This Was a Good Movie, but There Weren’t Enough People of Color in It, so It’s a Bad Movie
Adam Driver as Jacques le Gris (left), and Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges (right)
Starving for good movies this second year of the pandemic, I came across The Last Duel, Ridley Scott’s new tale of rape and revenge. The story features two noblemen in 14th-century France, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), and his old friend and comrade-at-arms, Jacques le Gris (Adam Driver), whose friendship turns to bitter acrimony at the instigation of their liege lord, Count Pierre d’Alencon (Ben Affleck), who favors the latter but hates the former. Things come to a boil when Jacques becomes besotted with Jean’s wife, the Lady Marguerite (Jodie Comer), and rapes her. Seeking justice, Marguerite and Jean openly accuse Jacques (who denies the charge), and Jean challenges him to a duel to the death. Since God is believed to favor the one telling the truth, if Jean wins, Jacques will be deemed to have been guilty; if not, Marguerite will be deemed to have made a false accusation and will be burned at the stake as punishment.
There are many great things about this movie. The plot is engaging, intricate, and layered, with some surprising twists and turns, the storytelling deft and masterful. The film’s production values, costume design, and music are excellent, and the medieval world it reconstructs, one in which justice is often decided by the sword and women are viewed as property, is utterly convincing.
Unfortunately, though, this movie suffers from a fatal flaw: the complete absence of People of Color. Jodie Comer gave a powerful performance as Marguerite, an intelligent and redoubtable woman struggling for her own measure of happiness in a patriarchal society, but the best acting in the world could not make up for her overwhelming whiteness. She is dazzling in this film, but her beauty is that of white beauty standards imposed upon Black and brown women. Matt Damon may have been spectacular as Jean, Marguerite’s grim, flawed husband, riven with sexism, honor, and injured pride, but why couldn’t the role have gone to a Black man instead (or better yet, a Black woman)? This movie raises many important issues, but all I could think about whilst watching it was “WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE OF COLOR? WHY AREN’T THERE ANY PEOPLE OF COLOR IN THIS? WHY DO WE HAVE TO WATCH YET ANOTHER MOVIE ABOUT WHITE PEOPLE?” The dialogue might have been good, but, honestly, I couldn’t really concentrate on it past the rage-headache I was having. This movie has been praised for being a skillful study in perspectives – the film is split into three parts, showing the story from Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite’s perspectives in turn, each offering their own, often differing, version of events – but the perspective of People of Color is nowhere to be seen.
Jodie Comer as the Lady Marguerite. A wonderful, but white, actress.
It’s mindboggling how, in this day and age, some people actually thought it was ok to make a movie starring an exclusively white cast. It’s sickening to see people pull shit like this and hide behind lame excuses like “this film is based on true events and there just weren’t many People of Color in 14th-century France.” We know such arguments for “historical realism” and “fidelity to the source material” for what they are – racist excuses to exclude People of Color. This film is basically an appendage of White Power, raping the souls of People of Color, just like how Jacques raped Marguerite.
The screenwriters of this film were Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener who are, as it turns out, also all white. Despite its so-called “merits,” I cannot recommend their movie. Since there are 0 People of Color in it, I give their film 0 stars out of 5, and may God have mercy on their souls.