Open Thread: The Great Gatsby

By Latoya Peterson

Gasby Movie Poster
Gasby Movie Poster

So I haven’t done a movie review for this site in forever, and I probably will never again.  That’s because before I started this gig, I watched movies like this:

 

Because Michael Jackson picked good movies.
Because Michael Jackson picked good movies.

And now I watch movies like this:

 

No one is impressed with this film. McKayla and Barack agree.
No one is impressed with this film. McKayla and Barack agree.

But the other Knights wanted to go, it looked pretty, Hova did the soundtrack, and I was hoping it would be as much fun as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. (Huh? Plot? We ain’t got time for alla that. That’s what the book is for.)

So, Gatsby was fun–as one of my friends noted, it’s “Art Deco Porn.”  But of course, there’s also race things.  Some quick observations after the jump. *SPOILERS TOO!*

 

 The Good

Nick Carraway is wondering what the hell happened.
Nick Carraway is wondering what the hell happened.

I love those rare moments when a casting director or someone on set looks around and is like “hmm…it’s too pale in here.”  Maybe it was Baz, maybe it was Jay-Z, maybe it was casting, but someone stuck as many black folks as possible in this film. Yes, the first folks we see are the stablehands and butlers. But then we see coal workers, hip apartment dwellers, jazz musicians, shake dancers, a Muhammed Ali clone, and a car full of rich black folks with a white driver. (That last one is particularly interesting given the source line: “a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry“)

With all the whitewashing that goes on with historically set movies, one would think all black people ever did before the 1970s was be oppressed/and or serve white people.  Gatsby exceeded (admittedly low) expectations by taking the time out to show fleeting glimpses of another New York happening in the same time and place –especially as Tom Buchanan revealed his obsession with the coming “Colored Empire.”

The Bad

Gatsby, Carraway, and Wolfsheim.
Gatsby, Carraway, and Wolfsheim.

A Bollywood actor playing a Jewish character that’s all stereotype? Holy Hollywood hot mess Batman! While Amitabh Bachchan reportedly stepped into the role with great enthusiasm, Kenneth Rapoza of Forbes notes : “Dust off your post-colonial film and literary theory from college, people: Wolfsheim is “the other” who leads Jay Gatsby astray, and is the source of his illicit wealth in New York back in the Roaring Twenties.”

Dan Bloom at The Wrap quotes Martin Hindus’s 1947 essay on “Literary Anti-Semitism”:

“The Jew who appears in ‘The Great Gatsby’ is not the villain of the piece, but he is easily its most obnoxious character. His name is Meyer Wolfsheim. He is a gambler by profession. The way Fitzgerald writes the story, Wolfsheim’s nose is flat and out of both nostrils two fine growths of hair “luxuriate.” His eyes are “tiny.” When he talks he “covers” Gatsby with his “expressive nose.” We first glimpse him in a mysterious conversation with Gatsby about a man named Katspaugh. When, at this point, the narrator, Nick, comes in and meets him, Wolfsheim mistakes him for somebody else whom Gatsby has mentioned and he immediately begins to talk of a business “gonnegtion.” That “gonnegtion” runs like a theme through the whole book whenever Nick thinks of Wolfsheim.”

Wolfsheim’s character is barely on screen during this adaptation, but his generally shady air came through loud and clear.  The portrayal is a bit more tame than in the novel, but it’s interesting that the casting choice was to make Wolfsheim a bit browner.

The Missing

Ellen Chinn's majorette routine, from FoundSf.com
Ellen Chinn’s majorette routine, from FoundSf.com

Gatsby is set in 1922, smack in the middle of Anna May Wong‘s ascension to international stardom. So I was shocked to see no Asian Americans in New York or at these parties, especially considering the ’20s taste for all things illicit, forbidden, and “exotic.” While the heyday for Asian American nightclubs is widely considered to be the late ’30s to early ’60s, there was enough happening in pop culture to justify at least a glimpse.

As always, much more to discuss–drop your thoughts in the comments.

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

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  • Kat

    I guess I shouldn’t expect that much from a Hollywood adaption, but for all the claims of how true the movie was to the book, I saw no playing with the literary interpretation–even at the level of high school lit class. The most disappointing omission was the fact that everyone has a color theme, including Jordan, who is supposed to have golden/tanned skin; instead the actress (like all of the main actresses in this film) is pretty strikingly fair. The whitewashing of non-white characters has garnered a lot of attention here recently, but I think that the ultra-whitewashing of white characters is also damaging. Not to mention that Jordan may not even be white — some interpretations suggest Jordan is “passing” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passing_(racial_identity)), which I thought would be a really fascinating take for the movie to explore, or even just allude to, especially given that Nella Larsen was a contemporary to Fitzgerald. Any sort of edgy take on a similar level would have made this movie better than the pointless visual masturbation that is was.