ALL HUNTER WARRIORS MATTER – THE RACIAL GASLIGHTING OF ALITA BATTLE ANGEL
A few weeks ago, I had finally gotten around to watching the live-action remake of the 1990s manga and anime classic, “Alita Battle Angel,” produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Although I was among the first wave of anime fans when it first reached U.S. shores, I wasn’t in a rush to see the Hollywood remake. I was hesitant because I was fearful that it would suffer the same stilted and tepid treatment as the “Ghost in the Shell” remake, despite being helmed by two masterful action filmmakers. But to my pleasant surprise, they did an excellent job staying faithful to the source material, retaining the star-crossed romance at the heart of its cyberpunk shell.
The diverse cast lead by the talented Rosa Salazar and featured veteran actors Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, and Keean Johnson, perfectly embodied the anime’s complicated and sympathetic characters. However, despite the cast’s diversity, I was jarred by one line early in the film’s 2nd act, when a supporting character played by an Asian actress says, “Get over it,” in response to a biracial actor expressing their reservations about trusting the protagonist due to unspecified historical grievances. In response to him saying, “Besides she’s probably the enemy,” she dismissively replies, “Yeah, 300 years ago. Get over it.” It would be a throwaway line except that it stands out at the end of a scene, punctuated by silence, and an acquiescent smirk from the aggrieved. “Get over it.”
It is a jab that seems to imply, since our cast is diverse and society is “post-racial” now, we should “Get over it.” I obviously don’t know what is in another person’s mind, and I would like to give the benefit of the doubt that the line wasn’t intended to be significant. But, its inclusion is telling of the writer’s subconscious attitudes and biases as “Get over it” is the language the powerful use toward the aggrieved. It is the progenitor of “All Lives Matter.” It is the gaslighting of unhealed injustices.
The line’s inclusion is suspicious as it does not further the story or relate to the protagonist’s plight. A more sensical line would have suggested that she’s proven herself and is now a part of the group. So again, it leads one to infer subconscious bias. In hindsight, it is very tone deaf. Especially, in light of the “Black Lives Matter” protests that would sweep across the country 16 months later, sparked by the outrage over the murders of African-Americans Ahmuad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, by police and emboldened racists citizens. And, it is out of line with Hollywood’s recent efforts in creating an anti-racist and more diverse industry.
For the sake of the film’s longevity, I hope that the line gets overdubbed. It is a significant blemish on an otherwise fun action flick that proves that diverse movie casting, like Obama’s presidency, is only a step in the right direction, but not a triumph over societal racism. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." A sentiment that explains why America continues to experience racial strife and civil unrest. We cannot “Get over it,” until we have overcome “it.”
By: Tendai Nyachoto