Tag Archive for disney

Accentuate the Positive

A few weeks after The Phantom Menace hit the screen, movie critics from across the country began to slam the film and George Lucas for perpetuating racial stereotypes.  An article in The Nation described the junk-dealing Watto as being “both anti-Arab and anti-Jew”.  The Neimoidians’ dialog comes “complete with Hollywood oriental accents” according to U.S. News and World Report.

Then, of course, there’s the most famous Gungan of all: Jar Jar Binks.  He’s been described by the WSJ’s critic Joe Morgenstern as a “Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hoofs, crossed annoyingly with Butterfly McQueen.”  I could go on.

Why am I bringing all this up?  Well, in this latest chapter of A Princess of Mars, we finally get to hear the Tharks—the green Martians—speak.  And I decided to give them an accent.  My thought was: Edgar Rice Burroughs has already given me the words, so how do I give the Tharks a voice?

A Princess of Mars is a story that’s far older than our current notions of political correctness (and I’m not even talking about the antiquated way that women are portrayed in the story; that’s worthy of its own topic). Burroughs, through Carter, narrates how different the green Martians are from the other races of Barsoom.  The Tharks are presented as being tribal and nomadic; their red counterparts are portrayed as (relatively) peaceful and civilized.

Decades of Hollywood stereotyping have carved a trench in my mind, where I think of a “civilized” accent as being something along the lines of, “Pardon me, would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?”, whereas I imagine a “savage” accent to be, “Me want fancy yellow.  You have?”  I did not want my Tharks to be a bunch of ooga-booga Mungos.

So, should I even give the Tharks an accent?  According to Merriem-Webster, an accent is “a way of speaking typical of a particular group of people and especially of the natives or residents of a region”.  Maybe it’s not so much about what the word “accent” means, but what would be the least offensive accent to choose.  Which one would be “correct”?  From a linguistics perspective, all accents are equal; none is above the other in terms of prestige.  I think I agree with this, but only to a point.

Returning briefly to the Jar Jar example, Alynda Wheat of Salon.com wrote: “Accents in and of themselves may not be stereotypical. But it’s the overall image of Jar Jar that smacks of racism. His buffoonery, gait, appearance […] and word choice all combine to make him offensive.”

Approaching this from a different angle, this is a podcast, an audiobook.  The only thing I have at my disposal to differentiate the various scenes and characters in this book is my voice.  I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) make the Tharks put on a rain dance (or whatever stereotype one would choose for a group of “savages”). Come to think of it, a rain dance on Mars would be a bit ironic in and of itself … but I digress.

I have a couple of other reasons for creating the accent, as well.

This is a race set apart from John Carter, not just an Earthling, but a Virginian soldier from the Confederate States of America.  So yes, they would talk differently than him.

Further, NetherWords is my demo reel, of sorts.  I want to showcase my ability to do voices, whenever the story allows.  Unlike LucasFilm (or Disney, for that matter) I don’t have the time, budget or art department to create my own elaborate vision of Naboo or Barsoom.  I’m just a guy, sitting in my car, recording a podcast.  Sometimes, I need to invent a voice, and, what the heck, let’s make it have an accent.  I don’t know what a Martian accent sounds like, but it’s probably really un-Virginian.

So, I came up with something that’s probably a little French, a lot Caribbean and a little Scottish.  Why not.  I can only hope it does not offend; it certainly isn’t meant to.  Besides, I don’t think I do many accents all that well, so if I screw up “Carib-franglo-scots”, maybe I make it that much more my own creation!  Right?

Chapter 8 Done!

John Carter’s adventures get a bit more interesting as he witnesses the massacre of a fleet of airships at the hands of the green Martian warriors. They ransack the remains, and discover a sole survivor: a red Martian woman.

Download chapter 8, “A Fair Captive from the Sky”, available now FOR FREE on iTunes and RSS feeds!

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, from Disney's John Carter, coming in 2012

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, from Disney's John Carter, coming in 2012

Disney’s John Carter

Teaser poster for Disney's "John Carter" (2012)

Teaser poster for Disney's "John Carter" (2012)

While I’d planned on recording and producing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars for awhile now, it’s no coincidence that I’ve timed it to coincide with the recent publicity of the upcoming movie John Carter, being distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

I find myself with mixed feelings about the movie after seeing the trailer (viewable below).  While it certainly looks like they’ve remained very faithful to the source material, the designs of the green men of Mars are not quite how they’re described in the books—now arguable looking more human, especially in the face. Also, Mars looks a lot like Utah.

Having said that, I can’t help but notice that there are also very recognizable scenes depicted in this trailer; indeed ones in which I’ve already narrated in the NetherWords episodes I’ve released so far: the yellow moss-like vegetation surrounding John Carter on his advent on Mars, the incredible leaps he makes in front of the green men, and even the sad tidings of John Carter’s apparent death in the Foreword of the book (both links go to the applicable podcasts that I’ve recorded).

The cast looks fairly impressive, and I’m thrilled that Michael Giacchino (Star Trek (2009), The Incredibles) will be scoring the film.  Here are some cast highlights, at least as far as the characters to which we’ve so-far encountered in the podcast:

  • Taylor Kitsch (John Carter)
  • Willem Dafoe (Tars Tarkas)
  • Samantha Morton (Sola)
  • Daryl Sabara (A fictional version of Edgar Rice Burroughs)

So anyway, I’m hoping that by releasing this particular story at this particular time, that I will not only increase my subscriber base, but also give the listener a tour of the original source material that is (hopefully) being followed in this upcoming film. Take a look at the trailer, and judge for yourself!