Sunday, November 14, 2010

Race and Contemporary Hollywood Part 03


When I last did a post on this I made it a point to add an aside concerning an aspect of race and contemporary Hollywood that is often ignored by a majority of critics. That aside concerned the prevalence of Eastern Europeans in roles often occupied by minorities (i.e.-the group that needs a Western saviour, the terrorists, the crazy foreigner, etc.). Now I'm sure at some point most of us have seen movies like Hostel or old action flicks with Steven Segal or Jean Claude Van Dame, where the bad guys were thoroughly bad and irredeemable. Of course there were Black, Latino, Arab, etc. villains, but if there was a "white" villain to be found they were more than likely Russian or Eastern European (how many times has the bad guy been Czech or some similar nationality?). Well in this post I'm going to breakdown some of the most prevalent and offensive stereotypes found in most Hollywood films concerning Eastern Europeans.

Women:

1) "Loose"/"Party Girl": Eastern European women are often depicted as being "looser" and more into partying than their Western European or U.S.-American counterparts. Movies such as EuroTrip (which was a terrible attempt at comedy and possibly satire) and, to an extent, that deplorable tripe known as Hostel portrayed the women as readily grinding on, flirting with, and, in many instances, sleeping with a man. Transporter 3 is another example. It had a Eastern European female...well I wouldn't really call her a protagonist, but they had someone/something similar, and, in short and understating, she was not the most demure of women. Not that being demure is anything to aspire to, but...well watch the movie if you really want to know what I'm getting at. (Warning: You will role your eyes right out of your head at both her character and the story overall)

2)Conniving/Opportunistic: This is a stereotype all women have to deal with, but in film it is more often than not the minority women who are depicted in the worst possible light as it concerns this. There are countless examples in films directed by U.S.-Americans, the aforementioned film Hostel being a particularly malicious example, and in every instance the woman, or women as the case may be, is made into a completely irredeemable monster or must be taught the "error of her ways" by the "hero" or "heroine". Once again, this is stereotype is not exclusive to Eastern European women, but I have noticed that there is not much mention of them during discussions involving this topic.

3)The Sexy Spy or Secret Agent: Whether it be because their accent, or the magical appeal of all things "foreign" to Western audiences, there seems to be some kind of infatuation with Eastern European women taking up the role of the evil secret agent or spy. Often they will embody one or both of points 1 and 2, and will more than likely end up dead. Just watch a spy flick, a James Bond film for example, and see what I mean.'

4) Nagging, Bodybuilder, Manish, and/or Haggish: Though not quite as prevalent as other stereotypes, at least based on the number of films I've seen or heard of, whenever an "ugly" character is needed, and they're white, they are often Russian or Eastern European. I'm sure we all know the stereotype of Russian women, and, by some twisted logic, Eastern European being "manish" builds or being bodybuilders, especially when it comes to comic relief in film or cartoons. I'm sure we all remember seeing at least one nagging and/or haggish old woman portrayed as a similar nationality. While these stereotypes are not solely endemic to depictions of Eastern European women (Black women face these kinds of stereotypes more often than others, at least as it concerns Hollywood films), you would be hard pressed to find a Western European woman or American woman, outside of possibly Italians, presented in such a light.

05) Prostitutes/Sex Slaves: Playing into the very real problem of female sex trafficking, this stereotype is prevalent in a lot of t.v. shows and films. Shows like Law and Order and Without a Trace have used elements of this stereotype to construct narratives. Movies like the phenomenal Eastern Promises used this stereotype as well. However, with the way its presented, you'd think that sex trafficking would be limited to Eastern Europe and parts of Asia (more specifically China and Southeast Asia) because, based on another flawed stereotype, the police in those countries are more incompetent and impotent than their U.S.-American counterparts. Of course, for those of us who know that the U.S. is a crap-sack country, the same problem exist in the States with young girls, especially young Black and Latina girls, being trapped into lives of prostitution from ages as early as 9 or so.


Men


1) The Gangster/Mobster:
More often than not, when there's a European mobster or gangster in a film he, or in some cases she, is going to be Eastern European. Sometimes you might get a nationality from them (Czech seems to be the most popular for some reason), but more often than not they're simply, "That Zany Eastern European Bad Guy". This also ties in with the number 2 point, Eastern European men being abusers and alcoholics, as many gangsters and mobster are shown to abuse the prostitutes/sex slaves under their employ to make them seem like really bad guys. They are also shown to have anger management issues, and are highly volatile and unstable in many instances.

Grand Theft Auto IV is a good example of this in video games.

-Note: Italians are the second favorite (used to be first before the 90s or so) for sophisticated European mobsters/gangsters, followed by Asians, and then African-Americans and Latinos. However, that order is reversed when the gangsters are incompetent and/or bumbling.-

2) Abuser/Alcoholics:
While definitely not limited to Eastern European men, this stereotype is quite prevalent as it concerns their film roles. Often under these circumstances the man, be it the father or boyfriend, is made out to be an irredeemable, lazy, abusive drunk who ruins the lives of those around him. Also, more often than not, their death, when they actually die in the film, is made out to be one of the high points of the movie.

3) Terrorist:
While people from the Middle East have started to pick up this mantel at a rate far outpacing their Eastern European counterparts (i.e.-September 11th, War on Bullsh-I mean "Terror", War in Iraq, etc. influence over popular film), whenever you need a communist, white terrorist bad guy they'll either be Russian or Eastern European. A good example of this is Bad Company starring Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins. Much like their mobster/gangster counterparts, the Eastern European terrorist is an extremist bad guy with anger management issues. If there's a party scene in the movie, you can almost guarantee one of the terrorist, be it the leader or one of his men, is going to be an abusive womanizer.

4) Evil Communist Soldier(s): See number 3).


Eastern Europe as a Whole

Eastern Europe as a whole is often presented as being underdeveloped (i.e.-in the industry stage of development) or less developed than Western Europe. Often many countries are presented as lacking many of the amenities that Westerners enjoy, and the currency of most countries is seen as being mind-bogglingly lower in value than that of American monies and currencies like the Euro (e.g.-Eastern European currencies are seen as being at the same level as countries like Zimbabwe, or only slightly better). The scenery is often presented in a very bleak and cold manner (perhaps in an effort to present a subliminal message about the people who live there) with most of the surrounding scenery appearing as though most, if not all countries, are stuck in a perpetual state of winter.

Occasionally the countries will be presented as being staunchly Communist, ethnic groups being highly competitive with one another to a self-destructive extent (i.e.-often fighting wars against one another, new states declaring independence, etc.), and/or retaining a Cold War/Soviet Union mindset. Further, although some mention is occasionally made of Eastern Europe being composed of separate states with independent ideologies and systems, often one gets the image of Eastern Europe being a monolithic entity like Africa and Asia.

In short, exaggerations or fabrications mixed with occasional hints of the truth.

Well, I suppose that concludes this post. Feel free to comment or what have you. Also, I hope that, to any and all readers of Eastern European origins/heritage/etc., I did a decent job of pointing out some of the offensive stereotypes or exaggerations of Eastern Europe.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Movie Review/Recommendation: Whispering Corridors - Wishing Stairs.



Don't let other reviews scare you off, the Whispering Corridors 3-Wishing Stairs is a phenomenal movie. It is a tale involving two girls who are, at least on the surface, the best of friends, a dream, a wish, and finally retribution. While it fashions itself a horror film, I personally feel it would be better classified as a wonderful amalgamation of drama, suspense, and mystery. All three elements work on some level to form a cohesive story that is almost immediately compelling and with an artistic flair that cannot be ignored.

While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this movie to hardcore horror lovers (especially those who like liberal amounts of gore in their horror flicks), I would recommend it to those who like something a little more artful. The way the scenes are shot well, the pacing is occasionally a little to slow but not enough to ruin the experience, and the acting, while occasionally eyebrow cocking worthy, is one the whole very good. In short, I highly recommend this movie for a rental (its been out for awhile). Enjoy!

Rating: 3.5/5
-Pacing: 3.5/5
-Story: 4/5
-Acting:3/5
-Gore:1/5

Synopsis:

Yun Jin-seong, played by the talented Sung Ji Hyo, and Kim So-hee, played by the lovely Park Han-byul, are two best friends who attend an all girls school for the arts. Both are talented ballet dancers, but it obvious to all, even from the outset, that Kim So-hee is far more talented than Yun Jin-seong. Regardless, despite Yun Jin-seong's occasional feelings of jealousy at the position Kim So-hee enjoys because of her skill, both girls truly seem to care for the other in a way that, at least to me, border on romantic.*

However, as the film progresses, we come to understand that Jin-seong's occasional flares of jealously aren't quite as innocent as they seem. Jin-seong's and So-hee's friendship turns overtly sour when they find themselves competing for a single spot in a Russian ballet school. though So-hee desperately tries to maintain their friendship, Jin-seong violently rejects her leading to a series of events in which she acts on the old legend of the "Wishing Stairs". Jin-seong selfishly wishes for a place in the prestigious arts school, and in a shocking turn of events, she gets it, at the cost of her best friend' life. However, there is one person who, unbeknown to Jin-seong, cannot let So-hee go. Using the "Wishing Stairs", the extremely odd character of Eom Hye-ju wishes for So-hee to be resurrected...and that's when things take a turn for the worse.


-------------------------

*The other films in the series have, according to Wikipedia, a focus on the taboo of lesbian affairs in an all-girls school.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tyler Perry - A Thoughtful Commentary on the One Man (Out of Many) Who (Further) Tarnished Black Cinema


Tyler Perry (born Emmitt Perry, Jr.; September 13, 1969) is an American actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and author.[1] Already a successful artist in Southern theater, Perry began to make national celebrity status in 2005 with the release of his first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. In 2009, Perry was ranked by Forbes magazine as the sixth highest-paid man in Hollywood.[2] As of July 2009, Perry's films had grossed nearly $400 million worldwide. -

Extracted from Wikipedia

Writer, actor, producer, director. Born Emmitt Perry Jr. on September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Tyler Perry has forged his own way in the entertainment industry, building an empire that consists of successful films, plays, and even a best-selling book. One of four children, he had a difficult childhood, suffering years of abuse at the hands of his carpenter father. He once described his father as a man "whose answer to everything was to beat it out of you." -

Extracted from biography.com (click the link to read more)

Now, to begin, I want to start off by saying that I am happy for the man, truly I am. If his biography is to be believed in its entirety then I wont begrudge him finding a little success. However, this is were my happiness, forgiveness, and understanding come to an end, because, regardless of the events that occurred during his childhood and early adulthood, the man is a blight on cinema.

Just peruse some of the films in his filmography. I'll admit, Diary of a Mad Black Woman was not a horrible film, but a work of cinematic brilliance? Not so much. However, subsequent films like Meet the Browns, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, etc. have incorporated some imagery and stereotypes that almost make his attempts at movies (I won't comment on his plays as I've never seen one) seem almost though he's trying to incorporate a religious mini-minstrel show into the mix. From the hyper religious aspects to the character of Meda, Tyler Perry seems to believe incorporating and overemphasizing features of the black community (most notably the urban or rural lower class segment of the black population) in order to craft his tales. However, due to the fact that his screen play writing abilities seem lacking at best-in the opinion of this blogger that is-his characters often come of as false and patronizing. They are mere caricatures with little depth outside of what is immediately obvious, which is often the same across most of his works. The women, having lost God in some way or another, have lost their way in life and are struggling to understand why their life is so difficult; the men, arbiters of the forgotten God, work in one capacity or another to force the woman to return to religion and mindless faith; and, of course, there is Madea, who explains his/herself . And that, in short, is the sum total of Perry's characterization of his characters.

However, Perry's movies also work on another detrimental level. That level being the demonetization of black males who could not pass the brown paper bag test, and also of black males who make over five figures annually. I doubt many could explain why, other than typical Hollywood racism, why the "evil" characters, or those characters outside of "God's Will", typically tend to be darker skinned. However, as the situation stands, they are, and Perry has quite a bit of influence over the casting direction the film takes, so why then would he not be an equal opportunity demonizer? Lighter skinned black males are just as capable of being selfish, oppressive, dictatorial, and crude as darker skinned males, yet you'd never know it from a Perry film. Indeed, darker skinned black males not only possess the aforementioned character traits, but they are also the buffoons, sleazebags, and worse. Additionally, Perry's films seem to degrade men who are monetarily successful, either through skill, intelligence, or savvy, while those who are blue collar workers are placed on a pedestal as the zenith of success and humility. Sorry Perry, I'm not buying it; people with negative character traits span the spectrum of race and class, and anyone with any lived experience knows this.

But I don't blame Perry entirely for this; I don't care how much you want to break into show business, black men should never degrade themselves by taking up these roles. That's not to say I believe that black men shouldn't play the villain, or what have you, but after awhile someone should have started a strike against Perry until he reversed the overly simplistic roles and dichotomy (e.g.-dark good/light bad).

Further, there is the problem of Madea. If Perry confessed to being a cross dresser, gender queer, androgynous, or latent transsexual woman I might not be quite a disgusted as I am with him. However, dressing up as a domineering black woman who epitomizes every stereotype in the book just for ****s and giggles is not okay. It wasn't okay when Eddie Murphy did it (i.e.-Nutty Professor, Norbit, etc.) and it is not okay now. The cooning and ridiculous antics are not funny to those of us who have the ability to critically think, or, at the very least, rub two synapses together. In fact, many of the characters in Perry's films can be down right insulting to one's intelligence, especially Madea.

In concluding, while I do not begrudge Perry for "making something of himself", so to speak, I am terribly disappointed in not only his latest efforts, but his work overall. One would hope in the 21st Century POC would have a more socially conscious outlook, or, at the very least, would not cater to white America's stereotyping of POC. For this grievous offense, Mr. Perry, I would have to humbly request that you desist in writing, producing, and publishing films until you have a more enlightened outlook on life and creativity.

--------------

-Side Note/Mini-Rant- By the way, how does one make Angela Bassett come of as a terrible actress!? That's not supposed to be possible! How poor could your directing and writing be that I would be forced to cringe every time Bassett's character opened her mouth? Even more than for the last offense, Mr. Perry deserves to be stripped of his ability to make films, at least until he can write and direct in such a way that he can actually utilize the talent he hires. -End Side Note/Mini-Rant-

---------------------

~DVX



-They're waiting for your decision, Mr. Perry, and they won't take no for an answer...-

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Problem with Video Games: 5 Games out of Many Which Insult My Sensabilities - A Rant


I've been meaning to do a post like this for awhile, as video games are something very near and dear to me (Yes, I know exactly how sad that sounds). However, recently my beloved hobby has taken a turn for the worse, or perhaps I'm just now starting realize it. No, that's not entirely true either. I've known for years that POC portrayals in video games are lacking at best. Maybe I simply tried to ignore it so I could enjoy my escapism.

Regardless, I've finally reached my breaking point. I can no longer support the gaming industry as it currently stands, replete with homophobia, sexism, and racism as it is. There are several reasons for this, but I thought I'd first start with a list with the most heinous offender to my sensibilities.

----------

Resident Evil:

More specifically Resident Evil 5. From "Tribal" Sheva to the Ndipaya, this game couldn't be anymore offensive. As stated by Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead, "it plays so blatantly into the old clich├ęs of the dangerous 'dark continent' and the primitive lust of its inhabitants that you'd swear the game was written in the 1920s" and "there are even more outrageous and outdated images to be found later in the game, stuff that I was honestly surprised to see in 2009." The article adds that the addition of the light-skinned Sheva "compounds the problem rather than easing it." And I know some durpa durp is going to bring up that one anthropologist from that one university. Well guess what o' ye of little scholarly learning, that's just one anthropologist's opinion. As an anthropology major I could just as easily assert that the game is racist as all get out, because, guess what, just like other sciences (social or otherwise), one individual does not represent the whole field of study! So to those who thought to make that argument I would like to offer you a nice, big DURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

----------

Street Fighter:

A childhood favorite of mine that was largely enjoyable during my naive years of pre-pubescent semi-bliss. However, this is number 2 on my list of racist video games, primarily due to it's international popularity. Yes, SF Fanboys, you heard me right. This game is so offensive in terms of its characterizations that I couldn't even bring myself to look at Street Fighter IV, much less work up the fortitude required to shell out 60+ dollars for it.

Now I know someone, or quite a few someones, is going to say, "WTF? Dumb fuk is dumb! Street Fighterz PWNS!" or something to that effect. Just so you know, I'm officially ignoring you starting...now.

As I was saying, all one needs to do is take a look at the character roster and you'll understand my sentiments. Take, for instance, your heroes in the form of Ryu, Ken, Chun-li, and Guile. Ryu is obviously one of the more fleshed out characters as he's the title's mascot, but Ken, Chun-li, and Guile are not without their depth either. While Guile is definitely a stereotype concerning white, western military men from the States, he at least looks somewhat badass despite his ridiculous hair cut. Similarly, other fairer skinned characters are at least neutral on the characterization scale. However, their browner counterparts? Meh, not so much.

From Balrog/M.Bison to DeeJay (Yes, that's his actual name) to Elena to T-Hawk (Once again, yes, that is his actual name) to El Fuerte, all of these characters are ridiculously offensive stereotypes, and in a game practically comprised of ridiculous stereotypes that's saying quite a bit. Well start with DeeJay if for no other reason then the fact that these are his "Likes"-Shouting, singing, dancing, watching TV, and cooking shows. Yes, that's right, he likes shouting. What. The. $%#@!?

Oh, and in case you wanted to know his "Hates"-Silence, harsh people, and people who lack rhythm. Yes, that's right my rhythmically challenged readers, DeeJay is going to whoop your ass up and down the block because you can't clap on beat, because that's exactly what happy dancing blackies from Jamaica do.*

Next up is Elena. I'm not going to comment too much on this one, but I just want to highlight two things that seem to be really salient points about her character. 1) She looks like this-Those Body Proportions! and 2) That Family Photo! My GOD!**

As it concerns Balrog, T. Hawk, and El Fuerte...well the less said the better. Actually, a point of clarification on T.Hawk. Apparently the Street Fighter development staff and Capcom do not realize that those indigenous groups within Mesoamerica have vastly different cultures than those found in the Southwestern United States (which is to say nothing of the diversity to be found among those groups as well). I say this because T.Hawk has stereotypical elements of "Mexican" cultural heritage attributed to his character on top of the grossly offensive and stereotypical "Native American/American Indian" character attributes. Also, just in case you were wondering what, exactly, was so offensive about the T.Hawk link (other than the obvious) it's because the poorly enunciated thing he says at the end is, "How". Someone shank everyone on the SF IV development team with the dulled end of a "peace pipe" please...

Anyway, this could go on forever, but I'm going to move on to el numero tre.

----------------

Mass Effect:

I'll make this simple. While Mass Effect is indeed a great game with a decent, if not entirely predictable, narrative, it suffers from the same ills of most science fiction. Those ills, if you do not already know, are the relative lack of POC and the lack of truly dynamic character attributes for those that do exist. Sure you could bring up good ol' boyscout Cap'n Anderson, or, in the second installment, Jacob Taylor or Kasumi, but that's what? Three out of God knows how many? Seriously, there are more POC in the world than there are white people, but somehow, in almost every sci-fi space narrative, white people manage to remain the visible majority. Go ahead and take a look around the game world and tell me I'm wrong; if you can count the number of POC on two hands, let alone, one then that's probably a hint that something's wrong...

Also, Kasumi and Jacob are, at best, nice ship and combat scenery. Jacob has all the character of a brick wall with a boyscout logo painted on it, and Kasumi...well I'm not even going to talk about her, but I will raucously laugh in the face of anyone who was dumb enough to actually buy that DLC.

Now I know someone's going to bring up the aliens, but you know what? **** you! I mean, really! Aliens! You're going to use aliens to explain why POC are largely underrepresented in the game world? Don't make me laugh.

Also, if you were going to suggest something about the gaming demographic or what have you, you can have a **** you too. There are enough POC gamers that Bioware could have done a little bit better with diversity. Heck, Fallout 3, while problematic in its own right, at least had a diverse cast of characters! So forgive me if Yvonne Strahovski doesn't do it for me as far as a RO (romance option), and if I prefer someone who looks a little more like this. Granted I usually play the renegade, lone wolf jackass whose only interest is pissing off his comrades and everyone else around him-What can I say? It's the misanthrope in me-, but the option would be nice.

Also, forgive my LGBTQ friends for wanting a little equal opportunity loving. To be quite honest I think it's absolutely ridiculous how much this game caters to white, heterosexual, cisgender males. If someone wants their FemShep to get it on with Miranda, Jack, or Tali, then who am I to tell them no way? Similarly, if someone likes a little strapping MShep on Jacob action (though given the fact that Jacob is just about as 3-D as a piece of cardboard I don't know why they would) or Thane, so be it. If you don't like it, don't romance them, duh? It's not complicated...

Now these complaints are leveled at the some of the fanboys and girls just as much as they are at the developers, because I can't even remember the number of homophobic bull**** I read concerning gay/lesbian romance options on various threads.***

--------------

Final Fantasy:

F***. Final. Fantasy. (F*** the first one because he's a cooning Mr. T ripoff. I believe the second and third ones are rather self explanatory, but if not I'd like to add that he too is a coon.)

NEXT!

-----------

Dead or Alive:

Zack. 'nuff said.

*Edit: Not enough said. I almost forgot the mind boggling sexism! Let us not forget the blatant male fan service that is so beyond creepy that those who actually bought the volley ball title(s) (I wouldn't dare to suggest that they were actual games) should be drawn and quartered without some much as a fair trial. Really, those "women" (using the term loosely, especially since I'm discussing nothing more than animated frames/pixels/etc.) are constructed in such an anatomically impossible way that one would have to wonder if the whole series was based on the creator's wet dreams...wait, never mind, that's exactly what the series is: one big wet dream after another. *Shudders*

Now don't get me wrong; I love the female figure (tall, full, skinny, athletic, etc.), but the objectification found in this series just makes me feel dirty, and not in a good way.

-----------

And I think I'm going to cut it off here. I'm starting to get a headache. However, there are countless other games I could list where POC are either 2-D characters, scenery, or nonexistent. I'm not even going to start on the homophobia, and transphobia doesn't even come up in discussion (except maybe in the case of characters like Flea from Chrono Trigger). Regardless, you can give me the excuse that gave developers are white or Japanese if you want, but that still doesn't make them any less guilty of the offenses listed and then some.

Anyway, feel free to comment with additions for the list, possible counter arguments, or what have you.

--------------

*It's a ****ing national past time next to having the IMF and the United States cripple their economy.

**Now I may not know much about the distinct Kenyan tribes, but Elena's family looks more like a Native American stereotype than anything remotely "Kenyan"-which is near impossible to define given the nation's diversity. Now, I admit I may be wrong, so if someone has any information on peoples from Kenya that contradicts my assertion feel free to share.

***I did notice that a lot more people were pro-lesbian ROs, however. But given the demographic (hetero, cis, white males) I guess that was something of a given...