Saturday, December 21, 2013

Two Christmas movies there, none here

Being upside down on the seasons, I hadn't been as quick to notice that there were no Christmas movies coming out this year.

There's Disney's Frozen, which is opening on Boxing Day, but I don't believe it has any explicit connections to Christmas. It's a winter movie, not a Christmas movie -- coming out here five days into summer. Crazy world.

Oh but wait. As an email I just got from the Mission Tiki drive-in in Montclair has reminded me, there are Christmas movies this year -- two of them, in fact. They just aren't opening in Australia.

Ever heard of two little movies called The Best Man Holiday and A Madea Christmas? No one in Australia has.

Just as they never heard of Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor and Baggage Claim, two movies aimed at African-
American audiences that came out earlier in 2013.

I could have said "blacks," but there's a reason (other than political correctness) I chose the term "African-Americans." There is no equivalent phrase in Australia, so there's no solid business reason to release movies that allegedly only appeal to this demographic.

Lest you mistake these comments for an accusation of racism among Australians, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a country with a huge population of foreign-born residents. There are almost as many Asians in Melbourne as white people. There's also a huge population of Somali refugees in my neighborhood -- their children make up half of my son's schoolmates. This is a country where if you're a woman of devout Muslim faith, you can actually walk around with your face covered, and no one is calling homeland security. And of course, in much smaller numbers, there are Australia's indigenous people, the Aboriginal people.

There just aren't any African-Australians. There are plenty of Australians from Africa, but their arrival here is much too recent to have developed into a prominent demographic with its own share of the cultural market. And even if there were things being aimed at them, they would hardly be movies about American blacks, who are quite different from them in background and experience.

In one sense it seems odd that this small subsection of American mainstream films is being systematically shut out of Australia. In another, though, it's quite unsurprising. The movie business is not one where issues of political correctness factor in. There may be political correctness in the making of movies -- in fact, of course there is, which is why you get at least one token black character in almost every movie aimed at whites. Tokenism, of course, is merely a scheme for making more money, and only even seems like a win for political correctness if observed on the most superficial level.

In the distribution of movies, political correctness has no place whatsoever. A Madea Christmas and The Best Man Holiday would only open here if there was some sense that they could do business. And clearly there isn't.

I'm glad to say that the embargo does not include movies with primarily African-American subject matter. I did see The Butler here, and 12 Years a Slave is set to open on January 30th. But those movies also feature Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, James Marsden, John Cusack, Liev Schreiber, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Benedict Cumberbatch. They are more than token whites. (My inability to get my hands on a DVD copy of 42? I blamed it on Australians' aversion to baseball, not to movies about American blacks.)

Again, not racism, just reality.

This is not to say there isn't racism in Australia. There's a ton of it. The history of relations between whites and Aboriginal people is littered with ugly incidents, including the period of time when Aboriginal children were stolen from their families to live with whites, where they could become something other than "savages." This occurred regularly from the beginning of the 20th century all the way to the late sixties. Only five years ago did the government even officially apologize for it. There are backward parts of this country where the intolerant hicks would make Klansmen blush.

But the Australians never had African slaves, which means they never developed a thriving population of freed slaves who would become a major ethnic group and one day demand the Australian release of A Madea Christmas.

This holiday season, that's something to be thankful for, I guess.

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