As Hollywood and the entertainment industry increasingly face criticism over the lack of diversity in roles, the lack of actors of color in Burton’s long movie-making career — more than a dozen films in three decades — is receiving greater scrutiny. And Burton delivered a rather tone-deaf response when Bustle asked him about his adaptation of the popular Ransom Riggs fantasy novel, which features a large, and largely white, ensemble.
The famed director acknowledged that diversity has become a popular discussion topic, but told editor Rachel Simon that “things either call for things, or they don’t.” He continued:
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.
His defense doesn’t really track. He compares a contrived network television plot line, one that had black and Asian American adopted kids and resulted in a failed spinoff attempt, to blaxploitation, a genre intended to serve as defiant commentary on racism and black empowerment (though a number of films were criticized for perpetuating stereotypes of African Americans). And now Burton’s comments have been met with blowback on social media:
Burton’s response also carries echoes of how the Coen brothers have responded to how their films have been described, such as exhibiting “pervasive whiteness,” particularly around the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.
When asked by the Daily Beast this year whether it’s important or not “to consciously factor in concerns like diversity,” Ethan Coen responded, “Not in the least!”
“It’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity — or it might not,” he said.
Coen also said that “diversity is important” but “the Oscars are not important.”
This post has been updated.