“You put me in a broken plane!” wails Denzel Washington’s character, secret alcoholic pilot Whip Whitaker, in Flight, after crash-landing a malfunctioning 737. Replace “plane” with “movie,” and he’s exactly right.
The Oscars are handed out next week and Flight was inexplicably nominated for best writing after mildcriticalacclaim, Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by John Gatins, is not a good movie. But let’s be real: I saw Flight because I wanted to see a commercial airliner fly upside-down. I didn’t expect it to be good. I also didn’t expect it to be rife with misogyny, so when it opened with gratuitous female full-frontal nudity, I was a little confused. I had been promised harrowing turbulence! When, I wondered, would the real story begin?
Spoiler alert: A good story never begins. But the objectification soldiers on, bolstered by stale sexist tropes that Gatins seems to have all but copied and pasted from old standbys of the romance and horror genres.
This weekend will see the takeoff of Robert Zemeckis's new movie, Flight, which stars Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, and John Goodman. Washington plays a pretty conflicted character: Whip, a star pilot who also happens to be an alcoholic with a cocaine problem. He parties hard with one of his flight attendants before going up in the air one morning, and of course, shit gets unfortunately real with a crash landing. He's a hero for a minute, but that all changes wtih the investigation into the emergency landing.
It's a great performance from Washington, but, as with nearly all Hollywood products, it toes the line on negative racial stereotypes: in this case, the black substance abuser and absent father. In the name of Sydney Poitier, these challenging roles have got to be out there for people of color. But how do we determine if a movie is actually doing justice to its representation of members of a marginalized group? I'm going to share a few rules I've developed to help explain whether or not a character is more than just a stereotype.