Written by Hassaan Ahmed.
We all love an underdog. Don’t we? Overcoming all odds, facing terrible hardships, sticking it to ‘the man’. That’s the sort of crack we want. It’s a whopping good time. It’s motivational. It’s relatable. So why then does Hollywood insist on forcing the same unrelatable, tired old drivel down our throats?
I am of course talking about the underdog-as-a-tortured/misunderstood (white) artist trope, recently exemplified in the *checks notes* fourth iteration of A Star is Born. For the uninitiated, the film is about a famous, but troubled musician dude who happens to see this small-time singer lady perform at a modest bar. He simultaneously becomes enamoured with her and realises that she’s immensely talented. He goes on to feature her on his musical tour, while also pursuing her romantically. Icky, I know. She becomes way more famous; he spirals deeper into his ‘troubles’ and drama ensues. You can instantly tell that Bradley Cooper was gunning for the Oscars, his performance as Jackson Maine was Silver Linings Playbook all over again, this time ramped up to 11. No, I didn’t think that was possible either.
Why does this film and its take on the aforementioned trope (and the artist’s journey) have me afroth? Is it the same song and dance of witnessing a problematic relationship fetishised in every shot of the film? Is it the having to watch the same claptrap of a talented and hardworking woman being a nobody till she’s ‘discovered’ by a man? Though her career progression is growing in leaps and bounds beyond his, she finds herself yanked back every step of the way—leashed to his self-destructive moroseness. Four reboots (or remakes, or adaptations, the bottom line is the same) and global audiences are still exposed to the same essential storyline as the original 1937 flick. I for one have had it. If its not an original IP, I’m not watching it. Life’s too short to experience the same narrow worldview over and over again.
In a nutshell, that’s my complaint with reboots. They are a cop-out and reinforce the same inflexible structure on audiences, when they could do so much more with the source material! A Star is Born is endemic of a major problem Hollywood suffers, that feeds into reboots and adaptations. Hollywood says safe when they refuse to experiment with the script. We say boring. They claim no-name-high-risk when not casting POC. We scream for up and coming stars simply waiting for their big break. Isn’t that literally what A Star Is Born was supposed to champion?
Every time a ‘classic’ is rebooted but fails to account for the social evolution that has occurred since the time that film was made, it alienates a whole new generation of potential artists who just can’t relate to what they see on screen. It disgusts the generations that have sought representation for decades but still have not found it. Look at Disney and their reboot/live-action ‘extravaganza’. Though they’re not without their own issues many viewers young and old finally get to see increased representation in massively popular story franchises.
In fact, Disney’s casting choices have seen a fair bit of improvement, more so considering how the Hellboy reboot courted infamy by hiring actor Ed Skrein to play a character who was Asian in the source material. No, the Scarlett Johansson joke is too easy to make, I will not do it.
Thankfully, Ed stepped down from the role, choosing not to Johansson the situation. (Ugh, I hate myself.)
Take a second to consider your favourite artists right now. The ones you’ve been following for years, watching how they spent years toiling as underdogs, slowly reaching for that elusive label of mainstream success. Why can’t we have their stories? Why can’t A Star is Born show us the journey of a female comic artist grinding for years and years, before her accumulated skill and experience bring her star headfirst into the mainstream? How about the tale of the aspiring Muslim actor who played every possible version of the Middle Eastern/Islamic terrorist before figuring out how to use those experiences to launch himself as a successful comedian? How about an Afro-Latino boy who gains the mantle of one of the most iconic superheroes of all time … Wait, that’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Now there’s an excellent example of repurposing a ‘classic’ story and characters to better connect with today’s audiences.
Ask yourself this: Of all the Spider-Man films that were released in the past two decades, which one was the most relatable?
Hollywood has demonstrated, time and time again, that they need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the present. It took the #OscarsSoWhite to force change in representation. It took multiple #metoo movements to force change in everything. Perhaps it’s time for #RetireTheReboot to force new, diverse voices to the forefront.
It’s 2019, we all deserve to be represented. It’s high-time for our stars to be born.
Hassaan Ahmed’s work can be found in the Colour edition of WORDLY.