In a searching review from yesterday’s The New York Times, critic Manohla Darghis writes in the concluding paragraph:
“Part of Tarzan’s appeal–at least to some–is that he inhabits a world that resembles ours, but without the unsettling distractions of real suffering. It’s become trickier for pop entertainments to gloss over historical traumas, which may be why so many modern colonial struggles involve deep space or an alien invasion. Perhaps it’s easier to rewrite history through futuristic fictions, where worlds can collide before everyone moves on. . .”
I wish Dargis had written more about the intersection of contemporary Hollywood’s vision with Tarzan’s creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’, and about why the blond, muddied, bare chested Alexander Skarsgard (in the role of Tarzan), is a called-for element of our twenty-first century visual culture. Utterly fictive images of transcendent white masculinity have to written, consumed, and rewritten, I guess. . .
“Tarzan has always had bad optics–white hero, black land–to state the excessively, obvious,” quips Dargis.
On top of the Brexit vote, there’s another pitched battle being waged in the UK right now—it’s over a commissioned statue of Mary Seacole (1805-1881), a recognition for her aid and service to the wounded during the Crimean War (1853-1856).
Martin Jennings’s Seacole sculpture is scheduled to be installed at St. Thomas Hospital in London later this month. Opponents say it doesn’t belong at that hallowed site where Florence Nightingale established a nursing school. The opponents double-down when accused of racism by the artist Jennings and other supporters of the monument: Seacole, they claim, wasn’t a nurse nor did she–the child of a free, black Jamaican woman and a white Scottish solider–identify as “black.”
This is a row of great proportions. In the interest of Critical Race Art History, my raised question is “What does diversity look like?”