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Spike Jonze, Why Are There No Brown People in Your Future Los Angeles?

Spike Jonze, Why Are There No Brown People in Your Future Los Angeles?

At the New York Film Festival this weekend, Spike Jonze created a sensation with his film “Her,” the festival’s closing night selection that features Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a man who falls in love with a voice-input, voice-output operating system named Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

Twombly comes into his relationship with Samantha after a devestating divorce.  He spends his days at work as a wordsmith at a company called BeautifulHandmadeLetters.com which creates heartfelt letters for those that are less talented with words to send to their loved ones.  When his work day is over, he heads home to a gorgeous condo building and plays video games.

At the press screening Q&A for the film, Jonze, who wrote and directed the film, said that as life continues to get better for people, especially in New York and Los Angeles (a point he was not pressed to elaborate upon), people are simultaneously becoming more and more tethered to their technological communication platform.

READ MORE: Review: Why Spike Jonze’s Weird And Wonderful Technological Romance ‘Her’ Is One of the Best Studio Movies of the Year

In discussing his inspiration for the imagined future world for “Her,” Jonze said he spoke with Lincoln Center and Highline architect Liz Diller and she asked him if he wanted the film to be a utopian or dystopian story.  He didn’t divulge his answer to that question, but he did explain that the question helped him understand what he should do in creating the atmosphere for the film.  

I’d like to answer Diller’s question myself:  Jonze has made a dystopia of gentrification.

It is not until late in the film when Twombly decides to go to Catalina Island that one realizes that the film is set in a Los Angeles not too far in the future.  This is surprising because the exteriors are shot in Shanghai, and there don’t seem to be any Latino people in the whole damn film.  The main cast of characters is all white, except for a few East Asian-American women who serve as women for the core crew to date.

On one level, this is not surprising.  “Her” is a studio film, and Hollywood, to put it lightly, does not depict America as it can be seen on its streets.  Jonze also doesn’t really have a reputation for being attuned to the world’s diversity in his filmography otherwise.

But this is a film that creates a world here a hipster handwritten letter company is a viable business able to rent out a large office in a skyscraper.  In this near future, poverty is invisible and Los Angeles’s nearly 50% Latino/Hispanic population has disappeared.

Jonze is so invested in the same techno-Orientalism that inspired cyberpunk culture that Los Angeles’s own buildings do not embody its own future well enough; one must go to the imagined epicenter of tech capital, East Asia, to shoot believable skylines.

That being said, “Her” is an astute observation of how many users interact and rely on information and communication technologies.  I, in fact, loved the film.  It’s funny and sweet without being sentimental or overdetermined about a thesis on humans’ relationship to technology.  The performances are great, too.  Phoenix is in the whole film and he is captivating.

But in the interest of simplifying the film’s story, the fat was cut, and the fat was Los Angeles as it truly is, a city with a minority white population and the same income inequality that plagues the rest of the country.

Perhaps this would be fine if this was just one solitary cultural object.  “Her” is a part of a larger cultural beast, recently documented in George Packer’s recent New Yorker piece on Silicon Valley’s new politics.  Here is his comparison of the valley in 1978 and 2013:

The neighborhoods of the Santa Clara Valley were
dotted with cheap, modern, one-story houses—called Eichlers, after the
builder Joseph Eichler—with glass walls, open floor plans, and
flat-roofed carports. (Steve Jobs grew up in an imitation Eichler,
called a Likeler.) The average house in Palo Alto cost about a hundred
and twenty-five thousand dollars. Along the main downtown street,
University Avenue—the future address of PayPal, Facebook, and
Google—were sports shops, discount variety stores, and several art-house
cinemas, together with the shuttered, X-rated Paris Theatre. Across El
Camino Real, the Stanford Shopping Center was anchored by Macy’s and
Woolworth’s, with one boutique store—a Victoria’s Secret had opened in
1977—and a parking lot full of Datsuns and Chevy Novas. High-end dining
was virtually unknown in Palo Alto, as was the adjective “high-end.” The
public schools in the area were excellent and almost universally
attended; the few kids I knew who went to private school had somehow
messed up. The Valley was thoroughly middle class, egalitarian,
pleasant, and a little boring.

Thirty-five years later, the
average house in Palo Alto sells for more than two million dollars. The
Stanford Shopping Center’s parking lot is a sea of Lexuses and Audis,
and their owners are shopping at Burberry and Louis Vuitton. There are
fifty or so billionaires and tens of thousands of millionaires in
Silicon Valley; last year’s Facebook public stock offering alone created
half a dozen more of the former and more than a thousand of the latter.
There are also record numbers of poor people, and the past two years
have seen a twenty-per-cent rise in homelessness, largely because of the
soaring cost of housing. After decades in which the country has become
less and less equal, Silicon Valley is one of the most unequal places in
America.

As Silicon Valley goes, so goes our imagined future in films like “Her.”  Is it time for us to take note and listen to who we’re writing out of the future?

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Comments

ROd

There's a black person in his office in the first 5 minutes of the film..

ROd

There's a black person in his office in the first 5 minutes of the film.

ROd

There's a black person in his office in the first 5 minutes of the film.

ROd

There's a black person in his office in the first 5 minutes of the film.

ROd

There's a black person in his office in the first 5 minutes of the film.

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BB

I saw the film yesterday, did any of the commenting individuals actually see the film? First of, the film is beautiful, visually and in writing. As for the issue of race in the film, people of color are well represented in the film. Every shot, that is set in a public setting, there are extremely diverse cast members represented. There is actually an overwhelming representation of East and South Asian Americans in the film and there's definitely no lack of African Americans either.

I noticed everyone is dressed in "J Crew of the future" garb, they live/work/play in a highly "Eames meets Apple" designed world that shows no sign of any poverty. The main characters have jobs in the tech industry and are highly educated, they make referrences to getting phds and master degrees. Most of the shots are in highrises, or public spaces that are not street level. If you you took the time to watch the film, you would notice these clues.

These all have been conscious choices. It's a vision that future Los Angeles will have an extremely large highly-educated middle/upper class that may have little to no interaction with the "street level" poverty/classes. This may be why they all are living the same lifestyle.

Think about the trends of today, the slowing down of immigration from Central/Latin America, the growing immigration from Asia, the cultural dominance of Apple and Google, the growing abundance of college educated people, the gentrification of our largest cities, the growing job market in computer science and technology. If these trends continue, Her may be an accurate depiction of the future.

There is a lot of material in the film to dissect, so much that it would be very annoying to post it in a comment box. Thats why all of you should go see it.

Spend more time enjoying and soaking in the art of a film instead of counting how many people look like you on the screen.

BB

I saw the film yesterday, did any of the commenting individuals actually see the film? First of, the film is beautiful, visually and in writing. As for the issue of race in the film, people of color are well represented in the film. Every shot, that is set in a public setting, there are extremely diverse cast members represented. There is actually an overwhelming representation of East and South Asian Americans in the film and there's definitely no lack of African Americans either.

I noticed everyone is dressed in "J Crew of the future" garb, they live/work/play in a highly "Eames meets Apple" designed world that shows no sign of any poverty. The main characters have jobs in the tech industry and are highly educated, they make referrences to getting phds and master degrees. Most of the shots are in highrises, or public spaces that are not street level. If you you took the time to watch the film, you would notice these clues.

These all have been conscious choices. It's a vision that future Los Angeles will have an extremely large highly-educated middle/upper class that may have little to no interaction with the "street level" poverty/classes. This may be why they all are living the same lifestyle.

Think about the trends of today, the slowing down of immigration from Central/Latin America, the growing immigration from Asia, the cultural dominance of Apple and Google, the growing abundance of college educated people, the gentrification of our largest cities, the growing job market in computer science and technology. If these trends continue, Her may be an accurate depiction of the future.

There is a lot of material in the film to dissect, so much that it would be very annoying to post it in a comment box. Thats why all of you should go see it.

Spend more time enjoying and soaking in the art of a film instead of counting how many people look like you on the screen.

BB

I saw the film yesterday, did any of the commenting individuals actually see the film? First of, the film is beautiful, visually and in writing. As for the issue of race in the film, people of color are well represented in the film. Every shot, that is set in a public setting, there are extremely diverse cast members represented. There is actually an overwhelming representation of East and South Asian Americans in the film and there's definitely no lack of African Americans either.

I noticed everyone is dressed in "J Crew of the future" garb, they live/work/play in a highly "Eames meets Apple" designed world that shows no sign of any poverty. The main characters have jobs in the tech industry and are highly educated, they make referrences to getting phds and master degrees. Most of the shots are in highrises, or public spaces that are not street level. If you you took the time to watch the film, you would notice these clues.

These all have been conscious choices. It's a vision that future Los Angeles will have an extremely large highly-educated middle/upper class that may have little to no interaction with the "street level" poverty/classes. This may be why they all are living the same lifestyle.

Think about the trends of today, the slowing down of immigration from Central/Latin America, the growing immigration from Asia, the cultural dominance of Apple and Google, the growing abundance of college educated people, the gentrification of our largest cities, the growing job market in computer science and technology. If these trends continue, Her may be an accurate depiction of the future.

There is a lot of material in the film to dissect, so much that it would be very annoying to post it in a comment box. Thats why all of you should go see it.

Spend more time enjoying and soaking in the art of a film instead of counting how many people look like you on the screen.

BB

I saw the film yesterday, did any of the commenting individuals actually see the film? First of, the film is beautiful, visually and in writing. As for the issue of race in the film, people of color are well represented in the film. Every shot, that is set in a public setting, there are extremely diverse cast members represented. There is actually an overwhelming representation of East and South Asian Americans in the film and there's definitely no lack of African Americans either.

I noticed everyone is dressed in "J Crew of the future" garb, they live/work/play in a highly "Eames meets Apple" designed world that shows no sign of any poverty. The main characters have jobs in the tech industry and are highly educated, they make referrences to getting phds and master degrees. Most of the shots are in highrises, or public spaces that are not street level. If you you took the time to watch the film, you would notice these clues.

These all have been conscious choices. It's a vision that future Los Angeles will have an extremely large highly-educated middle/upper class that may have little to no interaction with the "street level" poverty/classes. This may be why they all are living the same lifestyle.

Think about the trends of today, the slowing down of immigration from Central/Latin America, the growing immigration from Asia, the cultural dominance of Apple and Google, the growing abundance of college educated people, the gentrification of our largest cities, the growing job market in computer science and technology. If these trends continue, Her may be an accurate depiction of the future.

There is a lot of material in the film to dissect, so much that it would be very annoying to post it in a comment box. Thats why all of you should go see it.

Spend more time enjoying and soaking in the art of a film instead of counting how many people look like you on the screen.

BB

I saw the film yesterday, did any of the commenting individuals actually see the film? First of, the film is beautiful, visually and in writing. As for the issue of race in the film, people of color are well represented in the film. Every shot, that is set in a public setting, there are extremely diverse cast members represented. There is actually an overwhelming representation of East and South Asian Americans in the film and there's definitely no lack of African Americans either.

I noticed everyone is dressed in "J Crew of the future" garb, they live/work/play in a highly "Eames meets Apple" designed world that shows no sign of any poverty. The main characters have jobs in the tech industry and are highly educated, they make referrences to getting phds and master degrees. Most of the shots are in highrises, or public spaces that are not street level. If you you took the time to watch the film, you would notice these clues.

These all have been conscious choices. It's a vision that future Los Angeles will have an extremely large highly-educated middle/upper class that may have little to no interaction with the "street level" poverty/classes. This may be why they all are living the same lifestyle.

Think about the trends of today, the slowing down of immigration from Central/Latin America, the growing immigration from Asia, the cultural dominance of Apple and Google, the growing abundance of college educated people, the gentrification of our largest cities, the growing job market in computer science and technology. If these trends continue, Her may be an accurate depiction of the future.

There is a lot of material in the film to dissect, so much that it would be very annoying to post it in a comment box. Thats why all of you should go see it.

Spend more time enjoying and soaking in the art of a film instead of counting how many people look like you on the screen.

BB

I saw the film yesterday, did any of the commenting individuals actually see the film? First of, the film is beautiful, visually and in writing. As for the issue of race in the film, people of color are well represented in the film. Every shot, that is set in a public setting, there are extremely diverse cast members represented. There is actually an overwhelming representation of East and South Asian Americans in the film and there's definitely no lack of African Americans either.

I noticed everyone is dressed in "J Crew of the future" garb, they live/work/play in a highly "Eames meets Apple" designed world that shows no sign of any poverty. The main characters have jobs in the tech industry and are highly educated, they make referrences to getting phds and master degrees. Most of the shots are in highrises, or public spaces that are not street level. If you you took the time to watch the film, you would notice these clues.

These all have been conscious choices. It's a vision that future Los Angeles will have an extremely large highly-educated middle/upper class that may have little to no interaction with the "street level" poverty/classes. This may be why they all are living the same lifestyle.

Think about the trends of today, the slowing down of immigration from Central/Latin America, the growing immigration from Asia, the cultural dominance of Apple and Google, the growing abundance of college educated people, the gentrification of our largest cities, the growing job market in computer science and technology. If these trends continue, Her may be an accurate depiction of the future.

There is a lot of material in the film to dissect, so much that it would be very annoying to post it in a comment box. Thats why all of you should go see it.

Spend more time enjoying and soaking in the art of a film instead of counting how many people look like you on the screen.

Mimi

It's sad when directors cant make movies with the US population as a whole. That tells me, they dont know how to direct or reflect on the culture around them. Such a waste, Hollywood sucks and so does the movie industry.

Ryan

The movie was shot largely in Shanghai (a city with a 1.2% minority population.) The producers to struggled to wrangle ethnically diverse extras that could pass as Angelinos. This fact be considered when criticizing a film for having a racial inequality problem.

sandif

In Hollywood, the only brown people you know are your housekeepers. So, in Hollywood, why would you make movies about housekeepers? You wouldn't. And generally don't. (Unless you're Eva Longoria.) Interestingly, Spike has a deep background in skateboarding, where Latinos are very well represented, so he has real friendships and relationships with people of color. I know this. So maybe, just maybe, he's using the lack of people of color to paint as plain and boring a reality as possible. It could be. And we won't know until we see the actual movie.

Black Man

White liberals are worse than white conservatives. This faux outrage is hilarious. If you'd really like to make a difference, try rejecting your white privilege. I've been rejecting my male privilege (standing up and going to bat for women, gays, lesbians, trans, or anyone that's considered "other") and the results have been staggering. Talk is cheap. Action is everything. The day that white folks en masse reject their white privilege will happen when Tyler Perry wins an Oscar for Best Actress (no time soon). Until then, let's continue to act as if history has no direct impact on the present and the future. See you at the movies.

Taylor

1. I like how most of the commenters on here (myself included) haven't even seen the movie, yet they feel totally comfortable getting upset about the perception of another. Why don't we wait until we see the movie?

2. I see alot of commenters mentioning "reality". Since when do movies owe anything to reality? Further… who walks into a Spike Jonze film expecting to experience cinematic realism?

Corvo

So there are two racist movies in the race: Captain Phillips and Her. I'm rooting for 12 years a slave and Gravity.

Spike Jonze

you trolls need to shut up blah blah blah i didn't have any majorly important characters of color in my movie, why does that mean i am racist??? do you know how hard it was to get this made, how battered my soul is from making this film?

spike jonze is hitler

I think some of you like getting upset and linking your friends to articles that reinforce your anger more than you like making changes

Austin

Way to beat Shadow and Act to the punch.

huffy

"Jonze has made a dystopia of gentrification."

In that case why is the lack of racial diversity even an issue? Its a sci-fi film, not a realisic portrait of modern America. It's more than likely an artistic choice, and artistic choices don't always reflect the ideas and opinions of their creators (by the sounds of it could even be satirical).

Mark

I thought I was the only one who was like WTF. These portrayals of supposedly "real" Los Angeles (both future and present)—and not the uber-white Westside—–are ridiculous because everyone seems to be white. There's a history of films completely white-washing the city, and it's beyond crazy at this point.

stew

why aren't there any white people in tyler perry's movies? Please write a real article and stop banging this drum. Did you watch the film? as others have mentioned there is some diversity not that it matters, make your own film and put whoever you want in it. Contribute something.

Demond

One of My Goals as a Filmmaker is to obliterate the perception in movies that only White Heterosexual People Exist. EVERYONE in The Audience Needs a Positive representation of themselves to Relate To.

Peter Debruge

Bryce, I think you're revealing more about your own eyes — and hipper-than-hipster expectations — than the film itself. While the principal characters are (nearly) all white, there are people of color (and different cultures) throughout: The lawyer dating his supervisor is Asian, the woman working in the adjacent cubicle is black, Samantha's surrogate has a thick Russian accent, and I specifically remember a variety of non-white types fully integrated in public scenes (though they're all dressed like white guys from the 1950s in high-waisted pants and colored jackets).

FSP

He's a white, privileged hipster who says "as life continues to get better for people" with absolutely no acknowledgement of the current economic realities facing the majority of the population (especially the disappearing middle class). In other words, no f-ing surprise about this sheltered view of the future.

PJ

Why aren't there any white people in Black Nativity!

Jaime Bondo

If you marginalize me, then why should I care about YOU???

Jake

really…who cares, just watch the movie

sergio munoz

Bryan, I applaud your article.

Adrian

There are perfectly good reasons why there's no diversity in a film. It could be set in part of town that's not very diverse. Or, perhaps, diversity was not on the filmmaker's mind. Whatever. I think that we need to give filmmakers maximum latitude to make the films they want to make. And we should give diverse groups of people the opportunity to make films. But we shouldn't put demands on filmmakers to make our movie rather than their own.

Sujewa Ekanayake

Perhaps that is how Spike J. sees future LA. Certainly
is far removed from all demographic predictions.

Rob

Actually, it's shown in two scenes in the movie that one of Theodore's fellow letter-writers at his job (you only see three in total) is an African-American woman; you hear her writing a letter.

Nope

Indiewire. Stop writing about things that don't matter. Not everyone can be as politically correct as you

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