Quick Point: Race makes Scripted, Ten Second Appearance (Yet Again)
Suffice it to say, Hollywood loves the Hood.
A few weeks ago a friend asked me to accompany her to see the film version of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. I had no idea what the movie was about so I checked out the trailer and then researched the book and its author a little bit. I said, sure, it's five dollars, “Why not?” So I go. And yes, like the other millions of people who saw the movie, the tears began to roll well before the movie got going. I was ready to say “job well done” until a short ten second segment came across the screen that immediately didn’t sit right with me but I wasn’t sure why.
I am speaking specifically about the new ending the directors gave to the movie. For those of you who have not seen the movie or read the book, read no further unless you don’t care that I ruin both. First, it must be said that even Picoult did not hold her tongue about the movie’s alternative ending. However, I believe her distaste for the ending came from a different place than my own. She disliked it because they changed which daughter dies. In the book, Kate, the sick daughter, lives because Anna, the younger daughter, gets into an accident where she is deemed brain-dead. Thus, the accident allows Kate access to Anna’s organs and the lifesaving medical procedures they could not do otherwise. In the movie, the family moves on but comes together to remember Kate by traveling as a family on her birthday. The mother returns to work as a lawyer, the son focuses on his art, and the father retires to work with inner-city youth. Picoult argued that it flattened the story and made it too neat of ending. I was troubled by something much more viral.
Race was not a factor in this film. Or rather, due to the racial composition of the family and their surroundings, race is invisible, unmarked, thus white. Sure there were issues of class and privilege—the mother was able to leave work as a semi-high powered lawyer to take care of Kate and the father worked as a fireman with some pull—but even this was not a factor in the movie. To be specific, my reaction did not come from the rescripting of Kate’s death, the son’s artistic rather than arsonist behavior, or the mother’s life post Kate’s death; it was the rescripting of the father’s. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Brian, the stargazer, would all of a sudden volunteer with inner-city youth (shown as all black), the very few black bodies that you see in this movie besides the one nurse who herself plays the part of the stereotypical “black nurse.” Hollywood Strikes Again.
What are we to make of the fact that in their right to exercise artistic license with the movie, in their freedom to bring this book to “life” in a way they saw fit, they included poor, inner-city youth as the mechanism through which the father regains his life? I say it once more: Hollywood Strikes Again. I spoke about the scripting of race in movies with Pixar’s UP. Although this particular incident in My Sister’s Keeper was less than ten seconds of the total movie as compared to being the “major” minor character that Beta was, it stands as yet another example that the representation of African Americans in different mediums is so often conflated with class—and a specific class (read: lower class)—and place—this time, as with many times before it, the inner city. In other words, in an otherwise good (for its content) and homogenously white (for its cast and setting) movie, the dark birthmark of American race relations and images of racial groups, stands out the same way as it did on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Georgiana from the short story The Birthmark.
I do not believe that I am making a mountain out of ten second molehill. In their concerted and calculated actions to adapt a Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, they casted dark bodies to fulfill that old familiar role of those in need to help, those in need of aid.