Whether it's an alien who might as well be called a "space Jew," or an evil Asian ripping the hearts out of innocent victims in an exotic ritual, racial and ethnic stereotypes in SF often reach facepalm levels of fail.
Today, let us contemplate 10 of the most embarrassingly awful stereotypes we've had to endure in the process of trying to enjoy our favorite movies and television series.
Mostly I've chosen stuff from the last 40 years here, just because we could easily fill pages and pages with all the wrongness before that - think Ming the Merciless (evil Asian guy) or the many stereotypes of African Americans that emerge in stories of visiting "savage" planets. What's sad is that we haven't come that far since those overtly racist days. So without further ado, here are the characters that make you want to slap some sense into somebody and make them read some Nisi Shawl.
10. The radioactive white trash people in The Hills Have Eyes
Honestly, any movie in the genre of "nice people waylaid by magical/mutant hillbillies," from 2,000 Maniacs to House of 1,000 Corpses is jam-packed with stereotypes of poor white folks who live in the hills, fuck their brothers and sisters, torture outsiders for fun, descend into cannibalism, and speak in twangy accents. Bonus points if they dress in weird animal skins, are fat and/or ugly, and say "Momma, what should we do with this long pig?" a lot. Also bonus points for clown makeup and moonshine.
9. The islanders and the giant ape in Peter Jackson's King Kong
Oh Peter Jackson, what inspired you to remake one of the twentieth century's most racist fantasy epics? I thought we'd all learned that representing black people as giant rampaging apes who are obsessed with teeny white women was completely awful. But then you had to go and remake the flick, adding a whole island full of magical aboriginal stereotypes who literally say things like "booga booga" and beat on drums while sacrificing people.
8. Nemoidians in Star Wars
As they grease the wheels of the Trade Federation's relationship with the growing evil of the Empire, these aliens make noises that sound alarming like "ahhh so" and do a lot of bowing. Their self-effacing manner and eagerness to please have made many fans feel like they are an annoying Asian stereotype.
7. The chihuahuas in Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Talking dogs are a staple of fantasy, and every single talking chihuahua ever committed to film is pretty much a Mexican stereotype. Probably the most obvious example is in this flick, or a Taco Bell commercial.
6. The Calormenes in The Chronicles of Narnia
The Calormenes are dark-skinned, wear flowing robes and turbans, and live in a hot, desert land called Calormen. Clearly intended to resemble Arabs, the Calormenes live in a rigid, class-stratified society and seem to enjoy nothing more than killing, war, and keeping slaves. Yep, the dark-skinned people in turbans are the ones obsessed with wars and slavery. Damn savages.
5. The Ferengi on Star Trek
Space Jews! They're short, they're clannish, and they're obsessed with money! Hey, you want some gold-pressed latinum? Such a deal Quark can make you! OK so they have big ears instead of big noses, but the Ferengi are so Jewish they practically turn every Star Trek scene where they appear into a Mel Brooks movie. You know, a Mel Brooks movie where he makes fun of Jewish stereotypes. And no, it doesn't make them any less of a stereotype when Quark gives his big speech about how there's nothing wrong with his people being ethnically predisposed to love money.
4. Pretty much every person of color in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
WTF people. We could start with Short Round and just make our way through every savage Indian dude or turbaned caricature in this flick and we'd be talking all day. So much fail!
3. The Natives in Twilight
Just because they all look sexy and never put their shirts on does not mean the Native werewolves are not headdesk levels of stereotype. Natives who are one with nature and the forest? Check. Natives with a savage, uncontrollable side? Check. Natives who beat their wives? Check. Natives who aren't quite good enough for white girls who like really pale vampires? Check. At some point, I fully expect to see a guy in a feathered headdress, a spiritual journey in a sweat lodge, or alcoholism.
2. Skids and Mudflap in Transformers 2
These jive-talking "urban" transformers practically smoke crack out of their tailpipes. I would rather watch ten thousand scenes of giant wrecking ball scrota than have to endure another second of screen time with these "hip hoppin" racebots.
1. Jar Jar
Oh Jar Jar. The Caribbean stereotype who launched a thousand angry rants with his "meso youso" talk and lazy, dopey ways. Oh, those funny islanders - erm, I mean aliens - they'll never learn to run their own civilization! Good think we've got white people - erm, I mean humans - to help them out.