What's up with the Comanche "savages" in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs?
December 6, 2018 10:17 AM   Subscribe

How the Coen Brothers handle Native American representation in The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs is, to put it mildly, not great...The caricatured Native American characters in Netflix's The Ballad of Buster Scruggs [are] part of the satire, but is that portrayal responsible? Anishinaabe filmmaker Lisa Jackson and Métis director Shane Belcourt join film critic Adam Nayman in a roundtable about race, representation and making space for non-white voices in film. (Radheyan Simonpillai, Now Toronto) Warning: This article contains plot spoilers for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Shane Belcourt: Look, my name is Shane. I’m named after a Western. My dad is Métis from Alberta and he named me after Alan Ladd’s character. We love Westerns: the cowboys and horses and the Wild West show stuff. At the same time, what’s missing from all Westerns is this sense that there were other people, another side to this story, and another side of humanity that’s not shown when you have a zombie attack of Indians coming over the horizon.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (41 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 


Saw a clip on YouTube of some old guy fending off "Indians" while giving a young woman a pistol to finish herself off if he did not succeed.

It was really jarring to see First Nations / Native Americans treated as props -- and violent inhuman/subhuman props at that -- in 2018.

What is the point of Buster Scruggs? Entertainment? I must admit I'm not at all a fan of the Coen brothers' filmmaking schtick, but the way First Nations are represented here is inhuman.

Canadians are little better, if at all, but it seems to me that for most Americans, First Nations / Native Americans literally don't even exist, and are just a historical fiction of some kind.
posted by JamesBay at 10:40 AM on December 6 [8 favorites]


This was a really interesting read and helped me contextualize some of my feelings while watching TBoBS, and I think this comment from Shane Belcourt is really, really important:

"Can there be a door number three where – I know this is the dream of dreams – you’re making companion pieces allowing space for other voices? So if Netflix allows a Wild West tale from the perspective of the Coens, then that’s totally valid. Let’s get someone like American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo to have a shot to make a Wild West tale from an Indigenous perspective, to think about how the land was cleared.

How do you get that perspective into the audience as they watch that scene? People were systematically murdered and destroyed? How do you get that? I don’t think we’re going get that by debating the good or bad intentions of white male filmmakers. Let’s get to the third way. Ya’ll just do what you do. Can we do our own thing? That would be the better version of these choices."

posted by stellaluna at 11:07 AM on December 6 [21 favorites]


It's an interesting discussion and definitely something that ran across my mind while watching the film. The only "justification" I could think of was that the film was told from a literal storybook perspective - almost every character is a caricature of the West - and that historical perspective is deliberately designed obscure the utterly depraved violence of colonialism. We realise the absurdity of "The Singing Cowboy" when the trail of brutal murder and arbitrary violence he leaves behind is laid bare.
posted by smithsmith at 11:56 AM on December 6 [9 favorites]


I've reached a point where I can no longer really engage with media that has only the white pov in a multiracial/multicultural environment, similar to how I can't deal with media that has only the male pov in a multigendered environment. Whatever part of me that exists to be touched by stories, to have even the most beautifully depicted aspects of the human condition resonate within me, no longer responds. I think of the all-male, all-white writer's rooms that produce such depictions and I envision their facial expressions, their impatience, their poorly concealed resentment, their blustering pedantic explanations, when someone like me asks why they can't produce more well-rounded media, or collaborate with people who CAN produce it, and it exhausts me right down to my bones.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:16 PM on December 6 [43 favorites]


The Coen Brothers having a problematic approach to race? Count me as completely unsurprised. They strike as those sort of producers who while not actively racist, just handiest race with all the subtlety and self reflection of a...thing. A thing that's the opposite of subtle and self-reflective
posted by happyroach at 12:19 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


>The only "justification" I could think of was that the film was told from a literal storybook perspective

I don't think it works, at all. There's that old adage of "be careful of who you pretend to be, because you will end up becoming that person." An ironic portrayal of racism is still racism. Quentin Tarantino is another example of this.
posted by JamesBay at 12:19 PM on December 6 [11 favorites]


Thanks. It's been in my to watch queue for a while and now I can gleefully remove it.

Established (White) film makers have been getting a pass for this kind of lazy racisim for far too long. I as an individual refuse to enable them to do so any more.

The Cohens were asked about the lack of diversity - let alone none racist representation - in their films before and thier answers were somewhat inadequate.
posted by Faintdreams at 12:28 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


The vignettes are definitely about "The Old West" as they exist in popular culture, and have little/nothing to to with actual life. In fact, I have a feeling that many of people writing about "The Gal Who Got Rattled" have only seen the one scene.

Joel/Ethan have said this one was done in the style of Charles Portis (of True Grit fame), who based his work on first person accounts. Accounts that are are obviously biased and one sided, and where the "enemy" just shows up out of nowhere and wrecks havoc. Just listening to how the two main characters speak to each other should be enough to show that the portrayal of everyone involved is artificial.
posted by sideshow at 12:31 PM on December 6 [7 favorites]


I don't think it works, at all. There's that old adage of "be careful of who you pretend to be, because you will end up becoming that person." An ironic portrayal of racism is still racism.

Yeah, basically all White People riffing on Old West Themes is going to end up here. There just isn't actually a way to portray a long, slow process of genocide in a light-hearted way, and it's just as hard to try and play off of the already white-washed portrayals in older westerns. It's just a bad idea and they should quit trying.

Tarantino is a great call-out for this as well, filmmakers seem to have a fetish for westerns and all the great filmic history in them, and a total blindspot towards how those 'great' films are appallingly racist in most cases, and focused on a mythological re-telling of events that are really not all that long ago.

Once you're trying to make a storybook retelling of a storybook retelling of a fucking genocide, you have seriously lost the plot.
posted by neonrev at 12:33 PM on December 6 [21 favorites]


The vignettes are definitely about "The Old West" as they exist in popular culture, and have little/nothing to to with actual life.

That explanation doesn't work for me anymore, especially as the pop culture version of The West whitewashes genocide and actively turns the victims of that genocide into zombie-like aggressors.
posted by maxsparber at 12:48 PM on December 6 [11 favorites]


Or what neonrev said.
posted by maxsparber at 12:49 PM on December 6


I had this discussion with a friend of mine recently, and I felt exactly the opposite. I don't care much for their films, other than one, but I sort of felt this one nailed it as far as what it was meant to be. Not a REAL scene from the REAL West, but a play on the western movie. Eventually we both came to the conclusion that, yes, it was accurate, in that respect. Regardless, neither one of us were offended to begin with.
posted by bradth27 at 12:56 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


Established (White) film makers have been getting a pass for this kind of lazy racisim for far too long.

The linked discussion doesn't seem to consider the portrayal as "lazy racism"; As Shane Belcourt says: 'Here’s a beautiful place where everything is living in harmony and awareness with each other. In comes the settler, or you could say the un-settler, digging up the landscape for gold and all this violence happens. The shenanigans happen because of this rock that we arbitrarily give value. And then he walks off.

It’s moments like that where I think, “Man, the Coens know.” They get it. They’re very thoughtful and considerate about what it is they’re doing. And of course, there’s Lisa’s point that they weren’t thoughtful about the other part.'

The larger conversation points out the fact that there are always the same types of people making these movies; that a lack of representation only gives the viewer one point of view, that we do not get a complete portrait any time we elevate white men's point of views above others'. The roundtable certainly doesn't accuse the Coens of lazy racism. If that were the case there would be no point in having a discussionat all. I suggest anyone commenting without reading the article is missing a far more nuanced and interesting conversation from the point of view of First Nations people that what is currently happening right here.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:57 PM on December 6 [13 favorites]


On preview: what oneirodynia said. The indigenous filmmakers definitely do not accuse the Coens of lazy racism--it is a more nuanced critique of the film and of its place in the context of a very white-focused Hollywood.

Part of what I liked about this article is that the indigenous filmmakers express a lot of the ambivalence I feel as a POC watching narratives that are very white-focused and, even as they are providing critiques of racism, use uncomfortable and racist tropes (often in order to point up the racism).

I watched The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and enjoyed a great deal of it--I thought many of the scenes were very well done. But the portrayal of the Comanches was so shocking for me to see in 2018 (as JamesBay said) that it tainted the enjoyment. The indigenous directors in the article address the fact that the Coens are likely critiquing, rather than celebrating, the racist trope of the "savage" Comanche, and I agree with them. But they also point out that this is a difficult thing to pull off, and adding to the difficulty is that the Coens' response to criticism of their films as very white and diversity has been, as Faintdreams said, inadequate.

I remember watching Crazy Rich Asians and enjoying the amazing feeling of watching a movie entirely peopled by characters who look like my family (OK, well, like, really really rich and good looking versions of my family)--and then a few days later watching the Coens' Hail Caesar, where the only Asian characters have about two lines each and are onscreen for about 30 seconds and are the owner and waitress in a Chinese restaurant. The difference was very, very stark and made obvious to me because I had just watched a movie that, while not perfect, and in fact arguably lacking in Asian diversity itself, featured non-white people as main and secondary characters with agency, rather than as human props.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:02 PM on December 6 [20 favorites]


There’s one interesting (upper mid-) Western that is quite interesting in that it is told by the people the white settlers left behind. It’s one that I would hope the Coen brothers have seen: The New Land, a Swedish film by a Swedish filmmaker starring Swedish actors speaking Swedish, based on Swedish books about Swedish emigrants who emigrated (for Swedish reasons detailed in the previous film, The Emigrants) to Minnesota at the time of the Sioux Uprising.

The Dakota are very much in the background, and very much the cliché “savage” force of nature as in many other Westerns, but with two important distinctions: 1. their “savagery” (which is historically accurate) is shown to have very human motivations that are laid out perfectly succinctly, and 2. it’s made abundantly clear that the villain of the story, the sole cause of all the conflict, is the racist, duplicitous, fraudulent United States government. Those two things are not necessarily something you’d be likely to get if the film were made by white Americans — let alone white Minnesotans — who tend to view early white settlers as heroic pioneers rather than idealistic dupes.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:20 PM on December 6 [6 favorites]


Hey, I'm a Minnesotan and the last Western I wrote has white people as the bad guys.
posted by maxsparber at 1:27 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


Wait, the last western I wrote has a werewolf as a gunslinger. It was the one before it.

I write a lot of westerns.
posted by maxsparber at 1:28 PM on December 6 [13 favorites]


The vignettes are definitely about "The Old West" as they exist in popular culture, and have little/nothing to to with actual life.


While this is certainly true, it's not a particularly good excuse (as neonrev and maxsparber cover above). The Tarantino comparison is apt for me. And like, I enjoyed the hell out of the first few vignettes, and really even the one in question, but the danger in lampooning something is always that you'll end up performing what you're making fun of.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:35 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


For me it was the scalping scene that was just too much. I mean, yes, this is the stereotype and that's what they were going with (um, but why?). If my history is right it was the whites who scalped the Native Americans for bounties. The reversal was a classic case of projection.

Maybe they had enough confidence in their audience to think this would be understood as something like satire or hyperbole, but I think that confidence was simply unwarranted.
posted by sjswitzer at 2:10 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


The Coen Brothers having a problematic approach to race? Count me as completely unsurprised. They strike as those sort of producers who while not actively racist, just handiest race with all the subtlety and self reflection of a...thing.

This movie is actively racist. They made it. I cannot see how that is not being actively racist.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:44 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


An ironic portrayal of racism is still racism.

Yes, but where is the irony in the The Gal Who Got Rattled?

If it's a satirical portrayal, where is the satire?

Or is it just the Commache are wordless screaming savages because we needed a fight scene, and they're vicious rapists because we needed the heroine to kill herself tragically, and they're incompetent fighters who don't even know their own land because we needed Mr Arthur to have a Crowning Moment of Awesome. They're merely plot furniture.

They're like the cannon fodder demon horde in Doom - a morass of figures, indistinguishable from each other, that can be massacred without mercy or regret because they're indefensibly evil and not even human anyway.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:22 PM on December 6 [9 favorites]


The Coens seem to have grown increasingly tone deaf.

I still remember the sour taste I was left with after seeing Hail Caesar. Which had all of these great little scenes and character moments but every time Josh Brolin came on screen. His is the only character in the entire movie named after a real person, for no real reason because every single other person, film, and even the studio itself is fictionalized. Eddie Mannix was an absolutely terrible monster. And the Coens don't care. They made him a doting husband and father, not the man who might have had George Reeves killed when he called off his long time affair with Mannix' wife.

I was really hesitant about their next project because of that. Quirky old west is so in my wheelhouse. But I don't want to watch yet another movie full of great character acting and these amazingly funny and fantastical situations and yet I'm bummed out in the end by how tone-deaf their film is.
posted by thecjm at 3:25 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


Most Asian Americans have known the Coens as racists since the Mike Yanagita character showed up in "Fargo" almost 25 years ago.

The adoration for the Coen brothers infuriates me because it so often comes from cultural and intellectual elites who would be deeply offended by anyone calling them bigots.

Each time anyone tries to show how problematic the Coen brothers are, their defenders launch some sort of film nerd masturbatory exercise.

Maybe the Coen brothers' defenders are right and I'm just too dumb to appreciate the genius in their racism.

But most audiences are too dumb as well and take the ridicule and stereotyping at face value. So for those of us who suffer from their (and mainstream media's) depredations, these kinds of rationalizations feel like someone spitting in your face and telling you its raining.

I was glad to read this passage in the article. Some people are starting to get it:

"[The Coens] have had Black characters in their films over the years but never in lead roles. They’ve had really broadly racialized comedy like the Mike Yanagita character in Fargo or the Korean father and son in A Serious Man.

As a critic, I can create rationalizations for all these things, because in the context of each film they work. But they do add up to something that is a bit of a perplexing and troubling question ... How much of this stuff is given a pass because it could be intellectually rationalized? And who are the people rationalizing it?

It’s mostly white critics."
posted by Borborygmus at 4:12 PM on December 6 [6 favorites]


However you may personally feel about the film or the Coen Brothers in general, I'd encourage folks to read the roundtable article anyway - even if you're not particularly interested in the Coens or dislike their movies there's a fair amount of interesting stuff brought up, especially given how short it is.

They talk a little bit about Wind River, for example - which I enjoyed without thinking all that much about, and now I'm chewing over some stuff that just sort of went by me the several times I've watched it. And I've never even heard of Edge of the Knife, which I'm now going to have to track down.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:22 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


I started this movie with great anticipation and had to turn it off. I understand the parody; I *really* do: I recently read a Reader's Digest "Best Western Stories" collection and had to endure a bunch of those old, sexist, racist, clueless stories. But a successful parody has to be understood as parody by most of the people who see it, or it isn't working. I'm not sure most of the people streaming this movie will recognize this as parody of a really objectionable worldview. I think they'll just see it as a goofy, if bloody, send-up.
posted by acrasis at 4:35 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


(I did a post on Edge of the Knife a few months ago, im too lazy to link on mobile but it's in my fpp history)
posted by poffin boffin at 5:08 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


As the descendant of Swedish immigrants who came to Minnesota just before the Dakota War, and who grew up in a town leveled by Little Crow in that war, I would be fascinated to see that movie The New Land.

On the other hand I think you do Minnesotans a disservice in your characterization. It doesn't match how we were taught about the war in school, doesn't match any conversations I've heard on the subject even from my most racist relatives, and doesn't match Great-Grandma's stories of her Grandma's stories of when she was a little girl and they hid under the shed while Father spoke with the Indians who were running around burning farms.
posted by traveler_ at 6:15 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


If my history is right it was the whites who scalped the Native Americans for bounties.

That’s true. Lots of historical evidence of that.

The reversal was a classic case of projection.

There is a classic case of projection here. But it’s not the one you think.
posted by oluckyman at 6:28 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


imo it is difficult to have confidence in historical evidence based on reports from colonizers on the colonized in any history of worldwide white european colonization and to do so blindly is indicative of falling somewhere within the spectrum of settler ignorance from basic mis/undereducation to wholesale racism.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:43 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


(I did a post on Edge of the Knife a few months ago, im too lazy to link on mobile but it's in my fpp history)

Aaaand now I'm too busy reading through your FPPs to worry about Edge of the Knife. So there's that.

If my history is right it was the whites who scalped the Native Americans for bounties.

Scalping appears to be similar to slavery - you see it in various cultures all over the world, but European colonization activity altered and intensified it in certain areas. Archeological excavations of the Crow Creek Massacre victims show signs of scalping, so it seems to have been indigenous to the Americas before Europeans arrived. But bounties paid for scalps were, as far as I can tell from a cursory search, a European innovation.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:05 PM on December 6


There is a classic case of projection here. But it’s not the one you think.

Maybe, maybe not. What are you getting at?
posted by sjswitzer at 8:20 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


poffin boffin's Edge of the Knife post

I am very excited to see this movie.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:32 PM on December 6


JamesBay: “What is the point of Buster Scruggs? Entertainment?”

Well... a few things – it is an anthology film, so there are six different completely separate stories – but in the main and first story, from which the film gets its name, I think the point is a sort of inversion and parody of the modern trend in Western films, which is to make them "grittier" and "more historical" (which really just means grittier, not more historical). This obsession with making things seem more "lifelike" by making them more violent absolutely doesn't successfully confront our historical infamies the way that a Western film should – it only shocks the senses enough to help us forget that we're just watching a dumb movie. At this point, this kind of extra-violent gritty Western film has become par for the course, and every Western film or show tends to have a similar mien and to repeat the same major themes, in the same way that Western films from the 30s, 40s, or 50s had more to do with recapitulating a set of cultural archetypes than it did with doing justice to the past.

So that first segment of the film – the Buster Scruggs segment – mocks this by taking a 30s Western archetype, the Singing Cowboy, and transplanting him into the world of the dark, gritty modern Western, making him essentially a mass murderer. He shoots down dozens of people, gleefullly and songfully, and the whole thing is so wryly and wittily shot that it's quite fun while also being a biting parody of the current state of Westerns.

Which is why... the portrayal of First Nations in the rest of the film is so deeply disappointing. The Coens are very good at what they do, and they could easily have said something important and worthwhile with the Native characters here. Instead, they mostly ignored them and used them as props.

This is all the more disappointing because plenty needs to be said. In a world where Westerns intended to "re-envision" or "re-imagine" what a Western is supposed to do are a constant occurrence, there are still very, very few Westerns that treat First Nations people as more than props or plot points. A good example is last year's Hostiles, whose title and premise – an army captain helping a dying Cheyenne chief return to Montana – both promise quite boldly that they will deal directly with this. And yet ultimately the telling of the story is distinctly Fordian; there are somber indications of the evils of racism, the Native characters are appropriately self-serious and humorless, and they fulfill their entire purpose by helping a grizzled old white dude find redemption before promptly disappearing in mournful tragedy. I get that white men like me really do believe that this is the historical truth: that Native people existed purely to teach us what monsters we were, and to give us a chance to maybe overcome our monstrousness and be redeemed, and that we can use their story to teach ourselves about the evils of racism because they are all dead now. But – as inconvenient as it may be to us white men – Native people still exist; and they are not cyphers or plot points or somber spirit guides, they are human beings. We need to show them representation of themselves and their ancestors in a decent and even-handed light – we owe them that, and much, much more. We might even give them the money to do it themselves. Heaven knows there are enough talented Native artists and actors and directors.

Anyway – I appreciated this very thoughtful discussion, and the conversation between Lisa Jackson, Shane Belcourt and Adam Nayman was incredibly thoughtful and interesting. Thanks, hurdy gurdy girl.
posted by koeselitz at 8:21 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


he portrayal of First Nations in the rest of the film is so deeply disappointing.

Please note that First Nations is a Canadian term. While there are some tribes in the Pacific Northwest of the US that favor that term, the Natives in Buster Scruggs are Comanche, who do not.

The terminology for America's indigenous people is complicated and depends on situation and individual -- as someone over 50, I grew up with Natives who preferred to be called Indian, but that seems much less common among younger people, who often simply favor the term Native, which is what I largely use now, unless asked to do otherwise.

For simplicity's sake, when appropriate, I refer to specific tribes. Which, as I mentioned, is Comanche in this instance, and its important because the Coens are leaning heavily on a longstanding myth that Comanches assaulted the women they captured, a myth that not a single historian of the era has every found evidence to support. The scalping scene is also consistent with another story about the Comanches: that they tortured captives and mutilated their bodies.

Regardless of how common or uncommon either of those practices were -- and both are hugely disputed -- they were settler tropes intended to paint Comanches as savage aggressors, and the fact that they are presented here uncritically is not merely an instance of filmmakers goofing around with movie tropes, but it is retelling a racist story used to justify genocide, and it's really, genuinely grotesque that these tropes wound up in this film.
posted by maxsparber at 12:32 PM on December 7 [8 favorites]


Most Asian Americans have known the Coens as racists since the Mike Yanagita character showed up in "Fargo" almost 25 years ago.

I don’t understand this example, to me it seems incidental that he is Asian American. What is racist about the portrayal of that character?
posted by Agent X9 at 12:26 PM on December 8


Please note that First Nations is a Canadian term. While there are some tribes in the Pacific Northwest of the US that favor that term, the Natives in Buster Scruggs are Comanche, who do not.

While completely agreeing that terminology is fraught in this area, I will also mention that there are a good many native people who would viciously disagree that white people's national borders have any role in what terminology should and should not be applied in what cases, and that the specific choices of tribes as represented within the US political system of reservations should be considered the primary designation. There's a good argument that by using those terms, especially splitting First Nations off as a 'Canadian*' term, you are contributing to the process of erasure by dividing groups into categories for use by the colonizer, not because of the desires of the people concerned. There are also good arguments that by using those terms you strengthen your ability to operate within the colonizers system, and win back or at least not lose more. There are a lot of people with a lot of arguments and most of them are much smarter than me. As someone who'd personally love to have First Nations as a universal term for all peoples from North and South America because it is the most accurate, limiting it to only Canadian peoples seems not great.

While First Nations as a political definition may be more correctly called a Canadian thing, the tribes whose lands cross that border, or who are traditionally more connected with tribes that are commonly defined as First Nations but are currently located in the US are also definitely First Nations in addition to also being whatever their specific US designation is. The drawing of the border didn't suddenly make the Ojibwe into two different groups of people, it just meant white people decided to call them two different things.
posted by neonrev at 1:49 PM on December 8 [2 favorites]


While completely agreeing that terminology is fraught in this area, I will also mention that there are a good many native people who would viciously disagree that white people's national borders have any role in what terminology should and should not be applied in what cases

Oh sure, and that's an important point. I don't think it conflicts with my point, which is that I try to call people what they prefer to be called, and a lot of U.S. Native tribes don't use the term "First Nations."
posted by maxsparber at 2:14 PM on December 8


It's the personal/group distinction I think. Calling people by what they prefer personally is of course correct, but it's a lot harder to pin down correctness when discussing a larger group, especially over longer periods of time. Comanche isn't what they originally called themselves, it's also a word that was applied by white people, it has just come into current usage as the tribe name. Like many tribes, it is actually a word for enemy, adopted from a different local group. Like you said, it's incredibly fraught and complex, and ties into a lot of personal identity concerns as well.

Referring to a person, yeah, I don't know many US natives who would go by First Nations, even living in a place where that border does split the historic lands, but I also know a good number who would describe their people as being of the First Nations, and not blink an eye at the term being applied to any indigenous group of people of the Americas, and maybe even prefer it to be used more broadly. Never met anyone bothered by it.

This is to belabor: It's probably not what a real-life native person in the US would use personally, but it is at the same time not incorrect to refer to fictional or broader groups of native people as First Nations, because that's a group of people you can't determine the desires of as a whole, and it is not only accurate, but is in fact a positive term that defines native people more clearly as a number of organized groups with land sovereignty in a way that no other term does.
posted by neonrev at 2:52 PM on December 8 [1 favorite]


known the Coens as racists since the Mike Yanagita character showed up in "Fargo" almost 25 years ago.

I don’t understand this example, to me it seems incidental that he is Asian American. What is racist about the portrayal of that character?


Speaking as someone who identifies as Asian, I actually don't find that character (in and of himself) a racist portrayal. I agree with this reading of the character and his importance to the plot, BUT I do find it problematic that as one of the few Asian characters in a Coen Brothers movie, he falls into the stereotype of the neutered, awkward around women, unpartnered, seemingly nice guy (who turns out to be creepy and a pathological liar). If there were lots of roles taken by Asian Americans in Coen Brothers movies, fine. But there aren't.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:15 PM on December 8 [3 favorites]


Aha. I was not familiar with that stereotype, so to me he was just a pivotal character in the movie (I too agree with the reading you linked to). Thanks for explaining.
posted by Agent X9 at 3:36 PM on December 8 [1 favorite]


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