As technology transforms the world of filmcraft, race finds itself rarely sacred; in fact, more often than not, ethnicity assumes the initial bulwark to politically-correct contention. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder’s recent announcement to add Andy Serkis to the roster of Justice Leaguers as superhero Cyborg (via motion capture), it appears once again that complex technology begs for technicality re: complexion.
To portray the African American character Victor “Vic” Stone (aka “Cyborg”), Serkis will don what’s called an “active motion-capture suit”, virtually synchronizing bodily and (micro)facial movements with a computer generated image. In this case, that image would be ¾ of an adult, black man’s face—the other ¼ of course a silver-greyish metal (thus irrelevant). This begs the question, “Can computer generated images be racist?”
Well, surely we need look no further than Michael Bay’s robots for the answer to that. “Shark Tale” comprised mostly of white actors, the Boy Scout from Disney’s “Up” still boasts CGI-Asian exclusivity, and it’s hard to argue that just about every 3rd alien George Lucas makes is not blatantly anti-Semitic. This, however, seems a phenomenon unique to cartoons, dimensions notwithstanding: they can get away with it (for like at least 30 years)—as with violence and sexual innuendo—because they’re drawn that way.
But Serkis’ eye-bags aren’t drawn; he really is that sleepy, and, unlike cartoons, a ‘mo-capped’ image poses a starkly more direct link to its index—like mapping instead of drawing—trading burnt cork for tech dork. Now, Hollywood understandably can’t cast a visible minority to physically embody Cyborg. Ridley Scott explains why to Variety:
“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed.”
So, then why not hire a black, male, motion capture artist? The question was posed to Snyder on Twitter to which he replied, “@TrillbeatsbyDre: What, and have every Ewok played by a Kardashian? #Doritos,” to which celebrity Kim Kardashian swiftly responded, “@ZackSnyder: Funny. Weren’t you one of those CGI aliens in the prequels?” before abruptly deescalating the situation with consequent, topless Tweets.
Serkis certainly has intimately ‘mo-capped’ faces before: Gollum (The Lord of the Rings), Caesar (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and, most recently, Supreme Leader Snoke (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), to name a few—each character, not surprisingly, more humanoid of body and face than the last. Serkis and his pioneered technology are clearly proving themselves ready for multiracial acting. After all, isn’t Gollum really just reverse, well-fed Blackface?
Ultimately, whether we call “racist!” on Serkis’ Cyborg or not or in 30 years, one thing is certain: old, affluent, white men will always find a way to make money by disenfranchising visible minorities. Think it’s too early for ‘mo-cap’ porn? Think again.