6.11.2011

I Think Too Much About Things

I went and saw Super 8 today and would like the opportunity to talk about it at some length (short version: it was okay), but that isn’t what I’m here to talk about right now. I want to talk about the trailer for the Kevin James vehicle Zookeeper, because something about it stuck in my craw and I kind of just want to get the thoughts down on paper.

Now, you may have seen this trailer. Or maybe you haven’t. Or maybe you saw the first couple of seconds and then stuck your fingers in your ears and closed your eyes until it went away because you’ve got a thing about Kevin James. If you’re interested, the trailer can be found here, or you can proceed knowing simply that it is a movie about a rotund zookeeper whose girlfriend dumps him for being a zookeeper. He then fights to get her back with the help of a bunch of gravelly voiced, vaguely Hispanic sounding talking zoo animals. Oh, also, Rosario Dawson is in it as his coworker.

So, here’s my problem: In the trailer, Kevin James’s character takes his girl out to ride horses on the beach and do all sorts of movie-romantic shit. He proposes to her, and she rejects him citing that she is uncomfortable with the idea of being married to a zookeeper. So…what? She’s willing to date the guy. Presumably go out in public with him. Introduce him to her family. Go bowling. Share mutual friends. Have awkward sex. Whatever, all that crap. NO PROBLEM AT ALL. But MARRIAGE? To a ZOOKEEPER? SCANDALOUS! Let’s ignore for a moment that any ranking zoo staffer is a dedicated professional who likely holds a doctorate or other high educational award. Let’s ignore the fact that, even though he probably doesn’t make much money, he’s still likely to function as an excellent provider and caregiver as a circumstance of his progression. Let’s even ignore the fact that the people who wrote this movie likely have little to no idea what a zookeeper actually is or does.

Instead let’s focus on this: She has engaged this man in a long term, serious relationship, and when confronted with the prospect of continuing that relationship she rejects it because she’s too shallow to deal with his profession. AND AFTERWARDS HE WANTS HER BACK.

HE WANTS HER BACK AND PINES FOR HER FOR FIVE YEARS. There is no joke here. This is actually how things are presented in the trailer. We are supposed to take this shit seriously. The movie is about a man trying to get a woman back, five years after she uses him and then rejects him.

Way to not even try to present a healthy relationship, screenwriters.

But that’s really only the first problem that I have with this, and from it stems my major problem: Rosario Dawson. This is not to say that I have a problem with Rosario Dawson. She’s a beautiful woman and a wonderful actress, and I really enjoyed the comic book that she helped create; Image’s Occult Crimes Taskforce. What I have a problem with is the character that she seems to play in this film. She’s not really in the trailer but for a couple of shots, but she’s shown to play a coworker of James’s character who agrees to help him win back his ex by posing as his new, jealously inducing girlfriend.

So what’s the problem here? Well, that comes from the relationship that she has with James as well. She’s gorgeous and they get along and they’re on friendly terms and they share a profession, and she’s into him enough that she’ll agree to go out with him—even on terms that demean her as a human being. So why aren’t they dating already? For all intents and purposes (unless James is playing a closeted White Supremacist) the two are movie-perfect for one another. The easy answer is that there would be no movie if the two of them were in a happy relationship, but I think the issue runs deeper than that.

American film still seems to have a pretty serious hang up when it comes to brown people. I’m not sure that it’s racism, really. I think it has more to do with the fact that Hollywood is afraid that if they push Middle America’s comfort zone too far, Middle America is going to break up with them and go start hanging out more with Television and Netflix. It’s the reason why we still see remakes of “White” films retailored for Black audiences, and remakes of “Black” films retailored for White audiences. They’re paranoid that certain cultural groups won’t go see something if they perceive it as being for a different cultural group. And while this is certainly true in some areas, there isn’t any good excuse for it to seep out into film as a whole. Zookeeper is being presented as a broad, all ages/races/creeds comedy, so why is it that the interracial relationship has to be turned into a demeaning sham? Why is it that the White protagonist has to use his perfectly nice non-White friend so he can finally get with a generic, shallow, skinny blonde White chick? Hell, for that matter, why would a dude even think about doing that with Rosario Dawson throwing herself at him?

I’d really like an answer. I know that I won’t get one, but I’d like it all the same. Regardless, we still live in the 21st century now, Hollywood, and this is what you’re giving us? Try to stand up straight and have some dignity.

-Sean

2 comments:

  1. After watching the trailer, I have to say I think you are jumping the gun with the racism rant here. Sure there is a LOT of racism in Hollywood, but this isn't a clear sign of it at all. You've got the run of the mill rom com set up here, just with talking animals. 1) Low self-esteem guy who pines after 2) the pretty, blonde bitch who will reject him only to be rejected in the end because the guy now likes 3) the more beautiful, brunette that will steal his heart when he realizes the bitch isn't worth fighting for. I bet you anything, that is how it ends. If anything it's a white upperclass women are horrible and shallow story. Girl even has cheekbones that could cut glass to show how evil she is. I'm more ashamed for racism that is bound to come out in the animal voice overs...

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  2. Well, like I said in the meat of the post, I'm not sure that I really want to call it racism. I had a couple of conversations with people about this before the writing and was surprised at how quickly most people were prepared to jump on the Racist/Sexist Hollywood train. What I'm trying to get at is more that Hollywood pushes itself awfully hard to conform with the comfort levels of Middle America, and it spends too much time dodging around a portion of their audiences phobias...time that could be better spent trying to more accurately portray healthy relationships, or even characters who behave in a way that has any bearing on reality. Maybe two in the morning wasn't the best time to try and get that point across, though. It sure as hell didn't do anything for my ability to edit.

    I like your point about the rom-com affections reversal "twist," but it feels unlikely here somehow. Usually when you see a flick that's going in that direction, there will be some significant effort to make her appear as a proper character in the trailers, but Dawson is portrayed as little more than a convenient tool here. Maybe this is a circumstance of having to get the whole "talking animals" thing across as well, and I would love for that to be true but my gut says otherwise. Even though it is a cliche, it still feels like more complexity than we should expect out of a movie where a talking gorilla wants to go TGI. Fridays.

    I completely agree with you about the animal voices, though. They are completely awful. It's like everyone is so preoccupied with doing a silly, vaguely ethnic voice that every last line reading is a stilted, unintelligible mess.

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