Alaska Natives, Betty White, Cultural Appropriation, Dance, Film, Get Low, Haida, Sandra Bullock, The Proposal
I will admit that I enjoyed the Proposal, but I’m not so sure I liked it.
Well that makes sense to me at any rate. So anyway…
There is one scene in this movie that sits in my memory like a stone in my shoe. I just don’t know what to make of it. It’s this one:
Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t no hangin’ matter as far as I’m concerned, but I have to wonder. Didn’t anybody involved in this production question the wisdom of having two women perform other people’s music and dance? First Betty White pretends to carry out a Haida ritual, adopting the stilted speech patterns of native movie characters for the entire scene. Tasked with joining her in the performance, Sandra Bullock ends up channeling Lil Jon and the East Side Boys. So, one of these women engages in faux native spirituality and the other effectively turns in a rap performance. It’s all at least a little appropriative.
It’s also more than a little cringe-worthy.
To me anyway.
I am admittedly prone to cringitude.
It’s a light comedy anyway, so I guess I shouldn’t expect them to take these issues any more seriously than the rest of the subject matter appearing in the movie. Still, I can’t help but shake my head at the apparent cluelessness.
…but then I wonder!
I come back to my original question; didn’t somebody question the wisdom of this scene? Wasn’t somebody aware that it’s more than a little odd to have two white women finding their bliss in the performance of other people’s music, dance, and ceremony. Wasn’t someone on set at least cognizant of the issue?
And then I wonder, what if someone was?
Could that have been the point?
Quite unexpectedly, the spirit of Nathan Poe haunts this scene!
The whole performance is so completely over the top, I find myself wondering if it isn’t an intentional parody of precisely the kind appropriation I’ve been talking about. Which would make it kinda cool after all.
…I still cringe.
I’ve looked around a bit to see if some movie reviewers can shed light on the scene, and I can’t say that I’ve found much. Newspaper Rock comments on the matter pretty directly, but he doesn’t seem to have any extra information on the production itself. The late Roger Ebert seemed perplexed by the scene, particularly insofar as it related to the Alaskan sunrise. Most reviewers seemed to skip the subject altogether. Here is an interesting blog post on the house where they filmed the movie. (I know, that’s a little left of the actual topic here, but it’s just kinda cool.) The Orlando Sentinel quotes Betty White as saying that she had to learn an ‘Eskimo’ song for the film. The Daily News has her explaining that the language was actually Tlingit. I can’t say that any of this sheds much light on the matter, but that’s about enough of this.
My girlfriend will be calling me ‘Danno Downer” after she reads this.
Guilty as charged.
Browsing the Atlas said:
The Proposal is one of those movies that I can’t help but watch when I come across it playing on tv. Not just because of Ryan Reynolds, though that could be reason enough. But I love the setting. I lived in Alaska for a while and love the look at the lifestyle there. It’s a cute, light movie. What’s not to like?