The classic tale has been mined for Hollywood many times over: Kevin Costner’s Prince of Thieves, Disney’s animated version, and even Russell Crowe as the main character in a 2010 version, just to name a few. Although still set in medieval times, Bathurst’s 2018 Robin Hood is unmistakably targeted towards the trendy progressiveness of young people. (Income inequality is so hot right now!) Scenes of protest and fighting against a greedy, corrupt government are intended to light a fire inside “woke millennials.” Several writers have compared this Robin Hood to a video game, mocking the campiness of its millennial pandering. And they’re not wrong. I cringed at the costumes (they looked yanked from the racks at H&M) and when the titular character (Taron Egerton) received a draft notice for the Crusades… clearly printed out after a prop specialist had their way with it on a computer. But what was most off base was the film's attempt at tackling diversity.
In entertainment, the term diversity has become a convoluted catchall phrase. Grasping at the concept without critically examining it, or actually de-centring white men, usually creates insincere inclusivity. This is the exact trap that befalls Robin Hood. If you just want to count the faces of colour the film, you’ll have a hefty number by the time the credits roll. The film’s first big action scene is huge battle between the European Crusaders from Nottingham and elsewhere, and Arabian forces. There are people of colour amongst the poor miners of Nottingham, where much of the movie is set. People of colour also party amid the rich and powerful at a huge ball. Non-white people are all around in this Robin Hood… silent and completely irrelevant to the plot.
Then there is Egerton’s co-star, the talented Jamie Foxx, who deserved better than his role as “John.” Despite the Oscar winner's proven capabilities as an actor, his accent is unplaceable. Is he supposed to be from an African country or somewhere in the Middle East? He loses his hand and watches his son get beheaded in the war, despite Robin’s attempts to prevent the execution. But while Robin has a white saviour’s heart of gold, he doesn’t have the patience to pronounce John’s real name, Yahya. With a severed hand, John still managed to train Robin to become the efficient thief known to his community as The Hood. Thus, Foxx essentially serves as a strong magical negro.
Unfortunately, as Robin Hood’s filmmakers fretted over sloppy racial inclusion, gender diversity was left in the wind. Marian (Eve Hewson) is a pivotal character and a moral compass, of course. But just as John holds it down for people of colour, Marian is the singular female character in the movie.
For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the action in Robin Hood. If you found yourself suddenly interested in archery after The Hunger Games, you’re in or a treat. And if you’re easily invested in the fall of shady bureaucracies and indictments of Catholicism, it’s worth a look. But don’t expect this movie to thoughtfully re-examine a complicated, far-off past, or move us towards a progressive future.
Robin Hood is out in UK cinemas now.