“Lava,” as I hope you don’t recall, is the animated short that accompanies “Inside Out,” the otherwise wonderful new Pixar movie.
As I’ve said before, some cartoonists draw women as “visual aliens”; men are allowed to be earthy and funny-looking and part of a coherent visual universe, but women are there to be pretty. “Lava” is the most extreme example I’ve ever seen.
But it’s possible that the full-length “Minions” is even worse:
‘Minions’ Creator Pierre Coffin on Why None of His Animated Little Yellow Helpers Are Female
For the French animator, who co-directed the new film with Kyle Balda, the masculine-only nature of the Minions owes to their all-around cloddishness. “Seeing how dumb and stupid they often are, I just couldn’t imagine Minions being girls,” he told TheWrap.
As often happens, this is sexism that is both anti-girl (because it implies that girls have less than the full range of human traits) and anti-boy (suggesting that boys are inherently “dumb and stupid”). But I certainly agree that the director has displayed a lack of imagination.
I haven’t seen “Minions,” but Reel Girl did, and found it to be the most sexist kids movie of the year.
This is just so disappointing. I’d really been looking forward to this movie. I’m not spending my money on this.
I was really put off by “Lava.” I saw it with my partner and with a queer trans friend, both of whom liked it a lot, but I just kept thinking “that’s it? That’s the plot? Boy wants girl, boy gets girl? Ugh.”
Wait, I haven’t seen any of these movies so I always assumed they were little pill monsters.
I didn’t really give any thought to their gender… I mean, do they have sexes? Do the weird little monsters have gender roles or gender identities? Why would they need to?
It’s just weird to me… you have this whole horde of undifferentiated creatures that don’t really have any markers of sex or gender, why would you feel the need to specify that they’re all male? Why even go into it?
@Elusis, I feel that way about an awful lot of recent Pixar shorts. The guy who folds paper airplanes to the point of getting himself (ambiguously?) fired from his job because otherwise the woman he glimpsed from afar on the train one time won’t know he likes her; the masculine-coded umbrella who spots a feminine-coded umbrella from afar and tries to get close to her. I’ve always preferred the ones like Day & Night or La Luna. They seem to have more meaty concepts than the boy-meets-girl shorts.
@Christopher, you’ve hit the auxiliary thermal exhaust port there.
Logistics. It takes work not to. First, and fairly easy, you have to use names which are not gendered. Second, much harder, you have to make pronoun decisions. Neuter pronoun? Default male? Default female? Third, you have to have some visual androgyny in the characters; there has to be variation which includes female-coded visual traits, because the variation already includes male-coded visual traits. Fourth, much, much harder, you have to choose voice actors who can hit androgyny.
Because if you don’t do those things, then people will assign gender. It’s a LOT easier to build on this society’s existing gendered scaffolding than to build from the ground up.
Mind you, it would be nice if more people made the tiniest effort. Clearly this director didn’t.
Except, with these completely inarticulate aliens, I don’t think you do. ^_^
Oh, do they not speak? Well, that’s a mercy.
A filmmaker should never utter the phrase “I couldn’t imagine” when talking about their work.
Pingback: Minions Matter: The Celebration of Stupid Boys
@Elusis: There’s a “boy loses girl” in the middle there, but yeah, it’s a very, very simple plot. It’s cute, but doesn’t have much else going for it.
Regarding Lava: (a) that’s one hella girly volcano, (b) volcanoes do not work that way.
I haven’t seen any minion movie, but I have a minion-obsessed friend and I seem to recall there’s been a few female minions…somewhere?
I can’t figure out if he’s trying to compliment women for not being stupid or what.
Lava was a visual tribute to Israel and Marlene Kamakiwawo’ole. Israel was a very big dude, as well as a very talented musician. His rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” inspired the short.
I love Israel Kamakiwawo’ole.
But I am so tired of being earwormed by that song that I welcomed the Virgin America safety video today.
The sexist comments about gendered Minions are pretty bad, but it’s worthwhile to note that “Lava” was a tribute to Native Hawai’ian singer and activist Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and his wife Marlene.
The character design inspiration is pretty clear– here’s Israel and Marlene, and here’s Pixar’s volcano couple.
This short has gotten a ton of criticism for being sexist and/or heteronormative, mostly from people who did not pay attention to the early press releases Pixar put out saying that it was a tribute to Israel’s life and work. The comments finding the relationship problematic because the volcano based on Marlene is much more conventionally attractive than the one based on her late husband are pretty offensive when you realize how closely the character design mirrored these people’s bodies and partnership IRL.
I think a lot of white progressives (who don’t recognize the Kamakawiwo’oles on sight) are assuming that anything such a big corporate property as Pixar does involving Hawai’ian iconography is going to be inherently shallow and exploitative. The possibility that this short could have been a respectful tribute to a culturally important indigenous artist and his family seems too good to be true, so they just didn’t consider it, or are dismissing it after being told. That’s on top of the blatant racism in comments complaining that the words in the song (which is sung by native singers, with hawaiian accents) are being pronounced incorrectly etc. Paperman and Feast, two Pixar/Disney shorts that are also pretty heteronormative– and in Feast, full of the same sexist stereotypes the Minions guy is spouting, with a boring/civilizing girlfriend who forces the protagonist to eat healthy and do yoga– got nowhere near the amount of backlash that’s been directed at Lava… but they also feature all-white protagonists and voice actors.
You might want to google what Hawai’ian bloggers are saying about the short and the backlash it’s been getting– people are also getting into issues of native representation, Israel’s life and politics, when and where criticisms of heteronormativity crop up in popular discourse, the history of suppressed nonbinary gender and sexualities in Hawaiian culture by Western imperialism, etc. It is definitely much deeper than “yet again the boy love interest is allowed to be fat but the woman has to be pretty, like all those shitty Seth Rogen movies”, and it’s a conversation you might be interested in.
Thanks for your comment, Laurie. And welcome to “Alas.”
I agree that, from what you describe, some of the criticisms of “Lava” have been ignorant.
But I don’t agree with everything you wrote. First of all, it’s perfectly fair to judge “Lava” based on viewing the work itself, without reading any press releases.
Speaking as a cartoonist, I disagree with this. It would have been entirely possible to design volcanoes that drew on Israel’s and Marlene’s appearances, without making the Marlene-based volcano so much a visual alien to the rest of the visuals in “Lava.” The problem isn’t that the female volcano design is “pretty”; the problem is that the female volcano design is a pretty (and stereotyped) human, rather than being a pretty volcano.
The designer didn’t do neutral caricatures of both Israel and Marlene, doing nothing but converting them into volcanoes; they took entirely different approaches to each caricature. And the reasons for doing that wasn’t fidelity to how Marlene and Israel look(ed) in real life; it was because they took a very conventional approach to gender roles in their character design. And criticizing that design choice is fair.
I don’t doubt for a moment that “Lava” was a respectful tribute to Marlene and Israel. It’s clear that the creator of “Lava” thinks Marlene and Israel are awesome. It’s not an either/or choice between recognizing that the character design of “Lava” was sexist, and also recognizing that “Lava” was a loving tribute to two real-life people. Both can be (and imo are) true.
Finally, at least in my circles, the sexist and hetronormative aspects of “Paperman” were criticized quite a lot. I barely remember “Feast” being discussed at all, but yes, the way the human couple is depicted in “Feast” is horribly sexist. (Although I think that couple was interracial.)
Never saw “Paperman.” Never saw “Feast.” Would have been great if Pixar had name checked the couple somehow so people who don’t know them and their work could say “hm, I’d like to hear more!” and go check them out without having to read a press release (I’m not press, either.)
Lava is based on the hawiian musician Iz and his wife Marlene. Look up a picture of them and you will see what I am talking about. And read the information below you will see why pixar did this. Educate yourself this is not about gender and sexuality this was about honoring Iz.
“He’s not just “that dude with the cover of Over The Rainbow” okay? He’s very important. He was a musician, yes, and he was an activist for Hawaiian rights and independence.
He used his music to promote awareness of the second class status of Hawaiian natives created by the tourist industry.
When he died, the Hawaiian state flag flew at half mast. His coffin (but not his body, he was cremated) lay in state at the state capitol building in Honolulu. Just the third person in Hawaiian history to be given that honor. And the only one who was not a government official. Ten thousand people attended his funeral.
He is a big important part of Hawaiian culture and history. So don’t get all social justice warrior about sexuality and gender when this is really about a culture and honoring the memory of people who are important to that culture.”
Tara, something can be wonderful and necessary on one scale and still problematic on a different scale. It’s not all one or the other.
It bugged me, but i didn’t know how to put it into words. It was really really jarring when i first saw the ‘girl volcano’, after quite liking how they made the ‘guy volcano’ look very volcanoish while still having character. and then you just had ‘female human with rocky skin, and hair’.
It does make more sense now that i’ve seen the people that it’s based on though.