Charlie Ryan took movies as seriously as I do. We used to discuss film in an online community. He was a gay atheist living in L.A. I was a straight Catholic in Indiana. He was a heavy smoker; I’m the type who nags smokers to quit. We had very little in common, but we’d talk for hours.
This was the 1990s, and adaptations of novels by Jane Austen (1775-1817) were a trend. The BBC and A&E produced 1995’s Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. For many “Janeites” – hardcore Austen fans – this six-part, almost six-hour-long miniseries is the ne plus ultra. Colin Firth in a wet shirt was voted “one of the most unforgettable moments in British TV history.” Emma Thompson’s Academy-Award-winning Sense and Sensibility also appeared in 1995. There were two Emmas in 1996, one starring Kate Beckinsale, the other Gwyneth Paltrow. Clueless in 1995 moved Emma to Los Angeles. In 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, the main character’s favorite book is Pride and Prejudice. A revisionist Mansfield Park came out in 1999. It included a very un-Austen-like scene where a naïve young girl stumbles upon a sketchbook depicting an English lord sexually abusing black slaves.
All of these Austen adaptations share similar plots. A young virgin of the landed gentry in Regency England faces obstacles on her road to marriage. These obstacles are gender-specific. In Pride and Prejudice, a couple with five daughters must find five eligible bachelors. Their home is entailed, meaning it can be bequeathed only to a male heir. Without husbands, the girls’ economic and social standing will suffer. In Sense and Sensibility, the family patriarch dies. His widow and three daughters move from a grand estate to a small cottage after a male heir occupies what had been their home. One of the daughters falls for the shallow attentions of an insincere suitor. The main character of Mansfield Park is a poor girl named Fanny Price. Fanny’s name suggests exactly what it sounds like it suggests. Gentry women were, ever so politely, auctioned off, based on their monetary and sexual value. Obstacles are overcome, and each plot ends with a marriage or two that promises to be happy.
The films emphasize highly orchestrated social ritual and speech so specific to its social class and time that it might appear as foreign as hieroglyphics to the uninitiated. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins approaches Mr. Darcy at a party and attempts to speak to Mr. Darcy. A minor scandal ensues because the two men had previously never been properly introduced. Without that background information, Mr. Collins’ gauche affrontery and Mr. Darcy’s cold arrogance, and, indeed, the wider social world that they inhabit, are utterly incomprehensible.
Characters sit, straight backed, in parlors, embroidering, sketching, reading, and engaging in polite chitchat. Characters also attend formal dances, hunt in parties, eat elaborate meals served by liveried servants, and go for long walks. Serious matters are broached only through indirection and allusion. Though the plots are centered around marriage, there are few scenes of intimacy. The BBC Pride and Prejudice features, if I remember correctly, just one, chaste, kiss.
Back in the 90s, I saw myself as a leftist, and I was on a leftist website chatting with other leftists. I voiced what I thought would be a certifiable leftist opinion. I was sick of films addressing the concerns of a tiny fraction of the world’s population: Regency-Era English gentry. I wanted, I said, to see more films addressing ethnically diverse and working class populations.
To my surprise, Charlie reprimanded me. He said that I was voicing a ham-handed assessment of Austen’s oeuvre. Austen has been praised, Charlie told me, by great writers like Sir Walter Scott in an 1815 review. Another early reviewer, in 1821, compared Austen to Homer and Shakespeare.
Other critics have hated Austen. Ralph Waldo Emerson condemned Austen’s novels, which he described as “imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. … All that interests any character: has he or she the money to marry? … Suicide is more respectable.” Mark Twain wrote, “Any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.” More recently Salman Rushdie sneered, “The function of the British army in the novels of Jane Austen is to look cute at parties.”
Charlie said that when I dismissed Austen as “trivial,” I was being a misogynist. Austen, Charlie insisted, was inviting me to experience the best that art can offer. Austen was presenting me with a closely observed portrait of an alien human world. Like Austen’s gentry, I am a human being. Like them, I live in a culture, a culture created by my fellow humans. What I can say and cannot say, what I can accomplish and what hopes and dreams I have to shelve forever, are, no less than in the case of those English gentry, conditioned by my cultural matrix. No, Austen did not write about titanic battles. She wrote, largely, about women, at home, conversing. Women, at home, conversing is also an historical force. A true feminist, Charlie challenged, would appreciate Austen’s focus on women’s lives.
The gauntlet was down. I had already watched the entirety of the six-part Pride and Prejudice miniseries. I had griped that I found it boring, and that “nothing happened.” “I kept waiting for the plot and there was no plot.” I respected Charlie enough, and I wanted to meet his challenge badly enough, that I went back and watched the entire miniseries all over again.
I did what Charlie told me to do. I quieted down, allowed myself no distractions, and simply paid closer attention. Charlie’s lecture had given me new eyes. I realized that when I had first viewed the miniseries, I had missed everything. Yes, Pride and Prejudice invites the viewer into a world alien from modern America. The miniseries’ artistry is to recreate that alien world with such detail that the patient viewer can plunge into it and feel what these alien characters feel, think what they think, and rejoice when they rejoice.
Watching a reasonably authentic Austen adaptation is like watching an arcane sport. You need to know the foreign rules to understand the athletes’ acumen. Sure, basketball players could just mount a ladder and place the ball in the hoop, but that would defy the rules of the game. Just so, Elizabeth Bennet can’t walk up to Mr. Darcy and say, “You’re hot, but a prig. Loosen up a little bit. Let’s go behind the manor and make out.” If she did that, she’d sabotage herself, and Darcy would conclude that she’s insane. She’d be out of the game, forever. When the viewer submits to the foreign rules, the viewer’s experience of the world widens. Suddenly, Elizabeth Bennet, who, on a first viewing, appears to be almost silent and passive, becomes a crafty strategist. Through carefully played silences and minimal speech, she manages to win a wealthy life for herself and her family.
As the viewer undergoes this experience, the viewer’s soul is expanded. Art brings the viewer to feel compassion for humans very unlike herself. Art teaches the viewer one of the deepest truths usually spoken in church. All humans are dealt the same deck of cards. These cards are in different orders, and they are used to play very different games, but at the end of the day, they are the same cards.
In my initial complaint, I had said that there was no plot, just lots of shots of Colin Firth staring. I suddenly realized that Colin Firth, as Mr. Darcy, staring at Jennifer Ehle, as Elizabeth Bennet, was every bit as powerful a cinematic moment as the Burning of Atlanta or the first appearance of the dinos in the first Jurassic Park or the shower scene in Psycho.
I realized something else, too. The Sexual Revolution has cheated and betrayed women. Women used to live in a world where they expected courtship from men. Men, ideally, were expected to delay sexual access to women. During that period of delay, men had to show their interest through non-sexual behavior. Men demonstrated their prowess through athletics and skills like fixing cars. Men flattered women. Men opened doors. Men presented women with flowers and candy. Men presented themselves to women’s fathers and worked to make a good impression. Men were expected to be financially capable of supporting any children that ensued, and to support the woman’s staying at home, caring for these children.
This societal demand for men to take on the responsibilities of adulthood before acquiring sexual access to women worked to men’s favor, too. If men wanted sex, they had to work for it, and working for what they wanted made them better men. Dope-smoking slackers who never moved out of mommy’s basement were losers in the days of Darwinian courtship rituals.
Sir David Attenborough narrates the extraordinary courtship rituals of birds of paradise in New Guinea. The males develop extravagant plumage, prepare stages on the forest floor, sing extended songs and dance elaborate routines. The females arrive, assess the males, and if one step displeases them, they fly off. The male does not get to mate. The birds of paradise have yet to have a Sexual Revolution.
The demand for males to measure up to a cultural standard before mating allowed women to meet their own, sexually specific needs. Women, as a group, tend to prefer talk and intimacy before engaging in sex. Previous societal norms allowed for an emphasis on conversation and getting to know someone before having sex. Regency romances, taking place, as they do, in a rigid social world, give women what they want.
Thanks to Charlie, I branched out and watched another Austen adaptation, Roger Michell’s 1995 Persuasion. My initial experience of Persuasion was very like my initial experience of Pride and Prejudice. I popped the cassette into the VCR. Anne Elliot (Amanda Root), struck me as underplayed to the point of invisibility. I was bored and alienated. I had to remove the cassette from the machine and wait for another day. I was determined to give this quiet film, with its mousy heroine, another chance. After the second viewing, the 1995 Persuasion became one of my favorite films.
Anne Elliot is a self-abnegating wallflower. She’s a doormat to her snobbish family. She wears dowdy clothes and rarely speaks. When a child is hurt, when a woman falls and is knocked unconscious, everyone assumes that it will be Anne who will tend to the needy person. Later, she meets Benwick, a sailor with a broken heart over his fiancée’s death. Anne is expected to, and she does, counsel him and heal his emotional wounds.
For all of her goodness, you really want to smack Anne. “Stand up for yourself! Speak your mind! Get a better dress! It’s the Regency Era! At the very least, do what every other woman is doing and flash your cleavage!”
Mopey Anne’s inhibitions cost her dearly. When she was younger, she was in love with Captain Wentworth. Note the name. “Went” – gone – “worth” – something of value. That’s right. Anne turned down Captain Wentworth’s proposal, because he was a simple sailor who had nothing. He is now, thanks to the Napoleonic Wars, a wealthy captain. Anne is a spinster, newly poorer; her father was a spendthrift. Anne missed the boat.
Director Roger Michell crafted a film whose tone is faithful to Anne’s quiet desperation. The film’s palette is beige, gray, and other subdued colors. Anne is thin-lipped and you find her lack of evident vitality hard to like. As the film progresses, though, something lights a fire under Anne, and she decides to go for it, in her own mousy way. She becomes more beautiful. She approaches Wentworth and, in the coded language of the nineteenth century, she says, “Hey, baby.” You cheer for the underdog, just as you did in the first Rocky. All ends happily.
I shared all this with Charlie. I’m glad I did communicate to him how much his comments meant to me when I had the chance. It surprised me how deeply I could mourn for someone I had never met when Charlie died. Damn cigarettes.
It’s 2022, and Netflix is so woke that, according to an internet meme, it is planning a new miniseries about Russia’s war on Ukraine. In this Netflix treatment, a black Ukrainian soldier will fall in love with a transgender Russian soldier. Another meme depicts “Netflix Original Series: Putin.” The “Putin” in the meme is a computer-manipulated photo of Putin made to look black. Netflix’s Bridgerton series is one of its most popular productions. Bridgerton is set in the Regency Era and it is a romance centered around rich girls getting married, but it’s not Austen. Rather, Bridgerton is all about nudity, sex, including an “erotic” female-on-male rape scene, expensive sets and costumes, and colorblind casting. In the alternative universe of Bridgerton, blacks and Asians are English aristocrats. Bridgerton doesn’t ask viewers to forget that its characters are black and Asian; rather, it invites the viewer into a world in which a black woman, Queen Charlotte, has waved a magic wand and included blacks and Asians in the peerage. Bridgerton is so campy, so over-the-top, such an acid-trip fantasy, that the colorblind casting did not detract from my experience of the series. I enjoyed the costumes and the sets and recognized the rest for the lowest-common-denominator, fan-flattering, junk-food that it is.
In mid-June, 2022, Netflix released a trailer for its own adaptation of Persuasion. The Netflix Anne Elliot is no mousy virgin; she’s a snarky, pratfalling, wine-swilling millennial. The Janeite internet howled in grief and outrage. The trailer is two minutes long; YouTuber “Lady Disdain” took a break from caring for her newborn baby to post a fifteen-minute protest against the “crude,” “condescending,” “very American,” “historically inaccurate” Netflix trailer.
Lady Disdain counseled that a worthy Austen adaptation would “Appreciate Anne for what she is, not what we want her to be.” Lady Disdain drew a sharp contrast between the values of Austen’s time and “millennial” values. “We value people being more abrasive … independent…” That’s not Austen’s Anne Elliot, who is a self-sacrificing, traditional female. In the trailer (again, only two minutes long!), Lady Disdain pointed out that Anne is depicted as stubborn, self-actualizing, and manifesting something called “authenticity of the self.” Anne advocates for completely ignoring the opinions of one’s milieu. These personality traits would lead to “atomization of society.” That is, people living in their own little worlds, with little contact with each other, and no sense of being part of a wider community. The trailer suggests that Anne’s growth involves rejection of her duty to her family and to wider society. The Austen novel makes no such suggestion, Lady Disdain emphasizes. Rather, it advocates for harmonizing duty to the wider society with one’s own personal needs. That’s a lot to say about a two-minute trailer!
Netflix released its Persuasion on July 15, 2022. Three days later, the “most helpful” fan reviews at the International Movie Database tend to award the film one star of a possible ten. Fan reviewers used the word “cringe” frequently. Vox calls the Netflix Persuasion “an absolute disaster.” The L.A. Times calls it “awful.” “Downright bizarre,” says The Atlantic. “Is Netflix’s Persuasion the worst film of the year?” asks GQ. The Telegraph accuses Netflix of “Woke-Washing” and “ruthlessly Netflixing” a classic. The dialogue “perpetrates five war crimes per minute.” “Your bladder will be loosened by cringing,” diagnoses the Evening Standard. “Everyone involved should be in prison,” sentences the Spectator. The New York Times called it “curiously excruciating … the unbearable tension between past and present serves as a disarmingly naked window into the anxieties of current Hollywood filmmaking.”
Many critics focused on the new Persuasion’s language use. Gitanjali Poonia writes, “You need to speak Gen Z to watch Netflix’s Persuasion The Jane Austen adaptation mirrors slang seen on TikTok, moving far away from what made the novel remarkable.” She quotes director Carrie Cracknell. “We have simplified some of the lines, and taken away some of the fuss of period trimmings, to make the characters and the worlds feel more alive and accessible.”
Netflix’s attempts to “simplify” Austen and render her in “TikTok memes” include the following. A character announces, “I am an empath,” and says, “How do I prioritize self-care with everyone around me bidding for my attention? I need to fall in love with myself first.” A character is said to be “fashion forward,” another is a “narcissist” (a word not coined till 1898). A handsome man is described as a “ten.” An improvement is called an “upgrade.” A boyfriend creates a “playlist” of love songs for his girlfriend. A woman announces that she dances to music while alone in her room; apparently the writers forgot that before Thomas Edison, one could not both have music and be alone.
Netflix jettisons Jane Austen’s Christianity and replaces it with Woke religion. “The Universe has a plan,” a character confidently announces. “I’m not sure I’m the messenger the Universe has in mind,” another says. “Trust me the Universe is never wrong.” Later, the “Universe” is validated. The Universe’s plan was to bring two characters together in marriage.
Netflix Anne chugs wine straight from the bottle. She keeps up a running series of snarky comments on everyone around her. She pees outdoors and enjoys fart jokes. She blurts out highly personal information to complete strangers. She announces at a dinner party that her brother-in-law, who is present, wanted to marry her before he proposed to her sister, who is also present. At a silent, formal audience with a Viscountess, Anne tells the old woman she’s never met about her dreams of an octopus sucking her face.
The Wentworth in this version has also been “upgraded.” He rescues a whale, an environmentally friendly feat. He debases himself and elevates Anne. “When I felt lost and confused and inadequate I would ask myself, ‘What would Ann do here?’ It angers me that the world denies you the chance of a public life. You’d make a great admiral.”
Netflix forces the question. Can you have your cake of Western Civilization and eat it, too? Netflix clearly wants to make money off of Jane Austen. But Netflix wants to violate Austen’s bones, previously cozily resting in Winchester Cathedral. And Netflix forces another uncomfortable question. Does Netflix hate real women?
In fact, there have been very few blabbermouth, alcoholic, bitchy, self-pitying female admirals in history. But there have been many women like Jane Austen’s Anne, the Anne found in the pages of Persuasion. Netflix rejected that Anne. That self-sacrificing, self-abnegating, nurturing, loving, quiet, Christian, domestic Anne. If you want to star in a hit movie on Netflix, you can’t be a woman so very like millions of women who have lived throughout history. You have to be a “millennial” woman, a TikTok woman. A woman who would make a great admiral. And she must love a Netflix man. A white male naval officer, to be appealing, must rescue a whale. He must also feel “lost, confused, inadequate.” He must ask himself, not, as the popular phrase goes, “What would Jesus do?” or even “What would the Universe do?” but what would a snarky drunken women do?
Fans express outrage at the Netflix Persuasion in YouTube videos like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one. These videos come from women in the U.S, the U.K., Italy, and Germany. They feature women who are black, white, and Asian. I was especially tickled by this one by “For the Love of Classics,” the screen name of a very beautiful Muslima in a hijab who struggled to contain her fury as she spelled out exactly how much she hated the “Woke-Washed” Netflix Persuasion. “For the love of the classics,” indeed. I’m with you there, my sister.
I read and watched many outraged critiques of Persuasion 2022. I’m about to say something I heard no one else say. Evidently, what I’m about to say is taboo, and must not be said. Persuasion’s colorblind casting took me out of the movie. It robbed me of the willing suspension of disbelief that made it possible for me to feel compassion and respect for Austen characters I had previously come to appreciate.
English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge gave us the phrase “suspension of disbelief.” To allow art to do to us what we need it to do, we have to temporarily suspend our awareness that art is not real. Tom Cruise isn’t really a pilot; Austin Butler isn’t really Elvis Presley; Jeff Goldblum is staring at a green screen, not a T-Rex. Art can fail to win us over and we are “taken out of” our willing suspension of disbelief. Some people can’t watch musicals because they can’t forget that random strangers don’t spontaneously burst into song and choreographed dance numbers.
Two performances I otherwise greatly admired distracted me because of actors’ heights. Kenneth Branagh is 5’10”. He was excellent as Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in Conspiracy, a 2001 film about the Wannsee Conference. Every time Branagh stood up, though, I noted that he did not tower over others. Heydrich was 6’3″ and he used his height to intimidate others and enhance his murderous power. Stephen Dillane is superb as Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s John Adams. When standing next to Paul Giamatti’s John Adams, though, Dillane doesn’t tower over him, as the real Jefferson did. John Adams was 5’7″. Thomas Jefferson was 6’2″.
I tried watching the 1940 Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Greer Garson was 36 years old, about twice as old as Elizabeth Bennet, the character she played. Garson does not wear Regency style dresses; she wears costumes that appear to be leftovers from a previous MGM production, Gone with the Wind. Yes, these departures from verisimilitude make the 1940 Pride and Prejudice unwatchable, for me.
Lady Russell is a perfect Austen character, in that she is so minor, and yet so major. Like so much else in Austen, she is a small person, doing a small thing. She’s just a woman, and all she does is talk. She doesn’t say anything original; she merely repeats the prejudices of her age and class, in a way designed to be crippling and manipulative. Lady Russell clearly loves Anne, but, because of her petty prejudices against poor people, she is the one who sabotages Anne and Wentworth’s love, condemning both to spending the prime of their lives wallowing in lonely regret. Lady Russell is, in short, a frightening character, because she is so believable.
In the Roger Michell version, Lady Russell is played by Susan Fleetwood in her final film role before her untimely death. Fleetwood is magnificent, and utterly unsympathetic. I especially like the elaborate and expensive hats Lady Russell wears, out from under which sticks visibly greasy hair. The juxtaposition of outward ostentation and human filth tells you much about the character and her entire class. You can catch a glimpse of Fleetwood’s performance here.
Nikki Amuka-Bird plays Lady Russell in the Netflix version. Amuka-Bird was born in Nigeria. She looks Nigerian. She is made to play an English aristocrat against Richard Grant, who looks very much like an English aristocrat. Grant could photoshop himself into a group portrait of the current royal family and not look out of place.
Grant’s character, Sir Walter Elliot, is a snob who goes on and on about the importance of social class and how he can read one’s social class by studying a person’s face. Sailors, he insists, are lowborn “objects of disgust” because of how sun and surf weather the skin. This man, Netflix would have us believe, is best friends with a woman whose face plainly announces her Nigerian birth.
Perhaps because she is played by an African actress, Lady Russell, in the Netflix version, is rendered toothless. Her conventional prejudices and her manipulations are given a chummy gloss. And Lady Russell, according to Netflix, is big into sex tourism. Really.
There are many scenes, including crowd scenes, where whites are a minority of actors onscreen. When Anne visits her sister and her in-laws, at one point there are seven people in a small English country cottage room, and only two are white. Henry Golding, who was born in Malaysia, of Iban Dayak ancestry, plays Dakota Johnson’s cousin.
Colorblind casting can work. Joel Coen’s 2021 production of The Tragedy of Macbeth starring Denzel Washington as a Scottish king works well. Coen’s version presented the play, not as grounded in Scottish history, but as a universal meditation on power and corruption. Any actor of any race could serve the production’s goal. As previously mentioned, Netflix’s Bridgerton creates an alternative universe where black and Asian aristocrats in Regency England are explained through an alternative history.
What I’m hoping to experience in an Austen adaptation, though, is insight into a very specific time, place, and class. As I watched the Netflix Persuasion, I did not achieve that insight. I didn’t see Lady Russell. I didn’t even see Nikki Amuka-Bird, a black actress. What I saw was Netflix virtue signaling. As ever with the left, this virtue signaling was heavy-handed, selective, awkward, hypocritical, and, ultimately, gratuitous.
Netflix’s colorblind casting is selective. Netflix would never, I would hope, make a film about American slavery featuring white actors as black slaves. Nor would it make a biopic about Nelson Mandela with Tom Cruise in the lead. Further, I think Netflix would have to be even nuttier than it is now were it to make a Holocaust movie starring fat actors as concentration camp inmates. In short, colorblind casting’s selectivity works only one way. Only white characters can be played by non-white performers.
Netflix’s colorblind casting is awkward. It results in a scene where Dakota Johnson, a white woman, is lying prone on the ground, while two black boys beat her with sticks. In another scene, Wentworth, a white male, instructs a clueless black woman in how to use kitchen utensils. An Asian actor plays a character who is sneaky and inscrutable. Mary Elliot, played by a white actress, is depicted as a stereotypical “Karen,” that is a whiny, privileged white woman. This “Karen” is surrounded by her cheerful, friendly, kindly black husband, black sisters-in-law, and black children, all of whom “do nothing but dance and sing and laugh.” Awkward!
Netflix wants to create the mirage that it is striking a blow against racism. But Netflix is perfectly happy to cultivate other prejudices. Its new Persuasion exploits class prejudice. Mrs. Clay, a lowborn social climber is … wait for it … obese, oafish, and a slut. Her father eats like an animal. In fact, the prejudice that any Austen adaptation might address, and that Austen’s original novel addresses explicitly, is class prejudice. It was class prejudice that kept most of the population of the British Isles, especially during the Regency Era, living short, brutish lives. For a horrifying account of the monstrous inequality between the tiny percentage of those at the top and the masses huddled at the bottom of social class in England during the Regency Era, see here. Netflix’s only concern with class differences is to exploit them, to depict lower class Mrs. Clay and her father as disgusting creatures.
In Austen’s novel, Mrs. Smith is a poor, chronically ill widow. Anne befriends her. Mrs. Smith serves a few functions. She offers insight into the wretched lives of England’s poor. Anne’s kindness to her demonstrates Anne’s good character. And Mrs. Smith is an object lesson. Mrs. Smith, unlike Anne, had no one to advise her on how to marry well. She married a man who could not support her. The presence of Mrs. Smith reminds the reader not to hate Lady Russell too much. Had Anne married a poor man, and had he not turned out to be as successful as Wentworth, Anne, too, could have ended up in a hovel. Netflix completely erases poor, white Mrs. Smith from its production. Netflix would rather parade implausible black faces in Regency England than include one, all too plausible, poor white character.
Roger Michell, in his 1995 Persuasion, managed to include lower class working people in frame after frame. In this clip, note that when Sir Elliot takes his ceremonial leave of Kellynch Hall, the camera focuses, not on him, but on the many faces of the stoic servants, some of whom are dressed in rags, who make his life possible.
Netflix’s flamboyant virtue signaling is gratuitous. They are not liberating anyone. They chose Dakota Johnson as their star; she is Hollywood royalty. Both of her parents were stars, her step-father is a star, her grandmother was a star, and her grandfather was an actor.
Black actors and Asian actors do not need, and will not benefit from, Netflix’s charitably scattered crumbs. For decades, black directors like Spike Lee, John Singleton, Steve McQueen, Jordan Peele, Tyler Perry, Mario Van Peebles, and on and on, have been making movies with black stars. Asians direct, produce, and star in multi-million-dollar films that play to audiences of billions. The world doesn’t need Lady Russell to be black any more than it needs Bigger Thomas, T’Challa, Miss Jane Pittman, or Janie Crawford to be white.
I don’t just deepen my own capacity for empathy when I watch a film like Roger Michell’s Persuasion. The willing suspension of disbelief is serious therapy for me. I escape from my own woes. I lose the sense of space and time. I travel great distances for only the price of a movie ticket. Hollywood put a great deal of technique into crafting films that could do that for the viewer. Golden Age films made use of something called “invisible style.” “Invisible style” is an oxymoron; style usually calls attention to itself. In the case of Hollywood Golden Age films, though, filmmakers did everything they could to hide their style from the viewer. Filmmakers wanted the audience to lose themselves in the story. There’s a fine, brief discussion of invisible style in this YouTube video.
Beginning, largely, in the 1960s, storytelling began to change in response to Marxist-inspired postmodernism. Postmodernism strove to destroy storytelling’s ability to transport the reader to another place and time. Rather than “invisible style” that allowed the reader’s “willing suspension of disbelief,” postmodernism insisted on never letting the reader forget that reading is an artificial activity and that the story the reader was so invested in was not true. Storytelling has power; Marxism is obsessed with power; the masses must not be allowed their brief respites, or the expansion of their compassion to persons, like the English gentry, who deserve no compassion. The masses must be indoctrinated, and storytelling must be subservient to that indoctrination. And on the seventh day, Marxism spawned the Netflix Persuasion. Charlie would not have been persuaded.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.