A Hollywood Reporter writer hammered accomplished filmmaker Wes Anderson for committing “cultural appropriation” with his new film, “Isle of Dogs.”
Author of the Thursday article, Marc Bernardin, asked, “Who gets to make what art? And where should we draw the line between ripping off and paying homage to another culture?”
The Anderson movie plot centers on a boy and his dog lost on a fictional island, Megasaki. The dogs have been exiled to the island and must now survive on their own. Instead of praising Anderson’s symbolism or his attempt at original storytelling, Bernardin took it as a slight and believes “marginalized audiences” will step up to shut these kinds of movies down.
“Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is wading into a world that didn’t exist when he started making his stop-motion fable about a Japanese boy lost on a completely canine island,” Bernardin wrote. “But as traditionally marginalized audiences begin to find their collective voice, things that used to fly … don’t.”
The film has an all-star cast including: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel and Jeff Goldblum, but all Bernardin could focus on is how marginalized the film might make Japanese people feel.
“Cinema is an empathy-injection mechanism. It maneuvers us, emotionally, so we can care about people who don’t exist, who we have never and will never meet,” Bernardin claimed. “The issue that surfaces in Isle of Dogs is whom are we being asked to empathize with? We empathize with those we can understand. Literally. By placing the Japanese characters behind a wall of language, Isle of Dogs is placing its empathetic weight on the canine characters. Which are all voiced by white actors.”
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Bernardin disrespected Anderson’s artistic license, saying he could have set his story in middle America and implied foreign countries are off limits to the Oscar-winning American director.
“This is a story that could’ve been set in Iowa for all it cares about the humans,” he continued. “As much as it seems that Anderson does have a real fondness for Japan — and the story is co-credited to Japanese actor Kunichi Nomura — he treats the culture a bit like wallpaper, set behind his drama as opposed to an integral part of the drama itself.”
Bernardin finally admitted he, nor anyone else, can tell an artist what type of art they can make but then pivoted back to a discussion on race and culture instead of focusing on the substance of the film.
“Telling an artist that she or he can’t make art is too close to censorship for my taste,” Bernardin wrote, “Don’t treat culture like some kind of Vegas buffet, filling your plate with exotic flavors and setting it in front of a Caucasian protagonist to be tickled and amused by. Remember the importance of empathetic weight: Who is the story about? And if it’s about a person from the culture you are drawing from, you’ve already gone a long way towards achieving a fidelity of intention as well as execution.”
He attempted to back off at the end of the article saying, “there are no easy answers;” but then, he asserted American culture has “been in the dark.”