Commenting on the critics with Simon Columb…
Writer and podcaster for Slash Film, Dave Chen – on his personal blog www.davechen.net – writes about the racist and ethnic stereotypes in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, upon the re-release of the film in 3D, in response to a podcaster who stated that, “I don’t think it’s racist, I will say that. I think that criticism is a little bit overblown.” Chen writes…
“Before I say anything else, let me just point out that as someone who hosts my own podcasts, I know what it’s like for people to totally rip something you’re saying out of context, so I’m going to try to be as cautious as possible here. That being said, can we please stop pretending that the clearly racist caricatures in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace were a) not racist caricatures, and b) acceptable to our society? Like, at all?“
It truly is a great article with many reference points and a substantial about of research to back-up his arguments. I completely agree but, unfortunately, I think we all know that many people will simply shrug their shoulders and say, “Hey, its an alien film! It’s just fun and games!”. Too often, my personal interest in cinema and my regular analysis of films lands me in a position whereby readers and friends simply state that I may be looking into it too much.
As an example, I recently read a BFI Modern Classic on Independence Day whereby the author Michael Rogin argues that, more than simply an ‘alien’ film, it in fact sets up a story that praises the heterosexual family unit in a modern age – an age whereby homosexual relationships and women-without-men are not needed. Simply consider how the male counterparts to Will Smith (his flying-buddy played by Harry Connick, Jr.) and Jeff Goldblum (his camp boss, played by Harvey Fiersten) are killed off, while – by the end of the film – both Smith and Goldblum marry/remarry their partners, re-establishing a wholesome family unit. If I recall, the end shot shows these ‘units’ looking to the sky – family is king, gay representatives are dead. I am wary that this one paragraph does not give justice to the fascinating text by Michael Rogin, as he highlights many more examples and roots his argument within political and historical frameworks that, whether intentional or not, clearly shows how the film is much more than entertainment.
Hugely popular properties always have some type of an effect on the viewers – and we cannot ignore this. This leads to to further interest in films that children watch – Star Wars, Disney, Twilight and Harry Potter are all watched by children time and time again. What messages are they sending out? What morals are being presented? What about films more recent – say, Attack the Block, depicting gang-leaders who rob people at knife point and, by the end, are praised as heroes. Again, an ‘alien’ movie.
Personally, I believe the author’s intent can be completely ignored when analysing a film or work of art. Despite Lucas’ protestations, it is nevertheless evident that characters in The Phantom Menace do imitate racial and ethnic stereotypes and the fact that he doesn’t see this may be a bigger concern.
Much like Chen feels at the close of his article, though there is no credible evidence to directly link entertainment with influential behaviour on children, it is worth noting that creators of films should consider the responsibility they have. This links to another hugely successful – and potentially hugely-influential – property, Spider-Man, created by Marvel. How perfectly suited to my argument is this quote: “With great power, comes great responsibility…”