Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has joined that peculiar 21st century phenomenon: the kids’ movie with an all-white cast except for the villain.
As the title suggests, Miss Peregrine’s is set in a school for oddball kids with supernatural powers. Director Tim Burton has gotten some criticism for casting all these children, as well as Miss Peregrine and various supporting characters, with white actors—some 50 credited parts in all.
There is one part for a person of color in Burton’s movie, however: the irredeemably evil Mr. Barron, an eyeball-eating, pointy-toothed wight played by Samuel L. Jackson:
Asked about his casting choices by the website Bustle (9/30/16), Burton was unapologetic:
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.
Blogger DeLa Doll (10/2/16) hit the hypocrisy of Burton, self-proclaimed champion of outsiders, dismissing the importance of media representation for people of color:
It’s odd to me that someone who has been quoted as saying “I think a lot of kids feel alone and slightly isolated and in their own world” doesn’t see the validity and importance of diversity in the media. How do you think I felt as a young black girl, and even now as a young adult, who hardly ever sees people like herself cast in her favorite movies and shows?
Doll also noted the creepiness of casting one of the very few African-Americans ever appearing in any of your films as a cannibalistic monster:
The only time your films have called for any significant diversity so far has been when you needed someone to be the worst kind of evil? That’s not a good look, buddy.
As fellow director Melissa Hillman (Bitter Gertrude, 9/30/16) put it, by attributing his casting choices to what the material “called for,” Burton seemed to be saying that “the work itself somehow told him he needed to create a group of wonderful white people whose major threat is a murderous black man.”
But Burton seems not to be alone in feeling the need to convey that message to a young audience. The animated film How to Train Your Dragon 2 also featured an all-white cast of characters—except for the villain, Drago Bludvist, who is depicted as dark-skinned, hook-nosed and dreadlocked, and voiced by Djimon Hounsou, an actor from Benin:
In case that was too subtle, the film also features a titanic battle between giant dragons representing the good guys and bad guys—with the good and evil color-coded as white and black:
Another children’s film to use racial otherness as a shorthand for evil is Hop, a story about the Easter Bunny that mixes live action and animation. The only cartoon character in the film coded as non-white is, once again, the villain of the story: Carlos, an envious, treacherous underling who’s voiced by Hank Azaria with a Latin American accent:
But Carlos is not the only non-white character in the film: No, there’s also the human protagonist’s adopted Asian-American sister, an overachieving tween played by Tiffany Espensen, whose public humiliation is played for laughs.