There’s something peculiar about Tim Burton’s latest film, and it goes far beyond characters who are filled with swarms of bees or who can turn into birds or are even so light that they require lead shoes to stay grounded, it’s a noticeable lack of diversity amongst its casting ranks. Burton’s newest feature, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Particular Children” stars a cast of mostly white actors and actresses — not including Samuel L. Jackson, the lone exception, who co-stars as the film’s villain — who play a host of characters, young and old, some given to special powers and some not so much.
In short, there’s room to mix it up a bit, but that’s not something Burton seems to be very interested in doing. In a recent chat with Bustle, the filmmaker was asked about diversity in films, including his own, and he issued a somewhat strange answer.
“Nowadays, people are talking about it more…[but] things either call for things, or they don’t,” he started. Okay, that’s a fair enough beginning to a potentially interesting and insightful discussion on the changing face of the movie industry. And then things get a little…unexpectedly vintage?
“I remember back when I was a child watching ‘The Brady Bunch’ and they started to get all politically correct,” he said. “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.”
While it’s nice that Burton grew up on a steady diet of both “The Brady Bunch” and blaxploitation movies — some of his closest friends are blaxploitation movies! — it’s a comparison that entirely misses the point when it comes to diversity. Burton’s films have long chronicled — and so often championed — the underdog and the underrepresented, from “Edward Scissorhands” to “Ed Wood” and even “Frankenweenie,” and it’s disheartening that he’s failed to recognize how that element of his work might speak to a population that’s not just white.
Sure, some projects might not “call for things,” but Burton’s actually do, including something like “Miss Peregrine’s,” which is about a group of differently abled kids who come together to fight a meanie out to get them. And although it’s set in Wales in the ’40s, it’s also a fantasy film, a genre that offers up plenty of room for imagination. What’s more diverse than a bee-body kid and a floating kid and a kid with a mouth on the back of her head joined in a common goal? For Burton, sadly, it’s seems like that’s the extent of his own diversity.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” opens in theaters on Friday, September 30.