By Ali Bush '19
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot -- or in military language, WTF. This film may leave you with that exact question. Set against the backdrop of the Afghanistan War, the film is an adaptation of journalist Kim Barker’s memoir of her experiences as an in the field journalist covering the Afghanistan War. Starring Tina Fey, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) is intended to reveal Fey’s more critically aware and globally responsible side, after her release of Sisters, but it is ultimately a chaotic film that attempts to tackle too many issues. It espouses white feminist ideals and ignores or only slightly touches on the important issues surrounding the Afghanistan War.
The film’s plot it hard to explain in a short film review, but it ultimately follows the life and career of Kim Baker, a small time news script writer in New York, turned international war correspondent. Once Kim arrived leaves American and arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan, she discovers that she’ll be living with all other Western news syndicated in a frat-styled house where partying seems to be the constant priority. She meets many other white journalists along the way, and indulges in many subplots along the way, making her new best friend played by Margot Robbie, and eventually falling in love with a British photographer (Martin Freeman). When Kim eventually gets around to doing her job on the war field, she is first pathetically inept, but slowly gets that hang of interviewing soldiers and covering her experiences war, often getting herself in dangerous situations. We see Kim face many obstacles on her journey such as having to break up with her boyfriend back home and fight to get her coverage aired on TV. After deciding to stay in Afghanistan for much longer than she anticipated, we see Kim tackle riskier stories that endanger her security. Kim slowly becomes hooked on the adrenaline rush that comes with covering life-threatening situations. While this is a fascinating subgenre, it seems like the last thing we should care about when missiles are being fired and woman are being oppressed right outside of her front door.
Kim seems to be an extension of Fey’s mastered character of a nerdy workaholic, unable to handle her personal life, but the upside of this film is that the character Kim seems to be much more enlightened than this self-deprecating character we’ve seen Fey play in 30 Rock. We see Kim reach many feminist realizations after she comes to terms with the facts that she is in charge of her body, her relationships, and her career. For me, the film doesn’t really need to teach us about feminism for a white woman in the middle east, when it could be teaching us about the always touchy subjects of women’s roles in the middle east.
Furthermore, this dramedy is entirely too focused on a life of a white woman in the middle east. Although the film tries to touch on different topics that come with war, such as the American military’s interaction with locals, it ultimately dwells entirely too much on Kim’s personal life. This film simply tries to tackle too many things at once: Kim’s white feminist revelations, women’s roles in the Middle East, the media’s roles in the middle east, and criticism of American military intervention. These issues grab our attention for a small fraction of the movie, but just as one topic gets interesting, it is left unresolved as we move onto another pressing issue. The film perfectly captures Kim’s experience of being an American woman in a female-repressive society and the complications of a stuck-in-a-rut midlife-crisis comedy, but it seems out of place with a war waging outside. The movie ultimately spends too much time focused on life of one clueless white woman’s chaotic experience in the middle east, when it could have done much more to inform its audience about middle eastern culture and its relations with the US.
Even more disappointing was directors Glenn Focarra and Jean Requa’s decision to cast two white men as main Afghan characters. In the wake of the Oscars So White issue, it is appalling that the directors seem to be blind not only to the multitude middle eastern actors who could have ably played these roles, but actors’ of color need for more opportunities in Hollywood. The lack of actors of color and the film’s pseudo-interest in pressing issues in the middle east, prove that this is overall a half-hearted attempt to make a movie about US relations with the Middle East. Even though all the issues this film attempts to tackle are important and potentially riveting, they are only attempts. The movie spends far too much time focused on the life of one clueless white woman’s chaotic experience in the middle east, when it could have done much more to inform its audience about middle eastern culture and its relations with the US.