The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Netflix] - STOWAWAY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Netflix] - STOWAWAY

stowaway review
An accidental stowaway jeopardises a mission to Mars.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joe Penna

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson

stowaway poster

On the evening of November 22nd, 1968, American TV viewers were treated to a taboo-breaking moment in TV history – a kiss between a White actor and a Black actress, as Star Trek's Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura locked lips. In the universe of Star Trek it was no big deal. Gene Roddenberry's show took place in a distant future where race was no longer an issue and Kirk was regularly seen snogging women of every skin colour imaginable. Back in 20th century Earth it was a different story.

The out of touch liberals that run Hollywood like to think we're already living in Roddenberry's post-racial world. In recent years colourblind casting has started to become the norm. In general that's a positive – actors shouldn't be ghettoised into playing parts that draw specifically on their ethnicity – but when applied without consideration it can lead to tone deafness.

stowaway review

Take Stowaway. With its multi-racial cast it appears outwardly progressive, and the filmmakers will no doubt claim they simply cast the best actors for the roles. What they don’t seem to realise is how politically loaded the film has unintentionally become thanks to their casting choices. Stowaway is a movie in which two White women and an Asian man decide the fate of a Black man, yet the film refuses to examine or even acknowledge this dynamic, and it becomes one of the most egregious examples of the White saviour trope imaginable.

Stowaway is set in the future, but not that far in the future that we can say that in space nobody can see colour. It concerns a mission to Mars, and only a couple of days before its release on Netflix, NASA flew a helicopter on the Red Planet, so it's not that far off.

The mission is headed by Commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), and she's accompanied by medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) and biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim). Mere hours after take-off, but long enough that they can't turn back and return to Earth, they discover they're accompanied by an accidental stowaway. Launch Plan Engineer Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) was knocked unconscious while prepping the shuttle and has only just now been discovered.

stowaway review

Initially, Adams is accepted into the group and pulls his weight by performing menial tasks. Arrangements have been made for his younger sister to be taken care of for the two year duration of the mission. Adams is heartbroken at first, but then he realises that he's accidentally living his dream of becoming an astronaut.

Trouble is, when Adams got stuck onboard he damaged the ship's oxygen generator, leaving only enough oxygen for three people to ultimately survive. Desperate for a solution, Barnett contacts ground control, who tell her in no uncertain terms that one person must sacrifice themselves for the others to live. Deciding that Adams is the most expendable, Barnett agrees to hold on for 10 days while they try to figure out a way to save him, and keep their dilemma a secret from the man they may have to sacrifice.

As if it wasn't unpalatable enough that the fate of a Black man is left in the hands of two White women and an Asian man, Barnett and Levenson are portrayed as compassionate, desperate to find a way to solve the problem, while Kim is so cold and logical he might as well be sporting pointy Spock ears. How nobody involved stopped to think about how this might come across is astonishing. The fact that Barnett, Levenson and Kim keep it a secret from Adams rather than asking a highly qualified engineer if he might have something to contribute himself  just makes it all the worse, and at one point Levenson is charged with performing a dangerous task that seems ideally suited to someone with Adams' qualifications.

If this were an intentional study of how Whites and Asians consider Blacks incapable of looking after themselves (worth less, if not worthless), it might be applaudable for daring to confront such a truth. But no, this is all purely an accident of tone deaf, colourblind casting. Never once is the racial dynamic addressed. We're never treated to the awkward conversations that would ensue between Barnett and her superiors regarding how people on Earth might react to a Black man being sacrificed to save two White women and an Asian man. How this is being dealt with on Earth is left ambiguous, but you can imagine it would be a major news story, likely leading to protests in the streets.

stowaway review

If, like apparently the filmmakers, you "don't see colour," then I envy you. But I doubt it would make Stowaway much more engaging. Regardless of the racial issues, it never really grapples with its central theme of how human lives are valued by education level and skills. After all its tortured moodiness, it ultimately comes down to another protracted scene in which someone has to venture outside the shuttle and take a dangerous space walk to repair a doohickey.

Director Joe Penna does a decent job of creating a sense of scale while keeping the camera for the most part inside the shuttle, and there's one lovely piece of economical visual storytelling in which a key revelation is made simply by a prop being moved out of the way. After his Mads Mikkelsen vehicle Arctic, Penna has demonstrated that he knows how to craft a survival thriller, but in his casting here he's raised issues he seems completely unprepared to address (and I didn't even mention the scene in which an Asian man explains Jazz to a Black man).

 is on Netflix now.

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