“Bright”: New Netflix film has standard neoliberal politics
Joel Edgerton and Will Smith in "Bright."

The Netflix original film Bright was released December 22, 2017, to a plethora of mixed reviews. Boasting a star-studded leading pair of Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, the “buddy cop” drama is an attempt at creating social discourse around the country’s current state of political affairs through a fantasy lens. Bright writer Max Landis takes advantage of the increasing popularity of fantasy genres, but the overall theme misses the mark on a number of different levels.

For starters, the allegorical symbolism fails to expand on the nuances of racial hegemony in the U.S. The plot focuses on a universe where racism is seemingly replaced by a type of “speciesism”—and Orcs are at the bottom of the totem pole. Orcs in the series represent black and brown populations that battle ongoing gang violence in their communities, and often clash with police. The Elves are the upper class: Navigating society with a sense of privilege, they represent the one percent that run things, while remaining distant from the rest of the population.

This is where things fall flat for Bright. Director David Ayer depicts Orcs as forced tropes, dismissing possibilities for discussions surrounding intersectionality. Every single Orc character is type-cast into a thug, gangbanger, or service worker, an emblematic reflection of the characteristically liberal misunderstanding of racial and class struggles.

One might argue that the forced pigeonholing is meant to represent how society views black and brown people, but this is never confronted. The film lacks nuance in its understanding of the linked and overlapping facets of race and class. The one exception to this archetype is the main “hero” cop, Nick Jakoby, who is humanized in his character development and personal growth. However, he is not only shunned by humans as the first Orc cop on the force, but his own Orc brethren have “disowned” him for taking the side of the enemy, serving on the human-dominated police force.

Viewers are supposed to feel bad for the protagonist, as he is depicted as an extremely docile and humble Orc who, being “unblooded,” aspires to the utmost sense of human respectability. Yet I can’t find it in my right mind to empathize with a protagonist who literally states, “This badge means more to me than the air I breathe.” Cue eye roll for the “Blue Lives Matter” rhetoric.

In order to properly address the tension between Orc communities and police forces, one would have to adequately examine the vast history of systemic violence that took place in the magical war centuries beforehand. Bright doesn’t give Orc characters that benefit, but simply takes the easy route of making them out to be morally inept. What makes it worse is that the only Orc who is actually awarded humanity is a cop, and ultimately presented as a messiah. The film reeks of neoliberal respectability,

On the flip side, the movie has its entertaining moments. The fight sequences were at least visually appealing and the general action was entertaining enough to follow along with. The conceptualization of the Bright universe also inspires curiosity with the world and its history: Who was involved in this previous magical war? Who is the Dark Lord? What did each side stand to lose? Also, petty observation: Why are centaurs allowed to be cops?? The missing pieces of the storyline predictably call out for a prequel.

All in all, Bright made a valiant effort and fell fantastically short of its goal. The end of the film leaves the viewer with more questions unanswered than anything else. The concept is intriguing, but the execution comes off as artistic coasting in the current Trump-ignited political climate.

At its root, Bright is masturbatory neoliberalism. It perpetuates the dangerous notions of pro-cop propaganda, and enables false stereotypes of marginalized communities. It oversimplifies class and race in a way that only furthers the narrative of justified violence at the hands of the police.

The movie would have fared better as a mini-series, where it would have had the time to actually flesh out its writing and character development. Rumor has it, however, that indeed Netflix’s 90 million dollar film is set to get a sequel. Maybe with a second film in the franchise, Ayer will address some of the more convoluted magical elements, such as the clichéd wand that gives the user infinite power.

Regardless of the mixed response, Bright certainly has people talking, and that  is itself worthy of recognition.

2 out of 5 stars.

The trailer can be viewed here.


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.