Opinion SUICIDE SQUAD and the Changing Face of America written by Robert Reineke August 6, 2016 SUICIDE SQUAD is opening this weekend to big business and to lopsidedly negative reviews. Reviews with some justification as it is a messy, inconsistent, artlessly edited film for good chunks. Yet, so far, audiences seem to be disagreeing with critics giving the film a B+ Cinemascore and A- score among those under 35 with strong support from women, African Americans, and Latinos. So, what’s going on here? We can start by completely dismissing the idea of Disney payola. It’s nonsense unsupported by anything other than frustration that fanboy opinions aren’t being validated by the establishment. That’s a conspiracy theory that’s based on insecurity. Rather, I think it’s simply that SUICIDE SQUAD represents a power fantasy that appeals to minorities and the disenfranchised rather than to middle class, college educated, white sensibilities. I’ll include myself among that latter demographic, as well. And that critic demographic has been well served by those power fantasies with our white, male heroes front and center and women and minorities in supporting roles. Inroads have certainly been made in widening the demographics served by superhero films, including Mystique, Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde, Black Widow, War Machine, The Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Woman, and Black Panther, but those have been in support rather than front and center. With SUICIDE SQUAD this is the first time for a pre-established superhero property with a budget where the white males have been largely relegated to minor support roles and the diverse characters are clearly the focus. There’s probably some commentary that while Rick Flag is nominally in charge of the mission on the ground, he is constantly getting rescued by the motley crew that’s doing all the work for no real credit. (Perhaps there’s a bit of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA in the mix here.) And it’s certainly notable that for the first time in a superhero film, the Latino character gets the big redemption arc. Now, I’m not saying racism/sexism is the root cause of the negative reviews. That’s unfair, especially because there are white male critics that like the film and minority and female critics that don’t, and extremely simplistic. And, there are tons of legitimate problems to point to with the film. But, I am saying that part of the core appeal may be escaping some of the critics as the power fantasy is specifically being crafted to appeal to a different demographic. Blaxploitation films of the 1970s weren’t particularly embraced by mainstream critics for a variety of legitimate reasons including craft, acting, writing, etc., but it’s obvious in retrospect what audience they were serving and what their appeal was. And a mainstream blockbuster like SUICIDE SQUAD is fundamentally a different beast than those films by coming right out of the Hollywood establishment. But, power fantasies crafted for African Americans, Latinos, women, and Asians is serving a niche that has been underserved. Those demographics deserve better overall films than SUICIDE SQUAD, but at least it’s more than a starting point for the superhero genre. And I believe that’s fundamentally to David Ayer’s credit. In many ways, he’s crafted a film that speaks to the anti-Trump coalition. And that’s an interesting and timely coincidence. In particular, I think this is a film that can take what THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise started and run in interesting directions. Now, is David Ayer the one to do that? I don’t know, but I think he deserves the opportunity to make a pitch. It is easy to wonder what more accomplished filmmakers like Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Ryan Coogler, or Justin Lin could do with the general concept though. But, SUICIDE SQUAD is a big budget franchise that staked itself to the appeal of a story led by the likes of Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, and Jay Hernandez and fundamentally proved that you don’t have to tiptoe around and cater primarily to white males any more. Between SUICIDE SQUAD, THE HUNGER GAMES, and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, and presumably WONDER WOMAN, BLACK PANTHER, and CAPTAIN MARVEL you can see that change is in the air. Change that is being rewarded financially which is the quickest way to get Hollywood’s attention. If SUICIDE SQUAD doesn’t tumble off a cliff due to reviews and word of mouth, I think the fundamental diversity of the film is going to be chief among the reasons why. SUICIDE SQUAD and the Changing Face of America was last modified: August 6th, 2016 by Robert Reineke Related Suicide Squad 2 comments 0 Facebook Twitter Google + Pinterest Robert Reineke previous post Open Forum: SUICIDE SQUAD next post SUICIDE SQUAD Scores Record Box Office Opening You may also like 50 Million Reasons to Try Harder, Internet August 14, 2013 Can ‘The Dark Knight’ Rise Above ‘The... May 10, 2012 Superhero Cinema 101: Embracing Versatility with Professors... May 11, 2012 Op/Ed: Marvel’s “Villain Problem” is really an... March 9, 2017 OP/ED: As a Public Service to Critics... March 19, 2016 Death by Editorial: The Great Action Comics... April 3, 2013 A Justice League of Their Own, Part... September 16, 2012 The Politics of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN... April 8, 2016 A Hero Can Be Anyone… July 25, 2012 Op-Ed: THE CHANGING GENESIS OF THE MAN... January 11, 2012 Ben Yamano This article has completely changed my view of this movie. As a young black kid (I’m mixed but proudly identify as black) growing up in the 90’s and loving movies, Will Smith has always been a hero of mine. It was a big deal for me to see someone that looked like me be a hero in movies and not just support for the white characters. But while important, representation was as deep as Will Smith movies went. MIB, ID4, and Bad Boys didn’t really tackle the issues of race, so I was going into this movie thinking it was cool to see a superhero movie with a black guy and a woman as the leads. Similar to how I felt about Force Awakens. After reading this piece I realize that Suicide Squad cuts a little deeper. This is a movie about disenfranchised people finally getting their chance to shine. Deadshot can be seen as a metaphor for some of black men in this country who have done bad things and been incarcerated. Even though they have made these transgressions they are still people, and they have people that they care about like Lawton cares for his daughter. The same can be said of Diablo and his redemption story. Harley Quinn is the woman who falls in love with a bad guy who drags her into a life that she can’t get away from. Like a woman who falls in love with a meth addict and becomes an addict herself. I also find your point about Rick Flag being “the leader” while the others do all of the work is apt. My favorite scene in the movie is when Deadshot clears all of those minions with ease. When he turned to Flag and said “that’s how I cut and run” I felt a surge of energy and pride, which speaks to your “power fantasy” remark. Up to that point Flag, a white man who was part of the establishment, was demeaning and delegitimizing Deadshot. This scene felt like Deadshot announcing to Flag, and the audience, that “I’m the hero of this story, not you”. Now that I’m thinking about this movie through the lens that you opened up for me, it feels like an indictment against people like Rep. Steve King, who basically asked on national tv “what have minorities done for civilization?” This comes up again late in the movie when Deadshot says “I want credit for saving the world”. (I don’t remember the exact quote). That being said the movie is also problematic when it comes racial and gender issues. Killer Croc, and to a much lesser extent Diablo, is a cringe inducing caricature. Every time he opened his mouth I was embarrassed for the movie. And BET, really? All Killer Croc wanted for his services was BET, punctuated by the final scene of him watching booty shaking videos. That’s his happy ending? Oof. And there are two instances of woman getting punched in the face that are played for laughs, and one threat to punch a woman in the face that is also intended to be humorous. I think this could have worked much better if Harley and taken the journey from abused victim to empowered survivor, but I feel like that arc was lost in the editing room. Katana was also annoying to me (I’m part Japanese) because she was not only a stereotypical “hot asian warrior chick”, she was a complete non character. Overall though I feel like Suicide Squad is a step in the right direction in terms of diversity in film, even if there are some growing pains. Between this film and the other franchises you brought up (I would include Star Wars because Rey and Finn are superstars and Rogue One is very diverse) I am very excited to see what the future holds. Keep up the good work guys. I think this is one of the best places to come for intelligent and thoughtful insight into the movies that we all love. Robert Reineke Thank you very much for the kind words. And reading how you personally reacted to the movie was very illuminating to me. Certainly I agree with many of your points.