Hail Caesar! - A Movie (Obviously) by White Men
I wrote my most important college admissions essay about The Big Lebowski. This is probably less indicative of my commitment to higher education, and more indicative of my unabashed love of the unstoppable film duo that is The Coen Brothers. As someone who loves smart jokes and layered plotlines, I have never been disappointed by a Coen Brothers movie. With this being the case, I was super pumped to see Hail Caesar!, the directorial duo’s most recent project. The plot is centered around the kidnapping of actor Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney) from the set of a movie about Jesus Christ, and the process that high-powered movie executive Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) must undergo to bring him back. There’s also a great scene in which a rabbi, Catholic priest, Protestant minister, and Orthodox presbyter are asked to determine whether or not the movie would be offensive to “any reasonable person;” I won’t give too much away, but the rabbi’s response wins.
However, as much as I love the Coen Brothers and think that Hail Caesar! is hilarious, I also maintain that it is important, both as a feminist and as a Jew, to be critical of the media that I consume. As a whole, the movie effectively critiques old Hollywood as a bizarre entity built on false image and self-censorship, but it is also overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. In terms of context, I almost understand it. The amount of women and people of color in a 1950s Hollywood studio would have been minimal, but by watching this movie it would seem as if they didn’t even exist. While there are female characters, Hail Caesar! in no way passes the Bechdel test. There is one non-white character, Carlotta Valdez (played by Veronica Osorio), and while her performance is fantastic, her character is minor.
Between redlining, physical segregation, and the popularization of traditional family structures and values, physical barriers concerning race and gender were, arguably, at their peak throughout the early and mid-50s. As an intersectional feminist, I take issue with the lack of diversity in most of the Coen Brothers movies, but as an intersectional feminist and artist I wonder if this lack of representation is a hesitancy on their part. Is it Ethan and Joel Coen’s place, two Jewish men from Minnesota, to put a face to experiences that they have not had as white males? Is it worse to misrepresent or to not represent at all?
This is a question that I often confront when thinking about how to make any kind of art from an intersectional lens, however, there is an easy answer. In order to include marginalized people’s experiences, you need to communicate with and establish relationships with them. When two white men are responsible for writing and producing a movie, they will not tell a diverse story, at least not authentically. Nothing would make me happier than to see a diverse Coen Brothers movie. It hasn’t happened ever, and it will not happen until there are more varied voices and experiences contributing to the creative genius of The Coen Brothers as an entity. They’ve effectively and hilariously told white male stories over and over again, but with a little help from diverse partners, they could do the same for so many other groups of people.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.