That Oppenheimer has generated a lot of discussion from the Very Online should not be surprising. It is a treasure trove of delicious imperfections that can be ripped open and expounded on. Much of the discourse centre around Nolan and what he chose to include or exclude about the life and work of a, shall we say, “complicated” figure. Setting aside the fact that it’s an adaption of an opinionated biography, which provides a scaffold on which the film was built, who Nolan is and what his film-making tropes are should give you a pretty good idea of what the movie is going to be.

Justifiably, folks have pointed out aspects of that period of history that were glossed over and the pro-Oppenheimer point of view the film takes: the existence and treatment of local indigenous people who were displaced by the Manhattan Project, the suffering of the Japanese people as the direct result of Oppenheimer and his team’s work, and the problematic behaviour of the titular man himself. I even read a tweet about how it takes 20 minutes into the movie before a woman speaks, which is then quickly followed by a sex scene.

All of these points are true – though I couldn’t verify that last one since I didn’t time it myself so I’ll just take OP’s word on it. I think pointing these wrinkles out adds useful context to the discourse around a film that is critically lauded but only depicts one version of a complicated story. Props to the folks who raised these points. This is where the Very Online shine – providing space for sharing underrepresented perspectives.

Where I start getting uncomfortable is when other folks yes-and these tweets and articles but takes it a step further, making sweeping declarations based on what they perceive as unforgivable sins. “You can’t support a movie that erases *fill in the blank*!” “Oh of course a white male auteur is once again filling his movies with white men – trash!” “Do we need to see ANOTHER film that centre the American perspective in WWII?”

While I think folks are free to pass judgement and choose how they spend their money using whatever criteria they feel are appropriate, there’s a contradiction at the centre of some of these critiques that kind of blows past what I think is a bigger problem. Namely, do they expect Christoper Nolan, a cishet white man with some amount of privilege growing up, to tell this story from a POV other than his own? Filmmakers and other creatives are given some latitude to take on other perspectives when telling a story, but with the drive for authenticity in story-telling being a thing, how far out of his lane is too far for him to stray?

If he were to tell this story from the point of view of the displaced local indigenous people, would that be something he can do authentically, no matter how much research he does? And would he be accused of appropriating a story that isn’t his to tell? And if he simply mentioned their treatment in the movie without making it into a core theme, would it be seen as tokenism or pandering?

It’s Not Always About White People

Hollywood at its core is a profit-making industry. Ensuring that movies and TV shows they put out make a profit overall is the overarching driving force behind studios and executives decisions. They may be dumb and shortsighted in how they are pursuing a profit-maximizing strategy, as their recent labor disputes show, but that is always their ultimate goal (besides lining their own pockets, I suppose).

Now, the pursuit of profit does not justify the traditional biases they have in selecting what kinds of stories they tell and what kinds of storytellers they hire to tell those stories. Hiring white people (mostly men) to produce stories that cater to white people (mostly men of a certain age) it not a winning strategy, not for representation, and not for profit. The kinds of narrow biases of Old Hollywood rooted in conscious and unconscious prejudices often lead them to suboptimal decisions, doing the same old thing to appeal to a changing and diversifying set of consumers. Realizing nerds can be monetized and that superhero movies can be made to have broad four quadrant appeal has certainly not hurt the studios.

As such, Hollywood will always make movies that the likes of Christopher Nolan want to make. Bankable, generational talents can turn virtually any idea into reality, and if he wants to do an adaption of a favourable biography of a scientist with a problematic track record around one of the biggest atrocities in human history, someone’s going to give him $100M to make that movie. And that’s what you get with Oppenheimer – a Nolan joint complete with the tropes, stylistic flairs, and themes that you’d normally associate with one of his movies. Like it or not, it is very authentically from his perspective. And it’s making bank.

To hyper-focus on what Nolan did and did not get right in terms of representing a diverse set of perspectives and narratives is kind of besides the point: cishet white man gonna cishet white man. The problem with diversity in Hollywood isn’t about Nolan movies – it’s about all the other ones, the ones from creators who are not white men, especially the ones that aren’t made that should be, on merit. You’re never going to achieve a truly fair and equal Hollywood as long as those who are in charge stay within the same demographics when hiring filmmakers and showrunners. Pushing them towards a more inclusive world is about asking for other types of movies from other types of creators, not from a disproportionate fixation on and the boycotting of blockbusters from white people that didn’t do everything right with respect to representation.

Should we expect better and shine a light on what Nolan missed in his telling of the Oppenheimer story? Definitely. This is the raison d’etre of online discourse. I’d take some fringy and cringey hit pieces in exchange for some nuggets of genuine insight from perspectives that aren’t often represented. All that is fair and good and I look forward to reading all of it because it’s interesting and most of those take-havers are my people. But don’t overly fixate on the lack of diversity of one white man’s point of view. That’s just who he is.

In fact, I don’t need or want people like Nolan to be the direct conduit for increasing the diversity of stories told by Hollywood. I’m very happy with him telling his own authentic stories from his own point of view. What I want is for other creators to given the opportunity to do the same. I want more stories about the Chinese diaspora that doesn’t involve kung fu, generational trauma, or rebelling against parents. I want to see perspectives and people I haven’t seen on screen before – but I want those telling the stories to be from those diverse backgrounds, not from the same people we’ve always gotten. I don’t want to see James Gunn tackle the Chinese Head Tax. Guardians of the $50? No thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *