a bad taste in the mouth

Friday, January 6, 2012 9:13:51 PM

dawn treader, race, film, narnia, orientalism, Islamophobia, apted, stereotyping

I enjoyed a guilty pleasure the other day: the third installment of the Narnia chronicles “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. Now this was always my FAVE of the Narnia books. I lapped them up as a child, read them many times over and I don’t think I suffered in any way from the soft-serve Christianity that CS Lewis loaded into the fantasy tales.
Now those books were written in the late 1940s-early 50s and to be sure they do betray the mind set of the late colonial period. This to be expected, and of course makes the rereading of them interesting from today’s point of view.

But adapting a 1950s book in 2010, and keep all the racial-cultural Eurocentricity of the novels is a bit much. What was director Michale Apted thinking? Given that there is no such place as Narnia, and the Narnian characters are as likely to be fauns, minotaurs and talking mice, why did he choose to ensure that the only non-white human faces in the film were – slave traders!?! I mean, he could have done anything – that’s the great opportunity of fantasy and sci-fi, you really can dream it and film it. And, even more pertinent, why do the slave traders wear the kind of robes, turbans and general getup that we all know VERY well from Orientalist painting and art – Arabian Nights as it were? The Arabs were the only people ever to trade slaves? Since the Narnia slave traders aren’t meant to be “real people” and it’s only a matter of costume, why not have dress them as Spanish conquistadores? Or Norsemen? Or just get creative and make something up? (now that would have been really interesting!)

Or are we meant to continue to see dark skinned, bearded and robed people as ruthless, filthy, greedy, unjust and cruel? I mentioned earlier that i watched Jack Shaheen’s film Reel Bad Arabs recently. But I was really shocked that the very NEXT film I saw did exactly the same things Shaheen exposed. In a film for kids. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Shame on you, Michael Apted.

I am sure there are / were defenders of the “faithful” Orientalist, Arabophobic, racial, loyal, faithful interpretation of CS Lewis in the film. But I’ll bet none of them were from an Arab background. Anyway, I don’t defend it.

Speaking as ‘white’ person, I think we can – and must – really do better.

This link discusses the remaining books and their unsuitability to be filmed. – Kyrie O’Connor
Houston Chronicle, December 1, 2005.

©G. McIver 2012 all rights reserved

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