Oldspeak:“21st Century Blacksploitation Cinema in all its Hi Definition, Dolby Digital infamy. Wow.”
Ok, so I know I’m a year late, but as a hard core Transformers Geek (religiously watched the original animated series, owned the toys, cried when I saw Optimus Prime get killed by Megatron in the original and by far best “Transformers: The Movie” in the theater in 1986), profoundly disappointed by the last newfangled Michael Bay debacle “Transformers”, I finally forced myself to watch “Transformers: Rise Of The Fallen” last nite. One word: ABYSMAL.
Michael Bay was at it again, with his trademark visually incomprehensible action scenes, and completely nonsensical plot. That’s fine. I have no problem watching shitty movies for the special effects. But what really baked my noodle was the addition of two characters who were presumably created to replace the original and only black autobot “Jazz” who was unceremoniously ripped in half and killed by Megatron in the first Transformers: “Skids” and “Mudflap”.
I had a hard time wrapping my head around what I was seeing: Literally, large eared, bug eyed, bumbling, apelike, jive talkin about bussin a cap in ya ass, gold teeth wearing, fist bumping, constantly fighting each other robotic sambos who couldn’t read. In 2010. No bullshit. See for yourself.
Brought to you by animation studio Industrial Light and Magic; the same people who created the infamous Jar Jar Binks (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace)
Granted, there were non-coon black characters in the film (Tyreese, as a special forces soldier being the most prominent one, who curiously had less screen time than the Robocoons), but I had to ask myself some questions. Is this how Michael Bay and Paramount Pictures see black people? Why were there no other obviously ethnically identifiable transformers depicted, with their particular stereotypes? Why were the most negative stereotypes about black people chosen to create these characters, who serve no real purpose?
The most disturbing thing about this is what Michael Bay had to about his unfortunate choices. He apparently does not disagree with charges that the characters are stereotypical, but claims “I purely did it for kids, young kids love these robots, because it makes it more accessible to them.” Wow. Fancy that. A minstrel show makes the movie more accessible to kids. Awesome. “We’re just putting more personality in,” Bay told the Associated Press. “I don’t know if it’s stereotypes – they are robots, by the way. These are the voice actors. This is kind of the direction they were taking the characters and we went with it.”
This was “kinda the direction they were taking the characters and we went with it”. Right. As though this happened spontaneously. As thought the voice actors didn’t see the characters or the script and weren’t directed to say what they said how they said it. Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman said they followed Bay’s lead in creating the twins. But according to Bay “we went with it”. Unfortunately for us, Orci and Kurtzman weren’t able to squeeze in a few of Bay’s other ideas, like Squint, a “math bot” who’s bad at driving, or Grease Spot, an Autobot who can transform into a Puerto Rican flag and spends all day on his stoop “being loud.” 😐
As Sandy Cohen at the Huffington Post reported:
Hollywood has a track record of using negative stereotypes of black characters for comic relief, said Todd Boyd, a professor of popular culture at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, who has not seen the “Transformers” sequel.
“There’s a history of people getting laughs at the expense of African-Americans and African-American culture,” Boyd said. “These images are not completely divorced from history even though it’s a new movie and even though they’re robots and not humans.”
American cinema also has a tendency to deal with race indirectly, said Allyson Nadia Field, an assistant professor of cinema and media studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“There’s a persistent dehumanization of African-Americans throughout Hollywood that displaces issues of race onto non-human entities,” said Field, who also hasn’t seen the film. “It’s not about skin color or robot color. It’s about how their actions and language are coded racially.”
If these characters weren’t animated and instead played by real black actors, “then you might have to admit that it’s racist,” Robinson said. “But stick it into a robot’s mouth, and it’s just a robot, it’s OK.”
But if they’re alien robots, she continued, “why do they talk like bad black stereotypes?”
Bay brushes off any whiff of controversy.
“Listen, you’re going to have your naysayers on anything,” he said. “It’s like is everything going to be melba toast? It takes all forms and shapes and sizes.”
Seriously Mr. Bay? Really? Stop Yourself.