Lack of Representation in Tim Burton Films

 

 

 

 

 

Every year in October, I find myself watching a lot of Tim Burton movies to get into the Halloween spirit. I’ve always loved their creativity and eerie nature, but recently, along with many others, I have begun to notice the lack of diversity in the characters being portrayed. This lack of representation is present in both his live action and animated films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990), Corpse Bride (2005), Frankenweenie (2012), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) just to name a few. For a while this seemed to go unnoticed, but with the recent push for diversity in Hollywood, Burton’s films have started to become more scrutinized.

 

Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Barron in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

 

Burton has made upwards of 25 movies now, and the only non-white actor in any major role is Samuel L. Jackson who plays the villain in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which isn’t exactly a victory. The first time a Tim Burton movie has a black character, and he is absolutely evil. Yikes. In a 2016 interview with Bustle on the subject of why there is no diversity in his movies, Burton stated “Things either call for things or they don’t,” which is about the weakest and least articulate defense possible. Essentially, Burton recognizes his complete lack of diversity, but doesn’t plan on doing anything about it. It is not as though he is unaware of the problem, but rather he is making the conscious decision to only cast white people, and his only defense on the matter is basically the equivalent of “because I just feel like it.”

 

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd on the streets of Sweeney Todd’s fictional London

 

One could try to make the argument that many of Burton’s films take place in areas like Victorian London where it wouldn’t be historically accurate to include a racially diverse cast, but seeing as Burton’s films never even approach the idea of being normal or realistic, once again this would be a pretty weak response. If a man can have scissors for hands, Victorian London can have a diverse population. Since Burton’s films include themes of people being different or outcasts, it seems odd to have a cast of people that all look exactly the same.

 

More diversity in Hollywood starts with the people making the films, and people like Tim Burton are slowing down the process of incorporating more cultural representation into the media. It is one thing to not realize that what you are producing lacks diversity, but it is so much worse to be aware of what you are doing and not see a problem with it. I’m sure there are plenty of other directors and producers who share Burton’s mind set. Nothing is going to change unless the people with power in the film industry become aware of the need for diversity, and actually start caring.

11 Replies to “Lack of Representation in Tim Burton Films”

  1. Wow, this was a very interning topic I’ve never heard about. I never really noticed the lack of diversity among Tim Burton’s film until now, and I see it. It quite surprised me that the reason that he consciously cast white people mainly because “he feels like it” really shows what kind of film maker he is. And honestly, it is quite off-putting that he said something equivalent to that. You also make a great argument against not have racially diverse character among a certain time period and can have a person with hands then you can definitely have racial diversity. I also find it insane that among the 25 movies Tim Burton has made there’s been one one lead POC character and that character is a villain.

  2. I’m kind of amazed that I’ve never really thought about the lack of diversity in Burton’s films considering that I love a lot his work and watch a few of his films annually. I think that much of this has to do with the fact that I generally only watch his animated work where many of his characters aren’t even human. I guess as a result of this I haven’t questioned much about the worlds that these characters live in, for example Corpse’s Bride or Frankenweenie that take place predominantly (only) white places. I’m pretty surprised by the transparency of his “defense” and his decision to continue the lack of representation despite calls for progress. I have a feeling that this is due in large part to his success and the status he has in the film industry. He knows that he doesn’t necessarily need to appease viewers with a diverse cast because his films without one have done so well.

  3. Wow…Not only did I never think about the lack of diversity in Tim Burton’s films but I also never really expected it from him as a director. Why? I guess I have become conditioned in that sense by Hollywood to not have the expectations of being represented or seeing diversity in new films (unless depicting a story from a minority perspective). Sadly, it’s a thought that crosses my mind only after the fact. You wanna know what’s the worst part. In the same breathe that Burton says “things either calls for things or they don’t” he decides to make the call of making Samuel L Jackson the villain in his film. What does that say about his perspective? Hmm..

  4. The way I see it, Tim Burton’s movies all star the same exact character, more or less. From Edward Scissorhands to Victor Frankenstein, they all kind of resemble Burton himself and act in the same quiet, edgy, melancholic way. You could argue that he is being narcissistic, telling stories that only he can relate to. I see him as an introvert who doesn’t know where to begin to tell stories from another’s perspective. Diversifying his protagonists would definitely make his films less redundant and more relatable. As a side note, I don’t think a diverse Victorian England could coexist with a man with scissors for hands, considering people noticed Edward for being different and ostracized him because of it. But who knows, I don’t.

  5. I’ve never noticed the lack of diversity in Tim Burton’s films, but it’s glaringly obvious now that you’ve pointed it out. I think Burton’s attitude is a reflection of his ego, with the successes of his films making him believe that he’s above all real criticism. His works have been inspiring for so many people, and it sucks that a man who’s practically created his own genre of animation has such an indifferent attitude towards diversity. I think it’s also interesting to note that Burton’s protagonists are usually characters who feel or are ostracized from the rest of society, a story that has absolutely noooooo racial or ethnic boundaries.

  6. I loved most of Tim Burton’s films and I sadly did not think about the lack of diversity in them but now that I read this blog post it is comically obvious. I just always remembered being like ” everything in Tim Burton’s movies don’t really have a lot of color in them, which included the people.”Saying that he won’t hire people of color cause it’s his esthetic and doesn’t really call for people of color is just a really sad excuse. I think Tim Burtons is very creative and it really stinks how he doesn’t care about the diversity in his films.

  7. I find this topic super interesting. I never noticed how Burton films lacked so much diversity and it is painful to notice this as a minority. As someone as talented as Tim Burton is, it is very disappointing that he wouldn’t take matters into his own hands, being as successful as he is. I personally feel that change is very much needed and it should start at the top of the entertainment food chain. If big Hollywood directors are willing to make the push forward, many will follow in their footsteps. Unfortunately, Hollywood is very White-focused in my opinion and change is just starting to really hit the spotlight. With our generation about to enter the workforce, I do believe that a lot of diversity will come.

  8. As it’s been mentioned (and because it’s very apparently obvious at watching any of his films), Tim Burton’s works are very much for aesthetic appeal, and a very specific aesthetic appeal. Fitting what I like to call the “Manic Hot Topic Dream Girl” of film aesthetics, Burton often has the same angsty but somehow redeemable male lead, and the quirky “I’m not like other girls!” female love interest with a two dimensional personality and a devotion to her male counterpart, with the same “edgy” twist on it each time. Having been a fan of his at a young age, I quickly came to realize his incredibly sexist storytelling, and from there his lack of any kind of diversity, including in casting, became obvious. Your points are all incredibly salient, and in my attempt to avoid his cookie-cutter “dark” films, I failed to notice just how stark his POC to white character count was. Burton tends to stick to blockbuster names (i.e. Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, etc.), and so it really isn’t that surprising that with such a disregard for diversity and a clear dismissal of multi-dimmensional storytelling, he would select from the cream of the crop popular white actors for his roles (those that are “weird” celebrities, anyhow. All about that aesthetic, Burton). And that’s without even getting started on the problematic nature of continually casting actors known publicly for domestic abuse. All in all, your post was illuminating in that it shed light onto a figure already so problematic, but still applauded by society for his work. Isn’t it great that Disney hired him to do his classic Burton edgy filmmaking for their remakes? It’s such an incredible problem that we as an audience keep applauding his problematic films.

  9. It’s really astounding that I’ve seen so many Tim Burton films and enjoyed them and have not even realized how lacking they are when it comes to representation. I’d probably attribute this to as a kid being desensitized to how little racial variety there was in the content I watched. It was not until I was older that I realized the detrimental effects that this could have and did have on me as a kid but at the time itself, I just had assumed that American media would mostly have Caucasian American people in it (another issue to get into).

  10. I honestly agree so hard with everything Eva commented. I actually stopped watching his films because it felt like a waste of money to keep paying for tickets to… the same exact movie. They’re beautiful, sure, but so are a lot of other movies that have much more interesting characters and diverse storylines. That said, he’s free to make whatever movies he wants. It’s up to us, the audience, to support films that more closely resemble what we want to see. So while it’s not great that his movies only have white characters (obviously), it’s up to us to put our money where our mouths are and see more diverse films.

  11. Tim Burton’s response absolutely shocked me, and it goes to show what major directors are thinking when it comes to diversifying their characters. As someone who has been a fan a Tim Burton films for most of her life, it makes me sad to think that he doesn’t care about the issue enough to do something about it. Especially considering the fact that his films aim to be different and break norms; it makes you wonder why he can’t do the same race and casting. The excuse that the only actors suitable for certain roles just happen to be white is a very weak one, and I can only imagine how much better Burton’s films could be if he widened his view to talented actors of all races.

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