love me long time ugh help i’m dying

Say you’re lucky enough to get the beautiful and talented and adorable real-life doctor AND actress, Australian-born Renee Lim [1] in your new comedy show (which is relatively funny – I laughed a lot). Do you let her natural comedy stylings shine with the words, completely unrelated to race, that you have in your script?

Or do you cast her has the heavily-accented, heavily made-up, younger Thai girlfriend of your midlife crisis white father?

GEE. I just don’t know! It’s so hard to decide! Both options are so excellent!

mae, from please like me
sorry i know it’s hard to see but you can just make out her blue eyeshadow and her finger bling

Aside from her accent and her heavy bangles, Mae isn’t even Thai – as if bangles and an accent defines a Thai woman. She could totally be Chinese-Australian! (Or Thai-Australian even though I have issues with the pan-Asian identity – but not a brand new immigrant) Later the series looks at the playful mockery that is part of the “Asian” mindset. She could totally be Chinese-Australian!

It’s not the show I have a problem with – it’s that this is how Australia sees its South East Asian women.

This is not new. South-East Asian Australian women have long been presented as sexual objects, and as objects of ridicule (within a sexual sphere or with a sexual component).

In 1994 we were subjected to Cynthia, played by Juliet Perez[2], who was born in Australia. Cynthia was “a gold-digger, a prostitute, an entertainer whose expertise is popping out ping-pong balls from her sex-organ, a manic depressive, loud and vulgar. The worst stereotype of the Filipina.” [3] She was heavily accented and frustratingly other, laughable and deplorable and completely unable to be related to.

Her Thai-ness, much like Mae’s Thai-ness, was completely unnecessary; it was defended by producer Al Clark as “a misfit like the three protagonists are, and just about everybody else in the film is, and her presence is no more a statement about Filipino women than having three drag queens is a statement about Australian men,” which, uh, fuck that shit, Al, because white Australian males are the very definition of the Australian man, but I don’t see the reverse being true about heavily accented Filipino Australian women in small desert towns, completely separated from their communities and cultural networks. Do you?

Representations of South East Asian women outside of Australia (but still connected to Australians) only reinforce this. Turtle Beach, set in Malaysia, features my beloved Joan Chen as Minou, a Vietnamese woman married to the Australian ambassador. During the movie she sacrifices herself for her children, because South-East Asian women are self-sacrificing for the family, I can only assume. [4]

In Serangoon Road (we all know how I feel about that by now), all the South East Asian women are completely separate from the Australians – there are no SEAzn Australian women in Serangoon Road, which is woah quite the factual error. Maybe my beloved Pamelyn Chee is about to get it on with an American played by an Australian, which is another issue but the point remains.

South-East Asian women on Australian TV can’t be Australians. They’re always from somewhere else; they’re always othered and markedly different. Ien Ang [5] suggests that this is also in part to present a safe multiculturalism to Australians – some SEA women can be Australian, but they’re still markedly different.

The ABS doesn’t give me the data on percentage of Australians who were born in Australia but are of SEA origin/descent/ethnicity (or if it does I’m not able to work it out). But look around your life. How many SEAzn women do you know who look like this, who act like this? Because fuck if I do (I don’t). I have a broad, hilarious Australian accent (except when I’m talking to my mother) and there’s no way I’m sacrificing myself.

This cultural stereotyping for the purposes of entertainment (AND WRONGNESS) is by no means limited to us South-East Asian ladies. There is (was) one non-Anglo Aussie on Packed to the Rafters and his family is played for stereotypical Greek family laughs [6]; Benjamin Ng talked Gangnam Style and the stereotyping of Asian males in the Drum last year [7]; Hany Lee came on board Neighbours as an exchange student (rather than, say, a Korean-Australian) – despite being born in Australia.[8]

If we seek to see ourselves, reflections of ourselves, and actual realities in our media, then Australian media is obviously not presenting us with that, and it’s for a whole lot of reasons. There’s a whole lot of stuff to say here about authenticity, perceived authenticity (and inauthenticity), accepted stereotypes, racism and the Australian identity, but it’s late and you’ve heard it all before. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was 19 years ago, and was hardly even the first cut, and here we are with Mae in 2013, migrating to Australia with her bangles clacking, loving her old white man long time. The Australian identity, if it exists, contains multitudes, and it’d be nice if I wasn’t injured by trying to find it in my Australian media.

PS I’m authentic even when I’m not speaking Manglish at a clip.

Further Reading:

This seems creepy, but Ben Law’s thesis http://eprints.qut.edu.au/29272/2/Benjamin_Law_Thesis.pdf

Asian Women in Australian Soap Operas: Questioning Idealized (sic) Hybrid Representation, Monika Winarnita, Asian Social Science Vol 7, No 8, August 2011. available at: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ass/article/download/11487/8052 …

Footnotes and References

[1] Renee Lim interview with Asians on Film, Asians on Film, (no pub date) accessed 27/10/2013 available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9xEbHDOwuk*

* WATCH HER IN THE NEWTOWN GIRLS, SHE’S ADORABLE AND QUEER

[2] JULIET PEREZ PLAYED RITA REPULSA IN THE MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS MOVIE IN 1995 HELP HELP AMAZING (imdb)

[3] More Than Just a Laugh: Assessing the Politics of Camp in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Ann-Marie Cook, (no pub date) accessed 27/10/2013 available at http://www.academia.edu/370668/More_Than_Just_a_Laugh_Assessing_the_Politics_of_Camp_in_The_Adventures_of_Priscilla_Queen_of_the_Desert

[4] The sacrificial Asian in Australian film, Olivia Khoo, real time 59, feb-mar 2004, pp15, accessed 27/10/2013 available at http://www.realtimearts.net/article/59/7336

[5] Ien Ang, quoted in Asian Women in Australian Soap Operas: Questioning Idealized (sic) Hybrid Representation, Monika Winarnita, Asian Social Science Vol 7, No 8, August 2011. pp4.

[6] All-white Australian television fails the reality test, Melissa Phillips, The Age, February 17 2012, accessed 27/10/2013 available at http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/society-and-culture/allwhite-australian-television-fails-the-reality-test-20120217-1tdbo.html

[7] Gangnam style and the stereotyping of Asian males, Benjamin Ng, the Drum, 25/10/2012, accessed 27/10/2013, available at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4329226.html (don’t read the comments, as always)

[8] Racist debate about TV shows is not always black and white why am I even referencing this stuff properly, Colin Vickery, The Herald Sun, 04/07/2011, accessed 27/10/2013, available at http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/racist-debate-about-tv-shows-is-not-always-black-and-white/story-e6frfhqf-1226086750176

Advertisements

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!]