Racism in Napoleon Dynamite?

Okay, I’ve heard widely ranging reports of ND and how wonderful/awful it is.

But today looking at the Rottentomatoes site, I saw a mention of ND as being racist.

I still haven’t seen it, but can someone tell me what this is about?

The closest I can figure is one of the main characters “Pedro” has some cousins or uncles or something that dress in the “Vato” style and drive a low rider with hydrolics.

I hate Rottentomatoes so I rarely go there… but I can assume someone ridiculously oversensitive might have a problem with Pedro talking slowly and with an almost Speedy Gonzales accent. But its clear in the movie that that is just Pedro’s character, the rest of the latino characters (Pedro’s family) all speak normally.
An idiot would also be offended that Pedro’s cousins drive a suped hood-ride…

An idiot might also ignore that the ‘villain’ in the movie, Summer Wheately makes a derogatory comment about what would happen if Pedro became president “I don’t want to eat chimminychangas all year.”
It would be like calling a movie racist because a Nazi says something bad about a Jew.

There’s a character named Pedro in the film, who’s a nerdy hispanic teenager. Pedro himself isn’t portrayed in a racist or stereotypical way (althoug he is portrayed as very wierd and goofy, but then, so is every single other character in the film) but he does have a bunch of older cousins who cruise around in a low rider looking mean. Pedro decides to run for class president, and gets his mean-looking cousins to cruise around the school, intimidating bullies, thus securing their vote for Pedro. Later, the cousins give Napoleon and his date a ride to the prom in their low rider.

There’s absolutely nothing racist about the characters, IMO. Hispanics in a low rider is a bit of a stereotype, and there’s a faint implication that the bullies are frightened of the cousins because they’re hispanic, but it’s nothing that would offend anyone who wasn’t desperate to be offended.

Slant Magazine’s review puts the case as strongly as anyone, probably.

Apparently I’m the only one here who remembers that Napoleon’s brother Kip dates a black woman named LaFawnduh. They meet over the internet, later she comes to town, and at the end of the movie they get married. After she shows up, he starts dressing like a gangsta. They did play it for laughs, in my opinion (as much as anything in that movie was discernably played for laughs) that such a pale, dorky guy is dating a black woman. I felt awkward about the subplot throughout the movie, although the wedding scene redeems it somewhat.

There’s also the pinata incident.

Again, Pedro’s running for class president vote for Pedro!, and as a campaign function sets up a pinata for students to take a swing at. The fact that it’s a caricature of his opponent doesn’t go over well with the administration. The principal makes a comment along the lines “I don’t know what things are like in Mexico, but around here we don’t hit things that look like people”.

Or maybe they’re arguing racism from the fact that the town is presented as almost all white. The only minority characters are Pedro and his family. But it’s (I think) Idaho, not renowned for it’s ethnic diversity. Oh, and Napoleon’s brother’s online girlfriend. {quick IMDB} LaFawnduh. I suppose she could be considered a racist stereotype of outgoing black women. ::shrug::


Yeah, that’s probably it. Still dumb to say it’s racist, though.

“And you know I love technology, but not as much as you, you see…but still I love technology…”
Sorry, it’s still hilarious to me.

Maybe the fact that the director’s next offering is a lucha movie could be read as an apology. :wink:

I meant that to come across as more tongue-in-cheeck than it probably does.

The Slant piece is interesting, but I’m not sure if I agree about its core issue, which is the way we’re supposed to perceive the characters. Yes, we’re supposed to laugh at the ass-backwardness, but I don’t know about the rest of it.

I thought that was the funniest scene in the movie. Or maybe I thought it was the only funny scene in the movie. Anyway I liked that part.

From the Slate review:

This strikes me as a case of reading WAY too much into everything. I don’t remember Napolean mistaking Pedro for a janitor and I’ve seen the movie three or four times. All the subtext this reviewer sees (“because black people can groove,” “because that’s where they all live”) is a figment of his own imagination, IMO. Yes, the principal and the popular girl make a couple of vaguely ethnocentric remarks but those are the antagonists of the film. Pedro and his brothers are all depicted as sympathetic, likeable, decent characters. Even the “vato” brothers are nice to Napolean, offer him a ride and are only openly intimidating to a bully in one scene (and the intimidation consists only of scowling and shaking their heads).

Kip has a lisp? So what? I didn’t see it as a gay stereotype (the character isn’t gay) but just as a sign of wimpiness and lack of confidence.

LaFawnduh was portrayed as a positive, affectionate, upbeat character who gives Kip confidence. She gives a dance tape to Napolean. Big deal. Finding racism in that is just trying way too hard.

Stephen Hunter touched on it briefly today during his review of “Nacho Libre” for the Washington Post.

I think it’s fairer to say that Hess finds “blank and uncomprehending mug[s] … staring but not reacting at something, sometimes cockeyed, always with mouth open, dumbfounded,” to be funny in general. After all, that describes virtually every single character in Napoleon Dynamite, with special emphasis on the title role. The only reason there are a lot of Mexicans like that in Nacho Libre is because the film happens to be set in Mexico.

I didn’t particularly get what was so funny about the Kip-LaFawnduh pairing, actually. I mean, I strained really hard to see the joke in it all, because it was obvious that this was supposed to be a big ole bucket of laughs, but it just wasn’t working for me. I didn’t know what was supposed to be the punchline. Her funny name? Her race? Her Detroit flashiness? Their height differential? She wasn’t particularly unattractive, so I don’t think that had anything to do with the joke.

I wouldn’t call this little storyline racist, but I didn’t find it funny. And not just because it was done poorly.

I wasn’t especially interested in the Kip-LaFawnduh storyline either, but I was relieved that she didn’t turn out to be a dude or an imaginary girlfriend. That would have just seemed overly cruel.

I think that was the joke. Wierdly effeminate guy goes on and on about how he’s met his “soul-mate” online, but neither he nor anyone else has ever even seen her. In the end, it turns out that she’s real, female, pretty good looking, and genuinely in love with the guy. The joke is that it worked out perfectly for the two of them. Humor is found in the reversal of expectations: the setup was such a cliche that the “punchline” is that there really isn’t a punchline.

On second thought, strike that. The punchline is watching LaFawdah’s brother at the wedding. The whole relationship is a setup for that guy’s reaction shot.

I’ve never seen the film, but it sounds like your basic trip into freaky small-town Bizarro World. It’s hard to take a film centered around a pack of whacked-out misfits seriously enough to fixate on racial issues. If there’s cruelty, I’ve heard it’s oddly directed at the weirdo protagonists, most notably the white namesake, who we’re invited to laugh at more than with because of his congenital cluelessness about his own outsider status.

I was expecting some kind of ironic ending, so if LaFawnduh had turned out to be a dude that actually would have made more “punchline sense” than what we got. Yeah, it would have been cruel to Kip. But it would have made the joke less ambiguous and awkward (for me).