The otherwise smart film makes dumb casting choices
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is like your smart, funny, incredibly accomplished friend who somehow still dates atrocious idiots. She’s very nearly perfect, except for her terrible choices in one critical area.
Let me hasten to say that most of Whiskey works incredibly well.
Tina Fey stars as Kim Baker, a New York journalist who decides to blow up her life and become a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan. Shocking everyone, particularly herself, Kim is a born war reporter. She gets chummy with the local Marine general (Billy Bob Thornton), learns the ropes from fellow journos Tanya (Margot Robbie) and Iain (Martin Freeman), and finds purpose in her work.
Some of the film’s best scenes are between Fey and Robbie, as they explore something we don’t often get to see on film: savvy women working in an unimaginably dangerous environment, who never fight over men. Plus, they’re both hilarious, giving a movie that abbreviates to “WTF” the edge it promises.
Where Whiskey goes wrong–though not fatally so – is in its casting decisions.
Alfred Molina plays a high-ranking Afghan government official and Christopher Abbott plays Kim’s local fixer. Molina is a Brit of Italian and Spanish descent, while the American Abbott’s background is Italian and Portuguese.
Why does this matter? Because these are the main “Afghans” we see and hear from in the movie.
Whitewashing is unacceptable. There are just too many actors of color available for Rooney Mara to be Tiger Lily in Pan, for Emma Stone to play Asian-American in Aloha, for Exodus and Gods of Egypt to be so pale, or for Alfred Molina to be Afghan.
Having said that, the rest of Whiskey gets things right. It nails the lingo of embedded journalists, the intoxication of dangerous assignments, and, ultimately, the need to reconnect to “real life,” whatever that is.
And, Fey is wonderful as Kim, even if Kim feels a lot like Fey. But hey, there are worse things than a smart, funny woman who plays smart, funny women.
Fey may stay relentlessly in her lane, but she always goes someplace fascinating.