Happy Sunday MMT Fam! I’m really going to limit my thoughts on the new David Yates (Harry Potter) directed film THE LEGEND OF TARZAN because you read part of them last week with “Free State of Jones.” Now, the former doesn’t equally line-up with some of my critique of the latter – being as though it’s fictional – but bear with me and you’ll see how I ended up at pretty much the same place.
But first, here’s how the synopsis reads for the movie,
“It’s been nearly a decade since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), also known as John Clayton III, left Africa to live in Victorian England with his wife Jane. Danger lurks on the horizon as Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a treacherous envoy for King Leopold, devises a scheme that lures the couple to the Congo. Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds. When Jane becomes a pawn in his devious plot, Tarzan must return to the jungle to save the woman he loves.”
So my friend, and MMT contributor, Darryl joined me at last week’s Philly screening at the Kimmel Center. We both pretty much started out with similar thoughts – considering we remember the Tarzan films and TV shows of old – and had a “meh” attitude going into the viewing. However, I was entertained by the CGI, the love story (I’m a romantic at heart) and the fact that this Tarzan really wasn’t the infallible white king of the jungle like the former shows – and needed all the help his behind could get, animals included, and got his arse kicked a few good times in the film.
Now if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you know I made jokes (they really weren’t) that if I saw this Tarzan I’d be rooting for the apes. And I did, as I did for all of the beautifully crafted CGI animal images in this movie – which were visually stunning on-screen.
After watching an interview of Christoph Walz, who plays real life villain Leon Rom in the film, I learned that the movie was shot on massive sound stages at Warner Bros.’ Leavesden studio, yes the train track (built exclusively for Tarzan) scenes included, and it looks amazingly impressive on the big screen as well.
And at the mention of Walz is where things start to go left for me, because it is here that I insert my frustration (mostly) with Samuel Jackson’s character George Washington Williams – also a real-life historical figure.
To be honest, I wasn’t knowledgeable about either the heinous acts of Leon Rom, or the courageous and benevolent acts of George Washington Williams before screening the film, and was upset to find about their insertion into a fictional fantasy/adventure afterwards.
Both Jackson, and director Yates, have been vocal about this not being the Tarzan of old, and how it fictionally centers around the actual atrocities committed by Belgium in the Congo. But, the actual skinny is that the real George Washington Williams exposed those acts without the help of a tree-swinging, ape-raised Tarzan.
In the comments section of my “Free State of Jones” post, I mentioned my biggest beef with the standard Hollywood point-of-view of telling historical stories of African-Americans, especially where any mention of slavery is concerned. A white savior character almost always is inserted. On top of that, we are in 2016 and most school children still are not being taught about various historical African-American heroes – who deserve their stories shared without the use of a fabricated storyline.
My overall take is, “The Legend of Tarzan” is a case of the “too soon.” I don’t think there is space, nor luxury, for this film to include a character like George Washington Williams. And I certainly don’t think African slave stories have had an equal representation, from the black POV, in Hollywood to compensate – especially for an imagined narrative like this.
I know some of you may wholeheartedly disagree but for me, until we have adequate representation of the aforementioned, that is not watered down and doesn’t require a white lead, I’m over it.