Category Archives: Extra Credit

“Who’s bad? Sinbad!” // “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas”

On Friday, November 21, 2014, Sam and I watched DreamWorks’ Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003). We noticed many inaccuracies in regard to the history and culture behind the original tale, allusions to orientalist thought, and implications about gender roles in the East.

The movie began with a devious and obviously evil sorceress, who is later revealed to be the Greek Eris, the goddess of chaos. This blatant cultural inaccuracy is not addressed, but yet another is presented later on: Sinbad and Marina must travel to Tartarus, the underworld in Greek folklore. Again, the movie does nothing to address the fact that the legend of Sinbad and Greek mythology are not the same. More European influence can be seen in the main setting of the film: Syracuse, Sicily. By relocating the central town from Baghdad to Italy, the writers attempted to make the movie more relatable for American audiences, who are more in touch with European influences and folklore. As somewhat of a redeeming plot point, Sinbad and his crew end up on an island that happens to be a fish’s back, which is analogous to the occurrence in the original story. The origins of the story are again referenced when Sinbad claims, “A good knife has a thousand and one uses.” While it has been determined that The Story of Sindbad the Sailor was never included in the original manuscript of The Nights, the tale itself remains as an accompanying story to The Nights.

The movie included many obvious oriental stereotypes and allusions to blatant orientalist thinking. Within the first couple of minutes of the movie, Sinbad exhibited excellent martial arts skills – notably with a samurai sword. This illustrates the blending of oriental stereotypes into one massive set of labels. The crewmen on Sinbad’s ship were all incredibly muscular, mostly shirtless, and wear vests and baggy pants. This attire is stereotypically “oriental” in nature and was probably extremely popularized by Aladdin’s outfit in Disney’s Aladdin (1992). The crew is an assortment of many Asian men and darker Arabs, and their broad array exhibits a compilation of the views Americans have on Easterners. Sinbad’s dog’s name (“Spike”) is obviously an American name. This was probably to make the film more relatable to American audiences. All the lead characters (notable Sinbad, Proteus, and Marina) exhibit discernible Caucasian characteristics, perhaps in another attempt to make the film more relatable. Also, Marina’s short hair displays her modern, American portrayal. Because of her bluntly cut hair, she is a strong and independent woman with distinctive ideas.

In relation to gender roles and women’s rights, this movie had a lot to say. The first exposure to a woman we get in this film is Eris, the treacherous and evil-for-no-reason villain, who is the epitome of the sexualized and promiscuous nature of women in The Nights. When Marina first boards the ship, she changes her outfit from an elaborate dress to something more “suitable” – aka a pant and shirt. Sinbad then comments, “A ship is no place for a woman.” Both her change in outfit and his comment speak volumes about what the movie’s writers thought (and knew, to an extent) about relationships between men and women in the East. They depict the woman as being submissive and needing to dress like a man in order to be on a ship, which, as Sinbad confidently states, only welcomes men. As the plot progresses, enchanted water women (almost Siren-like) sing and entice the men of the crew towards them, and only Marina appears to be immune. She exasperatedly yells, “MEN!” before saving them all. Her remark and immunity are similar to the other  (parallel) portrayal of women in The Nights; they are empowered, independent, and more than capable of handling themselves. After seeing the damage done to this ship, Sinbad angrily comments, “This is exactly why women shouldn’t drive!” By twisting this statement into having a double meaning (one of which is more contemporary and the children watching might understand), the writers again assert that Eastern cultures have no regard for women in terms of equality.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy Sinbad as much as I thought I would. I think our vague mentions in class and the fact that it was one of the few popular animated movies that I hadn’t seen as a child made me more excited than I should’ve been. I found the animation subpar (especially for 2003), characters offensive, and plot predictable.

*The bolded elements are made so because of their significance in the argument and their relevance to class discussion.

The Arabian Nights: A Play // at the Red Door Play Festival

On Saturday, November 15, 2014, I watched a play entitled “The Arabian Nights” during the annual Red Door Play Festival. Having previously heard that the play had “nothing to do with The Nights,” I tried to keep an open mind. The play started with extremely orientalized music, which irked me; this was probably due to the lengthy discussions we had in class about the concept of Orientalism. Regardless, the plot of the play consisted of the initial meeting between a wealthy, travelling man and a young woman who runs her family’s shop, presumably somewhere in “the Orient.” Their awkward eye contact and casual brushings hinted at a potential romance, and a third (female) character personified the obvious (and quite amusing) subtext of the encounter. After every line spoken by either of the two leads, she would inject a “translation” of what the line actually meant (in more direct terms). For example, when the woman asked if the man was buying a souvenir for himself or for another person, the subtext character said something along the lines of “Are ya single?” Her lines also included calling the man Sinbad and the woman a princess, an obvious reference to the title of the play. Also, she spoke in a flowery manner, somewhat copying the style of The Nights. The repeated translations of “well” and “I” to “a hole in the ground” and “the organ of sight,” respectively, were amusing at first but got old quickly.

“We’ve got some work to do now” // “Scooby Doo! in Arabian Nights”

On Thursday, October 16, 2014, Danielle, Sam, and I watched the television special, “Scooby Doo! in Arabian Nights.” It began with Shaggy and Scooby up to their usual shenanigans. They accepted jobs as royal food-testers when a young Caliph offered. After they eat all the food in the palace, the guards chased them until Shaggy disguised himself as a young woman. The prince is enchanted by the “girl’s” beauty and immediately proposed to her. Hoping to make the Caliph fall asleep, Shaggy began telling two “classic” Arabian Nights stories. This is similar to Shahrazad’s storytelling that frames The Arabian Nights.

The first story was about Aliyah-Din (basically a female Aladdin) and her magic lamp in her quest to marry the prince of the land. Aliyah-Din had enormous purple eyes and extremely fair skin, thus making her features noticeably Caucasian. Her name as well sounds extremely similar to the American name, “Ali,” to make her more relatable to American audiences. When the town was depicted, a crowd of gossiping women was shown in see-through veils; they had extremely thick, voluminous lips that would stereotypically be associated with gossiping women. Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo Bear played the genie and his genie-in-training to make the concept less exotic and more relatable. When Aliyah-Din asked for the prince’s (the villain in disguise at this point) hand in marriage, she presented herself with a large dowry to make her candidacy more appealing in comparison to the other suitable females. After being thrown in the dungeon with the real prince, Aliyah-Din prayed to “our lord” in an extremely Christian prayer that begged for salvation; it contained no mention of Allah or anything vaguely Islamic. This was again to make the plot more relatable for an American audience. In a poor attempt to prove the legitimacy of the story, a mention of falafel is included. Aliyah-Din and the prince’s meeting/longing search with a scarf was vaguely reminiscent to that of Cinderella, another noticeable European element. In the end, the rich boy and poor girl fell in love and married despite all odds; this plot structure is extremely American in origin and embodies American ideals of freedom and choice.

The second tale was a parody of Sinbad the Sailor who was played by Magilla Gorilla to again make the story more relatable. The mention and importance of the “runk’s” egg (relating back to the original story’s “roc’s” egg) added some much-needed legitimacy to the elaborate tale. The jewels Sinbad and the captain discovered were football-shaped; this is again to make the story much more relatable for the American audience. Also worth noting, it was slightly confusing to include American tourists from the 21st century in the background of an ancient story, but this was probably to make the story more present-day and not as dry as Americans would’ve expected. The inclusion of modern technology such as doorbells, autoqueues, and toothbrushes furthered the attempt to make the story more contemporarily Western. The supremacy roles of the West and East were touched upon when the obviously classy European (French? English?) cyclops had Middle Eastern servants. Finally, towards the end of the story, Sinbad and the captain mistook the back of a fish to be an island, which was almost directly taken from the original story.

At the conclusion of the Sinbad story, Shaggy and Scooby tried to sneak out of the palace, but before they could, they were caught and recognized by the prince’s guards. However, the prince liked Shaggy’s stories so much that they are asked to become the royal storytellers (as well as food-tasters).

I don’t believe that this rendition of The Arabian Nights was attempting to be accurate, but blatant cultural inaccuracies due to ignorance and typecasts can be the most visible in the entertainment meant for the youth of the “other” culture. The ingraining of the stereotypes into the minds of our youth is one of the most powerful ways of propagating the archaic judgment that we place upon other cultures.

*The bolded elements were made so because they were mentioned in class discussions.