No, Dunkirk hasn’t been “whitewashed” and can we stop linking it to Brexit

Dunkirk has been in cinemas for two weeks now earning over $265 million at the global Box Office. The film opened at number one and was immediately greeted with glowing reviews from film critics and moviegoers alike. But the love-in is seemingly over already as columnists begin to question it’s lack of cast diversity and attempt to link the films messaging to Brexit.

On Thursday the Independent published an opinion piece entitled: When you watch Dunkirk, remember that it’s a whitewashed version which ignores the bravery of black and Muslim soldiersIn the piece Robert Fisk criticises director Christopher Nolan for not acknowledging the contribution of Indian, French or African troops at Dunkirk. And of course, French and British Empire forces like African troops from Algeria and Morocco and Indian troops did play a role, not just in Dunkirk but the rest of the Second World War. But that isn’t what this film is about. Dunkirk is about a handful of soldiers amongst 400,000 troops. Inevitably, these are white, as were the majority of faces at Dunkirk. Perhaps there is a need for a film which places troops from the British or French Empire centre stage. But I’m not sure that Nolan’s Dunkirk should have included a few more token faces of colour just to make up the number.

In the Guardian columnist Sunny Singh wrote: Why the lack of Indian and African faces in Dunkirk matters and opens with:

” What a surprise that Nigel Farage has endorsed the new fantasy-disguised-as-historical war film, Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan’s movie is an inadvertently timely, thinly veiled Brexiteer fantasy in which plucky Britons heroically retreat from the dangerous shores of Europe.

Now besides the yet again obviously ridiculous “whitewash” charge, this Brexit comparison makes this sound like it should be a satirical piece. What on earth has Brexit got to do with it? Not to mention the fact that Nolan began shooting the film before the UK’s referendum vote. Later in the article the author concedes that there are actually non-white faces in the film, often in the crowds, but is still unhappy because these soldiers are fleeing and not fighting – just like every other soldier. It seems Christopher Nolan can’t win. I mean if anything, this film is racist to Germans. You only see them in the last two seconds of the film, wheres the endless articles on that?!

When discussing how he approached the story, Nolan said:

“from the point of view of the pure mechanics of survival rather than from the politics of the event. We don’t have generals in rooms pushing things around on maps. We don’t see Churchill. We barely glimpse the enemy, It’s a survival story.”

Historian Joshua Levine, who acted as the film’s historical consultant told the BBC that Dunkirk was a work of fiction and that:

“It isn’t a film’s job to tell the full story of Dunkirk and nor, in the time available, could it even try to do so. This film focuses on a few protagonists whose paths cross occasionally, each one of whom experiences just a tiny corner of the whole story.”