2012: A Race Odyssey

By Debayani Kar Nov 18, 2009

** Spoiler Alert! In case you might actually watch this movie. ** Say what you want, but "2012" succeeded in at least one respect; it put forth strong characters of color in less than stereotypical roles. Though the movie is largely a predictable Hollywood blockbuster. Danny Glover plays the U.S. president, who chooses to stay and await the end of the world with the masses. (I like the normalization of that role now, the Black president.) The two scientists who discover the world is coming to an end are played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (who I loved in Dirty Pretty Things) and Jimi Mistry (great in East is East, which has a forthcoming sequel). Ejiofor plays scientist Adrian Helmsley who eventually becomes romantically involved with the president’s daughter, Laura Wilson (played by Thandie Newton). I enjoyed the vision created by their union; the first children conceived in the post-apocalyptic world will be Black children. The movie dealt in a small way with class and global apartheid. When Indian scientist Dr. Satnam Tsurutani is left off the ship which will protect the remaining humans from final global catastrophe, Helmsley cries foul. As he does upon learning that the few hundred thousand people allowed to gain passage on these ships paid $1 billion euros each for their tickets. The movie’s second primary focus is of course the fate of a white family from Los Angeles, and their harrowing journey to China to board the ships. There is exploration of inter-racial marriage; Helmsley’s father encourages his life-long friend Tony Delgatto (played by George Segal) to re-connect with his son, to whom he stopped speaking because his son married a Japanese woman. Delgatto attempts to call his son while staring at a picture of his biracial granddaughter, but it’s too late; the world is already ending. And how does the world end exactly? Well, there are only two antagonists in the movie, a white man and the sunspots that cause the apocalypse (or neutrinos, or something — this is where the movie really lost me). I found it a bit too convenient to blame the apocalyptic catastrophe on the sun as opposed to human-caused global warming which requires climate justice. The bad guy is White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (played by Oliver Platt), who is solely focused on ensuring the American government survives the catastrophe, at all costs. My favorite scene comes as the ships carrying the remainder of humanity are to depart into the rising oceans that encircle all that remains of land on Earth. Anheuser commands the captain to close the ship’s massive doors, but Helmsley and Wilson stop him to allow additional people trapped outside to enter. Among them are Chinese migrant workers who have labored to build the ships. They win the struggle, though not without creating an additional plot twist, to keep us on the edge of our seats for the movie’s final fifteen minutes. “2012” ends with the continents having shifted such that Africa becomes the center of the Earth. This is the last frame of the film, with the remaining world’s population sailing towards the Continent. There’s some Hollywood justice in that. Photo By: Joe Lederer. © 2009 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.