Jar Jar Binks

This morning I watched a relatively heated discussion on the fact that the Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks is an example of racism. I’ll be honest, when I saw the film I was definately reminded of old black exploitation films from the 1970’s and even older ideas about blacks from the 1930’s (i.e. Amos and Andy). My question: Is this just a media hysteria or does everyone associate this character with negative portrayals of African Americans?

“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true” -Albert Einstein

Well, I’ve yet to see the movie, but the Chicago Tribune ran a story on it a few days ago with extensive quoting from the guy who voiced JJ. Evidentally, he’s black and has no idea what people are whining about. He claimed that he tried to voice JJ as a noble guy trying to learn a new and difficult language and that was about it. He also said that he found it very sad that black people watching the movie could only compare the voice to a mockery of African Americans.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

I got into a similar discussion with one of my friends about prejudice in Episode I, but it didn’t deal with Jar Jar Binks.
The discussion involved Watto, Anakin’s slave owner, and apparent Jewish stereotypes. My friend’s arguments follow: Watto was concerned with money, had a Jewish American accent, a big nose (?), and wings (?). I still don’t see how some of those fit the Jewish stereotype, but I won’t bother arguing on an issue in which I am unfamiliar.
Another discussion of racism in the movie revolved around the Trade Federation, and how they represented Asians. I recognized the accent, but I didn’t really see a specific stereotype in that instance either.

“[He] beat his fist down upon the table and hurt his hand and became so
further enraged… that he beat his fist down upon the table even harder and
hurt his hand some more.” – Joseph Heller’s Catch-22

Oddly, I found nothing at all anti-Semetic about Watto. He sounded more French or Italian to me. The Asian accents, DEFINATELY. But, I’m not sure how offensive that is because they weren’t portrayed as bumbling idiots like JarJar Binks. If anything, they just sounded like Pat Morita.

“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true” -Albert Einstein

I just thought Jar Jar sounded like he was talking baby talk, about like I use to talk to my pets, or to make my stuff animals talk when I play with–nevermind. Anyway, it didn’t seem ethnic to me at all, it just sounded like an innocent, naive, child-like, cartoony voice. Kinda like Roger Rabbit. I wonder what race he was? :wink:

“I hope life isn’t a big joke, because I don’t get it,” Jack Handy

Jar Jar didn’t seem at all ethnic to me either. He seemed like a bumbling idiot yes, but ethnic, no. I did notice the Trade Federation seemed to be of the Asian persuasion. I also notice Anakin’s owner fit the stersotype of a Jewish American. But getting back to the original question, I didn’t associate JJ with any of the common African American stereotypes.

Anyone who thinks that Watto sounded even remotely Jewish has not spent one second of their life around an actual Jewish person. If anything, he sounded Italian, like your stereotypical low-level mafioso.

It really bothers me that so many people are so damn sensitive nowadays. No, it’s not specific to one race, religion, gender, etc… People just need to lighten up. I’m half-Mexican, yet I tell Mexcican jokes all the time. Why? Because it’s no big deal.

I think the similarities (which were very slight) only made the movie a little more believable .Think about how Star Trek shows you a character that is eight feet tall, has three eyes, gills, webbed feet and three noses, but speaks pefect English!

Star Wars depicts characters from other planets and civilizations who are trying to speak English - a foreign language to them. Naturally, they’re not going to get it perfect. It’s also probably wise to model their speech patterns after real situations where other civilizations have struggled to learn English.

By the way, I thought Jar Jar Binks was a turd of a character anyway. It looked like the whole movie was geared for a pre-school audience.

I hadn’t really picked up on the possible racial angle. I thought he talked that way because he was supposed to be laughable.

I’ve just never met anyone that actually fit into their particular stereotype, and I was raised to ignore them as much as possible anyway. One exception, Dad always used to say the only group you are allowed to make fun of is your own, so I have a big collection of Norwegian Jokes.

I just didn’t see the whole Jar Jar Binks as a black stereotype thing. It seems to me that the people who see Jar Jar Binks this way are applying the twisted logic:
“Jar Jar Binks is bufoonish and talks in pigdin English.
A racist ‘Stepin Fetchit’ character is bufoonish and talks in pigdin English.
Therefore, Jar Jar Binks is a racist ‘Stepin Fetchit’ character.”

Nor did I see Watto as a Jewish, Italian, or any other ethnic stereotype. However, with the five-o-clock shadow (would an alien even have hair?), I thought he was supposed to be the stereotypical blue-collar, unkempt, unshaven junk dealer.

On the other hand, I totally saw the Trade Federation types as stereotypical Japanese business villains, with those fake Japanese accents straight from a 1930s movie – and, even more egregious, the slanted or slitted eyes!

It seemed obvious to me (and the people I watched the movie with) that Jar-Jar was a Jamaican charicature. His mannerisms and pidgen-accent were both typical of the sterotype. I’m truly surprised no one has mentioned this.
Watto was had an obviously Italian accent, IMHO. Not remotely Jewish, not remotely French, just 100% Italian, with the -a endings on words and everything. And he was a low-level organised crime dealer.
And the Trade Federation accents obviously Chinese stereotypes. Listen to them with your eyes closed, and see if you don’t think you’re supposed to be seeing one specific race.
(I keep using that word “obviously” because it was to me - I’m not trying to discount you if you didn’t hear it that way. Please forgive me if I sound arrogant.)

Also note that the 3 main new sub-human characters in the movie were Jar-Jar, Watto, and the 2 TF aliens. (Darth Maul seemed more super-human - the 3 above were all kind of half-human half-lesser life form). And all were blatant (it seemed to me) racial stereotypes. And guess what else? Jar-Jar was dumb and inept, Watto was dishonest and dirty, and the TF aliens were back-stabbing cowards. Guess what? All 3 play into existing stereotypes.

Note also that Episodes IV, V, and VI didn’t have any detectable racial stereotypes in humanoid aliens that I can see. Imagine if Jabba had spoken in psuedo-Yiddish, or if Yoda had a hispanic accent instead of inverted sentance structure. It would have ruined the movies. It feels like Lucas really reached a low point to delve into racial stereotypes for a supposed archetypal story.

I hope this doesn’t end up in the pit…

Watching the Star Wars, I immediatly identified Jar Jars accent as sounding kind of Jamamacan. I could easily imagine him being long dreadlocks instead of long floppy ears. His posture, lanky features and gesturing reminded me a lot of the comedian Chris Rock (who is black).
I also imediately noticed that Jar Jar is NOT black he is clearly Orangish Green, and clearly alien.
What I completely fail to see is why this could possibly be offensive?
I had always thought that stereotypes are damaging because you make assumption about how someone will ACT based on their RACE. Here you have an computer generated character who race is obviously ALIEN, and people say that he is “ACTING BLACK”. Isn’t that a little backwards? Shouldn’t aliens that look like gungans be the ones whining?

[Insert Clever Quote Here]

Just the fact that there’s so much debate over what accent which character had proves that it’s not a racial stereotype. To me and my boyfriend, Watto sounded vaguely Iranian or middle-Eastern. I’ve read reviews that criticize Lucas for being anti-Semitic because Watto had a Yiddish accent. Quadell states he’s “obviouly Italian.”

The trade federation guys seemed to have an Oriental accent to me, but I couldn’t tell you which Oriental accent. Everybody seems to agree that Jar Jar sounds Jamaican, but it’s vaguely Jamaican - many things he says seem unique modes of speech, done with slight Jamaican overtone. I’ve never heard a Jamaican speak exactly as Jar Jar does.

IMO, given all the differences of opinion, and give the huge array of accents Lucas used, it’s very difficult to say that any of the characters are a racial stereotype. It’s not degrading to use different accents; in fact, I thought it was kind of neat. All races have stereotypes, and chances are we could come up with negativities about any character having any accent.

I read a movie review that compared JJ’s pidgin to Butterfly McQueen’s patois in Gone With The Wind (“Ah doan know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies”). I saw the character’s dialogue (aside from being incredibly irritating) to be a mixture of Jamaican slang and Stepin Fetchit. JJ’s bossman, (forget the name) in addition, was a dead ringer for The Kingfish of the old Amos and Andy TV show. (Yes, there was such a thing). As for the Federation doods, my eight-year-old immdiately identified the accents as Chinese.

I won’t pass judgement on the racial stereotyping aspects of the language in the film since they don’t offend me, but I can can certainly see how a great many people would be mightily pissed. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a simple matter of lack of
creativity, that falling back on tired, shopworn characterizations.

c-man writes:

I think the similarities (which were very slight) only made the movie a little more believable .Think about how Star Trek shows you a character that is eight feet tall, has three eyes, gills, webbed feet and three noses, but speaks pefect English!

Star Wars depicts characters from other planets and civilizations who are trying to speak English - a foreign language to them. Naturally, they’re not going to get it perfect. It’s also probably wise to model their speech patterns after real situations where other civilizations have struggled to learn English.

First of all, I do not think that you have ever seen an alien on Star Trek with 3 eyes and 3 noses. One of Gene Rodenberry’s rules was the aliens had to have similar features to humans. However, there have been webbed feet.

The reason everyone speaks perfect English is the Universal Translator. It translates whatever someone who is speaking into your native language. Since we are watching in an English speaking area, ours is set to English. You can debate the possibilities of this, but that is the way it is in Star Trek.

Probably the prime reason for this is so that people will not sit around talking about racial stereotypes that are not present.

I have not seen the new Star Wars movie, but Lucas is not stupid enough to have blatant racial stereotypes in his movie.


How come no one is moaning about Obi-wan and Qui-gon being boring, uptight, manipulative, selfish, slave owners obsessed with using people for their own gain? They were actually WHITE MEN, not bug-eyed aliens.

You know, sometimes I think I am the most unobservant/naive white person on Earth.

I noticed absolutely nothing about Watto, the Trade Federation, or Jar Jar in regards to racist portrayals. I came in knowing Jar Jar had a bit of a Caribbean accent, but only because that is how it was described in the book. In hindsight, I do agree that Watto’s accent does resemble Italian, but *he</> did not strike me as Italian.

But I’m, again, pretty ignorant to this stuff (and sometimes blissfully so). I had a friend in college named Jaime Zavala, a darker-skinned young man with no accent. I went out with him to a Mexican restaurant, where he excitedly sang along with the Mariachis in perfect Spanish. He laughed when he saw how visibly stunned I was–“You didn’t know I was Mexican?” he asked. When I said no, he laughed harder and asked, “What did you think I was?” And my honest (and still flabberghasted) answer was, “I didn’t think you were anything.”

But, I can discern my very dark skinned friend is African. :wink: I’m catching on…


quadell says:

Didn’t Jabba speak French (Jabba du Hut)?

I think it was obvious that Jar Jar’s dialect was patterned after Jamaican creole, but it wasn’t that which made him offensive. He seemed to serve no useful purpose in the first half of the movie except to get in the way and act like a total idiot. I cannot vouchsafe for the second half of the movie since I left after the pod race.

As far as Watto is concerned, I’m amazed at the people who think he’s either Jewish or Italian. I immediately thought of Eli Wallach in either The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly or The Magnificent Seven. Wallach is Jewish, but he did a great job playing Mexican characters. In Ugly, Tuco would initially fit in the stereotype of the crafty, dirty Mexican bandit, but Wallach filled out his portrayal so that you saw a human being. (He should have received a Best Supporting Oscar for that film.) It’s too bad Lucas couldn’t do the same for Jar Jar. Maybe he plans to do so in Episodes 2 or 3?

“I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way…”
–Jessica Rabbit,Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Jar Jar Binks sounds somewhat Jamacian because Ahmad Best, who is black, played the character that way. George Lucas had his people develope a language for the Gungans that was based on how people who just barely speak enough English to get by talk. How Best spoke was how Jar Jar spoke.

The Nemodians (the Trade Federation) were designed to speak English like people wh knew alot, but it was a second language. Also there was spme redubbing of lines to help create a proper lipsync for them. the actors had little to do with them, the restrictions of the mask was the constraining factor.

The person who said Watto had an “obvious Italian accent” never, ever spent much time around Italians, and I have. Dozens upon dozens, if not hundreds of them. And this one really got me thinking. And then I noticed something else. Most everyone here described Watto as “dishonest”. How? Sure he tried, not very hard, to back out of part of a bet after losing everything. But only for, by my count, about 5 seconds. Nothing else he did was dishonest. Sure he wouldn’t take republic credits, but if someone tried to pay you for something with Polish Zoltys would you take them? I don’t think so. But you see Watto and think “he’s a small businessman and he speaks with a funny accent, he must be dishonest.”

And then I start wondering who’s really stereotyping people. Someone commented that there were no steroytipcal characters in episode IV-V-VI and he seems to have forgotten two things. 1)Lando Calrissian did draw a certain amount of critism for beong a black, jive talking, con-man. 2)Everyone else was white (except for James Earl Jones). I notice that no one complained that all the bad guys were British.

It now seems to me that some people will find stereotypes in anything. George Lucas could have saved himself a lot of trouble by hiring all white guys, but then he would have been really racist.

Jim Petty
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