Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gone With The Wind




Questions to consider and discuss per this podcast:
  • Is Lando Calrissian a stereotypical "African-American Male Film Character?"
  • What messages are truly being transmitted through a black character that's presented as a gambler, scoundrel, and double-dealer AS WELL AS a caring leader, successful businessman, and rebel against the oppressive Empire?

12 comments:

  1. Lando's character is not unlike Han's. They are both cut from the same cloth. Scoundrels? More so in their backstory than how we see them in Empire. (Although I always chuckle at the fact that Lando immediately starts hitting on Leia, just as Han did.) Each character strikes me as quite human--rife with contradictions as well as admirable and not-as-admirable traits. in terms of drama, this makes them interesting.

    Both are characters in transition: Lando is now taking care of a more reputable business, as well as the individuals who work for him. The deal he made with Vader was no deal at all, obviously; it was a gun-to-the-head offer he couldn't refuse. He did, however, have a back-up plan that ultimately rescues Leia and the droids, and he also urgently issues an evacuation order to save his citizens. Han is grudgingly coming around to the side of the rebels, but he's not burdened with taking care of too many folks beyond himself--only Chewie, Leia, and Luke. Even so, this is a big leap from how he's portrayed in most of the previous film.

    I can think of dozens of distinctly different African-American film characters. Any character, regardless of race, can be made stereotypical by poor writing or bad acting. Neither apply here. It's unrealistic (and unfair) to pick one character and apply the burden of stereotype to it. Not all black men are Richard Roundtree in Shaft or Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress; neither are they Sidney Poitier or Bill Cosby in Uptown Saturday Night. What matters is how each respective character grows in the course of a film. Done well, character development gives the viewer--any viewer--something human and familiar to recognize and perhaps even apply to his or her own real-life narrative.

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  2. (MSC5 had difficulty posting his comment and asked me to do it for him. I am most glad to oblige. Here's what he wrote:)

    What I learned from this PODCAST?

    I learned about Lucas's personal motivations and inspirations behind his work. His work comes down to TWO simple choices...

    CHOICE#1: Should I choose to do GOOD?

    CHOICE#2: Should I choose to do EVIL?

    Your choices will influence your thoughts and actions, and at the end of the day your choices will define you as a person.

    I'm not a Star wars Jedi but I can tell you this. Lucas is a man who wants to take on GOOD and EVIL. Star Wars is full audio and visual masterpieces but if you get right down to it it's pretty simple, GOOD OR EVIL?

    Don't let EVIL fool you because sometimes it's dressed up as GOOD. This is why we need to THINK about our choices and how we approach our choices. Your approach will make you stronger or weaker.

    (Thanks, MSC5!)

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  3. Great Podcast. I really enjoyed the background on both films and their relationship to each other. I think you could also draw some parallels between the visual style of the shots of the battle scenes on Hoth and the battle scenes in "Gone". It is not so much the color or visuals but in the way the shots are staged. I also think that parallels between Leia and Scarlett go back to Episode IV where Leia loses her entire world to the "Civil War" similar to the losses Scarlett endures in"Gone".

    Personally, I do not see Lando as a stereotype. It seems to me the film is showing us that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, ages and species, from Yoda to the droids to cutthroat smugglers. That theme of course continues in Return of the Jedi with the Ewoks. I think if the job is done right, which I think it is in Empire, the viewer should not make the conscious observation that Lando is African-American.

    Thanks for the great Podcast.

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  4. Thanks, to PBF and dpsomar for your comments. First, to dpsomar: that Alderaan/Tara connection is genius! Can't believe I missed that. Thank you. And, I certainly see your point about NOT seeing Lando as an African-American. I think this speaks to children's ability to be color-blind, since we were just kids watching Empire when it first came out. It wasn't till I had a "black" Bespin guard action figure that it dawned on me that there were black characters in Star Wars. And then I thought that was super cool. (some may argue this falls into the "black invisibility" area my podcast talks about). I think children accepting a character for how they are written/presented (especially when it is in a "good" light and in the best interest of storytelling, to address PBF's point)is ideal. To PBF's point about "good writing" - well, you know that I agree. One thing I'm struggling with is whether or not all writing expresses some form of ideology or not. I won't bog down this post in that theory, but would like additional posts (from you and others) to consider this.

    On a lighter note, I'd like to share two additional posts emailed to me. The first is from my Father-in-law, a no-nonsense man that I put to the task of listening and commenting. Here's what he emailed me:

    "I am obviously not the same type of movie watcher you are. I would never have picked up on any of those similarities. I watch a movie for the overall effect & rarely can I remember many of the details that took place in the film. I also see the poster similarities, which would lead me to believe that some of the other similarities were also intentional. It is beyond me if they are stereotyping Billy Dee Williams."

    Fair enough. On a similiar note, and one that made me laugh out loud, here's my mother-in-law's emailed comment:

    "I don't really know much about Star Wars. The only one I saw was when Capt. Kirk came back to save the whales. I do, however, see the similarities in the two posters."

    Oh, Mom. Despite all our efforts, you just can't tell the difference, can you?

    Hope you enjoy these gems. Looking forward to more posts!

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  5. Digging Star Wars - Gone with the Wind
    Phil's response Part One

    This is an interesting one to tackle between Gone with the Wind and The Empire Strikes Back. I think it is fantastic that Chris has chosen to explore this situation as it relates to the parallels between Lando Calrissian and the racial tensions felt in 1865/1939/1980/2010 and what Lucas, if anything, was influenced by this. This is the great thing about the movies and its effects on our re-life culture or vice-versa. When you finish viewing a movie you talk to your friends about the film itself and then you talk about what the film means to all of us as a whole. However, I really feel that Lucas really had no intention of exploring the racial/ethnic lines with his Lando character. I think he was looking at this in a racial-neutral sort of way and thus, that is why we never really noticed it back in 1980. Racial/ethnic issues, if you will, are always hard to explore in Science Fiction because the main goal is to remove yourself from 2010 planet Earth or in this case 1980 planet Earth. In the case of the Star Wars films, and especially the Star Trek films, diversity is everywhere, whether it be earthbound or not. You have black, white, Asian, Hothian, Klingon, Vulcan, you name it. There are real races and fake ones.

    Racial tensions are not something that can be seen in The Empire Strikes Back really. This is a classic case on how it is interpreted from the outside looking in, which means, "what the audience takes from it". Again, that is the great thing about the movies, especially older ones, because when you watch the film in 2010, you get to see cultural influences from 1980. With Gone with the Wind, you watch in 2010, you feel cultural influences from 1939 and you get a history lesson from 1865 and feel the cultural influences from that time-period as well. We see how it affects us as we watch it from a 1939/1980 perspective and again in a 2010 perspective. The Empire Strikes Back took place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, but Harrison Ford clearly has a 1980 earthbound American hair cut. This is even more evident from Science Fiction films of the 70s/80s. In the case of 1973s Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the film takes place around 2001, but clearly the 1970s hair-styles and clothing are quite evident. Even more so in 1974s Logan’s Run. Lando's character reacts to situations as any other character would and I personally do not see anything that resembles a character study in oppression. In fact, the only thing relating to cultural and/or ethnic stereotyping, that I have always noticed from the Star Wars films is, "why does everybody in the world think that C-3PO is gay”?

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  6. Digging Star Wars - Gone with the Wind
    Phil's response Part Two

    Being, that it was 1980 and the racial tensions left over from the 1950s, 60s & 70s were still quite evident in American life, I do think that Lucas made a statement by creating a strong African-American leadership-type character, but I think that was the extent of it, and likewise, in Gone with the Wind, true it took place in 1865, and slaves and the term "darkies" was rampant in the film, I think Margaret Mitchell and for the film, Sidney Howard, did the same thing as Lucas, because the character that emerges as the strong, outspoken, opinionated, competent, leader of the film and also, is characterized by Rhett Butler himself as being "the real head of the household", is Mammy, Scarlett's slave-nurse, who was by her side since birth. Much like Lando, by the end of the movie, she seems to be the one strong enough and with the least amounts of scars, to lead this group/family into the next chapter of their lives, including Rhett.

    I think Chris hit the nail on the head, when he mentioned the fact that Lucas, after getting some feedback about his whole white cast in Star Wars, injected Lando into the film. However, I do not think Lucas wanted to tackle the racial issue at all, but just wanted to inject some coolness into the film. Remember, Billy Dee Williams was at the height of his career with the Colt-45 commercials (remember those?) He was the epitome of cool and was the perfect choice for the role. It almost makes you think that Tim Burton did the same thing by casting him as the historically white Harvey Dent in Batman (1989), nine years later.

    My fingers are starting to hurt from typing and I am chain-smoking trying to put this response together as good as I can, so I will bow out for now. Stay Tuned for my review of Gone with the Wind coming soon and I will tackle a few more of the parallels, most notably, the similarities between Han & Rhett and the dissimilarities between Leia and Scarlet that I saw between Gone with the Wind and Empire Strikes Back later on.......

    STAY TUNED FOR PHIL AT THE MOVIES 2010/2011 MEETS DIGGING STAR WARS EPISODE 2.

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  7. BTW - In part one I meant to say "real-life" not "re-life". Thanks

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  8. “Devo” emailed this comment …

    “...I believe that the casting of Billy Dee Williams was pivotal because he didn't pose any serious threat to either Solo or Leia. Casting a much more "Macho" Black actor probably would've had different repercussions and 'readings' as his character if an actor of more stature in Black Audiences like Roundtree, Jim Brown or even Fred Williamson were used.”

    Thanks, Devo!

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  9. Funny how in Return of the Jedi, Lando and Han seem both neutered storywise (as it really is Luke's vehicle) and that Lucas (who really ghostdirected)
    BLOWS up a Black X-Wing Pilot and an Asian A Wing pilot back to back in the final battle over Endor.

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  10. Digging Star Wars - Gone with the Wind
    Phil's response Part Three
    The Review of Gone with the Wind and more:

    What more can you say about Gone with the Wind. It is a true masterpiece and it is not long or boring at all. It is not overly romantic or mushy, plus there is no singing (my only weakness when it comes to the movies – I don’t get Musicals), so that makes it even better. It’s not over-acted or dated at all. It looks just like something you would see today, only better, because not a single computer was used in its making and it doesn’t look plastic. It is made completely with human hands, thus the reality factor is already evident before you even look at it. The four hour length just flies by, because you are riveted from beginning to end. The cinematography, the acting, music, script design and special effects are brilliant. It is exactly the pure definition of a large-scale, history-making, blockbuster-like, epic masterpiece and it defines why we must have Hollywood in our lives. But, hold on a moment. We have to talk about the other part of this equation. That would be the part containing another film that has the exact same mojo that Gone with the Wind had in its day. It is a film that also possesses the characteristics that Gone with the Wind contains. And, guess what? This one was made, at least 50% by a computer, so don’t think I am bashing the movies of today. They both have the BIG SCREEN MOVIE CREDITS IN THE BEGINNING TOO!!! Gone with the Wind is #6 on the AFI Top 100. Star Wars is #13. I always felt that Empire Strikes Back was better than Star Wars, so I’m giving Empire Strikes Back credit for the #13 on the AFI top 100.

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  11. Digging Star Wars - Gone with the Wind
    Phil's response Part Four
    The Review of Gone with the Wind and more: Part 2

    I think one of the most “striking” comparisons that Chris came up with was the simple comparison of the Empire Strikes Back poster with the Gone with the Wind poster. The posing of Han and Leia with Rhett & Scarlet is stunningly similar. In some ways, it is a true comparison, but it may have false implications. Let me back up a hair. The last time I had the chance to see Gone with the Wind was probably back in the 80s, so it has been a while. I had forgotten how much of a bitch Scarlet was in the film. She actually is an unlikeable character and possibly, she could be an anti-heroin. True, she did go through some tough times that would harden anyone if they were thrown into this, but there is an ugly side to her that makes you not like her. There is nothing bad or dark about Leia at all. You like her and her softness, in comparison to Scarlet, is not deterred from her strength. Hmmmmmm, maybe Scarlet was overtaken by the dark side of the Force, because we know Leia wasn’t. Let’s bring in the guys now. Rhett and Han are totally the same. They both are Rebels. They both love money. They both get libido-blocked by their own over-bearing pride. They both can be a hero and an anti-hero. They also have strength, with just the right amount of kindness, that makes both characters likeable. The difference occurs when we bring the ladies back in. Han and Leia have their light differences and name calling, but by the end of the movie Rhett and Scarlet have gone through fights that rival those we saw on Dynasty or Dallas, resulting in Rhett, well, I guess, I still shouldn’t give the ending away. There are still many people who have shamefully not seen Gone with the Wind yet. Anyway, with Han and Leia, there is a definite attraction there. Now, it is true, with Empire Strikes Back, that we have the luxury of a trilogy, so eventually we see that Han and Leia will probably work out by the time Return of the Jedi comes to an end. The love is really there. Rhett and Scarlet? I’m not sure.

    This is a brilliant idea that Chris has come up with and I am quite pleased that he has invited me into the discussion. It’s not just a way to compare the two movies, or even compare the characters, directors, actors or effects, or even racial tensions or comparisons with women issues. It’s all that, plus, it helps you compare your 2010 self with your 1980 self or even your 1939 self, depending on how old you are. As I mentioned before, I think, the last time I saw Gone with the Wind was in the 80s. Maybe 1987. Not sure. It was no later than 1991. Either way, I never thought of the idea of comparing the two movies, especially back then. Chris has given us the opportunity to do this. The evidence is there, or at least, the discussion definitely is there and I am looking forward to the next Chapter of Digging Star Wars.

    Gone with the Wind (1939) – A
    Empire Strikes Back (1980) – A

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  12. I enjoyed the comparison of the two posters quite a bit, and began wondering how much is intentional and how much the artist may have been unintentionally influenced by the GWTW poster, an iconic piece of art and movie history. Way back when, in college, I studied semiotics, which is the study of sign processes, or signification and communication, signs and symbols. Basically, you try to boil down symbols or signs into pieces to try to understand how the symbols affect people or communicate something. Obviously, the purpose of both posters was to introduce you to some of the subject matter and action of the respective films. But I'm sure that discussion could be had regarding the deeper symbology of the posters.
    Regarding the question of Lando's being a stereotypical "African-American Male Film Character"- I have to agree with a previous comment when I say that as a kid, I had no opinion on Lando's being black, and as an adult, I don't think it has any bearing on Lando's character. Regarding his being non-essential or invisible, I think it's more that he was a newly introduced character, and we only quickly and barely learned that he had a history with Han. I think it overreaches to suggest that Lando's absence from the A poster has anything to do with black actors being stereotyped or made less significant. It has more to do with fans not knowing who the heck the character was! I think it's right that Billy Dee Williams' agent stuck up for him, got him on the B poster, etc, and that Lando developed into a very important character later in the story- anything BUT insignificant or invisible.

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