Whitewashing The Sapphires

I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen The Sapphires, 2012’s feelgood Australian movie about a quartet of Aboriginal singers in the ’60s.  I was quite broke when it came out — or, more accurately, I was squirrelling every spare dollar I had into my savings, what with going to North America in November — and I’m just really slack about seeing movies that aren’t taking up 80% of my Tumblr dash at any one time.  (And one day we will talk about the fact that the supposedly media-savvy and sophisticated base that is Tumblr fandom lap up every blockbuster that can afford to promote itself at Comic-Con.)

This is what the Australian advertising material and DVD cover looks like:

A full colour photo depicting four Aboriginal women, with a white dude in the background.
The Sapphires – Australian edition

This is not, in my opinion, an especially great poster.  It’s crowded and the framing is awkward, probably because it’s arranged to put Jessica Mauboy (an Australian Idol finalist and successful pop singer) in the most prominent position.  It also looks like several pictures have been photoshopped together, although maybe that’s just because Deborah Mailman, on the far right, has the steely-eyed look of a superheroine going undercover in a girl-group, and any minute now she’s going to rip off her sequinned dress and reveal her true identity.  Man, I would watch that movie so hard.

Nevertheless, we have the four women of colour after whom the film is named, and the sole white man lurking in the background.  Notice that his tie is crooked and his facial expression is gormless.  Or maybe that’s just the effect of the dead mouse on his lip.

This is the North American DVD cover:

In the foreground, a dynamic looking white guy. In the background, coloured blue, four Aboriginal women.
The North American version.

So this is kind of awkward, right?  Suddenly Chris O’Dowd, White Guy, is in the foreground, looking incredibly dapper and dynamic.  He’s captured mid-dance, tie straight, chin covered in fashionable contemporary stubble, as opposed to the schlubby stubble of the first picture.  The four lead actresses are relegated to blue-shaded panels in the background.  How blue?  You can no longer tell that Shari Sebbens, the member of the quartet with the lightest skin, is a woman of colour at all.

Suddenly, The Sapphires looks like a movie about a white man and his four … possessions?  Objects?  Tickets to personal fame and glory?  Who can say?  With the addition of designer stubble, only the height of Miranda Tapsell’s hair (far right) let’s us know this film doesn’t have a contemporary setting.  (And O’Dowd’s jacket, I suppose, but I saw a guy wearing a jacket like that just last week.)

The especially annoying bit is that, purely in terms of design, this is a much better poster than the Australian version.  The composition overall is better and clearer — just, you know, kind of racist and sexist.

Finally, here’s the North American soundtrack art:

The four women and Chris O'Dowd are dancing. O'Dowd is still in the centre, looking unreasonably cool.
The North American soundtrack cover.

This, I think, is a lot better than the DVD art — we still have Chris O’Dowd looking stubbly and cool in the very centre of things (it may in fact be the exact same picture in both versions, just photoshopped into a different colour — it’s hard to tell without a high-res version), but at least Mailman, Mauboy, Sebbens and Tapsell are actually present and not Smurf-coloured.

(I just realised that the blue panels on the DVD cover are taken straight from this picture, so yes, it’s probably the same picture of O’Dowd as well.  Interesting that this artwork wasn’t used for that.)

It’s curious to note that one universal factor across all this artwork is that Shari Sebbens is in the background.  She’s on the far left in the Australian version and second from the right in the North American DVD, but either way, she’s relegated to the back row.  This is particularly odd in Australia, where Sebbens is a rising star.

Is she in the background because light-skinned Aboriginal people are less “authentic”?  (There was a lawsuit about this a couple of years ago.  It was amazing, and I totally recommend Justice Bromberg’s judgment.  Seriously, it’s not just interesting, it’s a surprisingly good read!)  On the other hand, is Sebbens’ growing fame because she’s light-skinned and has European features?  Race and the politics thereof is hugely complicated in Australia.  (And I do realise that I’ve accused the US artwork of simultaneously whitewashing and possibly backgrounding a light-skinned woman.  IT’S COMPLICATED.)

Now, I haven’t seen The Sapphires, although suddenly I have an idea of what I’m going to be doing this afternoon, so it could simply be that Sebbens’ character has the smallest role in the movie.  But it makes me wonder just a little.

The, uh, interesting qualities of the US DVD cover were pointed out in this post at FlickFilosopher.  Some of the comments (yes, I read them) argue that this is just a factor of capitalism and marketing:  you want your movie to sell, you put a familiar face in the foreground.

That has an element of truth, although I’m pretty sure someone with a more extensive knowledge of movie advertising could point to lots of successful movies without familiar names and faces on their advertising.  But I query the necessity of foregrounding O’Dowd so much, and using colour filters to obscure the lead actresses.  If the soundtrack art had been used for the DVD cover, I might have rolled my eyes, but I wouldn’t have been moved to make this post.

[How moved was I?  Halfway through writing this up, there was a knock at the door and my copy of the Legend of Korra art book arrived.  AND I HAVEN’T EVEN OPENED THE BOX.]

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Pax Australia: A girl-friendly perspective

Last weekend marked the inaugural Australian Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), a gaming and gaming culture convention that has been running in the US since 2004.

Now, I don’t self-identify as a gamer because, uhhm, I’m afraid I’ll be called a fake geek girl.  THERE, I SAID IT.  I loved Portal and Portal 2, I’m onto my second play-through of Mass Effect and I have the next two ME games queued up and waiting, and I have a copy of Dragon Age around here somewhere.  And I’m great at Bejewelled.

But for the longest time I didn’t play games at all, because I grew up in a house without consoles (or handheld devices, or even, until I was 16, a PC), and by the time I reached adulthood I was quite convinced that games were hard, and I was bad at them, and therefore gaming would not be a fun way to spend my time.  Also, gaming culture looks pretty toxic from the outside.

What I’ve discovered in the last couple of years is that difficulty settings can be adjusted, I’m not inherently bad at games, and gaming culture is in fact pretty toxic.

A lot of that toxicity seems to be both reflected and perpetuated by Penny Arcade.  I first heard of them when the Dickwolves issue erupted.  This Tumblr post documents general Penny Arcade issues in detail, with a timeline that goes up to 2013.  A lot of the problems seem to stem from the fact that PA has evolved from a fannish outlet to something more professional, without a corresponding development of professional behaviour.  This seems to happen a lot in nerddom, and understandably so — it’s really hard to step back and go, “Hey, my hobby has turned into something bigger and suddenly I’m speaking for a community.”

Problems started to develop around PAX Australia when a panel was announced with the following blurb:

Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic, and involve any antagonist race aside from Anglo-Saxon and you’re called a racist. It’s gone too far and when will it all end?

That came out just a couple of weeks after I programmed Continuum, and I was deeply impressed at how it represented everything I had tried to avoid.

Panellists and companies started pulling out in protest, including the Fullbright Company (whose upcoming game, Gone Home, by the way, sounds amazing and I am going to play it so hard).  

Mere days after the program was released, a senior Penny Arcade spokesman made a series of transphobic comments, some of which came under the banner of “some of my best friends are trans”.

Ben McKenzie blogs eloquently here about the issues he had with PAX and the reasons he and Pop Up Playground pulled out of the con.

A bunch of my friends and acquaintances made it to PAX Australia, though, and Steph and I put out a call for a con report that we could share on No Award.  The excellent Tole responded, and I think she gives an interesting and useful review of PAX Australia.

Pax Australia 2013 – A Girl Friendly Perspective

Tole

Penny Arcade Expo, usually referred to as PAX, is an annual American gaming expo from the creators of the Penny Arcade comic.  PAX attracts a very loyal fan base, because of its focus on community.  They do have a expo hall where the various companies show off their games, but they also have an extensive board game library, an impressive collection of vintage consoles, and a whole swarm of PCs and modern consoles set up for people to play.  This makes it different from both standard fan-run and commercial conventions, but if you go with people you know, or can overcome any social reticence, it can be a pretty rewarding experience.

The first PAX Australia drew two main criticisms that I heard about.  The first critique was the queues for the major panels.  Personally, I didn’t even try and attend any panels because I expect the queues to be ridiculous.  However since many Australian fans may not have even heard about things like San Diego Comic Con this might come as a bit of a shock.  

[Liz here!  Even those of us who have heard of SDCC might have trouble getting our heads around the queuing involved there.  I presume no one at PAX was starting to queue at 1 in the morning to ensure a place in a panel, as a couple of friends of mine did at SDCC.  Australian media cons in general don’t have a huge panel culture, and a lot of people might have been taken by surprise by the demand.]

In general, the lines were handled very well.  They had a specific room for people to queue in, they had a specific twitter account set up to warn people when queues were nearing capacity, and they mostly told people when they wouldn’t make it into a panel because a queue was too long.  I think the fact that there were times where people waited in queues for over an hour and then didn’t get into panels is pretty unfortunate.  

When confronted with the issue in a Q & A, Mike and Jerry’s answer was that they chose Melbourne because it had larger venues to expand into, that their first con in every city had been small, and that they thought it would be less of an issue next year.   

The second issue was the booth babes, models that are hired to stand around not wearing much and enticing male gamers to visit their stands.  I attended PAX with a pretty naive male friend, and even he was insulted by this concept when I explained it to him.  The salt in the wound of the booth babes’ presence was that this is something that PAX have been trying to combat, and that gamers were assured PAX Australia would not feature booth babes.  Yet the Sennheiser booth had fake cops and a booth where you could take photos with them, and the World of Tanks booths had women in short army uniforms over leggings.  

When asked about this Mike and Jerry said that it’s something the large exhibitors just do by default.  When told not to, they think it’s a joke and when the models turn up and are asked to put some clothes on they are surprised.  

I think what happened in this particular situation is that the exhibitors listened to the letter not the spirit of the request.  Technically, neither set of girls were wearing revealing clothing.  The World of Tanks at least gets some points for having their girls in uniforms that matched the theme of their game, but the Sennheiser girls were pretty offensive not just for the concept that had nothing to do with games, but for actively approaching male gamers and encouraging them to take pictures.  It was all extremely icky, and I think that most people felt that way, so I’m hoping it generated enough bad press for Sennheiser that they learn their lesson.  

[An interjection from Liz: we use Sennheiser headphones in my office, and I’ve been side-eyeing my own desk ever since I read this!]

Apart from that, there wasn’t anything that made me feel uncomfortable as a girl.  There were plenty of other girls around everywhere, not a majority, but enough that I didn’t feel out of place.  There were plenty of female cosplayers, some in revealing outfits, and I didn’t hear stories about any of them having problems.  I really hope this is because it didn’t happen, rather than because they didn’t talk about it, but I guess you can never really know.  

I didn’t notice a lot of people from non-Caucasian backgrounds, and while there were a few wheelchair users present, the number of displays that featured computers on standing desks meant the expo hall part of the convention, at least, wasn’t actually accessible.  

The games being displayed were fairly gender neutral.  I didn’t see anything being branded as boy games or girl games except for some sort of comment about ‘manning up’ during the Xbox panel.  I think Riot deserve a mention for featuring both a boy character and a girl character on each of the five designs of promotional lanyards they gave away, because small details like that are what make me really happy.  

[Another interjection from Liz: my new hobby is bemoaning the absence of fem!Shep from any Mass Effect marketing material, so that is quite pleasing.]

There were two games that I noticed as having memorable female characters (apologies if there were other that don’t come to mind right now).  The first is Ninja Pizza Girl by Disparity games.  Somewhat inspired by Mirror’s Edge (without the frustrating bits), it’s a game with a kick-arse female protagonist who runs and jumps her way across buildings to hand deliver pizza.  With witty dialogue, and a message of ‘It’s okay to speak up when someone is making you uncomfortable’ I think it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The other game is Freedom Fall by Stirfire Studios, where the antagonist is a princess who hates princessey things and instead loves dragons and designing diabolical traps.  A really interesting down-scrolling platform game with the story told through messages left on the walls.  It’s a pretty tough game, but nice to see girls that don’t have to be girlie all the time, and don’t completely reject their feminine side either.

*

Massive thanks to Nicole for her write-up!  I have to admit that I’m glad to hear that the actual event itself was better than the build-up promised.  I hope that future PAX events aren’t accompanied by pre-con fail, because Penny Arcade is effectively a cultural leader in gaming, and a more inclusive, less *ist and *phobic community is something gaming badly needs.

this thing we are doing (a manifesto)

Hey so I wanted to talk about why I am so excited about this blog!

When I was 14, I picked up Sabriel, by Garth Nix. Sabriel lived on one side of the Wall but always knew she belonged to both sides and was singled out for it in both places. Despite living in a fantasy world, with her dark hair and her dark eyes and written, as she was, by an Australian author, I knew deep in my heart that she was a mixed-race Australian girl, just like me.

Science fiction and fantasy was always my safe place, as a kid; a place where my idiosyncrasies were nothing more than that, where my brown skin and my black hair weren’t out of place. I read, almost exclusively in English, and I could always find some kid with dark hair, some girl with olive skin. I knew exactly what our future held: a whole lot of mixed kids, amorphous brown kids of varying hues, just like me, and also space ships.

Instead, the science fiction future I have found myself in is a sea of scientifically improbable white faces, and I have sadly and with deep regret left most English-language fantasy behind to its its fae and its beautiful red heads and its dragons shaped all wrong. I found myself drifting away despite my wishes: disillusioned by yet another Anglo-Celtic barely veiled Arthurian dragony thing with some barbarous coloured people and a whole lot of white people (GoT, I’m looking at you); surrounded by  humans on colonising, conquesting adventures through time and space. I started reading Chinese SF instead, but as a first generation adventurer into the world while that’s an option for me that’s not an option for all brown kids in an English-language world.

In 2011 I was on a panel at Continuum called The Dark Side of Steampunk. During it I ranted and I waved my hands and I’m pretty sure I nearly ended up in fisticuffs with other panelists over the things about which they were wrong (everything, but especially race and ethnicity) and afterwards someone I had never met, someone not white, had come up to me and, shaking, told me how happy they were that I had said every word.

Earlier that year The Wind-Up Girl was the Swancon bookclub book; at the panel discussing it, the bad bits were brushed aside so time could be spent on the good bits, and I sat there, choking on my loathing.

I have felt uncomfortable in Australian fandom for a long time. I go to cons, but I feel ill at ease, and as the years have gone by I have become more and more angry that I have to negotiate these spaces, these discussions where I am invisible, where to be of colour is to be the other, where male voices are the default, where I have educate rather than debate.

So in 2013 I chaired a Continuum. It is one of the biggest things I have ever done. I invited two non-white Guests of Honour (though in the end, only one was able to come), and everybody who came on board the committee was told in explicit words exactly what I wanted to achieve. I understand that it’s a slow process, an ongoing process. This year I was so proud of the programme we put together, its focus on putting all sorts of views forward and expanding horizons and challenging assumptions and even doing the 101 work, which I don’t mind doing. The panel simply titled “Social Justice 101” overflowed out the door and certainly was too full, but it worked and it challenged the people in my SFF community and for that I am grateful. This blog is a direct outlet of that, a direct result of that panel and the success of this con.

I kept my plans secret, for a while, aside from telling my committee. But in the programme I said it outright. My welcome was:

Our theme this year is Contraindicators. Speculative fiction and pop culture often challenges assumptions and dominant story lines, but so often it is complicit in all sorts of unpleasant things. This year Contraindicators seeks to actively challenge that, to create new and surprise endings, incorporate different themes, and to poke at assumptions and stereotypes. Contraindicators is about intersections and things that start off one way and don’t finish the way you think they will. It’s about cryptids. It’s about challenging the dominant paradigm. It’s about creating a space where people feel comfortable to talk about the things that make them feel uncomfortable in fandom, about working together to change our space into Our Shared Space.

In my opening speech I was even more explicit, talking about my experiences of racism and disillusionment within fandom, and within stories. I am sick of being quiet and polite about this! I want everyone to have to think about this, to have to challenge their own assumptions and be shaken from their privilege.

Not many of us panelists were people of colour, this year; but as the programme continues in this vein (which I hope it will; certainly it has the blessing of the next chair), and we continue to work towards a space where people can feel comfortable and as people see a community where their own faces are welcome, and reflected, I hope that this will change, and I won’t have to abandon this community and this SFF world that I do, in fact, quite enjoy.

This blog is not the only space in which I’m working towards my goals, but it’s the one that’s currently foremost in my mind, and I’m super excited to be sharing this space with Liz, one of my favourite people in fandom and real life.

As Liz mentioned, an important part of this space is that it’s primarily a not-USAmerican space; we are two Australian ladies of varied backgrounds, and this space reflects that, because my science fiction future also doesn’t involve USAmerica saving the world.

ALSO this blog is not just about me being Azn. It’s also about other things. But.

Fifteen years later that same copy of Sabriel still sits on my shelf, currently wedged between Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix and Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover. I haven’t read it in a while, but everything I ever hoped for, and everything it ever gave me, still holds true, and I will always love it for that.

The Sea and Summer

I’ve never been an advocate of the idea that you must be familiar with certain writers and works in order to call yourself a science fiction fan, but sometimes I find a gap in my reading that’s frankly embarrassing.

So it was with George Turner, the Australian, Melburnian author of acclaimed SF and literary novels. Until The Sea and Summer was quoted in Sophie Cunningham’s Melbourne, I had never heard of him.

Born in 1916, he was already an accomplished critic and novelist (winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1962) before he started writing SF in the late ’70s. Wikipedia describes his science fiction writing as being remarkable for “detailed extrapolation and … invariably earnest approach to moral and social issues”. Joe Haldeman called The Sea and Summer “didactic”, and apparently meant it as a compliment.

My curiosity was piqued, and The Sea and Summer — published in America as The Drowned Cities — has recently come back into print. I bought the ebook and settled in.

Francis Conway is Swill – one of the millions in the year 2041 who must subsist on the inadequate charities of the state. Life, already difficult, is rapidly becoming impossible for Francis and others like him, as government corruption, official blindness and nature have conspired to turn Swill homes into watery tombs. And now the young boy must find a way to escape the approaching tide of disaster.

What the publisher’s blurb doesn’t tell you is that this is a novel about two brothers, Teddy and Francis. As the novel opens, they’re “little Sweet” — in a society with 90% unemployment, their father has a job, which means they’re lower middle class. Then their father is laid off and cuts his own throat, and so the Conway family becomes rapidly downwardly mobile. They are not actually Swill, but fringe-dwellers, living just a few blocks from the vast skyscrapers that hold the Swill population.

Teddy is “gifted”, so he’s swiftly spirited away by the State, to train in police intelligence. Francis, left behind, is a skilled mathematician in an age where mental arithmetic has been forgotten, and so he becomes involved with a white collar criminal who needs to hide her records from the government.

As a kid in the ’80s and ’90s, I read a lot of didactic science fiction about climate change. I didn’t really enjoy these books (for one thing, my parents were/are climate change skeptics, and regarded environmentalism as a left-wing plot, and as a wee child I absorbed these ideas), but in those heady, pre-internet days, reading SF filled the gap between episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

(The best of those earnest middle grade novels was The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline MacDonald, which surely deserves an entry here if I ever find my copy.)

The Sea and Summer reminded me very strongly of those books. It’s grim, largely humourless, and contains long passages of conversation explaining human nature. I had hoped that Turner’s literary background would be reflected in the quality of his writing, and it was, but it was an assemblage of the traits that put me off “literary fiction” as a genre: a narrative that speaks for the characters instead of letting them demonstrate their qualities through dialogue, and, when they do speak, they all sound basically the same.

Part of this might be down to the framing device: The Sea and Summer is a novel written in the very far future, after humanity has survived the Greenhouse Years and is preparing to face another Ice Age. I wondered if we’re meant to think the author of the novel-within-the-novel is just not very good, but all the far-future characters are written in the same way.

(The far-future setting has no narrative of its own, save for one character — an Indigenous Australian actor who plays caucasians in whiteface — who is seeking to write a play featuring the novel’s characters. There are lots of earnest discussions about human nature, many featuring a Christian character who, as the stereytype goes, cannot speak without moralising. He’s thoroughly judgmental and unpleasant, but apparently we’re meant to find it appalling that he’s studying church history, because what a waste of intellect?)

It’s always hard to judge near-future science fiction without sniggering at the things it gets wrong. (Remember the Eugenics Wars of the late 1990s? Well, who doesn’t?) But I tried very hard, as I was reading, to separate any feelings of superiority I might have at spotting the “wrong” history from my response to the story itself.

This was difficult, though, because the novel deals with issues that are happening right now — financial collapse, harsh austerity measures, chaotic weather — and the responses of the characters, and society in general, bear no relationship to reality. If millions of people are crammed into 70-story buildings and all but left to rot, is it really going to take decades for social unrest to develop? Is it going to be years before people start thinking of re-learning the homesteading arts and becoming self-sufficient?

(As I write, within 24 hours of the government announcing its inhumane policy of sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, protests were being organised by the inner-urban left wing. The Swill v Sweet policies affect the urban poor of the western suburbs — if we tried treating that demographic the way we treat refugees, there would be riots.)

The novel discusses — at great length — the extent to which this status quo is deliberately maintained by the government, but again, it’s not convincing. Coupled with the explanation that the lower classes need to be coaxed into revolution by intellectuals, and the portrayal of the Swill as anarchic and dangerous, I was increasingly uncomfortable with the subtext. There are lots of scenes where characters realise to their amazement that Swill are, in fact, people, but there is such emphasis on the special qualities of Billy Kovacs, the Tower Boss who is an object of fascination throughout the book, that it starts to feel tokenistic. Our best look at an “average” Swill is a scene with a 14 year old prostitute, who is animalistic, violent and frankly a bit stupid.

The novel’s treatment of race, such as it is, is similarly troubling. We have the intellectual, elite Aboriginal in the framing scenes, which is a nice change from the usual absence of Indigenous Australians from any future setting. (I’m troubled by the whiteface aspect, but I can’t quite articulate how. And it’s just a one-off line that I may be blowing out of proportion.) On the other hand, in the novel-within-a-novel, we also have a reference to Asians — okay, a series of racist slurs — moving into central Australia and promptly destroying the environment with artificial weather programs.

Later, Teddy recoils from the realisation that his future mentor is ethnic. I mean, he’s Greek. Now, racist bigotry against Mediterranean immigrants was big in the ’50s and ’60s, but it was dying out in the ’80s — save for a few last gasps in the form of bad comedy — and is pretty much laughable now. Nick is a great character, by far the most likeable in the novel, but I’m still confused by the attitude towards his Greekness.

I don’t mean to be ticking off social justice talking points, but I really can’t not discuss the women of The Sea and Summer. It won’t take long, because there aren’t many. There’s the scholar in the framing device; Alison Conway, mother of the heroes and lover of Billy Kovacs; Nola Parkes, a public servant or businesswoman; and Vi, Billy’s wife, who is immensely fat (“gross” is one word that’s used) but also his political confidant. Oh, and there’s Carol, the love interest for one of the Conway brothers — but don’t worry, she has a couple of scenes, then vanishes from the stage as soon as they become a couple.

I found this interview illuminating:

Do you think there is a difference between the way you set your female characters and your male characters, or not? For instance in The Sea and Summer, the two mothers: were they two characters that were already set?

No they weren’t. The middle-class mother (Alison Conway) was an afterthought.

[The rest of the interview goes into some detail about Turner’s processes for creating female characters, and how that differs from his writing of men.]

It’s a bit silly to complain that a 78-year-old man, speaking in 1994, holds attitudes that aren’t compatible with mine, when I am a 31-year-old woman in 2013. On the other hand, one needs to balance that against the ageist idea that old people are automatically less enlightened, etc. I respect Turner’s attempts to create women with strength, but I disagree that the outcome is successful.

(Not to ding the interviewer as well, but “the two mothers” he refers to are Alison — and Nola Parkes, whose maternal status is completely irrelevant to the role she actually plays in the novel.)

I have to say that I wouldn’t have guessed Alison was a later addition, but I found her character incredibly frustrating. She’s terribly passive, sometimes passive-aggressive, held up by Billy as a figure of ideal womanhood to be protected, kept ignorant and generally put on a pedestal. This was quite annoying, because there were occasional glimpses of a really strong, brave character, but the narrative kept undermining her.

Although I have to say, the narrative didn’t do a great job of supporting her sons, either. Much is made of Francis being unlikeable and generally unpleasant, but until the very end, and an incident that frankly didn’t match up with his earlier behaviour, he didn’t seem like an especially weak or nasty person. Desperate, yes, and somewhat conniving, but his behaviour made sense in the context of his life, and seemed quite understandable coming from a young boy and teenager. Until the very last moment, his punishment doesn’t seem to fit his crime.

I think perhaps the age of the protagonists misled me into approaching this as a young adult novel, ie, it wouldn’t take it for granted that its audience hated and feared teenagers. The lack of sympathy for Francis — and apparent support of Teddy, who is essentially a member of a secret police force — was confusing.

With all these complaints, why did I keep reading?

Well, stubborness, and a strong sense that I wanted to talk about this book.

And it’s an Australian novel that’s set in Melbourne, my adopted city. I really loved the glimpses of the future city (even as I wonder, if rising oceans necessitate the building of sea walls, is the central business district really going to be that dry and well-maintained?), the vast towers dominating Newport and Richmond.

There’s also a glimpse of the past city, as Teddy walks through the long-abandoned Jolimont Railyard, a landmark that no longer exists in 2013 — wiped out by urban renewal, not decay.

The Sea and Summer was described as a novel of Melbourne that advanced its science fiction presence beyond Neville Shute’s On the Shore, updating the apocalyptic city for a new threat. I wonder if perhaps Melbourne is due to be destroyed again, fictionally speaking, and what the 21st century approach will look like.

Australia’s Jaegar Program (ps, racism and history)

How awesome is it that Australia is one of the active Jaegars in Pacific Rim? Totally awesome. I’m an Australian who loves me some giant mecha, and imagine the opportunities! We are a land of opportunity and resources, we have so much of the raw produce required, we have so much experience building for example high quality cars, and a whole lot of space. We also, given the Kaiju approach the population areas via the sea, require an effective defence program. We are, after all, girt by sea.

Liz talked about some stuff, but I’d like to talk about the logistics of pilots and Jaegars in Australia.

Australia’s Jaegar Program

Historically, at least historically in the last 150 years, as a nation, we are a bit obsessed with defending from those who come across the sea, and are incredibly xenophobic and closed-minded. And I say that as an Australian from across the sea, who is here today because of an illegal boat trip. I wish we weren’t but there’s the White Australia Policy, and the Yellow Peril panic of the 90s, and the Tampa and all the things going on right as we speak. It’s Christmas Island and Indonesia and the fact that our refugee intake is so low compared to many other countries

Despite an ongoing and illogical reliance on the ANZUS Treaty, leading Liz to suggest that it’s unexpected that Australia isn’t just relying on the US Jaegars (valid point), I don’t think it’s actually a surprise that Australia still has Jaegars around, holding on to them until the end. And I don’t think it’s a surprise that there was more than one, I think Australia would have had more than that at one point. There would have been complaints about the cost (and a scandal involving outsourcing bits, and discussion of extending allowances under the 457 Visa), but Jaegars, oh we would have them.

Slayer and Striker Eureka

I mentioned this briefly in a tumblr post, but Eureka is both a great and hilarious word to use within the Jaegar name. Eureka has many connotations in Australia, but mostly it means rebellion and fighting against the man. At another level it also represents democracy and mutliculturalism and the desire for profit. The Eureka Stockade was a rebellion on the Victorian gold fields, where workers from many country rebelled against being unduly taxed by the government (through licenses), in 1854. This event led directly to the reformation of unfair laws in Australia. It also led to the Southern Cross flag being used as a symbol of protest and sometimes me wanting to punch people, but that’s only to be expected.

In this context, Striker is a puzzling choice. The Eureka Stockade is sometimes referred to as a Strike. To call it the Eureka Strike (or Eureka Striker) would almost certainly have been a problem, but does that apply to the Striker Eureka? It is hard to say, and though an odd choice, it is not completely out of the realms of possibility. Slayer is the greatest bogan naming choice I’ve ever heard, politically I doubt it would happen but I love it. I love it a lot, and again it is not out of the realms of possibility.

More likely however are things involving things like kangaroos, bushranger names (omg the Ned Kelly!), and maybe we’d end up with one named the Captain Cook or something.

The Politics of Pilots 

We are a nation of immigrants, colonialists, criminals; people running away from things; people running too things; of Indigenous Australians and those who have come in the last 250 years. Despite the words, this was never Terra Nullius, and I live here on the lands of the Kulin Nation and I pay my respects to their elders. I am descended from an illegal immigrant; I live a life of superstition and being Chinese in all the ways that hurt and all the ways that don’t hurt. My father was in the air force and I grew up a military brat, moving from city to city, my father in the bowels of a herc. I am Australian.

Here are the ways you become a pilot in Australia: you have the money to pay for private lessons; you join the Air Force and give away a certain number of years of your life. One assumes the training and skills required for a Jaegar Ranger are more arduous, but still exactly like this: you give your life to the military, or you have a lot of money.

It does not completely surprise me that the Australian rangers are stern looking white men with a dog. No matter who the Australians were, I’m glad they had a dog, that’s fantastic, though I hope they’ve considered the Quarantine issues they’re going to face bringing Max back into Australia. That’s very important, because our quarantine laws are very strict and I’m sorry for Max. Though if we’re going for stereotypes he should have been a blue heeler at least.

The face of Australia is white. Despite everything, our television is white, or representation is white. I still get excited when I see a non-white Australian face on tv, though it’s never quite perfect. When a non-white family moved onto Ramsey Street, they were brand new immigrants. Never mind our generations living here, since the goldfields. Never mind our Indigenous people. Just our white people, the face of Australia. Always in our prestigious roles.

So the white father and his white son, sun kissed and well built, that makes sense. Politically, economically, historically. Frustratingly. In the movie and in our rock star Jaegar pilots.

A friend pointed out how this image of Australia is consistent with the image of Australia often found especially in Europe and the USA. He mentioned that this is largely how White South Africans are viewed in Australia: parochial, a bit backward, hilariously racist.

But imagine how amazing it would have been if our pilots were islanders or indigenous. The Australians in Pacific Rim were not portrayed by Australians, but what if they had been played by Jay Laga’aia and Lani Tupu; or by Deborah Mailman and Aaron Pedersen as a brother-sister team (the noise I just made).

In other news, no Australian calls their Australian son Chuck. Chaz, maybe. Charlie, sure. Chuck, rarely if ever. It’s what you call your dog. At least when he yelled ‘kick its arse’ he said arse and not ass, I suppose.

Pacific Rim and the Chinese Jaegar Program (and what that means in 2013)

If you know nothing about China at all, one thing you might know is that China loves design, and function, and building Really Really Big Things Really Quickly. And then building a second one. And then a third one that’s even bigger, with extra columns and squiggly bits. And then keeping them forever until they’re held together with duct tape.

The other thing you probably know about China is that there are a lot of people.

So it shouldn’t have surprised you when, in Pacific Rim, the Chinese Crimson Typhoon, piloted by the adorable Wei triplets (played by Charles, Lance and Mark Luu), turned out to be one of the four remaining Jaegar.

[Please note that this post contains spoilers for Pacific Rim (and also vague spoilers for Iron Man 3)]

The Logistics of the Chinese Jaegar Program and China’s Role in the World of Jaegars and Kaiju

This construction work is not limited to building large things quickly. It extends to a massive scale, manufacturing product after product and having a massive impact on global movement of commodities and industrial components. Production and manufacturing in China covers a whole lot of areas relevant to Jaegars, including industrial production, electrical production, and electronics. Although in recent months there has been a slight dip in employment figures in this area, this is considered to be due to an increase in automation, which further supports the Jaegar production cause, at least in theories. Reverse engineering is also a significant element, the copying of what already exists until one cannot tell the difference. Fake Apple stores are perhaps the most well known in the West, Apple stores that are so convincing in appearance and behaviour and electronics that even the staff have no idea they are working in a fake. And in 2004, when NEC discovered there were NEC counterfeits coming out of China, investigations revealed the entire company had been copied – 50 factories across China and Taiwan, complete branding, corporate HQ, royalties, products in major stores, warranties and final products “of generally good quality”.

Deloitte tells me that in 2010, China contributed 20% of the global manufacturing total. Between 1980 and 2009, China went from 0.8% to 13.5%. A quote from Deloitte that sounds like a negative but I actually think contributes to my point: “Many Chinese products have low added value, a challenging position amid rising costs and a shrinking export market. In the current state of the global supply chain, China’s manufacturing industry mainly plays the role of “manufacturing, processing and assembly…” The report points out that China has poor logistics, marketing and sales channels. It’s not explicit, but the implication is for export, and that China still relies heavily on Japan, Europe and the USA for these and for upstream goods. Which goes perfectly, actually, with China being an essential part of Jaegar production and ultimately developing its own Jaegar program.

Chinese minerals are less plentiful than its human and natural resources, but it has been seeking to rectify it. China is one of Australia’s strongest trading partners in recent history, with hundreds of major projects and dual owned operations especially in the mining industry. Australia exports significant quantities of iron ore, coal, gold and crude petroleum to China every year, amongst everything else. This every else includes a whole lot of professionals – every Australian I met while I was living in Beijing was either an English teacher, a politician, or an engineer. The top imports from China to Australia are, tellingly for the logistics of building Jaegars, telecom equipment and computers.

China has a great desperate need to participate in the Jaegar program. I go into it a little in regards to Hong Kong a little later, but China has a huge inferiority complex in regards to its national borders. China was a whole lot of separate countries until it was unified in 221 BC by Emperor Qin, who was originally the king of Qin. He is known as the First Emperor, he built a lot of the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors are his guardians in death and he nationalised the road system. He is not really relevant overly to this post but I want to emphasise that he put a whole lot of effort and reform into combining China into one country, and nobody is letting go now. There is shame in failure is basically our cultural creed. It’s why Tibet is a huge deal, it’s why Xinjiang is a huge deal, and it’s why Hong Kong is a Really Fucking Big Deal. It’s the undercurrent to a lot of things, the concession and the Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion being a case of Those White Jerks, This Is Your Fault. It’s the undercurrent of China is the centre and the pinnacle of the world, the rest of you are all ghosts. It’s the core of the military programs and state control and every thing else, and it’s why when the Kaiju come China will grab onto what it can do and won’t ever let go.

China’s massive military and constructive complexes are often incredibly problematic, but combined with the Chinese historical love of building the biggest things ever (the Great Wall; the many fake mountains just for the hell of it, well actually for the feng shui of it but still), its giant population, its huge population in its massive coastline, its history of needing to maintain national integrity, and the fact that it’s already bringing in a lot of resources, means that China will be going for it so fucking hard.

The Illogical 暴風赤紅

It’s not that Crimson Typhoon isn’t the English translation I would have given of the Chinese Jaegar’s name (it isn’t, but it’s close enough that I’ll handwave). It’s not that it uses character combos with which I’m unfamiliar (Chinese names get esoteric, that’s totally legit). It’s a little bit that the name sounds like it was invented in English and translated into Chinese characters, rather than the other way around.

Mostly, it’s that the name is written in giant traditional characters, when it’s a Chinese craft. It’s a Chinese craft, presumably funded/governed/controlled by the Chinese government. The Chinese government has spent a lot of time and money on making sure that simplified characters are the characters that get used for everything. The likelihood of the Chinese Jaegar, something of pride and awesomeness and achievement, having its name in traditional characters, is completely laughable.

The movie itself is set in Hong Kong, where traditional characters are frequently found; and often very contemporarily used, sometimes because of habit and sometimes in an active eff you to the mainland government. However it is still a Chinese craft, and HK is part of China now, despite two systems one country, and with the potentially for active eff you at the government and the fact that Jaegar was almost certainly built on the mainland, there is no chance that thing is named 暴風赤紅 over 暴风赤红.

If you’re interested, 暴風 is really strong wind (force 11), and 赤紅 is kind of like crimson, I guess.

I wrote some more about names at Tumblr, and there’s a bit more in my next post (tomorrow, on Australia and the Jaegar Program).

The Colonialist Narrative: the Hannibal Chau Problem

Liz already mentioned in her overview post that Ron Perlman’s character, Hannibal Chau, was originally meant to be not a white dude, yet somehow, played here by Ron Perlman (a white dude). Whilst that on its own is sketchy, it is super sketchy in context. What we have here is a white man, taking on a Chinese name, running a crime syndicate based out of Hong Kong, specialising in the highly illegal bits of a rare animal, for hilarious medical purposes, because that’s what Chinese people love, you know? This is the most blatantly inappropriate colonialist narrative since Tom Cruise was in the Last Samurai, though I’m pretty sure the Wolverine movie is going to also hit this. Hong Kong, the symbol of China’s super embarrassing failure and capitulation to Western Imperialist forces (see: about 1000 words ago), brought back into China’s arms in 1997 with the end of the loan, is being slowly sucked back into being a part of China. This is for better or for worse and I am not at this juncture discussing the good and bad of it. It is a huge ongoing issue for China, and for Chinese people. China’s concessions to the West were in significant part due to the Opium War, which was a symptom of the forced trickle of opium into China that was a deliberate ploy by Western forces to open China up against its will. Hong Kong was a part of this. So now we have a white dude, taking on a Chinese name, supplying illegal products for what looks like Traditional Chinese Medicine to Chinese people through the port of Hong Kong, surrounded by nameless Chinese thugs. Good work, everybody! Super good work.

The Reflection of China in Current Movies

The increased ‘good guy’ role of China in particularly USA blockbuster movies is indicative of China’s changing role in the geopolitical situation. This is reflected often by small but not necessarily insignificant moments in movies such as Pacific Rim. I do not think it is insignificant, in a ‘right now we are in 2013’ sort of way, that one of the four remaining Jaegars is Chinese, that the movie is set in Hong Kong, that there are three super hot ethnically Chinese Jaegar Rangers wandering around in the background, that they are spoken of with admiration.

In years past China has played the role of unquestioning, unthinking bad guy in movies, aided by the USAmerican tendency towards ‘communist’ as shorthand for ‘evil, unthinking pod person’ (because socialism is a bad thing? Americans.).

This has changed recently, starting with the slow shift towards China as ally in movies, and moving towards dual cuts – Iron Man 3, for example, contained a full 4 minutes extra of Fan Bing Bing’s face and plotline in the Chinese cut. The Mandarin, the advertised baddie in Iron Man 3, had me flailing in rage months before the movie came out, and there is some speculation that the changes to the role and plot in that movie were intentional in courting mainland Chinese demographics. The Christian Bale ‘what these Chinese ladies need is a White Saviour’ movie the Flowers of War (金陵十三钗) was a movie that set about intentionally creating a favourable image of Chinese people for a Western audience, sometimes to the detriment of the Japanese characters. It is also a contentious piece of history between China and Japan, with Japan denying it was all that bad and China maintaining it was super bad. The choice to make this movie could be seen as declaring a side. Red Dawn was to originally feature Chinese villains, who in post-production were digitally replaced by North Korean soldiers (which some sources described as ‘unprecedented‘).

Not to get all ‘everything has happened before’ up in here, but changing movies in the changing geopolitical situation is not only necessary, it’s precedented:

The cinematic depiction of the Chinese has been correlated with US policy towards China, as well as the Western attitude towards the Asians. In the 1920s and the 1930s, the fears of Chinese expansion (immigration) in the United States, reinforced through the circulation of racist thoughts by some US newspapers, pulp magazines, and books, found their way to Hollywood through dozens of movies portraying Chinese as dirty, criminals and tyrants…As China turned into an ally in the 1940s, a more positive image of the Chinese was established. This shift was brief with the rise of Communist China…Hollywood went right back into attack mode.

(Hollywood’s Representations of the Sino-Tibetan Conflict: Politics, Culture and Globalization, Jenny George Daccache, Brandon Valeriano, 2012, Palgrave Macmillan)

These moves are a form of soft politics, a game at which China is incredibly adept. Soft politics forms an explicit part of China’s overall “Going Global” or “Going Out” (走出去战略) concept, and it’s not a surprise that movies is one area where they feel they can easily sway things.

In the real world, China is also a rapidly rising power. Aside from the need to capture the Chinese movie going public, is it really reasonable to posit a future where China isn’t making a significant contribution to whatever amazing world saving efforts the USA is making? In 2013, China owns just over $1.1 trillion (about 10%) of the USA’s world debt, they’re going to have to collect on that some day and it’s important to keep them on side. And when they’re providing more money, they’re gonna want their fingerprints all over everything, just to prove they’re the best again, that China will never again be bested by Western powers.

My Face

You know what I don’t have a problem with? USAmerican movies having to rethink how Chinese people are represented, beyond just stereotypes. And it’s wishful thinking, but maybe this will extend to actual consideration about how other groups are represented, too. And it’s more complicated than that, of course it is, but at least I have that, and maybe one day I won’t need to search so hard to find a representation of myself or my culture that rings at least a little bit true. (And also maybe we could see a bit more of the Luu triplets, I’m not gonna stop going on about that)

 

 

There’s so much more to say, but at 2000 words this is going to have to do.

Pacific Rim; welcome to the blog!

Last month, at Continuum, Stephanie and I spent a lot of time talking about social justice on panels and so forth.  (Sometimes we just yelled about issues informally, too!)  But whenever people asked us for resources, we found most of the sites that exist are American.  Which is lovely, but the Australian perspective is effectively non-existent.

So we’ve started this blog to give ourselves a forum to talk about media, social justice, fandom, the Australian experience, the non-American experience and more.

I’m going to begin with Pacific Rim.

[This post contains spoilers.]

I didn’t go into Pacific Rim wanting it to be bad.

I’d like to emphasise that because I’ve been quite openly cynical about the way it has been adopted on Tumblr as a great movie for social justice, diversity and all those good things.  (I am often cynical about Tumblr when it comes to social justice.)  I expressed amusement when the initial pro reviews were lukewarm, and was promptly taken to task by fanboys for saying their shiny robot movie might be a bit rubbish.

But then it was actually released, and I saw reviews from fans who had seen it, who were still praising its diversity, feminism and all around good qualities.

I was still cynical, but I went in expecting a movie like The Avengers — witty dialogue, great action scenes, just enough characterisation to hang a fandom on — but more diverse.

(I also wanted something that would take my mind off the rhinovirus that has made its home in my upper respiratory system.  I would like a movie about giant robots punching the common cold in the face, please.)

Instead, I got … well.

Guillermo del Toro has said that he set out to recreate the kaiju and mecha films he loved as a child, and to introduce them to a new generation of kids.  That’s excellent!  I really applaud that!  Especially the way he took a genre that’s quintessentially Japanese and made it all about white dudes.

Oh, wait.

“But Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi have major roles!” you say.

Yes, and in fact, I didn’t even realise the protagonist was a white dude until, like, a week ago.  But Elba’s character, Stacker Pentecost, is a conglomeration of familiar stereotypes — Wise Mentor!  Crusty General!  Fatherly Paternal Father Figure! — and only briefly transcends them.

Kikuchi’s Mako Mori is a more complex character.  She has a tragic past, and her ambition to be a Jaeger pilot is at odds with her respect for Pentecost, her adoptive father, and his need to protect her.  (More about that in a sec.)

Much has been made of the film’s refusal to sexualise Mako (although Del Toro also said that he filmed the fight between Mako and the hero as if it was a sex scene, so make of that what you will), and I really admire the way she was portrayed.  In a different movie, she would be a great character.  As it is … well, normally I love media where brilliant, brave women have some secret trauma that still affects them.  But Mako’s trauma turns her into an object instead of a three-dimensional character.  The movie is full of men making choices for her, whether it’s Pentecost being protective and paternalistic, or Raleigh Becket, the whitedude hero, being … oh, look, protective and paternalistic!  I wanted to pick Mako up and drop her down in a franchise that would appreciate her and treat her better.  (You might say I started to feel protective and paternalistic.)

(I probably would have felt better about this if Mako hadn’t been the only prominent woman in the entire movie.  There’s a Russian Jaegernaut, but she has, like, two lines of dialogue and then dies.)

There was a particularly pointless and horrifying sequence where Whitedude McManpain gets into a punch-up with the Douchebag Australian (more on him later) after he calls Mako a bitch.  Mako stands in the background, clutching her hands and looking scared.  It was quite stupid and laughably regressive.

That scene alone would merely be pointless, but it’s followed by Whitedude following Mako and literally backing her up against a wall to get her to open up to him.  He’s a lot bigger than she is, and it the body language was ugly and intimidating.  Mako just flees, and I realised that this was a script that had no respect for its characters.

Not that it’s easy to make any judgement at all about the script, because two-thirds of the dialogue was inaudible.  That was partially because of the terrible sound-mixing and VERY LOUD SOUNDTRACK, but it was also because there were lots of actors doing accents that weren’t their own.  Idris Elba had three or four going, and I have to say, his Australian accent was great.  Much better than the actual “Australian” characters.

How to make a cinema full of Australians laugh:  cast Americans and English people as Australians.  (The audience also erupted when Mako peered at shirtless!Whitedude through her door’s peephole, ‘cos all Japanese are perverts, amiright?  DON’T YOU GET IT?  IT’S FUNNY.)  But, yes, New Yorker Max Martini as the older Australian was not great, but okay.  Brit Robert Kazinsky as his douchebag son, “Chuck” — seriously, the least Australian name ever — was terrible.  I kept expecting kangaroos to appear in the background every time he spoke, and Paul Hogan to appear, throwing “shrimp” on the barbie and drinking Fosters.

(Tip: no one in Australia drinks Fosters.  It’s an elaborate prank we played on Americans in the ’80s, and now we can’t get away from it.)

Now, I’m pretty eyerolly at the way Del Toro’s portrayal of Australians involved blond-haired, sunburnt white men who talk like Steve Irwin.  How’s that “diversity” going, hey?  Where is my Jaeger team consisting of Shari Sebbens and Renee Lim?

But if I can’t have a Jaeger team who actually reflect the reality of Australia’s demographics, I’d settle for people who talk like us.  Hollywood is overflowing with hopeful Australian actors who’d jump at a supporting role in a big movie.  Go find the next Hemsworths, or whatever, and leave your colonialist constructions at home.

Hey, that brings us to colonialism!

Ron Perlman plays Hannibal Chau, a white dude who runs a black market in kaiju organs out of Hong Kong.  The part was originally for a person of colour, but apparently Del Toro decided it would be hilarious to have a white man with a Chinese name.  SO FUNNY, RIGHT?  WHY AREN’T YOU LAUGHING?

So we have Hong Kong, a former British colony, with a black market run by a white man.  And not just any black market, but one that runs out of the back room of a traditional Chinese medicine shop — which is also run by a white man, while Asians stand in the background and look menacing (and silent).

Perlman’s workers are also mostly white, and Anglophone.  There’s an extra in a conical hat (at night!) in the background of one scene, but otherwise, the only Asians in his vicinity are the gangsters who enforce his rule.  So that’s nice!

Even outside of Chau’s milieu, the Hong Kong setting felt decidedly othered.  (I had to run this past Steph, since the closest I’ve been to China is a couple of stopovers in Hong Kong airport, but she confirmed it.)  There are narrow streets and lanterns and scary thuggish dudes!  The kaiju shelter is full of people in suits who turn against the white scientist dude and leave him to the mercy of the kaiju!

(In fairness, he totally led the kaiju to them.  Don’t mindmeld with unfamiliar entities.  This is a public service announcement from the Vulcan High Command.)

On the subject of casual racism, there’s the name of the American Jaeger: Gipsy Danger.  “Gipsy”, also spelled “Gypsy”, is a racist slur referring to the Romani.  (It has been adopted, particularly in America, as a woman’s name, because people are awful.)

I don’t think I was meant to be thinking about the implications of a white American and a Japanese woman trashing a Chinese city in a mecha with a racist name, but by the time that scene came up, I was pretty disengaged from, you know, the narrative.

(This scene does have a pretty cool bit where Racist Danger picks up a MASSIVE SHIP and uses it as a weapon.  It’s one of the few moments where you really appreciate the scale of the Jaegers, because most of the visuals are quite derivative of the Iron Man franchise — although that owes a lot to the mecha genre anyway.  Tony Stark punches ocean-dwelling dinosaurs in the face.  Actually, I’d watch that.)

There are a lot of white faces among the supporting characters, too.  I mean, a surprising amount of white faces given that the Jaeger base is in Hong Kong.  And a profound lack of South Americans, which I find strange since South America is, you know, along the Pacific Rim.  Del Toro has made much of this movie being internationalist and devoid of nationalist biases, but it’s basically “a few countries that aren’t America, and also all but one of the non-Anglophones and people of colour are dead at the end”.

I will say that none of the deaths of people of colour are used to teach Whitedude McManpain an important lesson about heroism, so well done on that front.  But we still end up with a hell of a lot of dead people of colour, and sidelined people of colour, and white people where people of colour could be.

There are also a hell of a lot of men.  I mentioned that Mako is the only significant female character, but there are almost no female extras.  Even in the Hong Kong scenes, there are very few women.  We have two zany scientists having a love/hate bromance, but they’re both men. Science isn’t for ladies, right?

(One of the scientists is played by Burn Gorman.  I think he might have been quite good, but it’s hard to tell because I couldn’t hear much of his dialogue.)

All in all, Pacific Rim is a mess.  I found it quite dull, but I would be a lot more forgiving if it hadn’t failed on so many levels.  Clearly I went in with expectations that were too high.  (Friends who hadn’t been led to expect a really cool movie that treated its female characters and people of colour with respect were more forgiving.)  But I don’t like to think my expectations for a big, dumb movie that wasn’t racist or sexist were unreasonable.

Stephanie has even more to say about this than I do, so stay tuned for her three posts dissecting Pacific Rim.  I think she’s going to get all geopolitical about it, and she has already pointed out that the Mandarin for the Chinese Jaeger’s name doesn’t quite work, so this will be good.

[ETA: I got some actors’ nationalities confused.  Well done, Liz!]