[Stitch Elsewhere] “Bright” Review @ Strange Horizons


Bright’s entire premise is weak and so’s its reliance on an allegory for racism that fuels its major plot points. In Los Angeles, Orcs are at the bottom of the metaphorical food chain, with many members of the species ostracized and subjugated by humans and elves alike. (While there are other supernatural beings around in one-off scenes, they largely don’t figure into Bright’s black and white worldbuilding.) Orcs in LA, who are largely coded as analogous to Black people via clothing, imagery, and behavior, are collectively being punished for choosing the wrong side in a war two thousand years before the film began. Other characters—such as Ike Barinholtz’s Pollard—use the fact that their ancestors slaughtered and were slaughtered by Orcs in Europe during that war as an excuse for their anger.

At no point does Bright actually combat the racism inherent in the assumption that a race deserves to be oppressed for the “crimes” of its past members. In Los Angeles at least, as mentioned above (we only know about the treatment of Orcs there and in Miami, apparently the only places writer Max Landis has ever heard of), Orcs are second-class citizens who live in poor neighborhoods away from humans. Relationships—of any kind—between humans and Orcs are viewed as offensive, and Will Smith’s Daryl Ward is harassed by (white) police officers whom he worked with over having an Orc as his partner (even though Ward has never asked for a partner and other humans refused to work with Ward for reasons that aren’t explained).

Look, I’m not saying that I’m an urban fantasy expert or anything like that, but I know quality work in the genre when I see them. And Bright isn’t one. Bright takes some of the worst tropes in the buddy cop and urban fantasy genres, adds a stinking heap of a racism allegory, and then serves it up as an attempt at being subversive and cool. (Also, Max Landis is a mediocre writer at best and Bright is not his best. Also also: I hate him.)

If you like my Urban Fantasy 101 article series, check out my review of Bright: a film that basically doesn’t do many things (anything?) right at all. Urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres because of the sheer potential present in the genre. You can do anything within it. So why did Bright choose to regurgitate tired tropes and muddle the message of its own worldbuilding?

You can check out my review of Bright @ Strange Horizons!