Jul 282016

It’s time for another round of Liberal America’s favorite game:

Is It Racist?

I just learned of The Great Wall. It’s a Chinese movie, with a Chinese director, a largely Chinese cast, set in ancient China. It’s the most expensive Chinese movie of all time (to date). But the script was written by American screen writers, and perhaps most important – this movie about the building of the Great Wall of China stars Matt Damon. (all info taken from the linked article)

I’m sure y’all remember the Scarlet-Johanson-as-Major-Kusanagi kerfuffle. It was interesting that as much as this was a big deal in the US, people in Japan didn’t understand why it was controversial. Now we have a Chinese movie, casting a white guy in its lead role.

If this was an American movie, with an American director, etc, there would be outcry about this whitewashing/appropriation. Perhaps with good reason? Regardless, I’m pretty sure we won’t be hearing anything like that regarding The Great Wall, since it’s a Chinese movie, and it’s not acceptable to call a non-white group Racist for making a movie the way they want to make it instead of the way we would like it to be made. The closest I’ve seen so far is the weak-sauce admission that it’s “an unfortunate look” at io9.

I plan on asking people “Is It Racist?” about The Great Wall a lot. Maybe it can move the conversation on cultural exchange/appropriation onto more sane grounds.

For what it’s worth, whenever I get questions like this, I always try to identify who is harmed. I’m not sure I know enough about the situation yet to have strong opinions on that.

EDIT: Well, I was crazy wrong about that, it only took a few hours for the calling-out to begin. Perhaps I should have expected that, based on having seen black rappers called racist when creating ganster-rap. I’m updating in the direction of “it’s become OK to call anyone racist.”

  3 Responses to “Is It Racist?”

  1. Racist or not, this looks awesome.

  2. Thinking that only white people can be racist is racist.
    So with no misgivings I shall publicly decry that this movie is in fact racist (using the Oxford English Dictionary definition to define what racism is). Although I am basically anonymous here I can be reached and I hereby give permission for Eneasz to pass on my email address for anyone who actually wants to take me up on this (no gamer puppy gaters though, I don’t enjoy talking to walls).
    Who is hurt was the question which interested me. After watching this trailer I am going to say everyone who watches it. I do feel that way about a lot of ‘blockbuster’ movies though. If you want to make a fantasy story that is fine. I am at this website due to a fantasy book being turned into a podcast after all. Messing with history I feel is less ok and that you harm our species as a whole (even if only slightly) when you mess up history.
    Gah I gotta walk away from this. Trying to answer “who is harmed” by the making of this film is a task which I couldn’t even begin to do justice. We all live on the same planet and are all harmed by our group stupidity. We may even literally die out as a species permanently due to our own behaviour. Who is harmed by our stupidity as a species. We all are. That is the whole point behind the rationalist movement right ? Stop messing up everything for everyone, lets optimise things ? It be pretty broad strokes I realise, but surely that is the whole point.
    Everyone who subconsciously absorbs the idea that only good looking white males can save the world is being harmed by this film.

  3. The two questions posed here are whether this is racist and who is harmed.

    On the first question, I don’t see this as being racist (I would say the same for Ghost in the Shell), though it does make me wonder about the main characters back story. I would feel the same if a story set in the South America 1,500 years ago featured Chinese actors.

    As to who is harmed, I would say false allegations of racism are harmful in that they make people more likely to ignore cases of actual racism or dismiss such claims as lacking merit. That, to me, is the real danger of reflexively calling something racist when it does not merit such a condemnation.

    On a related note, as I love io9 it was really sad to see they have a problem with this.

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