Battle Royale: Culture, Writing, & Representation

TW: Brief mentions of suicide

A few posts back, I wrote about my difficulties in finding something to read with my current state of mind. That problem persists, sort of. New books are still gathering dust on the shelves. But I have found refuge in some of my old favorites. (I reread Richard Adams’ Watership Down at least once a year, and that’s a soothing one for anyone out there also trying to stay away from darker material.) Except, for some reason, in my foray into lighter fare, I have somehow stumbled back into Koushun Takami’s infamous Battle Royale.

Spoiler alert: The book is full of blood, murder, suicide, oppression, and tears.

I think, a few sleep-addled nights ago, I decided that this book would somehow be uplifting. What a reflection of the war of chemicals in my brain! Life is a battle; now, fight! This is not a train of thought I recommend for the general public, but — so far — it’s actually going surprisingly well.

I love this cover because of the gun design between the two students. But what a weird quote from Stephen King.

For those not in the know, Battle Royale is the first and only novel written by Takami, a Japanese author, in the late ‘90s. The book was both wildly popular and deeply controversial in both Japan and then America following its English translation and the book’s subsequent film. (Note: The movie only skims the surface of the book, but I know it’s most people’s intro to the pop culture context.) I read this in high school and it blew my mind. This is maybe my second reread since then and it is still an emotional minefield.

Since Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Game trilogy there have been a lot of references to Battle Royale as some people claim Collins ripped off Takami, citing myriad similarities between the books (or the films). Battle Royale follows 42 high school students participating in one of fifty yearly Programs designed by the government, supposedly for military experiments. The students are taken to a remote location, armed with menial supplies and grab-bag weapons, and told to kill each other until only one survivor remains.

To add fuel to the fear, each student is fitted with a collar that not only tracks their location but can be triggered to explode if they are caught in a forbidden zone (six new zones on the grid of the map they are given), if they try to remove the collar, or if they otherwise piss off the Program staff. If no one dies within 24 hours, everyone’s collars explode.

By now you should be wondering: “But, Cheri, this is the darkest shit ever. Why are you doing this to yourself? You just bared your soul to us and said you couldn’t handle the darkness anymore. You wanted prancing Austenesque fare with which to gallop off into the sun. Why the lies?”

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This is true, dear readers. I have been giving it a lot of thought and this fluke may be due to one of two things: 1) All these characters are struggling in different ways because they want to live. That’s a brilliant model for my brain to latch onto. Granted, some of the characters are of the more murderous mindset of wanting to live, but the main characters fight with idealism, morality, trying to understand their government, corruption, complacency, and what it means to be alive. The loftier philosophies all boil down to this one very primal emotion, which my brain apparently is open to processing.

It’s either that or, 2) I’ve also been thinking about this potential blog post concerning Takami’s writing and its connection to Chebk’s post on Cultural Views and my post on Culture + Writing.

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Guest Post: Gender in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Hello, all. My name is Sanjiv and I’m a member of the Banana Bunch. I’ve collaborated with Chebk on the Psych 101 posts you may have seen here. I am currently working towards my PhD in Clinical Psychology, where I focus on research and clinical work related to children, trauma, and evidence-based mental health services. Currently, most of my reading and writing occurs within academia, but, outside of my ivory tower, I enjoy science-fiction, fantasy, and early 20th century American literature.

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Last month Chebk and I attended a science fiction convention. Overall, I found it was an enjoyable experience, but I regretted attending one panel (Chebk actually tried to get me to leave the panel early instead of silently fuming in my seat). The topic was “Kick-ass Women in Science-Fiction and Fantasy.” From the panel description, it sounded like an interesting and relevant discussion. Instead, I found it to be an infuriating reminder that our society (and more distressingly, the authors and audience of fantasy and science-fiction) is far from gender equal.

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Mad Max: Fury Road & Good Representation…Sort Of

Per usual, I am late to the party (and we will continue this trend when I review Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train later this month, so, fair warning). When the first trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road was making its rounds, I had zero interest apart from Charlize Theron making intense faces. My frame of reference for action movies is basically the genre’s triumvirate: car chases, violence, and misogyny.

Pacific Rim may have lifted my mood considerably, but I am tired of sitting through movies where women play damsels/window-dressing with a maximum of one line of dialogue for every thirty of the protagonist’s. I am sick of this representation being used as a frame of reference for how women are “meant” to be side characters, how women are supposed to act or look in real life (which: whoa), and how sexuality and women are so tightly intertwined as to be inseparable.

No, thank you.

And then it happened: Men’s Rights Activists group, Return of Kings, lost their shit and called for a boycott of Mad Max: Fury Road because it was a…feminist film?

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD - 2015 FILM STILL - CHARLIZE THERON as Furiosa and   Photo Credit: Jasin Boland  © 2015 WV FILMS IV LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA  © 2015 VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED - ALL OTHER TERRITORIES

The internet went pretty crazy. The result? A lot of people came out of the woodwork and flocked to the film — including me. By now everyone has covered the feminist angle pretty thoroughly, and I thought I wasn’t going to try, but there’s still more to say. Yes, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa was the baddest of bad-asses. Yes, “we are not things” is one of the most powerful mantras declared repeatedly by a strong female cast in recent history, especially in such a male-dominated genre. Yes. Yes to all of this and more.

But, since OKP exists to discuss media representation, let’s really talk about the total representation in this film: feminism and gender, visibility of disabilities and a range of ages, racial diversity, and sexuality.

  1. Furiosa: The Real MVP.
    A lot of reviews for the movie like to frame the same argument of “though the movie bears Max’s name, the real main character is Furiosa (as played by Charlize Theron).” This has mostly rubbed me the wrong way because, while Furiosa is profoundly important to the plot and overall movie, she is still not the main character.

    The movie is bracketed around Max’s arc. We see parts of his backstory, while we see none of Furiosa’s, though we can piece together her background by what little she does share and her relationship with the Vuvalini. Still, Max moves a lot, if not most of the action and conflict on-screen, and he still provides the turning point in the movie by (SPOILER ALERT) suggesting Furiosa and the Wives turn back from their plan of action, i.e. riding out into the desert, away from Immortan Joe’s chase and “sanctuary.”

    I get that Furiosa is Mad Max’s equal, (their names are basically synonyms; also sometimes she is even shown to be his superior in certain traditionally masculine skills), but the movie is still Max’s, and I imagine this still has a lot to do with Hollywood being iffy on allowing a female protagonist to run the entire show. As Charlize Theron says:

    “I think it’s such a misconception that women don’t like the genre or that they don’t wanna go and see these movies. I just feel like women have been so misrepresented in these films. We’re like, ‘Why do we have to go and see the genre every single time with the girl on the back of the frame with a push-up bra.’ Why isn’t there a girl that’s standing on the same playfield with the guys? We don’t wanna be guys, but… in a post-apocalyptic world, we will survive!”

    Most if not all post-apocalyptic stories still follow male leads across media: TV’s The Walking Dead, Revolution; video games like Halo and The Last of Us; and books like The Road and I Am Legend. Furiosa is undoubtedly an important and amazing character — women helping women! — but I think it is overstepping to say she is the lead character. I’m convinced we will not be seeing her as anything other than a cameo in future installments of the franchise. Her story is not one we are meant to ultimately follow.

    In the end — (SPOILER ALERT) — Max saves Furiosa ultimately, which is enough of an almost damsel twist that I winced. I mean, he pretty much saves all the women, let’s be real. We then see Max ready to move on from The Citadel. Furiosa has reached the “end” of her redemption arc by saving the Wives and ridding the world of Immortan Joe, but we are clearly going to be following Max’s adventures from here on out. He, evidently, still has a story to tell and more people to “save.” (I can’t be the only one who wants an entire trilogy of Furiosa dealing with The Citadel and all the surrounding cities?)

    Furiosa’s role in MM:FR is an important transition point for film from here on out. Will others follow in director George Miller’s footsteps and allow women to carry actual action movies? Only time will tell.

    Speaking of Furiosa...
    Speaking of Furiosa…
  2. The Real MVP is Also Disabled

    One of the most amazing aspects of Furiosa’s representation, besides her being a badass feminist icon, is the fact that she is visibly physically disabled. There’s a great post from a woman born as a fetal amputee reacting to Furiosa here, which I think sums up the importance of this representation best.

    “Watch Furiosa load a shotgun. Watch Furiosa punch Max in the face, with her nubbins. Watch Furiosa drive a semi tractor trailer. Watch Furiosa fire a long shot, using Max’s shoulder to stabilize the gun barrel, as an alternative to using two hands! Watch Furiosa do anything you can do, but better, and with half the number of fingers.The effortless manner in which this film has presented a character’s disability is incredible. I literally could not ask for anything more. It’s ubiquitous. No big deal. Her body is never a plot point. It is simply allowed to be.”


    As mentioned before in OKP’s post on Writing Disabilities, just because a character is disabled does not mean that their entire story arch as to revolve around said disability. Furiosa’s representation of this knocks it out of the park.

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  3. But Why is Everyone White?

    Here’s where things get a little iffier. Now, I have a lot of feelings about both the Wives and Vuvalini, and a lot of these feelings involve hearts in my eyes and cars blowing up in fountains of pink and gold sparklers — in my soul. Still, it does not pain me to begrudge Miller and everyone involved for whitewashing pretty much the entire cast.

    As Nashwa Khan puts it in her article “MM:FR and the Glaring Whiteness of Post-Apocalyptic Films:”

    “Many have claimed the film put women ahead—but which women? Certainly not women who are very visibly racialized through curves and features. “Ethnically ambiguous” seems to be the only type of racialized woman who makes it to the end of the world. [Zoe] Kravitz and [Courtney] Eaton’s characters do survive the film, and having a person of color standing at the end makes Fury Road a rare unicorn within the post-apocalyptic genre. But that’s a very low bar.”

    This photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows, from left, Abbey Lee as The Dag, Courtney Eaton as Cheedo the Fragile, Zoe Kravitz as Toast the Knowing, Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa and Riley Keough as Capable, in Warner Bros. Picturesí and Village Roadshow Picturesí action adventure film, ìMad Max:Fury Road," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) ORG XMIT: CAET486
    This photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows, from left, Abbey Lee as The Dag, Courtney Eaton as Cheedo the Fragile, Zoe Kravitz as Toast the Knowing, Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa and Riley Keough as Capable.

    Even my very favorite character, The Valkyrie (played by Megan Gale, who is part-Maori), is pretty “ethnically ambiguous.” The crowds of poor workers in The Citadel are also whitewashed, to say nothing of the sickly-albino War Boys. Where Miller gets so many things right with Furiosa and the Wives’ characterizations as women, visually it is far too easy to criticize what is clearly a deliberate choice in casting in regards to race.

    Why is this so important if the movie was so successful in so many other ways? Think of it this way: This movie has become so important to so many women because it is the first action movie in a long time to put women ahead with such respect despite the genre convetions — but consider that it would be even more revolutionary for women of color to be able to see themselves in such pivotal roles in such a mainstream movie, too.

  4. Age + Sexuality

    Lastly, let’s touch on two important factors that received important representation despite my concern over lack of racial diversity. The Vuvalini in the movie are a nomadic group of women, most of whom are unabashedly older than Hollywood usually showcases. They are shown as strong and capable, in the same vein as Furiosa. They are able to protect themselves and others, and do so with the ferocity equal to their male counterparts.

    VUVALINI.
    VUVALINI.

    The ageism in most visual media is usually pretty blatant. Older women are relegated to grandmothers or wise women/shamans, defined mostly by their compassion, wisdom, or fragility. It was more than amazing to see the Vuvalini fighting alongside Furiosa and Max, with all characters trading off on strengths and weaknesses.

    Older women in movies and TV seem to be especially rare for the same reason that young ingenues are a dime a dozen these days: sexuality.

    Sexuality is handled subtly in this film, especially because all the Wives are still pretty scantily clad after escaping Immortan Joe’s clutches, (they are “breeders” in his harem.) I was concerned by the initial shots of the Wives cleaning themselves with water and the close-ups on their body parts. But then something interesting happened: The second those chastity belts came off, the sexualization stopped.

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    The Wives’ purpose in The Citadel is purely related to sex and reproduction: they serve Immortan Joe’s pleasure and birth his sons. Free of his control they are free to be whole people. We see each woman showcase their capability throughout, as well as their weaknesses, forming a whole, complex picture of who they are and who they want to be, despite severe dialogue restrictions all-around. Bonus emphasis on the wraps and shawls all the Wives continue wearing throughout, as though they recognize that the costumes they are put in were purely Joe’s fault (male gaze).

    The lack of objectification and sexualization of these characters, and indeed all of the female characters in the movie, is largely why this movie has been hailed as feminist, and also why so many female audiences are in ecstasy over this representation. These women are their own people — not the standard Girlfriend in an Action Flick, not damsels, not Fridged Loved Ones,  not a backstory, not any one thing because real women aren’t—  and they proclaim it, strongly and constantly: WE ARE NOT THINGS.


Representation in Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely outside the norm for the genre and, indeed, for most mainstream Hollywood productions. While there are a buttload of positive aspects, it’s important to keep in mind that we discuss feminism in terms of inclusivity. While we praise the strong portrayal of women in terms of both gender and age, we need to recognize that race remains a crucial part of the movement and that one film does not a trend make.

While this post is one in a literal sea of reviews and discussion on the film, I’d like to think that those who continue to discuss and analyze representation will emphasize the audience that such representation can court and how we can continue to better diverse representation.

One step at a time, as they say. Or one car chase, really. But we can talk about that another day.

It’s OK to Like Problematic Media

TW: Some mentions of rape in media.

Much as OKPOTATO supports diversity in media, the truth is that there are a lot of books, TV shows, and movies that lack quality diverse representation…and we are here to remind you that it is okay to still like these things.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as unemployment has led to a fair share of Netflix-watching. It’s no big secret that there is an unfortunate amount of movies and TV shows out there with white-washed casts, unexpectedly bigoted jokes or storylines, poorly written story arcs and/or dialogue for women and minorities, and, well, the list goes on.

The first thing to acknowledge is that there is no such thing as perfect representation. For all its racial diversity and celebration of female-centric stories, Orange is the New Black contributes to biphobia in its refusal to allow the very word “bisexual” to grace the lips of any of its characters, including main lead Piper Chapman who explains, time and again, that she likes both men and women. Fan-favorite Game of Thrones showcases superb acting amongst a large cast, but continues to degrade most of the women in the show with storylines that focus heavily on violence against women, including graphic depictions of rape (the latest of which has received incredible outcry among viewers.)

Game of Throne's Sansa Stark is at the center of the latest controversy regarding the show's depiction of its female characters.
Game of Throne’s Sansa Stark is at the center of the latest controversy regarding the show’s depiction of its female characters.

Of course, as a viewer, it is up to you to decide where you draw the line in the sand concerning what you will watch or not, based on what the show or movie can provide for you. For instance my latest show of choice, Fringe, is heavy on the kick-ass female protagonist storylines I love, as well as the science fiction freak-outs. However, I am ever aware of the egregious use of the show’s PoC characters — Jasika Nicole as Astrid and Lance Reddick as Broyles in particular (actually, let’s be real, they’re the only PoC characters in the main cast) — and the complete lack of any LGBTQAI characters, religious elements outside of Christian mythology, and its detached exploration of disabilities despite the ROBOTIC PROSTHETICS THAT ARE EVERYWHERE.

But, I am still over-the-moon about this show. I’m halfway through Season 3 of 5 and still enthralled by the mix of humor, detective procedural, and crazy weird science.

Some people don’t like to engage with their media in this way, and I get that, you’re there to be entertained. But these shows and movies do not exist in black holes. What you see on screen is going to affect the way people — including yourself — think, act, and react to various diversity in real life. There’s a reason that depictions of any stereotypes, racial to gender-based, have been perpetuated for so long. Audiences internalize and reiterate what they feel has been normalized: “That blonde joke got a laugh? I’ll say it to get a laugh, too.”

Life imitating art. Art imitating life.
Life imitating art. Art imitating life.

But what are you, as a viewer, to do when I just told you that no perfect media representation exists?

The best thing you can do is acknowledge the problematic elements of these TV shows/movies. While Pitch Perfect 2 dominated the box office this past weekend, showcasing a practically all-female cast, it also was filled with racist and strangely sexist jokes. Praise the things that work — great girl power message — and acknowledge the things that don’t. You don’t have to grab the pitchforks and condemn these things if you don’t want to, but don’t try to cover up these shortcomings either. Namely, don’t deny that these problematic elements exist.

The great thing about media lately is that so many people are eager to discuss the stories they watch and read and engage with. Twitter feeds still go crazy over every new episode of every show on network television. Mainstream news keep up-to-date with the latest controversies and storylines of a pretty damn wide array of movies, video games, music albums, and TV shows. And the even greater thing about all this is that people are catching on to the impact media representation has on its very diverse audiences.

Viewers are no longer willing to accept mediocrity and the occasional crumb thrown their way. They are calling for responsibility from writers, producers, networks, and production companies for not only diverse representation but quality diverse representation.

The main cast of Pitch Perfect 2.Great female representation.
The main cast of Pitch Perfect 2.
Great female representation.

Something even more amazing? It seems that some media is rising to the challenge.

Mad Max: Fury Road has been making major waves lately as viewers have become aware that, despite the title and the trailer’s focus on the eponymous hero, the real focus of the movie is none other than a band of empowered women, led by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. To add fuel to the fire, it was revealed that Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler was one of the movie’s major consultants. She helped the cast understand the perspective, history and current issues surrounding violence against women:

“I read the script and was blown away. One out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime—it’s a central issue of our time, and that violence against women relates to racial and economic injustice. This movie takes those issues head-on. I think George Miller is a feminist, and he made a feminist action film. It was really amazing of him to know that he needed a woman to come in who had experience with this.”

While the quality of this feminist representation is being debated (“Actually, Mad Max: Fury Road Isn’t That Feminist”), the wide discussion over the now infamous Men’s Rights Activists’ call to boycott what they view as “feminist propaganda” is a good start for a wider discussion on problematic media and the problematic media that we can like while acknowledging it as problematic.

Have a different view on the topic of liking problematic media? Let us know in the comments! Chebk will be back on Thursday with a new post!

Writing Diversely: Disabilities

REMINDER: Don’t forget to join our April Giveaway to win a copy of The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard or None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio! Just leave a comment here.


Netflix recently released their original series, Daredevil, which chronicles a Marvel superhero who becomes blind following an unusual accident. A blind protagonist is unusual enough, but the superhero status takes representation of disabilities to a new level.

It is therefore appropriate that the website is making changes to accommodate vision-impaired viewers by adding audio description features that will describe “”what is happening on-screen, including physical actions, facial expressions, costumes, settings and scene changes.” Other Netflix original series, such as Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, will also be getting audio description tracks in the near future.

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil.
Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil.

Disabled characters in TV shows, films, and books are generally viewed as more accessible protagonists than other diversity we’ve discussed (sexuality, race), but the truth is that a lot of that relies on the types of stories these characters are allowed to portray. Most representation relies on showing these characters overcoming or adjusting to their impairment (a la Quasimodo in Hunchback of Notre Dame or Jake Sully in Avatar).  As this article mentions, historically disabled characters are often used as plot devices to prop up able-bodied main characters (Tiny Tim redeems Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, deaf and mute Chief Bromden and stuttering Billy Bibbit bolster Randle’s heroism in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

The best representation of disabilities, from visual or hearing impairments to paraplegia, seem to have one thing in common: Letting these characters be complex people first. Their disabilities are included and integral but not all-encompassing. For example, Toph from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, a girl who is hilarious, loyal, a frankly frighteningly-skilled fighter, and also blind.

Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Some things to keep in mind when writing a disabled character is that you are writing from an able-bodied point of view. Without meaning to, you may be establishing an ableist perspective that your reader can then perpetuate, no matter how well-told or beautiful your story.

  1. A disability is not a flaw.
    Nor is it something to be overcome. Most people with disabilities will spend the rest of their lives with said disabilities and — here’s the shocker — odds are they are not going to spend every second of every day wishing they were “normal.” The disability becomes the norm for them. There are obviously still going to be difficult moments, difficult days, even difficult months, but it does not make these characters weak or any lesser than able-bodied characters.That said, your character is allowed to have more flaws than just their disability. They are allowed to be more than the Noble Suffering Hero(ine). Any character who tells your protagonist that they are awesome, beautiful, and incredible despite being [insert disability here] should be deleted immediately.
  2. A disability does not have to be an entire storyline in and of itself.
    Fleshing out the background of a disabled character will inevitably involve the origin of said disability (born with an impairment, involved in an accident, etc.). It is part of understanding your character, their motivations, and their arc. However, storylines that follow a character “overcoming” a disability generally tends to cater towards an able-bodied audience: it shows how they navigate the world and how they “suffer” and their frustrations, until a catalyst occurs that forces them to work at being somehow “better” than their disability.The main problem with these storylines is that it invites pity from able-bodied audiences. It either intentionally or unintentionally makes them think, “Thank God that I’m not [insert disability here].” It also gives them the feel-good ending of “Well, those people are going to be fine because they worked hard.” Applying this attitude towards actual disabled people results in sentiments such as, “Well, if you just change the way you think about your disability…” or “If you just tried harder…” which does nothing to alleviate ableism in society.

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White Man in Foreign Lands: Xenophobia and Racism in Movies

Every few years, it happens.

Innocently sitting in a theater — desperate for redemption for our now empty wallets — the house lights dim and the string of trailers begins. It’s the usual mishmash of ill-fated comedies and muscled-man-big-explosion adventures…until there it is. It’s happened again.

You know what I’m talking about, one of those run-of-the-mill Man Must Save His Family gamuts, but set in a Foreign Country (capital letters because it really doesn’t matter where; more on this later), and that’s where the problems begin.

This is the trailer I saw for Owen Wilson’s new action flick, No Escape, in theaters this past weekend:

Highlights:

  • Opens with the usual juxtaposition between West and East, highlighting the “foreignness” of this new country. The exotification is mostly used to “other” this place, placing the characters and viewers out of their comfort zone. The small white child asks, “What if we don’t like it here?” The assumption is that 1) They will not like it here and 2) Why would they? The movie then proceeds to show us why they will not.
  • The line that most people seem to be criticizing the most — for good reason — is Pierce Brosnan’s  “Welcome to Asia.” The criticism focuses on the writers not bothering to pick a single country out of the entire continent, which is fair criticism, but I still hear, “Welcome to Malaysia,” which would make sense in the context of the 2011 Malaysian riots over electoral reforms.  We will discuss this later, too.
  • Here’s where things get (even more) sketchy: The image of Owen Wilson as single white man in between crowds of rioters and police. He is the outsider caught between a rock and a hard place: both groups of local people are dangerous. Even as we see other local civilians fleeing the scene, the audience is focused on the single foreigner amidst brown bodies.
  • We are also privy to the fact that the rioters (terrorists? No one really cares to distinguish why they are doing what they are doing in this trailer. As far as anyone cares it is violence for violence’s sake. This is seen namely in the murder of foreigners (white tourists) both in the streets and as the terrorists hunt out tourists to kill in the hotels.
  • Our protagonist’s goal becomes clear: He has to get his family to the American embassy. America = safety. Unlike the rest of these heathen streets. The last line of the trailer is Wilson’s daughter tearfully saying, “I wanna go home.” Wilson promises her, “We’re gonna get there.” This place is not home. It could never be to people like us. Of course.

Where to begin with this mess?

To start, I suppose we can acknowledge that it is extremely difficult to get a clear-cut answer about the name of the country in which this story takes place. It seems to be a toss up between Thailand (where filming actually takes place) and Malaysia, although I have seen some articles calling it a fictional Southeast Asian country, (which, what?!) This may explain the “Welcome to Asia” line. The writers simply don’t care to acknowledge a specific place with a specific history and culture and peoples.

A lot of people have been touching on the xenophobia inherent in this sort of film premise: White family must escape from a backdrop of a crowd of faceless Asian people (“The trailer is framed exactly like a zombie movie” says one review and this is true. The movie is directed by the man who brought us Quarantine, a shot-by-shot remake of the Spanish film, Rec, made especially for the Western world to avoid reading subtitles). But no one really seems to be explaining outright why this movie is both racist and xenophobic, leaving room for a lot of naysayers who don’t understand why we don’t want them to just have a good time at the movies and watch Owen Wilson in his triumphant(?) return to action cinema.

Owen Wilson taking up arms for his loved ones in No Escape.He will have to go to extremes in this foreign country as he wouldn't have to in America. Supposedly.
Owen Wilson taking up arms for his loved ones in No Escape.
He will have to go to extremes in this foreign country as he wouldn’t have to in America. Supposedly.


So, what’s wrong with the scenario set up in
No Escape?

From a writing standpoint, the plot probably makes a fair amount of sense: A new environment confuses and disorients both protagonist and audience. An unknown enemy adds to the elements of violence and danger; anything can happen to the protagonist and his family when neither audience nor hero knows the enemy’s limits or capabilities. The list can go on.

However. The story draws from real events that affected real people in a real country. Having filmed in Thailand, surely someone was bound to have heard of the mass rallies in Bangkok in 2013-2014 that eventually ended in a coup (No Escape was originally named The Coup) and the establishment of a military leadership. (I’ve already mentioned the possibility that the film may also draw from Malaysian protests in 2011, as I hold to the hope that Brosnan’s character says “Welcome to Malaysia” because the alternative is horrifyingly racist).

Calling the movie No Escape implies that this foreign country is a place to be escaped, populated with peoples that are more suited for the unsuitability of said environment, i.e. nowhere any “civilized” Western family should inhabit for longer than at all possible

More on problematic representation behind the cut.

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OKPotato April Book Giveaway!

Hey, readers. For the month of April we will be giving away two of the books we’ll also be reviewing later this month:

2The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Feb. 2015)

The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers. To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change. Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control. But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

(Chebk will be reviewing this title.)

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio (April 2015)

A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she was born intersex . . . and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

(Cheri will be reviewing this title.)


HOW TO ENTER:

Leave a comment on this post with either book title or “either”  and you will automatically be entered in the giveaway drawing pool. We will be using a random generator to decide winners for both books. You must be willing to give us your mailing address to receive your prize. (Unfortunately we are shipping only to people in the United States.) The winners will be announced April 30, 2015.

(NOTE: Winners from February are not eligible to re-enter to win the following giveaway. You may re-enter in the giveaway after this.)

Good luck, everyone, and happy reading!