March 31, 2010

Whitewashing in 30 Days of Night

Here's a comic-book mini-series that was made into a movie:

30 Days of Night (film)30 Days of Night is a 2007 American horror film based on the comic book miniseries of the same name. The film is directed by David Slade and stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, and Danny Huston. The film was released in the United States on October 19, 2007. The story focuses on the Alaskan town of Barrow, beset by vampires as it enters into a thirty-day long period without sunshine. The film follows a group of people who struggle to survive until sunlight returns.The film is based on a comic book:

30 Days of Night30 Days of Night is a three-issue horror comic book mini-series written by Steve Niles, illustrated by Ben Templesmith and published by IDW Publishing in 2002. All three parties co-own the property.

The series takes place in Barrow, Alaska, so far north that during the winter the sun does not rise for 67 days. In the series, vampires, being vulnerable to sunlight, take advantage of the prolonged darkness to feast upon the town's inhabitants.

Initially an unsuccessful film pitch, the series became a breakout success story for Steve Niles, whose previous works had received relatively little attention. It was also the first full-length work by co-creator Ben Templesmith. The series has been followed by numerous sequel series and, in 2007, was adapted into a film of the same name.
Eben OlemaunEben Olemaun, the primary protagonist of 30 Days of Night, is the sheriff of the small town of Barrow, Alaska. When the vampires attack Barrow, Olemaun leads a small group of survivors including his wife Stella and young teenage brother, Jake.


In the 30 Days of Night film adaptation, the character's name was changed from Eben Olemaun to Eben Oleson. Eben was portrayed by American actor Josh Hartnett.
Comment:  Michael Le of Racebending notes that Josh Hartnett's character was originally Inuit. The movie renamed him and made him white.

Right, because people wouldn't go to a horror movie about vampires in the Arctic night unless a white actor plays the lead role. I can just imagine the pitch meeting:

PRODUCER:  Vampires in the Arctic night!

STUDIO EXEC:  Great idea! It practically sells itself!

STUDIO EXEC:  I presume a white guy is the hero.

PRODUCER:  Uh, no, the lead character is Inuit.

STUDIO EXEC:  No go. That'll never work.

PRODUCER:  But you just said it was a great idea.

STUDIO EXEC:  That was before I knew. Audiences won't go to see an Inuit hero.

PRODUCER:  Did I say he was Inuit? I meant he's white.

STUDIO EXEC:  Great idea! It practically sells itself!

The movie cost $30 million and has made $75 million because horror movies usually make money. But some exec thought this project was too risky to cast an Inuit (or Asian, or Indian) as the main character? Sounds like pure racism to me.

I'd love to hear a studio exec make the case for casting Josh Hartnett. How much additional money do you think the little-known Hartnett brought in? What would the take have been with a Native actor? Give us some numbers so we can determine exactly how racist you are.

For more on the subject, see Indians Hold Steady at 0.3% and The Best Indian Movies.


Jet said...


I am not a studio exec but I can imagine a different exchange:

Film Producer: How can we get funding for this film?

Film Distributor: Who do you have attached to star? These films don't sell themselves you know.

Film Producer: The lead role is an Inuit Sheriff.

Film Distributor: A what?

Film Producer: You know, like an Eskimo. A Native guy.

Film Distributor: Riiiight....I don't know of any actors that are Inuit that I'm gonna back for 30 mil. Where are you going to find a bond for 30 mil with an unknown actor who has a reputation for pulling off a lead role at this budget level? Does the lead have to be an Inuit?

Film Producer: Let me call WMA or CAA and see who they have available.

Film Distributor: You know that Josh Hartnet kid that starred in Pearl Harbor, his face has been on a few posters and he's on the cover of a lot of Teen mags...Pear l harbor might have tanked but the kid's face is well known. I hear he's great to work with, too. Give his agent a call maybe we can work a deal.


My guess is the lead role of that film was changed by the producers long BEFORE it was ever pitched to a studio, a distributor, or any finance company becuse the producers knew what the response would be.

Here's another discussion I don't have to imagine as I lived it more than once:

Indy Producer stands in front of Tribal Council.

Indy Film Producer: Native's have been miscast. stereotyped and basically misrepresented in films and I want to make a film that helps to change that. I've got a Native-themed script, Native cast, and great production team with a profitable track record in place. We'll cast Native actors, and give opportunities to Native kids that they would never have otherwise. I need funding to make this happen.

Native Tribe: Is it about our tribe?

Indy Producer: Well, no, but it honors Native Veterans and is about empowering Native youth...

Native Tribe: We're not in the film business.

Indy Producer: I am, and I want to make sure you understand every step of the process. You will benefit FIRST from any profits and even more important you will be helping to open the door to more opportunities for Native actors, directors and producers if this film gets made and distributed.

Native Tribe: We have other issues that are more important to us. Why don't you go talk to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux tribe. They have a casino, lots of money and help out a lot of other tribes and their community as well.

Indy producer: Okay. thanks for your time. I'll look into that tribe.


Indy Producer at his computer.

He visits the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux web site where it says:

We will NOT consider the following types of requests:

Beauty contest, modeling, talent, or beautiful baby contest sponsorship.
Racing sponsorship of any kind.
Adult sports team sponsorship.
Music festival or other entertainment venue sponsorship.
Rodeo sponsorship.

Feeling dejected the Indy Film producer picks up the phone:

Indy Film Producer: Hello? Is this Josh Hartnet's agent? Have I got a script for you!

Keep the faith Rob!
Best regards,


Stephen said...

It's not racist to change a minor detail of a comic and besides the inhuman villains of the story are white who speak a 'language' that's supposed to sound Eastern European. Not to mention there's the fact that alaska is a primarily white state.

Stephen said...

Also the 'vampire language' I mentioned didn't exist in the original comic; it was something the movie makers added. In other words they wanted to make the villains even more European, which clearly disproves the idea of the movie being racist.

m. said...

Wow, Stephen - could you be any more clueless? You clearly know nothing about the novel or the town all of this takes place in, or perhaps you just have no shame. Spare yourself the embarrassment and try asking yourself if the commenting is necessary when you have little knowledge of the topic at hand - the film does, in fact, whitewash both the main character AND the location! Your referring to these as "a minor detail of a comic" and the tidbit about Alaska (yeah, you've never been to Barrow) being "a primarily white state" is just too much. Nope, Rob is right.

There is ONE (1) character that remained in the film coded as Inupiat. He's played by a Samoan actor. It's a fun movie, but it's depressing to be a Native fan of the novel sitting there searching the screen upon your first viewing thinking, "Where have all the Indians gone??"