Category Archives: racism and raciality

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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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.