—My expression after enjoying 95% of the new Much Ado About Nothing, even if the parts I really liked were pretty reminiscent of the Kenneth Branagh-Emma Thompson version, and the parts that were jarring in a modern setting made me nostalgic for the BBC Damian Lewis-Sarah Parish version, which ditched some of the more dated plot points (because turning your modern Beatrice and Benedick into bitter former lovers totally makes sense! But you can’t really do that while retaining Shakespeare’s emphasis on Hero’s literal virginity, or lack thereof, as crucial to the plot and something that’s expected of a woman in the same world where it’s totally fine for Beatrice to have drunken one-night stands).
Still, all of that I was handwaving, and I was really enjoying the movie, though the occasional extra would wander past the camera and make me wonder if Whedon would give any lines to any people of color — an omission all the more jarring because Branagh, a couple of decades earlier and in a more Ye Olden Italia setting, still managed to give Denzel Washington a decent supporting character role, while Whedon decided to depict an unusually, almost ludicrously white version of modern Los Angeles. And then Whedon went for the post-racial visual gag, bringing an unnamed, silent black woman momentarily into his frame just to have her (silently) react to Claudio’s declaration that he’d marry another mystery woman even “were she an Ethiope.” Cue audience laughter — aren’t we so much more enlightened from the days when Shakespeare used “Ethiope” as synonym for “hideous”? — and my facepalming.
Sigh. Siiiiiigh. This is what gets me about Whedon, even as I enjoy his work and admit that the man has a way with a quip or a meta visual gag - he doesn’t always earn them. He especially doesn’t earn them when it comes to gender and racial commentary. There probably is a way to make that joke, but it would involve having non-white actors on screen for longer than five seconds, or even giving them lines, or maybe even casting them in a main role or two. (Modern Los Angeles!) You don’t get to make that post-modern, look-at-us-aren’t-we-clever-and-post-racial joke if you’re not actually, you know, post-racial. It’s Firefly and its Asian appropriation all over again.
Sigh. But yes, Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry is delightful.