Saturday, August 8, 2009

Willow Fail, Sinbad, Thinky Thoughts, Avatar

I adore the animated film: Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas. I have hazy memories of being told Sinbad stories before bed as a child; outrageous tales of giant birds and huge jewels and a sailor who pushed his luck to the limit. So I accepted the Hollywood version in the animated film, and only squinted a bit at the introduction of Eris and names like Syracuse and Thebes and the Grecian like cities.

It was all fantasy and fantastic.

And the new spin of this book that kept these cities safe; That was wonderful! Ok, it was also wonderful to see a greek goddesses I'd personally researched and learned about acting amazing up on screen and I adore Michelle Pfieffer as a villain.

The fail, however, is that Sinbad is Persian. ^ In his later tales,^ he was based out of Baghdad. He brought his tales and prizes back for a Caliph, not a Greco-Roman Prince or King. These are things I hadn't remembered from my childhood. And even though I easily accepted that this animated film was a Hollywood version, that obviously things were shifted and moved around or randomly included (Fiji, seriously) - I missed the most obvious.

No Caliph, no Baghdad, nothing Arabic Arab, no Persian, no ^Basrah, nothing generally^ Middle Eastern at all*.

And until I started writing this, I hadn't seriously thought about the fact that the brownest character is named 'Rat'.

There are many things I adore about the movie; the animation mix of cgi effects with 2-d drawings, the voice acting and Michelle P specifically, the interesting world (building) hinted at, the way a goddess' interactions with mortals is so seamless a mix of reality and the fantastique, the goddess' very motivations as well. And there are things I ignore in the movie that make it more personal to me, forming my own narrative (Princess Molina loves freedom and self determination and the sea more than either of the two main men in her life - for example). But even having a personal narrative inserted in-between the animation's cells doesn't change what's missing.

Persia is missing. ^As are the later Arabic influences on Sinbad's story^. The metropolis of Bagdhad is missing. The recognition that in the Middle East was a civilization as advanced as the Greeks, maybe more so, is missing. An Arab Middle Eastern hero is missing. I missed it completely. I never knew it was there. Hollywood overwrote my hazy childhood memories. Hollywood overwrote it with whitewashing.

There are people who believe that China and Japan were not immensely complicated and mechanically and technologically advanced civilizations before Western intrusion. There are people who don't know the Chinese invented a repeat action crossbow, or had some of the best armor known to man for ages. There are people who do not know that when the Dark Ages befell Europe and Rome fell, the Middle East did not fall with it, but persevered against the plague and continued to innovate and philosophise (look up: The Byzantine Empire ^and prior to that see Mesopotamia and the Persian Empire and environs^). Movies make it really easy for them to think these things. Movies re-write their brains to accept white and western innovation everywhere. Movies do so with pictures, with visuals that create a strong connection to things like the dark skinned villain and the need for the natives to have a honkey come save them.

I failed totally to even question why a Greek goddess was showing up in a tale. I automatically put it into the context of 'Greek Influenced Fantasy World Alternate Universe'. And I'm an adult.

Everything Avatar: The Last Airbender did to create a visual association of Asian and First Nations characters with heroics, long unbroken history, determination (of self, and clan), loyalty, innovation and love is being overwritten by the whitewashed live action movie. It puts things back into the context of white innovation, white inspired technology, white heroics and white self determination.

Each step is invasive and an assault.


Overwriting to white default.

And just like how I failed with Sinbad, some people are going to fail with The Last Airbender. And they likely will never find their way out of it. For them, this is the way things have been, always; white heroes, white chosen ones. And if someone does try to point it out to them, they're going to become extremely defensive; retaliate even.

Y'see, I know it doesn't change who I am that I missed what I missed. I know it means I was affected by the world. I know it means I had a moment of swallowing what I was handed without questioning it. And I know it means I need to be that much more vigilant in the future. But for someone who thinks that it's more about them personally, their personal likes and dislikes, their personal failings without any opportunity to grow and change - to admit to having failed is a defeat in a war being waged to bolster their egoes.

Talk about invisible societal pressure. And on top of that - no one likes letting their team down.

{Post inspired by this Racilicious article and this linked article about Dreamworks' whitewashed Sinbad.}

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*Note: It was brought to my attention that it is offensive to include Persians under the heading of Arab/s/ic. I'm currently looking to see the best way to correct my wording. Correction #1#2 is up for the moment.

My mistake? Persians are not Arabs. Just like Trinidadians are not Jamaicans, though both contain people from the Caribbean with unique accents. This is my lack of knowledge and my swallowing 'monolith brown desert people' unthinkingly. Truthfully learning the difference between Farsi and Arabic should have clued me in. Also Mesopotamia -> Eastern Roman Empire aka Byzantine Empire. Though I admit I was thinking 'Eastern Roman Empire' in the first place.

ETA: Got rid of small text in note Aug 30th. .