One of the biggest appeals of the TRANSFORMERS franchise is, surely, the fact that it holds a moral high ground: it’s been a franchise dedicated to equality and morality from the get-go. The very power struggle between Autobots and Decepticons arise from the morality of the Autobots and the selfishness of the Decepticons (in very broad terms, of course). So, it was a safe assumption that the live-action films were going to deal with delicate social issues properly. And while it’s easy to see, looking back, where we went wrong, it wasn’t really that obvious at the time. Walk with me down memory lane, will you?
You see, while Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS movies are often ridiculed for their treatment of racial and gender stereotypes (and for good reason), he wasn’t always so heavy-handed and seemingly insensitive and unaware. Looking back at 1995’s BAD BOYS, while far from perfect, we can see a much more positive approach to racial diversity. Even as recently as BAD BOYS II (2003), we can see Michael Bay trying to portray characters, and not racial caricatures. But you can use your pinnacle vip code and bet that it wouldn’t be the case for long.
It’s been widely reported that Megan Fox’s audition for the first TRANSFORMERS film had her wash a car in revealing clothing for director Michael Bay. At his home. Throughout the film, her character is little more than a pretty face, hardly something young girls can aspire to beyond the surface-deep “petrolhead” attitude. But sadly, even after this incident, the franchise would sink even further.
Skids and Mudflap would be introduced as The Twins in REVENGE OF THE FALLEN: Autobots born out of the same spark that split in two. We’ve talked about how other films in the franchise fail in their respective quests, but racial stereotyping took on another level with The Twins: jokes that were in poor taste and barely-bearable dialog dragged an already shoddy film down. Let’s not forget, shall we, that REVENGE OF THE FALLEN was Paramount’s first direct attempt to capitalize on the Chinese market, which saw a large portion of the film set in Shanghai (where even more racially-insensitive content developed, though that would be for another time).
The truth is, we’ve seen this happen before: George Lucas was heavily criticized during his Prequel years with STAR WARS due to racially-insensitive stereotypical characters: Jar-Jar Binks and Watto. Even HARRY POTTER author J.K. Rowling keeps messing with the franchise, adding insult to injury, despite her depiction of slavery in the form of house elves (which, by the way, was unresolved by the end of the 7th and final book).
The lesson to be learned? Even brilliant minds need to be kept in check. I don’t think for a minute that Watto would have passed second draft if Lucas was still part of a larger creative team, rather than being backed by Yes Men. Likewise, somebody should have stepped in an said “Michael, I think having an actress wash your car for you is going too far”. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, and the new direction Paramount and Hasbro have taken the franchise, I don’t think we’re in risk of seeing something like this happening again. STAR WARS is, at the very least, Disney-fied enough to avoid another Jar-Jar. But we have to remind ourselves that this is a reality in the movie-making business, and we have to prevent racial and gender stereotypes from ruining the artform, be it TRANSFORMERS, STAR WARS or even BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.