Transformers – A Cultural Decepticon

Read this review on Box Office Mojo, which I thought was great, but what stood out for me most was this paragraph:

With a tattooed, pierced Australian computer hacker, a heavyset black guy as the world’s most proficient hacker and John Turturro as an overbearing federal agent in the genre’s most overdone performance since Nick Nolte chewed scenes in Hulk, the only thing missing is foreign subtitles—but Bay tosses those in too, predictably plugging for an Asian audience.

And it flashed back something a friend said about Transformers being a movie designed to appeal to minorities. For example to him, in one of the opening scenes with the military guys speaking Spanish, he saw it as a way to earn street cred as it had no consequence on later plots in the film. I don’t know necessarily that I agree with him on that specific point, but looking in as a geeky white guy, I’m starting to think about how the development machine may have twisted and churned to generate a product that catered to all. Just as there was a pass to inject all of the product placement, could there have been someone (Bay?) adding some Latin culture here, some African-American spice there, all while making sure it got rounded out with some good ole fashioned Caucasiana?

I don’t feel alienated by a pierced Austrailian white chick and a fat black guy as hackers or a WASP as Secretary of Defense – though should we question the motives behind the casting, and potentially the situations presented within the film? There wouldn’t be anything revolutionary in a Hollywood movie trying to reach different audiences, but considering the scope and scale of the Transformers invasion, it’s something to take notice of alongside the Nokia phone inserts and GM logos. It’s been a while, so I’ll need to see it again with that kind of eye to see if any of this holds water. I may be way out there, and this may be an offensive question to ask, but I wonder how much “tokenism” was assembled in Transformers? After all, in a movie about giant robots, the only thing not “token” is the bots themselves.

For those that have seen the movie recently or still have it fresh on your minds, any thoughts?

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  1. Roger says:

    Actually, I’m told that Jazz fulfills the role of the token funny black guy who gets killed. So even the robots aren’t safe from cliches.

  2. Cybergosh says:

    One of the many different levels i hated this on.

  3. DougGold says:

    I think it’s old-fashioned thinking to wonder why any character in a movie isn’t a well-spoken caucasian. That casting is usually reserved to the main character(s) so that, yes, obviously, it can appeal to more people of different races. But why is this a big deal? Why do we point out that the hispanic character prefers to speak spanish yet that does not have a bearing on the plot, but we don’t point out that they make a big deal about the caucasian soldier having a newborn daughter but then that’s forgotten 10 minutes in. All of this stuff is done just to make the characters more interesting so that when each person is on screen, we have another “bit” to enjoy. I think it made the scenes without giant robots just as interesting as the scenes with them.

  4. Cybergosh says:

    Granted.  But what about the fact that they were really, really annoying?

  5. claire redfield says:

    you guys might be on to something…a fat black guy with big momma issues…an obnoxious Italian guy with unfortunate undergarment choices…a Jew haggling with a used car dealer…do you think they tossed in a super smart Australian girl to throw us off the ethnic stereotype track?

    Regardless it takes more than these “bits” to entertain me, I get enough Spanish guys speaking Spanish behind me in the movies, I don’t need them up on the screen.

  6. Eros Welker says:

    I never insinuated that I wanted the cast of Transformers to be lily-white.  That’s not my point; I’m merely rehashing what we already know – that sometimes when movies get made, there are less altruistic goals at work.  When I use the word “tokenism,” I’m not using it merely to apply to race.  This also applies to all of the “whoa mom cool” moments where little kids are gaping at giant robots.  Anything to get a variety of butts in the seats.

  7. Cybergosh says:

    I really hate that kid most of all.  He sucked me out of the one moment where i actually started to get into this movie.

  8. DougGold says:

    I liked that kid a lot because his line of dialogue came right out of my mind at that moment.