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[personal profile] wilde_stallyn
I promise that I will post a personal update type entry sometime soon, but at the moment I'm too pissed not to say something about this.

I went to see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus with a friend this afternoon. I didn't really know much about the film going in, other than that Heath Ledger was working on it when he died and Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Collin Farrel stepped in to finish it in his memory. It was an interesting film and visually stunning, but I really wish I hadn't spent money on it because there were some jaw-droppingly racist moments. I will definitely be taking a pass on anything Terry Gilliam directs in the future.

The most fucked up instance was the scene where Verne Troyer's character was RANDOMLY IN BLACKFACE. There was not even an attempt at a bullshit excuse for it. It's only purpose was so a wealthy older white woman could mistake him for a child and scream, "OMG, save the poor black child! Someone call social services!" only to be quickly charmed into forgetting all about it by Heath Ledger's character.

Somewhat less surprising, but still damn skeevy was the Asian cultural appropriation surrounding the main character. When I came home I started googling to see if I could find any mention of the movie's race!fail in any of the reviews or discussion. I couldn't, but I did find an interview with the script's co-writer where he described Doctor Parnassus as "a semi-eastern medicine man". Surely you can see where this is headed.

When the old white guy started his origin story with "Thousands of year ago I was a young monk," I expected he meant a European, Friar Tuck-style monk, but then the flashback happened and there he was in a mountain top monastery full of what appeared to be a mishmash of Buddhist, Taoist and other Asian imagery that followed him for the rest of the film (unfortunately I am not familiar enough with the cultures in question to properly place everything). Doctor Parnassus sat on a dais presiding over a group of Asian monks on magic carpets, who were the ONLY people of colour in the whole film. [ETA: Oh, wait, I forgot the presumed world leaders near the end who, unlike the president, were not important enough to actually get introduced.]

The film doesn't do too well on the sexism front either, what with the shallow, insipid, hysterical and strictly female audience members who are the Doctor's converts and Ledger's character's dupes, and the female lead whose biggest dream is a normal life with a picket fence and two point five children. She is repeatedly described as "the prize" and though it briefly seems like she is going to decide the fate of the plot by making a choice, ultimately her agency is rendered meaningless because, of course, "she's just the prize, she wasn't actually supposed to get to choose".

Date: 2009-12-26 09:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eversor-deus.livejournal.com
I guess everyone experiences from a different viewpoint, because none of those things even really occurred to me as being offensive until I saw you upset about them just now o_o

Date: 2009-12-26 09:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wilde_stallyn.livejournal.com
I've become a lot more conscious of this stuff in the last few years.

Date: 2009-12-27 06:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eversor-deus.livejournal.com
I wonder if that's why it was so prominent for you then. I mean, I didn't notice and reviews (since you said you were looking for comments about racism in reviews and all) didn't note anything about it. It's too bad it got in the way of the film itself =( I rather liked the movie, particularly visually.

Date: 2009-12-27 09:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wilde_stallyn.livejournal.com
It is too bad what would otherwise have been an interesting, if disjointed, movie had to be racist. It's not too bad that I can no longer watch racist shit without cringing. I've tried to learn to think critically about oppression because I think it's important. Does it make enjoying media more complicated? Yes, it does. Do I sometimes enjoy things even while acknowledging that they are problematic? Of course, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ablism, etc. are ubiquitous; it's hard to find something that gets everything right, particularly coming out of Hollywood. But that's why I try to talk about it, particularly if I haven't already heard/seen anyone complain, so that it won't get ignored, and so that people who might be hurt by it have some warning. And I try to avoid giving money to projects that seem particularly egregious. If I knew in advance I might have still watched Doctor Parnassus, but I'd have waited until I could pirate it and went to Sherlock Holmes yesterday instead.

Date: 2009-12-27 10:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eversor-deus.livejournal.com
That's valid. I suppose I just didn't see it as racist/sexist and think it's unfortunate that people would see it that way. Even the blackface, which was in my mind more of a comment on the shallow, personal image driven woman who was saying 'I must adopt him!', then promptly showing the audience that her mind revolves around shoes, perfume and jewelry, not the welfare of 3rd world children (saving poor children is fashionable now, after all. Oh Angelina Jolie do you have any idea what you have done?). The fact that it was in the movie at all - again, in my mind - was as a contrasting stage character to the guy in a fat suit dressed up as a woman lounging on piles of apples. Totally fit with the new style of stage show Health Ledger's character put together. Lacking a 3rd world child but having a child sized man = improvisation. People laughed when he showed up on screen, in the theatre I was in anyhow, because it just looked so ridiculous. I guess I'm just not sure how that is harmful (it is very possible that I am just being naive).

Rgrh I am sorry for hijacking, and I honestly don't know if this is a conversation I should even be pursuing. I do like to understand why people have the opinions that they do. You have never been easily offended by the opinions of others, but it's so hard to tell tone and stuff on the internets.

Mostly unrelated: did you see Sherlock Holmes yet? I really want to, but I keep hearing mixed reviews and I'm not sure I want to spend the money on it yet. But mostly people who didn't like it were expecting it to be like the original Conan Doyle (which it is, apparently.... not).

Date: 2009-12-28 10:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wilde_stallyn.livejournal.com
It's harmful because you cannot disconnect blackface from it's larger cultural and historical context. Blackface has become a symbol of racism, not unlike the confederate flag has. Today you can't put a white person in black makeup, even without the other exaggerated features that were traditionally part of blackface, because it is viscerally connected in many peoples minds with the original racist sentiment. (For instance, when UofT students decided to go as the characters from Cool Runnings for Halloween.) I'm not going to say that filmmakers must absolutely avoid it, but to use it successfully would require thoughtful engagement with that charged historical context that I don't feel was in play here and thus it was inappropriate and offensive. Please keep in mind that I'm not saying, nor do I believe, that Gilliam was intending to be racist. In fact, I think it worked against Gilliam actual intentions because it was so shocking to see the blackface unexpectedly that I just sat there going WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK and missed the commentary that you pointed out he was trying to make about the commodification of third world children. But good intentions don't keep the end result from being racist.

You are always welcome to pursue conversation with me if you want to know why something is offensive. (It's not welcome if the actual point is to try and convince me it it's not offensive and I'm just being over-sensitive. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that's not your intention, but it's a good general rule to keep in mind when you're talking about social justice stuff.)

Re: Sherlock Holmes, I haven't seen it yet. The reviews from my (admittedly slash goggle wearing) flist have all been very good so far.

Date: 2009-12-26 08:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thegiantkiller.livejournal.com
Jeepers. That's . . . yech. Much less enthused to see that one now, even if it does have Tom Waits as the devil. Thanks for the warning and I'm sorry you had to endure such a horrible surprise?

Date: 2009-12-26 09:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wilde_stallyn.livejournal.com
The Devil confused me. The mythology in the film was a real mishmash.

Date: 2009-12-29 06:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teesa-nezumi.livejournal.com
I haven't been out to see a movie in ages. Won't see that one. Thanks for the journal update! I'm very happy to hear form you! -T

Date: 2009-12-30 10:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wilde_stallyn.livejournal.com
I almost never go to movies. I think the last thing I saw in theatres was Coraline.

Date: 2010-01-08 07:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaizoku.livejournal.com
Today is just my day for belatedly hearing about blackface in the media. Lovely. Another movie to put on my "will not pay to see no matter how much you tempt me with your pretty actors" list, along with Avatar.

(Here via the queer friending meme, btw.)


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