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.