Tim Burton Gives a Not-So-Great Answer To Why His Movies Star Mostly White People
Tim Burton is one of the most imaginary filmmakers of our time, a man who’s envisioned some of cinema’s most wacky, gothic, and fantastical worlds. But his imagination is limited when it comes to race.
One look at the filmmaker’s filmography will show that all of his movies are about white characters with hardly a hint of racial diversity. Throughout the 80s, 90’s and early 2000s that was far from a hot topic of controversy, but in recent years the film industry and culture as a whole have grown more aware of the problematic blinding whiteness of the movies. Burton’s latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, features an all white cast with the exception of Samuel Jackson, whose villain is the first prominent character of color in a Burton movie. (Previous minor characters were Jim Brown in Mars Attacks!, Billy Dee Williams in Batman, and a few Asian characters in Big Fish, Frankenweenie, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).
While Burton was promoting the new movie, which follows a group of orphans with X-Men-like powers, Bustle asked the filmmaker about lacking racial diversity in his work. Burton gave a bit of a runabout response that avoided a straight answer, but seemed to suggest that his movie didn’t call for casting non-white actors. Then he said something pretty ignorant and problematic. Here’s his response:
Things either call for things, or they don’t. I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.
Oh dear. Let’s unpack this. First off, it’s unclear what exactly Burton was offended by. Was it that The Brady Bunch didn’t cast black or Asian actors, or that people were insisting the series do so? It sounds like the latter, and if that’s the case, my condolences for young Tim Burton. It must have been tough to have thought his TV show could’ve become be less white. Second, Burton entirely misunderstands the existence of Blaxploitation movies. I don’t think anyone’s worried about the absence of white people in movies about minorities. But I’m just going to laugh that one off because, really, dude?
The simple answer would’ve been for Burton to just be honest, because that’s all anyone wants to hear. It’s okay for filmmakers to admit to blindspots or a lack of awareness. He should just admit that yeah, his movies are pretty white, and yeah, if he wants that to change that then say he’ll make an effort to improve. It’s safe to say Burton’s career for the past decade has been suffering quite a bit so changing up his usual routine and perspective certainly couldn’t hurt.