More stereotypes than meet the eye
ABW’s Guest Blogger Nora here, with a brief rant.
Belated happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans (and more belated Canada Day to our northerly neighbors). I don’t tend to do much for the 4th of July; I just kind of feel ambivalent about celebrating an “independence” that didn’t really apply to my ancestors for another hundred years. Still, I’m not above using a holiday for all it’s worth when one comes along, and I figured it was a good idea to view explosions of some kind on the Fourth, so I went to see “Transformers.”
I’ll preface this rant by saying that I went into the film expecting little in the way of logical plot or well-rounded characterization. As one of my viewing companions reminded me, it’s a Michael Bay film, after all. I went expecting to see giant robots blowing stuff up, and mostly that’s what I got. I was even pleasantly surprised by the first half of the film, which was an intriguing and heartwarming “boy and his car” tale. It brought back fond memories of my own first car, which I affectionately named “the Heap”, and which also seemed to have a mind of its own about certain things. (Not about getting me laid, though. Must be a guy-car thing.) I enjoyed the nods to the old 80s TV series, though clearly I wasn’t nearly as much of an old-series fan as most of the audience, who roared every time they caught some bit of fanservice that I missed. That was OK. It was all good, silly, lighthearted fun.
But. (You knew this was coming.)
As the 2.5-hour movie wore on, I found myself smiling less and less. That’s because as the special effects grew more extravagant and the action became more spectacular, I kept noticing something that left a bitter taste in my mouth, and eventually ruined my enjoyment of the film entirely. Namely, stereotypes.
There were basically four black characters in the film who had speaking roles. Bernie Mac played a shady used car salesman who sells the main character a car that turns out to be an Autobot. Tyrese Gibson plays one of the soldiers who first encounters the Decepticons. Anthony Anderson was supposedly a l33t signal analysis/tech expert. And I’ll include one “coded black” character — Jazz, one of the Autobots.
Mac’s character was the first to annoy me. Not because he was smarmy — he was a used-car salesman — but because of the way he made fun of other characters of color nearby. Bad enough that he called his Hispanic assistant “Ricky Ricardo”; on top of that he called the character who was supposed to be his mother “Mammy”. Which is about as blatant an invocation of a stereotype as you can get, despite the fact that it was played for laughs in this case. Maybe this was meant to soften the fact that Mac also calls her a bitch shortly afterward? Maybe the filmmakers figured it would be harder for the audience to take issue with the misogynist slur if they’ve already laughed at the racial one.
This didn’t bother me so much, I have to admit, because insulting mothers is a classic staple of comedy. Nor was I particularly bothered by Tyrese Gibson’s character, who — although prominently featured in the commercials — never got to grow beyond the role of ubermacho soldier, grunting out a handful of lines like, “Bring the (targeted missile) rain!” and “Come on!” I get really tired of seeing black men depicted as violent thugs, but at least this one got to be an intelligent, disciplined, moderately effective violent thug. And I’ll be honest; I’m willing to forgive Tyrese for a lot of sins. Eye candy has that effect sometimes. ::pauses to fan self briefly::
What bothered me far more was Anthony Anderson’s character. OK, I’m also tired of seeing fat black people played for laughs, but at least I know that fat white people get similar treatment in our fat-phobic society. Fat is the great equalizer. However, geeky fat white people get to be competent, even clever. Geeky fat black people, apparently, are idiots. Anderson’s character lives with his overbearing, overweight mother (another “mammy”), and apparently does nothing with his time beyond playing videogames and talking modern-day jive. Although another character refers to him mysteriously as “The only man smart enough to hack this (alien robot computer) signal,” Anderson never gets to display this intelligence or any sort of agency at all, instead spending the entire film blubbering in terror or eating himself sick. The scene in which the feds descend upon his house to bust him and his companions is, I think, deliberately reminiscent of COPS. So Anderson gets to play two! two! two! stereotypes in one — the cowardly ineffectual sidekick, and the criminal.
But the stereotypes that bothered me most of all were inflicted on a character who wasn’t even human.
Even back in the 80s, Jazz was “the black Transformer”. He was voiced by Scatman Crothers, which gave him an unmistakably African-American inflection and dialect; he loved to breakdance; his most humanoid parts (face, arms) were even painted black just to drive the allusion home. The current film version displays similar cultural referents: his transformation sequence resembles a breakdancing move; he’s also voiced by a noticeably black actor; and this time he tosses out modern urban slang like, “Whassup, bitches?” Because, y’know, if you’re only going to give a character two lines and you want people to think he’s black, you’re naturally going to make him talk like
a suburban white male teenager a rapper.
And I was even OK with that. Another 80s homage, right? We had a stereotypically black Transformer then, and we get another now. I hear they tried to bring back “the chick Transformer” Arcee too, but apparently the early focus groups hated her. (I don’t know if that means the audience is less tolerant of white female stereotypes than it is of black male stereotypes, or if the character was just bad.) So it could’ve been worse; he could’ve been a Decepticon. Or we could have had an entire race of alien robots who for some strange reason all chose to sound like white men. At least the 4/5ths of this planet that are people of color got some vocal/dialect representation. (See ABW’s post on Wiscon’s Why is the Universe So Damn White? panel.)
Anyway, in the climactic final battle scene, only one of the good-guy Autobots dies. Guess which one. C’mon, guess. Oh, you’re not even trying.
And he dies like a punk, too.
So the nostalgia in this version of Transformers seems to have also resurrected some old-school not-so-hidden messages: black women are nagging mammies who deserve the label bitch; black men are thugs, rappers, cowards, or crooks, and are stupid even when they’re supposed to be smart; Latino men are effete idiots; and even alien robots aren’t safe from token black guy syndrome. Oh, and I almost forgot the moronic Indian customer support guy who symbolizes the real dangers of outsourcing — it’s not only bad for our economy, it’s bad for our troops in wartime — and the Arab villagers whose sole purpose in the film is to be rescued by the tough-talking American soldiers. (Also see discussion on the Wiscon panel “What These People Need is a Honky”.)
Lately I’ve begun to wonder whether Hollywood has declared war on people of color. Things are getting worse, not better. I mean, cheesy as he was, back in the day Jazz was played with relative dignity and allowed to display actual intelligence. These days the attacks — because that’s what these ugly depictions feel like, attacks — are just so damned blatant. It feels as though American society is trying its damnedest to turn back the clock on diversity these days, and Hollywood is leading the charge with a multimedia assault on the senses. I don’t envision a cabal of white filmmakers sitting around and cackling as they purposefully turn all their CoCs into caricatures; instead I envision them simply deciding that they don’t care. It doesn’t matter. They’re not going to be “sensitive”; they’re tired of that PC crap; they’re just going to make the kind of film they really want to make, and damn the “special interests”. Or maybe it is deliberate; maybe they’ve decided that playing with racial stereotyping is “edgy” or “hip”. It brings the box office dollars, doesn’t it? It makes Middle America and the 18-35 year-old white male demographic happy. So who cares if a black female in the audience is shaking her head in disgust by the end of the film? We’re too sensitive, and we don’t matter anyway. Besides, everyone knows racism is only when you use the n-word and treat people differently based on their color.
So alas, poor Jazz — whose treatment, more than anything else, codes him as “the black Transformer”. Because unfortunately, there’s more to racism than meets the eye.
The comments on this entry are closed. To continue the discussion, visit the latest Open Thread. Before you do, visit the Required Reading post. If you don’t, we are not responsible for the verbal beat down you may receive. -ABW
81 thoughts on “More stereotypes than meet the eye”
…and the videogame the brilliant hacker was playing with his cousin…..Dance Dance Revolution or another of the games that require the pad on the floor to tap in your smooth moves. Further insult to injury. And the spanish speaking soldier….of course cant figure out how to speak english. He is constantly being yelled at to “speak English”. That was plain and simply bait for the rabid immigrant haters. i believe he died also in one engagement or the other with the bots.
thank you for this take on the film…i was thinking i was crazy or in a time warp because you are spot on…the stereotypes and awful portrayals were as if this movie was made when the Autobots were born.
I was amazed they killed off Jazz, did so in an extremely lame way, and then had Optimus Prime essentially say, “Yeah, it’s sad that Jazz died, but at least we’ve got these new humans to replace him!” It was every stereotype of the lone black guy who dies in one convenient package.
I do disagree that the villagers were shown as only there to be rescued by Americans. Although the movie wasn’t explicit about it, it was clear that the Americans brought the danger on the village by going there, so I felt it was less of “these people need honkies” than a continuation of the running battle the soldiers were fighting.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed Jazz there. I got into an argument about it with someone. I even ended up going to check the voice actors and I think he had the only black voice actor.
How could they not have noticed that one?
I haven’t seen the movie, yet, but I thought I’d comment because it’s sad that Jazz was reduced from a character who was not only good at what he did, improvising in battle when there was a need, and thoroughly enjoyed his life (well, as much of a life as a giant, alien robot can have on Earth) in all its aspects to cannon fodder.
He was my favorite Autobot on the cartoon.
Hey, thanks for this! It not only serves to warn me away from something which will probably injure my soul, but it’s making a few people think a little more critically over in my journal — something which is always welcome.
Ohcrap, I totally forgot about the Latino soldier who had to be badgered to “speak English” all the time! Another example I should’ve cited.
I was kind of surprised by his rambling about eating gator, though — I thought only poor Louisiana white people (and tourists in New Orleans and Florida) did that. What was that, a clumsy attempt to break stereotype? Or maybe someone in Hollywood was mixing his metaphors, so to speak.
Stereotypes are alive and well in this and many other movies. But I think in your anger you and a few of the commenters are missing some of the targets. Aw, hell. Your readers probably aren’t going to take this well, but I swear, I am not a troll.
First of all, I would swear that the customer support guy was supposed to be Arabic, especially considering they were in Qatar, and the cell phone company would be a Qatari cell phone company.
And give me a break – Fig (the latino) wasn’t getting ragged on because he couldn’t speak English! It was that, even though he speaks PERFECT English and none of the rest of the team speak Spanish, he keeps telling his teammates things in Spanish when he knows they don’t know what the heck he’s saying. (He wasn’t saying much, anyway. :) ) I don’t know about you, but if I had to work with some guy who speaks English perfectly well but kept on yammering away at me in French, I’d be kind of annoyed, because I’d have no clue what he was saying. And if I had to keep telling him that I’d rather understand what he was saying, I’d be even more annoyed. Effete idiot? I don’t know where that is coming from – I never heard of that stereotype before.
I do think that Tyrese can do whatEVER he wants and he will look good doing it, but it would have been a nice change to see him as the Captain rather than the Sergeant. I saw his character as a professional soldier – I didn’t see anything thuggish or violent about him, or any of the other soldiers for that matter. Specifically I mean, other than making him the Captain with the baby girl, what kind of difference would have made an improvement in that character? There wasn’t much place to go – if they were going to go for the diversity, he should have been the one with the baby girl.
I thought Bernie Mac’s was the worst scene – I’m not a fan of his, but isn’t that a standard bit character of his?
You’re being too hard on Glen (Anthony Anderson)m though. He was the one who actually got the computer hooked up to transmit Morse code – it didn’t seem like any of the rest of them had any clue how to do it – AND he’s the one who knew Morse code to send the message. Not to mention he was the only one able to even partially decode the Decepticon signal. He wasn’t shown committing any crimes other than looking at the file Maggie gave him – I think you have to jump to a huge conclusion to put him in the ineffectual criminal category.
I thought his cousin crashing through the window like a doofus instead of just dropping to the floor when the people aim the FRIGGING GUNS AT YOU was a bit much.
Anyway – to Jazz. He was essentially introduced as Optimus’s right hand man. (Although they could have toned that WAY down.) The character in the book didn’t talk anything like that. I think an Autobot had to go down – with them facing the raw power of the forms the Decepticons were employing, it would have been riduculous for them to lose no one. He was the smallest Autobot. He was the most logical character to bite it.
That being said, they SHOULD have changed things to make there be a more logical character to bite it. What, they didn’t have CGI budget for a red-shirt Transformer? They didn’t have another 30 seconds to give Jazz a chance to put up a fight?
I was more annoyed at the portrayal of the women in this flick – I was damn pissed that every woman was a young, hot white chick, an old black grandma, or your standard maternal idiot.
(Oh, and they stereotyped the red-headed baseball fan from Boston, too. But of course that must be okay because he’s not an ethnic minority that ever had to deal with racism.)
Up way too late, but anyway… Comicbookgoddess,
I’m well aware that stereotypes abound in Hollywood; thanks for restating my point. I just don’t believe it’s sufficient to say, “Oh, well, Hollywood will be Hollywood” and ignore the problem, any more than it’s sufficient to say “Oh, well, boys will be boys,” and ignore sexual assault. Stereotypes must be confronted and condemned when they appear, plain and simple. Making excuses for stereotyping just guarantees there will be more of it in the future.
Anyhow, to address your points —
The customer service guy spoke with a mild-but-discernable Indian (not sure which language) accent, not Arabic. The two accents aren’t at all alike. And as for Qatar tech support for Qatar cellphones — I have a US-based cellphone service and I get tech support from India and South America. Why would the notion of Indian support be so far-fetched?
The effete idiot was the Latino guy working with Bernie Mac. The one he called “Ricky Ricardo” — you know, the effete, stupid Cuban husband of Lucy in “I Love Lucy”? Might be before your time. And I’m well aware that the Latino soldier was capable of speaking English. What donnaneely pointed out, correctly IMO, was that the constant shouts of the team for him to “SPEAK ENGLISH!!!” were very evocative of the anti-immigrant lobby in the US. Logical or not, there was political baggage attached to those words, in that context.
I don’t care what rank Gibson’s character held. I just wanted him to do more than grunt in combatspeak and shoot at stuff. One-dimensional characters naturally tend to become cliches at best and stereotypes at worst; that’s why it’s good writing practice not to create one-dimensional characters.
I have no idea whether that was Bernie Mac’s standard; I don’t watch him either.
As for Glen — did we ever actually see him decode the Decepticon signal? All I remember him doing was looking at it and going, “Whoa, look at that signal strength!” and then the cops burst in. Now, in other movies of this type, the token geek (of whatever race) gets to rattle off a lengthy technobabble explanation and pull some sort of rabbit hat trick in order to show their 133tness. Jeff Goldblum in “Independence Day”, Steve Buscemi in “Armageddon”, Jake Gyllenhall in “The Day After Tomorrow” — whoever it is, if it’s a white guy his brains are always shown to make up for his other personality flaws. There was none of that in the Anderson character’s case. The Morse code solution didn’t feel clever or original, especially given “Independence Day” already went that route; so again, were was the evidence of this character’s much-lauded genius? After all the praise the blonde analyst chick heaped on him, did he ever do anything to actually live up to it? Anything that offset his buffoonish donut-eating and blubbering?
The guy crashing through the porch glass actually happened in a fairly popular episode of COPS, as I recall (I don’t watch it often), which is exactly why I think they did it this way in the movie.
As for Jazz — there were what, five Autobots? Aside from OP and maybe Bumblebee (who’d already been tortured and mutilated to elicit sympathy for the good guys), every one of them was expendable, plotwise. The only logic that should matter is movie logic — unless they’re useful to the plot in some way, they *are* a redshirt. Size certainly shouldn’t matter (except in that smaller should be *faster* and more nimble, given the amount of mass these guys have to haul around); Megatron dwarfed all of them except OP, and was supposed to be the Decepticons’ baddest warrior, so frankly any one of them should’ve been toast once Megs got his hands on them. So the only operative question is, why did Megatron get his hands on Jazz, instead of say, Ironhide? Or Rachet?
The portrayal of women bugged me too, but not as much as the portrayal of the people of color. After all, 2 of the 3 women with significant roles in the movie got to have real agency — the love-interest chick could fix cars, and she went into battle with Bumblebee (for that matter, she had more agency than the protagonist, who generally got thrown into danger against his will). The analyst chick got to figure out what the bad guys were doing and convince skeptics in the Defense Department. Mrs. Witwicky didn’t do anything like this, but she didn’t strike me as problematic either, or at least not any more so than Mr. Witwicky or any of the other caricatures who passed for characters in this movie.
And you’re right — the baseball fan from Boston was a stereotype. But I’m talking about racist stereotypes here, so that one’s irrelevant to this conversation.
Awake again – I thought that if I was about to nit-pick on so many points I had better start out by agreeing with you – especially as I’m not the target audience. And look – not telling anybody to shut up, no way, no how! But complaints need to be actionable and accurate to make any difference.
I do wanna start with the red-headed Boston fighting man – how did you get the idea that he isn’t a rascist stereotype?
I’ll give you out of scope on this blog, sure, but somehow the anti-Latino rascism isn’t.
It’s the same stretch – if Epps is just a violent thug, what is Donnelly? Someone with even less screen time to establish a character. The only one in the group who they had screen time to develop was Lennox – so, if Epps was to be developed as a character, he needed to be the one in charge – it’s not the rank so much as the position in the plot. That set of characters acts as a unit, and follows the lead of their captain.
We’re always talking about screen time in a movie – there is never time to develop every minor character in a narrative. So, that means, in order to not marginalize the character, you have to give them a bigger role in the plot. Realistically, you can only have so many such roles, so if you want to give Epps more lines, you need to nix Lennox and basically turn him into Lennox – give him the baby girl storyline and then pretty much have him act the same way he did. Because Lennox didn’t really have any more than the baby girl storyline to develop him.
Ricky Riccardo was not before my time, and, in fact, he was my favorite part about I Love Lucy that I ever enjoyed watching. Desi Arnez was a major force in Hollywood, and their show was produced on a standard of “basic good taste” – which avoided racial and ethnic jokes, which the notable exception of making fun of his accent. I never got the idea that his character was effete or ineffectual – I just got the idea that his wife was a bit of a lunatic most of the time.
And constant shouts? I don’t think so. There was Lennox’s quiet line about it in the beginning, and I believe it was Donnelly who yelled it when the tower fell over – which was a very realistic moment, because I would definitely shout something in my native language, and the person next to me would definitely wish I’d shouted it in theirs!
You’re right about the operator – actor is Ravi Patel. I still think it’s more of a rip on corporate policies and call center operators than outsourcing and the Indian people in general, though. Is there a place where it would have been more realistic to route a call on the Qatari cell phone network to where you couldn’t have accused someone of racially stereotyping an operator?
Back to Glen – you’re still shortchanging the guy, and misremembering that scene – he goes right to the keys and pulls up Sector Seven and Captain Whitwhickey. No technobabble from him, because he was interacting with Maggie, and it would have been “cabbagism” to make Maggie less knowledgable just in order to explain something to the audience, and that would have taken away from her place in the plot. (The novelization has him as her love interest, actually.) I never watched “The Day After Tomorrow”, and I can’t remember anything about “Armageddon”, but I take issue with comparing to Goldblum in “Independence Day” – he was one of the three main characters in that movie. Glen comes in at 5th out of the humans, at the very highest, and probably more like 9 or 10. He could have been bumped up to 4th or maybe 3rd human if he had worked for the NSA instead of Rand Corporation, but then we would have to write out the only woman who wasn’t a love interest.
I easily give you Jazz – his only dialog was HORRID and it was crappy production decision to put him out without so much as a fight. Especially coupled with this sneaking suspicion I have – that they originally intended to have Barricade bite it fighting Ironhide in the duel on the roadway when Prime scrapped Bonecrusher. As it is, he just disappears and never shows up in the city, leaving his storyline open – sure sign of a last-minute decision reversal.
Having watched the film last night, IIRC, all Glen did when Maggie gave him the disc was discover what, exactly, the Deceptions were looking for- the info on Sector Seven. But since Sector Seven revealed themselves to the Sec Def of their own will, that whole plot thread was rendered moot, except as an excuse to get Maggie and Glen into the Sector Seven base. So his computer skills didn’t matter at all, just his technical skills, and I think someone from Lennox’s team might have filled that role. I didn’t get it. I mean, if he can MacGyverize all that old stuff, and is supposedly so brilliant why is he living with his grandmother? Why isn’t he living in a secret underground bunker like Kevin Smith in Die Hard 4?
If I were Anthony Anderson, I would have taken my agent out to the shed and beaten him with a tire iron.
Also, there’s the same big plot hole as ID4: WHY doesn’t the secret government agency that’s so secret nobody knows about it Except Key People not have an immediate contingency plan for the eventual alien arrival? Banachek should have been briefing the SecDef the moment the Qatar base was attacked.
Read the review, and I disagree somewhat about Anthony Anderson’s character.
He was the only one skilled enough to hack the decepticon transmission, which he actually did, and which was an important plot point because it led the feds to Witwicky. He also was able to splice a computer to a radio to send out transmissions when his group got stranded. Yes, another character had the idea, but he had the skills necessary to pull it off.
He spent a lot of time blubbering in terror – but he was a humorous character and that was part of his schtick. In a movie where almost everyone was a cardboard cutout (as far as I could tell, the most depth was shown by Megan Fox’s character, and even that wasn’t so much), is it so offensive that the black characters don’t have any more depth then anyone else? And is it so bad that Anderson doesn’t actually fire any guns, given that the characterization of all black people as violent thugs is bad to begin with?
Being a privileged white person, I may simply be missing out on negative messages that I’m still just too oblivious to. In the (rather likely) event that that is so, I apologize. I’ll be seeing the movie again today, so I’ll try to pay closer attention to the racial messages.
As for Jazz, however. . .
I agree completely. Sure, some autobot needed to die to make the battle seem significant, but it really should have been Ratchet, playing up both the ‘death of the old veteran’ and the ‘who heals the healer’ motifs at once. I was pleased when the token black soldier didn’t die. I was disappointed when the token black robot did. I thought we were past that.
We can agree to disagree on Anderson’s character. I never saw him actually hack the signal; all I remember him doing was looking at it, then getting hauled off to jail before he really could accomplish anything. Rigging the computer to a radio — hell, any electrical engineering major could do that. So unless he displayed some spectacular genius during the 3-minute span that I was off in the bathroom — which is possible — then he was completely lacking in agency and really just had no purpose in the film. The Australian analyst girl could’ve accomplished the same plot elements in half the time. I would’ve rather had her do it, than introduce a black character to be nothing but the comic relief.
As for Anderson firing guns — I think you might be confused. I specifically said I was *tired* of seeing black men in violent roles in film; why would I want another?
As for this —
In a movie where almost everyone was a cardboard cutout (as far as I could tell, the most depth was shown by Megan Fox’s character, and even that wasn’t so much), is it so offensive that the black characters don’t have any more depth then anyone else?
Again, I think you’re confused. I’m aware that the whole movie abounded with crappy, one-dimensional characterization. Like I said, it’s a Michael Bay film, so I expected that. My point was that the one-dimensional characterization in the case of the characters of color was accomplished through the use of common racial, racist, stereotypes. The blubbering coward. The soldier who isn’t just competent, but revels in violence (“Bring it! Bring the rain!!”). “Ricky Ricardo.” The mammy. The first/only one to die.
The fact that there were other stereotypes around — the baseball-crazy Bostonian, the dumb jock, the stupid parents, many more — really just highlights the disparity that I’m talking about. The white characters got stereotyped based on their activities (being a baseball fan, being the jock), their social roles (typical suburbanites obsessed with their lawn; parents of the Autobots’ Chosen One), etc. i.e., they got stereotyped based on traits other than race. The CoCs got a little of that — the smarmy used-car salesman, the geek who lives with his mother. But then the film went a step further and drew on stereotypes based on race and culture. *That’s* where I have a problem.
You might wanna blog about this, but the black girl for Doctor Who will be replaced by another white girl.
This is the white girl that’s replacing her:
Again, I apologize for not picking up on it before. I didn’t pick up on the stereotypes in Anderson’s character because he responded pretty much exactly as I would have responded myself, in such situations.
His character took only moments to break the decepticon code, picking up that that they were trying to get files regarding an ‘iceman project’, ‘sector 7’, & ‘witwicky’. Sadly, his character was superflous, and everything he did could have been done by the other character. Or not done at all, that entire subplotplot could easily have been cut from the movie, making all of the characters in it unnecessary. I’m willing to forgive it because I saw more of myself in Anderson’s character then in any of the other characters, none of which I could identify with very much. But, again, fat – the great equalizer, I suppose.
That said, the movie did establish that he was the only one who could decipher the decepticon transmission – which he did – and even though in real life it’s something any tech could do, the movie also decided to establish that only he could connect the computer to the radio to contact the army – which, again, he did, and continued to work on even when under fire, so he wasn’t portrayed as a total coward the entire way through.
I’m not really trying to defend the movie on the issue of racial politics. Between Mac’s character and killing off Jazz they pretty much failed the whole issue. Also, in the military group, they had three memorable characters – the hispanic man, the black man, and the white man – and of course it’s the white man who is the team leader, who has the most backstory, and who gets to fire the killing blow at the decepticon who attacked their base. Not that the Black Soldier completely lacked agency (he took the images of Blackout, for instance). But still….
And still there’s Jazz. I’m bitter about that. Being black is really the only reason they killed him. The more I think about it, narratively it really, really should have been Ratchet to buy it, and the more I think about it, the more it feels like the writers went out of their way to kill the black Autobot.
So no, I’m not trying to defend the movie on this. I’m probably just getting defensive about criticism of the character I identified with.
Anyway, thank you for your review. While even I, oblivious as I am, picked up on the moronic death of the ‘token black character’, I needed the racial stereotyping of the movie characters to be pointed out to me.
I have been commenting that this movie can be it’s own drinking game: have a drink every time someone is stereotyped.
In addition to things already mentioned, I think what they did to the female lead should also be included. Argh.
That just sucks.
But, nothing really changes.
Remember this about the “Summer Blockbuster Season:”
– The only heroism that is celebrated is that of the white male.
– The only beauty that is allowed is that of the white female.
– Black men are not smart, regardless of how “celebrated” their character is. They will, however, be minstrelled…or shown as brutish thugs, principled or not.
– Black women will be sight unseen when the shooting starts.
– Black women will be 30 miles away if something needs to be planned, designed, or constructed. However, if you need a loud, snarky put-down, complete with snake-head movement, guess who’s called in?
– Asian men will show up, but only to fight the hero, and despite any superior fighting skills, their kung-fu will lack discipline and will subsequently lose. If the Asian men is a hero (or the main hero), he will NEVER get the (White or Black) girl.
– Asian women might make a guest appearance, but only to seduce the male hero (and try to kill him), then duke it out with the white female in a poorly choreographed, jump-cutting groan-fest…or the fight with the guy will consist of the Asian girl kicking the guy from here to New Mexico, and then the hero stabs her at close range when she moves in for the kill (oh, and she will profess her love for him when she dies).
There are more, but I’m out of cannon shells.
Oh, dear. And here I liked the portrayal of the female lead. That is, other then the lame ‘look how hot she is! See? Do you see she’s hot?’ introductory scene. She hardly needed to be rescued at all. And three times she had the opportunity to escape from a battle, and instead came back with something useful: first she got a saw to save the male lead; then, when the male lead was just blubbering on the ground, she got a truck to save Bumblebee – standing up to the soldiers to do it; and finally driving the truck with bumblebee hooked up to it back into the battle to save the lives of those same soldiers, in what became the turning point of the battle.
So while I admit that the opening scene with her was terrible, what else was wrong with her portrayal?
Since I’m not caught up on Doctor Who season 3 (please be more careful of spoilers in the future, for the sake of those who aren’t watching what you’re watching), and since this particular article has nothing to do with Doctor Who, I think you might be better off emailing ABW directly with your comment to see if it’s something she wants to address.
Please don’t pull the “Irish are just as discriminated against as black people!” schtick. If you’re going to try, I would suggest that you first read a book called HOW THE IRISH BECAME WHITE, by Noel Ignatiev. It highlights how yes, the Irish faced some discrimination when they first came to this country, but they had the option to overcome it — which they did by becoming more racist towards blacks and other people of color than most other white subgroups. So I don’t want to hear it.
For another thing, a racist stereotype is one which has a negative impact on the perceptions of a race, and thus its treatment. Since when does the “red-headed baseball fan” stereotype affect the ability of a particular ethnic group to get jobs? Education? Housing?
As for the violent thug bit, Gibson’s character had the most violent attitude out of all the soldiers. He’s the one who talked the most shit to the the Decepticons, and he’s the one who (twice as I recall) tossed out the “Bring the rain!” line, along with other “Come get some”-ish dialogue. The other soldiers were portrayed as just a bunch of guys trying to stay alive; Gibson was the only one who appeared eager for battle.
So, that means, in order to not marginalize the character, you have to give them a bigger role in the plot.
I sincerely hope you aren’t suggesting that just because the characters get a small amount of screen time, that there’s no way to characterize them *except* through stereotypes? Because that’s what it sounds like here.
Re: the constant shouts — the Latino soldier spoke twice, maybe three times. At least two of those times, someone snapped at him to speak English. If that’s not constant, I don’t know what is.
Re: where else the call could’ve been routed other than India — I find it interesting that you seem to think the only way to fix a stereotype is to remove the role from the movie altogether. I’m not sure you really understand what a stereotype is, or its power.
It doesn’t matter what ethnicity the customer support guy was, or whether the call went to India, Qatar, Costa Rica, or wherever. What matters is that the character was portrayed as moronic, unsympathetic, and greedy. Individually this isn’t a problem; there are assholes in India too. But taken in the context of US xenophobia, and the fact that *most* portrayals of Indians that I’ve seen in American media are like this, it forms an ugly pattern.
A stereotype has power because of its context. Varied and balanced portrayals of a particular group are not racist stereotyping, but a consistent pattern of similar negative portrayals — portrayals all based on racist ideas about a particular group — is. I see Indians regularly vilified in American media as greedy and stupid, the evil inferior aliens out to get all our tech jobs because they’re willing to work for cheap. I see the impact of this vilification in my work — I work with primarily international college students, and I notice the Indian kids have a harder time getting a US job than other foreign nationals (except kids from Arab or Muslim nations). They’re no less competent and they work just as hard as the Chinese kids, the European kids, etc., but right now they’re the face of the enemy in this country. (Of course, this fluctuates depending on our economic situation; a few years ago it was the Japanese.)
The portrayal of the customer support guy in this film bought right into that “greedy and stupid” pattern. And it simply wasn’t necessary. They could’ve kept the guy Indian, but actually shown him to be intelligent and willing to listen and help the soldiers. They could’ve bypassed the cellphone company altogether, and had someone at the Pentagon switchboard give them a hard time because they were calling on an unsecured Qatari cellphone. Or better yet, *they could’ve left the scene out of the movie altogether.* The damn movie was two and a half hours long. Did they really need to interrupt the action for a phone call?
Likewise, did we really need the Anderson character? As you point out, pulling him in effectively undercut the Australian analyst; she seemed pretty much extraneous in the movie once she declared that the only person smart enough to decipher the signal was Anderson’s character. That automatically made it seem as though *she* wasn’t particularly smart. I just can’t see that having Anderson in the film made the film any better. He was there as the comic relief and *he wasn’t funny*. He was supposed to be the film’s genius, and I’m sorry — I just don’t think he was. So much time was spent portraying him as a bumbling idiot that any genius he displayed got lost in the mess.
So in this one respect I agree with you: Anderson’s whole role could’ve been bundled into the Aussie girl’s role, and the whole film would’ve been better for it, and we wouldn’t’ve had to endure the whole “black people as cowards/comic relief/buffoons” schtick.
I didn’t exactly spoil anything. I think alot of people figured she wouldn’t be around but one year considering that she was black.
then again, I apologize for that.
Hahahahahaaaaa! Come on! Wow, do you have a chip, or what? Your thesis is ridiculous, as is all the evidence you laid out. You need to relax and enjoy a stupid movie for what it is–a stupid movie.
Next up, an examination of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Third Folio, for any possible offenses to black people.
Ha. Along similar lines as your ‘going backwards’ comment – I was talking today with a girl, and she said something that prompted me to go ‘…and you’ve just set feminism back 30 years.’
And then I thought a bit. And actually, probably, thirty years ago is almost becoming a point that may well have been a better time for feminism than now…
i’m not black – so when i saw the black fellas in the movie – i thought they were there cuz no one else in comedy could’ve pulled it off like them. like the hacker fella… i can’t think of any white actor who would’ve been funnier or anyone as funny but as abrasive as bernie mac. HOWEVER, your email puts things in another perspective. i do think you might be reading into things too much but you also bring up interesting points.
mmm, but don’t you think some stereotypes are maintained by the black community (and this is not a flame or hate email) but out of all the races in america, i’ve had the hardest time with blacks. for example – my friend had brain surgery recently and he now has to wear an eye patch cuz he lost vision in his left eye and he only gets ridiculed by blacks – “look at that motherfucker thinking he’s a pirate.” or when i ride the train – blacks are the only individuals who are loud and disturbing. and sometimes they’ll point to me and say “mr. chinaman, can i holla at you?” *followed by mocking laughter* maybe bernie and the fat hacker fella were hired cuz they needed someone loud/not afraid to speak their minds and blacks fall into the category to pull it off realistically?
” However, geeky fat white people get to be competent, even clever. Geeky fat black people, apparently, are idiots. ”
I could be wrong about this, but I think geeky fat white MEN get to be competent and clever, while geeky fat white women… um. Maybe I don’t watch enough TV and movies, but I can’t even think of a representation of a geeky fat white woman.
Good post! If I knew more about Transformers at all, I’m sure I’d have more to say than this silly note.
…Wow. Just… wow. Your comment contains so many kinds of wrong that I’m not even sure it’s worth my time to address them. How can anyone reason with you, if you’ve already decided that Black People Are Best for Comic Relief, and It’s Black People’s Fault That Stereotypes Exist, and Black People Are Inherently Loud and Obnoxious So Maybe We Should Put That To Good Use.
Yeesh. The objectification, misappropriation of blame, and blanket labeling you’re doing here is probably a bigger argument against racist stereotypes than anything I could ever say. Your kind of thinking? That’s what stereotypes *do.*
You raise a good point; I can’t think of any geeky fat white women either. =(
you’re slanted too much to one side – you think cuz i said that i couldn’t think of anyone who could’ve done a better job that automatically blacks are only for comedic relief – when i’m not sayng of the sort. i think blacks could make great positive lead roles if given the opportunity – morgan in shawshank comes to mind… so does samuel in star wars iv, denzel and et cetera.
as for me being wrong/stereotyping… i’m just telling you my experiences – just mine and no one else’s. i don’t want to stereotype or judge or anything of the sorts – all i’m saying is that of all races blacks have caused me the most grief. everyday i want to judge a man/woman on their own merits not as a whole but sadly it gets harder and harder as i deal/interact with blacks more and more. anyway, fortunantly, still – when i meet a black person my intent is to be their friend and hopefully that won’t change.
i hope i’m proven wrong about my experiences in dealing with the black community. i sincerely hope most my experiences are the exceptions and not the norm.
i won’t bother your site anymore.
I will agree with the stuff about jazz… he was defiantly the black one… but if he was black in the tv series…i guess they were just continuing things…
All of the other stuff…erm yeah…bernie mac was playing a bernie mac character…i saw nothing wrong with that because that is basically the character he always plays.
But really…why when there is a black buy in a movie does he automatically have to be the best person with the most to do… he is a guy..who happens to be black.
Oh and the only stuff that separated anthony andersons character from any other hacker guy, who happens to be white is the way he said po-lice…other than that his character seemed a perfectly normal nerd/1337 hacker…
Lets talk for a minute about how all of the nerds were portrayed in this movie. Why are the falling on the streiotypes all over the place… huh…where is my sharp dressed nerd who doesn’t act like a complete idiot.
Oh an also…while we are all getting pissed about the treatment of racial stereotypes in this movie… where were the jews
I want to see some of my fellow tribes-men and women in movies… and ones in which we are not rich evil people or idiots…give us more movies with better representation of jews…
that is all for now…
THANK YOU for posting this. I just got back from seeing the movie tonight, and had almost all the exact same problems with it, but seeing as how no one else was complaining about it, I thought I might have been a little too sensitive.
Good to know I wasn’t overreacting.
“Oh an also…while we are all getting pissed about the treatment of racial stereotypes in this movie… where were the jews”
Dude, Shia LeBouef is a Jewish boy. The hero of the movie.
mike Says: “anyway, fortunantly, still – when i meet a black person my intent is to be their friend and hopefully that won’t change.”
Fortunate for whom?
Wow. Talk about piling on. Mike opens up here, says his experiences, and you deny him them because they don’t fit in with your own perceptions of black people. Is is THAT HARD to believe that black people harass him and his friend? OF COURSE NOT. Who the hell hasn’t been harassed by some ignorant blacks when taking the New York City Subway? NO ONE. Does that mean every black person, like the one that wrote this blog, is an ignorant, jive talking, idiot? OF COURSE NOT AGAIN. But how can you deny that dude his experiences, man, that’s messed up.
JB, just so you know, this is your first warning. Continue to be an asshole on my blog to my guest blogger and to other commenters, and I will ban you.
You only get one warning, BTW.
Also, I have a feeling that any black people harassing you on the subway weren’t ignorant at all, just incredibly perceptive.
unfortunate that u have become a cynic…but most critics find it hard to enjoy movies nowadays….u have my pity
one of the writers is latino. So stop saying it’s racist against Latino’s or blacks. Jazz was Optimus’ second in command.
Frankly, I enjoyed the movie more before the racial stereotypes were pointed out to me. But if I have to give up enjoying some stupid movie to gain even a slightly better appreciation of the racial iniquities in my society, racial iniquities that I otherwise help to proliferate through my own obliviousness (read: silent endorsement), well, that’s hardly a sacrifice at all.
And if a person in one of societies ‘minorities’ has difficulty enjoying something because it contains hurtful stereotypes against them, I’m not sure I should get to enjoy it. Or even want to.
Now, even having these issues pointed out to me hasn’t completely killed my joy at seeing giant robot battles portrayed with such stunning special effects. But I do enjoy the movie less, and frankly I’m probably better off for it.
As for cynicism in general, I imagine it would be hard not to be a cynic after seeing members of a group to which you belong, be that group a race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or what have you, portrayed so consistently in such stereotypical, dehumanizing terms in the films and media that drive modern perceptions. To look at a character and say “that character is like me”, to identify with the character and take their roll in the story presented, only to have them marginalized, stereotyped, or killed over and over and over again can’t be pleasant.
The only think worse then that, I suppose, would be to have the character who looks like you simply never appear in said media. As mentioned in one of the other guest replies, the fat woman (of any race) who basically doesn’t exist in American media, so infrequent and inconsequential are her appearances.
I’m not very observant, and I’m not very aware, but at least I’m trying to be. Frankly, Brad, I pity anyone who would choose to purposely blind themselves to ongoing social inequities, passively perpetuating them in the process, for the sake of a couple hours of cheap entertainment.
Now, please excuse me while I try to find a way down off this high horse before someone comes along and knocks me off of it….
Angry Black Woman.
Damn, girl. You need to take the stick out.
nice review. but i partially disagree with you. i think all the characters were stereotypes. the boy is the typical hero so is the girl etc. as black folks we can’t just get angry for only black stereotypes because we live in an era where people “think” we’ve achived racial equality. yeah i know that’s sad but its true. we have to change the way we debate, critique, argue, and make it more universal. alot of this happens to asians in entertainment but we don’t fight for that. i’m beginning to ramble here but my point is that we should look for equality for everyone, because the moment you just make it about blacks with a sprinkle of latinos, no-one is listening.
yes that too maybe sad that we’ve come this. but it’s the only way i see a good dialogue opening up considering alot of blacks encourage these stereotypes and sometimes defend them. for example why does al sharpton only appear when a black person is assumed to be treated unfairly but is nowhere to be found when someone else is.
we have to start taking universally now. it’s our only way to get people to listen.
Hmm… I guess I should’ve expected this, but it looks like we’re getting a lot of comments from children or teens in response to this article. Not entirely surprising, considering Transformers is a family movie.
So maybe it’s a good idea for us to post some ground rules for the children who’d like to participate in this discussion.
-If you don’t want to be treated like a kid, don’t write like a kid. Use actual English language spelling and grammar. For example, use “you” instead of “u”; you’re not writing a text message. The topics discussed on this blog range pretty widely, but most of the people writing, reading, and commenting are intelligent, well-educated grownups. You may not be one of those, but try to at least pass for one, OK?
-Stay on topic. The post is about racist stereotypes in the movie Transformers. Your concerns about casting in Doctor Who, or your tragic personal experiences with black people who give you the evil eye on trains, really don’t belong here.
-By the same token, if you don’t want to seem like a stupid racist, don’t say stupidly racist shit. And before you pull the stock “But black people are always racist to me!” or “But you pointed out the existence of racism — isn’t that racist??” answer, go here, and educate yourself so you don’t sound like a complete fool.
-If you have nothing useful to contribute, stay in the peanut gallery. No one has the time or interest in responding to your ostensibly clever one-liners. Remember what I said about this blog being for intelligent people? Either say something that sounds intelligent, or STFU and go back to your gamer message board or wherever you came from. I understand that sort of childishness is acceptable in most of the internet, but this is not most of the internet. Here that kind of behavior will get you banned, or worse — ignored.
This has been a public service message from your friendly neighborhood ABW guest blogger. Now back to our previously scheduled intelligent conversation.
Because they turn everything into a racial debate.
To the reviewer: get over yourself and take off the tinted glasses you see EVERYTHING through. Its not all about you, your ethnicity, or racism.
Angry Black Woman, you are my hero! Despite the fact I am a white woman, I too was disgusted with the stereotypes in this movie. It really saddens me that young white kids look at these types of things, thinking this is how Blacks act, and mimic it all. I totally agree with you about Jazz. He died like a perp and they didn’t even devote time to scripting a proper mourning of his death even. Actually this entire movie was so poorly written I had to watch it twice in the movie theater because I couldn’t sit through the whole thing without getting pissed off as a G1 cartoon fan and as a reasonably intelligent human being.
i need to know about August 17th – 26th, 2007.
No. No, we don’t have to be universal.
Frankly, that’s the silliest idea I’ve ever heard. Yes, fine, all of the characters in the film are badly drawn (although I think the word you’re reaching for is *archetypes,* given the examples you cite, not stereotypes). But are you honestly saying that we shouldn’t talk about the worst of them, and why we consider those depictions the worst, because of that? Are you honestly saying we can’t point out racism towards black people, South Asians, and Latinos — the only visible PoC in the film — without talking about racism towards… hell, I dunno. Whatever wasn’t visible in the film. East Asians. Spanish Basques. French Acadians. Where were the Inuit, huh?! Why weren’t there any Inuit in the film?!?!?!
You’re saying that any discussion of racism must include several thousand points addressing each and every ethnic group in existence, before anyone will pay attention?
I can’t see why anyone *would* pay attention to something like that, because it would be a billion pages long.
If you just want to silence discussion of race and racism, then just say “Don’t talk about this,” okay? Just say, “It makes me uncomfortable.” And go away. Don’t come up with illogical BS like this.
I guess of you’re looking for racism, you’re always going to find it.
And on the subject of rules for civilized discourse, read this too.
While i agree and noticed many of the thign syour broght forth (especially with jazz who ironically was one of the only roginal autobots to survive the first cartoon version of the movie)but i felt your tyrese line was peculiar.
“And I’ll be honest; I’m willing to forgive Tyrese for a lot of sins. Eye candy has that effect sometimes. ::pauses to fan self briefly::”
you kinda reduced him to a piece of meat with that one. how is the black buck sterrotype any different from the it’s ok, he’s fine mentality.?
I hear you on some of the subliminal issues on this and the first guy on air force one to get killed was black as well. but let’s not get so immersed in this that nothign can be poked fun at. you’d go crazy if you actually found everythign wrong with this world.
P.S. Jazz died like a punk
Far be it from me to argue with the Ghost of Jazz (mustn’t speak ill of the dead and all that), but since he’s a robot I don’t expect him to understand the nuances of race relations and racism.
That whole “If you’re looking for X” bullshit is always trotted out to dismiss any real discussion of racism by sad, sad people with nothing substantive to say. here on this blog, we like to have level 2 and 3 conversations about racism and race relations. Not Level 1 conversations.
What makes a level 1 discussion? one in which the presence of racism in America and American media is questioned. So here’s a clue to catch those of you still on level 1 up: Racism exists. How do I know? i experience it. I see it. I hear about it. From who? Minorities. White people. Intelligent folks who live in the world. Who regularly tells me that racism doesn’t exist or that X thing isn’t racist? Ignorant, clueless white people. Guess what, white people? the only people who get to declare racism over are those to whom racism happens. That would mean not you.
If you are white and someone non-white says “hey, that’s racist” the correct response is not NO IT ISN’T BECAUSE I HAVE A BLACK FRIEND WHO LIKES IT or some other lame reason. the correct response is “why do you feel that way?” and then, when they tell you, to go off somewhere and think instead of talking. yes, I’m asking you to think. Shocking. If you do not feel the need to think, then you need to go away.
Seriously, get out. If there’s one thing i will not put up with, it’s people who don’t think.
Mandolin & Nora —
There is a geeky*, fat**, white woman on the TV show ‘Criminal Minds’ who seems to be an integral and well respected member of the team. FWIW, the show also has a black man who seems to be an integral and well respected team member, but I suspect that character has some racial stereotypes that I (as a white girl) am missing.
* Geeky according to the stereotype that computer/tech savvy = geeky.
** Fat according to entertainment industry standards.
My wife of years is Mexican. I can honestly state without malice that most of the Mexicans I’ve seen & met love tortillas, dig the accordion and have no problems parking on lawns. That isn’t racist, and some stereotypes exist for a reason. It’s called reality. But I guess everyone has to have a big bug up their ass about everything nowadays, so if I see a movie that has Mexicans eating tortillas at a gathering of the familia in the park, listening to some norteno music, or parking on the front lawn of their uncle’s house while paying a visit, I should be offended? Offended that the Mexican people weren’t being portrayed in some hard push not to offend and actually displayed in a manner representative of most of their daily lives?
Don’t get po’d because Jazz was killed and he was the one “coded black” character, be so because that was Jazz and nixing him was bs all around period.
O. M. G.
How can we get all these jokers and apologists for racism off of this thread? Seriously! I am trying to turn myself into code right now to leap into the interweb and mess their shit up.
Anyhow, the post rocks.
And since I happen to be here, I’ll point out a post that anyone who is considering commenting here should read: How to Suppress Discussions of Racism
Chuck’s post was brought to us by #4. There is a lot of #3 going on here as well.
It would be a really good idea for any new people to this blog to scroll aaaaaallll the way up to the top and click on “Required Reading”.
The war against [black] people extends way beyond hollywood’s borders. We just have to look at an average commercial or white sitcom or any movie to see stereotypes abound. I don’t know if it has become more blatant in recent times (it seems as if it has)…but it is more acceptable to deride black people in some form or other in the media.
…but then of course…we so often support and accept what is dished out to us…that is, we let ourselves be attacked in depicted in any way that the power structure sees fit.
Okay “the angry black woman”, I recant my last post. Because typing an article to dismiss any & all points that could lead against any possible claim in order to refer to it later as a casually put counter claim against anything disagreeing with you wins “the truth” of any matter. So, fine, none of the “stereotypes” displayed in Michael Bay’s film actually exist at all in real life. You win, turn off the internet.
As a Happy Black Man, I loved the movie. Get over the race thing. You make a it a problem by blowing this out of proportion.
BTW – Jazz was silver.
Not that it matters, but I feel the need to point out that I didn’t actually write the brilliant How to Suppress post. In fact, it wasn’t even written by an ethnic minority. And that post is based on a very famous book. I don’t suspect Chuck has heard of it since he seems a bit under read.
Under read, yup that’s gotta be me. ‘Cause of all people in the world, you’d sure as heck know, right? Especially since I’m sure someone who goes so far to elaborate on stuff that they themselves admit beforehand “does not matter” has read Every. Book. Ever.
Of course racism exists, and you, angry black woman, are helping to perpetrate it by jumping at shadows, and turning into the very thing you denounce. Id use an old phrase about a pot and a kettle, Im afraid it might be misconstrued however.
Now who could possibly find negative black stereotypes in a movie that features Bernie Mac telling mammy jokes in its first 10 minutes?
Angry Black Woman please stop holding the white man down with your wild accusations.
whyare, did you read the article ABW just linked?
I can honestly state without malice that most of the Mexicans I’ve seen & met love tortillas, dig the accordion and have no problems parking on lawns.
I’m really beginning to wonder whether anyone here actually understands what stereotyping *is*.
OK, then. I know it’s better to teach than to wash my hands of the matter, so I’ll try.
Yes, Chuck, you’re right; it’s not racist to mention characteristics that are common to a culture. That’s actually not stereotyping either, though it is *generalizing*, and it’s a risky thing to do if you actually don’t know much about the culture in question.
And it’s not at all what I’m talking about.
Stereotypes actually have very little to do with reality. They’re based on *perceptions* of reality, usually distorted perceptions, which are usually garnered second- or third-hand from questionable information sources. Even when garnered firsthand, they’re not usually based on *enough* reality to support a reasonable conclusion. So it’s really hard to have a realistic understanding of Mexicans if all you know about them is from TV, or Your Mexican Wife, or even Your Mexican In-Laws and Friends. They’re not even 1% of Mexican society. Unless you’re Mexican yourself, or have lived in Mexico for most of your life and been immersed in that culture, it’s unlikely that you’ve encountered enough Mexican people to form an accurate perception of them.
See, the problem with a racist stereotype is that it’s in many ways a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have a negative opinion of a particular group of people (probably garnered from a stereotype in the first place), you look for “evidence” to support that opinion. The evidence is easy to find, because stereotypes are based on common human behaviors. So when you find this evidence, it reinforces the negative opinion/stereotype, and probably justifies a whole bunch of other stereotypes as well.
Now, to be fair, this kind of thinking is human nature (IMO). Our species has a nasty habit of forming opinions first and seeking information to support the opinion later, and rejecting information that would contradict that opinion. This is why Europeans once believed the Earth was the center of the universe, for example, to the point of persecuting Galileo when he found evidence to the contrary. We’re wired to think this way, to some degree, and it takes special effort or training (such as the scientific method) to counter it. Now, if we are wired to think this way, you might ask, what’s wrong with following our brains down that natural path? Simple answer: if your initial opinion is based on poor data (like a stereotype), it’s probably wrong. And all the information you find to support that opinion is just digging you into the wrong deeper.
So let’s examine mike as an example.
Mike seems to believe that all, or most, black people are “loud and disturbing.” He certainly thinks it’s common enough that he doesn’t question the inclusion of a ridiculously loud black character in Transformers. He’s probably gotten this message from a lot of different places, because it’s a common stereotype shown in the media — lots of Hollywood movies, for example, include black characters as “the mouth” or “the comic relief” or “the one who talks shit/seeks attention/is crude and uncouth”. This creates the stereotype: Black People Are Obnoxious Loudmouths. So mike *notices* black people when they’re being loud or disturbing in real life, because some part of his brain is seeking confirmation of what he already believes. Of course some black people are loud; some people in *any* race are loud. The black people mike encounters might be loud because they’re sensing his hostility or fear; that would certainly make *me* loud, out of annoyance. Anyway, it only takes one example to make a stereotype “true”, and mike sees several examples, so mike thinks, “Whoa, looks like there’s something to this stereotype.” Of course, this makes him more prone to believe *all* the stereotypes he’s heard about black people — Black People Are Criminals, for example, or Black Men Randomly Attack Strangers For No Particular Reason, or whatever. If one stereotype is “true”, why not believe all of them?
Put a bunch of stereotypes together, and you’ve got a prejudice.
Use that prejudice to exert power over the group in question, or to support this kind of power abuse (by not questioning prejudices when you see them, for example), and you’ve got racism.
Everybody still with me? Okay.
And even though white people are sometimes loud and disturbing — probably more often statistically than black people, since there are a lot more white people in this country — mike hasn’t absorbed any negative stereotypes about white people from the media. So he doesn’t conclude that the loudness of white people reflects on the whole race. (That’s assuming mike even thinks of white people *as* a race, which he may not.)
And even though Asians are sometimes loud and disturbing — God knows *I’ve* witnessed that on trains here in NYC — mike probably knows something about Asians, since that’s what he’s implied is his own race. So he knows enough of reality to avoid forming any sort of Asians Are Loudmouths stereotype.
Or he may have absorbed a different stereotype, and one I’ve heard often: Asians Are Quiet And Passive. Which is frankly no more true than Black People Are Loudmouths, but mike believes it nevertheless.
So here’s the thing.
-If you believe a stereotype about a particular race, you’re supporting racism.
-If you fail to question or protest that stereotype when you encounter it, you’re supporting racism.
-If you make excuses for stereotyping — i.e., “Well, everybody got stereotyped, so what are you complaining about?” or “Come on, it was just a fun movie, you need to lighten up!” or “Well, my Indian friend liked it!” — you’re supporting racism.
-If you “blame the victim” for the existence of the stereotype, you’re supporting racism.
And if you’re supporting racism, then you’re a fucking racist.
So. Hope that clarifies things.
Sorry, it’s taken me so long to show up, but I’ve stayed away because of the spoliers. I still haven’t read Nora’s post, but I did read the proceeding racist, immature, dumbass comments left by juveniles who have obviously nothing to do until junior high is back in session.
There is too much stupid here to untangle.
ABW: For the sake of all that’s sane, disemvowel the Stupids.
Thanks for this post, Nora. I found it both thoughtful and thought-provoking.
I liked the movie, and you need to chill out.
…because Mr. Uh huh is the Center of the Universe, of course!
I try to only break out the disemvoweler for repeat offenders who aren’t doing much more than trolling. I haven’t read all the comments so I’m not sure if anyone qualifies yet. however, Nora has the power to squish people, too. So I’m leaving that to her for now :)
and LOL belatrys
Well Nora, (ABW) I read your argument and I have a few responses that I hope you will take the time to look over.
Firstly, Bernie Mac is a comedian. He is supposed to play ridiculous and rude characters. He always has. That’s as far as I think I need to go with this (also, do you really think that Bernie Mac would deliberately endorse racism? Do you think he is so mindless as to participate in something like that? Perhaps the vision of the “mindless black servant to the entertainment industry” is a stereotype that you yourself should have grown out of by now. Bernie Mac is a perfectly intelligent man, and he knows what he is doing)
Tyrese Gibson played a noble character, and you seem to have conceded that point in your original assertion, so I won’t expand on this further.
Anthony Anderson’s character was a genius. The film emphasized this throughout. In order for a genius to be believable, he has to have an eccentricity. This is commonplace in modern cinema. Had you decided to watch the new Die Hard movie instead, you would have seen that this is universal; the top computer hacker in “Live Free or Die Hard” was this slobbish character who lives in his mother’s basement, childishly collecting action figures, and harboring a ridiculous and eccentric level of dislike for police officers.
Your complaints about the feds busting into the house of Anderson’s character are also silly; they were after stolen information, and traced it to his house. Their motive was perfectly legitimate, and it was not the “black v. white” conflict you’re trying to make it out to be, his affiliations were with the (white) girl who had been working with the feds to trace the virus, and she was, of course, apprehended as well.
As for Jazz, his dialect was, as you said, an 80’s homage. Plain and simple. He did not die a like a “punk”, he died nobly defending the human race. He paid the ultimate sacrifice, and in hollywood cinema, there is no greater honor (think about the movie Armageddon… is the real hero Bruce Willis’s character or Ben Affleck’s guy? Death for a just cause is Hollywood’s way of distinguishing heroes; separating the ‘men from the boys’ as for as glory goes… Jazz was written to be the noblest good guy… not the other way around)
All in all, I think your argument is just silly. While you seem intent on insisting that Hollywood is intentionally creating a racial divide, I think that the person who is really doing this is you.
Wow! I can’t believe that stupid people are making a fuss over racial sterotpes in a movie that featured giant robots. The guy was just letting out we he feels about issues that we face like outsourcing..,etc.
Geez woman don’t you have something better to do than call a sci-fi movie racist like fix your weave, pop locking and updating your ebt card…hmmm
I did read the article, and it does make some good points, at the same time however, reading the “strawman” portion, honestly made me raise my eyebrows and check my hypocrisy meter.
So, while we’re all being so evenhanded with the discussion, why dont we include any stereotypes, generalizations or racism perpetrated against whites? Id say the biggest disservice in America is the fact that whites are still held accountable for the actions of their ancestors, and blacks in general are allowed to feed off the fact that they feel “owed” something.
If we want to get into the evils of our ancestry how about all the (millions of)white slaves captured by the Moors in the 15th-17th centuries? Never hear a thing about that, wouldnt want the nation of Victems to lose the last leg they have to stand on.
Thus far we’ve had a few trolls, but no repeat offenders that I can see. Most of the stupid is coming from one-time drive-bys.
I may have the power to squash, but I don’t have the patience. Rather than waste more time teaching Racism 101 to these people, I think at this point that I’d rather just shut the whole thread down. I prefer not to give racists another podium from which to vent their spleen. They’ve got so many other podiums, after all, so let them go to those.
Apologies to the folks here who actually wanted to have a reasoned discussion. Too hard to talk over all this gibbering noise.
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