“Bridge of Spies,” Steven Spielberg’s latest movie to hit cinemas, has received widespread hype and rave reviews. Allow me to go against the grain — this film fell flat on its face, and here’s why; I watched the film, set during the Cold War and following the story of a lawyer in 1960s New York City, and didn’t see a single person of color. I’m not only talking about lead actors — the background actors and extras were all white, every single one of them. I
There is no question that New York City, particularly Brooklyn, in the 1950s and 60s was extremely diverse. I reluctantly buy that prominent lawyers, politicians and CIA agents in the film, and of course post-World War II Germans, were white. That’s a historical generalization, but an understandable artistic choice. What I don’t buy is that there were no people of color on the streets, in the subways and in the countless public scenes in the movie.
In any piece, every minute detail you present to an audience is a reflection of your artistic and political choices, conscious or otherwise. As a film’s director, you are responsible and accountable for everything seen on-screen, especially those people you choose to put in the film and leave out. The complete absence of color on screen is unacceptable, and shows a lack of detail and accuracy. These are all supposedly the most basic tenets of any artist. I went back and noticed that many films directed by Spielberg, “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws,” the Indiana Jones movies, the Back to the Future movies and “Catch Me If You Can,” to name a few, are disproportionately white.
I’m no filmmaker — let alone an Academy Award-winning director — and I might have missed one black guy in the corner of one of the frames in the film, but from what I saw, Spielberg is guilty of serious underrepresentation of people of color. The problem here is not only one of historical accuracy, but one of equal representation. Having access to significant media representation is necessary for minorities to be seen, especially in places where they realistically should be. It’s 2015, and not only is it now okay to put diversity on screen, but it is now more necessary than ever before. There is no lack of actors of color in the industry, and in “Bridge of Spies,” there certainly was no lack of a place for them. And if it is a filmmaker’s job to tell a story truthfully, faithfully and realistically — and provide employment to actors of all races where they can — then the question emerges whether Spielberg is all that groundbreaking of a director.
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A version of this article appeared in the October 19 print edition. Email Nishad More at [email protected]