of film makes it more real with the technical precision it has on the screen to bring us into the visceral, painful reality of a world we cannot imagine. What is cruel is arguing whether or not this film should be made and this attempt at ethicising it will hopefully enlighten a few to a misguided view. It isn’t offensive nor does it try to be offensive; it tries to be the complete opposite. It’s a risky move for a new director but he’s eternalised a story of wonder and catastrophe to create a story worth seeing for those who lost their lives.

We spoke to the director regarding these questions in which his reasoning is shown even more clearly.



  • craigstealsheep

    No, that is not the controversy. It’s controversial because this is the definition of whitewashing. It is actually the best example of that concept that I can find. It’s offensive because it’s about white people surviving, while a bunch of brown people die. It’s offensive, because it stars the most Aryan people they could find and relegates Thai people to the background. It’s offensive, because it just goes to show that Hollywood can’t make a movie without staring white people. But considering that you’re white, I guess I understand why you don’t see that a story about a white family surviving while 200,000 brown people who are the definition of background characters isn’t racist, since you have no understanding of racism.

  • http://twitter.com/ashleyrhys Ashley Norris

    It’s not while a “bunch of brown people die” at all. All the dead bodies are of all ethnicities and considering that it’s IN Thailand, a lot of the casualties would obviously be, wait for it, Thai! It’s not that we’d rather see the white family survive but the sheer star size that comes with having Ewan and Naomi in the lead roles. It’s not a conscious decision to alienate all other races but rather to capitalise on the fame of two stars that bring in the audience. If you watch the interview, the director explains his reasoning for the casting change. The fact that I’m white means nothing to the understanding of racism. You don’t have to be a sufferer to understand racism, you can still recognise it. I don’t fail to recognise racism as a whole or anything like that, I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist because it does and there are other films which ARE racist, but this simply isn’t. All they did was change one family from Spanish to British to gain money for the spectacle, that’s it.

  • Reggie Noble

    So, people wouldn’t have seen Penelope Cruz & Javier Bardem in these roles?

    Jennifer Lopez?
    Eva Longoria?
    Andy Garcia?
    Salma Hayek?
    Antonio Banderas?
    America Ferrera?
    Diego Luna?
    Gael Garcia Bernal?
    Alice Braga?
    Rosario Dawson?
    Esai Morales?

    And a ton of other people of Latino/Hispanic descent who could have played the characters.

    It’s BS, whether you believe that it couldn’t get funded with “Latin” characters or you believe that it would have made less money with “Latin” characters.

    The bottom line is, Hollywood caved to it’s instincts on race once again. There has to be “sympathetic” White people involved for people to care.

    And I love how they make it seem like Ewen McGregor and Naomi Watts are Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie now. Yeah, they’ve had some hits, but they’re not 100x more famous than a lot of Latin/Hispanic people working in Hollywood today.

    And one more thing, you notice, they always lighten characters up?

    They never darken them up.

    It’s not like they would’ve let Zoe Saldana or Rosario Dawson or even Halle Berry or somebody play these roles, because that would be “too much of a stretch”, but two blonde haired, blue-eyed White people are never too much of a stretch.

    I guess I can look forward to the Martin Luther King story starring George Clooney and Jessica Chastain as Coretta.

  • craigstealsheep

    Just because it’s not conscious, doesn’t make it racist? It’s not racist that they had to cast two incredibly Aryan people to “capitalise on the fame of two stars”? They couldn’t find two Spainish people, or (dear god, the humanity!) have a different story starring Asian people?

    I’m just pointing out that you misunderstood much of the controversy. Just because it’s a true story, or that they had these stars in it, doesn’t mean it’s not racist. Birth of a Nation was a true story, it’s still racist as all hell.

    And you see nothing wrong with your last sentence? You find nothing wrong with the fact that they wouldn’t have gotten money for the production if it wasn’t starring white people? Seriously?

    Thanks for the reply, though! Many times authors just ignore comments and avoid debate.

  • http://twitter.com/ashleyrhys Ashley Norris

    Well another commenter (Reggie Noble) has put a list of people he deems fit for the roles too but what do we know that goes on within the system? Maybe they were offered it and turned it down but, as the director says in the video, the progression to full English instead of extracts of Spanish was natural.

    I wouldn’t say I misunderstood much of the controversy, I can see where the idea came from but when I looked into it a bit more it seemed more and more like a production and marketability choice.

    I’m not saying that it should’ve been starring white people, like the commenter I mentioned before, there’s a list of A-listers of different ethnicities that could have played the titular roles BUT who knows if they were interested? Maybe they turned it down. And the sheer acting ability of the two leads is phenomenal too – Ewan McGregor’s phonecall scene is the highlight of the film for me.

    No problem, sorry that the reply was late. I meant to earlier but I got distracted.

  • craigstealsheep

    +1 Did you say Jessica Chastain because of “The Help”? Another good example of whitewashing. Can’t make a movie starring black people for white people. “The Blind Side” comes to mind as well. “You’re too dumb to understand football, so we’re going to equate protecting the quarterback to protecting you’re wonderful, white, adoptive family. You big dummy, you. Haha! Look how big and dumb he is!” I love how the guy the movie is supposedly about, hates the way it presents him.

  • craigstealsheep

    Here’s how it went down: Studio execs got a copy of the screenplay. They loved it. When they found out it was a disaster movie with a big budget (anything over $10 million is large), they knew they needed two things: white people, and stars. No one turns down a role like this. A camera stuck in your face half the movie, you get to emote as much as possible, and it’s a large budget? No, you don’t turn it down because its award candy.

    This is how it works. Seriously, read Deadline or Variety and just look at all the movies coming out. 23 Ronin is about a group of Japanese samurai yet stars Keanu Reeves as “half asian” cause, I don’t know, close enough? The only movies you can make starring Asian people are Martial Arts films, and films for black people never get a large budget because, and I am not joking here, they’re “too urban” for general audiences.

    The system is this way because it works. Execs get fired all the time. Anytime a movie flops, people get fired so no one takes risks. We’re talking huge amounts of money here, and risks are not rewarded. Look at the list Reggie put together below. Now, show me a big budget movie these people were in that didn’t also star white people. I’ll give you one, Alice Braga in “I am Legend”. Because everyone loves Will Smith. Hell, my grandmother loves Will Smith and she didn’t vote for Obama because he was “icky”. I kid you not.

  • http://twitter.com/ashleyrhys Ashley Norris

    I’d say stars more than white ones in my opinion. It’s possible that people will turn it down for scheduling issues or possibly that they felt it’s too touchy of a subject to touch. A lot of that does happen. The director does say the script was originally part Spanish but they spoke so much English that it would’ve been easier to play them as English people rather than Spanish because not everyone is strongly bilingual. That’s the only problem. It was award candy but it only picked up one nomination that was a massive outsider – a shame as I thought Ewan was the best, not Naomi.
    I don’t understand the Keanu Reeves casting either, that’s the one I agree with you on. That casting is utterly bizarre and it feels racist. Do you have links to those articles by chance? I’d love to give them a read but I couldn’t find any when I had a quick scan online.

    I agree that there’s too much importance on the money issues of films too. I think the risks should be rewarded because it’s not like the studios will suffer. Even with one or two risks a year they’d still rake it in from their safe choices. The reason a lot of their films don’t make that much money is more bad advertising, I’d say. I think they underestimate the current audience climate. Yeah, there’s a really interesting journal article about Will Smith, about how he’s such a big star, big name and cool person that he transcends the racial issues. It’s on Jstor and really, really interesting.