“Noah” And Why Are White People Considered The Standard?

April 15, 2014  |  

I always thought it was interesting that white folks are always deemed vanilla or uninteresting, when vanilla the flavor, specifically when it comes to ice cream, is the most popular flavor in America. Like how can you be boring and simultaneously the preferred standard at the same time?

I thought about this question yesterday when I read this piece in Shadow & Act about one of the writers from the biblical-inspired blockbuster film Noah, who has some interesting ideas about why the production team didn’t feel the need to seek out people of color for the project. According to Shadow & Act:

Well, in a new interview on the website The High Calling (HERE) the co-screenwriter of the film Ari Handel, who wrote Noah with Aronofsky, was asked about the lack of diversity and addressed by saying:

From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise.”

He goes on to say:

You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, “Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.” Looking at this story through that kind of lens is the same as saying, “Would the ark float and is it big enough to get all the species in there?” That’s irrelevant to the questions because the questions are operating on a different plane than that; they’re operating on the mythical plane.”

Really? That’s the best he could do? Why not just say, we just didn’t want to be bothered? I would have bought that.”

White people. As common as vanilla ice cream and white bread. White people are whom everybody else in measured by and as Handel points out, the quintessential stand-ins for humanity itself. Because all people are just like white people -or they should be like white people. Either way, that narrow definition of humanity is just one of the privileges of being in the majority culture. That you get to see yourself as normal while everybody else is well…abnormal to say the least but definitely opposite to what it means to be everyman.

Handel’s comments are tone-deaf – and the fact that he actively acted to excluded people of color from his film production is deplorable. He should be called out and severely sanctioned (somehow) for what is tantamount to workplace discrimination. Unfortunately his actions which often come from such sentiments, are not unusual. As a culture we have all definitely bought into the notion that white is right and everyday.

As noted recently by the website Sociological Images, even in advertisement do we find the normalization of whiteness and the othering of those that are non-white. In particular, a recent Crystal Light two-page advert, which features a white model painted as bland (as demonstrated by the black-and-white layout, plain clothing and straight hair) and a model of color with curly hair and bright colors, who is photographed in full color, is deemed more lively.

Some may conclude that this meme to be more offensive to white folks but when parred with what they are selling, which is Crystal Light – a concoction that is meant to add “flavor” to your normal and everyday water – you see the subtleness in how we have come to relate and actual incorporate people of color into society. We are exotic. Unique. Different. Foreign. Basically people of color are an amendment to the Euro-centric norm but shall be considered part of it. In fact we automatically assume that people of color, are to exist on the fringes of normalcy and we tend to look suspiciously at those, who do find themselves aligned with the dominate culture’s ideas of normalcy, we accuse them of being exceptional and extraordinary (ie calling people Affirmative Action babies).

I have no idea why Handel felt that the introduction of people of color would mean that they would have to do something different or extra, other than what was in the script (which by the way is based on a story that largely includes and is about people of color). However I do know that this sort of cancerous thinking, promoted by the likes of Handel, is at the center of why black actors and actresses find trouble getting casted in leading roles in Hollywood.

And I think it is statements like these are the reasons why black folks in particular could benefit from research and better understanding of white people and whiteness in general.  When Eurocentric is the norm, “our” cultural identity in this country can only be defined and created, not by our own volition, but often times in response or even at the bequest of the dominate culture. Likewise it’s hard to see ourselves as acceptable when all that we do is measured and compared, and ultimately deemed wrong by the dominate culture – a culture which is actively working to exclude us from what is considered average, normal and basically vanilla.

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