Facts Are for Chumps, Amirite?

Race in casting is an issue I care deeply about. I’ve written about it, more than once. I’ve assigned Racebending to my university students. I discuss issues of race in screenwriting, casting, and directing with my film students over and over. This issue is close to my heart.

So when I saw this, I was excited:

It’s part of a website entitled “Me + You,” which serves as both a promotional site for the film and a fundraising site for the production. I clicked on the video with high expectations.

In it, actor Iyin Landre discusses how difficult it is for Asian actors to get roles that aren’t stereotypical, minimizing, or marginalizing. Amen, sister. Then she goes on to make three statements that are so obviously wrong that I started to re-evaluate my entire experience of the video. Was this satire? Is this a Sarah Silverman-style joke? Is this bait– see how many people fall for it and then reveal that we’ve all been punked? In under five minutes I went from “I’m trumpeting this from the hilltops” to “I better not in case this is some kind of Joaquin Phoenix project.”

If you haven’t already watched the video, here’s what made me start to question it:

1. Playing a lab tech: “The results are back. He’s a B plus. He’s not a match.”

2. “1935 was when Teddy Roosevelt was president.”

3. “1935 was when we still had black and white TVs.”

Imagine this is me. But with more hair. And female. And with, like, seven more question marks.

Imagine this is me. But with more hair. And female. And with, like, seven more question marks.

It’s impossible to believe that no one working on that video knows that a blood type is “B positive,” not “B plus.” Isn’t she complaining, AND RIGHTLY SO, about having to play lab technicians over and over? But she doesn’t know how you say a blood type? That can’t be right. And not one single person working on the project knew that in 1935 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, Teddy Roosevelt was dead, and that almost no one in the US had a television until after WW2?

T.R., October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919. One of the most interesting presidents we've ever had.

T.R., October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919. One of the most interesting presidents we’ve ever had.

Yes, technically there were a handful of black and white televisions in existence in 1935, but it was well before the average American family included television as part of its life. This was still firmly the era of radio.

Families gathered around radios to listen to FDR's fireside chats. FDR was president 1933 - 1945.

Families gathered around radios to listen to FDR’s fireside chats. FDR was president 1933 – 1945.

Even giving her that one on a technicality (I am the soul of generosity) the level of inaccuracy put the whole video into question for me. Once I satisfied myself that it’s not some kind of poor taste satire, I had to conclude these are real, and really glaringly obvious, errors. If you can’t be arsed to factcheck your own money beg, why would anyone expect you to be able to successfully produce a film? Film production requires the ability to manage an enormous amount of detail with both speed and accuracy.

And yet her film is fully funded. While I applaud the concept of funding a film (or an ANYTHING) with an Asian American protagonist, I had to wonder: Why did no one seem to care about those glaring inaccuracies? I’d love to say that it’s because a film starring a person of color trumps other considerations.  I’m still holding out the hope that donors said to themselves, “OK, her work is clearly going to be a little sloppy based on her disinterest in factchecking, and maybe she’s not the smartest person in the world, but FUCK IT. I’m sick of Asian actors being marginalized in Hollywood and I’m going to do something about it.”

BTW, There are a ton of projects on indiegogo and kickstarter starring people of color, and/or produced by people of color that have not met their funding goals. I found these in just a few minutes: My Manz, But Not for MeInnaI Just Wanna BallIn the Mind of a Man-WomanMad Black MenFor a Dark Skin Girl, Roxe15. There are plenty more.

Whether a filmmaker knows anything about blood types or the history of her own nation, or whether she has any attention to detail, are minor issues, and exceptionally so in comparison to the larger goal of Asian representation in visual narrative art. But these painfully glaring errors nagged at me for DAYS. I spent hours and hours trying to sort out why it bothered me so much. And then I figured it out.

Factual accuracy is dead. No one has even a single, tiny, trembling and lonely fuck to give about factual accuracy. The fact that Iyin Landre had no interest in making sure the words that came out of her mouth were accurate (checking who was president in 1935 takes less than four seconds on google) is not important to most people, not because of the massively MORE important issue of Asian representation but because NO ONE CARES.

No_one_cares

Why is that? When did we decide, as a culture, that facts mattered so little that we don’t need to bother factchecking? When did we decide that facts are just decorative?

The result is devastating: Deniers. The pure anti-science nonsense that is the anti-vaccine movement is causing real damage to real people, many of them children (see also this), but deniers who have little respect for rigorous factchecking see a random website quoting unqualified sources as equivalent to the entirety of the scientific community. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s obvious lies were discussed so often that Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse publicly stated, “We will not let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Deniers consider a few fringe opinions about climate change to be equivalent, again, to the bulk of the entire scientific community. There are people who deny the moon landing, the Holocaust, and President Obama’s American citizenship regardless of the avalanche of factual information proving them all. Deniers are the footsoldiers of the aggressively ignorant.

I don’t know if we’ve ever cared about facts, to be honest. The mendacity of the current GOP and its media lapdogs is part of a grand tradition in the US of yellow journalism, not some new occurrence, and we have no lock as a culture or as an era on ignorance by any means. But it bothers me. It’s truly upsetting that people just do not care. It’s troubling that people cannot (or will not) evaluate sources, or understand that they’re believing an unqualified source over a qualified one simply because the bullshit source is telling them what they want to hear. I tell my students all the time: Being educated means asking yourself every day, “Why do I believe what I believe?”

See? Question your beliefs about EVERYTHING.

See? Question your beliefs about EVERYTHING.

Listen, I want to be right as much as the next nerd. I want to be right so much that I’m willing to be wrong now in order to be right later. If I find out that something I believe to be true is incorrect, I will kick it to the curb with gleeful alacrity. I’m wrong all the time, and I want to be right. So I *try* to be right. I try really fucking hard. I factcheck. I listen to people who know more than I do. I worry about fucking up. And I don’t understand why everyone isn’t filled with anxiety about this issue. But they’re not, and I’m endlessly fascinated and disturbed by it.

Another person who wasn't president in 1935.

Another person who wasn’t president in 1935.

I have no idea whether Iyin Landre’s film will be “good” (whatever that means) or not. For all I know, it’ll be the greatest film ever created. And one thing I know with rock-solid certainty is that opportunities for Asian actors in the film industry, while marginally better than they once were, are still alarmingly bleak, and any project with an Asian woman at the center who isn’t wearing a lab coat or working as a prostitute is a fucking breath of fresh air. So overall, I’m glad her film got funded, and I wish the projects above could meet their funding goals as well. (BTW, check out Hero Mars as well.)

But this idea that factual accuracy isn’t important, and its corollary idea– that the only sources that can be trusted are the ones that confirm your own prejudices– need to be questioned EVERY TIME WE SEE THEM. We need to start teaching the importance of factual accuracy, separating fact from opinion, and understanding the difference between a reputable source (all of science) and a disreputable source (Jenny McCarthy).

Just-the-Facts1

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5 thoughts on “Facts Are for Chumps, Amirite?

  1. Tim says:

    “If you don’t know who said a quote, tell people Benjamin Franklin said it. They will believe you, and think you are smart.” -Benjamin Franklin

  2. You’re so right about this… I see the erosion of factuality in school, where students are scared to even look at Wikipedia but they’ll trust something they see on Tumblr… Training them to be fact-checkers and discriminate between sources is an uphill battle by 6th grade…
    On another note, I would not have/will not fund a project that has such glaring errors. People asking me for money need to care enough to be accurate, grammatical, and courteous…

  3. ken howard says:

    well, Melissa, this is a terrific article and speaks to so many of the “problems” with the ignorant communication skills of so many people these days that set my teeth on edge. And that doesn’t even mention like, y’know, the people who, like, don’t know the difference, like, y’know, between its and it’s … y’know? But I have to take issue with one of your assumptions and presumptive, non-linguistic statements. I am one of that constantly jeered at group slanderously called “deniers” when it comes to global warming. I think it is a huger mistake than most people, who mostly or only get their information from the popular press, can even imagine. And even tho one of the prime global warming scientists has raised questions about it (see the NYTimes – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/26/opinion/a-pause-not-an-end-to-warming.html?pagewanted=print). I find that most people who just get their information from the popular press – NYTimes especially – are virtually always totally intolerant of anyone who thinks differently, and never never read anything but what bolsters their opinions. Because you are someone who is rather brilliant and a thrilling and influential writer, I would love it if you could gather the strength to read one of the number of books I’ve read on the subject – the best one so far is this: Don’t Sell Your Coat by Harold Ambler… I’d be willing to send you a copy – and get back to me on it. My experience of people who believe as you do … as strongly as you do – just will not read deeply or even shallowly into any alternative outlooks on this subject.

    Just a thought after reading this otherwise great, as always, piece.

    ken howard
    photoken7@mac.com

  4. The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity.”
    — Abraham Lincoln 1864

  5. li88yinc says:

    I’ve been seeing this all over place. There’s a surprising lack of rigor in discourse, production, and even conversation. There’s an attitude that if a person is saying something you don’t agree with, an appropriate reaction is to stop talking to them. How many times have we heard people say “I can’t even talk to you about this,” when a pro-choice person meets a pro-life person, or vice versa, for example? Facts have been trumped by feelings, assumptions, and denials, and the standards for discourse these days are remarkably low.

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