It’s rare that a piece of media shocks me, but the trailer for the upcoming Death Wish remake knocked me on my ass yesterday.
I couldn’t imagine a more controversial movie to release in our current political climate than a piece of gun porn starring Bruce Willis as a disgruntled middle-aged white man arming himself to teeth so he can play vigilante and kill hordes of gangsters, many of them black and Hispanic.
In one scene, Willis’ character gets validation from his therapist for his vigilantism. And the closest we get to moral ambiguity is someone telling Willis’ character he’s not a cop.
Death Wish is, at best, a white savior story about a man who’s had enough of the violence plaguing his city and who takes it upon himself to clean it up. Indeed, one moment in the trailer shows a black woman praising Willis’ character, just to reassure us that this modern-day folk hero is not, in fact, racist, and that his actions are actually welcomed by members of crime-ridden communities.
The implication here is that the police are powerless against these forces of evil, and/or a social environment that prevents them from using the force needed to adequately face this menace.
Which is absurd considering all the unarmed black men—nearly all of whom were not violent criminals—who have been killed by police in recent years. Not to mention that it’s uncommon for a police officer to be convicted of a crime in such cases (even when city officials acknowledge the officer displayed poor judgment and the killing yields a multimillion-dollar civil settlement).
At worst, Death Wish is a white nationalist’s wet dream: a white guy wresting power from the state and asserting himself as the sole arbiter of justice.
I’d say the film was tone-deaf, but I suspect the filmmakers know exactly what they’re doing. Director Eli Roth is considered a cult hero among horror fanatics, but many of his films (specifically Hostel and The Green Inferno) have a quasi-xenophobic undertone to them. Screenwriter Joe Carnahan, meanwhile, is known for mindless shoot-‘em-up actions films, such as Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team and Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane.
The original Death Wish was released in 1974 and set in New York City, and represented the cultural fears of its time. Charles Bronson plays the lead, and he spends the entirety of the film killing criminals in Times Square, which was considered the epitome of urban blight and motivated much of the white flight that took place during that era.
The 2017 version plays upon similar fears, specifically a growing concern that the government can’t protect its citizenry, and a racial distrust that seems to have intensified in recent years. Which is to say the film will appeal to a certain breed of ultra-right-wing conservative who believes the Second Amendment is under attack, Black Lives Matter is a criminal movement and that urban America is a violent hellscape.
It’s no coincidence the film is set in Chicago, a city infamous for both violence and racist policing, and that it stars Willis, a vocal opponent of gun control laws.
Conservatives will almost certainly celebrate the film as a welcome break from all the PC bullshit Hollywood typically puts in theaters. They’ll say that well, ACTUALLY minorities commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime, and that the film is just an accurate portrayal of that statistical reality. And that anyone who thinks the film is racist is racist themselves. Some of the gangsters are white! See?! Not racist.
In fact, it’s already begun: