Tuesday, March 19, 2013

When True Stories Aren't True

Reading all the stuff going around about video games being dominated by male protagonists dredged up a somewhat dated memory of mine.  It's not about video games, but it is about the argument that female characters "aren't identifiable" for the audience, which is the number one excuse reason the culture of the male protagonist persists.

I watched a movie a while ago called Dolphin Tale.  It looked like it would hit me right in the feels... and it did.  A movie inspired by a true story about a dolphin with a prosthetic tail?  I mean, I was a vegetarian for seven years for a reason.

Since it was inspired by a true story, I decided to look into it, which I almost always do for true stories.  When I did, I actually found myself disgusted with that movie.  Even thinking about it infuriates me.

That little boy protagonist didn't exist, and the entire plot of the movie--except for the fact that there is a dolphin with a prosthetic tail--is an entire fabrication.  This didn't surprise me.  It is, after all, a movie.  The disturbing part was that the actual story was driven by a girl with a prosthetic leg named Katrina Simpkins, a pair of prosthetic creators--one of which lost his leg in a lawnmower accident--and the many people they inspired and which the gel created for Winter's prosthesis helped.

They took a story by and about people with disabilities, largely led by a little girl, and made the story about a bunch of able-bodied males.  Katrina Simpkins' impact was entirely cut out of the story, vaguely represented as a child benefited by the actions of an able-bodied boy rather than a primary driver of the story.

That said, I have a really difficult time seeing this movie--a movie I solidly enjoyed while I watched it--as anything more than sexist, ableist fantasy created because people assume bodies of privilege are the only relatable ones, or at least the only ones worth marketing as relatable.  In other words, everybody is supposed to relate to people with privilege... but people with privilege certainly can't be expected to relate to everyone else.  That would be preposterous!

When I was starting to write out my frustration about this, one thing that kept popping up in the comments (don't read them, do I say that enough?) was the idea that the movie was inspirational anyway and so we should all just shut up and enjoy it.  This sentiment was displayed even at very liberal, oppression-aware venues.

I would not tell you that you can't enjoy whatever entertainment you want to--like I said, before I learned the awful backstory I also enjoyed the movie--but there is a dearth of people willing to meaningfully challenge this trend.  There are complaints, but they're shoved under by people who insist that people should just enjoy movies without deciphering what the presentation of those movies is representing... in this case, like the movie itself or not, it was cast without any consideration of the reality of the situation.

Similarly, movies often change the races of people involved to make them European white, because apparently it's impossible to relate to a white protagonist.  Some famous examples of this include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Argo, The Last Samurai, Prince of Persia, and 21 among others.