White Woman, King Kong

We all knew it was going to win something--visual. Thrilling dinosaur matches with King Kong, giant sucking insects, flying creatures which compel. Otherwise, why do a King Kong film now? The theme of the film, according to scriptwriter Jackson: "beauty destroyed the beast. The day she met him, he was a dead "man", captivated". Doesn't really explain why make a Kong film NOW, though.

A white woman esteemed by a gorilla. A white woman in a white dress walking through the streets of New York in 0 degree weather to find her King (Kong). A group of white men, (one) white woman , (one) Asian man and (one) black man on a boat to Skull Island? Spoilers: the black and Asian man die first. Next, a group of spirit possessed black islanders are subdued by the militarism of a ship's primarily white crew and captain? Why now? Why Kong?

I do not mean that the film is 'racist'. It skillfully uses race tropes, primarily white and black. By looking at how these tropes are used we can get a better sense of images are endowed in film , particularly images of 'white' people. Who gets contrasted against these seemingly 'normative' images? De-mythologizing, deconstructing "whiteness".

Kong also 'capitalizes' on macho gender roles. Ann does cartwheels to impress Kong, and all he can come back with is knocking her down over and over which gives him a real chuckle. When she challenges him, he feels emasculated, pounds his chest and fists and gets hit with a rock that falls on him from his rage attack. After that, she's gotten to him, and he's captive. Oh boy, how infantile can the scriptwriters get. Or casting - Jack Black could play Orson Welles, if he wasn't such a bad actor.

And have to agree that Kong gave Jackson the opportunity to work with the special effects of Lord of the Rings, and all that dinosaur flesh rolling over and over, with safty insects sucking up the men provide plenty of material.

Its impossible to ignore the racial tropes, its so obvious, and since Kong has been recycled many times, trotting out a new version exposes the story for these crystallized structures. What comes to mind when I watch this movie is film professor ( University of Warwick) Richard Dyer's masterful study White, on the representation of white in film, and the history of 'white' in culture. From Richard Dyer's White:

White people are not literally or symbolically white; nor are they uniquely virtuous and pure. Racial imagery and racial representation are central to the organisation of the contemporary world but, while there are many studies of images of black and Asian people, whiteness is an invisible racial position. At the level of racial representation, whites are not of a certain race. They are just the human race, a 'colour' against which other ethnicities are always examined. In White , Richard Dyer looks beyond the apparent unremarkability of whiteness and argues for the importance of analysing images of white people. Dyer traces the representation of whiteness by whites in Western visual culture, focusing on the mass media of photography, advertising, fine art, cinema and television. Dyer examines the representation of whiteness and the white body in the contexts of Christianity, 'race' and colonialism and, in a series of absorbing case studies, he discusses the representations of whiteness in muscle-man action cinema, from Italian 'peplum' movies to the Tarzan and Rambo series; shows the construction of whiteness in photography and cinema in the lighting of white and black faces, and analyses the representation of white women in end-of-empire fictions such as The Jewel in the Crown , and traces the disturbing association of whiteness with death, in vampire narratives and dystopian films such as Blade Runner and the Aliens trilogy.

The part above about 'lighting' whiteness is especially true for Jackson's new film. Note how Watts is lit in the scenes where her whiteness is constrasted with the darkness of Skull Island, and islanders. And the scene where she finds Kong in NYC, wearing only a white gown. And in the end with Kong gone, its time to return to 'her own kind' with an embrace of Brody. No contrasts needed.

Regarding having new heights to the new tale, a modern Kong may have scaled the WTC, but in the original story, this was the Great Depression, and the Empire State Building was the tallest edifice to challenge Kong. Opening scenes of the film about time period promised something that just never was delivered. Jackson just got sucked into the story, its his kind of story anyway. He made it his kind of story.


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