The Lost City of Z, released this weekend, is a historical adventure depicting the true plundering journey of British explorer Percy Fawcett to find a mysterious “city of gold” in the Amazon in the 1920s.
Colonialism forms the backdrop to the movie, directed by James Gray and starring Charlie Hunnam as Fawcett, Sienna Miller as his wife Nina and Tom Holland as his son Jack. But it’s the search for the lost civilization of El Dorado that comprises the main event in The Lost City of Z, based on David Grann’s 2009 acclaimed book, not imperialism.
Liberal film critics have other ideas. New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis, who reliably leads the way in identity movie politics, can’t resist pointing out in her review of The Lost City of Z: “The romance of adventure has largely shifted from history to fantasy fiction, an easier, less contested playground for conquering white heroes…[the film] glosses over Fawcett’s more noxious beliefs.”
Matt Zoller Seitz, a critic for Roger Ebert.com questioned “whether the film is anti-colonial enough for modern taste” and declared, “There are moments when Nina’s dialogue strains to convince 21st century viewers that the character is fiery and independent.”
Confusingly the Pop Matters website has run two reviews of the movie and both have cultural issues. Chance Solem-Pfeifer casts a suspicious eye over the fact that extracts from Rudyard Kipling’s 1898 poem The Explorer are read out in the movie and asked: “What are Gray’s motivations in telling this story of empire-sanctioned exploration, even if not in a way that lionizes conquest?”
Fellow Pop Matters scribe J.R Kinnard dismisses one expedition in the movie as “five minutes of spoiled white guys bickering over food followed by a fleeting arrow attack from unseen foes.”
It’s not just movie critics who have misplaced their sense of adventure. Explorer Hugh Thomson called the real Fawcett “a blundering and racist flake” in The Washington Post, taking issue with the movie for daring to depict events that don’t precisely correspond to Fawcett’s life and times.
Movie critics have long admired Gray and many of them broadly liked The Lost City of Z but they can’t deal with Fawcett’s quest without obsessing over wider imperialistic issues.
All of this is distracting sideshow for the Amazon-distributed movie which desperately needs buzz after recently flopping in the UK (it’s been an eventful production from the outset; Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch were originally going to play Fawcett before Hunnam).
Director Gray doesn’t seem to be helping matters. Getting into the SJW spirit, he told the Telegraph: “There is such a profound racism at the centre of the story. But it has to be told. To say it’s like, ‘Another white man goes into the jungle’, to me, is among the more moronic things someone could say or feel. Because, looking at the world, especially now, are we really ready to close the book on racism, on white man’s racism, on European racism?'”
Movie critics certainly aren’t.