Over the weekend I ventured out of the ‘Bates Bubble,’ seven minutes down the road to see Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As a fan of the book by Ransom Riggs, I was very excited to see the film. The film was beautiful, but often confusing– even for someone who had read the book a few years ago. The plot was hard to follow and in some places was downright nonsensical. One thing I did notice during the movie was the overt lack of diversity. The sole actor of color is Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the film’s villain. This did not go unnoticed by other viewers, either, who took it upon themselves to ask the director, Tim Burton, about the film’s overwhelmingly white cast.
His answer was far from satisfying: “Nowadays, people are talking about it more…[but] 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.” I am not exactly sure what Burton means when he says some projects “call for things” while others don’t, but I am going to assume he means an effort at diversity. In other words, some films have an obligation to try and be diverse, but others don’t, including Miss Peregrine. I argue that every film should strive to represent a population of various ethnicities, genders, abilities, and backgrounds, but to say this film didn’t “call” for diversity is an overt fallacy.
Miss Peregrine tells the story of a home for children with unique abilities, ones which often make them pariahs. The story emphasizes that, although these abilities are often ostracized, they give the children strength and creativity to problem solve and eventually save the day. They are a community of people who don’t fit in with the mainstream, so why are they all white? In her book, Black Looks: Race and Representation, bell hooks quotes filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, “Images play a crucial role in defining and controlling the political and social power to which both individuals and marginalized groups have access. The deeply ideological nature of imagery determines not only how other people think about us but how we think about ourselves.”
Representation in films and television is so supremely important, especially to children. As a society saturated in media, children especially form their identities partially on the images they see around them. I think that Miss Peregrine would have been a great opportunity to demonstrate the power of difference and diversity, not just in magical superpowers, but the very real identities that go beyond whiteness. Tim Burton completely missed the point in his response to criticism. There’s a huge difference between a want for diversity in predominantly white mainstream films versus believing there should be more white faces in films with predominantly black casts. Burton, a titan in the film industry, should understand the historical power dynamic in mainstream film and culture. Hollywood favors whiteness and his ignorance to this seems more evasive than genuine.