With Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom being condemned as “the whitest movie ever made” and Behn Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild being dismissed as a palliative for white guilt, why are the supposed merits of these otherwise acclaimed films obscured by charges of social misrepresentation? Is there value in these films despite these charges? I don’t so much have a stake in these debates of taste, race, social responsibility as I am interested in how they shape reception (especially among academics).
Both films, it seems, are faulted with placing fantasy dangerously close to sensitive historical realities. Beasts actually dabbles in Fantasy proper (the eponymous “beasts” are frozen prehistoric creatures newly-thawed and revived by a cataclysmic heat wave), but its setting and plot also recall the Katrina disaster, inventing an (implausibly?) idyllic, close-knit community forced to survive after a storm of mythic proportions. The fantasy of Moonrise is a bit less magical; it takes place on an enchanted island in 1965, conveniently untouched by the racial politics of the times (Jeffrey Sconce reminds us that the hurricane in Moonrise hits just two weeks after the Watts riots), and just as conveniently uninhabited by anyone who is neither white nor privileged. The problem here isn’t that such homogeneous places didn’t exist; it’s just that nobody today should be nostalgic for them.
The politics of these films is indeed questionable. Wes Anderson could have avoided a lot of this hot water if only he didn’t set his film so precisely in 1965 (his films are characteristically insular, and generally ambiguous in chronological setting). The director of Beasts maybe could have avoided his own hot water if he weren’t white or middle class (the way angry critics talk about him, one imagines he might have grown up on Anderson’s fictional island, braiding lanyards and listening to symphonies–but no evidence confirms this).