Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Paddington: The problem of all-white casts

Paul King’s Paddington has been widely praised for adapting the story of the famous Peruvian bear looking for a home in London into a contemporary immigrant-fearing British society - but is the film quite as inclusive as it at first seems?

The Brown family are initially reluctant to adopt Paddington, with the household father particularly suspicious of his unkempt manners and exotic marmalade-based diet, but gradually come to accept him as one of their own. The message is clear: contrary to UKIP’s fear-mongering, decent Brits warmly welcome strangers into their hearts, even if they are 3’6’’, wear ill-fitting hats and possess an awkward knack for knocking things over.

But despite this well-meaning intention, the film subscribes to the problematic view that social issues can be solved by the charitable discretion of the wealthy. The affluent Brown family decide to let him stay as the alternative - an ‘institution’, mentioned with a shudder down the spine - is so awful. The implication being that state welfare is ineffective, and better left for noble-minded individuals like themselves to resolve.  

This social conservatism is consistent with the film’s quaint, sanitised depiction of London, where friendly posh eccentrics abide and anyone with a cockney accent is not to be trusted. Ethnic minorities are consigned to the background, and even Paddington, despite himself being an immigrant, speaks in a refined British accent without a hint of foreign dialect.   

Such lack of diversity is characteristic of British film and television, and is in urgent need of addressing. At present, only 5% of those working in the creative industries are Black, Asian or of an ethnic minority, despite representing 12.5% of the UK population.With an all-white main cast Paddington is no exception, and is perhaps more culpable for celebrating the virtues of ethnic diversity while hypocritically not making room for a single non-white face in its main cast. When even a supposedly liberal-minded film fails to do this, it's clear that British film and television are a long way off sincerely embracing multiculturalism.


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