Tim Burton and diversity: a controversy

As we slowly transition from Halloween to Christmas and put away costumes to try and plan for future presents, many people would think, what could be better than to give Nightmare Before Christmas a watch? It is considered a classic and still sparks debate as to whether it is a Halloween or a Christmas movie, to which I answer it is both.

 However on social media, following the emergence of a TikTok trend that consists of transforming yourself into a Tim Burton character, people of colour have raised awareness towards the director’s lack of diversity in his cast and characters as well as including a character which is considered racist in the film. Indeed the villain, the bogeyman’s nickname stems from a racist slur for African Americans and, according to Caroline Thompson, who worked on the film with Burton, the character looks like a member of the KKK.

Indeed, if we also look at the cast and characters from Corpse Bride, Dark Shadows, or Alice in Wonderland it is hard to spot a person of colour. Back in 2016, Burton had made the news with his controversial explanation to Rachel Simon as to why his cast severely lacked in diversity after casting Samuel L. Jackson as the villain in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. He said it didn’t use to matter until being “politically correct” became necessary and that “things either call for things or they don’t”, talking about the presence of people of colour being present in a cast, even referring to blacksploitation movies not necessitating white characters.  

It goes without saying that this statement is debatable at best and that representation is crucial in today’s society which is becoming more and more cosmopolitan each day. With the mixing of cultures, having children and people of all ages be able to see themselves represented is not only a right but a necessity. Colonialism did enough damage by exporting eurocentric beauty standards outside of Europe and having children feel ostracised because they do not look like the people on tv or magazines. 

Nowadays, efforts are being made in the western film industry to better represent minorities, but the majority of famous directors are still, for the most part, white men. That is not only true for the film industry- in fashion, there is a wide majority of white people directing the biggest brands and magazines, resulting in a majority of white models on the runway, in magazines, and in ads, as well as several cultural appropriation scandals over the years. 

Culture is a pivotal element of representation and that includes giving credit where credit is due, not appropriating hairstyles or sexualising clothes that have a cultural significance and history for a minority. A famous example of that is when cornrows were appropriated as “Bo braids” in the late 70´s when actress Bo Derek was styled wearing them in the movie 10 despite being a white woman. This caused the hairstyle to become trendy for white people despite still being considered unprofessional for black people. In 2018, Kim Kardashian was slammed for calling the hairstyle “Bo Derek braids” when trying to justify her wearing them as a non-black person.

Overall when it comes to representation and respecting other people’s cultures, society can and needs to do better.

Image: Bippi Boyett on Flickr

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