Movie vs Book: Escape From Spiderhead Island

There is one conversation that can always divide avid book readers : When your favorite novel becomes a film, or say you see a film and realize its a book, which is better? Personally I tend to stick with “the book’s better so much more detail and allows you to really chew on the after math of the book” but that was until I watched Spiderhead on Netflix. Escape From Spiderhead Island is a short story by George Saunders with scifi undertones. This book explores the what if of if our emotions could be controlled by the tap of a button. Those on spiderhead island are the testing subjects and are forever bonded with a “Mobi Pack” the Mobi Pack injects chemicals into your blood streak to invoke a reaction from you for a short period of time. These reactions range from lust to mania to anger and even self reflection. Yet the book lacks detail on the subjects, why they are on this island they cant leave, and the true intensity the chemicals when put into the characters blood stream.This is where the movie comes in. 3 weeks prior to reading escape from spiderhead i watched the movie on Netflix. The characters in the film provide depth, purpose, and vividness to the story that the book simply could not etch across. For instance, within the movie, the audience sees why our main character is on spider island. Which is incredibly interesting as through the movie’s explanation subjects on spider island are incarcerated individuals serving time. The movie also outlines the rules, procedures within spiderhead day to day life , and functions of the Mobi Pack. In addition, the movie shows a darker side of Abnesti that the book doesnt really portray. So is this movie a win for books v movie adaption? Its a yes in my book.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: A Look at Locational Decisions Made in Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

Throughout the film, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, the main character, teacher Ugyen Dorji often contemplates which setting he wants to be in, and which one is the most fulfilling for him. At the start of the movie, Dorji starts his story in a bustling city in Bhutan. One of the very first things we learn about our protagonist is that he is attempting to secure a visa to move to Australia. However, in Bhutan, you have to spend five years working for the government in order to maintain citizenship status and Dorji has only completed four years. He tells his governmental boss that he does not find joy in the profession of teaching and wishes to leave the country to pursue his dream of becoming a singer, another major theme found throughout the film. Instead of allowing him to leave, the secretary states he just finish his final year of service and, since he cannot seem to do his job in the city, has to teach in the most rural, isolated school in the world in the city of Lunana. Lunana is so remote that it takes several days of hiking to reach, and none of the kids there know what a car is. The community only really knows one another, no one else.

The entire lead-up and journey to Lunana is filled with discontent and complaining from Dorji. He is upset at having to leave his familiar city life, his friends, and his girlfriend. He is unfit for the hike to Lunana and disrespects customs and traditions he deems as strange, a possible (though not likely) nod to the concept of Orientalism. He feels on the outside of this society as well as feeling a sense of superiority to them. That is, until he meets the children he will be teaching and sees the lack of space and materials dedicated to their education. He starts to come around to the village, forming connections, and getting supplies to help enhance the school to the best of his ability. He truly begins to immerse himself in the culture, learning more every day about their routines, practices, songs, and most importantly, the connections they have with yaks. In the middle of his stay in Lunana, he learns that his visa to Australia has been approved and he is able to leave once his service year is finished.

The winter quickly approaches, and so are the last few days of Dorji’s stay in Lunana. When he learns he must soon leave, he is immediately distraught. He says that the children still need him and that there is so much he has not been able to teach them yet. Everyone in the village urges him to return the following year after the harsh winter has come to a close. He stays in Lunana for as long as possible until being told he must leave, or he will be stranded there. I truly believe that if he intended to return to Luanan he simply would have remained there through the winter. He wanted to teach and help for as long as possible, but he never intended to remain there, or even return. Once he left, that would be the last time they saw him.

The film ends with a scene of Dorji signing in a bar in Sydney, Australia. He has left everyone behind once again, but this time to follow his heart and attempt to actualize his lifelong dream. He does stop mid-song and sit in silence for a minute before singing a song taught to him in Lunana about the yaks and their significance. The film does not let the audience know if he ever did make his way back to the village of Lunana, which I think was the perfect way to end it. Either way, Dorji would have had regrets about his decision. It is important for him to see all of his aspirations through, which would make the return to Lunana that much more meaningful. If he left Australia for Lunana, it would show what an immense, life-changing impact that experience had for him that he was willing to leave his dreams for it. However, the opposite is also completely understandable. It would be uncharacteristic for him to sacrifice so much to return and teach in the village. I think that they needed one another to learn a lesson, but I am not entirely sure if I think he ever returned. Humans need to go on journeys and experience life in order to grow and learn what is bes for them, and every step he has taken, Dorji has done that.

Indiana Jones and the Orientalism in his movies

Orientalism is the concept of the western view of the eastern world. This is mainly seen with stereotypes about eastern nations and by describing those civilizations as far away and magical. In the film series, Indiana Jones, there is Orientalism seen in each one of the original three films (in the fourth there isn’t orientalism but there are still stereotypes about Latin American nation so I guess South-Americaism?). Right away in the first movie, this is seen. in the Ark of the Covenant, one of the first locations that Indian Jones goes to is the country of Egypt. Now, even though Egypt in the real world is a very prosperous nation with several large cities and its people have very wide and common access to several high end and modern technologies, Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant still shows the country as being a place where everyone fights with swords and lives in dirty mud huts. In fact, t the beginning of the movie they call Egypt a land of magic and mystery and the perfect place where the Ark would be.

In the second movie, the stereotypes just got worse. The second movie, Temple of Doom, takes place in the country of India. This movie is filled to the brim with stereotypes. Right away we see that the first civilization they encounter is a village filled with sheepherders. These villagers all talk about how they have their children stolen and how there is a mysterious royal family that lives in a palace up on the mountain (they don’t even try to hide the mystical faraway land part). The directors then try to emphasize the separation of reality and further perpetuate stereotypes when some of the food that is served is monkey eye soup. The big wammy, however, is with the cult in the basement of the palace where the priest will rip out the hearts of his victims.

The real cherry on top with Orientalism is with the third movie, The Last Crusade (except not really). In this movie, we get to see how the writers of Indiana Jones portray other foreign countries (other foreign white countries) such as Italy and Germany before it goes back to the middle east with Jordan. If one was to compare the ways that the European countries were described compared to the middle eastern countries, one can clearly see that one is shown as more modern and more civilized while the other is seen as thrid world and more old fashioned. Case and point, in Germany, the characters get around in cars and motorcycles while in Jordan, they get around in camels.

Orientalism in Mulan

Everyone knows the critically acclaimed Disney film Mulan. It is highly applauded due to its female hero, which breaks the norm of a standard plot of a Disney film. Despite all of Mulan’s glory, it has tones of orientalism throughout the whole film. Mulan was created after a Chinese folk tale called Ballard of Mulan, however, its animation style seems to portray more Japanese styles than Chinese. For example, when Mulan is being prepared by the matchmaker part of her makeup routine is to cover her face with white powder, however, the white-powered face style comes from the style of Japanese geishas. Not only this, but Mulan is wearing an article of clothing that resembles a Japanese Kimono, despite the film being set during the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty had a traditional type of clothing for women to wear, which was not animated into Mulan. In Mulan there is a warming scene between Mulan and her father under a cherry blossom tree, however, it is commonly known that a cherry blossom tree is a traditional flower in Japan. The mix-ups between Japanese and Chinese cultures show that some westerns see the Asian cultures as one big cohesive one even though Asia is made up of 48 different countries.

Mulan misses the mark on representing the fashion and make-up styles, but it also mocks one of China’s most valued ideals. Mushu is supposed to be an ancestral spirit and he is loved amongst the audience for his comedic personality as he guides Mulan through her troubles. But, in Chinese culture, ancestral worship is a belief that is taken extremely seriously and is not to be mocked. Mulan doing this suggest that Westerns see China’s ancestral traditions as a joke or an idea that is ridiculous. One of the core beliefs of the tradition of ancestral connections stems from the idea of respecting your elders. However, Mushu, the ancestral spirit, is disrespected by Mulan and the cricket which undermines the whole idea of what an ancestral spirit is supposed to be or how it is supposed to be treated. This doesn’t just highlight the lack of knowledge but shows the little respect we have for the Chinese culture.

Disney wanted to include more races and ethnicities in the Disney franchise but its version of different races and cultures is skewed by the eurocentric view westerners have about the world around them.

Leave Your Job and Sing Songs From the Hilltop: Orientalism in “Lunana: a Yak in the Classroom”

Set in the south Asian nation of Bhutan, “Lunana: a Yak in the Classroom” tells the story of Ugyen, a teacher who aspires to move to Australia to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a singer. However, to align with his duties to the Bhutanese government, he must complete his fourth year of mandatory service teaching in Lunana, home to one of the world’s most remote schools.

Right away, I noticed the strong juxtaposition between a city kid like Ugyen and this remote town in the Orient. Ugyen spends essentially the entire journey complaining about its difficulty and pondering how, exactly, people survive in the middle of nowhere. He almost never takes out his headphones, completely disengaged with his natural surroundings and embraced in the material world.

But as he spends more time interacting with Lunana and its people, Ugyen starts to realize that they are not just a bunch of other-worldly “savages” — the people of Lunana value his presence and value teaching him the legends of their culture. For example, the yak is a motif that is a symbol of love and survival — they sing songs about it, they honor the dead with it, they start fires with its dung to cook food. The students of Lunana expose Ugyen to a different, engaging culture, and in return they value his own lessons through his teaching. This moment of realization in Ugyen’s first few days is the catalyst in his decision to stay in Lunana rather than panic and leave at first sight.

Ugyen still struggles to see Lunana outside of the other-worldly orientalist lens — he has nothing to teach the students with, no electricity, and albeit he is learning, there is still a disconnect between the modern world and the orient in several instances — his students do not know what a car is, and after he runs out of teaching supplies, he must have more sent from the nearest civilization. While learning the traditional songs of Lunana, he is told to “leave his job and sing songs from the hilltop.” While the citizens of Lunana imagined the “hilltop” as the physical hilltop that people sing songs from, one cannot help but imagine Australia — where Ugyen planned to go to become a singer before being sent off to Lunana; the place he thought success was the most possible.

When wintertime comes, Ugyen has the ability to fulfill his lifelong dream, but instead of the “it’ll just be a few months” attitude we saw at the beginning of the film, we see him having trouble leaving. In spite of the disconnect, Ugyen did everything he could for his students, and they let him know. The students embrace of Ugyen as their teacher helped him embrace the culture of Lunana, and even as he heads off for the “hilltop” of Australia, he sings the songs of Lunana.

And I know, in this final scene of the film, Ugyen felt he was doing good — the reasons the filmmakers showed the altitude of each place Ugyen visited (Lunana being the highest; Sydney, Australia the lowest) was to demonstrate that Australia isn’t a “hilltop” after all. As Ugyen got further away from civilization, the altitude literally and figuratively increased. “Lunana: a Yak in the Classroom” demonstrates orientalism’s affect on civilization, and how one can somehow become more enlightened by getting away from the modern world.

Orientalism in Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings was my favorite book and movie series growing up. I argue that the series is better than Star Wars and The Godfather by a large margin. That being said, I think all lovers of the trilogy should consider an orientalist perspective when experiencing the power of the one ring.

While it may not have been intentional, J.R.R. Tolkien created a world called “Middle Earth” that resembled a Eurocentric mindset. In Middle Earth, the west part of the map is filled with innocent white people (hobbits, elves, men, dwarves). The most extreme example is the snow-white elves. Further East in the map is Mordor where Mount Doom lies along with thousands of disgusting, uncivilized orcs.

Again, Tolkien most likely did not mean to hide a hate for the East in his books. However, the blatant contrast between the white westerners and orc easterners reflects a regional bias that may be prevalent among Europeans. Subconsciously, westerners may differentiate themselves from other regions, such as the East, based on race.

In the two biggest battles of the Lord of the Rings, there is a theme of everyone coming together in Middle Earth to defeat the orcs. The first battle is Helms Deep, where the men of Rohan are surprised by hundred of elves willing to fight along side them. Even though the idea is that two very different groups come together, both groups are still 100% white. Anyone who is not western is left out of the “good” alliance.

Tolkien had a clear lack of people of color in his book, but there is still no way I will try to cancel Lord of the Rings. But through this orientalist lens, we can see how a Eurocentric viewpoint can influence one of the greatest pieces of media in the last century.

God of Small Things and Parasite

“How could she stand the smell? Haven’t you noticed? They have a particular smell, these Paravans.”

Baby Kochamma, God of Small Things

“No, no, it’s not that. What is it? Like an old radish. No. You know when you boil a rag? It smells like that.”

Park Dong-ik, Parasite

*spoilers* GOST reminded me of many works of art, including Parasite, one of my favorite movies. Both works put smell at the center of tensions between classes.

This use of smell is very striking in both stories. Even though it’s one of our most powerful scenses, smell tends to be sidetracked in movies and books.

Class might visually or audibly present itself differently in different cultures. Scent is the most universally recognized measure of class; no matter where in the world you live, it requires privilege to have access to perfume, running water, and soap, and to live in an area that isn’t heavily polluted or have a job that doesn’t include interactions with trash/chemicals.

The effects of orientalism are also present in Parasite. I haven’t seen the movie for a while, but a detail I remember is that one character, Ki-jung, uses the fake name “Jessica” and claims to have studied in America when she tries to become the Park family’s art therapist. She seems more qualified to the Park family because of her English name and American education.

There are more similarities between the two stories. Both are about relations between families of different classes, and all families involved in these stories are destroyed because of these relationships. If you haven’t seen Parasite, I highly recommend it. Like GOST, it is as thrilling as it is thought-provoking.

Orientalism in Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean, a well known franchise adored by a large audience, is a fun, thrilling tale of the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow and his companions. I grew up watching the films as a child and immediately fell in love with the series as soon as jack stepped off his sinking ship onto the dock of Port Royal. The first film follows Captain Jack and Will Turner as they attempt to catch the infamous ship, The Black Pearl, captained by Jack’s mutinous first mate Barbossa. The second film, Dead Man’s Chest, picks up right where the first left off and the viewer can jump right back into the fun. Although an enjoyable movie as a whole, the Caribbean native people in the film are portrayed as beast like cannibals who, are meant to be viewed as merely animals.

When we arrive on the island we follow will turner as he is brought before Captain Jack, who the native people believe to be a god. Immediately, the orientalist tones of the film are clear. Within the first few minutes, the white “civilized” characters are placed on a pedestal above the native people who are portrayed as uncivilized and unintelligent. The film depicts them as static, undeveloped savages who are outsmarted by their white overlord. As the story progresses, the native people, who believe Jack to be a god, decide to eat him in order to “Do him the honor of releasing him from his fleshy prison” In the end, Jack and his crew manage to escape the island on The Black Pearl and continue on their journey.

The portrayal of the Caribbean native people in this film is highly problematic. To the western viewer, who may be being exposed to them for the first time through the film, will not see them as people, rather as animals who act off of their instincts and primitive beliefs. The viewers may then internalize the sense of superiority presented to them about themselves and their culture to those that they view as the other. This belief only works to increase the divide and misunderstanding of people who have different cultures than what is commonly known in the west, increasing the prejudice and hate that we commonly see today.

Orientalism in Star Wars

While Star Wars is one of the most popular and (in my opinion) greatest movie franchises in cinematic history, it still has its flaws. Nearly all of those problems are in the storyline of the most recent trilogy, but on a more serious note there are crucial flaws in the original trilogy, and one is the portrayal of different groups of people throughout the movie.

The first movie starts with Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, a sandy, desert planet. The inhabitants of the planet vary, but one of the most obvious native groups to Tatooine are the Sand People. The sand people are portrayed as an uncivilized race that steals from others and wear ratty sand robes, and this is shown clearly in the first part of the movie when they rob Luke. The problem with this is that this aligns closely with the Western view of the Middle East. The vast deserts with no civilizations represent the terrain, and the torn-up robes covering their bodies and heads closely resemble hijabs and other traditional Middle Eastern clothing. The savagery of their lifestyle emphasizes the western idea that these countries are uncivilized and barbaric. This portrayal results in westerners seeing the Middle East as insignificant, and it continues the cycle of racism that already exists in America. While some may see this comparison between the Sand People and Middle Easterns a stretch, it also doesn’t help that these scenes were filmed in Tunisia, a Northern African country with many deserts.

Later in the trilogy, Yoda travels to Kashyyyk, a dense forest planet. This planet seems to have humid, warm weather, and closely represents a jungle climate such as a jungle in Southern Africa or Southern Asia. Of course, Star Wars continues their orientalist theme, and the inhabitants of this planet are Wookies, the same species as Chewbacca. The Wookies are large, gorilla like animals that are seen as rather dumb, and mainly used for their strength. They are rarely seen as dynamic characters, and are usually one sided and cannot help themselves without a leader. Throughout the series all Wookies seem to have a master, whether its Chewbacca with Han Solo, the Wookies on Kashyyyk being led by Yoda, or Krrsantan being led by the Hutts and then Boba Fett. While this may seem to be a coincidence, it still spreads the idea that in the real world, the people from these jungle regions are uncivilized animals, and are desperate for someone to come save them. This enforces the discriminatory views associated with eastern countries and encourages racism. Similar to the situation on Tatooine, the scenes for this part of the movie were shot in Thailand, increasing the idea that the people from these regions are similar to the Wookies in the movie and have animalistic tendencies.

Overall, the Orientalism in Star Wars may not be as obvious as in other movies because the characters portraying these groups of people aren’t human, but that also magnifies it because it emphasizes the animalistic and savage tendencies. The Sand People and the Wookies are obvious examples, but the further you dig, the more Orientalism you will find. It is important to recognize these portrayals and continue to resist the subtle racism incorporated into movies.

Insight on “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom”

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom has been nominated for Best International Feature Film in the 94th Academy Awards ceremony and as I watch the film, I notice similarities between the movie’s plot, and me watching it as a member of the western world. The film stars a young man who is a teacher but no longer wishes to be. Ugyen is then sent to the most remote school in the world, Lunana, where he is convinced, he will quit and leave. The teacher begins to enjoy the village and teaching more and more as he starts to appreciate what a teacher can really do for the world. “A teacher touches the future,” is what the villagers believe. Throughout the story, the teacher becomes humbled by the villagers as he transitions from his city life. Humbled in a way that he begins to appreciate the hard work and the simple beauty of the village.

As I watch the film, I cannot help but see motifs within the movie. The city the teacher hails from represents western culture with the fun pop music, professional hiking shoes, and a (possibly) Nike jacket. These are the things westerners are comfortable seeing because we do not have to make any sort of effort to understand. These things are exactly the same in the west. As Ugyen transitions into the village, he gradually starts to ease his hold on his familiar city life. Singing is a motif within the film and the contrast between the songs the villagers sing compared to Ugyen is stark. The songs are not something a western person can easily pick up and Ugyen has the same problem, therefore starting to humble us both. The viewer has just as much learning to do as the new teacher. The film teaches both Ugyen and the viewer to always try to understand another person’s way of life. Ugyen constantly complained about Lunana until he started to understand it. As westerners, we make assumptions about the ways others live, even within their own country. I live in a very urban environment and have assumptions about people who live on farms, let alone people who live on a different side of the world, have a different language, different traditions and simply a different way of life. It should be common decency for someone to always try to understand another person’s life before making any assumptions about them.

Motifs In “Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom”

The film “Lunana” is beautiful because of its delicate and precise construction. Every shot is carefully thought-out with the meaning of the whole film in mind. Within the film, there are several motifs which also help to contribute to the meaning.

Singing is one such motif. In the first act of the film, so to speak, we witness Ugyen singing in English in a club in the city, after proclaiming that he was going to quit teaching and wants to leave the country to sing in Australia. Singing for him is somewhat of an escape from his work and home life, and is also a way in which he connects with other people. Ugyen also listens to music during the climb up the mountain, until his device runs out of battery. We next see singing while Ugyen makes his ascent to Lunana with his two guides, while they are making camp for the night. He asks them what they are singing about, and they explain to him that they are yak herders. I believe it is significant that this moment comes after Ugyen is forced to take off his headphones, and it could be argued that listening is part of the singing motif.

Singing/listening is also seen in the relationship between Ugyen and Saldon; in fact, the sound of Saldon singing is what caused Ugyen to seek her out in the first place. Furthermore, the interaction where Saldon teaches Ugyen the song she was singing is one of the most significant in their relationship. Asking why different people sing, and what the different kinds of listening are, will lead us to some of the more general thematic concerns of the film.

Another motif that the film explores is yaks, and more specifically, their dung. What I found most striking was the respect that the people of Lunana have for the yaks. I would go as far as to say that they have achieved mutual recognition with the yaks, while at the same time Ugyen is struggling to achieve something similar with the people. In conjunction with the motif of song, one of their most treasured songs was written about how a herder was forced to slaughter his most prized yak. The use of the dung to make fire, and the fact that Ugyen immediately starts collecting the dung with his bare hands, is also significant. I think that this motif leads us to themes concerning city life versus rural life, as well as animal and human relationships.

I am certain that there are many more motifs that could and should be explored further, and such exploration is encouraged by the clever approach taken by the filmmakers and writers.

Orientalism in Aladdin

Orientalism is a misunderstood problem that has led to a false representation of Asai and Africa and the cultures surrounding them. The group of people misrepresented the most by orientalism are people from the middle east area. People from Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen all have to live with stereotypes placed on their heads through orientalism. In a large majority of films and books, the story’s antagonist comes from some Islam militia terrorist group located in the middle east. This has spread to Africa as well through groups like Boko Haram. Think back to any movie you have ever watched, or any book you have ever read, and try to think of an example where the bad guys or the people portrayed as evil in the story are not Muslim or African. It’s difficult, isn’t it? and near impossible when discussing films from a long time ago. These constant stereotypes have led Muslim people, the Islamic culture, African people, and African groups and cultures to be seen as over-aggressive and dangerous.

A good example of orientalism can be found in the film Alladin. When a middle eastern woman was asked how she felt Alladin represented her culture, she said she throuroughly enjoyed the original film from 1992, but when it came to the remastered disney version, she had the following to say, “Is it messed up that I’m happy Disney has traded explicit racism for cliched exoticism? Is that really the bar they had to clear for me to be happy” she was clearly unhappy with of inacurate disneys representation of her culture was. She went into further discussion of the movie and how Disney failed to hire actual Middle-Eastern actors in both movies. That people of different cultural backgrounds are not interchangeable and simply reinforces Orientalist ideas and erases culture and history. Agrabah, which is the name of the fictional town for the movie, is based off Middle Eastern, Islamic, and Asian aspects and cultural identities. Within the opening song the lyrics describe the town to be “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home”, essentially describing the people of these cultural backgrounds to be barbaric and uncivil. Another point to be made was that the main characters, Aladdin and Jasmin, are both wearing clothing from different countries with Aladdin wearing a Turkish Fez and Jasmine with Indian shoes.

Orientalism is all around us, in films, books, story’s, and many other places. It is a problem that has been rooted deep in our society for many years, and is now something hard to get rid off. The false representation of Asai and Africa and the cultures surrounding them has lead to negative connotations surrounding them and giving people the wrong idea of these cultures.

The Orientalist Book of Boba Fett

Disney Plus released the first episode of its new series, The Book of Boba Fett, on December 29, 2021. In the series, the crime lord and previous bounty hunter Boba Fett take over the desert land of Tatooine and try to make a name for themselves as its new rulers. The planet of Tatooine denotes a representation of the Middle East as seen in western culture. The desert planet has cities and towns of crime, ruled by crime lords and dictators, and much of the planet is populated by the poor and lower-class laborers. The entire series plays on the stereotypes of orientalism and Middle Eastern culture. 

In his book, Orientalism, Said noted that Orientals were viewed as impossible to trust and strange by definition. One of the native species of Tatooine is the Jawas, who are strange, hooded beings that steal and raid scrap and junk from villages. These characters are developed around the theme of Orientalism and the idea of desert-men as being despicable and less human. They speak a language that the viewers of the show cannot understand, pushing the idea that they lack intelligence and human resemblance. 

In The Book of Boba Fett, the previous ruler Jabba the Hutt would be moved by servants as they carried him. In the second episode of the series, Boba Fett is offered to be transported just as his predecessor had. Boba Fett outwardly rejects this idea, criticizing it as being disrespectful and ostentatious. This scene relates to the theme of Orientalism in the show as it portrays the native ruler, Jabba the Hutt, to be cruel whereas the English-speaking new ruler, Boba Fett, is more merciful and liked. 

Aladdin and Orientalism

I don’t see movies in theatre often. I’m just not a movie person. However, for whatever reason, I went and saw Disney’s Live-Action Aladdin back when it came out in 2019. I enjoyed the film and didn’t think much of it afterward until this year when I was introduced to the concept of Orientalism. Before this class, I had no idea what that was or what it referred to. Now, after exploring the definition, I am now being challenged to apply this concept to a modern concept in my own life. The first thing I thought of was this film. Before class a few days ago, I thought the film and its depiction of Middle Eastern Culture was reasonable. However, I’m now beginning to think it may be a bit outdated, to say the least.

The truth is, this film is a prime example of Orientalism and proof that it hasn’t changed, even in modern times. The 1992 animated version of Aladdin was problematic itself: according to the article “Orientalism in Film: Aladdin Over the Last Century,” the film introduces the characters’ cultural backgrounds to be “barbaric and uncivil.” Additionally, minor details in the film, such as the clothing that the main characters wear, are all inconsistent with the reality of these cultures. Based on the backlash from that film, you would think that filmmakers would make more of an effort to prevent the inaccurate perceptions of the East that Orientalism amplifies. Yet, there appear to be similar problems with the second film.

The actors hired to play the main characters in the live-action film are not even Middle-Eastern actors; however, according to author Maha Albadrawi, “different cultural backgrounds are not interchangeable,” and in doing this the film is already reinforcing Orientalism and erasing culture and history. This is the first of many problems that critics found with the live-action film. Yet, they all appear to be rooted in the same way: filmmakers and producers are letting European culture influence their depictions of the Middle East. It won’t be until we, as a society, reject our inaccurate impressions and make an effort to actively engage and educate ourselves in Middle Eastern culture that Orientalism will become less relevant.

Edmund and Edgar, Loki and Thor

“Well then, / Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. / Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund / As to th’ legitimate… Edmund the base / Shall top the legitimate. I grow, I prosper”(I.ii.17-22).

“To prove to Father that I am a worthy son! When he wakes, I will have saved his life, I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be true heir to the throne!”(Branagh, 1:35:48-1:35:59).

In Thor (2011), Thor is set to take the throne in Asgard in place of his father. However, when Thor is accused of inciting conflict with the Frost Giants, he is banished to Earth, and his brother Loki becomes the crown prince in his place. As the movie continues, it becomes clear that Loki sabotaged his brother in hopes of becoming their father’s true heir. It is also revealed that Loki is not actually an Asgardian, and is instead an abandoned Frost Giant whom Odin adopted. When Loki discovers this, he recalls all of the times that it has been obvious that his father loved Thor more than him. His feelings of jealousy and greed result in him actively working to dethrone his brother and steal his place.

This directly parallels the relationship between Edmund and Edgar in King Lear. Edmund, like Loki, is the bastard child and was always inherently loved less by his father. And, like Loki, Edmund conspires against his brother in hopes of regaining what he feels his brother has stolen from him. As Loki claims his brother’s throne, Edmund claims his brother’s land.

Edgar, like Thor, must quickly adopt a new role in order to stay alive. Thor must adapt to life on Earth, a harsh change from his life as royalty on Asgard. Edgar must assimilate to life as a beggar, or a “Poor Tom” – a severe downgrade from his previous role as nobility in England. And in their respective stories, Edgar and Thor represent goodness, righteousness, and strong core values, contrasted sharply with their brothers who represent greed, resentment, and more.

Personally, I doubt these similarities were unintentional. Kenneth Branagh, director of Thor, is a dedicated fan of Shakespeare – he has even directed and starred in some of his own adaptations of Shakespeare’s famous works. Tom Hiddleston, the actor who portrayed Loki, also has strong roots in Shakespearean theater. With this in mind, it is fascinating to see how two characters in a Marvel superhero movie can so directly parallel these two Shakespearean characters.

Parallels Between Sherlock Holmes, High Functioning Sociopath, and Mersault, Potential Psychopath?

In Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger, the main character Meursault appears to be very nonchalant and detached. He shows little emotion even at very major events. When his mother dies, he doesn’t cry, he doesn’t wish to see the body; the only thing occupying his mind is how he has a headache and wishes to take a nap, have a smoke, and drink some coffee. When he gets offered a job in Paris, he doesn’t show any emotion, only stating that he already has a job, why should he need a promotion?

In the TV show Sherlock, based on the famous novel series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath. A sociopath is defined by Oxford as “a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience”. Sherlock is capable of communicating and making connections with people just as John Watson, hence the high functioning, however, he is nonempathetic towards societal norms.

Meursault is similar to Sherlock in the sense that he acts on his own accord, societal norms not influencing his behavior or decisions in the slightest. However, I believe Meursault exhibits behaviors more synonymous with a psychopath. Sociopaths are seen more as “hot-headed” and have a “rules be damned” mentality, while psychopaths are cold and calculating, and have violent tendencies. Meursault killing a man certainly falls under violent social behavior. Psychopaths are also more personally driven to act the way they do, while sociopaths are still impacted by society and are compelled to act not according to the unwritten rules. Meursault is detached from society in the sense he doesn’t even care about its existence. He simply exists.

Evening Thoughts on Complex Individuality and Mutual Recognition

As I read over the criteria list for the blog post, nothing quite struck me right away. My summer reading book Exit, Pursued By a Bear was mildly entertaining at best, and no other book I’ve read recently contained any depth. However, while taking a break from my Criminal Minds obsession this summer, I tried watching the new hit HBO series Euphoria. Although the show is filled with drugs, sex, and lots of sparkles, there is something else that makes it so captivating: the complex individuality of each character.

Like no other show I’ve seen before, Euphoria accurately depicts the struggles of high school, addiction, abusive parents, and every thing in between. What truly amazed me when watching it was the way it that showed life for what it is: really f-ing hard, but something beautiful at the same time. Without romanticizing the struggles of each character, Euphoria demonstrates that every single person you´ll encounter is going through something, whether you know it or not. The show does not focus on one specific character, but rather how each of their complex stories are intertwined in some way.

Nabokov´s concept of mutual recognition goes hand-in-hand with the idea of individuality because it recognizes that each person is more than just a binary, that we are all complex, unique humans. And such is the beauty of real life: we are all complex individuals that are living our own story in tandem with one another.

A Conversation about Cinema, Race, and Bread

In Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ short story “A Conversation About Bread,” a ‘meta narrative’ calls attention to the complexity of storytelling regarding race, culture, and socioeconomic disparities. It questions the function and implications of academic cultural studies by chronicling an interview between two anthropology grad students who are working on an ethnography project.

One can’t help but become painfully sensitive to their own interpretation of the short story, which is later extended to our broader relationship with stories and storytelling. This questioning of storytelling, immediately made me think of film and cinema.

When Eldwin, one of the anthropology students, reflects on the complexity of storytelling; he asks himself the following important question.

Didn’t every story provide a narrow representation at best and fetishize somebody at worst?

Thompson-Spires, Nafissa. “A Conversation About Bread.” Heads of the Colored People, p.183.

This immediately brought to mind a film analysis video essay I watched on one of my favorite directors, Sofia Coppola. You can watch the video essay here.

Although skepticism of Coppola’s privileged and narrow narrative had surfaced for a while, her 2017 film The Beguiled was the recipient of the most controversy. Consistent with Coppola’s hallmark style, the film was chock-full of painteresque tableaux featuring a group of southern women portrayed by Kirsten Dunst (as always), Elle Fanning, and Nicole Kidman. Shockingly (or maybe not so shockingly), in Coppola’s rendition of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 Civil War Era novel, the two characters of color (a black slave, and a biracial character) are void from the plot entirely. This directorial decision sparked passionate debates and criticism, drawing attention to Coppola’s privilege and blindness to the diversity of femininity.

According to Eldwin’s philosophy, wouldn’t Coppola’s decision to omit Black characters from her film be better than portraying them problematically?

I feel as if a stereotypical, tokenized, and flat addition of black characters to accompany the white leads or to promote a narrative of white saviorism could be far worse than the narrow view Coppola offered. Read this article about Viola Davis and The Help.

It is hardest to question the things we love and cherish the most, but as a Chinese American girl coming of age – I can’t help but feeling subordinate to this limited, warped portrayal of the delicacies of female adolescence. How could someone who looked like me, or my friends ever exist in this universe of long gazes out of passing windows or the effluvia of the Lisbon sisters’ bedroom paired with melancholically eerie soundtracks by the French band, Air. Would anyone other than a Kirsten Dunst archetype ruin the aesthetic and dreaminess of these films centered around this angelic pinnacles of Eurocentric beauty? Simultaneously, Coppola has been one of the most successful female directors, and has carved out a space for the rawness of female adolescence that was previously nonexistent in mainstream Hollywood. Her attention to feminine aesthetics and detail has often been criticized as superfluous; interestingly enough male directors who do the same, such as Wes Anderson, are often praised for being unique and artistic. Her films have played a critical role in my coming of age, and serve as constant artistic inspirations. Yet her choice to prioritize the privileged, white female narratives in times of historical urgency is questionable. Not only that, but I feel as lonesome as her delicately shielded protagonists when I am led to believe that artistry and beauty is defined by characters such as these. As my own coping mechanism, I have attempted to build this world around myself and for my friends in a way that feels authentic. The ruffles, the longing emptiness, the way the light reflects through the lawns of a suburban neighborhood – it all is translated through my own mind to somehow redefine these stories starring girls like me.

The critical role white female fragility plays in systems of oppression is undeniable. At times, it can arguably be the most oppressive and influential when it comes to the marginalization of womxn of color. Womxn is intentionally spelled with an “x” in order to awknowlege trans and non-binary womxn (who undoubtedly have no place in Coppola’s worlds), and to avoid the sexism associated with man and men. Read this interesting essay on the power of white female fragility over womxn of color.

The solution that the video and I both come to is that Hollywood needs to make more space for womxn of color, instead of tasking Coppola with representing all womxn. As we learn through Thompson-Spires’ characters, the readers are just as responsible as the writers when it comes to highlighting the stories of marginalized people. As an audience, how can we learn to compensate for the finite representation we are given? How can we do so without fetishizing or tokenizing a group that is culturally different from our own? That is a question without a clean and simple answer that we must revisit throughout our lives.

kirsten dunst as Marie Antoinette – if it's hip, it's here

“Parasite” and “The Lesson”: Is Society Really a Democracy?

A couple months back, I watched the film Parasite. The director, Bong Joon-ho, constitutes a story about a poor family living in South Korea that try to climb the social ladder by leeching onto the Park family — getting their taste of wealth. (This movie is a masterpiece and I highly recommend you watch it if you haven’t).

This film, I’ve noticed, has a lot of parallels with the short story, “The Lesson”. Though I can’t think of a scene in Parasite in particular, the ideologies in “The Lesson” are akin. Throughout the film, there is a common theme of poverty and the inequality between the rich and the poor. The Kim family were destitute basement dwellers who worked just as hard if not more than the Park family, but the Kims were still low income. The Kims worry about money, the extravagant Parks worry about poor people’s unpleasant smell. Similarly, the eight children in “The Lesson” go on a short trip, arranged by Miss Moore, outside of their oppressed community which leads them to encounter items they have never seen, items that are far beyond their economic means. Miss Moore wanted the children to realize that wealth is unfairly and unequally distributed. At the end of the short story, Miss Moore asks the children what kind of society it is in which some people can spend more on a toy than others have to spend on food and housing. Sugar replied, “…this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it?” (115). Sugar believes that it’s not a democracy because some people do not have an equal opportunity to earn money. There are people, both in Parasite and “The Lesson”, that don’t have to worry about the almighty dollar. Both pieces unveil that there was no “equal crack at the dough,” ultimately concluding that both societies are not a democracy.

Orientalism in Pop Culture

While watching the Orientalism video, Edward Said mentioned the presence of Orientalism in Hollywood. This got me thinking and I decided to do a little research on it. I was shocked to see that some really popular movies had scenes that portrayed middle eastern people as dangerous and violent.

One of the most surprising examples for me was from Back to the Future. I remembered the scene in which Libyan terrorists were shooting at Doc Brown. I think the most disturbing thing about this is that the times I have watched this movie, I never gave this scene a second thought. It never occurred to me how racist it was to choose Libyans as the terrorists coming out of nowhere to shoot at Doc and Marty.

The Libyans | Futurepedia | Fandom

This shows me that Orientalism is rooted in a lot of us because of the society we live in today. It makes me sad that I have unknowingly learned that middle eastern terrorists are normal. It’s making me wonder what other forms of Orientalism are occurring in pop culture today that I have been oblivious to. I’m hoping that learning about this topic will help me see racism towards middle eastern people that I have never noticed before.