Saga Star Wars and Racial Stereotypes: Existent or Imaginary

Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by princethomas, Feb 15, 2012.

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  1. princethomas Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 19, 2001
    star 2
    I've seen the Star Wars and racism discussion coming up again lately due to the Re Release. And I was wondering what Ahmed Best has said about the issue. While I can see a slight resemblence in the performance of Jar Jar to some of the stereotypes people point to, I have never particularly thought it was racist.

    Are there any interviews or quotes regarding this from him? Id like to know how much of his performance was directed and what inpirations he brought to the character.

    Mod Edit: Changed the title.
  2. Alexrd Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 7, 2009
    star 5
    People who see stereotypes on Jar Jar's performance are the ones being racist, in my opinion.

    But I don't recall any interview of him talking about the "issue".
  3. halibut Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 27, 2000
    star 8
    Accents aren't racist.

    But if one wants to go down that route, Ahmed Best is "black" doing a "black" accent. So it's a non-issue.

    If you really wanna open the racist door, talk about the Neimoidians :p
  4. Sword_Of_Goliath Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 22, 2010
    star 3
    The only time I know of his addressing this was in the 1999 (cover!) story:

    "Don't even get him started on the current theory that Jar Jar is Jamaican. "That is a really big insult to Jamaican people," he declares. "Just because the language is a bit different, they stick an accent on it? Jar Jar has nothing to do with the Caribbean! He is an amphibian from the planet Naboo." One reporter was concerned that Jar Jar, being of Caribbean descent, was perpetuating the slave mentality by being indebted to Qui-Gon Jinn. "I said, 'You know what? You have got to check your head and examine your own beliefs. Jar Jar is an orange frog. Heads need to relax. That **** is crazy." He takes a pause. "I just thought I was doing a funny role," he says. "I didn't know that the Jedi were a metaphor for the Man."

    Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/a-star-is-born-rolling-stones-1999-jar-jar-binks-cover-story-20110304#ixzz1mVr3MIEd

    To be fair, there are *definitely* elements of Creole & Gullah in the Gungan Basic-dialect, but there's also a huge Shakespearian influence, notably Dogberry (Much Ado About Nothing), Caliban (The Tempest), and The Fool (King Lear).
  5. DRush76 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2008
    star 4
    There were similar accusations of racism surrounding Darth Vader, after "A NEW HOPE" was first released. Especially since Vader was voiced by a black actor (James Earl Jones) and wore black.
  6. Arawn_Fenn Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jul 2, 2004
    star 7
    While being surrounded by white-armored stormtroopers.
  7. CuppaJoe Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 24, 2002
    star 4
    Grievous has a Hungarian accent. OMG RACIST.

    Really, it's just a way of giving culture to the various species, people, etc that inhabit this series. It's kinda hard to make up an accent, so why not pull something from real life?

    It's no different than the Imperials having British accents, the Rebels having American accents, you name it.
    eht13 likes this.
  8. StampidHD280pro Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2005
    star 4
    I think Star Wars has racist elements. It's kind of impossible to avoid in a world like Star Wars, where there ARE differences between cultures, because some of them are different species from human. When someone or some culture is supposed to have certain characteristics, I think Lucas has drawn uncomfortably-close-to-home parallels. The British Empire and the American Rebellion, not exactly an example of being racist but it still makes sense to us. Why?

    I've seen people refer to Watto as the "space jew", and usually in an attack of Episode I or the prequels in general. What about "Sand People"? If that isn't an Arab stereotype, well strap a bomb on me and send me to the Gaza strip. For the record, I have Middle Eastern heritage, but I can't imagine a Star Wars galaxy without these sort of .... ethnic jokes. Sure, some of the alien species are less race-specific, but the ones that do ring a bell make the experience more interesting.
  9. Darth_Harmon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 4, 2005
    star 3
    Calling Vader or Jar Jar racist depictions is just plain insane. I'd think it's actually racist to LOOK for racism, because it just shows people making assumptions about things that weren't there to begin with.

    Vader wears black and is voiced by a black man... that's racist!
    Jar Jar has a goofy accent with hints of baby talk, gibberish, made up alien speak and touches of would could be said as being closest to a Caribbean accent and all this was developed by a black man. That must be racist!

    Reminds me of an episode of the American Office where Martin, a black man, is hired and it turns out he has a criminal past. Michael can't tell the other employees who the employee with the criminal past is, even though it's obvious not because of skin color, but because Martin is the only recent hire. So one employee makes a guess based on this fact, and Michael jumps in putting racism where it wasn't to begin with:

    Kevin: [trying to figure out who in the office was a convict] Martin?
    Michael Scott: [shocked] You are such a racist.
    Kevin: Wait, why am I a racist?
    Michael Scott: Because you think he's black.
    Kevin: He is black... right?
  10. princethomas Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 19, 2001
    star 2
    Thats a good quote from Best. And of course there are influences in his performance. Curious to know if they came from him or directing from George.

    I can see the similarity to some Asian stereotypes in Nute Gunray, but not really in any of the other Nemoidians.

    The Watto thing is ridiculous. I agree that he's a sterotype, but not of any race. He is clearly modeled after the cliched Used Car Salesman/Fat Junk Dealer who are very often Fat White Guys with cigars. When it comes to Watto, seriously, anyone seeing racism there is the racist.
  11. Sword_Of_Goliath Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 22, 2010
    star 3
    I'm sure Best has his own influences and shared some that Lucas had in mind, like the great silent comedians & classic cartoon characters. Best was basically a mime in a show called "Stomp" which was enormously popular in the 1990's and is pretty much forgotten today -- think the grunge version of Cirque du Soleil ;) But there's footage of Lucas directing Best to move with loping gestures and loose limbs, which some people equate with black stereotypes, as "illustrated" in "The People Vs. GL". Some of this also comes from some critics being reminded of Gunga Din, a classic action movie based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling. Gunga is the hapless Indian servant of a British officer in British-colonial India; there are some huge differences, 'though, namely that the Gungans aren't occupied by either the Naboo or the Jedi, and that the idea of a "Life Debt" goes back to the Wookiees in the "Holiday Special" and most importantly, in TPM, "Life Debt" is a Gungan not a Jedi concept, Jar Jar see himself as indebted, not Qui-Gon, nor does Qui-Gon ever command Jar Jar to do menial tasks for him, indeed, he accepts the Gungan as a traveling companion with no restrictions or obligations; the only person he orders around is his Apprentice! The "life debt" actually comes from Earth cultures, and Lucas more than likely came across it through his interest in anthropology. Of course, film critics study movies, not cultures, and a lot of Star Wars simply goes over their heads...
  12. Darth_Harmon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 4, 2005
    star 3
    I saw the life debt as an homage to Han and Chewie, linking Qui-Gon and Jar Jar in a similar way. I actually sort of wish Qui-Gon lived to see Episode 2, it would have been fun to see their duo develop.
  13. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
    People are racists towards Transylvanian aliens?
  14. Jedi_Keiran_Halcyon Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 17, 2000
    star 6
    Lucas and Spielberg both grew up in the white middle class in the 50s, and most of their film output has been driven by a nostalgic reverence for the films of their youth. So yeah, racism gets in there, even if not on purpose.

    It's downright uncomfortable to read that transcript of the Raiders story meeting that leaked online a couple of years ago, the way they talk about "third-world sleazos" and the like.

    Is it awkward that Vader, the villain, is the only "black" guy in SW? Hell yes. The sf setting gives us some distance, so it's not nearly as nasty as the real-world racial dynamics of Rocky, but it's still unfortunate. Even Chewbacca conjures to mind Robinson Crusoe's Friday.

    That said, SW came out less than a decade after King's assassination. And Lucas seemed to take criticisms about this issue seriously, giving us Lando in the next film.

    What makes Jar-Jar so disappointing is that he's exactly the sort of caricature one might expect back in the 70s or earlier, except he shows up in a film made two decades later, when everyone involved should know better.

    Not that Lucas is alone in this by any means. Hollywood is far more conservative than its critics suggest.
  15. Drewton Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 8, 2009
    star 4
  16. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 4
    Seconded.

    Another unfortunate consequence of Star Wars -- from a certain POV, anyway -- is the way its conservatism in some areas, like, say, in the sexual union between Anakin and Padme, both trivializes and normalizes certain behaviour that exacts a terrible cost in real life. For instance, when Anakin and Padme meet back up in their first scene of ROTS, Padme announces she's pregnant, and Anakin is all smiles (well, sort of), and as the film later implicitly presents it, Anakin and Padme could have lived a happy life had things gone a little differently. Well, fine. The trouble, as I see it, is that not everyone wants to settle down so young, or necessarily should. Life is different. The last we saw of the two, they had tied the knot, and in their very next embrace, the girl is pregnant, so the idea of contraception is brushed away, ipso facto, as is the idea of any bedroom awkwardness or sexually-transmitted disease. These are all serious problems in modern-day society, however. As critics of the film have charged, Padme's personality is, in effect, nullified for most of the film, and she is generally portrayed as the doting, baby-carring wife. This sends out a regressive message in and of itself: "Girls, find a nice-looking guy and get yourself knocked up. As long as he isn't going to the Dark Side, you should have a good life together, because that's what boys and girls do, okay?" Now, is this reading too much into Star Wars? Too much; and too little. Art should be held accountable for its trangressions and limitatons; but that doesn't make the art faulty or worthless. Ironically, Lucas talks of prudence, and of being careful of the sorts of messages a film-maker sends out into the larger world, but this, ultimately, is folly. The artist should not be bound by the politically-correct thinking of the day; nor can he or she be. This is the price of ambiguity. "The boy's fate is uncertain, he's not dangerous."*

    *Or, put another way, as Plato wrote in "The Republic" (one of my all-time favourite quotations) --> "I do not mind telling you in confidence that all poetry is an outrage on the understanding, unless the hearers have that balm of knowledge which heals error."
  17. qui-gon-kim Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 19, 2001
    star 4
    The Clone Wars CG series seems to reinforce the use of different accents for alien races. For example, the Twilek speaking with French accents, and Even Piell having a Russian accent.
  18. Sword_Of_Goliath Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 22, 2010
    star 3
    Sorry, but apart from Temple of Doom, I don't see this. Chewie & Han are more like Butch & Sundance -- how one earth is Chewie like "Friday"?? And Darth Vader isn't "black" so you don't even have a point, he was voiced by the actor with the right, deep tones. His costume is "black" because the character represents the Dark Side, a spiritual/moral, not ethnic, concept in the SW films.

    Lucas has actually been ahead of most other filmmakers in having unique black characters who aren't stereotypes:

    Don Pedro as the Hologram in THX11, an innocent much like Jar Jar.
    Felix the talkative rock musician from More American Graffiti
    The black female race car driver from Droids
    Isaach De Bankole as Sgt. Barthelmy, an African WWI soldier from Young Indy
    The cleaning Lady who come sup with all the script ideas for the writers in Radioland Murders
    And Red Tails, an entirely black WW2 action movie

    I'm not seeing any racial stereotypes there, those all seem like unique characters fitted to the stories being told, not like stereotypes.

    While I agree that, to a certain extent, stereotypes were carried over from the pulps in the first two Indy movies, neither of these men are stupid, and I don't see Lucas as being blind to this. TOD was made during a bad time for both Lucas & Spielberg & a lot of negative feeling carried over to the film, but it's an unusual film for both of them.

    What is Jar Jar a caricature of?? A bipedal alien amphibian clown?
    As for Jar Jar resembling racial stereotypes, I think it depends on your frame of reference. I saw other things in the Gungans: Shakespeare, Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, the silent comedians, WB & Tex Avery cartoons, even Beatrix Potter. These are the kinds of things Lucas cited as influences, I don't see any reason to disbelieve him.
  19. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 4
    That's also a very good response.

    JKH did write "black" as presented: i.e., in quotation marks. The problem, if it is to be one, is that Vader is the original film's outlandish baddie, to the relatively "human" antagonists of Tarkin and the other Imperial officers. His "blackness" is a problem in relative terms. Because the original film is populated by a sea of white faces -- when they are human faces, that is -- it is easy for rare or unique contradictions or pseudo-contradictions (Vader's real face isn't shown, but he's human-like) to stand out by way of contrast. I think, to a large extent, this is also the problem with Jar Jar. Of the characters with any sizeable length of screen time, Jar Jar is unquestionably "black", to the "white" of everyone else. His dialect, his mannerisms, his bell-bottom trousers (the blaxploitation genre thrived in the 1970s), his pledging of total service to a white character of high authority, his stereotypically kind-hearted, loyal and guileless nature, the fact that he's called JAR JAR (mul
  20. Sword_Of_Goliath Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 22, 2010
    star 3
    I wonder why people saw "black" in a cartoon frog but no one talked about the stereotypes of "blacks" as efficient, kick-a**, intelligent, opinionated security officers (Panaka) or austere, wise, high ranking members of elite religious organizations, wielding executive power (Mace Windu).

    I don't see any kind of Rasta connection to the Gungans. Their religion seems to be a kind of animism descended from what was once a polytheistic, Hindu-like religion.

    Just want to also remind that "life debt" isn't an exclusively Gungan practice, and Jar Jar feels he owes it since Qui-Gon literally saves his life. And although he says, "I am your humble servant" there's nothing servile about his behavior: he openly questions the Jedi, even mocks their beliefs, corrects them when they're wrong, and chooses to be with his own people in the big battle, not with the Jedi. I'm also not sure that humbly serving someone to repay a kindness is in any way demeaning to anyone.

    Food for thought.

    It is interesting to think how Ahmed got trapped playing a hologramatic character in an electronic entertainment, like Don Pedro's character; I guess Lucas already knew what form entertainment would take in the future! He certainly had a hand in bringing it about. But unlike the programmed Hologram from TXH11, Best was able to collaborate on his character. But I doubt Jar Jar would fare much better in the real world than his forebear ;)
  21. Jedi_Keiran_Halcyon Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 17, 2000
    star 6
    Umm, because those *aren't* stereotypes, whereas "comically unintelligent and subservient ethnic sidekick" totally is?
  22. Alexrd Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 7, 2009
    star 5
    Why? Isn't that "racist"?
  23. Sword_Of_Goliath Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 22, 2010
    star 3
    Umm, because they are actually black humans & Jar Jar is an orange frog?

    Just about everyone in SW is "ethnic" i.e. not Caucasian: from Chewbacca to Jabba to the Ugnaughts & Gungans, Ewoks & Neimoidians etc. I don't see your point.

    I addressed the "subservient" thing - apart from him actually saying, "I'm your humble servant" please point out one servile thing Jar Jar does in the film. He doesn't carry Qui'Gon's stuff around, doesn't fetch anything for anyone, and is not quieted when he disagrees with the Jedi. Anakin is a slave, Jar Jar is not. The worst that can be said is that he's chastised for being hyperactive - but 3PO chastises R2 in the same way in all the films, so there's no apparent reason to see anything "racial" about that in TPM.

    But since you missed it by a mile, my point was: actual human black characters aren't presented as stereotypes in the film, why doesn't anyone note this, instead of focusing on one of the most clearly non-human characters in the movie?
  24. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 4
    I think the concern is that that's syphoned off to Jar Jar. And that seems to be implied in his name: stuff that would be out of place, or jarring, in other characters is, alternatively, laid on thick with a cartoon minstrel. Moreover, when we're introduced to the first black character of note in the OT, he's basically something of a pimp, and he ends up betraying his "friends" to save his own, er, skin. Race-relations-wise, Star Wars does not have a shiny record. But then, it's not really trying for one, is it? The general climate of Star Wars, maintained with satirical zest, is that of a whites-only club. Look at all the central human characters. Look at the changing of Supreme Chancellors. Look at the skin colour/ethnicity of all the people who've written, directed and produced these movies. Add in the generally-chilly way the other leads of TPM conduct themselves and Jar Jar can't help but stand out. It does seem that Lucas set out to create upset on purpose. But that's also what I love about Jar Jar and Lucas. Jar Jar is only as racist a construct as anyone chooses to see him; but they've been baited into seeing him a certain way. It's sort of like Palpatine encouraging Mace to attack him in his own office. Lucas laid a trap with Jar Jar, in my view, and incited people to see the worst and rationalize accordingly. "He's too offensive to be left alive!"
  25. Sword_Of_Goliath Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 22, 2010
    star 3
    Lando ain't no pimp! He's a "gambler, a scoundrel".
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