Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Despite never having read the book(s?) upon which this movie is based, it still felt all too familiar to me while watching Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Could it be that we’ve finally seen the bottom of Tim Burton’s bag of tricks, and now we’re just watching the shadow of his talent?

Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) keeps the wards in her charge safe by keeping them in a 24 hour time loop, the 24 hours before their beautiful home is to be bombed by the Nazis, circa 1943. Neither she nor her peculiar children age while in the time loop, but to step peregrins-gallery10outside of it would have time catching up to them in a hurry. Inside their cozy little loop, they can be as peculiar as they like without repercussion. Or they could until a peculiar gone rogue (Samuel L. Jackson) invents monsters to hunt them. That’s why Abe (Terence Stamp) chooses to live outside the loop – true he has to leave behind his love, but he keeps her and everyone else safe by hunting the monsters in turn. But in his old age, Abe meets an ugly demise and his eyeless body is discovered by his teenaged grandson, Jake (Asa Butterfield ), the only one suspicious enough (or peculiar enough?) to avenge his grandfather’s death.

Once Jake discovers the time loop and the peculiars, Tim Burton is in his element. He’s excellent at creating worlds, giving them texture and meaning and magic, and populating them with loads and loads of white people. Oh, haven’t you heard? Tim Burton’s a racist now. Well, not so much “now” as always, it’s just that only now are we really paying attention. Tim Burton is visionary; he can conjure ghosts in cheap suits, demon barbers and talking caterpillars – but cast a person of colour as one of his peculiars? That would just be weird. That is too much of a stretch of Burton’s imagination.

If it was just the Peculiar Children who suffer from his pale proclivities, we might forgive him, but a cursory glance over his IMDB list has me horrified. Samuel L. Jackson is the firstperegrins-gallery9 black man he’s cast in a leading role EVER, and you know he’s playing a villain. Jackson aside, Tim Burton’s casting takes on a very pale shade of white. His sets may be designed in technicolour but Tim Burton himself only dreams in caucasian. And it’s not really Tim Burton’s fault. We’re the dummies who have accepted this unthinkingly for years. He’s had huge ensemble casts with not even a tan among them and I for one haven’t even thought to question it.

We’re awake now, though, and the cat’s not getting back into the bag, no matter how many claw marks Tim Burton accrues trying to stuff the fucker back in. His words, you see, have proven even more damning than his pasty casting choices. “Things either call for things, or they don’t” he’s said, meaning, if a script says “African American”, he’ll cast an African American. But if a script says “person”, Burton reads it as “white person.” And that’s exactly the kind of inherent bias we most especially have to watch for. White tends to be the default far too often in Hollywood (and in life). But audiences are not. Audiences are made up of real people, a whole rainbow’s worth. And in 2016, we demand to see that reflected on the screen.

Tim Burton is just another old white dude defending the old guard. He wants things to stay the same. Dude with scissors for hands? Sure. Obsessive candy man? Why not. Orphan in a rubber suit playing god? As long as he’s not black, have at it!

“I remember back when I was a child watching “The Brady Bunch”and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”

-Tim Burton, ladies and gentelmen

Of course his ignorant comments have done nothing but confirm the need for the very thing he’s eschewing. The truth is, for as long as this white default exists, we need to fight it consciously by countering it at every turn. If a script doesn’t demand it, society should. There is no room for lazy racism like Burton’s in 2016; it’s time to stop casting movies like they’re segregated.

Never mind that Blaxploitation movies were born in response to systemic racism and preached empowerment. Let’s just take his statement for what it is: white privilege, white ignorance, and an embarrassing amount of #alllivesmatter racist thinking. Tim Burton needs to pull his white head out of his white ass, and we all need to hold him accountable. And maybe while he’s at it he might also make a movie not so nakedly derivative of his old work. 😉

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24 thoughts on “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

  1. Damien Riley

    Great review. I haven’t been all that excited to see this one. I’m much more interested in films like ‘Passengers’ and ‘A Monster Clls’ in the rest of 2016. You’ve kind of sealed it that I’ll wait for VOD or other tv streaming on this Peregrine thing. I do like Eva Green’s look. It actually looks a lot like a Peregrine Falcon. The story sounds pretentious and boring.

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  2. Lacey

    Wow, I learned so much from this post. I myself never realized all his films have had only white people only casts. I was excited for this movie. I think there’s so much potential there.

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  3. fragglerocking

    I’ve read all three books, and the first one (the film is named for it) was written around vintage photo’s that the author, Ransom Riggs, had collected from second hand stores and markets. The photo’s are included in the book, and the children he uses from the photo’s are actually all white. I am not saying Mr.Burton is not a racist, but maybe he was just sticking to the story?

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      1. fragglerocking

        True, but think many authors who’s works of fiction have been bastardised by the film industry may disagree 😊 I will see the movie, and compare it with the books.

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  4. Liz A.

    I had not heard anything about this racist brouhaha. Sheltered, perhaps? Probably just not paying attention. Thanks for giving me a bit more about what the movie is about. All I knew before this was “peculiar children”.

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    1. Jay Post author

      The peculiar children all have…well, they’re not super powers. Some are quite useless. One can control air, another is very strong. One just has a set of teeth in the back of her head.

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  5. Lara/Trace

    Jay, you nailed it down so well, now none of us can “un-see” this – that is the only way we can move forward as a humanity.

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  6. The Double Take

    A very interesting article, I will hopefully be watching this movie soon, and as always the main thing I am attracted to are the world’s that Burton creates. You noted this in your review so I am intrigued to see, visually, how it looks!

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  7. J.

    I haven’t enjoyed a Burton movie in quite a while; I accept he’s good at what he does, but he is just recycling now. Yawn.

    As for his, eh, apparent casual racism… oooft. I can’t believe I hadn’t actually considered that before!

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  8. Lorna Cunningham-Rushton

    The first book was amazing, the others really stretching, so in spite of thinking this would make a good movie, I also will pass on it.

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  9. reocochran

    The movie sounds too weird and I dislike that Samuel Jackson couldn’t be a guardian or protector. Why do directors keep doing this? Think outside the box, for God’s sake!
    I was going to see it due to my grandchildren but nope, I won’t. One of my grandies is 1/4 black, his Dad’s half and half, I try to talk to him as a boy who may need to open his eyes to his color, face and embrace it.

    I wonder why Sweeney Todd or Sleepy Hollow didn’t have different races in their towns? I am trying to think of other films which could have been inclusive. hmm 😦

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  10. allendemir

    Huh, I honestly never thought about the whiteness of his movies, but then again, I’ve stayed away from most of the stuff he’s done during my adulthood. Gothism is a pretty white thing, I guess.

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