Looking for an easy comedy to wind down the day, a few of us decided to watch Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy’s shenanigans as two paradoxical agents of justice tracking down a drug lord in The Heat. This “buddy cop comedy“, highlights the relationship between Bullock’s intense and pedantic FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn, and McCarthy’s unconventional but passionate Boston cop, Shannon Mullins. There are some great elements to the movie. There are two strong, female characters who are good at their jobs and demand respect from their colleagues and criminals despite the barriers and negative perceptions they face as women in a male-dominated job. And while the director does take full advantage of Sandra Bullock’s absurdly fit physique (she is 49 years old)…she and McCarthy carry the movie, not with their looks, but with their unabashedly blunt and physical humor. Of course despite McCarthy’s wildly popular success as a comedian and the film’s supposed message that a woman is more than her looks, producers still felt the need to photoshop the heck out of her in promotional photos. -For which they appropriately got a lot of…heat. I assume that in the end, Sarah Ashburn softens up enough to take the billy club out of her ass, and they both find a mutual respect for one another. I wouldn’t know for sure, but this predictable plot line was already forming when I could not take any more and I left for bed.
By bed, I mean that I left to go fume for hours by myself, trying to wrap my head around what was a completely unnecessary and offensive series of jokes, which for me, undermined those aspects of the movie I had actually respected.
Buzzfeed: “Melissa McCarthy is hilarious…but you resist the easy urge to make any jokes at all about her size, which would be the cheap and obvious choice to so many filmmakers.”
“PF: Yeah, to me, it should never be an issue. I don’t like that kind of comedy. They make fun of the albino, but that’s because we made him such an asshole — and also we’re really making fun of the idea that albinos are always portrayed as the bad guys. That’s why I have Foul Play and Matrix 2 at the beginning. I never liked name-calling when I was a kid; I got made fun of because of my nose or I was too tall or my ears were too big, so I don’t find that enjoyable… Plus, Melissa is so lovely, why would you want to say mean things to her?”
I call Bullshit on this and here is why,
The taunting of “the albino” is purely making fun of his looks – NOT his character
Watch the Trailer when it gets to 0:19
This is edited slightly, but as you can see, before the man has a chance to made into an asshole, Mullins says “What the hell is that?” After, there is the comment “I’m an albino, so I look like a bad-guy.” To which, Ashburn halfheartedly denies while Mullins offers a resolute affirmative. This is the only attempt in the movie that any negative statement against the man’s albinism is challenged, and it is weak.
The movie continues gems like: “Drug Enforcement Administration Craig’s wife must be a five-pound bag of flour with a hole in it.”And they go on. Every time the character is on screen, at least with the first two or three meetings I saw, the scene is bombarded with a luge of dehumanizing jokes about how disgusting he looks, not about his character.
Maybe in the end, the movie sits the audience down and really tells everyone how bad teasing is. After all, the director suffered so horribly when kids made fun of how tall he was. Like I said, I left before it was over. But honestly, even if this did happen, the damage is done. Within the first hour, there is yet another movie suggesting, if not downright endorsing, the continued harassment of people with albinism, which is more common and harmful than you might think.
Could one movie really do harm?
Albinism is a condition that affects a relatively small population in the United States – 1:13,000
Its rarity and striking physical manifestation causes albinism to be a condition that many people do not understand, but also can’t help but notice. While my research on albinism focuses on albinism in eastern Africa and Panama, I also have familiarity with how the condition is treated in the United States and around the world – and it isn’t usually positive. There are a number of organizations such as NOAH and Positive Exposure working to change perceptions of the condition, but for the most part, people with albinism face a lifetime of taunting and constant reminder that society does not find them beautiful or even tolerable. In Sub-saharan Africa, people are outright ostracized and killed for merely being born with the condition, precisely because it is misunderstood and feared. Hence why I found the jokes in The Heat to be not only unfunny, but inhumane.
And perhaps the actors and director did too. The man who played “the albino” is Dan Bakkedahl .
He, like the actor who played Silas in The Da Vinci Code, the Twins in Matrix 2, and Jeremy “Powder” in Powder, does NOT have albinism.
I would love to know if the actors could have said those sneering lines to the face of someone who actually had albinism.
To learn more about my Fulbright grant to study albinism in Panama, check out my other blog, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read reactions to The Heat from people with albinism all the way from Australia, click here.
Interested in learning more about the struggles of people with albinism in Tanzania, check out Under the Same Sun, an incredible non-profit doing some amazing work.