Diversity Aboveground: Jurassic World’s Representation?
In 25 years, Jurassic Park has grown from a single Michael Crichton novel to two Michael Crichton novels, countless children’s tie-in books, several amusement park attractions and four films making up a franchise worth billions of dollars. Everyone loves dinosaurs and everyone likes watching things get destroyed, but what about the other parts like characters and story? Or is it as user “ge-nos” said on Tumblr, “shit white people do: get eaten by dinosaurs”?
Being that all four films take place off the coast of Costa Rica, there should be a heavy Hispanic representation in each film, right?
There is Juanito Rostagno (Miguel Sandoval) who gets to foreshadow a plot point and make a guess about another character that’s immediately proven wrong. The rest of the film only has random background Hispanics. In the book, John Hammond is a racist that thinks his “Tican workmen to be uniformly insolent.”
In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, local Hispanics take the group to the island chain on their boat and can be heard on the radio. There is one named character, Carter (Thomas Rosales), but he’s famous for being too occupied with his headphones to hear his coworker die from a dinosaur attack and being killed later by Velociraptors.
Things are no better in Jurassic Park 3 where Enrique Cardoso (Julio Oscar Mechoso) only serves to lead the ill-fated trip to Isla Sorna that requires the main cast to come rescue them. Cardoso only appears in that first scene. However, Jurassic World is a full-fledged amusement park so that has to require locals to help staff it, right?
There are some park guests, a paddock worker, a tour guide, part of the petting zoo employees, an Ingen employee and a doctor. It sounds really impressive compared to the previous three films, but it still doesn’t amount to dialogue or characters with actual names. In light of how huge the park is and how many employees must be required, seeing less than ten Hispanic employees is incredibly low. Costa Ricans would be the obvious choice for local, affordable workers in the same way that Florida theme parks try to employ either college students through their internship programs or bored retirees. One ride operator looked like he would be more at home at a local fast food restaurant than the most expensive amusement park on Earth. It was probably meant to be funny but made no sense if you know amusement parks at all.
Surely, the African Americans will fare better? In the book, John Arnold appears to be based on Joe Potter who designed the infrastructure and system controls for Walt Disney World. He was also Caucasian which meant they changed the character’s race to have Samuel L. Jackson play him. He gets to have multiple scenes with dialogue before getting killed by a ‘raptor; the same fate as an African American from the very first scene. The second and third films only use African American males as dinosaur food.
However, in the novel of The Lost World, there were two adolescents: one was a Caucasian girl named Kelly and the other was an African American male named Arby. These characters were combined to make a new character, Kelly Curtis. She was also changed to be Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) daughter, making her the only biracial character in the whole series and the only African American to be a major cast member that can save herself from raptors. While it would be nice to have been shown that she inherited more of her dad’s smarts and not just his looks, Curtis does successfully defend herself and Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) from raptors that had easily killed adults twice her age.
There are a few park visitors and employees in Jurassic World that are African American. Barry (Omar Sy) is assistant to Owen (Chris Pratt) and is in multiple scenes but still absent for the final battle sequence and requires rescue earlier in the film from Owen. It’s better than Sy’s role of the continuously being killed as Bishop in X-Men: Days of Future Past but nowhere near the level of his breakout role in The Intouchables.
Jurassic World bought a huge improvement in the representation of Asians. Aside from Henry Wu (BD Wong) in the first Jurassic Park and a Godzilla gag in The Lost World, Asians were basically absent in the Jurassic Park series. Wu returns for the fourth film, proving he can do more than rub off eraser shavings in a supposedly sterile environment. The filmmakers went back to Crichton’s characterization of Wu in the first novel and made him a tremendously brilliant scientist who is personally responsible for the creation of every creature in Jurassic World. He’s also arrogant and always striving for better. Plus, with an ambiguous ending to his character in the film, he’s sure to show up in the next sequel but will he be a villain or an ally?
Jurassic World, Ingen and all subsidiaries are now owned by Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), an Indian multimillionaire with the same personality quirks as John Hammond but with more caution about his park. Considering that Indian millionaires are the fastest growing group of millionaires, it’s nice to see this represented in an American film. Masrani’s only downfall is that he would rather do things himself rather than trust others to do it or let others see him as weak. It’s great to see Khan in a more commanding role after his last big Hollywood film left him with little to do besides be The Lizard’s assistant in The Amazing Spider-Man.
Of course, properly representing everyone is more than just race. Unfortunately, Jurassic World continues the odious tradition of: If you are overweight, you WILL be eaten by a dinosaur. None of the films contain anyone with a disability beyond Malcolm’s limp after his dinosaur attack and Hammond’s cane was possibly just for show. Is it really that realistic that NONE of the park guests have physical or developmental challenges? What about the relentless exalting of heterosexual relationships? Three of the films now feature children being sent to dinosaur infested islands to get their “minds off their parents’ divorce”. Two of the couples end up getting back together afterwards. There are no homosexual couples or bisexual or asexual characters. When is a big budget film finally going to admit the existence of other sexual orientations?
In the 22 years since the first film, you would think that the female characters in the films should have become absolutely amazing especially with that first film’s examples. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) was a Paleobotanist and one of the best in her field. She even shows up Jurassic Park’s own veterinarian by correcting his mistaken diagnosis, has no problem standing up to Hammond for putting everyone in danger and gets past raptors to turn on the island’s power back on. Then, there’s Alexis Murphy (Ariana Richards). While she sometimes suffers from characterization that made more sense to her eight year old character in the book than the movie’s adolescent, she’s the one to finally get Jurassic Park’s computer system and infrastructure back online. In a graphic novel, Redemption, Murphy is the head of a food division of Ingen and strives to end world hunger by improving crops using their DNA skills.
Harding’s character suffers in her film. She was changed from an animal behaviorist in the novel to yet another paleontologist as her character was combined with a different one from the same book. Harding makes some questionable choices which she didn’t in the novel although she does have some good ideas from time to time. She and Malcolm also have one of the few positive, non-divorcing but long-term example of couples in the films. However, despite the bond seen between Harding and Curtis in the film, the book was able to give them proper Bechdel Test conversation between the two of them. Harding even encourages Curtis away from modesty, saying, “All your life, other people will try to take your accomplishments away from you. Don’t you take it away from yourself.”
Jurassic Park 3 was awful for females. Sattler has married to a man with military connections with two small children. She admits to being out of the loop for new discoveries unlike The Lost World novel which at least had her lecturing part-time. The only other female in that film is Amanda Kirby (Tea Leoni). She appears to have no skills or knowledge. All she does is scream or do other things they tell her not to do. It doesn’t just fail the Bechdel Test but it doesn’t even pass Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Sexy Lamp Test. For those unfamiliar with this measure of female characterization, if your character does so little for the story that they can be replaced by a sexy lamp, YOU FAIL.
It may be hard to believe but Jurassic World was even worse. In Jurassic Park, Sattler has to put up with unwanted advances and sexism but she’s so used to both that she sails those obstacles with ease. Full Disclosure, but Crichton literally wrote the book on sexual harassment. This is the term for what Malcolm does repeatedly. Hammond laughs it off as “a deplorable excess of personality” but Sattler is not only asking Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to hear what Malcolm has to say when he’s hitting on her because it’s interesting but because she also wants a buffer. It’s a textbook move by females put in uncomfortable situations. Later, Sattler shuts down Hammond’s claiming he should go turn on the power because he’s a male by saying, “Look, we can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.”
Then, we have Jurassic World where our main female, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) tells her sister that there are no babies in her future and her sister argues that she will have them as well as how wonderful they are. Can’t a modern woman be able to decide if she wants babies or not without being told she’s wrong? Claire wears stiletto heels on a island that, despite moving vehicles everywhere, requires a lot of walking on terrain that might not be so paved. It’s unclear whether this was the production’s choice or in line with the character thinking that she has to present an orderly, professional image at all times including improper heels. Hopefully, she has a great podiatrist and plenty of vacation time for the many, many foot operations those heels will cost her. Even Dana Scully goes for a more responsible wedge or chunk heel because you never know when alien emergencies might arise. Claire does get kudos for never wavering from her post of being responsible for the whole island and standing her own against a T-Rex. Naturally, the main male of the film, Owen, is the one male she’s had a date with in the last year or so. Then again, small Costa Rican islands probably aren’t conducive to eHarmony.
There are two very disgusting displays of sexual harassment in Jurassic World. The first happens when Claire saves Owen from a Pterodactyl and he kisses her. While she kisses him back, it seems awkward to say thank you by putting your tongue down the other person’s throat. Claire’s nephews see this and their, “Aunt Claire!” is part amazement and admiration, not at her saving Owen but by making out with this guy they don’t know. The Lego game fixes this by making Claire save her nephews from the Pterodactyl, thus earning their amazement and admiration for saving them instead of making out. A similar scene happens in the control room as everyone is leaving for an emergency ferry. One employee approaches another to kiss her but she refuses, saying, “I have a boyfriend.” Having a boyfriend should not have to be said in order to not have unwelcome sexual advances, what kind of amusement park is this? Adventureland?
Most of the Jurassic Park films only win the Bechdel Test because the majority of dinosaurs, including Indominus Rex, are female. Even Claire’s conversations with her assistant are only about her nephews and foisting her watching them onto the secretary. Of course, the secretary is female. Would a male secretary still have been charged with babysitting?
While Jurassic World improved the representation of minorities, the next film needs to have better, bigger parts for minorities and a much less dated view of females.
Will you be seeing Inside/Out?
Next week…was A-Force worth the hype? Is Secret Wars shaping up to be the most female friendly of the Marvel events?