G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra falls short of depicting All-American Heroes

Posted by Alden E. Habacon & filed under Identity, Pop Culture, Superheroes.

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Despite all the bad reviews, and the word-of-mouth buzz (from my 11-year-old nephew) that this was going to be terribly bad, the childhood nostalgia was overwhelming. Through Grades 5 to 7, I lived the G.I. Joe fantasy every day at school. In fact, Sundays were the only day I wasn’t wearing camo shorts, or cargoes or sweatpants. My pockets stuffed with paper throwing stars. I didn’t love camping in the summer because of the camping, but because in my imagination it was a G.I Joe training camp. In fact, all of this may have contributed to my having enlisted in the army reserve when I was in Grade 11. You have to admit, the trailers were very enticing.

Yes, packed with special effects, and gadgets coming out of the ying-tang. As the movie came to an end, I was very disappointed, but not for the acting (as my nephew warned me). Maybe he read the review on Rotten Tomatoes:

While fans of the Hasbro toy franchise may revel in a bit of nostalgia, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is largely a cartoonish, over-the-top action fest propelled by silly writing, inconsistent visual effects, and merely passable performances.

What was glaringly absent from the entire film was a reflection of a real life diversity in the United States and around the world. For some reason, perhaps because of the diverse cast of Heroes, I thought we might have graduated past this over-simplification of a white and black America. I was wrong. Here are the two things that prevented me from enjoying this film.

1. The only Asian (or Asian-looking) characters in the film, were the damn cool Asian-gangster-inspired ninja villain Stormshadow, played by Byung-hun Lee and his childhood martial arts master, played by Gerald Okamura. Okamura’s character is something out Chinese king-fu movies. Stormshadow, on the other hand, is portrayed as a backstabber and rather sinister. I’ve learned to deal with the villainization of the Asian male in mainstream media, so perhaps I could live with this. After all, like I said, Byung-hun Lee played a damn cool villain. Almost as cool as good-guy-turned-bad Agent Zero (from X-Men Origins: Wolverine) played by Daniel Henney.


But seriously, what are the chances that an international covert operation, with more toys than James Bond, apparently funded to the hilt, would be absent of any Asian-looking soldiers. Apparently the military forces of China, S. Korea, or any Asian American/Canadian were not “joe” enough.

OK, I admit, I might be taking this too seriously. Let’s move to the most disappointing aspect of this movie:

2. The total absence of Latino/Hispanic and/or Latino-looking (or sounding) people. In the cast and the “background” (that’s show-business lingo for “extras”). Or so I thought. I went back and spent some time in IMDB researching who the Latino actors may have been: Burton Perez (Bravo Soldier), Wayne Lopez (GI Joe Security Tech):

Wayne is a veteran television actor, having made the rounds since 2001 as various security guards, paramedics, cab drivers, etc, in all of your favorite shows. It’s nice work if you can get it, and now it’s his time to shine as our Latino representative on the high court of International Butt-Kicking Superfighters. Of course, he doesn’t have a cool name or anything …. Oooh – we’ll give him our own cool GI Joe nickname! Like…uh…Cantinflas. No, too ethnic. How about…Red Alert? (from: anyguey.guanabee.com)

The point is, I didn’t even notice until I dug deeper in my own time. We all know Latinos are a huge part of American culture, identity and population. HUGE! And growing rapidly. They are under-represented in the U.S. Armed Forces, but they still make up large numbers. As I noticed the vacuum of Latino characters and background (that’s movie lingo for “extras”), my heart sank. I thought of the young Latino men and women whose lives were lost in Iraq. Apparently, they’re not “joe” enough either.

Sure, some might say this was suppose to stay true to the comics and the cartoons we watched as young children. Absolutely, I’m all for authenticity. But to repeat the racism of the past, in the name of authenticity? That’s unacceptable. They updated all the technology and especially the weaponry the to be more believable and less dated, but they forgot to update the picture of the “Real American Hero.”

Schema Magazine is proud to be community partners of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival | November 11-15, 2009

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