For the past few years, Netflix has been on a roll with the original content. Though at first Netflix was only known as a DVD rental site and then a TV streaming site, its forays into original content are now probably what it’s most known for. Shows like Voltron: Legendary Defender, Sense8, and the various Marvel Defenders series have all garnered (mostly) high praise, and with them to jump off of, it’s no surprise that Netflix quickly went from original TV shows to original movies as well. At the end of this year, Netflix is releasing Bright, a fantasy cop drama with A-list actors that looks to be Netflix’s bid at its next famous property. The trailer looks good, but I’m afraid it may raise more questions than it answers.
Bright stars Will Smith as Daryl Ward, a human cop in a fantasy LAPD. He and his orc partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), are on patrol one day when they discover a strange elf woman with a magical wand, which everyone wants and which looks to be capable of anything the plot requires. Jakoby calls it “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes”—it can make you taller, shorter, give you ten million dollars, etc. Mysterious forces that we don’t yet understand are after the wand, and whatever happens next, as these stories go, should be earth-changing.
On the surface, Bright looks really cool. I’ve always been a fan of urban fantasy, and a gritty cop drama that’s also a fantastical adventure sounds like a great blend of genres. (Also, sign me up for anything with Will Smith in the lead role.) However, Bright seems to want to cover so many different topics that I can’t help but feel that it’ll only touch slightly on each one. Foremost amongst these is Bright’s diversity theme. Nick Jakoby is the first orc hire by the LAPD, and he and Ward, who seems casually racist towards fantasy races, are eventually going to have to deal with some of these biases. The LAPD is full of humans of various ethnicities, which is great, but Edgerton himself is white, and I’m vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of a bunch of characters of color being fantasy racist at a white actor, in some kind of weird fantasy reverse racism. Aside from Netflix wanting to cast Joel Edgerton in something, I don’t know why they didn’t cast a person of color in the role of orc partner. And according to this Polygon article, the movie will go further into issues of class—elves are the one percent, humans are the middle class, and orcs are the lower class, making Jakoby in essence the discriminated-against white poor rather than a less-represented minority group.
These are difficult issues to tackle at the best of times, and I don’t know how much time Bright will really have to go into this once the magic wand comes into the story. Even though it’s not at once clear from the trailer what the meat of the plot is, we know that Ward and Jakoby will be thrown together on a mission to secure this potential magic MacGuffin and stop its creator from using it, and it can obviously be inferred that they’ll eventually learn to get along. But because it’s set up this fantasy world in a classist, racist way that deliberately echoes our real world, it would be irresponsible of Bright to not address these issues in an intersectional and nuanced way. It just doesn’t seem like Bright has room to be that kind of movie once the fantasy adventure plot sets in.
Still, even if Bright is something of a disappointment on the issues side of things, it looks like it will be an exciting, visually fascinating movie, and how many times have you been able to say that you’re watching a movie in the fantasy cop drama genre? I’m cautiously looking forward to watching it when it comes out on Netflix this December 22nd.