Civil Liberties

Do Autobots Dream of Electric Blackface?


On its way to earning more money than you can possibly imagine, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is drawing a small storm of indignation—and not just because it's as godawful as every other Michael Bay flick. Apparently deeming it insufficient to heartlessly screw (for a second time) the collective memory of a generation of Transformers toy/cartoon fans, Bay has added crypto-racism to the mix, sending some critics into fits of righteous, apopleptic rage.

The movie features two new, controversial autobots named "Skids" and "Mudflap." They shuck and jive in what amounts to an updated-for-the-21st-century Al Jolson routine. They speak in gangsta slang. One sports a golden tooth. Both are excitable and diminutive enough to draw comparisons to chimpanzees. The insensitivity is shocking, shocking, in our fine, post-racial age.

And, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bay is unapologetic:

Director Michael Bay insists jive-talking twin robots were only meant for laughs.

"It's done in fun," he 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."…

"Listen, you're going to have your naysayers on anything," he said. "It's like, is everything going to be Melba toast? It takes all forms and shapes and sizes."

Let us momentarily appreciate two philosophical oddities: film characters that are simultaneously racist and race-less, and critiques of the racial politics of a Michael Bay movie.

Sadly, Reason has covered Michael Bay in the past. Check out Managing Editor Jesse Walker's take on Michael Bay's moral vision here. David Weigel reported on the first Transformers movie and petty copyright enforcement here.