Sunday, April 10, 2016

Yes, the Prequels have a bit of a Racism problem.

So the one Prequel criticism I haven't talked about on this blog yet is the criticism that a number of the alien CGI characters come off as old racist caricatures.

And that is true, I will concede there is a problem there, one I'm not happy about.  And people who actually belong to those offended demographics may be much less willing then me to just ignore that when watching the movies and I understand that.

This particular criticism isn't one the majority of Prequel haters care about, what is the one most valid criticism, that is at it's most apparent in TPM, is never mentioned in anything Mr Plinkett says in his TPM review (I don't know what he says about the other two).  But it comes up when I'm talking among fellow SJWs at sites like TheMarySue, and at first it blindsided me only because I'm not used to it coming up, I could spend hours upon hours going back and forth with the Prequels haters of IMDB and they never care to even think of it.

But it is a problem I acknowledge, and one I should have talked about on my Blog sooner.  It's a problem that exists because Lucas was from the start mimicking things common in old movies and serials where those stereotypes were usually the default.  That's not an excuse, that's just the reason.  His intent wasn't malicious but that doesn't make it okay.

But I want to remind people that the Prequels are far more diverse then the Original Trilogy in both human and non human characters.

A lot of people like Vrai feel one of the most important things about The Force Awakens is how diverse it is, finally having a female lead and a Person of Color in the main three.  And I agree.  But Liberals are also called Progressives for a reason, we didn't get here over night.

The increased diversity of the Prequels are part of a direct line of progression that made The Force Awakens possible.  There would be no Rey without Padme Amidala and no Finn without Mace Windu.  And no Poe without Jimmy Smitts.

And even The Force Awakens isn't perfect.  The first film with a woman as the Jedi in training is also the first film where the Jedi in training is captured by the enemy and the other heroes go on a rescue mission to save her.  And it's been pointed out that she technically contributed nothing to Starkiller base being destroyed.  And the film still doesn't pass the Bechel Test, I'm more forgiving of failing to pass the Bechel test then most, but when the lead is a woman and it still fails, that I notice far more.  And isn't Maz Kanata effectively Star Wars first Magic Negro?

And still no openly Gay Star Wars characters in the films, though we've been promised some are coming.

Besides Qui-Gon Jinn, pretty much the only major characters who are White in the PT are those required to be by the canon of the OT, it's just that happens to include all three leads and the main villain.  Actually in the case of the Fetts they went against the original casting of that character to make them POC, and I still prefer to interpret all the Storm Troopers as clones no matter what Rebels says, and I've said before how TFA can be consistent with that.

They made Leia's adoptive parents POC, the most important off-screen deaths of the OT retroactively made POC.  Queen Amidala's trusted military commander in TPM is an African American, and his replacement in AOTC is a Native American.

And it split the Yoda role between the original Yoda and a Black Man, a calm wise intelligent Black Man played by a actor who was being typecast as a loud screaming angry Black Man.  And to me personally Windu's death is very meaningful, a lot of people think it's cheap, but I like that he echos what Luke says when he's being force electrocuted, it adds a new layer to an already Iconic scene.  It brings Vader back to the moment he first choose the Dark Side right before he chooses to return to the Light.  To someone who watches the films chronologically it makes Windu a part of that scene every time I watch it.

Padme Amidala is my personal favorite Star Wars character.  Always has been and always will be.

Leia was impressive for the time, at a time when a woman just grabbing a gun and firing it was still unusual.

We see Padme in Episode I bearing the burden of her responsibility, we see her make tough decisions after struggling with them as I already said about the Senate Scene.  We see her willing to humble herself on behalf of her people to make a new ally out of people they'd wronged in the past.  And we see her take part in a battle herself right from the first movie.

There is a video online of all the lines by female characters other then Leia in the Original Trilogy, it was a very short video which was the satire.  The thing is a PT equivalent would be a lot longer and thus less of a satire thanks to Shimi Skywalker alone.  And I'm impressed even with the characterization given to the Decoy Queen, watch the movie knowing the twist and the scene where she orders Padme to clean R2-D2 is pretty hilarious.

I would also argue that in Episode II she does more to show her strength and independence, but also depth and vulnerability, then Leia had in the whole OT.  I like how when Her and Anakin are captured and being taken the arena she confesses her feelings to Anakin under the pretense that they're about to die, then we immediately see her fiddling with the thing that gets her unchained, she was never planning to die.  I like when Anakin says "what about Padme" and Obi-Won says "she seems to be on top of things" that's why he's the Han Solo of the PT.

I think one of the few valid continuity issues isn't anything haters usually talk about but rather that PT Obi-Won is clearly less of a misogynist.  Obi-Won knew Luke had a sister but said Luke is "our only hope"  Yoda corrects him, yet he repeats this in ROTJ when there is no doubt that was written with us knowing who the other Hope was.  So OT Obi-Won was utterly dismissive of the idea that Leia could do what he's counting on Luke to do.  But PT Obi-Won fought along side female Jedi, and knew Padme, Leia's mother, was not to be underestimated, and arguably respects her agency more then Anakin, when he talks Anakin down from wanting to abandon the mission for Padme he says "what would she do in your place".

The female Jedi we see in action don't speak any-lines, but it meant a lot to see the Jedi weren't a boys only club, though it seems the Council mostly was, but as I've said before the Council's supposed to be seen as a broken institution.

Padme can be seen as more feminine and less masculine then Leia, and a certain brand of Feminist would argue that as regressive.  But I'm a Sailor Moon fan, I think it's important to show feminine women can be strong too.  I'd also argue Leia is that way because she has some of Anakin in her, I think you can easily argue every trait Leia doesn't get from Padme she gets from Anakin, you can see that brashness and arrogance in her at times.  And I didn't even think of this till recently.

In ROTS there are issues with how Padme is handled, though I still love Portman's performance.  I'm literally the opposite of most SW fans, your typical Prequel hater finds ROTS the only tolerable one, for me it's the only Prequel I have any criticisms of that bug me as I watch it, and they all come down to how the female characters were handled.  But the film also has many other strengths that I think make it the best of the movies.

The caricatures with the CGI characters are a problem, especially in TPM, they're most prominent there, I think Lucas listened to that criticism and decided to be more careful for the following films.  But like so many other criticisms of the Prequels it's another issue the OT also had but people give it more of a free pass on.

What about that fat disgusting gluttonous slimy worm Jabba The Hutt?  Who's so fat disgusting and gluttonous he can't even move on his own?  Doesn't that remind you of a real life caricature of a real life demographic?   Lucas actually didn't want Jabba to be unable to move, that was a technology limitation, one that OT Purists with Rose Tinted glasses take offense at hearing Lucas express dissatisfaction with n the audio commentary tack, and resent that since 1997 CGI has enabled Jabba to walk, "It's for the best he doesn't move, he's so powerful he doesn't have to" exact words I've seen on IMDB.  But even when he can walk Jabba still has that subtext.

Or Oola, the dancing exotic slave girl played by an African American actress, who's attempt to liberate herself results in a horrible death.  Or the Ewoks, who were basically like dumb African tribals who think a Gold plated robot is a god.  Oh wait, people do hate the Ewoks but not for that reason.

And aren't the Jawas and Tuskin raiders exactly how imperialists view the native "savages" of desert third world countries?  Episode II even draws attention to this, having Anakin's genocide of the Tuskins be his first morally reprehensible act on his journey to The Dark Side, and even has him cite Racist thinking as part of why he did it.

Lando is cool, but he is kind of a stereotype, kind of exactly who Billy Dee Williams was usually typecast as, the opposite of Jackson as Windu which went against that actor's usual type casting.  Then there is the Iconic character voiced by a veteran African American actor who couldn't be played by one when we saw his face, Canon demanded that but it still kinda looks bad.

Or how about Obi-Won Kenobi, a clearly East Asian name being portrayed by a British Actor, the Prequels of course repeat this offense with Qui-Gon Jinn.  The thing is we learned recently Lucas did want a well known Japanese actor for the role originally, but couldn't get him, so they defaulted to the standard British actor option.

And on Gender, I've talked before about how a hesitance to use Female Villains is a form of Sexism itself, and I do remember documentaries about SW making a point out of how intentional it was we saw no women in The Empire.  And I'll admit even in the Prequel era you still need the EU for good female villains, we just got one bounty hunter used as a pawn by Jango.  In TFA we saw women in the First Order finally, I hope in Episode VIII the Knights of Ren have some women.

I'm sure plenty of people have talked about those issues before, but it's only when I'm defending the Prequels in a TMS comments section that all it's offenses are thrown at me with a tone of "How DARE you be okay with that".

And if anyone honestly thinks "I didn't think of those things before so that must make them less blatant".  No, you didn't notice because you watched them as a kid, just as I didn't originally notice any of the implications I shall discus below with TPM when I was 13, not till I read about them being critiqued years later.

The Neimodians took the longest for me to learn about, and I'm still kind of skeptical that they were meant to sound how they're accused of sounding ("is that Legal?" is clearly pronounced with Ls not Rs to my ears), to me they always just sounded weird and alien.  The Trade Federation was clearly based on the British East India Company.  And their robes make me think of Venice.  But still if they come off Asian to some Asian viewers they have the right to express being offended.

Jar Jar Binks is my second favorite Star Wars character, he delighted me as a child.  But yes he talks like a very old accent used in a lot of old films for African Americans during and just after Slavery, it remained around actually into the 40s in The Mummy's Curse (the Kharis Mummy films were a direct influence on Indiana Jones), and that can bother people once they're aware of it.  But his character is a very good person, not as dumb he as he gets made out to be, but clumsy and childlike, and by befriending Padme he helps bridge the gap between two estranged neighboring cultures.

The Gungans in general are a people the Naboo have long looked down on because they're perceived (wrongly) as being less civilized and less intelligent, and they resent the Naboo for that.  And as a stand alone movie what TPM is mainly about is these two people who share a planet being reconciled to each other to thwart off an outside threat.  So it's not the best way to tell that kind of story, but the affiliation with an outdated African American accent does have a purpose.

Watto is the least defendable caricature in all the films save maybe Jabba.  He is definitely a SciFi cipher of a Greedy Jew caricature.  But Wario equally comes off as that, or more so, and is one equally as unofficially, and he's a beloved Nintendo Character.  Even though in TPM on paper Watto has no redeeming qualities, he has a charm to him that makes me love him, and I really liked his scene in ATOC, he seemed genuinely happy to see Anakin, like an old uncle.

The Prequels on diversity and representation have flaws, but I feel they are way ahead of the OT, EVEN when considering how they were for their time.  The Mummy is another 1999 film I'm equally Nostalgic for.  But it's handling of ethnic representation is far worse, and it's handling of female characters about equal to Episodes I and II.  And it also had a character who was ambiguously Jewish and very Greedy.

A stereotyped character can still be more then that, and for people who grew up on the Prequels like me, these Prequels characters are more then that just as much as the OT examples are for people who grew up on them.

No comments:

Post a Comment