Interesting article in the Star Tribune by James Pinkerton (no lefty, having worked for the Reagan and Bush I campaigns and administrations), asking "Is King Kong racist?" Let me try and summarize his answer: "Maybe it is, but there is worse racism all around the world, so why not enjoy a good remake of a classic movie."
You can tell Pinkerton is not well informed about this issue, when he writes:
Director Jackson took people of Melanesian stock -- the dark-skinned peoples who are indigenous to much of the South Pacific, including Jackson's own country, New Zealand -- and made them up to look and act like monsters, more zombie-ish than human. Indeed, one is moved to compare these human devils to the ogre-ish Orcs from Jackson's mega-Oscar "Lord of the Rings" films. The bad guys are dark, hideous and undifferentiatedly evil. [emphasis added]
The image of the cannibalistic Pacific savage with loin cloths and bones through their noses is a stereotype based on 19th century portrayals of Melanesians. Pinkerton is right: King Kong does trade on stereotypes of Melanesians. But since the comparison of Polynesian and Melanesian flattered the Polynesians—from a European perspective—it's hardly surprising that Peter Jackson and his New Zealand based collaborators could [re]produce a movie that implicitly damned Melanesian people. Indeed, if you read the credits you'll notice a non-trivial number of Maori names in the roll of people who worked on the film. Contemporary New Zealand society is sensitive to negative portrayals of Maori and Polynesian people, but it isn't at all surprising that King Kong generates little controversy there. In 1933 and 2005, the popular image in European culture of Pacific peoples praises the Polynesians and damns the Melanesians.
In the end it's an entertaining movie, if 30 minutes too long for its own good. Support the Wellington economy and go see it.
(For what it's worth, the discussion about King Kong and racism seems to revolve around what it implicitly says about black Americans. This mystified me. I came away from the movie wondering about it's portrayal of Melanesians, but I must confess to not seeing any implications about black Americans in the movie. I know, I know, the ape-black man connection, but I saw a large ape and thought that's meant to be a large ape. A little exploring with google found very little discussion of racism and King Kong from New Zealand, suggesting perhaps that this is a peculiarly American view of the film, and maybe also that the racial politics you see in King Kong reflect the racial politics you bring to it.)Posted by robe0419 at December 20, 2005 2:46 PM | TrackBack