Trans-Coon-ers.

rotf-skids-head

Here’s my prediction: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will do huge first-week numbers, based on awe-inspiring trailer footage, then rapidly descend in flames from orbit, as people share with friends that the film is a stinking, heaving pile of constipated rhinoceros feces.

Transformers: ROTF, which opens today, is a narrative and conceptual mess. But this is neither surprising nor the greatest of its blames. It is, at critical moments, visually incomprehensible—and this from someone who considered the faceted clatter of the first film’s shifting multiplanes, at moments, symphonic. But this is the least of its faults.

Mudflap and SkidsWhat offends is how gleefully the film endorses crude racism, serving up, not one, but two near-buckdancing, shiftless Black stereotypes—the sambots, as one reviewer adeptly punned, Skids, top and above right, and his twin (get this), Mudflap. Their insertion reveals how clearly insulated the white people who work at Paramount and for director Michael Bay appear to be in their racial supremacy. This also shows how out of touch they must be with developing, changing American and world tastes in entertainment. (That, without even getting into what will surely be Afrocentric outrage at key scenes of desecration.)

Let me put it this way: I saw Transformers on a massive, five-story high Imax screen with a crowd of expectant, excited, average New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s. The biggest response that night was for the Imax trailer which precedes the showing of each film. Throughout the entire movie, no one cheered, no one gasped, no one did much of anything. There were a few laughs, but even the small number of guffaws we heard for ROTF‘s desperately unfunny, jive-talking duo seemed concentrated to a few hillbillies strafed over and behind my right shoulder.

jazz-botRemember Jazz, right, the windmilling, beatbox-blaring Autobot from Transformers? You may, or may not, because, though a groan-inducing aspect of the first film, he wasn’t continuously on screen.

As escorts of Shia LaBeouf’s and Megan Fox’s lead characters, Skids and Mudflap seem to be everywhere, bantering, fighting each other…sheesh. The only thing they don’t do is shoot craps and eat chicken with watermelon. At one moment, even, LaBeouf’s character asks the two if they can read a robotic script that will reveal crucial information. “Uh, we don’t do too much readin’,” one drawls. Nail. Coffin. I’m guessing somewhere at Industrial Light & Magic, the almost utterly white special effects firm for ROTF which typically does such mind-boggling work, there’s a gag reel of the gold-toothed Skids pulling a 40-ounce from his Chevrolet Beat cooler as Mudflap nervously fingers a switchblade. Like, to which part of the car, into which Skids transforms, does a gold tooth conform?

Of course, ILM is also the company that, a decade ago, gave the world Jar Jar Binks, in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Ironically, however, in comparison, Skids and Mudflap make Jar Jar Binks look like Gandhi. Which means that we’re going backwards, not forwards, in the depiction of ethnicity in films.

hes-just-not-that-into-you-posterBut it bears ongoing repetition: ROTF‘s sloppy boilerplate is not the key way race is conveyed in movies, anymore. The predominant way people in Hollywood both reinforce and refine white supremacy is by the manner least commented upon, but most obvious, once you notice it: Their relentless focus on white people, right, emphasizing them, accentuating them, centering them in everything that is meaningful and important, and mostly including Black people so they can serve as on-ramps for white people’s planetary self-absorption; their 20-20 navel-gazing. (Of course, this is supported by an entire infrastructure of white movie executives, financiers, critics, and others.)

By filling movies with white people, telling stories through white characters, making them diverse in mode, occupation, and outlook, especially when compared to non-white characters—by projecting them as dominant when they are, in fact, recessive; most humans are brown females—an understanding is rendered: White people are the smartest, most beautiful, most important beings of which we know. This understanding, in entertainment, serves an understanding of white people in all areas of activity by people: economics, education, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war, as that understanding, in those other areas, serves each other area.

Indeed, this aspect of race is so foundational that, like water to a fish, it typically doesn’t seem worth noting, because it’s omnipresent. Transformers: ROTF irritates, then, because, as well as maintaining film history’s pallid hue, and serving race that way, it goes an extra, unnecessary step to nastily reinforce what white media say, wordlessly, already all the time: White people are the smartest…. Or, as Salt from Salt ‘n’ Pepa once said to me of an increasingly trifling boyfriend, “‘You’re already being mean, but now you’re just being cruel.’”

"Southern Fried Rabbit," 1953You know those really offensive Warner Bros. cartoons, like 1953′s Southern Fried Rabbit, right, with scenes so vile that, when they show them today on TV, they edit the repulsive parts out?

If there’s any justice in the world, and that’s doubtful, a future, more enlightened generation will one day digitally erase Skids and Mudflaps from every RAW file of footage, deeming them too retrograde for an ethnically sophisticated and interconnected world. The movie, of course, already a noisy jumble, wouldn’t miss a thing.

That imagery so out of date can be built into a piece of entertainment so technologically advanced should tell us that there is something about racism that has nothing to do with how educated white people are, or even sophisitcated they become. I don’t want to get all corny and say that, like Optimus Prime, humans need moral heart transplants, so to speak, but, actually, I think the leader of the Autobots might be on to something.

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19 comments ↓

#1 Will on 06.24.09 at 4:23 pm

The more things change the more they stay the same.

The funny sidekick (also the doomed cool sidekick), the angry police sargeant, the stereotypes continue as if nothing ever happened. Bad guys are either English, played by English actors or black (or played by an English black actor!)

Hollywood entertains the masses by playing on their prejudices, so Hollywood is only partly to blame, those that carry on seeing films by racist actors or directors are just as bad for putting money in their pockets.

#2 Marc Clark on 06.24.09 at 4:43 pm

A very insightful commentary….though I have not seen the movie ( and really liked the first one), all the images and quotes you cite woudl really piss me off.

further your observation that Hollywood is killing us softly, i.e. not-so-benign neglect—is absolutely right. When you even look at street scenes and crowd scenes in some SF films, directors act like people of color aren’t worthy of getting paid as extras….in fact, one can now see the translation of critics’ slavish love of Blade Runner’s \gritty (faux street) realism\ as really a gut reaction to the appearance of so many Asians and Latinos in the backdrop of street scenes (Edward James Olmos) (NO Blacks??) In future San Francisco as \artistic\ instead of realistic…..flash forward to Battlestar Galactica Remade and –lo and behold–Edward James Olmos is the star—still, sadly, no Black leads or recurring co-stars….even the 1970s episodes had Blacks in recurring roles…

The more things change….I will lose it if CGI autobots start acting thuggish…but it’s okay–in space, no one can hear you scream…(or cry)

#3 CDF on 06.24.09 at 9:20 pm

Yeah, I remember watching “Southern Fried Rabbit” as a kid in its unedited version along with countless others. An observation I made of “Mudflap” and “Skids” is with those names, it appears to be a slant on stereotypical southern “trailer-park” or “rural” dwellers. I just can’t connect names like that with the overused, played-out hip-hop thug. Of course, this observation goes into class/ethnic territory, but it’s the same childish game. Of course, I’m from the south, so my opinion may differ from others, but I’m thinking trucks and DUI’s with those names…and yeah, they dropped the ball on “Jazz”!

#4 IAMKingWilliams on 06.24.09 at 11:08 pm

True story. I gave my TV away. And a picture of me has settle within its place.

#5 Jasiri on 06.25.09 at 12:11 am

Ether

#6 Che on 06.25.09 at 9:18 am

Wow…complians about racism, and then uses a racially charged term like “hillbillies”. Way to practice what you preach. The real problem is that people tend to get there panties in a bunch over stuff like this not because it actually offends, but becasue they want some sort of pay off for some imagined offense or an offense that occurred to someone else. This is what I like to call the Pussification of America. Tell me, how this is any different than anything the Wayan brothers do in any of their recent movies?

#7 Paradise Gray on 06.25.09 at 11:34 am

How is this different than Wanyans?

You make a great point! It does not differ much at all.

If the Wayans didn’t do this stereotypical bull crap, they would have no movies at all.

When was the last time you went to see a good African American drama produced by Hollywood, Che????

#8 Ray Winbush on 06.25.09 at 11:59 am

Harry, thanks again for a great commentary on racism/white supremacy. Just posted this on my FB page.

#9 Deuce on 06.25.09 at 12:16 pm

@ Che:

You can’t be serious!! Call it what you like; just know that it’s a legitimate complaint.

#10 the cowboy on 06.25.09 at 12:29 pm

Um, yeah… Is there a “race” of “hillbillies”? If so, that would be truly awesome. Maybe they are born with long beards, overalls and a corncob pipe in their mouth. I think that “hillbillies” is more of a regional/socioeconomic term, isn’t it? What do I know, though – I’m pretty “pussified” when it comes to “Imagined offenses”… Anyhoo – I’d like to think that the kind of bottom-feeder chuckles that Bay and his crew are trying to elicit do nothing more than alienate them from their audience and result in a less than stellar box office draw.

#11 Eddie_T_Head on 06.25.09 at 12:55 pm

I don’t agree with his assesment and I find it odd that people say racist as if to say. WAIT all people who look like that and talk like that are BLACK! Wait isn’t that racist to think that? I think the intent was to make fun of popular culture. Been to a Soulja boy concert latley? Or the Insane Clown Posse? No I haven’t either and now you know why… Read More. Has nothing to do with Race has to do with poking fun of that hip hop (whatever you want to call it mentality) Why is it soooooo off limits in this society. I wasn’t aware that all hip hop street talking people are a race. But hey it’s ok to rip on Goth’s because their culture isn’t a race either. Remember if a robot had a black dress on and eye make up and spoke \WOE IS ME\ no one would have an issue. Double Standard.

#12 Ray Winbush on 06.25.09 at 3:02 pm

@Che,

I deplore both Wayans AND Bay. Just because a person is Black does not exempt them from their strong support of white supremacy and the Wayans fall squarely into that category.

You seem to be dismissing the white supremacy of this stupid film just because “Blackfolk do it too”.

How silly…

#13 Colin on 06.25.09 at 4:27 pm

What concerned me most was that during the film the only people cheering for Skids and Mudflap were African Americans. Not only do Caucasians need to stop including these racist representations of ethnicities in film, but the ethnicities being objectified need to step up and refuse to accept racist dopplegangers. Stereotypes are a useful and often positive part of storytelling in popular media and can provide a simple and efficient way of expressing qualities of a character. However, racist/ classist stereotypes of Black Americans, as well as other socio- and economic groups, have been prevalent in popular media for as long as popular media has existed. This practice is entirely unnecessary and that will not change for the positive until films like “Soul Plane” and “Larry the Cable Guy,” to name only two examples, are no longer accepted by the groups being “lampooned.” I was appalled that anyone, especially the groups being targeted, could have found humor in these two characters who are so obviously targeted to maintain the classist divide that allows these stereotypes to exist.

#14 GetOverIt on 06.25.09 at 11:35 pm

People like Dave Chapelle (who is funny as hell) make fun of white people AND black people…stereotypes are just stereotypes….get over it and lighten up.

#15 Greezer on 06.26.09 at 7:55 am

You “coon bots” article is dead on, but hollywood has always portayed blacks in a negative way because they know that most white audiences like it that way. White guys are coming up short in the “manily” stuff (sports) so they have to demean those whom they feel threaten by … black and hispanics. Remember, some white kids believe “Rocky” actually was a heavyweight fighter. I will recommend black folks only see this movie on a bootlegged DVD … how’s that for a stereotype. Everytime some good ole boy call you “buddy” it’s just attempt at demeaning and knowing that calling you “boy” may get their ass kicked. If you’re expecting white H’wood producers boost black egos your expectations are misplaced. I’m glad to see the “coon bots” so that black people can be reminded to watch their backs. Folks still want blacks to play marginal roles, are are working to make it happen. My gripe is their are blacks willing to buck tooth for them.

#16 NAPALM on 06.28.09 at 1:22 pm

Hmmm, I guess what’s most troubling to me is many peoples natural assumption that these characters are “black” in the first place. I think this may actually say more about your mindstate than that of the movie’s creators. Why would you automatically associate a gold tooth, bad grammar and ignorance with being black??? Obviously you never seen some of the rednecks down South. Now, to be truthful, my first natural association of these characters was with being Ghetto, which means they could be of any “race”, just Ghetto. So people lets check ourself first and stop giving others the power to define you…. Now if the characters had 12 foot mechanically penises and were cited in the movie as the forefathers of all autobotkind well then I might have assumed them to be black…LOL!!!

#17 CDF on 06.29.09 at 2:55 pm

@NAPALM#15

LOL!

It does get tiresome chasing ghosts around as if these movie makers even cared…and yeah, the number of gold caps on teeth I’ve seen down this way on all sorts of folks is some “LOL” material.

#18 Retards on 06.30.09 at 11:08 am

I totally agree with NAPALM. You guys are assuming that a Red and Green ROBOT (not even human, with no coloring) is a black person. Well just to inform you that the Red and Green robot you think is black is actually voiced by a black and white person. Along with that I know a lot of white people that talk the same way, its called slang. The problem with this country is they find everything that people say or do and call it racist. Would you call a white person speaking like these robots racist, NO its perfectly acceptable. How would you portray a british robot, I think you would have the robot speak british. If people are going to complain when a robot is speaking ghetto then I see no reason in having every movie in america be strictly white people speaking with no accents at all. STOP complaining

#19 Jay on 07.03.09 at 7:05 pm

I totally concur with the assessment of this BS flick.
And it’s not white supremacy, it’s not ignorance, it’s white insecurity, which I wish the afflicted would get over already.

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