Dune proved to be a visual spectacle for movie lovers, as evidenced by its Oscar wins in the categories of Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and Best Visual Effects. Another triumph for the film was Hans Zimmer’s Original Score, which elevated the cinematic experience. Denis Villeneuve took the helm of this visual masterpiece, in its third on-screen adaptation following David Lynch’s 1984 film and John Harrison’s 2000 TV series.
Dune saw an ensemble cast of talented actors including Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, and Javier Bardem. However, the film also faced its fair share of controversy, especially for cultural appropriation and promoting a ‘white savior’ trope.
Denis Villeneuve Denied The ‘White Savior’ Trope Allegations Against Dune
In Dune, Denis Villeneuve has established a world with rich cultures, complex family relations, and conflicting planets. Villeneuve will further expand the story in this established setting in the sequel movie, Dune: Part Two. One of the backlashes the film faced was the white savior trope, portraying Timothée Chalamet as the messianic figure of Paul Atreides. Frank Herbert’s original novel was also criticized for this trope of white rescuer to the indigenous people of foreign land.
However, Villeneuve cleared the allegations stating that his film intended to do the opposite by condemning the idea of a white savior. During a roundtable conference attended by several media outlets, the Enemy director further shared that his vision of the movie had a more relevant and contemporary perspective. Villeneuve shared (via SlashFilm):
“That’s a very important question. And it’s why I thought Dune was, the way I was reading it, a critique of that [trope]. It’s not a celebration of a savior. It’s a condemnation and criticism of that idea of a savior. Of someone that will come and tell another operation how to be and what to believe… it’s a criticism. That’s the way I feel it’s relevant and can be seen as contemporary. And that’s what I’ll say about that. Frankly, it’s the opposite [of that trope].”
The film also faced criticism for cultural appropriation, as it did not include Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) actors, despite telling the story based on their culture. The film’s screenwriter attempted to justify this decision by explaining that they had to tone down the Arabic culture from the book and reinvent the plot for a modern audience. However, critics found this explanation unsatisfactory and pointed out several other cultural issues within the movie.
Martin Scorsese Re-wrote His Script To Avoid Dune-Like Controversy
Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio collaborated on their fifth feature film, Killers of the Flower Moon. The movie is based on David Grann’s book of the same name which details the murders of Osage Native Americans in Oklahoma after oil was discovered on tribal land. Scorsese initially had a script that was true to the source material. However, he later changed the perspective of the narrative to avoid the ‘white savior’ trope.
David Grann’s book featured BOI agent, Tom White, as the protagonist investigating the crimes and bringing the killers to justice. The Departed director’s initial script also had DiCaprio playing Tom White. However, DiCaprio was drawn to the morally complex character of Ernest Burkhart, the nephew of the convicted William Hale. This changed the script from a ‘white savior’ story into a complex portrayal of relationships amidst the backdrop of the killings.
The film has already won the approval of critics during festival screenings and is set to hit theaters on October 20. The deviation from source material to address concerns about the ‘white savior’ trope has worked for the film, and fans hope to see a similar approach from Denis Villeneuve in the second part of Dune.
Dune: Part Two is scheduled for a theatrical release on March 15, 2024. In the meantime, fans can enjoy the first installment, Dune, now available for streaming on Max.