Seeing racism in Jar Jar is seeing phantom menace

June 05, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

CHILDREN of the world, you are surrounded by a confederacy of adult dunces.

So your parents take you out to see a movie. It just might be the one called "Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace." You see this funny-looking critter running around named Jar Jar Binks, talking in some unknown accent and providing the movie's comic relief. You figure the character is harmless and perhaps amusing.

Then those pain-in-the-butt grown-ups step in. Jar Jar Binks, according to this assortment of grinches who skipped childhood and went straight into curmudgeonhood, is neither funny nor cute.

Jar Jar Binks is a racial stereotype of black people. No, I'm not making this up. You can find this on the Internet, where a discussion is now raging about the racial and ethnic images of "The Phantom Menace." And people wonder why I refuse to read my e-mail.

Here's how one of the debate participants described the Jar Jar Binks character.

"A Southern American cotton pickin' Negro; clumsy, not too bright, but has a heart full of gold."

The Jar Jar Binks character belongs to a race of reptilian creatures called the Gungans. Here's how the writer described the Gungan leader, Boss Nass.

"Fat Zulu overlord; fierce warrior yet very ignorant (i.e., Zulu)."

One Internet user wrote that Jar Jar Binks had a "pseudo-Jamaican accent and ear flaps that looked like dreads," referring to the Rastafarian "dreadlock" hairdo. Another said the harmless Gungan was "a bumbling Rastafarian who provides `comic' relief" and whose " very ineptitude recalls clownish buckwheat characters from years past." The film's Trade Federation villains, to some folks, had Asian accents. Another character, a slaveholder and merchant, reminded some of Jews or Arabs.

Where were all these folks when Eddie Murphy's "Harlem Nights" came out back in the 1980s? All the white characters in that film were one of four things: a) evil; b) stupid; c) racist; d) evil, stupid and racist. Claiming they were too young doesn't get them off the hook. The movie has been on cable the past month. Several times. Perhaps these whiners need to take a break from the anti-Phantom Menace frenzy and give it a look.

Thank heavens these folks weren't around during my childhood and teen years to critique the movies I watched. They might have noticed several films that some might feel promote white supremacy.

"Hombre" -- Paul Newman starred as a white guy raised by Apaches. In one scene, two Apaches are being harassed by white bigots when Newman walks over and whacks one of the miscreants in the mouth with his rifle. Apaches are probably the finest fighting men America has produced. They need blue-eyed Newman to fight their battles for them? According to this film, they did.

"The Magnificent Seven" -- Seven gringos help hapless, brown-skinned Mexicans who can't protect themselves by defeating a band of 40 Mexican bandits. The Mexican ineptitude at fighting must have been lost on those Mexican-Americans who know that their ethnic group has a high proportion of military heroes.

"One Million Years B.C." -- A movie about prehistoric times in which members of the more advanced, civilized primitive tribe have blond hair and blue eyes, and the members of the savage tribe have dark hair and brown eyes.

"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" -- John Wayne as the rancher who shot the villain and Woody Strode as his ranch hand Pompey. At one point, Wayne refers to Strode's character as "my boy Pompey [at] the kitchen door."

"Planet of the Apes" -- Why do the orangutans, the brightest of the apes, all have blond fur and light faces? The chimpanzees, next on the totem pole, have brown fur and brown faces. The gorillas, at the bottom and perceived as not terribly bright, have black fur and black faces.

Some of you may look at these five examples and think I'm stretching things a bit, that my charges the films promote white supremacy aren't valid. That's the point. If I'm making a stretch, then the folks who see racial and ethnic stereotypes in "The Phantom Menace" are making leaps of logic so far afield that they can't even be measured in light years.

There's one other point I should mention about the five films above: I still enjoy them, in spite of their flaws. The folks who rail against perceived racial and ethnic stereotypes in "The Phantom Menace" should simply admit they just plain old don't like the movie. Making such wild accusations -- Jar Jar Binks a "cotton-pickin' Negro" indeed -- only makes more rational folks fearful that these nabobs of negativism can not only vote, but they can breed as well.

Pub Date: 6/05/99

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