Transformers 2: Offensive Archetypes in Disguise
Internet buzz about Michael Bay's (director of landmark crap-tion films like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island) latest film Transformers 2 has mostly centered around who has the most scathing review, how hot Megan Fox is, and a few murmurs concerning coded racism in two of the robots.
The rumors are true: twins Mudflap and Skids are Stepin Fetchits. They constantly fight, they talk in ebonics, and exist only for "comedic" effect. Just visually comparing the two, the Twins are complete messes compared to the other "good" robots.
(That's Optimus Prime, alpha male of the universe. Autobots want to be him, Deceptacons want to....kill him--stop me if my plot synopsis is getting too dicey. When not in robot form, he's is a hulking, diesel-guzzling eighteen wheeler--no wonder he's such close buds with the US Army!)
Michael Bay's response to the criticism is flip, saying,"We're just putting more personality in. I don't know if it's stereotypes — they are robots, by the way." In the same AP article, Allyson Nadia Field of UCLA explains how robots, or crows, or aliens, can actually be stereotypes: "There's a persistent dehumanization of African-Americans throughout Hollywood that displaces issues of race onto non-human entities. It's not about skin color or robot color. It's about how their actions and language are coded racially."
Eh. Says Bay, "Listen, you're going to have your naysayers on anything. It's like is everything going to be melba toast? It takes all forms and shapes and sizes." Yep. All forms and shapes and sizes and stereotypes.
For just a brief glimpse of these characters, fast forward to :25 of this preview:
And believe it or not, the twins aren't the only racially problematic issues of the movie. The opening scene is a textbook definition of the Native Other. Conflating all brown people, a nameless, mute, half-clothed and body-painted tribe hunts…a tiger….in the desert (and if I followed the idiotic plot throughout the movie--not easy!--I think that desert is supposed to be in Egypt. You know, Egypt! Land of tigers and aborigines). In one shot, a hunter opens his mouth and yells something. It's done in slow motion and emphasizes the baring of his teeth, and it seemed like a very purposeful way of dehumanizing him. Then there's the citizens of Jordan and Egypt who are rendered invisible, speechless, and militarily-impotent (Jordanian soldiers fly in to assist the US against the robots--yes I watched the movie this long--but end up crashing.)
Apparently the sequel has brought in more women than the original movie as well, but not for its strong female roles. Transformers is soaked in the male gaze, from when the dad of Shia LeBoef's character Sam asks his college-bound son "How long are you gonna be riding that scooter?" which cuts to Megan Fox bent over, ass up on a motorcycle in the shop she works at, to the multiple slow-motion shots of the heroine panting through the desert in a tank top.
The other notable female in the movie, Isabel Lucas, plays a mysterious vixen that Sam meets when he arrives at college (a school so idealized Asher Roth probably has wet dreams over it). At first I was rolling my eyes at another stereotype: Lucas plays the whore to Megan Fox's Madonna, the sex-crazed slut who'll stop at nothing to seduce our hero (doesn't she know he is in a committed relationship?!), when in the middle of sex scene she totally transforms into this creepy, violent Deceptacon (that's an evil Transformer, btw) and then she tries to kill him with this spiky chain thing that comes out of her butt! For a second I was going to argue that by using sex as a means to get what you want can be subversive and empowering but then I remembered I was watching Transformers 2 and that Lucas' character (and all the accompanying crotch shots) are not, in the least, revolutionary. (It was still kinda cool when she tried to kill him with the butt chain).
Heartbreaker in disguise!
The third (and final female character to have more than one line) is LeBoeuf's mother, another atrocious caricature--a hysterical, submissive wife and mother who is subjected to way too many embarrassing lines to address here.
The US military plays a big role in the film—they save the world (by destroying Shanghai, a small Egyptian town, and the Great Pyramids), and are besties with the Autobots (those are the good Transformers!). But despite their strong presence throughout the movie, I counted two women in intelligence or military positions--both shown for a hot second, both white. Two seems to be the magic gender quota in robo-world too, as the only other female robot I spotted besides the sexy co-ed fembot was a motorcycle who briefly appears here and there (I was kinda hoping for a while that the Transformers lived in a gender utopia without sexism). How did I know it was a female Transformer? Well, it's pink, and because it's on the Internet:
Pink + Boobs = Girl
It shouldn't shock anyone that Michael Bay's latest lacks a feminist perspective of film and society. It's just troubling that it's made SO MUCH MONEY.
I don't have the latest numbers, but it pulled in $390.4 million worldwide in five days, breaking historical film records. From Variety:
Transformers 2 came within shouting distance of the best five-day gross of all time: $203.8 million for WB's The Dark Knight. Overseas, the action tentpole grossed $166.1 million as it opened day and date in virtually every territory (pic opened the weekend before in the U.K. and Japan). Official tally was ahead of the Sunday estimate of $162 million. Either way, Transformers 2 scored the second best international opening of all time, after Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($216.3 million), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ($193 million) and Spider-Man 3 ($164.9 million).
There are a TON OF PEOPLE watching this crap! As a friend of mine put it, "Two percent of America saw Transformers this weekend." And Michael Bay obviously sees money as the only indicator of success. His blog Michael Bay Dot Com is super defensive about critics, and he justifies it all with "it's what the people want."
The 400 critics around the globe spoke. Then fans around the world spoke.
Transformers made $60.6 million dollars in the United States for a total of around $100 million from the world on opening day! One of the biggest single days in movie history. Then [sic] never seem to understand that I make movies for people to take a ride and escape.
Michael "No one understands me" Bay
And from IMDB:
There are tons of people who hate me. They hate my movies and whatnot. But you know, hey, my films have made a lot of money around the world. 2-something billion dollars, that's a lot of tickets. They said that I wrecked cinema. They said that my, uh...cutting style. They say I cut too fast. And yet now you see it in movies everywhere. Do I take pride in people knowing my style? I think it's nice people know a director has a style. And you can reinvent yourself too.
Michael "They say I cut too fast" Bay
How will Michael Bay reinvent himself for the third Transformers picture? What coded stereotype will be featured next? Will he introduce a fourth female character or cut it down to two? Maybe 1.5? Which new city will the United States save by bombing to rubble? Has any other reasonable person even SEEN this movie?! Lemme know!
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