I agree with WCB. The logic of Scott Mendelson is a little off. If the media would believe have us believe that the (white) majority of America is racist and sexist, why did Solo fail at the box office? Perhaps the reasons behind Solo‘s poor debut is due to a complication of many factors – and not because #whitemen poison the box office.
WHY DO WE ENJOY FILMS
Scott Mendelson in his article concludes with: “But in 2018, an event movie featuring a generic white guy in the lead is that much less of an event movie, and merely being a big-budget fantasy spectacle isn’t enough. Giving certain demographics, a still too rare opportunity to root for heroes that look like them can help create demographically-specific event movies. Thus, from a certain point of view, white male movie stars may indeed be box office poison.”
There is a bit of a problem with this statement: “a still too rare opportunity to root for heroes that look like them can help create demographically-specific event movies”. Nobody goes to the movies because they “look like” the lead actors. If this was the case, I could never truly enjoy Asian dramas, films, and animation. If that was the case, Asians, South Americans, or white people would not have gone to and enjoyed Black Panther. If that was the case, I would have grown up hearing people say, “I loved that Captain America movie… because he’s white.” The truth is that whether a lead is male or female, coloured or white, short or tall, fat or skinny, they are going to be different from someone out there. No one goes to the movies to see themselves. They watch films in order to live as other people.
We can see this is the case from the wonderful audience for Infinity War, which has a majority of white actors and was written for and by an American (not necessarily, white) audience. Infinity War impacted the global box office because the audience were invested in a franchise that had a history of respect for canon and fans. Not so for Solo.
SOLO’S ABSENT (ASIAN) AUDIENCE
I would argue that maybe Solo‘s audience didn’t show for a variety of reasons. Maybe the reason why ordinary people didn’t go to Solo is because they are punishing the franchise for what they did in The Last Jedi. Maybe even the hill-billies, rednecks, neo-Nazis, and their gangs couldn’t save Solo because… there aren’t enough white supremacists and patriarchally enculturated folks out there to save the movie (proving that pro-white culture is just not as systemic nationally or globally as paranoiac left-wing academics would have you believe). Maybe China, after a lukewarm reception to The Force Awakens, felt disappointed by The Last Jedi, and decided to give Star Wars a hard pass.
As someone who lived in China for a long time, I know that Star Wars is one of the most difficult franchises for them to understand, so The Last Jedi probably had the Chinese just as annoyed and confused, if not more so, as everyone else around the world. If we are gonna ride the Blame Train, then an objective look at China’s response to Star Wars as a whole will show that it has not tapped into tropes Chinese people enjoy. Rogue One did better because of intelligent Asian casting, but Rogue One‘s hard-core military feel, nitty-gritty atmosphere, and simple drama allowed for easier enjoyment as well.
Mendelsohn would have us believe that Chinese people didn’t go to see Solo because they aren’t connecting with the actors. Of course, he glosses over the fact that other white cast films were successful in China, and obviously he is not aware about the scorn directed at Jing Tian when she showed up on the screen in Kong: Skull Island.
I decided to go and ask my good Chinese friend, Soleil, who was born and still lives in Mainland China about Solo and The Last Jedi. Soleil, a formidable woman pursuing a post-Ph.D in a specialized engineering sector, also has a deep interest in watching current Chinese trends – what people are actually saying on Weibo and Douban about Chinese and Western culture. I asked her a few questions about the current Star Wars situation.
(edited for clarity)
Question 1: What was the overall Chinese response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi?
So the score of this movie on Douban is 7.1, and I think that score is OK for a sci-fi movie. However, the best liked [most “liked”] comments of this movie are:
- “Honestly, I think this one is worse than Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The story is too simple, and the love plot or emotional parts are hasty and naive.”
- “The leading actress’s acting is like shit, the Asian girl is far away better than the leading actress.”
- “The heartbreaking thing (about this movie) is not the destruction of original characters and styles in this movie; it is the boasting about this movie. Whatever how shitty this movie is, the American audiences can get orgasm if there is Aflac Duck.”
- “Rubbish! What a shitty plot. Luke is just an extra in (this) Star Wars movie, and his part is even less than that Asian girl. What I saw are a black actor, an Asian actor, and a white actor. Are you sure this is a Star Wars movie and not a political left movie?”
- “Fuck this series. I hope the fanboys wake up one day and find themselves psychic-linked to Adam Driver.”
Question 2: How did the general Chinese public feel about Rose Tico as a character? Can you ask what they thought about her choices in the film (like freeing the animals or her saving and kissing Finn)?
Some of the comments said:
- “She is too ugly to be a actress.”
- “She is a character service to the political left.”
- “The plot of that Asian with a black guy is super awkward.”
Question 3: How did Chinese men and women respond to Rose Tico’s actress?
Ugly. (They thought she was ugly.)
EDIT: Soleil later clarified that although they thought Tico was ugly, they did respect Tico more than Rey because Rey was poorly acted and made less sense as a character than Tico (!!!).
Question 4: Was Rose Tico a reason for Chinese people liking or disliking the film?
No. It has a shitty and messed up plot and political left purpose.
Are these answers surprising? Not to me – mainly because, after living almost nine years in China, I know that Chinese people don’t wanna waste money on poorly-written films that fail to offer eye candy. Most Chinese people have high film standards, and when a film fails to meet those standards, they expect to at least admire ‘beauty’. Furthermore, other actresses that may physically meet Chinese standards of beauty (Jing Tian) “lose face”/respect when they bribe to get film roles or refuse to do stunts or be an active actor in a film. In other words, The Last Jedi not only failed to make sense but also failed to provide a basic uplifting experience for Chinese viewers.
I think Mendelson needs to get to know China before bringing the nebulous “Chinese audience” up as an argument.
Truth is, Mendelson’s suggestion that people don’t want to see white men in the theatre blatantly ignores the recent success of Infinity War and other successful franchises. Marvel in particular represents a decade of fan and canon appreciation as well as thoughtful over-arcing direction of a solid story line which is mainly absent of overbearing pedagogy. Solo‘s absent audience cannot simply be laid at the door of Solo‘s focus – Han Solo’s life. Kathleen Kennedy’s poor treatment of fans, low media awareness, poor promotion, directorial switches, rumours about Ehnreich’s poor acting, Lando’s “pansexual” nontroversy, and the fall out of the The Last Jedi all contributed to Solo‘s lackluster box office numbers.
The lack of trailers, the poor response to the first trailer, and the absence of Ehnreich in promotional material, I feel led to an overwhelming silence about Solo which did nothing to allay audience fears. From a paranoiac’s perspective, it’s almost as though Disney wanted Solo to fail. Instead of nipping rumours in the bud about the directorial switches and Ehnreich’s questionable acting skills, Disney did little to reassure potential movie goers that everything was under control. The result was what I would call a cautious audience. Going into see Solo myself, I found that the atmosphere was muted. Only at the end did everyone clap – with relief because it didn’t turn out as bad as we thought it would. If Disney had opened the set and the actors up to more scrutiny, then it would have been better in the long run.
Combine these issues with unfortunate remarks by Kasdan, one of Solo‘s writers, on Lando’s potential pansexuality (a nontroversy), as well as the presence of L337 (the social justice droid) and the mishandling of The Last Jedi… we have a serious problem. Although addressing issues is never a bad thing, heavy-handed pedagogy turns people off. The unfortunate interview with Kasdan resulted in misinformation about what is actually portrayed in the film. Virtue signalling through the medium of a generational character smacks of cultural appropriation in the worst sense – and it backfired as the potential family goers failed to show up. In reality, this film is very clean considering the topic (Han Solo), and there is little to no mention of Lando’s sexuality aside from a few lines intended to create laughs. However, in this day and age, after generations of North Americans being warned about propaganda, Disney shows a lot of arrogance in terms of the Star Wars franchise, assuming that its over-the-top socio-political commentary content will be acceptable. Most people have a “live and let live” approach to life choices and the majority of humans on the planet are opposed to slavery or animal cruelty, but pounding these messages over and over in obvious ways is never good for a story. By the end of the film (and the end of The Last Jedi), I felt like saying, “We get it already!” It got worse when L337 dies – and the scene attempts to play for emotion. There are no waterworks coming from these eyes, I tell you. Although K2S0’s death in Rogue One did affect me, the death of L337 felt forced and manipulative. I laughed out loud in the theatre. If I’m laughing at an avatar of social justice in the Star Wars-verse, it can’t be good.
Therefore, we should look at how fans have themselves identified the source of their discontent (Kathleen Kennedy) and their belief that boycotting Solo will teach Disney a lesson. Whether Disney has actually learned anything has as yet to be seen. I would recommend that fans start supporting fan-made projects and create their own material to keep the myth alive.
THE REAL VICTIM
The truth is, regardless of why Solo flopped, Solo took the fall in the ongoing Star Wars franchise-fanbase war. Made an example of, Solo, a pretty interesting story, has suffered due to continuing fallout from The Last Jedi. Blaming the cast is a red-herring from the real factors which led to Solo‘s demise. Even more hilarious (as WCB states in the video), Mendelson himself, a white man, appears to have poisoned the Forbes well with spurious cherry-picking tactics and bizarre cultural politicking. I recommend Mendelson check his privilege.