From the New York Times movie section:
Movies like “1917,” “The Irishman,” and “Ford v Ferrari” have all used their historical settings as a shield to deflect diversity critiques. But the past had people of color and women, too.
By Aisha Harris
Ms. Harris is an Op-Ed staff editor and writer.
Feb. 6, 2020
… When it comes to filmmakers guarding themselves against critiques for telling the same-old stories about white men, history is a powerful shield.
A quick glance at the best picture nominees reveals just how impenetrable that armor is: Of the nine films in this category, all but two spend the majority of their running times at least 39 years in the past. Each of these period pieces is overwhelmingly homogeneous when it comes to race, gender or both; the fact that they are set firmly in the past seemingly allows them to exist without much pushback.
“Ford v Ferarri,” for instance, is based on the true story of the rivalry between the rugged American car manufacturing behemoth and the Italian luxury carmaker during the 1960s. It’s the quintessential white “dad movie” — guys racing cars, guys talking about cars, guys arguing over cars. …
And in the comments section for a Newsweek article critical of Ms. Elliott’s “Ford v Ferrari” review, a reader snarkily wondered what she makes of NASA during the John F. Kennedy era. “Our walking on the moon, the space race should all be forgotten because there were no women or people of color,” they wrote.
“Wrong. Black females put men into outer space,” someone responded.
Indeed — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were mathematicians and engineers who worked at NASA during the height of the space race, yet it wasn’t until the 2016 release of the aptly titled movie dramatization of their lives, “Hidden Figures,” that the women were given their due onscreen.
There are countless other examples of women, people of color and L.G.B.T.Q. people being erased or sidelined from historically based films.
… All-white period dramas set in Tudor England overshadow the scholarly research that has in recent years uncovered a significant African presence and integration into English life during this era. (And they were not all enslaved.)
… Instead, the root of the criticisms of “The Irishman,” “1917” and the others like them for being so white and male seems to be a sense of weariness and boredom.
Why do the same stories about the same types of people keep getting made?
Because the most talented directors, writers, and actors tend to be white men?
… As Sage Young wrote in an essay on the ill-served wife character in “Ford v Ferrari” for NBC News, 61 women have driven in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Where are their high-octane onscreen depictions?
Because the best finish by a woman at Le Mans was a 4th place in 1932?
That reminds me of a general pattern — there tend to be quite a few famous women race car drivers, aviatrixes, painters, etc. in their own day, just not in history. They tend to get squeezed out as their pastimes get more competitive and professionalized.
… British actors of color are finding more roles in period pieces, including David Oyelowo in last year’s PBS and BBC “Les Misérables” miniseries.
Yet there remains this pervasive assumption that the past was overwhelmingly white and male, and this blanket judgment gives filmmakers and Hollywood too-easy a pass. Not unlike our school textbooks, the movie industry cherry-picks from “history.” Certainly filmmakers should have the artistic freedom to make a movie about white men racing cars or white men in crime organizations. But let’s not pretend that this isn’t also a choice — a choice dictated not by the past, but by an erroneous (and perhaps unconscious) belief that white men have done the most and lived the most interesting lives of us all.
But what if — horrible as this thought is even to conceive –white men have done the most and lived the most interesting lives of us all?
After such knowledge, what forgiveness?