Category Archives: social issues

Miyazaki March – The other Miyazaki: Earthsea, Anime and racial representation

Today in Miyazaki March (all posts HERE in the directory) I wanted to give you a little overview over other Studio Ghibli movies that have not been directed by Hayao Miyazaki and talk a little about what I think of them. Due to time constraints I unfortunately have to abandon that plan and give you a modified re-post of my “Whitewashing in the movie adaptations of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea” (full post HERE), in which I talk about the Studio Ghibli adaptation that fits right in with Miyazaki March, because it was directed by none other than his son, Gorō Miyazaki. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

via pejamovie1.blogspot.com

The Japanese film adaptation of Earthsea was produced by Studio Ghibli, famous throughout the World for Oscar-winning movies such as Spirited Away and nominees like Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. All of these were directed by Miyazaki Hayao, one of the Co-founders of Studio Ghibli and it was him who expressed an interest in producing and directing an animated version of the first three Earthsea novels in the early 1980s. But it was not until July 29 2006 that a movie adaptation called Gedo Senki (Ged’s War Chronicles) saw a theatrical release, later released outside Japan with the English title Tales from Earthsea. This movie however was not directed by Miyazaki Hayao due to his time restraints, being involved in the production of Howl’s Moving Castle, a fact that Ursula K. Le Guin bemoans on her official homepage, since she initially agreed to the production based on her admiration for his earlier work. Instead of Miyazaki Hayao his son Miyazaki Gorō directed the film. Gedo Senki reached the Nr. 1 position of the Japanese Box Office in its opening week and held this spot for five non-consecutive weeks. It wasn’t a big commercial success abroad and still has not been released in the U.S. due to Sci-Fi Channel still holding the rights for the Earthsea novels there.

The Earthsea-series, written by the very popular Ursula K. Le Guin, consists of seven short stories, two of them published before any Earthsea novel was written, the other five all being part of the 2001 publication Tales from Earthsea, and five novels. The first three novels are called A Wizard of Earthsea (1969), The Tombs of Atuan (1971) and The Farthest Shore (1972). Le Guin was approached by her publisher to write one or more novels targeted at an audience of young adults in the genre of fantasy. She drew upon her two short stories The Word of Unbinding (published first 1964 in the January issue of Fantastic) and The Rule of Names (published first 1964 in the April issue of Fantastic) to further explore Earthsea, the world she created for these two.
While the first three Earthsea novels soon came to be considered en par with fantasy classics such as the Lord of the Rings and the Narnia novels, they have also been criticized by feminist critics, for they feature mainly male protagonists and delegate the power to the men, while rendering mainly isolated male wizard characters as wise. This changed when Le Guin opened the second trilogy of Earthsea with the 1990 publication of Tehanu. The feminist tone of Tehanu, expressed in the focus on women’s lives in Earthsea’s society. Tales from Earthsea was published in 2001 and features the stories The Finder, Darkrose and Diamond, The Bones of the Earth, On the High Marsh and the article A Description of Earthsea. Le Guin herself intended the last story, Dragonfly, to be the link between Tehanu and The Other Wind, the last novel of Earthsea, also published in 2001.

“My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white” – Le Guin 2004

Although admittedly writing in a fantasy tradition that draws upon Nordic myths that usually accepts being white as the norm, Le Guin refused to adhere to this norm and decided for her Earthsea-series (but also for most of her other works) to establish protagonists of color.
Le Guin herself admits to didactic intentions, claiming that she expected her reading audience to be mainly white American adolescents who might have had some trouble identifying with Earthsea’s main protagonist Ged, which is why she chose to present his skin-color only after readers would already have eased themselves “into Ged’s skin” before realizing that “it wasn’t a white one” (- Le Guin 2004).
Even though we can also find somewhat problematic depictions of ethnicity (in itself a problematic term) in Earthsea that are not explicitly addressed by Ursula K. Le Guin, she acknowledges the fact that her presentation of non-white characters could be perceived as being problematic. She states that she is “intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism—a white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice,” and that she knows that this can be considered to constitute “an act of extreme arrogance” (- Le Guin 2004).

© by Marian Wood Kolisch, via ursulakleguin.com

We can often encounter human bodies that transgress their biological boundaries in anime, e.g. by incorporating technology into the body and becoming or creating a Cyborg. Susan Napier in her 2005 book “Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle. Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation” observes that

“what animation can do to the human body is one of the most interesting and provocative aspects of the medium. Anime representations of the human figure range across an extraordinary variety of types (and archetypes), implicitly promising a vast range of fictional identities for the viewer to revel in.”

It is therefore interesting to look at how the human body is represented in anime in terms of skin-color, and there is a startling observation to be made. Anime characters do not look specifically Japanese, but in fact very white-western. Most characters are white, meaning they exhibit fair skin, often with blond or light brunette hair. Susan Napier argues that these body types are neither Japanese nor Western but rather “anime-style”-bodies that display the notion of mukokuseki, being stateless, and refers to statements, that Japanese try to de-Japanize the anime characters in order to create an alternative world that serves escapist tendencies or underlines the incongruence with Japanese reality. By referring to these character-types as “postethnic” (especially with regard to dystopian fantasies of future worlds) she also points at their hybrid nature, the result of merging ethnic and racial identities within the course of time. Nevertheless many Japanese anime, even in futuristic settings, still stress Japanese cultural practices and traditions. She claims that it is this Otherness, that is neither Japanese nor Western, in relation to familiar cultural settings, that allows Japanese audiences (but to some extent also other, especially Western, audiences) to explore their identities without the constraining boundaries of realistic depiction. The anime style is considered to produce characters that work as a projection surface with features that render them human,
If we examine the characters in Gedo Senki bearing all this in mind, it is striking to see how conventional the protagonists are depicted in this cultural context of anime production. Apart from the villain Cob, who turns out to be a wizard of uncanny power, who was transformed by the evil that possesses him in his search for eternal life, all the other main characters exhibit neither surprising hair-colors nor exaggerated eyes. Their hair colors range from brown to blonde and their skin exhibits different shades of what could be called white. Even with regards to “extras”, characters that appear for only a few moments in scenes that take place in cities or villages, there are no characters who deviate from this color-scheme.
The extraordinary potential of anime in the production of human bodies that transgress at least national stereotypes and at most the human form itself is only used in Gedo Senki to render the antagonist as non-human, or beyond human. But it does in no way disrupt the patterns of perception of its viewers by introducing characters of a different racial background. Although the characters might not be Japanese, as their target audience, they nevertheless exhibit common anime-style conventions of depiction that make them easily identifiable and easily consumable – even if the movie is watched in so-called Western nations.

via outnow.ch

It seems that in the process of adaptation, the dealing with the issue of skin-color was dismissed in favor of presenting characters that were easy to identify with and believable in a setting of a somewhat medieval high-culture. And obviously the decision had been made that characters of color would not be able to be believable in this setting or achieve identification. To pick up on Ursula K. Le Guin’s critique, not only has the evil potential within human beings been externalized in the movie, but also the problematic issue of skin-color, to the extent, that it only becomes an issue external of the movie for those who are interested in it, but not within the context of the film where this issue was obviously considered to be too unsettling for an (Japanese and/or white-western) audience.
Even if the filmmakers would have kept their choice of not problematizing the issue of race and color in their movie, they still could have depicted all of the characters to be black, but they obviously chose not too. If they had, they would have been able to place characters, who are usually not considered for heroic deeds in the Japanese context, at the centre of an heroic tale and call into question not only stereotyping processes in the individual viewer, but also the foundations of power assumed and wielded in human societies.

via xfinitytv.comcast.net

The unconventional rendering of Le Guins protagonists as being people of color has not been translated into the  Japanese anime version. Although the adaptation claims to have given thought to the issue and to have come to the conclusion that the allegedly multicolored casts in the films represented the best solution to the issue, my impression is that the production team has dealt with the issue only to the extent that they arrived at the decision to dismiss it by eradicating most traces of being non-white in principal characters with only a few token exceptions. They abandoned the concept of presenting heroes of color, a step that would have been challenging to production and casting norms in the depiction of human bodies in Japanese anime, in favor of a seemingly safer way, that transforms racially subversive characters into white (here standing for both western-white in U.S. tradition and Japanese appearance, that nurtures an ideal appearance modeled after “western looks”) characters in order to cater to a white mass audience that is thought to be constituting the targeted markets. The sad outcome of this white-centered market logic is that it cannot give any insight into how successful a version with protagonists of color would have been – we obviously have to wait for future adaptations that decide to take more courageous steps.

“Not to choose, these days, is a choice made. All fiction has ethical, political, and social weight, and sometimes the works that weigh the heaviest are those apparently fluffy or escapist fictions whose authors declare themselves ‘above politics,’ ‘just entertainers,’ and so on.” (Le Guin, quoted after Elisabeth Anne Leonard(1997): “Into Darkness Peering” – Race and Color in the Fantastic)

If you haven’t read Earthsea yet, I highly recommend you to do so!

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Miyazaki March – The Importance of a Female Lead

Today’s entry in Miyazaki March (all posts HERE) is not a review of one of the animation features directed by Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli, but rather a discussion of all of them. Yep, all of them, you read that right. Ambitious much, Alex, you asking? Well, let’s restrain ourselves a little and limit it to one topic. Feminism! Because: Hooray, feminism! And also because Miyazaki features lend themselves to be discussed like that. Another awesome discussion can be found on Gagging on Sexism (LINK, and HERE for another one), you should definitely check it out. Here we go!

via gaggingonsexism.wordpress.com

My scientifically very sound quantitative analysis of the Miyazaki directed Ghibli features reveals that out of a total of 10 movies (counting Arietty in) seven of them have a female lead. That is 70 per cent and that is major. This means that 30 percent a.k.a. three movies have a male lead, which is rather interesting since two of them have titles that imply otherwise: Princess Mononoke’s lead character is Ashitaka, though you would never guess from title or film poster, and Ponyo’s lead character is Sosuke, although arguably in this case we could speak of a double-lead (Ponyo and Sosuke). In Porco Rosso we have Porco, so phew, no mind-boggling confusion there (and yes, that is supposed to be a cynical joke, mind you). So seven movies with female lead characters might lead you to either conclude that there is a gender bias, or that Miyazaki just does not care about the men. In both cases you are wrong of course, and here is why:

via scpr.org

At least two of the movies are rather double-lead-movies, namely Castle in the Sky (Sheeta and Pazu), The Secret World of Arietty (Arietty and Sho) and I guess the argument could be made for Howl’s Moving Castle (Sophie and Howl) which represents an interesting reversal to the other trend in that the main male character is featured prominently in title and ads, but it is actually a female lead (another case being Totoro, by the way, assuming we identify Totoro as a male creature). Two of them follow traditional routes: The two opposite gender characters fall in love and get together in the end. At least for Howl’s Moving Castle this statement holds true, it is very much a love story – if an unconventional one – from the very beginning. Concerning the other castle movie, Laputa, I accept the argument that we never really explicitly learn about Sheeta and Pazu being totally smitten with each other (though it is heavily implied) and end up a couple. But yeah, I guess they do. Looking at the other double-led movies we get another one for that category: Ponyo and Sosuke end up together for like ever (and they are like … five. WTF?), so check.

via lashingsofgb.blogspot.com

But with Princess Mononoke we encounter a pattern that is repeated in Arietty. It is implied that the two main characters are at least attracted to each other (mainly because of their differences?) but end up going separate ways. We encounter the same outcome in Spirited Away and at this point you’re probably wondering: why is he blabbering about the relationship-BS so much? Well, lemme tell y’all: cause it’s so damn fine to have family friendly movies with a female lead where she does not have to wed somebody at the end. Remember how strange that seemed back in the day when they did that with Pocahontas? Ain’t no biggie here. Nausicaä is friends with Asbel, Sheeta is friends with Pazu, Chihiro and Haku part as friends and even Kiki and Tombo are nothing more than platonic friends at the end of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Which is to say: Fuck yes, you can have friends of (one of) the other gender(s) and the interaction you can have is not limited to romantic love and/or sex. And I like that, because that is not something we encounter much when it comes to other movies (in general. Yeah, I just claimed that).
Interestingly, even the major love themed features make that point, Ponyo least of all (though we see Sosuke being friends with the girls at kindergarten and old ladies from the nursery home), Howl’s Moving Castle to a limited extent (with Sophie befriending Markl and the scarecrow) and in the probably most “chauvinistic” movie of the Miyazaki oevrue, Porco Rosso, explicitly with presenting a determined love interest, but also a pretty and headstrong mechanic friend.

via animediet.net

And the mechanic friend brings us to another issue that is so nice about Miyazaki features: There is a woman who is a mechanic and as such she rocks. Miyazaki features don’t come completely without princesses though, but it’s really just the first two, Nausicaä and Laputa, that need to have their female leads be princesses, but even in Nausicaä being a princess does not hinder you from being an awesome biologist, a good pilot, or an effin’ cold-blooded general. If you happen to be a witch, you still gotta make it on your own and you better do so with the help of a female entrepreneur. Arietty is just a general survivor of sorts, which holds true for another “princess”, San, who is more like a soldier for the cause against humans. While Chihiro, Satsuki and Mei are all kids and do not yet have occupations, Ponyo is a fish, so no job in sight (yet), but Sophie is a hatter, which for us Alice in Wonderland infested minds is probably an occupation associated with mad men (heehee, lame pun, there it was!). Admittedly, we do not get to encounter every other job out there with the female characters in Miyazaki movies, but what we get is diversity and the sense that women come from all sorts of backgrounds, they don’t just have to be either princesses or poor/bullied beauties waiting for the prince to pick their asses up.

via papaveri.tumblr.com

This diversity extends to the women themselves, with them coming in all shapes and ages. We encounter our youngest lead in Mei in Totoro, and even though she is supposed to be three or four years old, she is already a pretty complex character with plausible motivation and a healthy curiosity. We have her joyful sister and we encounter Chihiro of roughly the same age who is much less joyful, much less curious but turns out to be awesome nonetheless. There is a very angry San raised by wolves, and a very young Ponyo who decides that being a fish is just not enough for her. Okay, Nausicaä, Sheeta, Arietty, Fio and even Sophie are all roughly the same age and are pretty girls, so you might be asking: stretch much? Well, at least with Sophie we travel through the narrative with a woman much older and a woman actually coming to terms with it. Not to forget other mentionable female characters in not only Howl (the awesome Witch of the Waste, Madam Suliman, or even Sophie’s sister and mum), but also in other features. Who could forget Yubaba and her twin sister of Spirited Away? Or the she-wolf/godess who raised San? Arietty’s quirky mum and the no less quirky housekeeper Haru? The older women in Porco who are keen to help build his plane? I could go on and on. We encounter slim and fat women, young and old, pretty and non-pretty, sweet and sour and what they all have in common is that they are treated as human beings and not as objects for either the plot or even worse, the male gaze.

via comicsbeat.com

Because gurls in Miyazaki features know what they want. They are subjects, agents of their own fate. Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke is determined to kill a god, after all, and she actually succeeds. She also integrates lepers and believes in equality when it comes to work. Yubaba doesn’t kill gods, but she makes good money off of them. The interference with her plans is the determination of another female character, Chihiro herself. And in Porco Rosso we not only have Fio who builds Porco’s aircraft anew, we also have Gina who is intent on getting it on with Porco and eventually succeeds. Just like Sophie gets it on with Howl in the end, because she is dragging his ass out of his misery. And the “plot” that is happening in Totoro does so, because Mei wants to go somewhere and her sister takes it upon herself to find her and get her back.

via dvdizzy.net

Totoro, together with Kiki’s Delivery Service, is somewhat of an exception IMHO, since both present storylines that rely on their female characters for the majority of time. Of course Totoro is cool and the Catbus is fantastic, but the whole movie revolves around Mei and Satsuki, their bond as sisters and as daughters to their mother and their exploration of the world around them.
In Kiki’s Delivery Service this is taken even further with a lot more of the agency made explicit. There is Kiki herself who tries to make it on her own, but there is also Osono, pregnant yet working and totally supportive of Kiki’s aspirations. There is Ursula, living all by herself and devoting herself to her art. And there are the elderly women who hire Kiki and root for her and her endeavours. Kiki seems to be a film made on the premise to present female solidarity and strength and boy, does it work in that respect, because the relationships feel real and heartfelt and the message is super-positive and uplifting. And for a movie to just go there and do it, tell the story that way with these characters, that’s fucking rare. Sad, but true. How often do you come across a movie that throws us into a situation of female networking and tells us how awesome it is?

via theentertainmentnut.wordpress.com

Phew, all Miyazaki movies pass the Bechdel Test (ok, Porco…) and thus qualify for promoting female visibility. That’s what is so great about those movies: they are not based on the Smurfette principle with one female character and an all male cast for the rest. In these movies there are women and the interact and they talk about stuff other than just men.

Though they do that, too. What I like is that we see men lusting after women (Porco Rosso and Castle in the Sky most noticeably) and granted, taken for themselves, these two are very cliché in that way (we could argue that we encounter a critique of that in Howl’s Moving Castle), presenting it as “that’s just how boys are, you know?”, but women in Miyazaki movies are also luckily and redeemingly lusting after men. In Princess Mononoke it’s Ashitaka that all the female workers swoon over, and mind you, they do more than just swoon, you can tell they are thinking about IT. It’s kinda sad and shocking how refreshing that still feels, presented in this non-fussy way. We get a little of that in Howl’s Moving Castle, where we are to understand that Howl is sort of a womanizer, but damn, those ladies want a piece of him and they is persistent, honey.

via wired.com

Sure there are a few missteps here an there. Maybe we can attribute it to the debut, or to the 80s or WTF ever, but what is up with Nausicaä’s skirt in Nausicaä and the Valley of the Wind? There are these three or four scenes were the wind hits it just right so us fine audience can see some crack. Verrrrrry reminiscent of some anime series out there.
Another personal pet peeve (here cometh the pun:) the female cat in Kiki. Graw, why? Gender-stereotyping for cats, seriously now? I could gladly do without that.

via dvdizzy.com

Now, here in my final paragraph I wonder if I’ve been a bit incoherent. What I was trying to say is: in Miyazaki movies we get a refreshing plethora of female characters in charge of their own fate and as such, these movies stand out from the majority of movies we usually get to see. That is what makes them so special to me. Sure there are a very few minor quibbles, and sure, not all the movies are of the same stellar quality, but even if the plot moves a little too slow, or the villain is too cookie-cutter, I never ever once have an issue with how women are portrayed in these movies and go thinking: “that some sexist bullshit”. There are so many other movies that are great for a variety of reasons, but where this is exactly what puts me off a little – they don’t get that right.
So Halle-lou! for Miyazaki movies and his brand of feminism and flaunting it.

So, let us discuss Florence + the Machine’s racist new music video

Urgh, Florence, here I was just praising your new album and raving on about how awesome it is and how awesome you are and then you pull such a stunt? Speaking of course of your new music video for the next Ceremonials single No light, No light.

If you cannot watch the above video for whatever reason, you can also click THIS LINK to view it.

It is painful, because I wanna believe that Florence + the Machine are just awesome people, totally aware of the pitfalls of language and imagery and avoiding them because they too are fighting for a greater good (great question to ask at this point: Alex, do you think you are fighting for a greater good?). Having to accept first of all that one of the songs on the album that I like less is being picked as second single is one thing. Having to sit through the accompanying music video is a whole other.

Cause damn, girl, this is fucked up.
I was uncomfortable watching this even when I still thought that there was going to be a twist and it turns out that the black guy is actually her boyfriend and it’ll all be good. But no. Turns out the only black guy in the video happens not only to be the only one to get to dance, ermh, wildly? Savagely? Threateningly? But he is actually also physically hunting poor young white girl (oh, Florence….) and threatening her. But rest assured, no harm will come, because: young white boys as priests in a church! Which is an image to trigger a whole ‘nother discussion of its own, but of course we don’t stop there. Because after so much threatening Mister Black Guy (Voodoo! of course!) the final moments of the video are spent in her very white boyfriend’s arms. Phew, poor viewers, there you were, all afraid that poor white Florence might have to get into any sort of contact with the black dude, but luckily all ends stereotypically bad well and white girl ends up with white dude and the dancing black guy was nothing but a nightmare for white society Florence. Ok, so now you try to defend the thing to me and not burst out laughing because of all the racist bullshit that is going on here. I dare you. I fucking do.

And all of that would be bad enough, but is it just me, or is there some serious Blackface happening in this video? I am not entirely sure, but my advanced google search gold has turned up some more voices ascertaining that the guy being the black dude in the video is actually not black in real life but was painted black for the clip. Which, I mean, damn. No. There are fuck-up limits you should not cross, and seriously, Blackface is about as bad as it can get. How can I keep talking about how awesome Florence + the Machine supposedly are when obviously no one involved in this multi-thousand dollar endeavour puts up her_his hand and goes: Excuse me, isn’t this racist imagery? Shouldn’t we reconsider? Isn’t the narrative just reinforcing racist and potentially dangerous stereotypes?
Because hell no, there is no excuse for all of what goes on in the No light, no light video, and first and foremost the whole “it’s art” thing is no argument on substantial ground.

I was so hoping to see even the slightest hint of a meta-level in this video, some suggestion that the clip-makers were aware of what was going on and trying to subvert it, but subversion did not show. I really whish this video would not have been produced in the first place, but now I am really just waiting for shit to hit the fan hard. Let’s see what Florence + the Machine will answer to that (and please: let it not be utter bullshit).

Attack the Block comes under the attack of … praise!!

So, yeah, ermh, just recently I’ve seen Attack the Block which is a film about aliens attacking, urmh, well, a block. That doesn’t really read like much, but as a film it rocks remarkably well. Unfortunately, it is a rather small film that doesn’t get the attention it deserves (though admittedly I became aware of it because movie critics on the interwebz praised it so highly), so let us devote some unimaginably expensive blog-space for this little gem of a film to provide yet another google find for interested cine-o-philes.

Attack the Block was released to cinemas in the UK in May 2011, and was written and produced by a fellow named Joe Cornish. It was produced on a budget of about 13 Million US-Dollars and apparently didn’t even earn half of it back in cinemas. Which is a shame, really.

The relatively small budget of the film doesn’t show. It’s not like it looks like the Matrix come again or the Dark Night in terms of “we got money to blow on this, y’all”, but let me tell you: I’ve seen movies with ten times the budget looking a hundred times cheaper and cheesier. The film uses its money effectively, limiting the area the plot and action take place in to basically one project house and its surroundings, but that only benefits the film and its structure.
Most surprisingly, the aliens are good. Like really good, effective, believable aliens. Granted, the reason why they’re there is not clear, nor why they’re doing what they’re doing but I stand by my belief that sometimes narratives work better because they offer no explanation (though, ok, the gang comes up with one, kinda, but you can still decide if you want to believe them). But they manage to walk the thin line of looking fresh, still scary, and most of all real. Basically they’re big furballs of black with glowing teeth. They look kinda cute – until they start to run for you and are set on attack-mode. And then there is the first one that looks very different from all others, but also very Alienesque, which is of course always a good thing in my book.

via wikipedia.org

Let’s not fool ourselves, the whole movie is structured like the classical zombie-movie with a small bunch of people having to defend themselves from attacking zombies aliens in a limited area. But that is also where the film’s amazingness kicks in high gear.
Cause lemme tell you, while zombie movies often suck (since the band of survivors are just the jerkiest shetbags out there imaginable) in this case the band of “survivors” or rather the gang who has to defend themselves from the alien attack are A.W.E.S.O.M.E.
And they basically start out being complete assholes. Robbing the nurse Sam they seem to be your regular project kids with their everyday-troubles, the likes of joblessness, fatherlessness, perspectivelessness, and a whole other bunch of –lessnesses, more than I can think of, really. So, what seems to start like the classic tale of poor righteous white woman being robbed by thugs of color turns into a crazy battle against aliens in defense of, well yeah, the block, but most of all their very lives. And as it turns out, these kids are not assholes, they are just a little less privileged than a lot of white asses (oh hi stoner kid, yeah, I’m looking at you) and have to function a little better within rigid systems of masculinity in order to not have their teeth kicked in. Vicious cycle and lack of perspective is what it’s also called.

via movieworlds.com

And therein lies the beauty of the film (despite battles against aliens, yay): It not only lets its characters grow, but it constantly avoids making final judgements. People behave the way they behave for a reason and why not try to understand that first? Sometimes listening to a genuine “I’m sorry” and accepting it is just as hard as actually saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it.
Well, I for once, am a little sorry I don’t a have a whole lot more to say about the movie than this actually. I could end the review right there, but that sounds all a little too grand. It is a really good movie, especially as far as monster movies and blockbusters go. It dares to care about its characters and does not shy away from social critique and taking a stand. Having said all that, I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, I still think there is room for improvement (the rapping drug-dealer thug and his ride, really?). But the road Attack the Block takes is definitely the right one, and sad to say: that’s rare enough.

Shadeism

I’m a white man. You might go: Why the hell you keep repeating that shit like there’s relevance to it? I keep repeating it because there is of course major relevance to it. It means that there a numerous forms of psychological (and physical) oppression that I am not subject to. On the contrary, my presence might perpetuate them. The visibility of my socially categorised skin-color and gender perpetually places me in a position of privilege and saves me from harrassment that many other people have to endure.
I am rarely confronted negatively on the basis of the color of my skin or of the texture of my hair. That is not to say I am not confronted at all. Cause I am. Thinking about it, it really stuns me, how often people comment specifically on my hair. It is blonde, but to be honest, I dye it. Nevertheless, so many people tell me how the first thing they remember about me, is my hair-color. Or how they like my hair color. How my hair color matches the color of my beard. And I could go on. Issues of appearance are incredibly dominant in all our lives.

This following documentary (duration 20:10) by Nayani Thiyagarajah, Brian Han, Leanne McAdams, Derek Rider, and Vanessa Rodrigues is a beautiful reminder of the impact that skin-color has for people all over the world. It is an ambitious and succesfull attempt of taking a look at how people of color have to deal with the issue of “fairness” culturally and socially placed above “darkness” in not only the Global North.
This documentary short is an introduction to the issue of shadeism, the discrimination that exists between the lighter-skinned and darker-skinned members of the same community. This documentary short looks specifically at how it affects young womyn within the African, Caribbean, and South Asian diasporas. Through the eyes and words of 5 young womyn and 1 little girl – all females of colour – the film takes us into the thoughts and experiences of each. Overall, ‘Shadeism’ explores where shadeism comes from, how it directly affects us as womyn of colour, and ultimately, begins to explore how we can move forward through dialogue and discussion.”

You can get to teh shadeism vimeo profile by clicking HERE.

I am looking forward to another documentary scheduled to debut later this year at the International Black Film Festival in Nashville named “Dark Girls”. It discusses the same issue with a slightly different take and it looks like they are documenting the more brutal aspects of the issue of shadeism and its relation to racism as well. You can watch the trailer (duration 9:22) below.

One post to bind them all: Revisiting The Fellowship of the Ring

Ah, Lord of the Rings. So much has already been said about it, what could I possibly add? Hah! Never think I will not come up with an excuse. In this case: LOTR TFOTR. Cause, please, beginnings, dude_ette, everybody loves beginnings! It’s just that in the case of Lord of the Rings people are all like: uuh, Rohan, and uuh, Aragorn becomes king, and hell yeah, 2 and 3 made a shitload more money than the first movie (in case you wondered: this is going to be about the movie), yadda yadda alla that. But me sez: hell to the no, Fellowship of the Ring all the way! Gee, I distinctly remember seeing the trailer with my best pal Janine and we were all giddy with excitement, and then the feeling of deep-rooted content and happiness leaving the theater, just having seen this beautiful piece of movie art. It was heaven!

via mutantreviewers.wordpress.com

I’ve probably watched The Fellowship of the Ring about 25 to 30 times by now. I bought the expensive box set the day it hit the stores, for whatever reason. And I guess I just can’t really remember because the later instalments have thoroughly disappointed me and my LOTR enthusiasm that I’m still surprised by how much love I have for TFOTR every time I see it. So let us have a look at the YEAHs!, the BLAHs…., and the ARGHs!!!

The YEAHs
To approach this very scientific review from a technical rather than emotional side, I first have to give major shout-outs to the structure of the Fellowship of the Ring. I, for once, absolutely love the prologue and was really sad that we never got an epilogue at the end of Return of the King (as was promised in the TFOTR audio-commentary by Peter Jackson and pals on the DVD). I’ve seen a lot of people hating on it, but I love the overall feel of it and since I was a total LOTR newbie at the time the first movie hit German theaters, I felt thoroughly introduced to the concept of The Ring and the conflict that awaits us. But of course it’s not just the epic yet concise prologue, it is also the warm beginning in the Shire, where every human being in their right mind would want to live anyways (yeah, I just wrote that) and a lot of the credit has to be given to the adventuresque tour-de-force of the whole first movie. Basically we’re moving from expositiony intro to place A, run to place B, stop shortly at place C, solve a riddle at place D, escape to place E…. you get the idea. And it serves the movie tremendously, because, as IMHO the latter movies show, the characters and their relationships alone are too cookie cutter and stereotypical to carry plot and story. But since they’re all running all the time, this problem never really shows in TFOTR. Phew! I am also very happy about the decision to put Boromir’s death in the first part (can you imagine dragging that over into the second one?) and the ending that splits up the fellowship and creates the constellations that are so important for what happens afterwards.

via metalonly-forum.de

Following closely on the heels of overall structure is the pacing of the movie, which I think is fantastic, since I never get the sense that we linger too long at one particular point either in the story or on the map. There are a few moments of rest, and they are of course needed, but all in all this movie moves forward and gets us through the events without ever leaving me feeling: bwrah, another shot of XY and when do they finally leave this place Z?

So I give major credit to the pacing for enhancing the illusion of a vast world. Both structure and pacing create the sense of travelling through countries and landscapes, making the passage of time believable and bearable, which is a feature that the other two movies do not accomplish. They are plagued by having to move the Rohans to Helm’s Deep in ridiculous extras-stolling-the-plains-shots or by Aragorn meeting the ghost-army of neon-green ants in his little detour, both instances that feel strangely disconnected to the overall passage of time and distance in relation to other events. Once again, the structure is a major factor in that, especially when it comes to characters, because TFOTR admittedly has it easier in that it has all the main characters assembled and move together through Middle Earth, while part 2 and 3 have to jump back and forth between stuff happening at a variety of places. By picking up a few characters here and there or meeting important ones in places passed, the first one succeeds in introducing it’s sequence of locations and ground it in the narrative through the people we meet there and the things we learn.

via mittelerde-kurier.de

One of those instances is the whole segment taking place in and around Moria, where we solve a little riddle, fight a lake-monster, find out about the annihilation of a whole city of dwarves, meet Gollum and learn a little tinsy tiny bit about him, meet some Orks face to face and see Gandalf battling (and apparently losing to) the Balrog. While it is one unit in the film’s structure, there is a broad variety within it, it keeps moving and it excites me, even the admittedly sort of ridiculous scene on the staircase of horrors.

But the crowning jewel of all of that is, of course, Lothlorien. Awww, Lothlorien, how I love thee! Seriously, the forest is beautiful and it helps that they are major art-deco fans there, those elves, cause I’m a big fan of art-deco designs as well. But Lothlorien would only be half the fun without Galadriel, and yeah I better admit it now: I’m a huge Galadriel fan. I love the hilarious irrelevance of Celeborn (he gets a pompous intro just to be of no importance whatsoever), but I love the test that the Ring represents for Galadriel, and I love that she passes it. Since we’re in confession mode already, I got to say that the major fascination of Lord of the Rings for me lies in the power of the Ring itself. The notion that it is a tiny object with an own will that it can force upon those who possess it and turn them into its evil servants fascinates me, for it is somewhat of a metaphor for real-life concepts of evil doings in order to get either things or power. And it is of course particularly interesting to see characters being able to withstand that power. It is fascinating when Gandalf does, when Sam does, when Frodo ultimately fails, but what makes the moment with Galadriel so impressive for me is that she is this thousand year old super-wise being who already possesses a Ring of power and yet has to admit that she is tempted deeply and has to muster up all her courage and strength in order to withstand the power of the Ring. That of course makes it all the more gratifying that she actually succeeds in resisting.
All character-strength aside, I love how she seems to be this super-scary ice-queen bitch when she talks to Frodo at night, but then again seems to be mother earth with golden smiles for everyone later on, especially in the deleted scenes on the DVD, which features some more art-deco goodness to salivate on. Oh, and did I mention: Cate Blanchett. ‘Nuff said.

via ryetopia.blogspot.com

The BLAHs
Loving the power of the Ring so much, I have to mention Tom Bombadil of course. I only read the novels after seeing Fellowship of the Ring, so at the time I fell in love with it, I didn’t even know about Tom Bombadil’s existence. Having found out about it, I was sad to see him cut, cause I loved the scene in the book and of course the mystery he represents. Who is he, that he can easily resist the powers of the Ring? But I’m not super-sad, and I guess it’s rather just a BLAH than an ARGH because I’ve seen TFOTR before reading the book, so: lucky me!

And all the raving about Galadriel aside: While I really enjoyed her little power-rant the first time around, I can’t watch the scene anymore without grinning sheepishly at the tacky special effects employed there. They are really kinda ridiculous.

via tolkienlibrary.com

The ARGHs
The Uruk-Hai. Not only do they kinda suck in their crawling-out-the-mud-and-kill-the-Orks introduction (cause it’s ridiculous…”yeah, we’re born evil!”) but my oh my, those racist underpinnings. Let’s just revisit: The wise-beings who everybody loves and wants to be are tall, blond, white elves. The super-evil killer-creatures that everyone fears and does not want to get in contact with are built, black, and have dreadlocks. Ermh, yeah, what could possibly be wrong with that depiction? It perpetuates racialized stereotypes even further and acts all so what, how could that be a problem? AAAAARRRRGHHHH!! Really, I love TFOTR, but I’d love it even more if we had black elves with dreadlocks and the Viggo Mortensens and Sean Beans of this world as evil Uruk-hai. Dear everyone involved in the making of these movies: That is one horribly racist misstep that was really unnecessary.

via freude.li

Not to excuse the racist undertones of the movies, but the problem lies of course first and foremost with the books themselves. Middle Earth is not only highly racialized with its distinct categories of elves, humans, hobbits, dwarves, orks and whatnots, but it is also super-racist, cause the tall, blond, white guys are all super and yay, while all those who are smaller, darker, and supposedly uglier are stupid and of course evil. Yuck at that message. And the movie obviously never has any hint of intention to question that, celebrating their Orks as highly inefficient inter-racial (or even sub-racial?) beings (cause yeah, “mixing races” seems to be a horrible thing …*headdesk*) who are not only to be considered ugly but are also of course very stupid. Oh my. Don’t you also wish to just see the whole story retold from an Ork perspective? A la: The Great Story of Suffering of the People of Orkdom, or something? I sure would.

I could write a whole paragraph about the sexist structure of both LOTR books and movies. But I won’t go there now. It is there and I see it and I just do not want to discuss it right here. Apologeeeeez!

One minor issue that bugs me thoroughly (I mentioned it in my The Last Unicorn review) is the scene where Gandalf says to Frodo in Rivendell: “It’s October.” Red Zombie Rage! Srsly, elves and shit, outrageous places and the invention of new languages and then I’m supposed to believe that they just happen to use the same calendar as ours? With the same names for months? Every time people come with the “Tolkien’s worldbuilding is the most comprehensive and most impressive” argument I just roll my eyes because of this. October! What the hell?

via moviefanatic.com

Altogether, The Fellowship of the Ring is a movie that is firmly seated in the top 10 of my all-time favorite movies. There is a lot of goodness, but there is also enragingly stupid wrongness, and I guess my ongoing appreciation is less due to the fact that there are some great visuals and nice moments, but because as a movie it offers itself to closer scrutiny and fruitful critical readings. I can see that there are things wrong with it, but I can also say why and I can relate it to other issues of the movie and at the same time debate it in a wider cultural context. And yes, I think that is even more gratifying than sitting there being entertained and excited while gobbling down popcorn and hoping for Arwen to dump Aragorn’s stupid ass. So yay for cinematic criticism!

Yep, you better watch it!

Oh, and have you seen Dove’s new racist ad?

There is “borderline offensive” and then there is “unmistakably clear case of offensive”. Now, Dove, a company that likes to pat itself on the shoulder for their allegedly innovative use of non-skinny models (yeah, we’ll not discuss in how far the “real women” they feature are real women), has major shit hitting its face due to a recent ad-campaign for their new body wash that promises to make your skin visibly clear. The internet is abuzz with lots and lots of criticism, but I’ve seen many people who tend to categorize the ad into the “borderline offensive” box, as in: not really.

Let us first take a quick look at the ad I’m talking about:

via thesmokingjacket.com

Ermh, what? What the fuckity fuck?
Let us count the ways:
The product promises to give you “visibly more beautiful skin”. Three young, beautiful women are standing there, reminding us with their skin, that this is what we’ll get. Kinda. Coincidentally, the black woman is standing in front of the “before” = “bad skin” segment of the ad, while the white woman is placed in front of the “after” = “visibly more beautiful skin” half. And a woman of color with a skin-color somewhere in between “marks their transition”, or what?
Let us, just for a second, presume that no one who worked on the initial design noticed this and saw no purpose in that particular placement of models within the ad. How on effin’ earth could anybody in their right mind over at Dove look at this and not feel the slightest touch of uneasiness? No one sitting there sayin’ “uummmmhh, you guys, maybe we should reconsider….”?
Cause wow, that ad speaks volumes, and what it says is “it is more desirable in our society to be white, so ladies of all shades, buy this product and become a pretty white thing, and hey, if you’re white you’re basically almost there”. And just to make myself clear (in between all the *headdesking* going on right here), not for a split-second do I believe that this ad came to existence accidentally with nobody in charge realizing what is going on in that sick (yep, SICK) picture. So, while I see several people out there arguing all “oh, but I don’t think they intended to, it’s just unfortunate placement, but really, they’re standing in front of the graphics, but not grouped into the categories…” I will say right here and right now: This sick picture is one racist advertisement. That’s as racist as you can get these days. That’s not even nowhere near subtle.

And did you notice how by using the product you go from “healthy black woman” to “skinny white woman”? Apparently the whole damn washing lotion doesn’t only make you whiter and blonde, it also makes you lose weight. Oh my, all good things at once (and since I know this is the internets: this is me being sarcastic, as in, I clearly don’t mean it, but actually think the opposite). I’m glad to see the massive backlash for Dove based on this ad, but I’d still like to hear a sincere apology from the soapy corporate giant. And I’m appalled by all those internet commenters that go like “you’re stupid, get a life, no way this is racist, it’s the opposite”. Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone from commenting, but I’d love to encourage everyone to fucking think. Pretty please. Thank you.

Ursula K. Le Guin sends you empty-handed into your own revolution

Let’s just say it all together: Ursula K. Le Guin is god.
Damn, girl can’t help it, but when she writes Science Fiction she fucking writes masterpiece-top-notch-blow-your-mind literature. So thanks to you Ursula, cause your SF novels are awesome. Oh, and your Fantasy novels of course. And your short stories. And the way you handle issues of “race” and gender in your writing (most of the time). You totally deserve your own religion. Or something.

Anyhow, the tangled title of this very post is my lame attempt at cleverness, because I am about to review The Dispossessed, a SF novel by Le Guin that was published in 1974.

via harpercollins.com

For many people SF seems to be all about spaceships and aliens and questions of “is it not only escapism, because it has nothing to do with the real world?” That’s when my eyes glaze over and I wanna shoot the person uttering this abomination before god (who is Le Guin, of course). Cause in how far is any sort of fiction closer to reality? To whose reality anyway? And what does reality even mean in the context of SF? I’m ever so puzzled when people feel disconnected to characters and events in SF stories because the surroundings and the technology are not what they expect – since they obviously expect to find their world in a novel or story, or at least the idea they have of the world and the things they’d like to see in it. And it makes me wonder: isn’t that even a graver form of escapism? That characters and actions become so very irrelevant because the whole attraction boils down to only the physical surroundings?

Because great SF comes up with characters and developments that we in our conditio humana can relate to: Characters who are presented with dilemmas that inform our own existence and their ways to deal with said dilemmas.
In the case of The Dispossessed we are presented with a political dilemma of our times: what sort of society do we want to live in? Is capitalism a road to go down or does anarchism and its communal structure present a valid alternative? The narrative takes us on a journey that alternates between chapters set in the now, on Urras, a planet full of nations, many of which are capitalist, some democratic, others socialist and repressive. That is not to say that A-Io, the nation that protagonist Shevek finds himself in, and that is apparently democratic, would not be repressive. There are mass-demonstrations and the government shooting the demonstrators out of helicopters. There are privileged people and an angry underclass. And Shevek, brought up in a distinctly non-capitalist mindset, realizes that despite all the beauty and lushness of A-Io, capitalism does indeed produce a dichotomy: within society, but also within the personality. You need to think of yourself in terms of market value, and at the same time, perversely, your performance in the market determines your value as a person. And yes, this sounds all too familiar for a reason. People do demeaning jobs and accept humiliation and abuse, because the system produces positions that can only survive by putting up with the ugly side of things.

Anarres, the planet that Shevek originates from, is the antithesis to that. It is the moon to Urras (or Urras the moon to Anarres), and while Urras is rich in water, history, nature, cultures and people, Anarres is not, it is more like one huge desert with little vegetation and a constant challenge to those 20 million people who came to Anarres some 150+ years ago, because that way leaders on Urras removed the threat of an anarchist revolution. Those who adhered to the principles and teachings of Odo, an anarchist writer, were able to set up a society from scratch on Anarres, based on their anarchist thinking. That means that everything is organized communally, people do the job that they would like to do and unpleasant tasks are done by everyone on a rotational basis. There is no possession. The things you need are there for you to take, if you need a room or an apartment you ask if there is something free and you get to use it. You eat in dining halls where food is rationed for everyone.
But the wonderful thing about Le Guin is the ability to be critical about one’s preferences. There is no question that she sympathizes with the Odonian society where people share and have a responsibility towards one another, grounded in neither religion nor nationality, but in the simple acknowledgement that as a society, every human is part of it and profits from it, but also has to contribute. And while Shevek in the flashback chapters where we learn about his life’s story on Anarres sets out with an uncritical appraisal of Odonian society he comes to learn that much of the unity and civility comes from having to work together to sustain the people on the bleak planet of Anarres. He encounters hierarchies in his field of physics and in the society in general, even though the first rule of Odonian thinking is that there are no hierarchies, that everyone is the same, that there are no nations, states, and that all administrative bodies are open to anyone and are not to be understood as authorities. But as structures tend to do, they take root and habits and hierarchies develop, and over time Shevek learns that many people might claim that they are Odonians, that they carry the revolution in their hearts, but that in reality they are fundamentally opposed to having their conveniences and habits questioned and thus seek to protect their petty interests, masking it with anarchist rhetoric. And of course all of that too sounds familiar for a reason.

(c) Eileen Gunn, via usulakleguin.com

Late in the novel Shevek has an encounter with the Terran ambassador to Urras (yeah, she is from our Earth, y’all, only far in the future). By then humanity has pretty much overpopulated and destroyed beloved planet Earth and being impressed by the anarchist (or as she’d probably put it: communist) mindset of Shevek she remarks about Urras:

“To me, and to all my fellow Terrans who have seen the planet, Urras is the kindliest, most various, most beautiful of all the inhabited worlds. It is the world that comes as close as any could to Paradise. … Now, you man from a world I cannot even imagine, you who see my Paradise as Hell, will you ask what my world must be like?”

Just to remind you once more: Le Guin is god. And here’s why: Cause right and wrong is nothing set in stone, but is for 99.9 percent of the time a matter of perspective. And perspectives change and are pre-conditioned by how we are socialized and thus the rights seem very wrong to others while the wrongs might seem very right to others and all it boils down to is that it’s probably a little more complicated than we think and at the same time not, cause why not work with our differences, we’re all just human after all. Granted, there is a catch though, cause obviously despite all its flaws, Anarresti society based on Odonian principles of solidarity is much closer to take the individual as a being to be treated and met with respect and is therefore a pretty spot-on comment about what many people in our day and age (and before that and probably after us too) find wrong with capitalism and the permeation of society and state with capitalist thinking and pseudo-reasoning. However, a constant revolution does not mean invoking revolution through words, but make revolution happen in actions. When they are needed. And they are needed often, and going through a revolution is never easy. Especially not when you meet fierce resistance from those who claim to be living the constant revolution, when really, they’re not.

via blographia-literia.com

Ursula K. Le Guin has time and again proven her ability to create and construct believable political entities and situations, remarkably so in her novel The Left Hand of Darkness. But what she is also famous for, especially with the latter publication, is her ability to comment on gender issues and come up with thought-provoking takes on the whole thing.
In the case of The Dispossessed she does so too. The society in A-Io is divided strictly along gender lines. Women are not in politics and many of them are not supposed to be working at all (though in reality, they do, especially in the working class), and they do not attend universities. They carve out their own spaces nevertheless, though the worth of this remains questionable. Once more, this situation represents a heightened version of what we encounter in our Terran societies these days (and probably even more so back in the 70s when the novel was published). And again Anarresti society based on Odonian anarchist principles functions as a comment on the situation. Shevek falls in love, deeply and thoroughly, with a woman who is of her own mind, who, like all other women on Anarres, is equal to men in every respect. And the profound attraction stems from the fact that he can see her as an individual, as the character she is, rather than the societal position that she inhabits or the gender role she performs. Which is really a marvellous concept in terms of attraction and true affection.
Another interesting gender-subversion is Sheveks short-lived gay relationship with Bedap. The text clearly states that Shevek is heterosexual and that Bedap is homo, but Shevek, because he values the friendship moves in with him and even has sex, even though it doesn’t particularly excite him, but because he feels it to be a natural part of their friendship that is kind of a duty he meets, cause he knows that it is important for Bedap. It’s a peculiar construction within the novel, cause on the one hand I find it to be touching, this concept of deep affection within a friendship that leads one to perform sexual acts that don’t correspond to one’s orientation. However, it is also questionable to the extent that we may of course ask why even go there and have sex, when there is no real sexual attraction. And if there is, why not stick with the bisexual label instead of creating restrictive hetero and homo categories. I admit, the thing kinda puzzles me, because although I see the potential issues, I still think it is kinda heart-warming. Which probably has a lot to do with me not having any problem whatsoever with friendships that involve sex but are not romantic relationships, while, I guess, that does not meet a lot of understanding from other people.

Ah, ‘nuff said. The Dispossessed is a veritable classic, and IMHO anyone should have read it. Just like anyone should have read something by Le Guin (and praise her as god). There is a short story connected to this novel called The Day Before The Revolution, which is about Odo, the principle figure shaping the anarchist movement and society we encounter here, but it is less about her theoretical works and rather about her in old age and how she deals with it. All in one day and all right before the revolution that starts the settlement on Anarres. I’ll review it these next days. Until then: Go pick up your copy of The Dispossessed.

Didn’t you hear me? Go and read it!

Final verdict on the sole survivor: Ellen Ripley, feminist heroine?

I cheat a little, I admit. I’m just gonna pretend today is the 29th of February, so I can get away with posting my last Alien entry today. If you click HERE you get to the Alien master index, linking to all Alien posts of my “February is Alien month series.” Since the issue of feminism has popped up several times throughout my discussions of the various Alien movies I decided to close this series with talking about Ellen Ripley and her status as a feminist icon. Is it justified, and if so, why?

via 4players.de

Looking at the various Alien movies one thing becomes very obvious: the miniscule presence of female characters, crowned by the major Bechdel-test fail in Alien³ where the only female character is Miss Ellen Ripley herself. However, I’ve said it before, I consider it to be an advantage for the overall plot structure and forgive it on the premise that it was a deliberate decision to create a specific dynamic. And that it does in my opinion, so, okay. In Alien we only have one other woman aboard the Nostromo and she gets killed, and I’d argue that part of the reason why she is on there anyways is to provide a sort of anti-thesis to Ripley. She is afraid, indecisive, and ultimately unable to defeat the Alien, while Ripley is all of this sort of not (yay, grammar!).
In Aliens we have two other female characters and they provide some interesting insights too. There is tough Rambo-woman Vasquez who not only saves GI asses several times but also blows herself up heroically in the end, and who serves as a backdrop to what Ripley once was while she becomes something else: a mother. Cause the other female in the movie is a girl and she primarily serves to awake the nurturing instincts in tough cookie Ripley. She still kicks ass, but she does so, cause she has a quasi-daughter now. Which is about to change radically with the beginning of Alien³.
Alien Resurrection is the first film to present a wider cast of female characters. Among them are scientists (who are stupid and afraid of what they’re actually doing), androids who wonder what it is about being human, and captain’s girlfriend who enjoys foot-massages and breaks down badly once her sweetheart is gone. (I will grace the AvP films only with a bracketed comment: those female characters –tough or not – existed only cause they felt they had to provide Ripley substitutes, and we all know it)

via virginmedia.com

So what about Ellen Ripley herself?
She is the sole survivor, multiple times, and she is because she does not bow down to alpha-male-ish nonsense. She is pretty spot on about what is right and what should be done and about what defo should not be done, like e.g. getting quarantined crew members on board, rescuing the cat, blow a colony up, and kill herself. Ripley, just as the Alien, is a metaphor besides being character, and as such she passes through several stages of female experiences. There is the factor of proving one’s own position and qualifications in a sexist hierarchy, there is the issue of becoming a mother, struggling with the feelings this entails, and also the rejection of motherhood (if we consider her to be pregnant with an alien and deciding to, well, abort the “child”). Questions of female solidarity are touched upon, as is the dealing with sexist remarks and objectification by men. And of course Ripley is more than her gender: the issues she deals with are the acceptance of one’s life story, one’s destiny so to speak, embrace it or reject it, and she remains a self-confident and independent spirit til her very end: she ends her own life, cause it is the only solution she deems acceptable concerning to overall situation and developments. Even as a new and “improved” Alien-hybrid clone Ripley stays true to these traits: she remains in charge of her sexuality (even if it means we have to suffer through abysmal one-liners), she is level-headed in situations of massive crisis, she feels empathy with people even if she does not know them and has no immediate profit in caring about them, and she learns what being human means. The hard way. I guess killing your clone-sister isn’t the easiest thing to do. And well, accepting that the being you fought against the last years of your life is now an inextricable part of you, in the literal sense, even. She once more becomes a mother figure, albeit to an alien this time, and once more she rejects the role, with yeah, terribly racist undertones.
I feel I have to point it out once more: I am not against motherhood, no effin way, mothers rule. But I am against the depiction of female journeys as being complete and meaningful only when they are topped off with becoming a mom. Cause ultimately it means that society tells you that you as an individual are pretty worthless, you only gain worth when having kids. And if we follow the thought through it basically means only being a man really counts, cause a as a daughter the same destiny of having to become a mother awaits you. That is why the glorification of motherhood (meaning that all other conceptions of femininity are rejected or deemed of less value) is often ultimately anti-feminist, or let’s just say it: downright sexist. For all the flaws of the Alien Saga in not only the gender department I truly applaud the series for getting the basic conception of a female and truly feminist heroine right. So: Yay! Feel free to disagree with me tough, but then I challenge you to comment! Muahaha.

via sherdog.net

Admittedly the headline is somewhat misleading, cause this post is more about the overall feminist message of the Alien Saga than just the character of Ellen Ripley. And one super-important yet thus far undiscussed issue is of course the alien.
The depiction of the aliens is highly interesting from a gender-issues-perspective. For once, the alien society is strictly matriarchal. No matter how many the host to a queen might take down, she is still host to a queen, killing her is not an option for the regular alien, since it of course endangers the survival of its species. The whole imagery of having an alien queen, together with her laying eggs (and the complicated mode of reproduction), serves to remind us of some mutant insect rather than an intelligent being or even something resembling human. But this premise is subverted, because in the course of Aliens we witness the alien queen becoming protective of her descendants and finally furious with those who killed them (and yeah, wouldn’t you be?). Alien Resurrection picks up on this, the alien queen literally becomes a mother when she gives birth to an alien hybrid (that is fucked-up-edly white *headdesk*) and experiences what it means to be rejected by your offspring.
While the AvP movies retreat to picturing the aliens as mere killing machines, the overall Alien Saga hints at there being more. They are social beings, and while their whole existence differs considerably from the human experience they are not entirely dissimilar. I’ve talked about the inherent racist implications HERE, but it is less obvious what the message concerning feminism is. In contrast to what the overall series does with the character of Ripley, the alien as a female queen is only valuable because of her function as a mother. However, we never really know about the gender of the other aliens or facehuggers. Do they even have one? Aren’t the facehuggers some sort of omni-gender in that no matter what gender the host, they still always succeed to implant little baby-aliens? Interesting, methinks.

via movieguys.org

Okay, I’ll wrap it up! The short version of this post could have been: Yup, Ellen Ripley is a feminist heroine for a variety of reasons. I just went out of my way to come to a point about the series as a whole, kinda.

And yeah folks, that’s it for Alien month. I guess we got it covered, huh? Maybe, with future films…. and the comics….. ah, never say never.

Are you afraid of the Other? A color-conscious reading of Alien

I am a white German man and I enjoy the movies of the Alien-Saga helluva lot. That’s problematic. It might not be for many people, it might not seem so for many people, it might be the unthinkable to many people. But when I watch the Alien movies and find myself thinking: “they’re way cool!” I observe myself wondering: “aren’t you just being a privileged prick?”

Instead of reviewing the remains of the filmic Alien-Saga today (there are still the two Alien vs. Predator instalments) I opt for the editorial-style discussion of issues of racism and color in the Alien movies. Since I haven’t reviewed the two vs. Predator movies yet, and since I think they’re kinda shitty and non-canonical, I will mostly ignore them in this discussion. But then again, I cannot really, cause there we encounter some interesting aspects of the whole issue. For more Alien-related posts, please click HERE to get to the Alien master index.

this looks cute, but our discussion won't be, via fanboy.com

Shall I ease our way into this discussion? The question alone should make clear where I am coming from (talking bout my position within larger human society here): I address somebody who is white, western, thinks of her_himself as colorblind and does not think every other thing should be examined in relation to the issue of racism. If you are a person like that, kudos for being so interested to getting this far, please stay with me. To everyone else: Apologies. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I wouldn’t have that default audience in mind when I start to write? A truly diverse and non-me kind of audience? It would, but I don’t. I started to write and I wanted to write the question of “easing into the discussion” just when I noticed what I’m doing. But I am doing it anyhow, this time around making visible though where my own personal starting point is positioned.

this is what an alien usually looks like, via thefilmstage.com

This wordy entrance provides me with a good starting point to go on about the “easing into” anyways, cause for the beginning, let’s not focus on the alien, nor on the human cast. Let us just look at the actions that inform, more as a subtext than really out in the open, the overall narrative of the Alien movies.
Human beings, originally from our beloved Earth colonize other planets. They have mining colonies, they have prison colonies (hey Fury!), they have colonies on planets where they need to install huge, gritty machines that need to convert the atmosphere to make it inhabitable for humans. Now, you might remember, somewhere in the back of your head, or really just right away: Human beings from planet Earth have quite the history with colonialism. And it ain’t a cute one. It is a history of racial oppression that was desperately in need of racist ideology to justify what was happening in the name of whatnot else. Colonizing space seems to be different at first glance for many people, cause it’s about the future and the explorer-spirit, yadda yadda, but ultimately it is colonialism. And we never see or hear about the colonial struggles that the Earthlings might fight (well, we see one, kinda…). This whole notion of colonialism is further reinforced by presenting us with one huge corporation in charge, Weyland-Yutani, very reminiscent of the various colonisation societies and companies that existed during the days of European and Japanese colonialism not too long ago.
A company is a company, and when we expect it to follow principles and values we usually mean human ones. While that might be helpful when addressing the people in charge of running or employed by companies, a company in itself is not a human being, and in a capitalist world order it has interests that have little to do with being human. That is where the whole corporate craziness from the Alien movies stem from: Humanity meets an alien life form, and the corporate plan is to domesticate it, dissect it, study it and ultimately market it. It is potential profit, that is why it’s interesting and even more so than any of the human staff are. And a lot of the vocabulary should already make it clear, there was a perverted little system called “slavery” that humankind once thought to be a pretty neat thing. It was all about domesticating people (of color, usually), of studying them (people of color, usually), tear them out of their environment (consistent of people of color, usually) and market them (to white people, usually). The Alien, even if we don’t touch upon the issue of looking at it as reminiscent of human or regard its color, is basically being treated and approached like an enslaved subject. My point here? Colonialism and slavery, two terrible things, closely intertwined with the issue of racism and color and we encounter them in the context of Alien, thus this whole discussion is totally worth having, based on that alone. Eased into it already? Good.

how about a different color-scheme?, via artasty.com

Cause the domestication and subjugation of the alien happens on the basis of the argument that it is hostile. And oh, it happens to be black. Granted, not human skin kind of black, but black, as in very visibly not white (ha, not just yet, we’ll get there!), and a kind of black that is reminiscent of human skin color.
Ok, clearly, the alien is not a human being. It reminds us – or at least me – of some sort of reptile/spider-like being that creeps around dark corners, has a body that is set up so very differently from the human form that this alone inserts a factor of insecurity (after all, what can it do? We wouldn’t know) and does not communicate with us in any other way than attacking us. The point I’m getting at, why not just say it now?, is that in light of the history of colonialism, slavery and racist ideas many white people considered people of color to be non-human, to have bodies that differ fundamentally from theirs, to be menacing and violent and ultimately fear-inducing, based alone on the appearance. Don’t go batshit-crazy here, cause I am in no effin way saying “oho, the Alien is like a person of color,” that is not, I repeat: NOT, the point. What I mean is: “aha, interesting, the alien fulfils a vision of fear and menace in white minds that’s been formerly (or still?) occupied by people of color in white mindsets.” And that, I argue, is a racist construction. It was then, it is now, and while white people and people of color do not belong to different races, human beings and the aliens very well do, making the word racism just as appropriate, though somewhat different in overall meaning.

One of the central aspects as to why it is ok to hunt and kill the aliens is that (besides them attacking and killing us) they are constantly dehumanized within the context of the movie. Dehumanizing the being you’re dealing with is the general modus operandi when it comes to white people enslaving and discriminating people of color, it is also firmly in place when it comes to killing animals for fur or skin or meat (but I won’t go there now).
However, there is a paradox inherent in the whole construction of the Alien narrative. If the alien only were an animal that we deem a menace but not really a worthy opponent, the movies would be far less interesting. Therefore, we’ve been introduced to fairly human reactions and interactions, with somewhat of a social system, instincts that lead to the protection of their children, and an intelligence that is en par with that of human beings. They need to remind us of ourselves, in order to make for a worthy opponent, and please don’t go “but their social system, that’s like ants!, or bees!”, cause we as human beings set their social systems in human context, use human vocabulary and thereby think of them as somewhat remotely human, before denying it again on other grounds.
We do a lot of the same with the aliens. Their curious and complicated mode of reproduction, including eggs and parasitic development, rapid growth and an interesting lack of sexual interaction between the queen and any other alien, it is there to remind us that they are not human, that their reproduction cycles do not consist of warmth and familiar gestures. Which kind of reminds me how white “scientists” displayed the genitalia of black women in Europe, cause they were deemed strange and only remotely human. Not to forget white western discourses about how people of color threaten to overpopulate the world, cause they have too much sex, with too many children and too little sense of responsibility (yeah, white people – not all, mind you – think that).
Another popular white discourse has been and still is in some corners of white minds the discourse on how people of color, especially black people are not rational beings but are being led by their instincts that are considered to be primal and void of civilization. Colonial discourses were grounded in that kind of shit, and here in Alien we encounter a being that is defined (even explicitly so) by what it does, and what it does is interpreted as following its own primal instincts, without conscience and without rational thinking. Ermh, similar much?

human/alien hybrid, via cyberpunkreview.com

And then, in Alien 4, Alien Resurrection, there it comes: the alien that is closer to humanity than ever before, cause it reeks of Ripley’s DNA, shows feelings, has eyes, a pink tongue, snarls, and is MOTHERFUCKING white. Umh, the less white you are the less human you are? Is that the message you wanted to send there, stupid producers/everyone else involved? While everyone was probably like “whoa, cool visuals!” (and white) it is really just a horrid subtext displayed there. Cause all of a sudden, even if we were somehow able to ignore all the issues I presented until now, and didn’t connect the color of the aliens and its representation with the issue of racism, all of a fucking sudden Alien Resurrection conveniently links the parts together for us, saying: look, we can think of them as human, and hey, the closer they are to real humans, the whiter they get! Beatings and shootings for everyone on the fucking film set, sez I, but only in the vile places of my personality.
Then there is even the mind-boggling issue of an interracial family (which is still up to this day, unfortunately, a whole issue in itself, cause of the reactions of white society) since Ripley and the aliens are now somehow related, and Mr. Whiterson McWhite aka new kinda alien clearly considers her to be his mother. Let us just briefly think about what happens in Alien Resurrection then: the kid of that interracial relationship that is born with white skin turns against his black mother (even killing her) and family and is ultimately rejected by his white mother (and her family) cause it is still related to the other race. Yes, you may hit your head hard and repeatedly now on the table, to make the pain go away. Not only is it an extremely racist message, but it is even an extremely racist message that doesn’t even try to say it’s not. Whoa, in a not good way, I say to that.

My Little Alien by Mari Kasurinen, via thejunction.de

Having talked a lot about the aliens themselves I still want to discuss the presence of people of color in Alien movies. We all know, Ellen Motherfucking Ripley kicks ass in all the right ways, but she is not a woman of color. Ok, some people are just not (curiously basically every other Hollywood hero though), and hey, at least it is not Erik Ripley, so, yay, female presence! So, how many people of color (who, let me remind you, account for the way larger part of humankind) do we find in the main casts of Alien movies? One in the original movie, he dies. None, really, in Aliens. One in Alien³, and yeah, he dies. And one in Alien Resurrection, wanna guess?, he dies. Yay, diversity…? Obviously, with only one character of color whose name we’re aware of none of the Alien movies pass the Bechdel test adjusted to color. L.A.M.E. In about every way conceivable. At least some Latin descent is hinted at, but let’s not even ask for an Asian presence, shall we? L.A.M.E. Let’s say it together next time!
Curiously, this is where I have to start discussing the Alien vs. Predator movies, cause the first of them, and yeah, just hold your breath and sit down, comes up with one human hero – and she is a black woman. Supposedly she is the new Ripley (without ever being seen in the other AvP movie, though) and that alone makes me even kind of forget how she still needs to be acknowledged by the Predator. As for AvP 2- Requiem, I only saw it once and thought it was abysmal. I don’t even remember – are there any human characters we’re supposed to care about (except for dumb college jocks and their ladies)?
The introduction of the Predators into the Alien Universe just reinforces what I stated earlier though: the aliens become prey, they are beings in themselves, but not respected. Their existence is only permissible to the extent that the Predators can enslave them, play with them, hunt them and kill them. The predators just take over the torch. They become the mightier colonizers and masters, their every racist whim is what is to structure the universe.

Sanaa Lathan as Alexa Woods, via moviesmeter.com

On a final note I should maybe explain why I can bitch about how racist Alien movies are and still like them. Part of it is probably nostalgia, I watched and loved the Alien movies long before I ever contemplated racism and white privilege. Another part is white privilege, I guess I am white enough to not be confronted with the negative end of racist action every other moment, so that I can ignore many implications, even though I am aware that they are there. And then there is of course that part of me that hopes that some of the story and imagery is really not just that bad, tells us something about the human condition that transcends the mere medium of film
Oh and, why should be critical with something mean you have to dislike it? Hm, what do you think?