'Transformers' Sequel Brings Jarring Issue of Race

Hollywood has a poor history of racial stereotyping, but how far is too far?

June 25, 2009, 3:02 PM

June 26, 2009 — -- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the much-anticipated sequel to the surprise summer 2007 smash hit "Transformers" is taking fire for its comic relief: a pair of slang-spewing, illiterate Chevy hatchbacks named Skids and Mudflap. Much like criticism over the "Star Wars" Episode 1 character Jar Jar Binks, the robot duo is being labeled a racist caricature.

Though the pair fights alongside the Autobots, the robot protagonists of Michael Bay's explosive sequel, they do little real fighting and mostly squabble amongst themselves. One of them even sports an ornate gold tooth, serving no real function.

Bay did not return calls from ABCNews.com for comment, but dodged the claims of racial implications in an interview with the Associated Press.

"It's done in fun," Bay said. "I don't know if it's stereotypes — they are robots, by the way. These are the voice actors. This is kind of the direction they were taking the characters and we went with it." Bay said the twins' parts "were kind of written but not really written, so the voice actors is when we started to really kind of come up with their characters."

Film critic Roger Ebert told ABCNews.com in an e-mail that "the total effect of the film is horrible."

Although racial ignorance has always been common in Hollywood movies, Ebert said movies have eased up on the implications in recent years.

"Some stereotyping still takes place," Ebert said. "In films aimed at black consumers, such as Tyler Perry's 'Madea,' it's in the nature of an inside joke. When outsiders do it, it loses its humor and is simply offensive."

Regardless, Skids and Mudflap are raising the renewing debate over whether Hollywood has a bad rap sheet for being racially insensitive in the name of comic relief.

Stephen Ziatz, 20, who saw the midnight showing of the Transformers sequel in Pittsburgh, told ABCNews.com he was not surprised by the racial implications in the movie, but thought it was inappropriate since many children are bound to see the summer blockbuster.

"Everyone in the theater laughed," Ziatz said. "The robots were red and green, not even black. I was surprised they used derogatory terms since those two characters were really aimed towards kids because they're silly, immature robots."

The Paramount movie broke the midnight opening record and went on to gross over $60 million, which is the best opening day ever for a Wednesday release at the domestic box office.

Ziatz, a self-described "movie buff" who has seen over 2,000 movies, said all five of the Pittsburgh IMAX Theater midnight showings were sold out with people of all ages at the PG-13 film.

The movie takes jabs at people of all races, according to the movie blog UGO. One character is referred to as having a "public fro-head" and being a "chia pet."

Ironically, the voice behind Mudflap is actor Reno Wilson, who is black. The voice of Skid is Tom Kenny, a white actor.

Wilson told the AP it's not fair to assume the characters are black. When he took the role, he was told that the alien robots learned about human culture through the Web and that the twins were "wannabe gangster types."

Although moviegoers and critics can take the street slang of the characters however they want, critics say Skids and Mudflap are Jar Jar Binks Part II.

Binks was a wide-eyed, floppy-eared lizard of sorts who stuttered and spoke broken English. Like Bay, Star Wars director George Lucas said in a 1999 press release that Binks was "just part of the imaginative fantasy that is 'Star Wars.'"

Ebert said everything in the new 'Transformers' movie just adds to the awfulness.

"Michael Bay doesn't have a clue. If your intention as a director is to create 'good fun' and your audience doesn't get that, then as a director you have not succeeded."

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