Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nute Gunray is every bit a racist Asian stereotype

Nute Gunray
"The Phantom Menace" gave us many offensive characters. Jar Jar Binks was a racist stereotype that poked fun at African American people. His mannerisms and speech seemed to be modeled on stereotypical and racist views of Blacks. And in the same movie, Lucas managed to also single out Jewish people with Watto the junk dealer who concerned himself with "only money." But still not satisfied with that, Lucas gave us Nute Gunray, thereby sealing "The Phantom Menace" as having a trifecta of some of the most racially offensive characters in history.  And you're in luck, because Nute Gunray is in the Clone Wars cartoon series and that's who I'm going to talk about today :).

Nute Gunray was a Neimodian who served as a Minister of the Trade Federation. His first real episode is "Bombad Jedi," which is the eighth episode of season one of the television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Threepio, Jar-Jar as a Jedi and Padme Amidala on Rodia.
In this episode, Amidala is sent by Chancellor Palpatine on secret mission to Rodia (remember Greedo?) to negotiate a peace treaty. On her way, she meets up with a Rodian friend who just happens to be a traitor working for Nute Gunray (the head of the evil Trade Federation that was responsible for keeping a stranglehold on Amidala's home planet of Naboo). Anyway, this traitor captures Amidala and Jar Jar Binks disguises himself as a Jedi and tries to rescue her. With a little help from a sea monster and her friend (who has second thoughts on allying with Gunray), Padme is rescued and Nute Gunray is captured. The episode is named "Bombad Jedi" because Padme's friend calls Jar Jar "Master Bombad."

Below is a clip from the episode featuring everyone's favorite character, Jar-Jar Binks. Honestly...I hated this episode. And that's probably why it stuck in my memory.
Why do I think Nute Gunray is a racist stereotype?

1) He speaks with an Asian accent.
2) He works in the tech field (the Trade Federation is full of droid workers, robots, etc.)
3) He is every bit an unfortunate racial stereotype of Japanese businessmen, treating "trade" like "war."
4) Emasculation and asexuality. From Wikipedia: Chinese laborers in the mid 1800s were given an emasculated image due to physical appearance and the fact they did what Americans considered to be "women's work." They wore long silk gowns (which Gunray does) and usually had long braids.

So yeah...there you have it. Racism is alive and well in children's cartoons people! But I still like the series as a whole. I guess nothing is perfect. If I could ask Lucas one question though, it would be "what the hell were you thinking when you made this character?"

46 comments:

  1. I do feel that Asian characters, or in this case, characters channeling an Asian character, are sometimes portrayed unfairly in movies.
    I hear you on your concerns about the asexual Asian male stereotype. I might've brushed on that topic earlier this year when I blogged about my dissatisfaction with the ending of Romeo Must Die, another movie featuring an Asian male. (You can search Romeo Must Die on my blog and that post will come up.) It still bothers me that the Asian male lead for that movie got a hug instead of the typical Hollywood movie ending kiss.

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  2. Ever since the ewoks, Lucas' idea of what his fans will like has been way off base. Glad the franchise is in other hands now.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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  3. Racial stereotypes are all over the place.

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  4. Is it Lucas (or any character creator) who made racist characters? Or is it the viewer who creates the racism in his/her own mind? After all, mannerisms beholden to individuals that stem from their upbringing, surroundings, languages/dialects, are what make a person who they are. A Chinese person does speak the way they do. There are Jewish people who are tight with their money, does that mean they all are? No. And I think we as people know how to draw distinctions.

    I've been on the receiving end of racist bigotry from white people, but I don't chose to lump them all into categories of racists, or assume they're all noodle headed idiots with redneck accents, just because one of the individuals who mocked my skin colour was an ignorant fool.

    Jar-Jar had the personality he did because Lucas based his character on a collective of individual stereotypes. Does that mean he's racist for simply observing behavioural communities? I don't think so.

    Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to pull the "racism" card. Stereotypes exist because they are inherent in social groupings and that is just a plain and simple fact of life. Do we need to abolish stereotypes? Perhaps yes, but that's not going to happen so long as people keep connecting with those around them, and not in a bad way. It makes us who we are. It's how we find comfort in like-minded souls.

    Not souls as in spirits because I'm atheist. Ha!

    Great topic by the way. Thank you. xx

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  5. Racism exists in real life.
    Suzanne above made a very good point.
    Thought the twin autobots in Transformers II were the worst though.

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  6. Well, I'm going to go a different direction with my comment, here. I know everyone's all talking about racism and the serious issue raised in your post, but I'd like to just commend you for actually having a Tuesday post up. This morning I did the rounds of all my reg'lar blogs I read and you're the only one with a Tuesday post up, at 7:42 a.m. (CDST). Which means you put that thing up pretty early, since I know you live in Utah, and as a result of the Mormon-based government there, Utahns (or "Wyoming Wannabes," as they were known until 1870) are actually on a 37-hour-based circadian rhythm, which by my calculations...

    *taps furiously on a calculator, realizes calculator is actually just a set of "Post-It Notes" with Garfield comics on them, gives up*

    ...means that you posted this LAST WEEK.

    Also: I didn't think "Jewish" when I saw Watto. And while I got that Nute was an Asian, I think you're stretching it a bit on the tech industry, as the Trade Federation had no more or less tech than the Hutts, from what I could tell.

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  7. I thought Watto was more of an Italian stereotype, but there was plenty of racism to go around in that movie. Just another of the many reasons not to like the prequels.

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  8. @Suzanne Korb: And your thoughts on Mattel's new Mexican barbie (A part of their international dolls collection)? She comes with a Passport and a chihuahua. I think that's racist. She needs a passport so she can't get deported lol! Why not dress her up as a housekeeper? There are a lot of insensitive people in this country. Some of them make movies.

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  9. I've never seen that comparison about Watto before. Anywhere. And I never thought of that way. I think he's more "used car salesman."

    I will say, though, that Lucas doesn't actually do the character development himself. He just gives approval of the direction. Lucas' contribution to Jar Jar was mostly that he was the comic relief. Most of what I've read says that Ahmed Best was most responsible for the mannerisms and racist qualities that Jar Jar had. Sure, Lucas hired him, but Lucas didn't hire him to be that kind of character; he hired Best, and Best chose to portray his character that way. Best chose the voice and all of that. And Best took a lot of flak for it with a lot of people saying things like "why'd you have to do your own people that way?"

    None of which is really a defense of Lucas; I'm just saying that Lucas didn't sit down and say, "Now, for this role, I want a real Asian stereotype; how can we pull that off?"

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  10. @Briane: Hey! I have a Tuesday post up!

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  11. My kids, (unlike me) loved the character of Jar Jar Binks when he was introduced. They have no idea that he was a portraying a bad/racist stereo type. What to do as a parent? Point it out and use it as a teaching moment, or leave them innocent and liking it. It's never an easy decision.

    PS: I'm a maid with dark hair, eyes and skin. I can't tell you how many people assume I (1) don't speak English or (2) start automatically start speaking very s-l-o-w-l-y to me. Which I find infuriating.

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  12. right??? I think it's like not even trying to hide the racism with Nute Gunray. It just makes me wonder what Lucas was thinking. Like, did he realize how racist it was? Or was he just that completely oblivious?

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  13. Hi, Mike,
    I do agree that we receive way more subliminal messages on television that we will ever stop to think about.

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  14. @Andrew: Here's one link you can check out that makes the argument Watto is racist: http://www.weirdworm.com/the-five-most-racist-star-wars-characters/

    I guess after today you won't be able to say, "I've never seen the argument about Watto before..." Dude, it's easy to find with google.

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  15. Michael, I have totally been enlightened today. It shows how "socially acceptable" it is to portray people in stereotypical ways and get away with it. Wow.

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  16. When I first heard Gunray speak, the first thing I thought of was the Japanese exchange student from Pretty in Pink ("Whaaas-a happening, hot stuff?")

    And as an Asian male, I know that I am so very not asexual!

    I think the Trade Federation using a droid army is also a subconscious statement about Japanese companies - the rank and file employees are just robots following orders.

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  17. And on top of that, they included Jar Jar in the show. What was he thinking?

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  18. Most of what people think about the "racism" in The Phantom Menace is believed only because people believe it. Shocking! George Lucas created aliens with funny accents! Shocking! Why don't they all just talk American?!?

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  19. Wow! It's interesting to hear about the stereotypes portrayed in Clone Wars. I wonder if it was done consciously or subconsciously.

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  20. Yeah those three characters in the Phantom Menace were totally offensive. I had honestly forgotten about it and it's shocking to read them all together like this.

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  21. never thought of him that way

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  22. we hate racism on TV and in films :( I also consider it racist when they put black actors playing historically white characters like in our beloved MERLIN and some other shows.

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  23. I have been enlightened today on the various opinions regarding these characters. I may never watch them the sane way again now. Lol

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  24. I remember all the debate about Jar Jar-- and I don't know what it was about him, perhaps it was his incorporation of so many stereotypes crammed into one annoying creature-- but I couldn't stand the scenes with Jar Jar.

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  25. I'm hoping Moody is right. Lucas can't possibly make it any worse. Can he?

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  26. Racist stereotypes in writing are often a sign of lazy character development. It sometimes takes an extra ten minutes or so of brainstorming to come up with something complex enough to be considered original. *snarkybitchtoday*

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  27. I used to have a boss who was just like Watto and he wasn't Jewish. (However, I did have a landlord in ABQ who was Jewish - nice guy, but very, very tight with money.)

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  28. I completely understand you in this post! Sometimes Asians are portrayed in such a stereotypical way that its actually pretty insulting.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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  29. Haven't seen this one before but I've seen such evidence of stereotyping big time in many cartoons. Even the Disney Princesses come to mind!

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  30. I'm with @jaybird. My kids like Jar Jar. When Jar Jar came out I didn't find him offensive, I found him annoying. Oh well.

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  31. Was there an outcry at the time. I remeber there was with The Lion King.

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  32. It could be that Lucas didn't intend any racial slurs with these characters but only used the stereotype to give them familiarity. just throwing it out there.

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  33. And now after reading Suzanne's comment, I totally agree with her.

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  34. @PK: Congressman Don Young used the racial slur "Wetback" because he was familiar with it. It's no excuse.

    By your logic it would be okay for white people in the South to use the word "n*gger" because that is what they are familiar with using.

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  35. I'm so clueless. I would have never thought of it as racist. I just love Star Wars. Although, I'm glad the powers that be have taken over and Lucas is stepping down. I am hopeful for a bright future.

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  36. Cartoons have always been full of things adults are told not to teach their kids. Maybe that's why kids like them so much.

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  37. I agree with the comment that racism is a societal thing -- meaning it's the way we look at characters that makes us one way or another.

    Interesting post ... and a great read.

    Silvia @ Silvia Writes

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  38. As an Asian, it really annoys me when stereotypes like that are catered to. Seriously. Asia's a rather big place and there are lots of different kinds of people there.

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  39. What a sad stereotype to perpetuate. And though I never quite saw the Jar Jar/African American connection, I did think Jar Jar was annoying as hell as a character and I was pissed off when he survived in the movie and Liam Neeson (damn, I love that man!) died.

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  40. A while back Entertainment Weekly did a thing on the movies, and they talked about Jar Jar and how the actors all thought his scenes were funny. They were shocked when his character wasn't a hit with the fans.

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  41. I agree... the racism in TPM is pretty straightforward. I don't think George knows how racist he is, but that only shows how out of touch he is.

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  42. I hadn't even known there WAS a tv version to all this!
    My favourite is the Lego version of Eddie Izzard's Death Star Canteen :-)

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  43. This makes me wonder - is Disney going to pick up on these characters and do something about it? Because Star Wars without Jar-Jar is just unfathomable. ;)

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  44. I think this is the reason that I didn't like the newer Star Wars as much as the originals - even if the originals are corny, I still love them. Of course, there are probably cultural faults in them, but I haven't noticed them.

    BTW - although I'm a huge Princess Bride fan, the one issue I have with the movie is that Buttercup is a wimp. One of the reasons I loved the original Star Wars, and the prequels, is that the female characters get to kick butt, and don't just stand around and scream.

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  45. Ugh. Wow. And yes, the racist stereotype is the big reason I hatehatehate Jar-Jar Binks. That character is so blatantly a stereotype! Ugh, it's repulsive.

    As to your comment about racism being alive and well in children's cartoons... well, when I was a kid, I didn't really notice racist stereotypes in my fantasy -- not because it wasn't there, you understand, but because to me, it was all fantasy. I didn't draw parallels to our world in that way. I was horrified in high school to discover C.S. Lewis's The Horse And His Boy was simply packed with arabic/islamic stereotypes. And I mean horrified because that was one of my favorite books in that series, mostly because I just found that country so interesting. But, I mean, I just didn't see it as a kid, and I would never have thought that because these fictional characters were "evil" and happened to be dark-skinned and wear turbans, that they represented people in "real life" who had dark skin and wore turbans. That would have just been beyond me. But maybe it would be different in TV shows, which are lot more visual. Hum.

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  46. As sad as it is, I think he was just keeping it real. Racism is a human quality. We are tribal. Therefore, we see each other with stereotypical qualities. Sad, yes, but that's life.

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