Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Posted by Anthony A. Jack at 3:56 PM
Quick Snippet: Up: Beta, Alpha, and the Rest of the Dog pound
I went to see Up last week with my youngest niece. Rather, I paid for her to take a nap in the AC after traveling to the movies in Miami heat. First and foremost, I agree with the majority of America: Up is an incredible movie all the way around. I am not sure it is a children’s movie because some of the concepts are beyond the attention span of the typical 4 or 5 year old but it is great nonetheless. I loved laughing at Carl, the lovable grumpy old man who attempts to take a “solo” trip with Ellie on a magical ride to Paradise Falls, Russell, Dug, and the rest of the gang. Squirrel. (If you saw the movie you get the joke, if you didn’t, what are you waiting for?)
Okay, by now you know that this is not just me writing about how much I enjoyed Up. Jeremy and I are both graduate students trained to overanalyze everything, pick up on the smallest details, and make explicit the implicit. When watching the movie, though, something stood out to me that I couldn’t put my finger. It wasn’t until I searched IMDB that I realized what it was. Did anyone else notice that Beta, the Rottweiler, was Black? He is “played” by Black actor Delroy Lindo who some of you may remember from Romeo Must Die (he was Aaliyah's Dad). I had to laugh because of all the main dogs in the movie the Rottweiler was black. What is more, in looking at the credits, it appears that out of the dogs, Lindo is the only real actor. The rest already work for Pixar as sculptors, writers, or directors like Jerome Brandt, Bob Peterson, and Josh Cooley. In other words, they actually sought out Lindo to play Beta but stayed in house (and white) for the rest of the dog of note in the movie.
If anyone is familiar with the association between dog ownership and race, certain breeds of dogs are “racialized” and even classed in the media and in print. I am not claiming statistical fact. What I am saying, however, the representation of the association between race and certain breeds of dog is slanted in public forums. When you look at MTV Cribs, what race of individuals always showcase their Rottweilers in large cages or running around the sprawling green pastures of their multimillion dollar homes? Given the recent conviction of Michael Vick (and even before that), dog fighting (although not exclusively Black), is also tied to certain breeds of dog (in this particular case, pit bulls) and certain races.
A similar but more direct criticism of this kind was made, as many of you will remember, against Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks. People argued that his dialect, behavior, and even appearance—to put it differently, his entire being—parodies those of slave and blacks soon after emancipation. I bring up Jar Jar Binks and the debate over how he parodies a particular time period of African American culture as a parallel. I do not, however, call foul on Pixar for casting Lindo for the voice of Beta though I think it important to bring up. I must say that I liked Beta in the movie; he has some good lines that make you laugh too. Again, I thought this was interesting to point out. Am I being too forgiving of Pixar on this one because I liked the movie?
One last thing that I cannot begin to write on intelligently right now is why my gender studies sense perked up with Alpha. Why did his voice have to sound “girlish” because of his broken collar? Why did he not sound like a robot or like an announcer on a bad radio? Just as they purposefully sought out Lindo, they made the decision to make Alpha’s voice the way it was. I know it was for comedic effect. Personally, I think the “contrast” between his voice and body is what was supposed to be funny to us and all. But this has some assumptions about masculinity (more generally) that I am just not quite ready to buy.