Dear Mr. Burton,
It was recently brought to my attention your stance on diversity in media. It’s an interesting point that highlights a certain level of ignorance in regard to both your current and potential fans, and personally, I think it needs to be addressed.
In your recent interview with Bustle, in regard to diversity in media, you explained that, “Nowadays, people are talking about it more, but things either call for things, or they don’t. 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’s a lot to be said in response to that, but most notably, you seem to view any kind of minority as a tool at your disposal instead of as people that buy tickets to your films. While your stance may sound intelligently put together to you, the reality of your statement is far more severe. In fact, it highlights the fact that you seem to think that a relatively benign children’s movie like Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children only calls for white people. The reality of that particular fiction is that it is written as non-race specific and indulged readers from a diverse range of backgrounds. It is merely your particular vision of the film that is all white and not the direct source material. This is a problem because it only highlights your view of an all white Johnny-Depp-world and it is something that has actually tainted the quality of several of your films.
When it comes to film, your style is your style and no one is asking you to change that. Your creative work is what draws people to your films in the first place, but it’s your exclusionary world view that seems to be an issue, which is strange considering that my first exposure to your work, Batman, took the brave step of casting a black Harvey Dent. Good on you for that, but again, in a world full of white people, Billy Dee Williams had the honor of being your Gotham’s only black person.
It’s a bit unfortunate for those of us who are/were fans, but your, “things either call for things, or they don’t,” attitude is actually a form of segregation. You seem to be making the claim that if the role doesn’t state that a person is of a specific color or honed in sexual identity then by default that character is white. Minorities have their place and white people have theirs. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but we as a people have moved past the point where it’s okay for white people to say, “but, I’m color blind,” because those colors matter. If you’re not taking the time to stop and see the world for the rainbow of color and diversity that it is, then you’re truly missing out and your story telling will surely suffer.
Sadly, when you took the time to so callously explain that you grew up watching blaxploitation films, you basically used the, “I’m not racist, I have a black friend,” argument.
Good for you for not demanding more white people in the predominately black films of the 1970’s, however, it would seem to me that you missed the point and need behind why the blaxploitation genre developed in the first place. It’s not exactly like the films of the 1970’s and prior were incredibly inclusive, so as a counter, a new exclusive genre was born. Also notice how the genre failed to last. Was it because the films were no good and people got bored or was it due to the fact that the use of overly white stereotypes of black people got pushed to the forefront proving that exclusionary film making in general doesn’t really do anybody any favors?
There are people of all races, creeds, and colors that both enjoy and support your work and you might do a little better to recognize that while trying to understand why that might make your work better. People enjoy fiction that they can often see or insert their own personal avatars into. When you avoid including a diverse array of characters because minority inclusion wasn’t specially called for, then your further risk alienating an entire pantheon of Tim Burton supporters.
I’m not sitting here claiming to be the utmost authority on race relations in media, but unlike so many, I’m willing to have a conversation about and learn from my minority peers. I just want to know how to be a better writer and creator which, to me, involves being inclusionary past the point of including a black person to solely play the story villain. Black, brown, white, Asian, Native, South American, African and/or any other color of person under the sun can be a hero and we should let them be in our stories.
As I write this to you, I’d like you to know that my goal here is to not play the role of the White Knight. I am not a ‘social justice warrior’, to co-opt the term the internet has so graciously taken to. As I stated above, I believe that people from all walks of life have the ability to be heroes and they do a good job fighting their own battles despite constant push back. I’m writing as the white viewer to tell you that it’s okay. I don’t need to see multiple versions of myself represented in media all the time. As a straight, white male, largely of Irish decent, I can assure you that there are only so many Colin Farrell movies that I can watch before I’m completely underwhelmed.
Instead, as a viewer, I think diversity is always called for as it makes things a little bit more real. I don’t mind when shows like the Brady Bunch include black or Asian characters to try and mix things up, particularly using your example, it helped to bring a new dimension to a show that was largely growing stale. I don’t think anybody wants to fault you for some of your older works. People adore Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and Beetlejuice just the way they are, but it’s about moving forward. It’s about listening to what your fans have to say and shaping your creative vision in a way that allows for everyone to see just a little bit of themselves represented in your works. That’s certainly not too much to ask and if you used it to your advantage, the vivid worlds that you create, would in fact be that much more luminary.
Take this as what it is, as it’s just a bit of food for thought, but it seems to be the kind of sustenance that your creative self seems to be starving for. Hopefully some of this will resonate and it will impact your work for the better, but maybe it won’t. The odds of it actually reaching you are slim to none and even if it did, the likely hood that you’d even take the time to read it seems minuscule. Hopefully other creators will learn from this conversation and work to make their stories bigger and better all while including others who’d like to be seen, heard, and generally included in the society in which they live.