a little east of reality

Monday, January 16, 2006

and by the way...

Two things to add on the King Kong movie:

1. Expectations vs results ~ who gives a toss?

I am so sick of reading reviews and movie site comments that deem the movie to be 'a disappointment' because it didn't meet box office expectations. Uh, hello? The movie was not exactly a flop ~ analysts had predicted a first weekend gross of around $60 million, and the movie made $50.15 million instead. That means it out-grossed the first weekend total of Fellowship of the Rings! Titanic made only $28.6 million on its opening weekend and then went on to make $600 million on domestic sales alone.

Conclusion: stop nay-saying and give the movie time to establish itself by word-of-mouth as a 3-hour movie worth seeing. Long movies often have a slow start.

2. Racial stereotypes in King Kong

Another really common topic out there on this movie is the idea that King Kong (all versions) is a story that feeds into the stereotypical image of the black man as primitive and hyper-sexual (especially in their 'obsession with white women') and equates them with apes. Not only does Kong himself come under fire as a symbol, but the portrayal of the natives on Skull Island as 'scary black people' also offends.

I am simply shaking my head over this one. I saw the movie. Kong is a gorilla. Gorillas happen to be black. It never once occurred to me that the reason a gorilla was chosen was because he is supposed to represent 'the black man' stealing away 'the white woman'. If anything I assumed he was a gorilla because gorillas are known to be curious about people and to have become familiar with, and even cared for and protected, humans. The only other animal that might have worked is a bear, but bears can't carry things and climb in the same way gorillas can. The gorilla in the more workable animal for a movie of this type.

Similarly, I think the fact that the natives on Skull Island were black was just a nod to history ~ or did I miss a story that came to light of the finding of a remote, isolated, white tribe? They were primitive because they lived on a primitive island full of scary prehistoric animals, not because they were black. If the story had been set in Europe a few hundred years ago, I would have expected fair-skinned people ~ and some of those old pagan rituals were just as bloody and just as hyper-sexual as anything a tribe in a tropical jungle can come up with.

In contrast to the natives, the ship's second mate was a brave, intelligent and kind black man. His sub-plot (guiding a young, somewhat reckless cabin boy, helping him to educate himself, and protecting him from harm) made him a very cool side character. Yet Kwame McKenzie describes him as "the good and dutiful slave stereotype". He is nothing of the sort!

So I'd like to ask the question: if I look at the screen and see a gorilla, and Kwame McKenzie looks at the screen and sees a black man, who exactly is the person more bogged down in racism and racial stereotypes? Now in fairness, as a black man himself he may actually have experienced being called a monkey by some cruel bigot, so I can't say that it's all in his mind. What I do think is that superimposing that mindset onto an undeserving Peter Jackson is a bit rough.

Conclusion: To quote Freud, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." You can read racism into King Kong if that's your goal, but I'd rather just see it as a fabulous tale of a great big gorilla and the 'pet human' he loves.