Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sexual Assault in Back to the Future or "I'm totally about to ruin your nostalgic love for this movie, so get ready"

[Trigger warning]

For the first time in probably more than ten years, I watched Back to the Future with my boyfriend, who had never seen it.  I remember it being not that great, but it's one of those classic 80s movies that everyone should see once.  I guess.  Watching it as an adult was very different than that first viewing as a kid.  Much of that had to do with my change in how I perceived the sexual assault in the movie.

I think we all know how the story goes: Marty's inventor friend, Doc, invents a time machine, Marty is sent back in time in his escape from scary brown terrorists, whom Doc cheated out of a proper bomb in exchange for time-traveling necessary plutonium.  Before he locates Doc in 1955, Marty inadvertently prevents his parents from their fateful meeting.

Let's stop here for a sec because this is where the sexual assault first enters: Marty's mom, Lorraine, falls in love with George after her dad hits George with the car.  Lorraine in 1985 still never knew what George was doing in the middle of the street in the first place.  Well, Marty follows George in 1955 and we find out that George was in a tree with binoculars watching Lorraine undress.  Lorraine's dad hits him, or is supposed to hit him, when he falls out of the tree.  However, Marty pushes him out of the way and is hit by the car, thus becoming the love-interest to his mom.

At any rate, during the course of events where Marty tries to figure out how to return to 1985, and also how to ensure his existence by getting his parents to fall in love or at the very least "park the car," we observe more sexual assault.  In the cafeteria, Lorraine is sitting with friends, and Biff (who in 1985 is George's boss, or at least more successful coworker) has his hands on Lorraine.  She is clearly uncomfortable.  She tells him to go away; she is cowering away from him.  Marty encourages George to stop them, but George is afraid, and slinks away.  So Marty steps in (which further cements Lorraine's attraction to him).

Later in the movie, Marty comes up with a plan to get George with Lorraine, a plan which involves Marty being not so nice to a nice girl (his mom), and he tells George to rescue her.  George points out that that is not a very nice thing for Marty to do, but he assures George that's it's totally cool cuz it's pretend and stuff.  Hear that everyone?  Sexual assault is okay if you're only pretending to assault the woman to act as wingman to your buddy (or father!), but it's gotta be believable, so scare the shit out of her.  Ugh.  I can't believe I just wrote that.

Anyway, the plan goes wrong.  Turns out Lorraine is totally hot for Marty, but quickly changes her mind when she finds kissing him feels like kissing her brother.  Biff interrupts, and in an act of revenge against Marty for a sweet skateboard escape attempt that earlier trashed Biff's car, Biff hands Marty over to his thugs, and jumps in the car with Lorraine, presumably to "have his way" with her.  Yeah, it's called rape, but it's not really treated as such in the movie.  It does, however, mean that George can really prove himself a man because Lorraine is really being sexually assaulted by Biff (and not just pretend sexually assaulted by Marty).  Long-ish uncomfortable scene short: George rescues Lorraine.  Seriously, this scene was really uncomfortable to watch. I mean, after all the other assaults that Lorraine endures, it's made even more disgusting by the fact that I'm made to think "omg will no one save her?"  That's what these assaults are all building up to, right?  George has a chance to protect her, and eventually does before it can escalate anymore. But it's just a prop to motivate George, which falls into that cliche of women dying / being assaulted / or being in any other form of danger to cause a man to act (I think one of the best examples of this is Wolverine in the X-Men movies, since the women are basically required to die twice to get Wolverine to do stuff).

Oh, but after George proves his manliness by saving Lorraine's virtue, George gets another chance to really hang on to that manliness because (guess what!) Lorraine is assaulted AGAIN.  Some random dude on the dance floor shoves George out of the way and has his hands on Lorraine even though she, again, says no, and even tries to get away.  At this point I believe I was throwing things.  Apparently the character of Lorraine exists solely for the purpose of being sexually assaulted.  I mean, she like goes around doing Lorraine things, and gets assaulted.  And it's okay, because eventually some upstanding man will defend her.  Maybe.  And even when she's sitting with friends, her friends just carry on like nothing is happening.  Can I get some damn female solidarity please??

Oh yeah, George eventually reclaims Lorraine for a second time.  Marty still exists.  Hooray.

But there's one more thing I want to talk about before I wrap this up.  Marty returns to 1985 to find that his and his family's lives have significantly improved because George is now a Man.  We have several signifiers that tell us about the family's success: Marty's brother is wearing a suit and not a fast-food uniform!  His sister has several boyfriends.  SEVERAL!  His mom is not fat!  That's like, the best kind of mom, right?  And his dad is the boss of other people!  Including (omg you're so not ready for this) Biff.  BIFF EVERYONE!!  You know, the man who consistently sexually assaulted his mom in high school, including a near-rape!  Yep.  They keep him around to wax the car because it's an indicator of MANLY SUCCESS and is not at all triggering to Lorraine having her attacker so close every day of her adult life.  Because Biff is subdued now, and is not at all likely to you know, attack her again despite having shown a propensity for just that behavior.

As a kid, I think I sort of glossed over these attacks.  They're treated so callously in the movie that I didn't process it as something out of the norm.  I simply accepted that Biff was a jerk, and Lorraine needed someone to save her, and then everything was okay.  I didn't think of George as a predator, even though he  is, because the movie still frames him as a hero.  When I saw Biff at the end waxing the family car, I thought it was a funny sort of justice--ha, serves him right!  Only as an adult do I see how utterly fucked up it is that Lorraine has to have him in close proximity, and how fucking unrealistic it is that she would be okay with that.

But no one cares about a woman's discomfort if it means her predator-turned-hero-turned-husband is all confidant and shit.  Yay for manliness!

Friday, July 9, 2010

There is no justice--Oscar Grant's murderer sentenced to 2-4 years

This is just utterly depressing.  I just viewed the video again, [heavy trigger warning] and I am at a loss for words.  How anyone can view that and buy into the cop's story that it was an accident is just beyond me.  The guilty cop is Johannes Mehserle and is only getting 2-4 years for manslaughter.  It's particularly telling that moments after the shooting, the cops involved attempted to confiscate witness' cell phones.  How the fuck am I to believe he thought it was an accident when immediately following the police officers involved attempted to cover it up?

Mehserle's defense was that he thought he had reached for his taser, but in fact pulled his gun and shot Grant.  The two weapons are one two different sides of his body.  I find it highly unlikely that he did not know which weapon he reached for.

There are others who've said it better than I have, so I'll direct you to them.  My deepest condolences with Grant's family at this time.

Anna Marie at Feministing:

Mehserle got involuntary manslaughter, y'all. INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER. That's what you get when you get into a car accident. According to ABC News, "Regarding the upcoming sentencing, Burris [Grant's family attorney] said, 'He should be going to jail for the rest of his life, but yet he very well may get a sentence that does not even require him to go to jail, which would be the ultimate insult and travesty that I can imagine.'

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville:
The whole taser-gun switcheroo is on what the verdict rests. It was Mehserle's contention that he had accidentally pulled out his gun (located on his right hip) instead of his taser (located on his left hip) and fired a round into Oscar Grant before realizing he'd "grabbed the wrong weapon."
Which, in my estimation, is all a red herring even irrespective of its alleged veracity (which is a whole other issue). The fact is, Mehserle could not have justifiably used his taser in that situation, either. Grant clearly hadn't come close to resisting, and thus Mehserle's intent was to hurt him, plain and simple. That he hurt him until he was dead doesn't make it involuntary. Fuck.
macon d at stuff white people do:
Violence in the wake of racial injustice is what gets the attention of the white-framed media, not the injustice itself. As I write this, CNN finds the news of a basketball player's team-switch bigger news; readers have to search more carefully for a link that says, "Hundreds protest after BART verdict."
Would "thousands" have bumped the story up the page? "Hundreds of thousands"? Whatever the number, it's the protests that the white-framed corporate media focus on today as the "story" here. Not the searing injustice of yet another light sentence for the state-sponsored killer of yet another unarmed black man.

I will likely be adding more to this list as the day goes on.  You may consider this an open thread on the verdict.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Last Airbender: fail fail and more fail

I just returned from viewing the shitfest that is The Last Airbender, and my quick reaction  to it is as follows: this movie seems to be done with such lack of care and detail that it views like Mr. Shyamalan heard about the popular cartoon show from a friend, and decided to make a movie based on a second-hand description.  "Oh, so the brother and sister find this kid frozen in ice, and then they go to some temples, and some Earth Kingdom villages, and then the North Pole?  Oh, yeah, let's throw in that flying buffalo thing...and the lemur too, I guess."

Okay, now to the longer complaints.  First, the racebending, which, if you haven't heard, is the most obnoxious fucking thing about this horrible movie.  What we have is an entirely Asian world.  What  Shyamalan has given us was a cast of white people in leading (good) roles and brown people as side characters and bad guys.  One of the arguments that racist defenders of this casting will cite is that perhaps the white actors that got the parts did better than the other people who auditioned (like Asian kids!).  Yeah, except that the casting call for the part of Aang called for a "caucasion" male.  After having viewed the movie myself, I find it hard to believe that there is not one Asian actor who can out-act any of those awful white kids.  Noah Ringer was somewhat passable--I mean, I'll give these kids some slack--the dialog just sucked big time, but nonetheless it wasn't as if any of these kids brought anything unique to their roles.  Seriously, white Sokka didn't even need to be in this movie.  He was just some white dude hanging around that occasionally felt the need to protect some ladies.

Shyamalan has responded to some of this legitimate criticism to his casting fail.  This one's my favorite:

Here’s the irony of the conversation: The Last Airbender is the most culturally diverse movie series of all time. I’m not talking about maybe one Jedi, maybe one person of a different color – no one’s even close. That’s a great pride to me. The irony of this statement enrages me to the point of … not even the accusation, but the misplacement of it. You’re coming at me, the one Asian filmmaker who has the right to cast anybody I want, and I’m casting this entire movie in this color blind way where everyone is represented. I even had one section of the Earth kingdom as African American, which obviously isn’t in the show, but I wanted to represent them, too!
And I fought like crazy to have the pronunciation of the names to go back to the Asian pronunciation. So you say “Ahng” instead of “Aaang” because it’s correct. It’s not “I-rack,” it’s “ee-Rock.” I’m literally fighting for all this. And who’s getting blamed? ME! This is incredible. And so it’s infuriating, this stigmatization, that the first word about the most culturally-diverse movie of all time is this accusation. And here’s the irony of it, this has nothing to do with the studio system. I had complete say in casting. So if you need to point the racist finger, point it at me, and if it doesn’t stick, then be quiet.
So...pronouncing names the correct Asian way makes up for those names belonging to characters portrayed by white actors?  And you're not racist because you're Asian and you're so aware of diversity that EVERYONE gets to play Asian dress-up?  Yeah, not buying it.  Shyamalan's sense of diversity doesn't even make sense: white kids as Inuits alongside brown Inuits in an isolated part of the (Asian) globe.  Um.  What?

I'm sure there are those who would have defended Shyamalan's utter race fail had this movie had even the tiniest entertainment value.  But, lucky for us, there is none!  I went into the theater tonight really hoping that the movie would at least feed my inner fandom.  But, as I stated at the beginning of this post, it really seemed like Shyamalan never even saw the show.  There were just so many beloved elements missing in this movie.  I was aware going in that nothing good could really come of a movie cramming 20 episodes worth of events into an hour and a half long movie (which is quite short for movies of this type, but nonetheless felt like an eternity.)

It's hard not to compare this movie to the cartoon, but it's especially sad when the movie doesn't even do the cartoon an ounce of justice.  All the movie characters are loosely based on the cartoon ones because Shyamalan exchanged important things like plot and character development for special effects.  In the cartoon, Aang is an almost typical 12-year-old boy, who has to constantly do grown-up things.  He's fun-loving and adorable, but when he's angry or grieving and falls into the Avatar state, we are angry and grieving with him.  The Aang in the movie was a 12-year-old boy whose eyes glowed occasionally when he did some really serious martial arts moves.  Katara in the cartoon is fearless, her love and protectiveness for Aang is endearing, and her skill as a waterbender is underscored by her ambition.  She believes in Aang, but she also believes in herself.  The Katara in the movie does magic with water sometimes, inexplicably follows Aang around, and is overall pretty dull.  I mean, in the cartoon the reason she's excited to meet Aang in the first place is because she's never met another bender before, and they go to the North Pole so she can learn waterbending from a Master--yes, she likes Aang, but with his flying bison (which was horribly underused in the movie--"We haven't seen Appa in awhile, let's throw him in this scene for no reason") she has the ability to go across the world.  As for Sokka...well, he was essentially a prop.  The only reason we even knew he was Sokka was because people were calling him "Sokka."  Where's the sarcasm?  Where's the leadership?  Oh who cares?  Look, special effects!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Zuko was similarly horrifically disappointing.  I really did like the idea of Dev Patel playing him, but with an already horrible script without significant character development, I didn't really care about him like I was made to in the cartoon series.  My favorite part of Zuko in the show, and his uncle Iroh by extension, was how sympathetically he was portrayed.  In most of the series, he's simultaneously the bad guy and a good guy.  We understand him.  We understand his ambitions and the motivation for those ambitions (or, rather, obsessions).  Zuko and Iroh both lost something they cherished, both sticking together in their banishment, both having lost their honor in some way, and both wanting to reclaim it: Zuko by presenting his father with the Avatar, and Iroh by accepting the blessings in life, even if they aren't what he thought they should once have been.  In the movie, we know how Zuko was scarred, we know Iroh lost a son, but it's not developed enough to make the viewer really feel for these characters.  For mere seconds Zuko and Iroh do something "good," but that's not enough.  Shyamalan did a great disservice to the cartoon by creating this movie, where plot and characterizations are just mashed together into something that takes a backseat to the special effects. Special effects, while visually stunning (when done right, and trust me, the ones in this movie were not done right) are no substitute for the audience being able to empathize with the characters, even the bad ones as the series intended.

Here are a few other complaints:

  • Who the fuck gave the okay on this script?  Doesn't anyone know how to get these flat characters to interact with one another?  Oh, guess not.  See why character development is so damn important?  It helps you figure out how the dialog should go.  At least the series had the dialog right.  There were some episodes that left me with chills, and with others I was so moved I was crying.  That's how you fucking do it.  
  • Shyamalan apparently also has no concept of distance: Zhao was able to travel back and forth to talk to Fire Lord Ozai in what seemed like short amount of time.  Does Shyamalan realize it takes quite some time to travel by ship?  I'm guessing no.  I'm also guessing that Zhao didn't have messengers or something.
  • The earthbenders were disappointingly underused.  In the series, their fighting style was always my favorite, and it was such a disappointment to only see them for one short scene.  I know I know.  This was Book One, which is Water,  but still!  And, again, Shyamalan clearly does not understand the series at all, because that scene depicted the earthbenders being imprisoned, not on a metal ship away from land, but in a compound full of (you guessed it) earth!  That just doesn't work in that sense.  In the series, the earthbenders despair because they have lost the means to bend.  They do not fight because they are in a hopeless environment.  In the movie, they're all "Oh, the firebenders got us.  We're done..."  THEY ARE SURROUNDED BY EARTH.  The plausibility of their giving up just doesn't work here.  
  • The female agency was totally removed.  Central to Katara's characterization in the series is her desire to act.  She's the one who initially releases the iceberg containing Aang.  In the movie, it's Sokka just hitting the ice.  And (back with the earthbenders) in the movie it's Aang who gives a speech to boost the spirits of the earthbenders, and they eventually start bending.  In the series, it's Katara on the ship without Sokka or Aang.  She tries to speak to the earthbenders, they are in despair.  They do not fight.  So Katara, with the help of Sokka and Aang, give the earthbenders not only the hope required to act, but also the means.  They're not just sad and surrounded by earth.  In the series, it actually illustrates how the earthbenders need Katara.  
  • I know this one seems like a stretch, especially for someone who doesn't already understand characterization in humans, but Appa and Momo are also characters in the series.  Significant ones.  Not just CG animal props you can trot out every couple of scenes cuz OMG THE EFFECTS.  Fuck.
  • I'm sorry, but Aasif Mandvi just wasn't badass enough to pull off a good Zhao.  I mean, he has the whole douchebag thing down, but was lacking in believable ruthlessness.  
  • This was Zuko's scar?  Really?  Come on.
  • It really didn't seem like Shyamalan understood the Avatar's world.  Firebenders can bend fire without their being a fire nearby.  Zuko demonstrates this by melting the ice underwater.  Yet everyone shits themselves when Iroh makes "fire from nothing!"  That's what a firebender is.  Watching five minutes of the show would tell you that.  There's no doubting that Iroh is a powerful firebender, but this was just lazy.  And while I'm complaining about that inconsistency, when Katara is fighting Zuko, why didn't she just put out the fires?  Because firebenders (apparently) can't firebend without it, and Zuko set fires prior to the fight which he (apparently) needed.  Except firebenders don't need to do that.  
  • SPOILER ALERT:  If you want to see an amazing climactic battle at the North Pole, I recommend watching the two episodes at the end of Book One, because the battle in the series was much more dramatic, engaging, and...well, good.  The movie version?  Well, I'll tell you: Aang's eyes get all glowy.  He waterbends a huge ass wave.  But then makes it go away again after a painfully long build-up.  The Fire Nation ships high-tail it out of there.  Because waves that don't do anything are scary as shit.  Battle over.  I think I screamed "WHAT?" in the theater at this point, annoying some of my fellow audience members.  But seriously.  WHAT????  In the series, Aang, angry at the invasion, angry at the murdering of the moon spirit, loses control and enters the Avater state, becoming a giant water monster spirit thing and DESTROYS THE FIRE NATION INVADERS.  All of them.  Ships too.  Oh, and meanwhile, Zuko and Zhao have an awesome fight that was omitted in the movie.  Their fight is interrupted by the moonspirit seizing Zhao, and Zuko attempts to save him, but Zhao refuses to take Zuko's hand.  So he dies.  Not by a bunch of waterbenders, as in the horrible movie.
Basically Shyamalan took a lot of liberties with this movie.  If there's going to be a trade-off in which certain things are exchanged and events are altered, those alterations should at least be good.  And consistent.  Like the reason Aang ran away from the air temple in the first place: in the movie it was because he didn't want to not have a family; in the series it was because he would have been taken from Monk Gyatsu, who was like a father to Aang, and would have been sent away to train as Avatar, so he ran away because he couldn't deal with losing Gyatsu and having a responsibility he never wanted.  This is a much more heartfelt explanation: fear of losing a loved one rather than being denied potential loved ones.  A 12-year-old kid doesn't think of the family that could never be when he has one in the present.  

If I missed anything important, please let me know in the comments.  Meanwhile, I'll be re-watching the series in an attempt to forget the swill that Shyamalan dared call The Last Airbender.