Netflix’s Bright marginalizes the community it’s supposed to be about

The Will Smith-Joel Edgerton buddy cop thriller about violent race relations is brutally inept

BRIGHT (David Ayer). 117 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix. Rating: N

Will Smith and Joel Edgerton (with a lot of slop on his face) take racial politics for a spin in Bright, a blinding trash-fire of a buddy-cop movie that debuted on Netflix.

Smith stars as Officer Daryl Ward, a veteran street cop in an alternate version of Los Angeles in which humans live alongside orcs and elves. Ward is both weary and miserable, but also warm enough to drop some Fresh Prince-style humour into the mix. He’s forced to be partners with Joel Edgerton’s Jakoby, a diversity hire loathed by the precinct because he is an orc.

Bright positions these Middle Earth creatures in an allegorical social hierarchy: Elves are the one per cent, strolling on Rodeo Drive, a development that seems to have had no effect on white people’s social standing. Meanwhile, orcs have replaced Black lives on the receiving end of systematic oppression and Rodney King-style police brutality.

But there are still Black people in Bright, living much as they do now. Smith’s Ward tells a few of them to “crip-walk” away from his lawn. The movie never mentions how Black history fits in among the oppression orcs have faced for 2,000 years – or whether slavery and segregation existed at all. Instead, this hollow-ass allegory marginalizes the very community it is supposed to be about.

Chance the Rapper alluded to the same problem when he tweeted, “The characters in #Bright live in a timeline where racism is gone… cause we hate ork now.”

Perhaps expecting Bright to ask pertinent questions or think beyond its “Orc is the New Black” conceit was too much? As such, the limited world-building is just window-dressing for a basic survive-the-night thriller that putters along on toxic fumes and director David Ayer’s fetishistic impulses when it comes to portraying cops and criminals (he wrote Training Day and directed End Of Watch).

The story gets rolling when Ward and Jakoby happen upon a bloodbath and a surviving elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry) who is protecting a coveted magic wand that everyone wants. The trio ends up running circles around the wand’s up-to-no-good owner (Noomi Rapace, in vampire makeup), who is looking to resurrect some dark lord, corrupt cops and Latino and orc gangbangers.

There are dull car chases and shootouts that keep ending with Ward, Jakoby and Tikka easily slipping away before enemies manage to find them again in ways that are never explained. The plot beats are as frustrating as the social commentary – ditto the dim lighting that makes all the nighttime action a strain on the eyes. Oh, the irony.

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