With entertainment.ie turning 25 this year, we're rolling back the clock to 1997 and revisiting movies on release during our site's early days. Each week, we'll take a trip down memory lane and come back with a movie you may remember, may have forgotten, or in this case, ones you might have your mind zapped to forget...
You could be forgiven for looking back on a movie like 'Men In Black' and, with our sensitivity these days both here in Ireland and in the US for issues surrounding immigration, examine it with a pretty dim view. It's a movie about a border patrol force that stops and polices alien immigrants from trying to enter Earth.
It's to the credit of writer Ed Solomon and director Barry Sonnenfeld, however, that 'Men In Black' acknowledges something beautiful - immigrants, and by extension immigration, are the backbone of a progressive society and that they are a positive contribution to it. More than that, they're already here and simply living among us, unobtrusive and integrated. Every time an alien species lands on Earth, our technology moves forward. K points out that he'll have to buy all his Beatles albums again when showing J a new type of disk format. They're cab drivers (not as many as you'd think). They're tiny pugs who hang out on corner stalls. They're kindly old men who work as jewellers.
Hell, 'Men In Black' even makes it clear that the so-called real border patrol is kind of pointless. The opening scene finds Agent K and Agent D intercepting a group of immigrants on their way into the US, with Agent K calmly letting them go while catching an actual alien trying to flee. K even remarks sarcastically to the border patrol officers to "keep protecting us from the dangerous aliens". The border patrol cop even interrupts a friendly interrogation and causes K to fire his weapon to stop the alien from killing the idiot cop who walked into the middle of it.
Nuance is part of appreciating movies, especially older ones. Sure, sometimes, you have to acknowledge deeply problematic portrayals of women, people of colour, and members of the LGBT community in a movie. Other times, it requires you separating out the art from the artist, which is a whole other debate. 'Men In Black' is a fun sci-fi action-comedy blockbuster from 1997 with Will Smith in his day of wine and roses and Tommy Lee Jones inexplicably starring in blockbusters and looking like he's hating every minute of them. It is not what a movie that immediately lends itself to deep inquiry and examination. Indeed, on a surface level, you might be tempted to dismiss it because, well it's a movie that seeks to lionise enforcement of border controls and immigration, a topic that has no real business being utilised in such a frothy manner the way 'Men In Black' would have you think it is.
Yet, 'Men In Black' just dismisses it entirely and instead focuses on how normalised it is for alien immigrants to integrate among us. It is well documented that immigration is a net benefit for the host country. In this case, it's a net benefit for the planet. 'Men In Black' highlights this at every turn. It boils down to one scene, where J queries how it is that people wouldn't be able to accept aliens living among them. "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."