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Aquaman: A color and nationality for a new year

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Aquaman: A color and nationality for a new year

As a boy, I had climbed to the second-story room of my grandfather’s gingerbread house on Massachusetts Islands where he had hidden his collections of Marvels, DC Comics and other classical comics from the 1930, 1940, 1950 and more recently.  I would read jealously until I had been called downstairs to more social duties.  I read so many, I was so young, I don’t remember all the characters I knew anymore.  Of course, I recall Superman, Batman, Wonder Women, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, a host of otherworldly women exploring beyond worlds, and worldly men who look after the lack of Western control, all in the center of interwar or nuclear hysteria (depending on decade) and simultaneous anxieties.  But many of the details and names are lost to the netherworld of my now medieval imagination, which floated around in a soup of fantastic superheroes, which comprised many of my best summer days in the early childhood.  That is, I even learned about Gotham, the translucent glass plane Wonder Woman and the lovely array of superheroes, who corrected the world if they went astray as soon as I could learn about Brer Rabbit.

Always the straight kid, the comics of my grandfather were as close to the sky as I ever had to get.  The comic book of my grandfather stood just off his classical collection of children’s stories that included early editions (just by age) from Robin Hood, Treasure Island, the Black Stallion, the first five books of the Wizard of Oz, and so forth.  Having read either, I would often dress in Alice’s dreams in Wonderland, glass planes, archers defending traditional forests or ultra-modern cities or giant dark monsters who sometimes required the help of many of those heroes to send them back to their own realities.

So, while I’m not a superhero or super hero specialist in any way, I can’t deny being a devotee and a fan of the same.  I believe it is safe to say that comics and superheroes attract a large cross section of people based on my own completely anecdotal experience.

Then I am coming to Aquaman, the extravagance of colour, effects, submarine realms, campy comic-comic-comic-to-life and good-guy-beats-the-bad-guy glory of Christmas 2018.  It’s campy and dramatic par excellence, most reviewers say.  However, fewer discussed a six-ton African forest elephant in the room: race and ethnicity. The environmental green political message was even mentioned by some (e.g. not polluting the oceans!). We’re talking about the obvious, God forbid.

If you haven’t seen the movie, spoiler warning for all of the text below: Jason Momoa, Nicole Kidman, is cast as the son of surprise guest star, who is pale as the moon and bright as Norwegian sunlight.  Momoa’s father is a lovely guy played by Temuera Morrison, who is Scottish, Maori, and Irish in his biography.  Although it looks like Maori, it is not so white as the moon and bright as the Norwegian summer sky.  This ethnic disparity is capitalized quietly on to justify how her sun-drenching steamy and noble son Momoa-as-Arthur-Curry (who is teasingly accusing me of seeing my scotch-italian–polish husband as “dreaming”) portrayed both landlords (his dad’s kin) and sea dwellers (his mother’s kin).  In fact, Aquaman’s seafarers all appear very fair in skin, and mostly in hair (Willem Dafoe is an exception of dark hair and Amber Heard a vibrant red-head), while the landfarers tend to look more earthy for lack of a better word.

That is, the film makes the (fair colored) sea inhabitants and (more earthy) earth inhabitants a parable of both race and inter-civilization conflicts in the old Real World.  These racial and ethnic issues may be unpleasant for us, which could explain why fewer reviewers appear to have talked about this obvious aspect of the film.

As the mixed ethnic guy, I consider it to be the most obvious and important aspect of the film (Ireland, the Netherlands, Prussian, Navarre, and Philippine).  I believe it is unusual, in fact, to have a Jason Momoa figure (of part of Hawaiian descent) in a American movie supporting his Nicole Kidman mother (of English-Irish-Scottish descent). Not to mention the pair played by Kidman and Morrison who are portrayed as Heaven sent.  This dynamic arises on occasion in more recent films, which undoubtedly set the stage and made it possible to structure this film. Nonetheless, I think the history of avoiding it among the main characters is more common. This can be seen especially in Hollywood A-list actors and blockbuster films (at least from Poitier and Houghton or the Hair; see this reference for more recent examples, which include less clean-cut or blockbuster films).

Aquaman therefore stands out as an exceptionally braves film and its actors, who have done an excellent job in the production of a mere magical superhero for fun, should be lauded for this breakthrough in Hollywood film.  In addition to the basic biology of the series, conflicts and culture between sea and land inhabitants have epic-heroic-comic morality in order to tell them of the relationship between very different parts of the world, coexistence, warfare and outstanding beauty in unexpected places and intermediate stages or optional (eventual) states (their existence and their state).  The movie also contains a (delicious and) free underground desert Sahara scene for me as a Middle East scholar.  So Aquaman is all that for 2019 in my book.

For me the moral of the story: It is not a’ mixed, confused, shook-up world’ to fear.  But it’s a mixed and mixed race country, and it’ll stay that way.  Any arguments or attempts at cleanliness on any side would ultimately fail.

Aquaman indicates that we’ve gone a long way and we should be praised, but we’ve got some work to do because of our frustration with the debate.

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