snowpiercer: the revolution cannot be trusted if it’s white

Here at No Award, there are two things we know for sure about our dystopic climate change future: It is brown; and we will be eating cockroaches.

In related news, you know that No Award went to the movies this week! I really, really liked Snowpiercer (Liz and I disagreed on how great Pacific Rim was, as well). But this is not that joyful shrieking as I clapped my hands. This is a look at the use of non-white bodies and Western imperialism and moral attitudes in our dystopic future. This analysis accepts the basic premise of Snowpiercer: that is, that all of humanity remaining exists on a high speed train that hasn’t stopped in 17 years. There are no questions about track repairs, wear and tear on the outside of the train, and the supply of animal carcasses. Maybe later.

The movie ends with two brown babies leaving to start the world again. Everyone else seems dead. This is correct. End of the world boils down to an Asian girl and a brown boy, protected at the end by an Asian father and a white man. I dig it.

Racially, there are few other things I dig.

This revolution is peppered with brown faces but ultimately led by white ones, from one end of the train to the other. It starts with the disobedience of a white dude, who is oppressed by a white lady (using her tools of white and not-white). It is controlled by two white men, paternalistic imperialists who do what they do for the good of everyone else, never mind what anyone else has to say. It’s led by the man-pain of a white man, and takes a long pause when we learn what we already knew (he knows what babies taste like, man, because being 17 when the world froze he was probably privileged and shielded).

As Liz mentioned, Curtis (the beautiful Chris Evans) turns his judgey face on those he is leading when he discovers that protein bars are made from cockroaches. He decides they don’t need to know. Never mind that people (not white people) willingly eat cockroaches now, before our dystopic future has arrived. Never mind that he makes the decision on their behalf, like a patronising jerk. Never mind that in 17 years on a train, they’ve probably already realised. But this is a story about a white man, at its core, and the decisions white men make on the behalf of everyone they think is less than them (every one).

It’s uncool that we had to watch brown bodies being used for everything; literally, brown bodies. Grey, played by Luke Pasqualino, had to use his shirtless brown body to communicate because he was unable to speak. I enjoy a brown man as much as the next person (probably more, being a brown bisexual, and I have loved Luke Pasqualino since he was in the Borgias and fully clothed), but this is hugely problematic. Brown bodies, especially male brown bodies, have long been used in Western media as either items of lust and hyper-sexuality or as items of abuse (including in slavery). The hairless, shirtless brown man who can’t speak in English has often been shorthand for the exotic, noble savage, and Grey, following Gillam’s instructions, does nothing but support that stereotype: the brown person here for the story of the white person.

Like Elysium, the white-skied brown-earthed saved by the localised/nativised white man story starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster and fewer brown people than I would have liked, the segregation of the brown tail end and the white-ish front end makes sense within the world. (I was, incidentally, so happy to see some brown children in the school car, though we really only saw that one smart-ass white girl). That the faces of control and violence are all white makes sense. That the faces of rigour and sticking to the rules are Asian are an uncomfortable stereotype of the model minority and super racist.

That the brown players are here for the consumption of the white person is confirmed by the costuming process, which you can read about in this interview. It is, at its essence, look at all the exotic clothes I put on all these white bodies. They’re so multi-ethnic! And they are. But, as always, with a white face, who takes what they can see and find but ultimately doesn’t understand what we’re here to do or what these stolen tools are for.

And in the end, Snowpiercer merely confirms everything we already knew. A cis white man cannot be trusted to smash the system; do not trust the white dudes with the revolution (cf Ms Hayley Inch in a text this morning). The system is always supported by brown bodies – literally, in the case of Grey’s very attractive yet constantly bare torso. And our climate dystopia is coming.

End note: I am interested in thoughts re: the ending, where Tanya, the African-American mother, has been replaced by Yona, holding Timmy’s hand as they walk (BARE-HANDED) into the snow. Whilst two brown babies is correct, there are thoughts around racial conceptions of motherhood that I don’t feel able to talk to but are worth discussing.

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2 thoughts on “snowpiercer: the revolution cannot be trusted if it’s white

  1. (I hope this goes through, for I am at work and thus not able to log in because OPPRESSION. And also, I guess, offering my labour in exchange for money.)

    ANYWAY, in my cursory google of “places that eat cockroaches”, I discovered that white people do eat them in Balkan and European countries eg Croatia. But I think your thesis still stands, anyway, because “white” is so often used as shorthand for “western European”, and certainly places like the UK have worked really hard to other and exclude Eastern Europe BECAUSE WHY NOT.

    Otherwise, this is a good post and you should feel good, even the bit where you disagree with me.

    1. I was so confused about having to moderate your comment! Okay well also, handily, we live in a country where often white just means ‘not anglo-saxon’, so we are still good to go! Thank you, Australia, for this one single thing, I guess.

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