That Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which just opened this week, is a narrative and conceptual mess is neither surprising nor the greatest of its blames. That it is, at critical moments, visually incomprehensibleand this from someone who considered the faceted clatter of the first films shifting multiplanes, at moments, symphonicis the least of its faults.
That it endorses crude racism, however, serving up, not one, but two near-buckdancing, shiftless Black stereotypesthe sambots, as one reviewer adeptly punned, Skids, top and above right, and his twin (get this), Mudflapreveals not only how clearly insulated the white people who work at Paramount and for director Michael Bay appear to be in their racial supremacy, but how out of touch they must be with developing, changing American and world tastes in entertainment. (Thats without even getting into what will surely be Afrocentric outrage at key scenes of desecration.)
Heres my prediction: Transformers: ROTF will do huge first-week numbers, based on awe-inspiring trailer footage, then rapidly descend in flames from orbit, as people share with friends that the film is a stinking, heaving pile of constipated rhinoceros feces.
Let me put it this way: I saw it on a massive, five-story high Imax screen with a crowd of expectant, excited, average New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s. The biggest response that night was for the Imax trailer which precedes the showing of each film. Throughout the entire movie, no one cheered, no one gasped, no one did much of anything. There were a few laughs, but even the small number of guffaws we heard for ROTFs desperately unfunny, jive-talking duo seemed concentrated to a few hillbillies strafed over and behind my right shoulder.
Remember Jazz, right, the windmilling, beatbox-blaring Autobot from Transformers? You may, or may not, because, though a groan-inducing aspect of the first film, he wasnt continuously on screen.
As escorts of Shia LaBeoufs and Megan Foxs lead characters, Skids and Mudflap seem to be everywhere, bantering, fighting each other sheesh. The only thing they dont do is shoot craps and eat chicken with watermelon. At one moment, even, LaBeoufs character asks the two if they can read a robotic script that will reveal crucial information. Uh, we dont do too much readin, one drawls. Nail. Coffin. Im guessing somewhere at Industrial Light & Magic, the almost utterly white special effects firm for ROTF which typically does such mind-boggling work, theres a gag reel of the gold-toothed Skids pulling a 40-ounce from his Chevrolet Beat cooler as Mudflap nervously fingers a switchblade. Like, to which part of the car, into which Skids transforms, does a gold tooth conform?
Of course, ILM is also the company that, a decade ago, gave the world Jar Jar Binks, in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Ironically, however, in comparison, Skids and Mudflap make Jar Jar Binks look like Gandhi. Which means that were going backwards, not forwards, in the depiction of ethnicity in films.
But it bears ongoing repetition: ROTFs sloppy boilerplate is not the key way race is conveyed in movies, anymore. The predominant way people in Hollywood both reinforce and refine white supremacy is by the manner least commented upon, but most obvious, once you notice it: Their relentless focus on white people, right, emphasizing them, accentuating them, centering them in everything that is meaningful and important, and mostly including Black people so they can serve as on-ramps for white peoples planetary self-absorption; their 20-20 navel-gazing. (Of course, this is supported by an entire infrastructure of white movie executives, financiers, critics, and others.)
By filling movies with white people, telling stories through white characters, making them diverse in mode, occupation, and outlook, especially when compared to non-white charactersby projecting them as dominant when they are, in fact, recessive; most humans are brown femalesan understanding is rendered: White people are the smartest, most beautiful, most important beings of which we know. This understanding, in entertainment, serves an understanding of white people in all areas of activity by people: economics, education, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war, as that understanding, in those other areas, serves each other area.
Indeed, this aspect of race is so foundational that, like water to a fish, it typically doesnt seem worth noting, because its omnipresent. Transformers: ROTF irritates, then, because, as well as maintaining film historys pallid hue, and serving race that way, it goes an extra, unnecessary step to nastily reinforce what white media say, wordlessly, already all the time: White people are the smartest . Or, as Salt from Salt n Pepa once said to me of an increasingly trifling boyfriend, Youre already being mean, but now youre just being cruel.
You know those really offensive Warner Bros. cartoons, like 1953s Southern Fried Rabbit, right, with scenes so vile that, when they show them today on TV, they edit the repulsive parts out?
If theres any justice in the world, and thats doubtful, a future, more enlightened generation will one day digitally erase Skids and Mudflaps from every RAW file of footage, deeming them too retrograde for an ethnically sophisticated and interconnected world. The movie, of course, already a noisy jumble, wouldnt miss a thing.That imagery so out of date can be built into a piece of entertainment
so technologically advanced should tell us that there is something
about racism that has nothing to do with how educated white people are,
or even sophisitcated they become. I dont want to get all corny and
say that, like Optimus Prime, humans need moral heart transplants, so
to speak, but, actually, I think the leader of the Autobots might be on
"We don't read."
Originally published on HarryAllen.info.