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Jack Nolan

Mr. Phillips

Cultural Media Literacy

21 May 2018

Bright: An Allegory For Racial and Social Class Tensions in America

In the film “Bright,” Directed by David Ayer, racial and social class tensions are

displayed through a fantasy world of Orcs, Elves and Faeries. Daryll Ward (Will Smith) and

Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) play two cops in Los Angeles. Jakoby, an Orc and untrusted by his

community of fellow Orcs or policemen, is partnered with Ward. The two are out on patrol and

are thrown into a war over a magic wand that could destroy the world as they know it. The film

is filled with action and violence for those that just want to see a good movie but the film still

manages to make a stance and call out racial and social tensions in America and use the film for

political activism.

Each species of creature, Orc, Human, and Elf, are all an allegorical symbol for the

hierarchy of class and therefore also race. Elves occupy the role of the one percent, Humans and

Orcs represent the the working class but on different levels, humans being on the higher end of

the scale then Orcs (Robinson). Orcs are always displayed in the film as performing low skill

jobs such as street sweepers or street vendors. They are costumed throughout in large, baggy, and

ratty clothes. Orcs also throughout the film are referred to as clans, similar to gangs, having to

perform acts of extreme violence or bravery to become “blooded” (Ayer 1:24:00). This is

supposed to be representative of a black working class with Jakoby breaking the code.
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Throughout the opening credits, which occupies the first 2 minutes of film, much is said

in the street art that is painted on the walls of the buildings. Most of this street art is done by

Orcs, with them as either the subjects of the art or in the low income areas that Orcs are

displayed in living, dealing with the problems of Orc society. One such painting is seen in the

first forty seconds of the film, a tagged wall that reads “In the beginning God created all races

equal” followed by another artists tagging the words “But elves are more equal” (Ayer 0:00:39).

This sort of hits the audience in the face with the fact that this film will deal with race issues. It is

also a sort of play on the Declaration of Independence, and the idea that all men are created equal

and yet African Americans were not treated equally at the time. Another play on a common

phrase appears in the next shot, stating “In Magic we Trust” with the word trust replaced with the

word “Die” in large letters in a different color (Ayer 0:00:46). This is obviously a satirical

comment on “In God We Trust” which is on all forms of American currency, which suggests that

the Orcs do not think the government has their best interests at heart. Lastly is an the image of

the Orcs holding their fists in the air in the Black Power Salute, with a statement above it saying

“Be Yorcself” (Ayer 0:01:01). This solidifies the Orcs in their role as a symbol for Black

Americans and that the Orcs will be oppressed throughout the duration of the film.

Humans in the film are representative of middle to working class people (Robinson) and

believe themselves as higher than that of the Orcs, while still maintaining the social class or are

one rung above them on the social ladder. Much of the cast of humans throughout the film are

people of color, for example Will Smith’s character, as well as Jay Hernandez’s character,

Deputy Rodriguez. This adds an extra level of irony to the film as these characters are blatantly

racist to Edgerton’s character, which makes the racism seem ridiculous (Film). The Orcs believe
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that the Humans are “held up” by the elves to suppress the Orcs (Ayer 0:01:24), similarly to how

some whites believe they are better than African Americans but this is only true because upper

class whites, like our President in his rallies, say they are.

Jakoby, as a character is stuck in these two worlds. He tries to code in with Humans, who

continuously mock him and threaten him, which also results in him being removed from his own

race socially. He is constantly called names such as Pigskin or Roundtooth by both races. He is

also the but of several racially motivated jokes in the workplace; he is asked if an Orc rapist is

his cousin. He doesn’t fit into either group socially. Jakoby confirms this observation at around

1:07:01 when he says “When Orcs see me they see a man… a wannabe human. When people see

me they see an animal” (Ayer). And yet, Ward teaches his daughter to treat all races like they are

people, which they are. He shortly afterward gets called out by her when she says “Don’t tell

Nick to shut up he’s a person too” (Ayer 0:08:11). Because Jakoby has broken the code of his

race, is “unblooded,” and fails to follow “Clan Law” he is created into a social outcast.

The last of the big three races are the Elves. They are representative of the upper one

percent, and have many of the perks of life (Robinson). Throughout the film they are costumed

in high fashion clothing, driving extremely expensive cars and being able to purchase anything

they want like chauffeurs (Ayer). This shows that they hold all the power in the social and racial

hierarchy, and that they control what happens in LA. This is even taken so far as to demonstrate

in the work environment who holds all the power, with the federal elf, who remains unnamed,

who decides if they still have a job, scares both Ward and Jakoby into silence.

While the main intent of the film appears to be to create a cop buddy film between two

unlikely partners, race relations are very clear throughout its entirety. Because the film is a
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fantasy it creates an easier way to attack racism directly (Lago). This creates a easy access to

take a stand on racial issues to an audience that is only expecting a action packed movie. The

underlying message creates a special significance to the film which wasn’t received well

extremely well (see Film) but it did pass the message it was intended to make.
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Works Cited

Ayer, David, director. Bright. Netflix, Netflix, 22 Dec. 2017,

www.netflix.com/watch/80119234?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C0%2C5fe3d65c-a6f0-4

12e-b36c-040b9b114e90-623879%2C%2C.

Bowen, Sesali, and Netflix. “The Weirdest Part Of Netflix's ‘Bright’ Is The Racial Politics.”

Refinery29,

www.refinery29.com/2017/12/186181/netflix-bright-movie-racist-theme-orc-elf-species.

“Film Review | Bright Shines a Light on Race, But Just Not That Brightly.” ​Headstuff​, 22 Dec.

2017, www.headstuff.org/entertainment/film/film-review-bright/.

Lago, Amanda T. “Netflix's Biggest Movie Yet Tackles Racism.” ​Rappler​,

www.rappler.com/entertainment/movies/191859-netflix-bright-racism-tolerance-theme-wil

l-smith-joel-edgerton-david-ayer-noomi-rapace.

Robinson, Chauncey K. “Netflix's ‘Bright’ Tackles Class, Racism, and Police Brutality through

Urban Fantasy.” ​People's World​, 24 July 2017,

www.peoplesworld.org/article/netflixs-bright-tackles-class-racism-and-police-brutality-thr

ough-urban-fantasy/.