Isle of Dogs Guilty of Cultural Appropriation

Because the director is of primarily European decent

I was waiting, along with a young couple, at a car dealership for some work to be done on my car. I suppose I have to define “young couple” for you. They were what I believe to be two humans of primarily European decent. The one that self identified as female appeared to be biologically female and the one that self identified as male appeared to be biologically male.

Both individuals appeared to be under the age of 21. I surmise that since the female was flirting with the male who was too busy with his smartphone to notice. Or, perhaps, he did notice but didn’t want to be accused of #METOO so he was doing the most appropriate thing which was to ignore her.

The couple was discussing whether to go see Wes Anderson’s movie Isle of Dogs. The female seemed receptive except she’d heard it was being accused of cultural appropriation. Immediately both went to their phones to research what others were saying about the movie so they could make some sort of judgement about whether they should go see the movie or not.

Wes Anderson also seems to self identify as a male and appears to be of primarily European decent.

The question is whether someone of primarily European decent is permitted to make a movie about Japan where the dogs in the movie speak English and the humans speak Japanese.

Justin Chang, film critic for the LA Times, summed up the controversy —

Bluntly put, does this white American filmmaker’s highly selective, idiosyncratic rendering of an East Asian society constitute a sincere act of homage, or a clueless failure of sensitivity?

Justin Chang does appear to be of primarily Asian decent so we must certainly assume that he is representing the Asian culture. I’m a bit confused though since I would have expected that “Chang” was more likely a name associated with China. Given their history, I doubt many Japanese would be looking to China for commentary on their culture.

For his part, Wes Anderson said —

“The movie is a fantasy, and I would never suggest that this is an accurate depiction of any particular Japan. This is definitely a reimagining of Japan through my experience of Japanese cinema.”

Well there you go. If that’s not cultural appropriation, I don’t know what is!

Stephen Gong, the executive director of the Center for Asian American Media, has commented

Esse filme é parte de um problema maior que inclui filmes como A Viagem Para Darjeeling em que pessoas e locações ‘exóticas’ são usadas como enfeites. O estilo de [Wes] Anderson não evoluiu apesar das conversas sobre esses assuntos na indústria cinematográfica. Esse é só um exemplo do porquê mais filmes precisam ser dirigidos por mulheres, minorias e outras pessoas de comunidades marginalizadas”, disse Stephen Gong, diretor do Center for Asian American Media, à revista, quando perguntado sobre o assunto.

Which, loosely translated means “This film is part of a larger oeuvre that includes films like The Darjeeling Unlimited that uses ‘exotic’ people and locations as window dressings. Anderson’s aesthetic hasn’t evolved despite the larger conversations sweeping the industry. This is just one example of why there still needs to be more films directed by women, people of color, and people from other marginalized communities.”

Actually, I’m not totally sure what language Mr. Gong spoke in so I included Spanish and English versions. Mr. Gong appears to be of primarily Asian decent although Gong sounds like a made up name if you ask me!

I think the young couple decided not to take the risk since there didn’t seem to be good clarity on the nature of the cultural appropriation and just left to go play a video game.

Mark Rosneck

Written by Mark Rosneck

Site owner and bilagáana


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