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Racial Intersectionality in The Karate Kid

June 16, 2010

What did I tell you? Second post in a week. Awesome. Well, this week is also my vacation and the only thing I can think to do with myself is clean or watch tv, neither of which sound appealing to me at the moment. Later today if I have time, I plan to make a page clarifying some of the feminist theories I’m using, so check that out once it exists.

It all started when my mother and I were discussing what to do on said vacation. She told me that whatever we did on Tuesday would probably just be us because everyone else was busy. After we thought of a few options, I said, “Well why don’t we go see the new Karate Kid movie?” There was a short pause, and she said, “You would go see that with me??” knowing that I generally don’t spend money on films that aren’t going to be nominated for several Oscars because I’m just a snob like that.

My mother’s love for Jackie Chan falls properly into the context of my family’s known trait for completely random obsessions and addictions. It all started with the film Shanghai Noon followed shortly by Rush Hour 2. During the time that my mother read Jackie Chan’s biography, I am Jackie Chan (which rested on our fireplace mantle like a shrine for many months), and rented all of his movies from the library, my sister, who worked at the library, was renting all of Johnny Depp’s films, an addiction which began with Pirates of the Caribbean (which I saw in theaters seven times). I, at the time, was busy cutting John Mayer’s face out of every magazine I could find in order to tape them all over everything I owned while simultaneously making it my goal in life to listen to all three of his albums every single day. And I did, every day, for over two years. Today, my mom makes dog treats, I have fallen into the unfortunate vice-like grip of World of Warcraft, and I have no idea what my sister does. This probably means that her current obsession is so horrid and grotesque that she cannot share it with us. I speculate that she may have begun writing Twilight fanfic.

With that context in mind, I hope you now understand how I ended up seeing The Karate Kid. Being a fan of the original film and not understanding the desire to remake it, I had incredibly low expectations for the film. Coupled with the fact that it’s a big fancy summer release and it’s two and a half hours long, I was dreading seeing it just a little. Lucky for me, I found it to be a very entertaining film, albeit a little too tear-jerking, with an interesting commentary on race. To simplify it, I’ll make a list of the things I liked and didn’t like about the film.

Dislikes:

  • Women were underrepresented. There were two female leads: one was the mom, and one was the love interest. For a film that I feel does a lot for helping the misrepresentations of race in media, it certainly did nothing for gender. It furthers the unfortunate idea in media that women are identified solely by their relationships to men. Sigh.
  • Dre (Jaden Smith) and Meiying (Wenwen Han), his love interest, were 12 and there was a bit too much sexual tension between them for my comfort. In one scene, Meiying danced to “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga for Dre. It was awkward.
  • Jackie Chan didn’t fight enough. I left the film wanting to watch Drunken Master (see clip below for awesomeness). I know he’s over 50 now, has broken every bone in his body, and Mr. Miyagi didn’t fight much in the original either, but as a “Jackie Chan movie,” I expected a little more from him.

Likes:

  • I know the setting is China, but this is the first film I’ve seen with no white lead characters. One white kid had a few lines in a few scenes and that was it. I know the Tyler Perry movies are like this, but they are also marketed to African Americans. This film, however, I didn’t feel was marketed to anyone but kids in general.
  • Dre cries when he gets hurt like little boys should. I see too many movies and too many real life situations where boys are told not to cry. This idea of crying being somehow related to femininity and thus opposing masculinity is ridiculous and mentally damaging to children.
  • Jaden Smith is so gosh darn adorable. Any time he did anything, I was all, “AWH SO CUTE.”

So back to that stuff on race I was talking about. The advancement of equality in gender and race is often split between the ideas of assimilation and differentiation. Assimilation means we strive to become a raceless, genderless culture. We should ignore both race and gender in order to see everyone as individuals and thus equals. Differentiation implies that we should embrace the differences while still striving for equality. Both ideas have goods and bads about them, but I find it’s most helpful to choose whichever one benefits your argument most because it’s impossible to tell which one will really advance the cause of equality more.

In terms of assimilation and blindness of race, I felt the Karate Kid was a success. Although race was involved in the movie, it wasn’t what the movie was overtly about. This is a pretty big thing because Dre and his mother being black was really a powerful stride away from the common stereotypes of African Americans in film. We commonly see young African American men in plots involving the aspiration of good, succeeding in a white-dominated culture, while he encounters the pull of evil, involving the crime-ridden “streets.” Additionally, the interracial relationship between Dre and Meiying was a pretty empowering image of the future of racial intersectionality. Overall, I feel that Dre is an adequate symbol for the next generation of film involving the demise of damaging African American stereotypes.

With that in mind, stealing my friend Brandon’s movie rating scale, I give The Karate Kid an A-.

On a final note, I didn’t know that Tuesdays were cheap days, so I may start seeing more movies so I can rate more pop-culture-relevant things.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2010 10:46 pm

    Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

  2. Shari permalink
    June 16, 2010 11:56 pm

    Wow.

  3. bjulman permalink
    June 17, 2010 1:33 am

    Please, do see more movies. I lurve the commentaries. They sound more professional with every entry.

    Also, I am pressing charges for theft.

  4. Kelly permalink
    June 17, 2010 10:42 pm

    Awesome review and really relevant and insightful observations! Your Mom said you were a smart kid 😉

  5. June 17, 2010 11:21 pm

    Sasha, the wiener dog here. I likes your review and only wish dogs were allowed in the movie theaters. 😦 You no we all aren’t services dogs. But, we won’t get started on the animal rights movement and all the specist sterotypes that are out there. Mommy wants to see this movie and of course Toy Story 3. (We love slinky dog!) I guess that goes towards our obvious obssession of wiener dogs. Hope you keep the reviews coming for us poor dogs that aren’t allowed to see them. 🙂

    • June 17, 2010 11:28 pm

      There should be movie theaters for puppies too! I’m really looking forward to Toy Story 3 as well, and if all else fails, Sasha, you can make your mommy buy it when it comes out on DVD. It’ll save you money on popcorn anyway.

  6. June 18, 2010 2:57 pm

    Wow…are you going into the movie business reviews now? We could use more realistic reviews by intelligent people! My hubby is a HUGE Karate Kid fan, being a 2nd degree black belt himself in Kenpo. It will be interesting what he thinks when he sees it! Great writing!

  7. June 18, 2010 8:15 pm

    Very well said. You obviously have a way with words, and are very bright. I am looking forward to seeing the Karate now. I also thought, how could it possibly stand up to the original, but you have peaked my interest.
    I am not really a Jackie Chan fan. (As an aside, I do love Johnnie Depp, ever since Edward Scissorhands, and now I can say I loved him in Alice in Wonderland.)

    • June 18, 2010 8:51 pm

      My favorite Johnny Depp movie would have to be Benny and Joon. It came out in 1993, so it’s a bit dated, but Mr. Depp is just so attractive in it, and it’s fun to watch. And thank you!

  8. Lauren Rinehart permalink
    June 26, 2010 12:21 am

    Johnny Depp is the greatest. I couldn’t have picked a better obsession because he’s been in a million movies.

    Also, I don’t have any obsessions now, I just play around on the intarwebz until Rob sighs really loudly that I should go to bed. That’s pretty much my whole life right now, unfortunately.

    • June 26, 2010 12:52 am

      You should start a blog on all those fancy things you know so much about!

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