Can’t toys be just that, toys or on-screen characters be more positively portrayed? “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” has introduced some 40 new mechanized characters of all shapes, sizes and even sexes, but there’s one problem –a pair of jive-talking ‘bots that critics are singling out as more than just harmless comic relief. They are downright stereotypical and racist. Skids and Mudflap, twin robots disguised as compact Chevys, constantly brawl and bicker in rap-inspired street slang. Get this, they’re even forced to acknowledge that they can’t read. One has a gold tooth. Why do we have to add racial caricatures to the mix? Seems like we are reverting to the age of black-faced minstrels once again. Hollywood has a record of perpetuating negative stereotypes behind the guise of “art” and the sooner people voice their concerns forcefully and demonstrate against such racism, the sooner this will stop. People continue to get big laughs at the expense of African Americans.
As good guys, they fight alongside the Autobots and are intended to provide comic relief. But the traits they’re ascribed raise the specter of stereotypes most notably seen when Jar Jar Binks, the clumsy, broken-English speaking alien from “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” was criticized as a racial caricature.
Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern described Binks in 1999 as a “Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit,” a reference to a black character from the 1920s and ’30s that exploited negative stereotypes for comic effect. Extending that metaphor to the “Transformers” sequel was AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire, who calls Skids and Mudflap “Jar Jar Binks in car form.”
And Manohla Dargis, film critic for The New York Times, takes it a step further, writing that the “Transformers” characters were given “conspicuously cartoonish, so-called black voices that indicate that minstrelsy remains as much in fashion in Hollywood as when, well, Jar Jar Binks was set loose by George Lucas.”
TV actor Reno Wilson, who is black, voices Mudflap. Tom Kenny, the white actor behind SpongeBob SquarePants, voices Skids. Neither immediately responded to interview requests for this story. Source: San Francisco Chronicle
This persistent dehumanization of the African American culture will not stop because many black actors and actresses feed into the stereotypes and play the parts willingly. Surely we can move beyond the Stepin Fetchit character. I cannot see how these two jive-talking robots are helping children understand their culture and robots? Am I missing the point?