Tehama Lopez

The Real Minority Report

Just seconds before buying our tickets, two friends and I made a much-debated decision to see Steven Spielberg's latest film, Minority Report, over The Bourne Identity. The Tom Cruise-Spielberg duo seemed like a no-brainer, and I had faith I wouldn't be suckered into yet another fast-paced flick of overwhelming special effects and a merely decent plot.

In fact, it turned out the plot was excellent, the acting high caliber, and yes, the special effects were very good. But, I left with one question in mind:

Where were the minorities?

Set in a bustling Washington, D.C. circa 2054, the film focuses on a futuristic police department's Precrime Unit, which, thanks to the powers of three gifted psychics, prevents acts of murder before they occur -- by arresting people for violent thoughts.

Spielberg and crew achieved a fine balance of stretching the rubber band of my imagination, just short of snapping it, by delving into a world of infringed privacy rooted in an out-of-control consumer culture and a growing police state (not such a far cry from today's post-9/11 America).

But, who did the research for this film? They did enough to convince me of eye-scanning security clearance and air-transport devices. But didn't I read a million news articles that the U.S. Census predicts the Anglo-American population will be the minority by 2050?

Where was the dominant population of the future?

The overwhelming majority of the film's consequential cast is white. Spielberg delivers a white pioneer and a white hero, a series of white Precrime victims/survivors and a slew of white supportive characters. If we believe this portrayal, Washington D.C. in the year 2054 is a white man's land.

Never mind the future, the white national capital Spielberg creates isn't even accurate by today's demographics. Although the U.S. Congress is over-representative of the white populace, the city of D.C. is decidedly black -- in this, the year 2002. And, like the rest of the U.S., the city will become increasingly diverse -- quite the opposite of the Aryan bastion depicted in the film.

In a city infamous for its high rate of black-on-black crime, I didn't see a single scene with Precrime officers working to save a black person's life. There are, after all and unfortunately, more murders in the black community of Washington, D.C. than any other demographic group in the vicinity. While there was one short cameo of a couple of African-Americans bearing testimony to the benefits of the clairvoyant crime unit, it seemed their token stories were just thrown in for good measure.

Spielberg either cast a white man's film because he was aiming to create a 2002 summer blockbuster for a majority white audience or because he's oblivious to the necessity of inclusion of people of color.

Maybe he feared the prominence of ethnic diversity would trump the actual plot of the film, that somehow a noticeable representation of our heterogeneous country might be interpreted as its own free-standing statement. Maybe he is still recovering from the box office failure of Amistad, where the American public made it quite clear the history of this slave ship and her mutiny (despite the reputable cast and crew involved in the film) were not worthy of their time, attention or entertainment dollars.

Whatever the excuse for casting, the resulting message remains offensive: The U.S. of the future relegates people of color to the margins and into obscurity.

It's apparent that even as our nation's most fantastic minds are open to inventions and realities yet to be manifested, the canvas of choice on which they paint remains white. Whiteness is our mainstream, our standard and our expectation.

Has it ever occurred to my Caucasian brothers and sisters out there how terribly surreal it would be to see the future U.S.A. represented and not see people who share similar physical characteristics? If half of my family were not Mexican-American, I'm not sure I would have noticed the unbearable whiteness of Spielberg's 2054 America.

If, as people of color and conscience, we do not see ourselves embedded in a multi-faceted community, we will continue to be confined to looking into a multimedia mirror smeared with stereotypes and limitations.

To watch re-runs on Nick at Nite and see no record of brown, caramel and tan faces is to have no record of our existence. We might very well forget there were Chinese, Puerto Rican or African-American communities living in the nation when Marcia Brady was getting hit in the nose with a football, or while Wally Cleaver (no relation to Eldridge) was fighting for adolescent independence from his cookie-cutter parents.

The media has largely ignored what we have accomplished in the past. And, now, to imagine our future absent of the same account, without the same footprint in time, is to say we -- and others -- don't see room for us in the future. The present is our vehicle for change.

Drivers wanted.

Tehama Lopez is the community affairs assistant for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She will begin graduate study in political science at the University of Chicago in the fall.

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