Just last week we saw the teaser trailer for Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts, the second Transformers live-action movie not directed by Michael Bay. ROTB director Steven Caple, Jr. even worked on the pilot episode from Transformers: EarthSpark and seemed to leaning more towards the BumbleBee movie, the first live-action movie that a huge part of the fanbase has nice things to say about, and things looked positive. I had some good hopes.
It was also last week that I did a commentary about using representation not for positive representation of minorities but as a mixture of propaganda and a cheap marketing tool, weaponizing the culture war to defend movies that do not give people of color a good showing but you need to support or you will be branded racist…as if black people don’t deserve to have a good movie made about them or there weren’t existing black, Latino, female, and even gay characters to be utilized without altering existing characters because it gets them positive press.
I didn’t think the two articles had any connection. Yes, both the movie and EarthSpark have minority casts but just having minorities doesn’t make a movie propaganda and there have been few people of color outside of white and Japanese in this franchise among the humans. There were black and Latino people, but it has been overwhelmingly white and Japanese…and the Japanese art style is often mistaken for “white” among the surface viewers who can’t take more than five seconds to actually have a clue what they’re talking about.
So now we have Caple and lead actor Anthony Ramos being interviewed by BET, and while it’s not surprising that Black Entertainment Television’s website would want to highlight the number of black people involved in front of and behind the camera, the interview is making a few people wonder if the movie is going to be propaganda or if this is just more cheap marketing. And marketing can hurt a movie or show. Ask the creator of the Netflix series First Kill, who blamed the show’s cancelation on the marketing of the show, focusing more on the lesbian romance between a human and vampire rather on the actual story surrounding the Romana and Juliet story about battling vampires and werewolves and such in which the romance was only subplot instead of main plot as it was marketed. Marketing is important and this interview with BET may not be helping Rise Of The Beasts.
Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts takes place in 90s New York and Peru, with new characters taking center stage with Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback tapped to lead the film. Ramos plays the role of Noah, an ex-military electronics expert who serves as a father figure to his brother, with Fishback playing Elena, an artifact researcher at a museum who wants the best in her life but is held back by her boss, who continues to steal her work.
“He’s all about taking care of the people he loves,” Ramos shared about his character during the Paramount VR showcase.
I’m not bothered by this. One website I looked at noted that one of the problems with the Bay films was the focus on the humans rather than the Transformers. While I think it’s important for the Autobots especially to have human allies if the story takes place on Earth (I wouldn’t mind seeing a future film, prequel or sequel, take place on Cybertron or even some other alien world) the Transformers have been barely part of it. Bumblebee was lucky in that there were only three Transformers outside of some cameos but it still focused on the Transformers as well as the humans. Both is important, but Transformers should be dominating the appearance in their own movie.
“He comes from a lower-income home, so Noah’s always hustling The one thing I love about Noah is his tenacity and his heart, and his will to never quit, in spite of all the crazy things life is throwing at him,” the actor continued. “Then, it’s amazing to see his journey when we venture out into the world when the humans meet bots, and things start to happen.”
If he comes off better than the black characters in Bay’s first Transformers, where the only one that wasn’t annoying was the badass soldier, that could be a good thing. I excuse Skids and Mudflap because they could just be imitating something they saw and thought was part of human culture, plus it was the least of the characters’ problems, but the other characters of color–and let’s be honest, it’s not like the white characters who aren’t Sam and Mikala got off scot free, especially Sam’s mom, and neither did the dogs–were just bad stereotypes. Being a black director he might skirt those issues.
When asked about being a Black director at the helm of a major blockbuster franchise, Caple Jr. expresses it’s been an “emotional” ride.
“You came straight out the gate with that one [laughs] — it’s been an emotional ride,” Caple shared in an interview with BET.com.
“It’s been two years now — Anthony and I talk about having this type of opportunity but also understanding it’s our time. For us to be in this position where we can tell a story about our culture, our people, and see ourselves portrayed on the big screen blending in with these vast genres is special. There are not too many people on the actor or director side to be in this position on this scale and scope, and we’re doing our best to carry this weight. No matter how many times [Anthony] and I look at each other on set, tired and all, we realize we’re able to do something special and for a reason. We created something special, and it feels great to be in this position — super honored and blessed.”
Why are you doing a story about “your culture”? This isn’t a Spike Lee joint (and I do not want to see what he would do with Transformers–being a good director doesn’t mean you’re good at EVERYTHING), it’s about robots (I’m guessing formerly) in a civil war now teaming with other robots to battle a new batch of threatening robots as the Autobots and Maximals wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Terrorcons. It shouldn’t be any more about “black culture” than the other movies were about “white culture”. If you mean that black people will be treated as people and where Noah and Elena came from influences their personality and perspective you may have something there, but that shouldn’t be the focus, which is what BET, if not Caple, Jr’s response, seems to indicate. It’s kind of important and I do wonder how selective the article writer, Ty Cole, is being with what he takes from their interview and the Paramount press junket.
In terms of how the seventh installment will elevate the franchise, Ramos feels the new characters, especially with Black and Brown people in leading roles, will play a factor.
“We have new elements and characters, with Black and Brown people in the lead roles,” he said.
“Things have expanded, and with me being from New York, where the story is set in Brooklyn, this feels like it’s for all my homies in the projects. [Steven] and the creative team allowed us to tell a story in a major franchise like [Transformers] in a part of New York that doesn’t always get highlighted in this kind of way. The series saw Shia LeBeouf and Mark Wahlberg as the lead, and now it’s me. It was Megan Fox, Nicola Peltz, and now Dominique Thorne. This film incorporates the Beast wars, the Terrorcons — it’s going crazy.”
It’s not using the Terrorcons correctly unless he’s using the Transformers Energon version, seeing as G1 Terrorcons were just a Combiner group and they weren’t part of Beast Wars even in Japanese exclusive stuff. Again, we’re focusing on the racial makeup of the cast, which at one point in history wouldn’t have been a big deal and might even been supportive. However we live in a time when minority casting has been part of social pandering and preaching, so to even some black movie audiences making “how black my cast is” a major marketing point already worries that a movie will be “woke” rather than “good”. I’m against pointing this out, but the interview seems focused on that, at least in this article. I’m willing to “blame” BET for that but it’s still something to keep an eye on, if the First Kill showrunner is right in her assessment of why the show didn’t get the desired audience, namely horror fans instead of LGBT romance fans.
I actually think going to New York would be a nice change of pace for the movies, which was focused in California, but given that this movie involved a different take on the Maximals wouldn’t setting this in like the Amazon rain forest or some jungle that isn’t made of concrete be the better way to go? Admittedly I probably would focus on Connecticut since that’s where I live while Bay is trapped in Hollywood and Caple is New York born, but this isn’t the kind of story that should take place in “the hood”, especially if he’s going to continue the treatment of the Autobots from the Bay movies.
“The movie takes place in the 90s when the album Ready Or Die was released, so that’s why [“Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G.] was the perfect record to choose. His voice and what he meant in that era and time captures much of what we’re doing in the film. Fishback, who originally is from Brooklyn — her character and Ramos’s character have a lot of big dreams and hit glass ceilings but ultimately become the heroes saving the world discreetly as that’s how the Transformer laws are. You have these average folks transforming into something huge and special we didn’t know existed, so the record was a right move — it was our anthem on set, so we played Biggie or Anthony was singing [The Temptations, which according to my spellcheck BET EDITORS DIDN’T CATCH THE MISSPELLING OF? I’m a two-bit blog written by one white dude and I didn’t even need spellcheck to point out that “Tempations” was spelled wrong in the article.].”
Wait, so this is another prequel to the first movie, like Bumblebee? Or is this a new continuity now apart from the Bay movies but still has the Decepticons defeated, Optimus still voiced by Peter Cullen…oh, please tell me Bumblebee gets his voice box back! I’ll accept Da Bee no longer being a small car, as much as I wish he’d return to the VW Beetle, if you allow him to talk, and finally allow Mark Ryan more than two lines of dialog and a Walmart exclusive motion comic adapting the IDW prequel comic that came with the DVD of the first movie. I am so sick of the radio gag! Meanwhile now we’re confusing the timeline.
When asked who they would love to see appear in a future Transformers film, Caple Jr. shares he would love to have Mahershala Ali voice one of the characters.
“While we have many surprises that we haven’t shared yet, and we have a strong dream cast, Mahershala Ali has a great voice and is on my bucket list of actors to work with. He has the tone of a strong voice actor, but there are so many people, and we’re still casting. We have Peter Dinklage from Game Of Thrones in the film, and he’s killing it. We have a lot of names we haven’t announced yet that are in the movie.”
Of course no professional voice actors. Caple, Jr. seems to still be locked in the Hollywood system, New York origins or not. Looking at the current character list you have David Sobolov, Ron Perlman, and John DiMaggio as actors who have done voice work but because they’ve also done Hollywood-approved not-cartoons I guess they were allowed in.
In response to which Transformer robot brings the heat in the upcoming film, Caple Jr. shares Pete Davidson’s character Mirage “brings the heat,” and fans will want to see more of the Autobot spy in future movies with Ramos sharing Liza Koshy’s character Arcee is “pretty badass.”
Mirage being a character he brought in, and please do not infect him with pet character syndrome, making him awesome simply because you created this version of Mirage. Meanwhile Koshy is replacing existing Movieverse Arcee voice acting veteran Grey Griffin. At least Koshy does have some voice acting credits but could this be because Griffin is white and Koshy is black or was Griffin honestly unavailable? That would be odd given that the voice acting cast isn’t all black. Dinklage, Perlman, and Sobolov are white and while Cullen was probably a nostalgic given it’s not like Caple went to nostalgia or we’d have Susan Blu as Arcee, or at least Garry Chalk as Primal to go along with Cullen’s Prime, which would have made fans ecstatic!
So is this line of marketing BET’s doing or actually how we’re going to push this? If they are setting up the “racist” defense it already makes one question the movie. If not, then you risk the same mistake that ruined First Kill. I’m not saying to ignore the black people involved or to not celebrate their participation. I’m saying don’t make this the primary way to market the movie. Fans of all races want to know about the story, the characters, and whether or not the “Transwarp Key” that’s been in the toy solicits is another “Matrix Of Leadership” name misuse or at least something more than a cheap McGuffin that will only important for ten seconds. In this time when the racial make-up of the creators and social pandering seem more important than the characters, plot, and stories–and throw in special effects for a movie like this, as the teaser is only going with what’s been done so far (I hope)–you need to convince the fans who grew up with Transformers and Beast Wars that they’re going to see something they love represented well without being enslaved to it to lose casual fans and general audiences. This interview is not helpful to the marketing.