Filmmaker Tim Burton is known for his fantastically weird movies — The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and Alice in Wonderland (2010) among them. But, like many directors, his critically acclaimed and box-office-busting body of work is also overwhelmingly white. In a new interview with Bustle promoting his latest release, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Burton explains why that is.
"Nowadays, people are talking about [on-screen diversity] more," Burton told the site. "Things either call for things, or they don’t." So, a movie either calls for diversity in its casting or it doesn't? How does one decide when a film calls for casting nonwhite people? The idea is to have a diverse representation of people that more or less reflects the real world — not to cast for a Black role or an Asian role because the script calls for it.
Burton continued, "I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct, like, okay, let’s have an Asian child and a Black," he said. "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, okay, there should be more white people in these movies."
Burton is correct that tokenism is not a quick fix to solve the diversity problem in media. But The Brady Bunch was on the air from 1969 to 1974, when conversations about race in Hollywood were virtually nonexistent. We've come a long way since then, and our benchmark for on-screen diversity has risen considerably. It's fine that Burton wasn't outraged by the lack of white people in blaxploitation movies ('70s films explicitly made for Black audiences); in fact, it would be absolutely ridiculous if he were. Burton's latest work, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, is indeed predominantly white. But it represents relative progress, given that Samuel L. Jackson — who plays the villain, Barron — is the first lead actor of colour in a Burton film. When Bustle asked Jackson about this, he admitted, "I had to go back in my head and go, how many Black characters have been in Tim Burton movies?" But he also defended the director. "I don’t think it’s any fault of his or his method of storytelling, it’s just how it’s played out." Assuming Burton continues his prolific career as a talented filmmaker for years to come, he'll have plenty of opportunities to change his flawed perspective on one of the most impactful issues in his industry. Here's hoping he takes them.