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Joker and diversity: it isn’t a joke

By Alex Curthew-Sanders

Diversity means so much more than what we look like.

It’s been a few months since the film Joker hit cinemas, but prior to its release a lot of controversy surrounded it.

That its violence was “extreme” and not in good taste (implying that violence can be in good taste…?) as well as the matter of it being touted as “boring” and “surface level”.

When it came out, it blew all of these observations out of the water and all of the critical-sharks that initially preyed upon it were swiftly swept away by its incredible success.

When I went to see it, I was left in awe. It managed to capture the feeling of isolation, the feeling of living yet not living in a way that no other film has. It was poignant and powerful and had so much to say about how society (excuse the use of the word, I understand it’s become a meme) treats those lower down the food chain. Not to mention Joaquin Phoenix’s stellar portrayal of the character. One that I’m certain will be placed next to Heath Ledger’s legendary performance and remembered alongside him.

Fast forward to the Oscars and it leads with 11 nominations. If you ask me, it deserved every single one of those nominations and everyone who worked on it should be proud of themselves because they have created a masterpiece.

Unfortunately, this caused more of an uproar than it did a need for celebration. That’s right folks, it’s 2020 now. Movies can’t be nominated simply for being excellent movies! What kind of bigot are you?

Yes, I am referring to the term “diversity”. Diversity is a simple concept and one that I consider important, but not one to be placed above quality. I do agree with the notion that diversity is often placed last on the “to consider” list when reviewing films, but I firmly disagree that it should be placed first and foremost.

When judging the quality of a film, one should be judging the film as a whole. Not just the actors, or the script, or the score, but how all of this gel together to create the artform. Nowhere in this process does it matter what kind of background the actors themselves have.

Would I have been disappointed if someone of Asian heritage played Joker? No, but if that were the case then we would have missed out on Phoenix’s portrayal. Ultimately, while we may be looking at actors when watching a film, what we are seeing are characters. How the actors look should have no effect on the characters we see.

In the recent TV series “The Witcher”, a popular character Yennefer of Vengerberg, was cast as somebody with a different ethnic background as the character from the games. While some people were displeased by this at first, the vast majority ended up not minding whatsoever because of how well the writers managed to portray Yennefer’s biting personality.  

Instead, diversity should be found in the actual stories that are being told, and I believe Joker succeeded in this regard with flying colours. It wasn’t just your average comic book movie, where the main character has to exhibit some kind of heroic attribute to save the day.

It told the story of an everyday person suffering at the hands of people that care more about the dirt underneath their shoes. In other words, one that can be applied to current times, which is why I think it received so many misguided and outright incorrect summations from ‘critics’. It told a story that some people did not want to hear or see and the way I see it, that must mean it had to have been somewhat left-field, somewhat diverse. Not all stories have strictly happy endings, lads, come on now. Why do you think Infinity War worked so well?

So yes, diversity is important: diversity of storytelling. Let’s all appreciate film for what it is, and not what it appears as on screen.

Description: Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019) Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019)
 Photo by Niko Tavernise – © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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