Monday, September 28, 2009

Visual Media Review: Battle for Terra Blu-ray/DVD

'Lo Peoples,

Battle for Terra
Rated PG

After all her recent fuming, Her Tangh-i-ness is delighted to have something to crow about for a change. Between the second Transformers movie, District Nine, and the second season finale of True Blood, I felt that maybe other painful, racist tropes were due for a comeback at any time. I have seen proof positive that the kind of movies I want to see and support are actually being made. Buy or rent a copy of Battle for Terra. It's totally worth the good karma points. We need to demonstrate there's a market for these folks.

Battle for Terra has been directed and written by Aristomenis Tsirbas. Evan Spiliotopolous is the screenwriter. Gentlemen, Her Tangh-i-ness, and the Lemurian are supremely grateful for your decision to create and produce a story that falls outside the usual Hollywood toxic fare. Efcharisto! Well done. May the Blu-ray and DVD sales make up for what didn't happen in the box office.

In the making of segment, the Tsirbas explained that he intended for this to be an "invasion" movie. Humans are the invaders this time around. Spiliotopolous also points out that an animation like this is adult fare. Countries such as Japan and France can create animation for grownups, but in the US, audiences are still slow to catch on.

I'm saddened that when my brother, the Lemurian, and I actually went to see Battle for Terra in the theaters, it was consigned to locations that might as well been light years away. We didn't hear about it in time to catch it locally. Yet, the Lemurian decided, based on reviews from sources like IGN, the gamer site, that Battle for Terra would be an instant buy.

So this weekend, we settled in front of his Sony 1080 Full HD screen and slid the Blu-ray into the trusty Samsung. I know there have been rumblings about the quality of the animation, but to our mind, nothing detracted from the viewing experience. Simplicity can be quite complex as any South Park episode can demonstrate. Quality CGI does not result in minstrel-bots or freakin' Jar Jar Binks.

As a person of color, I usually identify with aliens in science fiction. I watch movies expecting the aliens to get the short end of the stick just like human, so-called "minority" groups.

I observed the pale-skinned, three-fingered, tadpole people glide through the first few minutes of the movie. I call them tadpole people because they had the same kind of vestigial tail without fins. They literally float-swam through their atmosphere which incidentally was poisonous to humans. The Terrans were cute in the sense that E.T. and the Muppets are cute which helps with viewer empathy.
Big eyes never fail. At first, the majority of the Terran population revered the invading humans as gods. Terran Elders seemed to have a different opinion of the happenings but they refused to share what they knew with their own people. The plot thickened.

Mala was the fiesty Terran heroine who rescued a human, Jim Stanton, in order to save her own captured father. By the time, we got this part, I'd been thinking this could be Pocahontas meets John Smith 2009 times worse. With his square chin and close-shaved head, Jim Stanton looked like a Space Marine posterboy with a designer eyebrow cut. (Stanton, incidentally, reminded Her Tangh-i-ness and the Lemurian of Richard Corben's Den. Visually. Not actually.) Jim Stanton's character arc required him to move from seeing the Terrans as potential hostiles to sacrificing his life for their welfare. Mala lost her own father but successfully defended her home planet from the crippled generation ship populated by desperate humans. It turned out the Terrans once had a warlike period but banished the evidence to the outer regions of the planet and certain underground facilities.

When I noticed the Black human President voiced by Danny Glover, I think I relaxed a tiny bit. (Yes. Her Tangh-i-ness is oversensitive! She is trying to undo years of exposure to racist propaganda.) The film's antagonist, a suitably hawkish General Hemmer leads a coup against the President in order to ensure survival of the human race. Hemmer intends to terraform the planet and write off the intelligent Terran population as collateral damage. Humans will once again have a home despite the lethal cost to another species. If Hemmer had said, "Stay the course," to Jim Stanton, we could have substituted Hemmer for any number of recent political figures.

I expected Jim Stanton and Mala to save the day, but I didn't expect the hero to die in order to make things right. This is where I really appreciated the risk taken by the director and writers. Sacrifice usually falls in standard movie fare upon some hapless sidekick (often a person of color) whose death clears the path to resolution between the warring parties. The hero strides into the sunset with the heroine on his arm and credits roll.

But it didn't go down like that in Battle for Terra. Jim Stanton takes out Hemmer and everyone else aboard the terraformer in order to put a stop to the madness. Can we say deep? After his suicide run, the Terrans opt to share their world with humans who are confined to a dome where oxygen-producing foliage can allow them to peacefully co-exist. Mala and Stanton's younger brother share a feel-good moment.

Even as much as I'm down for Spock and Uhura, I cringed at the thought of an interspecies romance but Battle for Terra didn't go there either. Thank the Force. Jim Stanton got a statue dedicated to his memory. Mala glided into the sunset piloting her own ship accompanied by a love interest of her own kind. And the Black President survived.

I can totally understand why parents might be loathe to answer questions from their little ones after watching. Why there's that disturbing near-death scene of all those cute tadpole people. And who really wants to own up to the predatorial nature of the human species?

Thinking parents who want to raise the next generation of staunch Pro-Alienists like Her Tangh-i-ness and the Lemurian cogitate, then teleport, but don't walk to get a copy of Battle for Terra.


Her Tangh-i-ness

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Visual Media Review: True Blood Season 2

'Lo Peoples,

I regret to inform you...I'm not part of the target demographic in this case, either. I want to watch shows and enjoy them, not break out the verbal equivalent of an edged weapon. Sh*t.

Monday, September 14th, 2009, I'd just finished watching episodes 7-12 of True Blood season 2 at the home of dear friends. Yup. I'm back on my soapbox again. I'd had moments, last season, where I found myself bristling while watching True Blood, but the good moments outweighed the bad, so I kept watching. Now I feel as if I've been visually and dramatically B*tch-slapped. Other than the incidents that I shall address in this post, I found the remainder of True Blood season 2 quite satisfying. I shall pick up my wounded pride and eventually follow a True Blood season three.

I grew up watching People of Color and LGBT characters evolve on network television from nonentities, token representatives, into caricatures and back into caricatures again. Sometime about the 1980's, I drew an invisible line in my mind. I decided to blanket-forgive a certain incidence of foolishness due to the fact that Political Correctness had not yet become a cultural standard. By the way, being PC does not even begin to address the egregiousness of certain repeated tropes on TV, Cable, and in Movies. Actors Mantan Mooreland and Butterfly McQueen took the work given to them. But those roles should have long disappeared by now. No entity or law exists to require PC compliance or to prevent Ethnic and LGBT character-assassinations.

Understand, I am a storyteller. I totally get that conflict keeps people watching. However, there is an issue in visual media of using stereotypical archetypes. This, in my book, falls into the racist and bigoted propaganda camp. The visual medium influences social behavior. I'm sorry...this is a known fact. Take some responsibility and correct the error. True Blood has all of season 3 to do this.

Obviously, if the majority of producers and writers of a show do not come from a particular ethnic or sexual background, they do not automatically have a reason to consider the impact certain characterizations or plot elements have. Yet, I and others, would feel remiss in not speaking out on these points.

Let me begin with the positive.

I accept that the True Blood series centers about whatever Sookie Stackhouse is doing. The Blonde Barbie = Good Girl trope has been with movies since before Sookie. But Alan Ball expanded Lafayette in such a way that I prayed I would see something that had been missing from Queer As Folk, for example. Believe me, I know that the wonderful All-People Of Color headlining show, Noah's Arc, exists, but here is a strong Black Gay male character who has the potential to hold his own amongst an inclusive cast. I am likewise thrilled to have Tara, a beautiful, Black woman, draw an appreciative audience just as Nichelle Nichols playing Uhura once did. I appreciate how much Sookie and Tara feel they are "family."

And I love me some Lafayette. The last time, I was so fascinated with a dark-skinned Black male character was Simon Adebisi from Oz. I have heard some rumblings about Lafayette's being a drug dealer and a prostitute along with his gender-bending sexuality should be a problem. Given that I've been around some of my more outlandish bretheren and sistren, I find Lafayette's portrayal as being refreshingly dignified, despite these two other unsavory aspects of his life. I am relieved that Lafayette was not simply disposed of as in the actual books.

I am concerned, however, that his PTSD storyline will continue to emasculate him. With an ensemble cast, it is incredibly important to maintain the strong elements. Lafayette has amply repaid his 1st season sins—bring my girlfriend back even fiercer than ever! This will go far in being a positive depiction of a LGBT person. Deep down, Lafayette is a survivor. Represent!

It really hurt to watch Lafayette crumble under Maryann's influence. Mind you, Maryann already warped Tara and Eggs. Now we get to Lafayette and he can't hold the line either. I wanted one other holdout of color other than Sookie, Sam, and the vamps. All those characters share a common ethnicity. Naturally, Her Tangh-i-ness notes, their POC castmembers are the weaker ones. Yes, I know that the majority of white townspeople were influenced by the Maenad too, but see my prior argument.

When Lafayette has his outburst in Merlotte's after confronting Eggs about hitting Tara, I immediately thought of the Jerry Springer show. You could always tune in there and count on some dark-skinned Black people to act out in public. It's what kept viewers watching after week after week. The image of the predominately white bar patrons in the background also perpetuates a subtle message: Black family dynamics are traditionally dysfunctional, but hey, at least we're not those people. This is a core belief that runs deep in the South. It is this hinted division that helped to keep poor whites and poor Blacks at each other's throats or at a vocal distance.

Lettie Mae's moment of weakness smacked of plot convenience. If this is a woman who could refuse to bail her daughter out of jail, it totally threw me out of the story that she would pull a gun on her own nephew and allow Tara to escape. Lettie Mae seeking her child's love is not impossible for me to believe, but it's not in the context of the scene. It doesn't add up. Unspoken verdict: Dysfunctional Black mother effs up yet again. Some Colored peoples just got it like that on TV.

Tara, Eggs, and the Hunter's Soufflé scene smacks of the cannibal Nigerians from District Nine. If there's any outright cannibalism to be shown onscreen, of course, show the dark-skinned Black people engaging in it. One can take the ooga-booga out of the jungle but sooner or later it's going to come back up in these here civilized parts. Notice, Maryann does not partake in the soufflé. She merely incites. She licks blood. Big deal. She didn't chew and swallow onscreen. Yes, Maryann's served questionable fare to white people earlier, but those scenes did not get the screentime this did. This time, the audience knows whose heart it was that Tara and Eggs are feeding on. They get to connect to the primal horror of bestial Black people. The scene has shock value. It's something worthy of the infamous Turner Diaries.

Oh, and lest we forget, whenever there is a possessed evil being their eyes turn Black and the evil itself is represented by a swirling Blackness. Then Maryann herself, like the vampire Lorena, is dark-haired and evil. Didn't the dictionary analysis scene in the movie Malcolm X already point out the power of negative associations with Black and Darkness? We're talking visuals here—the most potent delivery system for the propaganda du jour. Juicy archetypical stuff guaranteed to be sopped up by an unwary mainstream audience.

I'm having an internal struggle over whether Tara being the reason for Maryann's presence in Bon Temps is the lowest True Blood season 2 moment or if it is the death of Eggs. But, I'll start with Tara. Now I have it under advisement that the Maenad's role in the books is quite different from the HBO series. Yet, if Tara didn't get into trouble with Maryann, Sookie wouldn't have to become involved either. So when one wants to get to the root of a problem with a demonic force—always choose the Black woman to be the cause. Nobody but those PC naysayers will ever question it.

Maryann's involvement couldn't possibly result from Sookie's own doing. She's an innocent party. What terrible luck Sookie has in choosing such dysfunctional friends like Tara. Well-meaning Sookie told Eggs the truth of what he did and Eggs just cracked. Look at that, Tara's love interest, another Black person, has just been shot in the head by her white, ex-crush Jason. And Jason's cop buddy is going to cover up the murder. Viewers like Jason and he's an important part of the series so it must be okay to do something like that.

Hmmmn. Maybe this also means Tara will have to go crawling back to Sam or Jason for comfort. I could deal with Sam, but dread the idea of Tara taking up with her lover's killer. No more freaking Monster's Ball PLEASE. It's as if the only lasting love Tara will ever receive is from white people. Nope. Besides, Tara can't possibly have a functional relationship on par with Sookie's tryst with Bill. Sookie and her family have been saving Tara from her circumstances since...well...since that particular storyline started.

Sorry. I jerked at the same moment Eggs' brain matter started flying across the screen. Eggs. The name is also a synonym for balls. I know it's supposed to be a joke since his name is Benedict. I am supposed to chuckle because a Black man has been named after a body part. Let me stop. So the tragedy of Egg's death is now compounded by the fact that a major series character has perpetrated the crime. Jason has too high a following for me to feel certain that Eggs will get any justice. Yeah, it was all a terrible accident because Eggs looked so menacing. This is called dramatic irony or visual proof that this is what STILL happens to men who look like Eggs. Shoot first; ask questions later. I wonder how many copycats will be tempted to emulate what they see on TV. It happened with that reality TV series, Jackass, you know.

Lastly, I would like to include a link to some handy-dandy tropes I did not address when composing this piece. I restrained myself.


Her Tangh-i-ness