During times of censorship, or times where exploring issues in the real world might be tricky, using fantasy or science fiction to do it is a real and viable solution. Dressing up the thing you want to explore into something cute and fuzzy might be just the way to go without immediately getting the hackles up from the left or the right or the government or some extremist loon or anyone else.
…but there's a problem.
It's something I often see in Hollywood attempts at least, and something that always rubs me the wrong way, especially when the issue tackled is racism.
To explore a problem in a fictional world it isn't enough to simply ape the behaviors that code for racism in our world in the fictional one: it's not enough to put orcs in ghettos and give them a basketball and angry expressions when cops show up.
I'm using the two movies Bright and Zootopia because a) one is terrible and one is good and b) they both make terrible work of exploring racism, in my opinion at least. Together they illustrate perfectly that the problem isn't in the writing or the script, but in the worldbuilding and the setup.
The message of both these movies was, in broad strokes, that racism is bad and should be abandoned. In both movies one fantasy group is being discriminated against by the rest. In Bright it's orcs and in Zootopia it's carnivores/predator animals.
In Bright, the racism occurs because several centuries back the orcs were pretty much evil and nearly destroyed the world or some such thing (it's been a while since I watched it). Despite the fact that a messiah like orc emerged from them, they are regarded as inherently evil as a race and even eons later in the ‘modern’ fantasy world they're discriminated against.
In Zootopia, the racism occurs because several centuries back the predators were eating the herbivores. They stopped after a specific era and don't eat herbivores anymore BUT the urge can still be awoken in a predator to eat his/her/their fellow citizen and as such, herbivores are wary of them.
In my eyes the orcs in Bright code as black or POC. The mannerisms and the ghetto-style look is pretty unmistakable. The predators in Zootopia could be coding for black people, but also Jewish people, Roma, immigrants, other nationalities, etc. It's not as stereotypical as in Bright but it's clearly there.
And thus the problem arises: in these fantasy worlds, the prejudice stems from someplace valid and real. The orcs did nearly annihilate the world. The predators did eat the herbivores. It has been several years/centuries since, but the fact is commonly acknowledged as true and historical.
In real life racism rarely stems from that. In fact, racism doesn't stem from something that the discriminated against did. On the contrary, it stems from scapegoating by society to explain away a social problem that emerged from different reasons than the existence of the discriminated group. Black people didn't nearly destroy the world. Roma or Jewish people didn't prey on their fellow citizens wherever they were living. Immigrants aren't the cause of social problems but the symptom (when there's a connection at all; often there isn't).
But when in fantasy the problem is dressed as in Bright or Zootopia, the analogy is flawed. People get the ‘coding’ of the movie and can apply it to real life, but together with the A plot, they also apply the worldbuilding. “If they're discriminated against now, their ancestors did something in the past.” That's the worldbuilding's message. And it's wrong. It makes the movie look shallow and/ or that its creators didn't understand the problem they're exploring.
So how does one properly dress a social issue from the real world in the fantasy one?
I'll tackle that in the next part.
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Feb. 3, 2024
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