On the Whiteness of Dark Fantasy and Moving Away from Tim Burton

You may not be able to tell at first glance, but one of the inspirations behind my artwork is Tim Burton. It’s easier to see once I show you my work from five or six years ago when all my characters had gaunt eyes and sallow cheeks. And although my present work has traded in the cartoonish style in favour of realism, the extra shading around the eyes and the cheekbones still persists. Burton’s stories were always dark, twisted and gothic—yet still quirky and beautiful. I enjoyed the contrast and took a lot of influence from that throughout my development as an artist.

I’ve never cared that Tim Burton’s films didn’t feature people of colour (POC). In fact, I hardly noticed, given that he tends to cast the same actors for all his projects. But when Burton was asked to explain why his newest film lacked racial diversity in a cast of over 20 actors (with the only black person cast as the villain), his answer was more than disappointing. It was offensive.

In an interview with Bustle, Burton says:

I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct. Like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black. I used to get more offended by that than just... I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.

There are so many things wrong with this statement but I’ll just go over three. First, Burton outright says he was offended by the inclusion of POC characters among a white cast, as if the effort to diversify the cast somehow tainted the experience of the show. Second, blaxploitation films were made in response to black people’s exclusion from mainstream (ie. white) media and recognition, so Burton doesn’t get any cookies for not thinking to whitewash them. And lastly, POC are tired of seeing themselves in stereotypical roles—as villains, as mammies, as maids, as thugs, as slaves, etc. We’re ready to see ourselves in fantasy and sci-fi and quirky films. Why is that something to resent?

If he had never said any of this, I would have just kept watching his movies uncritically. But what I’ve learned from this interview is that his exclusion of POC is not by accident. It’s conscious and intentional. And at this point in my life, I’m no longer surprised to learn that some of the people I once admired harbour prejudices that would isolate me and a good chunk of their fanbase. I’m always disappointed but, ultimately, glad that I’ve learned where they stand so I can direct my admiration (and my dollars) toward films that make an effort at representing people like me.

So with that in mind, here are three beautifully directed dark fantasy films featuring Africans that I’ve really enjoyed:

This list was admittedly difficult to come up with, so if you know of any others I should check out (and not limited to just Africans, but featuring a diverse cast--and yes, that includes white people too), please leave a comment below!