«Death on the Nile», or Changing the Past in Movies

«You want to know? You really want to know what my problem is? I’ll tell you: Las Vegas, 1962. That’s my problem. In 1962, black people weren’t very welcome there. Oh, sure, they could be performers or janitors but customers, never.»
«Maybe that’s the way it was in the real Vegas, but that is not the way it is at Vic’s. I have never felt uncomfortable there and neither has Jake.»
«But don’t you see, that’s the lie. In nineteen sixty two, the Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. It wasn’t an easy time for our people and I’m not going to pretend that it was.»
«Baby, I know that Vic’s isn’t a totally accurate representation of the way things were, but it isn’t meant to be. It shows us the way things could have been. The way they should’ve been.»
«We cannot ignore the truth about the past.»
«Going to Vic’s isn’t going to make us forget who we are or where we came from. What it does is it reminds us that we’re no longer bound by any limitations, except the ones we impose on ourselves.»
Captain Sisko and Kasidy in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine «Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang»

Recently I watched the new 2022 version of «Death on the Nile». While visually impressive, much like the «Murder on the Orient Express» remake, it does pale in comparison to the earlier version («Death on the Nile» the 1978 version with Peter Ustinov; «Murder on the Orient Express» the 1974 version with Albert Finney). And personally, like with «Murder on the Orient Express», I think it’s because it does not provide an escape into an interesting setting and a clever «Whodunit?», but tries to push a current message into a context in which it does not belong. And hit you with it on the head.

And yeah, I’m talking about themes of racism, sexism and the like. Representation might be a worthy goal, but we are talking about a specific story. And in that story, it just looks … like it does not fit. And yeah, you can go the Star Trek DS9 Route (see quote above). But frankly, I haven’t seen a version of a classic movie in which it was done well. This isn’t just another time, it’s a story. And in these cases, as it is done with this movie, it’s usually done badly. The message stands out badly. Not because racism, sexism, etc. are bad — that’s a given — but because it’s sticked on a great story like a cheap sticker on a Steinway.

I mean, just compare the lines of the remake to a comment from the 1978 version:

«And why are you looking at me in that ‹too familiar›, continental way?»
Death on the Nile

A class slight done en passant. Not the bromidic, we have to use each plank of the garden fence to show racism/sexism/etc. are bad. Or have to devalue the main character to show others have value. In the end, I think bad messaging devalues not only the story, but also the message.

So, yeah, nice scenes, but pales in comparison to the original.

(Don’t get me started on the mustache backstory, BTW, just don’t.)

Update: One other thing — there is a lot of prejudice in Poirot movies, just listen to his insistence that he is Belgian, not French. Prejudice that is not immediately punished — or at all. Can you imagine a similarly shown prejudice against today’s «protected groups» in a mainstream movie? Neither can I. It just doesn’t work to mix historical prejudice with today’s positions.