Category: sci-fi

I Feel it In My Ghost…

So.  I have thoughts about the live action Ghost in the Shell movie.

The first one, which is probably surprising me the most, is that I *really* want to see it. The trailers make it look cool and weird and dark and very, very cyberpunk. It’s clearly sticking very closely to the source material from a visual point of view (with one or two, shall we say, problematic exceptions).

And that leads me on to my second thought. There’s no getting around it: this movies *reeks* of whitewash. The lead character in the original GitS is Japanese.  Her name is Motoko Kusanagi, for heaven’s sake.  Scarlett Johansson may be many things, but Japanese she ain’t.  It’s not just ScarJo either: I’ve had a look at the cast list and it looks like anyone who could be considered a main character is being played by a white actor, with the Japanese actors picking up the supporting roles. It reminds me of the Doctor Who episode, “The Talons of Weng Chiang”, which did have genuine East Asian actors, but only in the background. Thankfully, we’ve been spared the horrendous yellow face of Weng Chaing, although only just, it seems.

Ordinarily, this would be a no brainer: I’d steer well clear and maybe, maybe, watch it on Netflix in a billion year’s time. But, and here’s the rub, it’s a female-fronted genre action movie, and those aren’t exactly growing on trees. Johansson has appeared in five Marvel movies to date, with a sixth on the way, and yet the Black Widow solo movie is just an eternal ‘maybe’.  There are a few series: Underworld and Resident Evil are the obvious ones, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

There’s no good outcome here.  If I see the movie, I signal to the studios that the course they set was correct: Western audiences need/want Western leads in their movies (*cough* Great Wall *cough*). If I don’t see it, I signal to the studio that action movies with women just don’t have that much of an audience. (The studio thinks very highly of my opinion, as I’m sure you can tell.)

I will still probably go and see it. If I can support underrepresented groups in cinema, I will, even if it’s a rather pyrrhic victory. I would love to get the opportunity to support minority actors in these kind of roles, but I’ll take what I can get at the moment.

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Star Trek is Kind of Racist

So Star Trek. We need to have a talk. You know I love you and everything, but – how do I put this? – you’re kind of racist.

Star Trek is filled with what can only be described as monocultures: whole species where everyone subscribes to the same beliefs. All Klingons are warriors, for example, all Vulcans are logical, all Ferengi are obsessed with profit, and so on and so on. I can pretty much ignore how unrealistic this societal homogeneity is. Yes, it’s a little jarring that every Romulan seems to have the same set of priorities, when even getting four people to agree on a pizza topping is nearly impossible, let alone get an entire species to agree on a belief system.  But Star Trek isn’t really about realism; it’s about ideas and ideals and it tends to paint with a fairly broad brush.

However, this setup leads to some pretty ropey statements. Every time Spock chides McCoy for some emotional outburst, that’s basically racism. Similarly, when McCoy gives Spock grief for his logic and green blood (the blood thing comes up surprisingly often), that’s racism too. It’s like the Enterprise’s mission was actually “to seek out new life and new civilisations (and then to make up a stereotype which will apply to every member of that civilisation)”. There’s even a scene in Voyager – seen below – where Harry Kim says that he was warned about the Ferengi at the Academy, which suggests colossal institutional racism.

(Sorry about the poor quality of the video.  It’s the only one I could find.)

Obviously, what’s supposed to be funny about that particular scene is watching Quark act offended, when we the audience know he’s running a scam.  The warnings Harry received are entirely legitimate, but by mentioning them he gave Quark an opportunity to fleece him out of more money.

It doesn’t seem weird when you’re watching the show because in that world all Vulcans are cold and logical and all Ferengi are greedy and devious, but if you swap about these made-up races with real ethnic groups you can see how bad those comments really are. Imagine if Harry Kim had said something like “we were warned about Jews at the Academy”. Scam or not, he’d pretty much have ended his Starfleet career before it began.

It’s almost funny that a show that is so progressive in so many ways – the original series had one of the first multiracial kisses ever shown on television and the casts have always been pretty diverse – would have such a blindspot for these kind of messages. It isn’t going to make me stop watching Star Trek; I think its positive messages outweigh any inadvertent racist undertones. However, I think it’s definitely worth being aware of and keeping in mind when we watch Star Trek or any other sci-fi/fantasy shows.

 

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Poor Donna Noble…

I really hate the end of season four in the relaunched Doctor Who. Yes, I know I’m about three years too late, but I caught the episode “Turn Left” the other day, and it reminded me just how infuriating that season was.

What bothers me is the rough treatment that Donna Noble gets. Donna is easily one of the best companions the Doctor has ever had – at least in my limited experience – and at first glance, the writing staff seemed to know it too. “Turn Left” even says that she’s the most important being in the universe. This comes after about half an hour of misery for the human race because Donna never saved the Doctor’s life in “The Runaway Bride,” meaning that he wasn’t around to deal with all the other threats that attacked the Earth during season three. So yeah, Donna seems pretty important, especially considering that without the Doctor, the Dalek’s plan to annihilate all non-Dalek life in the universe would have gone ahead without a hitch.

But here’s the problem: If saving the Doctor’s life makes Donna the most important being in the universe, then it’s an accolade she shares with a lot of other people. There are nearly 800 episodes of Doctor Who and Donna is not the first person/robot/sentient plant to save the Doctor’s life. Don’t get me wrong, saving a Time Lord’s life is nothing to be sneezed at, but “Turn Left” makes it abundantly clear that it’s the Doctor, and not Donna, who’s really important.

I’m probably being a little unfair here, as the “most important being in the universe” bit more properly refers to Donna at the end of the season, after she has become part Time Lord and uses her new-found abilities to defeat Davros and the Daleks, put the various stolen planets back where they should be, and save all of creation. But even that is a little bit sketchy when you really look at it. Ignoring for a moment the fact that the way the Doctor Donna thing comes about is one of the most ludicrous deus ex machinas I’ve ever seen, what makes Donna so important is not anything to do with her, but rather where she was standing. It’s a case of her being in the right place at the right time, and had Martha or Jack or Sarah Jane been in Donna’s place, the outcome would have been largely the same. Defeating the Daleks needed some of the Doctor’s mojo, and it just so happened that this time it was Donna in the driving seat.

There’s also the matter of the deeply unsatisfying – not to mention unsettling – way that season ended, with Doctor sealing away Donna’s memory of their time together and forcing her to live the life she left behind in order to prevent her mind from burning out. A life, I might add, that she really didn’t want to go back to. Watching her plead with the Doctor, begging him not to take her memories away was heart-breaking. David Tennant and Catherine Tate did a great job with that scene, but the fact that it exists at all has me scratching my head.

If the plan was to write Donna out of the series in a way that meant she could never come back, why not kill her? Why not have her give her life to save the entire universe, giving her a hero’s death, rather than force her to live a miserable existence as someone she hates. Hell, why make her part Time Lord at all? Why not give her her moment in the sun, and let her succeed because she’s Donna – not because she saved the Doctor, and not because she became the Doctor, but because she thought of something that no one else did, or she could do something that no one else could. Pretty much anything would have been better than the send off that she got.

Goodbye Donna, you deserved better.

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