My love for horror movies is closely followed by my affection for science fiction movies. My girlfriend’s favorite movie on the other hand is “The Blind Side”. I adore Sandra Bullock as much as the next person, but as you can see our movie choices differ. So we struck up a deal, I would watch “If I Stay” if I was allowed to pick the next movie we saw in the theater. I decided to cash in my movie choice this last friday and instead of making her suffer through The Lazarus Effect I chose the 7:20pm showing of Chappie. Although I went into the film rather optimistic, I left with a pretty bad taste in my mouth. If Chappie is any indication of where the science-fiction genre is heading, then the industry has a lot to work on regarding the representation of women and people of color.
Set in Johannesburg, South Africa 2016 the new Scout robotic police force has put one engineer Deon at the top, and another Vincent is having his funding cut to push the Scouts. Deon the creator of the scout police force has also been working on a program that would create a robot with human feelings and intelligence. At the same time a gang of hooligans Ninja, Yolandi, and the American find themselves in debt to Hippo the leader of crime in Johannesburg. They plan to steal a police robot and reprogram it to help them pull off the heist of the century to pay back their debt. They capture a robot being sent for destruction along with Deon and force him to rebuild and reprogram the robot to do their bidding. Deon uses his new program to bring the robot back to life, but it has the intelligence equivalent to a toddler. Ninja spends the majority of the movie attempting to teach it to become a criminal while Yolandi and Deon push Chappie to nurture his creativity. In the end, a massive shootout occurs after the defunded engineer Vincent plants a virus in the police scouts causing mass chaos. He seeks out Chappie and attempts to destroy him and the gang. Throughout the movie Chappie’s battery begins dieing and he seeks to find a way to transfer his consciousness to another body. In the final scenes after a mass shootout, Deon is injured and Chappie transfers his consciousness into a scout body and finds a way to transfer his body into another saving both of their lives.
The movie was written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell and directed by Neill Blomkamp. Neill Blomkamp is a South African native from Johannesburg and is known for his other sci-fi thrillers District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013). He is well known for his documentary style filming combined with computer generated effects.
The film is classified as an action science fiction film. This film fits its genre conventions pretty well. There is a futuristic robot police force, robots with human characteristics and enough gunfire and explosions to make your ears ring for days after watching the film. It falls within the action genre with a hero lead that uses violence to avenge those who have been wronged by an authoritative evil-doer.
We choose to go to the AMC 14 in Rosedale. The theater is located right next to a large shopping mall in a pretty affluent shopping district. The building appeared to be fairly new, and in good condition possibly redesigned recently. Through the first doors of the theater you walk into a brightly lit ticket area full of windows with both human and touch screen ticket purchasing counters. We opted for the touch-screen ticket counter after seeing a rather long line at the other counter. The next set of doors brings you into the actual theater where our tickets were taken and where the concession stand is located. The walls are a darker red and the design is modern with the concession stand menu screens brightly lit. The theaters are down two hallways on either side of the theater. The hallways are lined with benches and posters for movies coming soon. The theater had the typical red fabric draped supposed to be comfortable but you can never find the right spot seats. The theater was fairly full and filled with mostly white seemingly middle-class couples and families. The film is rated R but seemed to draw in a younger crowd. I was surprised to see how many families had brought children between the ages of 10-14. Most came in groups of 2-4 with no very large groups or single moviegoers. The groups mainly conversed amongst themselves before and after the film, most of the conversations I could hear were regarding the previews and what movies they should go see next. The groups sat together and although the theater was fairly full spaces between groups usually consisted of 2-3 seats.
As far as the economics of the experience, tickets for the two of us came to $22.48, but luckily I had an AMC gift card left over from Christmas to use. We weren’t directly encouraged to buy food/drinks as we bought tickets, but walking into the concession stand area its almost irresistible. Besides the brightly lit concession menus, the overwhelming smell and sound of fresh popcorn being made you have to walk past the concession stand to access any of the theaters. We were drawn in and bought a small popcorn, a small bag of candy, and a drink that totaled to $15.68. There was a more direct encouragement once we sat in our seats. The previews were mixed in with videos of typical concession stand snacks and a prompt to step out and buy a few before the film starts.
The first thing to note in the analysis of this film is its terrible representation of women. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test by a mile, there are only two female characters and neither of them speak to each other or are even close to ever having a conversation. The two female characters in this movie are the complete opposite of one another yet provide equally poor representations of women. Yolandi the ‘mother’ figure to chappie comes across as little girl taking care of doll. She is extremely passive to Chappie’s “father” figure Ninja, following his instructions and rarely pushing back. She is dressed very sexualy, always in little to no clothing. Her opposite Michelle Bradley played by Sigourney Weaver is the CEO of a major weapons corporation.
Although this would seem to be a rather positive portrayal of women in the STEM field it is squashed when she becomes the villain out to destroy Chappie and his family. She also comes across as a threat to men as she crushes Vincent’s MOOSE project. Voyeurism is ever present throughout the movie punishing Bradley throughout the movie from the acts of Vincent to her entire company going down in flames. Mulvey states “the male unconscious has two avenues of escape from this castration anxiety, preoccupation with the re-enactment of the original trauma, counterbalanced by the devaluation, punishment, or saving of the guilty object”(Mulvey pg. 6). In this male dominant movie where a woman has power it was only a matter of time before she would be punished for it.
The discussion of sexuality in this film is simple, because there is only one relationship/sexuality portrayed and its white and heterosexual. There are no queer characters in this film and even the heterosexual relationship is very traditional. Surprisingly sex in this movie is non-existent. Unlike most male action movies there are no fem-bot characters, or overly sexualized women besides Yolandi.
The discussion of race in this movie is quite perplexing to me. The movie is set in South Africa which is roughly 80% Black African, yet there are very few Black African speaking characters. Five of the seven main characters are white and of the other two, one is Latino, and the other is Indian. In fact, there is not even one Black African woman in the film. The worst part is that the representations of color in this film are mainly during acts of violence. For example, there is a large riot scene, where the majority if not all of the rioters are Black African. Another scene in which Chappie is set on fire and has rocks thrown at him, all of the perpetrators except for one are Black African. The contrast between the helpless white woman Yolandi and the Black Africans in this film reaffirms what Hollinger has stated about their representations, “ The white woman evokes lack, loss, and absence, whereas the black man represents excessive sexuality, the overpresence of the penis, and hypermasculinity.” (Hollinger, Feminist Film Studies and Race pg. 193)
Along with the terrible representations, I probably could have done without the ear-ringing gun fire every 30 seconds, but use of pops of color present in the sea of metallic along the CGI effects create a dramatic contrast. The cinematic effects in Chappie although impressive no where near make-up for the confusing plot and representation of women and people of color.