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the lightning thief had no thunder (and was a bit eurocentric and a little racist)

February 12, 2010

I am the kind of nerd that wanted to see what promised to be a Harry Potteresqe movie, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, on opening night. I generally don’t know my head from my bum when it comes to movies, so I won’t review it. What I will say though is, don’t go. Or at least wait until it comes out on DVD.  (That is, if you have a Netflix account. If you go to Blockbuster and pay by the movie, skip this one).

The movie was mildly entertaining if one accepted it for what it was- a totally cheezy children’s movie that cared nothing for consistency, plot or trusting the audience to have a brain. If it had just been that simple I would have accepted that I was out $35 (I paid for everyone I harangued into going with me. Good thing too, they might have flogged me had I wasted their time and money). I could have accepted all of the above, but the reproduction of racial stereotypes, which seemed to go unnoticed by the directors/producers, was what got to me.

First of all, everything happens in the United States. Funny. Greek gods centering their lives in the U.S. I don’t get it. But back to race…[1]

This movie only portrayed white and black characters. And there were only three black characters at that.  It appeared that only one of the gods featured in the movie wasn’t white. And he was in a scene for about a minute with no speaking lines. (Hmmm. Tokenism, perhaps?).

The second black character is Grover (Brandon T. Jackson). He is a doting side-kick/ bodyguard to the main character, always interested in the ladies, full of silly one-liners and the only main character that was half animal. Yup, that’s right. The only black person to get a lead plays an animal.  He plays up many stereotypes of black men, while challenging none of them. The only thing they did right with Grover was let him grow horns in the end (a sign of manhood). This development was good only for the pun factor—“horny” –since Grover is always interested in the ladies. And they didn’t even acknowledge the pun, even though it was an easy one.

The final black character is Persephone, wife of Hades, played by Rosario Dawson (who is actually multi-ethnic).  She is kept captive by Hades against her will. In other words, she is a slave. Enough said.

[1] Disclaimer: I would like to be clear that when I say “race” I am judging off of skin tone alone—full of all my own biases. Lame, right? I have no clue how these actors self identify their race and/or ethnicity. However, since skin color is how, in western societies, we tend “read” race I am going to go for it and critique the Eurocentric bias displayed throughout this movie anyway at risk of reifying the race-game…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda permalink
    February 13, 2010 12:46 pm

    I’m assuming you haven’t read the book? I can address several of these points:
    1. Everything was centered in the US because Olympus moves depending on where the Gods deem the “center of enlightenment” is at any given point in time. For example, Olympus has been in Greece, Rome, Egypt, etc. in the past.
    2. There are definitely more characters in the book that are half-animal than Grover. If I’m not mistaken, the main character Chiron (played by Pierce Brosnan in the movie) is a centaur, and therefore half-horse.
    3. The running joke in the book about Grover is that he is Rastafarian, because he wears a rasta hat with dreadlocks attached to hide his horns from humans.
    4. I’m not sure how this movie could have improved on racial diversity, given that it is about ancient Greek Gods, and Greek people are historically a light skinned (and sometimes olive skinned) people. How would you have improved the racial diversity?
    5. I’m thinking Rosario Dawson was chosen more because of her beauty, as Persephone is supposedly an amazing beauty, as opposed to her blackness.

    I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, so I’m disappointed by your review. Hoping I’ll find it more enjoyable when I see it.

  2. Renee Ellis permalink
    February 24, 2010 11:08 am

    I saw the movie on Lyndsey’s insistence, she read the books and was very excited to see the film so I am going to comment on both the book and movie. For starters the plot of the book is apparently very different from the movie. Lyndsey was livid it completely alters both characters and motivations. So while the book may be much better the movie itself was terrible. And I will add to the racial criticism by pointing out that the entire plot of the film is driven by a search for pearls that Persephone leaves for her lovers. This means that her heightened sex drive is central and yet they chose to represent her as one of the few handful of people of color in the film. This begs the question if greek gods and demigods are generally light skinned why chose Rosario for that part, Why not Uma Thurman (by the way Uma as a very sexy medusa was about the only thing I liked about the film). This plays into ideas of women’s sexuality and particularly Black women’s sexuality. I will give the film credit for giving the female lead intelligence, strength, and resourcefulness- although Lyndsey was disappointed because they apparently combined two of the female characters instead of staying with the characterization. All told stay with the book skip the movie

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