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February 27, 2013 1:07 PM   Subscribe

6 Insane Stereotypes That Movies Can't Seem to Get Over. Cracked.com list of overused, tired and offensive stereotypes of Africa, Asians, women, and more that frequently pop up in mainstream films. "Imagine if every single movie set in America was filmed in Alaska and focused on gang violence -- that's how Africans feel every time they watch a Hollywood movie about warlords fighting in the desert. Which is a problem for their tourism industry: A board member for the Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa even takes the time to explain that there are "middle class people in every African country commuting to work every day, complaining about taxes and watching their kids play soccer every weekend." That's right: Instead of focusing on the rich wildlife and history, the tourism industry actually has to remind people that coming to their country isn't a fucking death warrant."
posted by sweetkid (147 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
In Fantasy Movies, Everyone Has to Be White

Yep. LoTR is mildly racist, but then, so again, is Peter Jackson.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:18 PM on February 27, 2013


The whole "all gay people are psychotic murderers" aspect is wonderfully addressed in the documentary "The Celluloid Closet".

And concerning the whole "it's better to be dead than disabled," maybe it's a backlash against all the folks who think that many disabled people don't have a really hard time in their daily lives, but that's a different discussion.
posted by Melismata at 1:18 PM on February 27, 2013


One (not actually) great thing about "Avatar" is that you had *both* "disability is a thing to be overcome" *and* "what these people need is a white guy" for the plot. I was talking with someone recently who pointed out that if they had changed nothing about the movie except the main character's race to make him a person of color (Black, Latino, etc, not "blue"), the movie would have a totally different feel as far as colonialism etc.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:20 PM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was thinking of exactly this during the furore over whether Seth McFarlane's turn at the Oscars was sexist or racist or not. My point was that if you're looking for sexism in Hollywood, it's not the guy in the tux hosting the Oscars you should be mad at; he doesn't matter. He's a nothing. It's the Hollywood system that not only can't make a decent movie about a woman or a black person, but is getting WORSE at it with every passing year.
posted by Fnarf at 1:21 PM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


I hope they make this one of their "series" listicles.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:21 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good stuff. I'd add that it doesn't have to be a Hollywood film to kill off a gay character (see: the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral).

I haven't seen all the Harry Potter movies, so that last item about Lavender Brown: holy SHIT. They did that? They actually did that?
posted by maudlin at 1:23 PM on February 27, 2013


I fear I've made a perverse hobby out of reading the comments on articles like this and then shaking my head with frustration and rage at them.

eg -

"People write about what they know and things around them. Most people who write things and make movies are white. So they write things and make movies about white people. Because they don't know anything else. Minorities and women don't like to make movies (because if they did they would have no trouble getting them made of course), if they want movies there is BET and Oxygen!!! Not racist!!!11!!"
posted by sweetkid at 1:24 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"People write about what they know and things around them. Most people who write things and make movies are white. So they write things and make movies about white people. Because they don't know anything else. Minorities and women don't like to make movies, if they want movies there is BET and Oxygen!!! Not racist!!!11!!"

HRRRRRNGH
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:25 PM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Really, Cracked? Only six. One of my favorite hobbies involves looking at great classic movies and marveling how they slide in the stereotypes, sometimes subtly enough you don't know it. It's a Wonderful Life: when Pottersville goes to hell, suddenly there are blacks in the street. Before that the only black was the maid. Casablanca: in a multi-racial, multinational cast, everyone looks up to the American, a trope expanded in the original Star Trek to: in a multiracial, multi-planet cast everyone looks up to the American.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:26 PM on February 27, 2013 [16 favorites]


My point was that if you're looking for sexism in Hollywood, it's not the guy in the tux hosting the Oscars you should be mad at

It can still be a good tactic to yell and boo at figureheads. The responsible people are paying attention. In this case though, Seth MacFarlane deserves an extra helping for himself, personally.
posted by fleacircus at 1:28 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


"All arabs are crazy-eyed terrorists" is a more obvious perpetual Hollywood stereotype than all of these, though I disagree with none of them.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:30 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen all the Harry Potter movies, so that last item about Lavender Brown: holy SHIT. They did that? They actually did that?

Yeah, that was pretty cruddy. But a number of the actors did change around (I think the little Slytherin girl Pansy was played by two or three different actresses) movie to movie, and I'm pretty sure the books don't note what race Lavender is, so maybe--maybe--it was just a slip up.

For what it's worth, Dean Thomas (black) was the same actor throughout, even when he dated (white) Ginny.
posted by phunniemee at 1:31 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article is fine and all, but maybe skip it and just go to tvtropes.com?
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:31 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think this one is as bad (or at least as frequent) as the ones they name, but it would be really, really nice if the greedy old misers and scammers in fantasy and science fiction films were not as clearly caricatures of Jews.
posted by griphus at 1:32 PM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


it would be really, really nice if the greedy old misers in fantasy and science fiction films were not as clearly caricatures of Jews.

Maybe it's just my white girl talking, but it never occurred to me that they were "supposed" to be Jews.
posted by phunniemee at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


-it was just a slip up.

how do you slip that up?

For what it's worth, Dean Thomas (black) was the same actor throughout, even when he dated (white) Ginny.

I don't know that much about Harry Potter specfically, but I get a little weary of "one out of two ain't bad" type rationalizing when it comes to race/gender issues and representation.
posted by sweetkid at 1:35 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen all the Harry Potter movies, so that last item about Lavender Brown: holy SHIT. They did that? They actually did that?

I wondered about that, too. It's actually a little more involved. Kathleen Cauley played the role in Chamber of Secrets. She was replaced by Jennifer Smith for Prisoner of Azkaban And, finally, she was replaced by Jessie Cave for the rest of the series.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:36 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


...but it never occurred to me that they were "supposed" to be Jews.

I don't think they're representative of Jews, necessarily, but the resemblance in physical features, mannerisms and accents when combined with the money-grubbing gets to be pretty obvious and tiring.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


how do you slip that up?

The way that they said in the article. She was a minor character with few/no lines, essentially just an extra. A shitty slip up, but one that could have been made by a lazy casting director. In theory.
posted by phunniemee at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2013


One (not actually) great thing about "Avatar" is that you had *both* "disability is a thing to be overcome" *and* "what these people need is a white guy" for the plot.

It really is shocking given how good the animated series was at not doing either of these things.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Speaking as a Jew:

Goblins - Never saw the resemblance.

Watto in TPM - The accent's a bit iffy, I guess.

Watto in his second appearance: Holy fucking fuck what is wrong with George Lucas.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


(Although, honestly, Watto was every bit as casually-racist as Jar-Jar, just with less screen time.)
posted by griphus at 1:38 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "One (not actually) great thing about "Avatar" is that you had *both* "disability is a thing to be overcome" *and* "what these people need is a white guy" for the plot.

It really is shocking given how good the animated series was at not doing either of these things.
"

James Cameron Avatar, not M. Night.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:38 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really, Cracked? Only six.

I was just thinking that. There has to be one in there about how all male heroes must be temporarily estranged from their spouses, but then get back together in the end (Argo, Twister, JFK...).
posted by Melismata at 1:38 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Lavender Brown thing was no slip up; these guys know every character who's had a name attached in every one of the films. It was a conscious decision to whitewash the character; reprehensible.
posted by Mister_A at 1:40 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't know that much about Harry Potter specfically, but I get a little weary of "one out of two ain't bad" type rationalizing when it comes to race/gender issues and representation.

And yeah, I know, but Harry Potter's really not the franchise to get mad at on this front. I've read all the books and seen all the movies several times, and I don't remember there being much (any?) explanation as to the ethnicity/looks/whatever of any except the main characters, but the cast was pretty diverse. At least, way more diverse than I'd expect to see from an American movie.
posted by phunniemee at 1:41 PM on February 27, 2013


I was thinking of exactly this during the furore over whether Seth McFarlane's turn at the Oscars was sexist or racist or not. My point was that if you're looking for sexism in Hollywood, it's not the guy in the tux hosting the Oscars you should be mad at; he doesn't matter. He's a nothing. It's the Hollywood system that not only can't make a decent movie about a woman or a black person, but is getting WORSE at it with every passing year.

It's possible to be mad at Seth McFarlane's smarmy, obnoxious misogyny at the same time as being mad at the structural and institutional discrimination inherent in the entertainment industry. I actually think it's important to be mad at both at the same time, because they're connected. It's through acts like his very public, very shameless and very vile antics that misogyny is normalized. Oppression like misogyny or racism is neither entirely structural nor entirely circumstantial, it's a complex combination of several different kinds of behavioral patterns, norms, prejudices, and institutionalized cognitive biases that synergistically instantiate racism or sexism at individual, group and structural levels.

The guy in the tux singing moronic and insulting songs may not matter, himself, but the fact that he did it and nobody stopped him and he won't suffer any serious consequences is a function of structural misogyny itself.
posted by clockzero at 1:41 PM on February 27, 2013 [25 favorites]


Really, Cracked? Only six?

Six is pretty average for their frontpage stuff. That amount justifies two pages of ads while not overwhelming the readers or the writers. Plus, it lets them make series of five-to-six-item listicles, which I hope they do with this one, because Hollywood's leadbrained bigotry and lack of imagination should be pointed out at every opportunity.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:42 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


A shitty slip up, but one that could have been made by a lazy casting director.

This... isn't really an excuse for a racist recasting. Even if the direct didn't know the character was black in the previous two movies (which I find sort of hard to believe), black characters are still disproportionately represented in fantasy, so the default-casting of a white girl is still an example of endemic racism.

but Harry Potter's really not the franchise to get mad at on this front

Who's mad? Pointing out racist stuff isn't the same thing as getting angry at a franchise.
posted by muddgirl at 1:43 PM on February 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


Not one of the better Cracked lists. As RustyBrooks noted, TVTropes is much, much more thorough (and usually has a much better and nuanced discussion) of these sorts of things. And the whole thing about including Avatar's Jake Sully is especially dumb, because the guy wanted to be a soldier--a combat soldier, specifically--which he needed functioning legs for. (There's also the matter that it's more clearly shown in the extended cut that his life on Earth isn't much fun.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:43 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even if the direct

Even if the casting director...
posted by muddgirl at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2013


Yeah, if anyone ever does the "It's just mirroring real life" for why a fictional movie is all white people, ask them why there's so little smoking in movies anymore. Hint: It's not because people in real life stopped smoking.
posted by ckape at 1:46 PM on February 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yep. LoTR is mildly racist, but then, so again, is Peter Jackson.

LoTR is more than mildly racist but it has nothing to do with Jackson. Tolkein.
posted by DU at 1:49 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


LoTR is more than mildly racist but it has nothing to do with Jackson. Tolkein.

To be fair to Tolkien, most heroic epics and stories about struggles between groups in the pre-modern era (and even now!) tended to be somewhat tendentious in favor of the people telling them too.
posted by clockzero at 1:54 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where they spent two and a half seasons setting up one of the most healthy and complex lesbian relationships in the history of television

not to overstate the matter or anything
posted by Legomancer at 2:05 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's an animated movie for kids that I enjoy -- that I won't name here so as to avoid spoiling anything -- in part because the lead character loses a leg in the final scene, and while the realization that this has occurred is treated with dignity and respect, the fact of it does not detract from what he's accomplished or his sense of self. If anything, it helps him refocus his sense of self from the physical being to the emotional one.
posted by davejay at 2:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think there probably are some mildly racist undertones in Tolkien, but his area of interest was pre-Norman Britain, a culture that did not feature many non-white people. He was explicitly trying to create an English mythology.

Also, he was born in 1892. That's not to excuse him, but perhaps our expectations should be slightly different.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:07 PM on February 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


I haven't seen the Harry Potter movies in ages (in fact, I think I saw each one once) but the Lavender Brown switcheroo completely slipped by me.

Anybody know how Lavender was written in the books - did JKR describe her, or leave her appearance open to interpretation?
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2013


It's a Wonderful Life: when Pottersville goes to hell, suddenly there are blacks in the street. Before that the only black was the maid.
There are some pre-Pottersville black folk who saunter over to laugh at George at the 48-second mark of this clip.

(Not to argue with your larger point -- it's just that I have every scene of It's a Wonderful Life burned into my brain.)
posted by BurntHombre at 2:11 PM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Lavender Brown thing was no slip up; these guys know every character who's had a name attached in every one of the films. It was a conscious decision to whitewash the character; reprehensible.

Which is sort of weird, because Harry falls in lust with Cho Chang, who obviously isn't white, and he and Ron go to the dance with the Patil sisters, who aren't white (admittedly, they don't have a very good time...). Why the change of heart?

I'd love to believe it's laziness and I can almost buy it. A minor character (who never spoke in the previous movies), whose race is never mentioned in the books and who was missing from a couple of movies is recast. They didn't use the same casting director for each of the movies, so it sort of seems possible.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:12 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a Wonderful Life: when Pottersville goes to hell, suddenly there are blacks in the street. Before that the only black was the maid.

Seriously? I'll have to pay attention to that next Christmas.

I don't think this one is as bad (or at least as frequent) as the ones they name, but it would be really, really nice if the greedy old misers and scammers in fantasy and science fiction films were not as clearly caricatures of Jews.

I actually thought Watto was a racist stereotype of a "shifty Arab." I mean, it's not any better, and it's still racist, but I never read him as "stereotypical Jew."
posted by asnider at 2:14 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Lavender Brown thing is not cool, but I also think it's kinda not cool to cast one of the most beautiful women in the world (which was pretty apparent she was going to be become even when she was in the original movie) as Hermione (as nice a person as Emma Watson appears to be--nothing against her). That's, of course, the "Hollywood Homely" trope.

I watched Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and as soulless and unfunny as that movie was, and as horrible as the casting was for Trillian, I thought it refreshing that Mos Def was cast as Ford, and that he worked well in the roll (well, as well as anything worked in that movie).
posted by maxwelton at 2:16 PM on February 27, 2013


Not one of the better Cracked lists. As RustyBrooks noted, TVTropes is much, much more thorough (and usually has a much better and nuanced discussion) of these sorts of things.

But you need to wade through creepy digressions and hack through a sea of links to find them. Cracked's been declining in quality since they've started hiring more freelancers but I appreciate these kind of articles (and the ones on feminism and related issues). They're exposing these ideas to a wide, young audience that hopefully will be immunized from some of the more toxic cultural bullshit.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:19 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I remember Lavender being described blonde, but it's possible that's my revisionist memory, and I don't recall anything beyond that. She was pretty anonymous for the first few books (I just did a quick search on my e-books and she is mentioned twice in the first book and once in the second). Honestly, I assumed she was white, mostly because her name was rather featureless and JKR is pretty explicit about naming non-white characters (Cho Chang, Parvati/Padma Patil, Blaise Zabini). Dean Thomas is the only exception I can think of, and he's described explicitly as black.

I personally thought Emma Watson was absolutely perfect for Hermione in the first two movies, and the massive sexualization of Hermione in Azkaban (when she was 13!) is one of those grudges I'll hold against Cuaron forever. Hermione would never in a million years utter the words "Is that how my hair looks from the back?" when on a mission to save people's lives. Srsly now.
posted by Phire at 2:21 PM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


RE Number 1:

A media company that will not be named was thinking of rebooting a classic series with a black main character and have him African-from-Africa and the first pitch had said character belonging to a wealthy but corrupt political family/oil baron/etc but it had to be shut down as the exec notes stated that everyone knows there are no rich people in Africa so can;t he be like a refugee or something?
posted by The Whelk at 2:21 PM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Honestly, I assumed she was white, mostly because her name was rather featureless

Which, I want to add, I recognize is indicative of my own baggage about assuming default names/appearances. Sad how even if you're not white, you fall into the same assumption as everyone else that everyone you read about is.
posted by Phire at 2:30 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to say, for a contemporary kids movie series, Harry Potter at least has had more non-white people in the cast than most things of that high-caliber budget. It doesn't excuse them in the least for switching out Lavenders, but I can think of worse offenders. Or at least, missed opportunities for diversity.
posted by Kitteh at 2:33 PM on February 27, 2013


The all gays are sex-crazed lunatics who constantly talk about fucking every same sex character they see stereotype is a lot more common and insidious than the all gays are killers/die stereotype.
posted by tehloki at 2:33 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, it's not fair to blame Hollywood for the whiteness of LOTR or A Song of Ice and Fire. That's right there in the source material and, in many cases, can't be changed without radically messing with the source material. (If you haven't read/seen GoT the appearance of most of the characters really is plot relevant). On the other hand, Hollywood whitening things like Avatar (the comic) or having the one white guy be better at being an Indian/Samurai/Ninja than the people born into that culture is definitely hugely problematic.

Hollywood is shitty in many respects but we should stick to calling them out for the ones that are actually their fault.
posted by Justinian at 2:34 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I actually thought Watto was a racist stereotype of a "shifty Arab." I mean, it's not any better, and it's still racist, but I never read him as "stereotypical Jew."

I've always felt that these aren't so much different stereotypes as different iterations of the same stereotype, in the same way that "black urban gangbanger" and "African warlord" are iterations of the same stereotype. In both cases you have similar physical signifiers, a vague sense of cultural/religious difference, and a virtually identical set of negative traits.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:35 PM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


ckape: "Yeah, if anyone ever does the "It's just mirroring real life" for why a fictional movie is all white people, ask them why there's so little smoking in movies anymore. Hint: It's not because people in real life stopped smoking."

Wait... what? Smoking in real life has plummeted, at least in the US: "Smoking rates in the United States have dropped by half from 1965 to 2006 falling from 42% to 20.8% of adults." While smoking in movies is actually up - "The total number of 'tobacco incidents' per movie was up 7% from 2010." So probably a bad analogy choice.
posted by sharkfu at 2:35 PM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's an animated movie for kids that I enjoy -- that I won't name here so as to avoid spoiling anything -- in part because the lead character loses a leg in the final scene, and while the realization that this has occurred is treated with dignity and respect, the fact of it does not detract from what he's accomplished or his sense of self. If anything, it helps him refocus his sense of self from the physical being to the emotional one.

A great movie and honestly I would have voted it above the winner that year for Best Animated Feature.

Blaise Zabini

A bit of a tangent, but that just reminds me of a classic fandom wank involving somebody who just could not, would not believe that there could be a black student at Hogwarts named Blaise Zabini.
posted by kmz at 2:37 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah I was totally pissed that the racist Werner Herzog made his Spanish conquistadors German-speaking... Germans!

Racism!
posted by xmutex at 2:40 PM on February 27, 2013


While smoking in movies is actually up

Maybe it's up since 2010, but I find it hard to believe it's not way down compared to 1965. How many 'tobacco incidents' were in an average 1965 film, and can you name a film from the past 3 years with a smoker who wasn't a villain?
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:41 PM on February 27, 2013


Maybe it's up since 2010, but I find it hard to believe it's not way down compared to 1965.

Of course it is. But the question isn't whether it is way down from 1965, but whether it preceded or followed the decline in smoking among the population.
posted by Justinian at 2:45 PM on February 27, 2013


That's right there in the source material and, in many cases, can't be changed without radically messing with the source material.

But they already mess with the source material majorly in so many ways in so many adaptations of properties. Why is it that adding more people of color the one line that must not be crossed when they make their radical changes? (Not saying that's your line of thinking btw)

I'm currently enjoying on Netflix the ABC series "Once Upon a Time", and one of the things I love about it is that although it's drawing mostly -- thus far in my watching -- from Western European fairy tales, there are plenty of people of color sprinkled throughout fairy tale land in the back story as knights, fairy godmothers, villagers, etc. Which makes me want to cast a stink-eye at Bill Willingham's Fables for it's disappointing handling of race. Not saying you have to make Snow White black or anything, but, Jebus, try a little harder.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:45 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Imagine if every single movie set in America was filmed in Alaska and focused on gang violence
why the fuck aren't we doing this
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:49 PM on February 27, 2013 [28 favorites]


why the fuck aren't we doing this

I'm still waiting for the Coens' adaptation of The Yiddish Policemen's Union.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:00 PM on February 27, 2013 [27 favorites]


You may enjoy the upcoming film about the Mafia trading arms with Soviet spies over the Bering Strait during the early days of the Cold War.

It's called AK '47.
posted by griphus at 3:02 PM on February 27, 2013 [21 favorites]


I think there probably are some mildly racist undertones in Tolkien, but his area of interest was pre-Norman Britain, a culture that did not feature many non-white people. He was explicitly trying to create an English mythology.

Yes, but look at how often the word "black" is associated with baddies in LOTR.

Black Riders, Black Speech, black Uruk-hai, black gates, black breath. Villains are almost universally described as "dark-skinned," etc.

It's okay for him to write a book "about white people, for (mostly?) white people", but he went a little overboard in ensuring that all the bad guys were foreigners with high melanin levels.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:02 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


#4 is really striking, and bad. I watched Shogun a month or so back, and seeing Richard Chamberlain beat up all kinds of Samurai and Ninjas on his way to being made a Samurai himself was really silly. At least Tom Cruise played a military man trained to use a sword in his work, but that was still silly.

I didn't know that Kung Fu was originally a Bruce Lee vehicle. That would have been awesome.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:04 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for the Coens' adaptation of The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

Unfortunately, not happening. From here:

MJ: What about The Yiddish Policeman's Union?

MC: Nothing. The Coen brothers wrote a draft of a script and then they seemed to move on. The rights have lapsed back to me.

posted by ShooBoo at 3:05 PM on February 27, 2013


I didn't know that Kung Fu was originally a Bruce Lee vehicle. That would have been awesome.

Bruce Lee Kung Fu would have been my only show back when I was a kid.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:05 PM on February 27, 2013


Yes, but look at how often the word "black" is associated with baddies in LOTR.

Black Riders, Black Speech, black Uruk-hai, black gates, black breath. Villains are almost universally described as "dark-skinned," etc.


Look how often "black" is associated with evil or bad things in English. Black looks, black magic, black cats, etc.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


To play devil's advocate on the LOTR thing: wouldnt that time period (fantasy yes, but referencing our own world in many ways) have necessarily been more racially homogenous and less mixed?

Multicultural life is a bit of a relatively recent thing no?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2013


Unfortunately, not happening.

Maaaan.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2013


Fuck! I was really looking forward to that. It was the perfect pairing.
posted by griphus at 3:07 PM on February 27, 2013


To play devil's advocate on the LOTR thing: wouldnt that time period (fantasy yes, but referencing our own world in many ways) have necessarily been more racially homogenous and less mixed?

This works for Game of Thrones, where everyone is human; not so much for a world that already has hobbits, elves, humans and dwarves in close proximity.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:10 PM on February 27, 2013


There, in full view of the whole room, stood Ron wrapped so closely around Lavender Brown it was hard to tell whose hands were whose.
posted by Huck500 at 3:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's an animated movie for kids that I enjoy -- that I won't name here so as to avoid spoiling anything

Argh! Don't do this! Now you've piqued my interest and I have no idea what you're referencing. Please do share a title.
posted by byanyothername at 3:11 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I kind of feel that the criticism of Game of Thrones (in the Cracked article) is a bit weak. Having a problem with the fact that there are only white people in Westeros is a bit odd - inter-continental travel is hard where tall ships are the height of technology, so there's not going to be a huge amount of multiculturalism outside of major trading ports. Plus, other countries, and other ethnicities, are shown. Also trading ports with, gasp - a variety of culutres and ethnicities.

Claiming that the Dothraki are 'only' mocha is a bit silly. Race is not - ahem - black and white.

I would have though the more relevant issue would be the noble savage trope typified by the Dothraki, which is pretty offensive, if bog standard in TV and movies.

But Game of Thrones is actually pretty good on disability, it seems to me.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:14 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Senor Cardgage: "Multicultural life is a bit of a relatively recent thing no?"

Not so much multicultural life, I think, but desegregated life in which condemnation of racism in public is at least paid minimal lip service. There weren't fewer people with non-white skin in Britain in the 50s, it was just more culturally okay to treat them as lesser. (Unless your point is that Middle Earth, in historical realism, had fewer black people, which...I can't really speak to...)

His thoughts were red thoughts, I agree, my issue with the Dothraki storyline is much more about the relationship between Danaerys and everyone she meets in Esteros. She's the purest of the pure (read: white) heirs of Westeros, and the noble savior of these savage and violent people. She's the only one who understands why slavery is bad, or why women ought to be treated well, etc. It's all very colonialist.
posted by Phire at 3:16 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


would be the noble savage trope typified by the Dothraki, which is pretty offensive, if bog standard in TV and movies

The Dothraki may be savage but they sure aren't noble. They're mass murderers and rapists.
posted by Justinian at 3:16 PM on February 27, 2013


The Dothraki may be savage but they sure aren't noble. They're mass murderers and rapists.

That actually describes most of the nobility in GoT too.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:18 PM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Phire: Have you read the latest book or two? Like many of the cliches n ASoIaF, Dany's colonialist attitudes are subverted and backfire pretty seriously on her.
posted by Justinian at 3:18 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


They're mass murderers and rapists.

It's Game of Thrones. They're all mass murderers and rapists.

His thoughts were red thoughts, I agree, my issue with the Dothraki storyline is much more about the relationship between Danaerys and everyone she meets in Esteros.

Yes, very much like the 'white people are better at being Asian than Asians' thing - white people always seem to be innately superior to other ethnicities in TV and movies.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:20 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dothraki : GoT :: Klingons : Post TOS Star Trek when the Klingons morphed from "Soviets" to "richly textured, proud ethnic people with weird, spicy food."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:21 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I stopped after I finished Storm of Swords, so I wouldn't know about anything that happens in the last two books, no. (I found myself dreading the story more than I was enjoying it, and decided that 3,000 pages were more than a fair chance to give to a series. The show has been fun, though.)

I also generally don't get/agree with a lot of the "GRRM is a genius at subverting fantasy tropes" commentary I see, but now you've got me curious about how Dany's fate plays out. I'll likely hunt it down on Wikipedia or something later.
posted by Phire at 3:24 PM on February 27, 2013


This works for Game of Thrones, where everyone is human; not so much for a world that already has hobbits, elves, humans and dwarves in close proximity.

Right but even in LOTR those groups dont mix much. In fact isnt that part of the drama of the Fellowship? That they all have prejudicial attitudes towards one another based on their types/species?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:25 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


(please to not make this thread spoilery for GoT? still working through the S2 DVDs which just came out.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:27 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


At least Shogun was based on historical fact. But Hollywood took that fact and ran with it, yeah.
posted by Melismata at 3:29 PM on February 27, 2013


Right but even in LOTR those groups dont mix much. In fact isnt that part of the drama of the Fellowship? That they all have prejudicial attitudes towards one another based on their types/species?

I suppose so. Gimli and Legolas find common ground in their shared love of killing things, so there's that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:34 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I stopped after I finished Storm of Swords, so I wouldn't know about anything that happens in the last two books

It's pretty tame, actually. Everyone you come to know and love totally survives. Really. You can sure be confident there!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:34 PM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


On the African thing, the only bit of Western-made TV or film that comes to mind that doesn't portray all of Africa as a warzone is The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Does anyone else have any suggestions?

I would also add to that trope the 'all of India is a Mumbai slum' trope, closesly related to the 'there is always joy in the slums' trope.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:38 PM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Surprised not to see the trope about how deadly, evil or just plain bad luck adopted children are, according to Hollywood. Particularly older children.
posted by sundaydriver at 3:40 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Tolkien himself on racism.
posted by jquinby at 3:48 PM on February 27, 2013


I don't see how you can watch Lord of the Rings and not see racism. In the world where we live, of which LOTR is a fictive version, people only fight wars against other people. People who are grouped into races, who are made to look less-than-human by every cultural avenue available if they're your political enemies.

Who exactly do you think the goblins and Orcs are standing in for?

Hint: not dolphins.
posted by duvatney at 3:52 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think they're representative of Jews, necessarily, but the resemblance in physical features, mannerisms and accents when combined with the money-grubbing gets to be pretty obvious and tiring.

Well and the thing that always drives me insane about this trope is that it is so clearly the most recent example in a long line of historical precedents. I also don't think it's explicitly intended that way in popular entertainment these days, but I'm fairly confident that the miserly goblin thing is a subconscious appropriation of that historical imagery.
posted by invitapriore at 3:53 PM on February 27, 2013


In the world where we live, of which LOTR is a fictive version,

Seeing LOTR as some sort of political / real-world allegory is not really correct. Tolkein was far more interested in creating an English version of the myths and legends of other cultures.

So the goblins were stand-ins for.... goblins.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:59 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


(Now, you can argue those myths themselves have the issue you are talking about. However, some of the legends he borrowed heavily from were hundreds or thousands of years old and the world was a vastly different place.... so while it's quite possible to talk about how Tolkein was influenced by the culture of his time, as I'm sure he was, talking about the cultural issues surrounding Norse and Greek mythology is a little trickier)
posted by wildcrdj at 4:00 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


LOTR would make no sense to us without racial warfare as its real-life analogue.

Tolkien's a medievalist. He's absolutely steeped in literature that glorifies one race/religion and denigrates another ("Saracens," medieval Christians' catch-all term for Muslims/pagans/etc). He was aware of the problems inherent to the tradition. He had to be. So, instead of creating a race of wicked, suspiciously brown-complected humans, he conjured up a bunch of Orcs instead. But there's no way to look at the Orcs and not see an analogue for Saracens. Tolkien just took one step further in making them literally less than human. But they still look a whole hell of a lot like people to me.

And then the filmmakers chose to depict the orcs and goblins as dark-sinned, and all of Tolkien's heroes white as the proverbial lily. There's a reason they made this decision. There's a reason it felt natural and right to them, and that reason is rooted in racism.

So I'm really not convinced by the explanation that they're "just goblins" and that their depiction has nothing to do with race. There's a difference between Beowulf's Grendel and a huge terrifying homogenous military force of humans-that-aren't-quite-human, humans of a different race.
posted by duvatney at 4:14 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Tolkien himself on racism.

I mean, even when he's execrating Hitler for his racism:

"Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:17 PM on February 27, 2013


Lavender is neither black nor white in the books. There is no physical description of her given, so Lavender could be anything, though Lavender is described as a pureblood witch. The distinction only matters because the HP series addresses racism within the confines of the wizarding world by having some characters--inevitably the ones on the wrong side--place great importance on purebloodedness over those of mixed blood, whom they call "mud bloods", a term intended to give offense. That they are then outed as prejudiced (and, in Voldemort's case, hypocritical as well) shows, I think, that Rowling considers such distinctions silly and meaningless. Rowling has commented that she intended Professor Dumbledore to be gay, but did not see the need to spell this out explicitly, as it was not pivotal to the storyline; he was just Dumbledore, a great wizard and Harry's mentor.

I really cannot fault the books for racism, as major characters were pretty diverse. Off the top of my head, the Patil girls are Indian and Cho Chang is understood to be of Asian heritage, but this is never specifically spelled out. Angelina is specifically described as an atractive dark girl, while Lee is black in the movies but I don't think we know his race in the books. Unless race is going to be important to the story--like Hagrid's Mom being a giant--the reader doesn't really need to know, anyway.

So, what about racism in the movies? I don't see it being an issue there, either. Yes, the girls who played Lavender in the first two movies were black. They were also extras with no other major credits to their names and that seems to still be the case. They could just have easily been Hispanic, Samoan or Inuit and I doubt any of us would have remembered, because Lavender is just kinda hovering in the background, unintroduced, in those first films.

When it came time for Lavender's character to be a major player in The Half-Blood Prince, though, they held an open casting call to find an actress to play her, and over 7000 girls showed up to audition for the role. They did the same thing for the Cho Chang auditions, so it wasn't something they just pulled out of their asses for Lavender. The actress they chose from that casting call to play Lavender was Jessie Cave, who is white.

The casting directors might have chosen her because they are racists, or they might not have thought race mattered one way or the other, or maybe Jessie Cave and Rupert Grint had great chemistry, or all/none of the above.

I don't know, but the Harry Potter franchise has handled race well enough on the whole that I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.
posted by misha at 4:22 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Maybe it's up since 2010, but I find it hard to believe it's not way down compared to 1965.

Try a movie from the '30s or '40s, where every time any character stops moving for any reason apart from death s/he lights up a cigarette.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:23 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Multicultural life is a bit of a relatively recent thing no?

Definitely not. Intercultural contact may be more pervasive and diffuse now than ever (though I wouldn't stand by that), but there have been extremely multicultural cities for, well, as long as there have been cities.
posted by threeants at 4:24 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I'm really not convinced by the explanation that they're "just goblins" and that their depiction has nothing to do with race. There's a difference between Beowulf's Grendel and a huge terrifying homogenous military force of humans-that-aren't-quite-human, humans of a different race.

Yeah, it's so sad how pervasive this stuff is in fantasy-derived works. I loved the Redwall books when I was little, and there's so much there to recommend it for young readers. But I'd have a lot of reservations giving it to a kid nowadays-- the whole series is basically premised on a giant race war!
posted by threeants at 4:29 PM on February 27, 2013


the whole series is basically premised on a giant race war!

From the desk of Brian Jacques.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:31 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dothraki : GoT :: Klingons : Post TOS Star Trek when the Klingons morphed from "Soviets" to "richly textured, proud ethnic people with weird, spicy food."

GAGH ISN'T WEIRD
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:49 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


there are "middle class people in every African country commuting to work every day, complaining about taxes and watching their kids play soccer every weekend."

One of the things I like to do when I just need a break and want to turn off my brain for a while -- other than playing video games -- is to hop on Google maps in streetview and just cruise around for a while, looking at places. Cities, abandoned, highways, whatever. Mapcrunch is great for this, to find a random place to start off.

Just the other day, I discovered that Botswana and South Africa now have streetview, and so I cruised down a dusty southern highway in Botswana and across the border, then hopped to a small city in the northern South Africa. Actually, at the time, I thought I was in Swaziland, but I wasn't paying close attention. I 'drove' into the city, and I noticed a couple of things. First, there were an awful lot of funeral service and tombstone places. In the space of about 5km of virtual driving from the outskirts through the center (it was a one-main-drag kinda place, I'm guess about 20,000 people), I saw 5 of them.

Second, just after I got through the downtown strip (complete with a KFC), I hit a neighbourhood that could have been plucked out of southern Ontario or any other bucolic suburban North American neighbourhood. It kind of croggled my mind a bit -- because, sure, of my stereotyping, and a little because I wasn't aware that I was in South Africa, which is probably richer in pockets than a lot of Southern Africa -- that it was nicer-looking than pretty much any neighbourhood I've ever seen in (richer, more 'modern') Korea, in terms of just being single-family homes on a quiet, well-treed street.

I know that what I was looking at was a manifestation of terribly economic and social inequality, probably. But it was certainly interesting, and stereotype breaking, for me at least.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:51 PM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Multicultural life is a bit of a relatively recent thing no?

Depends on where you are, really. Which is to say, no, not at all, most places. Most people historically (particularly pre-1500) have lived in worlds in which one's "culture" could very well encompass at most the population of the local village and a few surrounding settlements, and even when political entities started to grow, linguistic and other cultural differences were significant up through the great push to homogenize the new nation states in the 1700s and 1800s. Anyone who traveled at all or was engaged in long-distance activities (trade, warfare) would experience dealing with people of different ethnic/linguistic origins.

Even if you accept the idea that all white people/Europeans were/are "one culture" (or civilization, as Samuel Huntington put it) the idea that you need to represent medieval/early modern populations as homogenous and outsiders as absent doesn't really hold up. The thing about traditional fantasy is that its not just Euro-centric but centered on north/northwest Europe, which was the region of Europe most isolated from other continents and cultures right up through the 1800s (when you start seeing significant immigration from the colonies to the imperial metropoles). Fantasy which was based on, say the Mediterranean world, medieval Spain or Sicily especially, or on Central/Eastern Europe (which interfaced both with the Islamic and Central Asian cultural spheres from early on) would be very, very different.

Basically, the world that Tolkien, for example, constructed, was something of a fantasy within a fantasy - the fantasy of middle earth set inside the historical fantasy of a culturally homogenous Nordic Europe which was never really homogenous and which, insofar as it existed, really wasn't representative of Europe as a whole.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


As in every thread where this is discussed people need to read Michael Moorcock's Epic Pooh and Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream when discussing racism in fantasy. But its probably more useful to discuss it in other films, since geek racism discussions usually get bogged down in Tolkien.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:17 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks AdamCSnider!
That was really insightful.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:26 PM on February 27, 2013


In Fantasy Movies, Everyone Has to Be White

I don't think this is an insane stereotype - "Fantasy" is a genre that people basically define as "does it have euro swords with euro magic with euro fey, set in a magical medieval Europe? If yes, file under fantasy. If no, file under science fiction or young adult or historical fiction." (GRAH!!)

I think the problem is not so much that this geographic setting almost defines (and limits) the genre (though that could change), but that modern stories told through that setting should be modern stories with modern moires winning out in the end. I think some books hit that note, some very much don't.

Semi-related - Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Do people predominantly see Morgan Freeman as playing just a comic relief sidekick character, or is that movie considered an example of race handled a bit better in fantasy movies? (or some value of "both" or "neither"?)
posted by anonymisc at 5:34 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe I don't watch enough Hollywood films, but I feel like I've seen a number of great and not terribly obscure films where the gay/queer/trans character isn't a villain or a victim: Orlando, Maurice, When Night is Falling (okay, there is a tragic death in that film, but that character is not gay*). Also, The Blue Rajah in Mystery Men - he may or may not have been gay, but definitely a little queer.

*also not human, but it's still tragic. Fortunately, the unrealistic ending made me feel better
posted by jb at 6:25 PM on February 27, 2013


Maybe I don't watch enough Hollywood films, but I feel like I've seen a number of great and not terribly obscure films where the gay/queer/trans character isn't a villain or a victim: Orlando, Maurice, When Night is Falling

All three of those movies are around 20 years old.

Of the top 10 highest grossing films in 2012, I think only 1 had an openly gay or bi character - Skyfall - and he was the villain.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:44 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


byanyothername, I've memailed you the movie title, and I've also responded to anyone else (so far) who's memailed me asking the title. Anyone else who wants to know, feel free to memail me -- I know that spoilers upset some folks, so I will err on the side of thoughtfulness today.
posted by davejay at 6:50 PM on February 27, 2013


Of the top 10 highest grossing films in 2012, I think only 1 had an openly gay or bi character - Skyfall - and he was the villain.

Although that film also outed Bond himself as bisexual, which was kind of entertaining....
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:51 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or they were just playing Gay Chicken.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:53 PM on February 27, 2013


Although that film also outed Bond himself as bisexual, which was kind of entertaining....

Implied only - Bond could have just been flirting for the sake of it. You're tied to a chair, at the mercy of a madman - why not?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:55 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fandom law, older a wizard gets the gayer he becomes . Just Happens one day, BAM
If you Got good skills in archery and potion making for him may lallow you work under him...., very deeply under, usimg his little vials and potions and dawp herbs to be lit and left burning in the censor he holds them in both hands amd them he meets the nightlight star.
.
posted by The Whelk at 7:02 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've also thought of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (so much better than the musical), and The birdcage (tried the French original but couldn't get into it).

As for being 20+ years old, that's just me - I don't go out to many films. And When Night is Falling is 18 years old, not 20+ - I remember seeing it with the girl I had a crush on at the time. (great lesbian date movie - almost a recruitment film).

But is it really worse now? It seems that things are getting so much better. We didn't even think of having a Gay-Straight Alliance group at my school, and we were a really progressive arts school. And Quantum Leap lost sponsors for suggesting being gay was okay. The world feels so different, just 20 years later.
posted by jb at 7:21 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Of the top 10 highest grossing films in 2012, I think only 1 had an openly gay or bi character

Top grossing is the wrong metric - that is a measure of which movies had content that was popular, rather than what kind of content movie-makers put in their movies. Movies of 2012 with a budget above $XYZ could be a better metric, for example. (I don't know whether that yields better or worse use of characters. I doubt it's much of a difference, but y'know.)
posted by anonymisc at 7:24 PM on February 27, 2013


Wait - Priscilla and The Birdcage are also from the mid-90s. Has it just been that long since I've been into watching films, or was there some kind of LGBT rennaissance in the 90s?
posted by jb at 7:25 PM on February 27, 2013


Wait... what? Smoking in real life has plummeted, at least in the US: "Smoking rates in the United States have dropped by half from 1965 to 2006 falling from 42% to 20.8% of adults." While smoking in movies is actually up - "The total number of 'tobacco incidents' per movie was up 7% from 2010." So probably a bad analogy choice.

I mostly stopped watching movies a while ago, but the biggest of all the reasons why i hated die hard 4 (or whatever is called) is that John McClane lights up exactly 0 cigarettes in the whole movie. Fuck that.
posted by palbo at 7:27 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait - Priscilla and The Birdcage are also from the mid-90s. Has it just been that long since I've been into watching films, or was there some kind of LGBT rennaissance in the 90s?

I can tell you that there was actually. There was an awesome boomlet for about a year and a half when Birdcage, Priscilla, Too Wong Foo happened and it really felt like the world was coming around. Then there was a second boom a few years later with In & Out, Ellen, and Will & Grace.

Note that I'm only using really mainstream examples here. There was a lot of great gay stuff bubbling in the more left of the dial spaces too, with that one that Patrick Stewart was in (name escapes me) and things like Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, etc.
I remember thinking at the time that the world was finally "righting" itself, but all progress comes in waves that alternate in regression so we got DOMA and the 2004 presidential election and NOM and Prop 8 and all that nonsense in the blowback.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:46 PM on February 27, 2013


Top grossing is the wrong metric - that is a measure of which movies had content that was popular, rather than what kind of content movie-makers put in their movies. Movies of 2012 with a budget above $XYZ could be a better metric, for example.

Could you explain why? Top grossing movies are designed for broad, mainstream appeal. In one sense, they are the epitome of pop culture. I would argue that the failure to include gay characters, or ethnic characters, or for those kinds of movies to pass the Bechdel test is a pretty reasonable indication of the entrenched prejudices of the industry.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:50 PM on February 27, 2013


Could you explain why?

Because this is incorrect:

Top grossing movies are designed for broad, mainstream appeal.

"Top grossing" is a measure of sales, not design, it includes movies designed for broad, mainstream appeal. It also includes sleeper hits, meanwhile box office bombs similarly includes movies designed for broad, mainstream appeal.

The movies of interest in our context are "movies that were designed for broad, mainstream appeal", not "movies that the audience liked", hence my suggestion of using a budget threshold instead of box office results -
studios don't invest big dollars without expecting big sales, therefore budget is a better metric of which movies were designed for broad, mainstream appeal.
posted by anonymisc at 7:58 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I think Moorcock misreads Tolkien at a number of points in that essay, but that's probably getting a little off topic of the thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:39 PM on February 27, 2013


anonymisc - fair enough. But it's moot, since I can't find decent data on movie budgets.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:54 PM on February 27, 2013


I have to say, as a Canadian, I have yet to meet any other Canadian males that drink awful beer, are apparently super cool while at the same time being without a mind, are always rugged, can take arctic levels of cold, are constantly partying at cottages but remain in great shape, and get laid all the time by Canadian females who apparently only want to get laid and run around in bikinis in the Arctic cold in cottages as well drinking beer and staying in shape. But I didn't expect to. I understand there are movies like this too.

Outside of less than popular series like the Wire, and very popular series like House of Cards, a movie about the horrible old men's club and how it affects all of our lives isn't going to be particularly popular and formulas or business models that make some people a lot of money, despite potentially being horrible, aren't going away anytime soon. Our entire economic system is based on get everything you can take and fuck the rest, and it's actually celebrated and the free market is equated with freedom. It's all utterly bizarre.

Fortunately, there are far more ways to see independent cinema and art these days.

Smoking in real life has plummeted, at least in the US: "Smoking rates in the United States have dropped by half from 1965 to 2006 falling from 42% to 20.8% of adults." While smoking in movies is actually up - "The total number of 'tobacco incidents' per movie was up 7% from 2010." So probably a bad analogy choice.

Anti-smoking education and laws have proven far more influential than films. Would that the educational system valued humanities more, particularly the language of film, society might benefit.

Depends on where you are, really. Which is to say, no, not at all, most places. Most people historically (particularly pre-1500) have lived in worlds in which one's "culture" could very well encompass at most the population of the local village and a few surrounding settlements, and even when political entities started to grow, linguistic and other cultural differences were significant up through the great push to homogenize the new nation states in the 1700s and 1800s. Anyone who traveled at all or was engaged in long-distance activities (trade, warfare) would experience dealing with people of different ethnic/linguistic origins.

When I was in Spain (Ibiza) staying with a friend who is Chinese, we had an interesting conversation with some Italians and some native Spaniards (I am a Canadian ginger who some of the locals took as being from Britain which apparently made the local drug dealers try to sell me drugs constantly but that's another story). The group we were with would refer to Asians by pulling their eyes up or down. My friend and I were rather surprised as in Canada (and I imagine the States as well) this would be abhorrent behaviour. I don't speak Spanish but I noticed during her response that she grabbed her eyes and made them "circular" as it were, basically saying she doesn't refer to them in such a manner. They seemed rather surprised that we took offense. We continued the conversation and explained why. They seemed to get the gist of it but I don't know if they cared, but they did say they had never seen anyone who was not Caucasian, in person until they were around 20 years old. We figured this might be a new world/old world thing where there might be more of a mix of people who came to North America rather than Europe and elsewhere but I can't claim that such a though is accurate as I really don't know nor have researched it. They weren't advocating that non Europeans were inferior or had less rights or anything of that nature but it was quite an experience. But it's interesting and to your point about travel, to read how after World War 2, some African Americans were empowered by their experience overseas:

Some veterans came back with a militant attitude ready to fight. They realized that Jim Crow was not inevitable and the South didn't have to be that way. "We thought it was the way it was supposed to be, "one soldier remarked. "We was dumb to the facts and didn't know." But when they were treated as human beings by Europeans and Australians and other whites in different countries, "It opened up my eyes to the racial problems."

Travel, is of course, considerably difficult for a lot of people because they can't afford it and the quality drama, if I can say that realizing that such things are relative, tends to just as inaccessible.

I also went north outside of Toronto with a girlfriend who was Filipino. We went to a local Swiss Chalet and the worker their automatically assumed she wanted rice. I think cities remain a much better place to be exposed to different cultures and different people compared to more rural areas. I find it hard to accept that no, not all, in most places, in regard to multiculturalism is true, but again, I haven't seen any studies.

We have a long way to go but getting to destination slowly and painfully is better than not getting there at all. I don't feel Hollywood films are particularly a large factor as compared to parenting and environment. I know a ton of people who have seen a lot of Hollywood films but don't take them as doctrine.
posted by juiceCake at 9:03 PM on February 27, 2013


The Wedding Banquet is another great film where the gay characters don't murder or get murdered - and it's directed by Ang Lee which makes it totally mainstream, right? Even if my local blockbuster had it in the foreign section. (sigh). But, yeah, it's from 1993.
posted by jb at 9:14 PM on February 27, 2013


Scott Pilgrm had a lesbian character who got murdered, but also several gay characters who did not.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:16 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scott Pilgrm had a lesbian character who got murdered

That wasnt murder, it was self defense and he only touched the inside of her knee and she became coins.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:37 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: That wasnt murder, it was self defense and he only touched the inside of her knee and she became coins.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:37 PM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Scott Pilgrm had a lesbian character who got murdered, but also several gay characters who did not.

Meh, self defence. And Scott Pilgrim is actually pretty bad on stereotyping itself. Still a great movie though.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:17 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Implied only - Bond could have just been flirting for the sake of it. You're tied to a chair, at the mercy of a madman - why not?

But also, Silva could have been flirting with Bond just to mess with his head. He specifically asks Bond whether his training taught him to deal with this (ie. his flirting). For me, Skyfall has two bi characters - Silva and Bond. We've been conditioned to think Bond is straight, but now we have more information.
posted by crossoverman at 3:20 AM on February 28, 2013


YOUR fan favorite has some issues, but MINE has a pretty good track record and gets a pass.
posted by Legomancer at 4:41 AM on February 28, 2013


His thoughts - your link doesn't say that Scott Pilgrim was bad on stereotypes. It says that the books were progressive, so it was disappointing when the movie wasn't as progressive (though largely through neglect/cutting). But that it wasn't worse than most Hollywood films and was better than most made for male audiences.
posted by jb at 5:33 AM on February 28, 2013


Although that film also outed Bond himself as bisexual, which was kind of entertaining....

Well, he did go to a public school. Who knows what the boys got up to at night...
posted by atrazine at 5:34 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think Hollywood responds to culture not drives it. I think smoking trending down will follow a RL trend, not lead it. I think extremely greedy and uncaring persons in charge of this industry would make ANY film they thought would sell to the most people. Clearly, they do not think the sorts of movies many here would prefer or wish to see would make money for them. I think this is a purely economic, not social-agenda driven thing. When economics speak, greedy people listen. They don't care about anyone's idealistic notions about representation or fairness. They want butts in seats. They chase the butts, not the other way around. They try to give the butts what they calculate the most butts want. Half the country violently disagrees with almost anything posted on this nice liberal website. They probably watch a lot of movies rather than arguing on mefi.
posted by umberto at 6:27 AM on February 28, 2013


The thing with that, though, is that many people will go to see what's available, regardless of how good it is or whether they're into it. The fact that Transformers 3 grossed a bazillion dollars doesn't mean most people who went to see it even liked it, just that it was available everywhere, and it was better than nothing. If you live in a smaller town, there just aren't any arthouse theaters taking risks on smaller and independent features, and you're kind of stuck with the blockbusters.

I know just as many conservatives and non-progressives who are exasperated that Hollywood seems only interested in making sequels and adaptations, and people notice when movies seem like cheap imitations of the same theme. (Currently, it seems to be post-apocalyptic earth with the lone ranger who uncovers some deep dark secret.) When smart and interesting movies come out--like Beasts of the Southern Wild--people across the political spectrum seem to cheer its merits, but we never got that movie in our backwater town and had to wait for the DVD release. (Another example is how Pitch Perfect had an incredibly limited initial release, and it didn't make it to the rest of the country until about a month after opening weekend, which will of course affect its box office figures. And yet it's been consistently in the top rentals on iTunes for months now.)

How much a movie grosses and how successful it appears to be in the box office is very much influenced by where it's screened and what kind of marketing is thrown at it, and when big dumb thoughtless anti-progressive flicks have big dumb money behind it, it'll look popular regardless of what "the people" actually think. I think Hollywood certainly drives culture as much as it absorbs it, and there's a tendency to fall into a vicious cycle. They see a sexist (e.g.) culture, and thus make sexist movies, which makes money, so they continue with that same formula regardless of how much culture itself progresses, which in turn actually leads to a stagnation of cultural progress because Hollywood is actually actively perpetuating the problematic dynamics it claims to only be reflecting. They can't get off the hook just by saying that they are just a foil for the wider society.
posted by Phire at 7:19 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the African thing, the only bit of Western-made TV or film that comes to mind that doesn't portray all of Africa as a warzone is ...

How about "The Flame Trees of Thika" as shown on PBS and which I also read as a kid? This WikiPedia link says it ends with the start of WWI. *shrug*
posted by wenestvedt at 7:30 AM on February 28, 2013


We've been conditioned to think Bond is straight, but now we have more information.

My assumption here (from my male, heterosexual perspective) is that Bond is straight but will do whatever (or whoever, amirite?) is necessary for his country. And he has.

Oddly, I was watching the fourth Mission Impossible movie the other day and there is a scene where the (beautiful, female) operative has to seduce the evil (male) plutocrat to get the secret stuff. I briefly wondered why these plutocrats never like guys. Later on, another operative (male, this time), after breaking into a secure room and nearly getting killed, says something like "Next time, I get to seduce the billionaire". Heh.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:21 AM on February 28, 2013


with that one that Patrick Stewart was in (name escapes me)

Jeffrey
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:11 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's not fair to blame Hollywood for the whiteness of LOTR or A Song of Ice and Fire. That's right there in the source material and, in many cases, can't be changed without radically messing with the source material. (If you haven't read/seen GoT the appearance of most of the characters really is plot relevant).

They could have, however, chosen to adapt different works.

Like, say, the Earthsea novels of Ursula Le Guin. Oh, wait.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:27 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, Hollywood has a bad record with these things. I was just taking issue with one specific example.
posted by Justinian at 12:04 PM on February 28, 2013


Which makes me want to cast a stink-eye at Bill Willingham's Fables for it's disappointing handling of race.

He also has a weird obsession with Zionist politics, too, at least in a speech Bigby makes at one point about the impossibility of beating Israel because Israel will never give up, or something something. It was...odd, in that context, like a wedged-in screed. The way the series draws women (depictions of assault in particular) at least up to the point I stopped reading, were kind of problematic too. Overall, the series seems to want to condemn violence/sexism (maybe racism too) but also revel in it in a way that's a little queasy-making. A not uncommon comics problem.

/derail
posted by emjaybee at 12:06 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm currently enjoying on Netflix the ABC series "Once Upon a Time", and one of the things I love about it is that although it's drawing mostly -- thus far in my watching -- from Western European fairy tales, there are plenty of people of color sprinkled throughout fairy tale land in the back story as knights, fairy godmothers, villagers, etc. Which makes me want to cast a stink-eye at Bill Willingham's Fables for it's disappointing handling of race. Not saying you have to make Snow White black or anything, but, Jebus, try a little harder.

I don't know, I think the same criticisms can be leveled at both of them. None of the main cast of Once Upon a Time are non-white. Ditto Fables.

Fables has some supporting characters that are non-white; Bellflower, Mowgli, Sinbad... but many. And, on review, I don't think that there is a single black character, which is kind of weird. But then, I only count two non-white named characters in Once Upon a Time - Mulan and Sidney/Magic Mirror.

Both of them primarily focus on Western European fairy tales, although Once Upon a Time has a token Chinese one (Mulan), and Fables has a whole Arabian offshoot. That's not that unreasonable if you consider they are both aimed at a Western European derived audience - you can only effectively subvert a fairytale if your audience is familiar with it. I guarentee Mulan would not feature in Once Upon a Time had she not recently appeared in a Disney movie.

Nevertheless, I think both of them suffer from an assumption that 'white' is the default - by and large, unless a character is explictly of another ethnicity, they're always white.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:13 PM on February 28, 2013


He also has a weird obsession with Zionist politics, too, at least in a speech Bigby makes at one point about the impossibility of beating Israel because Israel will never give up, or something something. It was...odd, in that context, like a wedged-in screed.

Ah, finally found the quote:
BIGBY: Ever hear of a country called Israel? …Israel is a tiny country surrounded by much larger countries dedicated to its eventual total destruction. …they stay alive by being a bunch of tough little bastards who make the other guys pay dearly every time they do anything against Israel. Some in the wider world constantly wail and moan about the endless cycle of violence and reprisal. But since the alternative is non-existence, the Israelis seem determined to keep at it. They have a lot of grit and iron. I’m a big fan of them
...
Here's the part that concerns you. Fabletown has decided to adopt the Israel template in whole. You've no doubt guessed that you guys play the part of the vast powers arrayed against us. Every time you hurt us we're going to damage you much worse in return. It will always happen. Always. You're the only one who can end the cycle. And keep in mind. You have a huge empire to protect. Guard the ten million most likely targets and there will still be a hundred million ripe, unprotected targets we can hit.
Then he goes all die hard, and explodifies a high value target.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:21 PM on February 28, 2013


Look how often "black" is associated with evil or bad things in English. Black looks, black magic, black cats, etc.

Indeed. I didn't first read LOTR until two years ago (at which point I devoured it twice in three months) but all throughout, I couldn't help but be reminded of that scene in Malcolm X where they explain how even the dictionary definitions of black and white often correspond with evil and good, respectively.

Tolkien was undoubtedly a victim of his own native language (perhaps ironically so) but even looking past all that, it gets a bit cringe-worthy when every group of baddies ends up being "dark-skinned foreigners."

Saruman and Wormtongue are exceptions, of course. Then again, they get all the best lines, so we're back to square one.

This is of course not to suggest that Tolkien himself was any kind of a racist. Just pointing how what I'd call latent racist themes would still find their way into his work.

It's also worth noting that when conceptualizing the Haradrim in Return of the King, Peter Jackson's team, distressed at facing "yet another" race of dark-skinned villains, went out of their way to base them on no known existing human culture, with the exception of a single small group of people on a remote island, whom they considered to be likely "immune from insult" ( my term) in this case.

Whether or not they succeeded is subjective, but it's nice to know that they were sensitive, aware, and eager not to offend anyone, if they could help it.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:08 AM on March 1, 2013


Look how often "black" is associated with evil or bad things in English. Black looks, black magic, black cats, etc.


Not to excuse casual racism or to say that it doesnt exist, but how much of this is due to people's natural fear of the dark?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:13 AM on March 1, 2013


Exactly. In the proverbial world lit only be fire, the dark can be really frightening.

I'd be interested to know if there is a similar [light/white = good // dark/black = bad] pattern in non-European languages.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:44 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look how often "black" is associated with evil or bad things in English. Black looks, black magic, black cats, etc.

The origin though is most certainly the night/day dynamic. That people are so ignorant of the symbolism and metaphors of language leads to associating dark people as bad too when we all know that anyone, regardless of the colour of their skin, can be a right bastard, or not.

Literature, by its very nature, of course, uses symbolic language, or poetic, whatever you want to call it. Hence we often have nature as a female, associated with giving life (warm) and taking life (cold) and again, unfortunately, people equate poetic language with "reality" and discriminate against women for example.

It might be interesting to see if certain writers had some sort of racist agenda behind their symbolism but it just as easily could be a case of people just using poetic language and being fairly unaware of the world at large and the issues outside of fiction that concern others.
posted by juiceCake at 1:48 PM on March 2, 2013


I'd be interested to know if there is a similar [light/white = good // dark/black = bad] pattern in non-European languages.

The symbolism of white and black is certainly more complex in Japanese and Chinese cultures, as is the relationship between light and good, and dark and 'bad.' I would not characterize this association as universal at all.
posted by muddgirl at 4:09 PM on March 2, 2013


stavrosthewonderchicken: "First, there were an awful lot of funeral service and tombstone places. In the space of about 5km of virtual driving from the outskirts through the center (it was a one-main-drag kinda place, I'm guess about 20,000 people), I saw 5 of them."

I saw this in some places in the states too; the main strip in tiny towns where half a dozen businesses had tomb stones (new) on display in their front yards. You don't see that at all where I live (maybe because the local cemeteries all require flush monuments) so it really stands out. Also if there is any truth in television it appears that some places people bury their relatives on their property which again doesn't happen much here so there would be less one stop shopping for that kind of stuff.
posted by Mitheral at 5:17 AM on March 3, 2013


The origin though is most certainly the night/day dynamic. That people are so ignorant of the symbolism and metaphors of language leads to associating dark people as bad too when we all know that anyone, regardless of the colour of their skin, can be a right bastard, or not.

Fair points, but Tolkien in particular was neither ignorant of metaphors nor (presumably) looking for shortcuts to describe individuals, but rather entire races/ cultures. It's certainly simple enough to concoct a dark, scary cavern. But when every evil race in Middle Earth can be categorized as "definitely not Anglo looking," there's a problem.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:37 AM on March 6, 2013


Right. Describing the Haradrim as being a swarthy race sets off alarm bells. But the Black Gate should not.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:55 AM on March 6, 2013


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