September 20, 2009

Racism in King Kong

I'm watching Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong on TV. Great movie...I would've nominated it for an Oscar. Despite the fact that its depiction of an indigenous tribe is totally racist.

Longtime readers may recall that I've mentioned this before. But let's catalog the evidence. These brown-skinned savages are half-naked of course. They wear the usual ragged loincloths and skins. They have the usual bone ornaments and piercings. Their teeth are jagged, resembling an animal's. Their hair is straggly, indicating they have no sense of hygiene or decorum.

If their ancestors built the great ruins where they live, these people are now degenerates. The architecture features skulls and mummy-like bodies, which indicates they're death worshipers. Their tribal drums and chants signal how malevolent they are. And of course they practice human sacrifice.

What to do about it

King Kong is arguably the most racist film of 2005. Combined with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Apocalypto, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it shows our continuing demonization of tribal people.

For kicks, try searching the Net for pictures of these natives. I doubt you'll find any. Why is that? Weren't the filmmakers proud of their makeup and costuming jobs? Could it be that no one wanted to release images that are clearly racist?

You could argue that the filmmakers were merely copying the original movie, or that the natives were integral to the plot. Maybe so, but the filmmakers should've done something to update the film's repugnance toward "primitive" natives. It wouldn't have been that hard.

How about making them slaves of an despotic ruler who forces them to sacrifice people? Or saying they use a narcotic or have a disease or genetic condition that turns them into beast-men? There's really no excuse for this kind of portrayal in the 21st century.

For more on the subject, see Trend:  Non-Westerners as Savages and The Best Indian Movies.

Below:  Savage, subhuman natives in 1933:



And in 2005:

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the 2005 King Kong flick. But I always thought that the "Natives" in these films are usually Black. The mentioning of "bones" being attached to their noses, mouth or other body parts was usually Negroid in nature, not necessarily Indians. Regardless, I always wondered why "Natives" would participate in these racist film designed to mock them? They're either desperate for money or they're as dumb as the next imbecile redneck.

GENO--

dmarks said...

Rob wasn't saying that they were supposed to be Indians (hence, the lower-case "n" on the word "native".)

Rob said...

I think it's pretty clear Skull Island is located somewhere in the Indonesia archipelago or the South Seas. The inhabitants may be the same racial type as the natives of New Guinea.

Given the changing views on race, I'm not sure what the current classification of New Guinea natives is. Different websites classify them as Melanesians or Australoids.

As for the actors who played the islanders, they seemed to be a combination of South Asian and Negro types. About the only common denominator was their dark skin.

Since most of King Kong was filmed in New Zealand, I imagine they were Maori or South Sea islanders. I doubt they were well-versed in Hollywood stereotyping issues.

These days, filmmakers use bones, piercings, tattoos, and other scary markings to signify savages in general. This applies to the Indians in the movies I listed and the black natives in the TV show Crusoe.

Rob said...

A Facebook exchange on this posting:

Eric Jojola:  I think the 1933 original may have been "more sensitive" in its depiction of indigenous peoples than the later film....

Rob Schmidt:  I haven't seen the original King Kong in a long time. But I can believe it wasn't as bad. The natives in the 2005 version were about as horrific as natives can get without showing explicit blood and guts (see Apocalypto).