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Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Space Oddities : King Kong (1933)

Merian C Cooper`s and Ernest B. Schoedsack`s King Kong (1933) brought a painful flash of history into the audiences eyes. Bringing the harsh reality of views on race and gender to the big screen and making it a true struggle to watch. It is shown how over the centuries the views on race have changed dramatically, and it is a struggle to believe how such an openly racist and sexist film could be called `one of the greatest films of all time’. Despite the low depicting of African Americans, the film did an amazing job with the special effects with the scaling of the landscape, it was easy to believe that Kong was a monstrous beast towering over man. Despite this, this technique can work against the true underlying nature of the beast, where the film seems to be one where you have to watch twice to fully understand it. “It is also a curiously touching fable in which the beast is seen, not as a monster of destruction, but as a creature that in its own way wants to do the right thing. Unlike the extraterrestrial spiders in the "Alien" pictures, which embody single-minded aggression, Kong cares for his captive human female, protects her, attacks only when provoked, and would be perfectly happy to be left alone on his Pacific Island.” Roger Ebert, Great Movie: King Kong (2002).

There is a clear difference between man and beast in this film, where one is meant to believe that because the beast is kept behind locked doors and because he attacks those who try to take the woman away from him, the audience immediately thinks that Kong is evil and that is it. That being said as the film progresses the crew who seem faceless men with no personalities soon become money hungry savages who lust over the only woman on board and only care for her safety because she has a pretty face. So much so when they bring Kong back to New York they do not think of the mass destruction such a beast could cause despite Kong killing 12 of their men already. Man in this film is brought down to the basics of human nature where men only wish to hunt , mate and want more than what they have already got. 

The romance hinted at in this film was weak, from the point the main love interest is shown the audience is shown his disdain in women and how he believes them to be weak and incapable of anything. Yet it takes mere seconds for the pair to fall in love despite Ann doing almost nothing to prove him wrong, simply pouting and fluttering her eye lashes with doe eyes and then collapsing. There was no chemistry, no change in character and Ann was proving the sexist remarks as true, not helping the portrayal of women as objects in that time era. There was an intense struggle keeping up with Ann and her continuous kidnappings and there being no protest, the reactions looked fake and was tiring to watch. There was no change throughout the film and by the time the film had finished where the sailors had proclaimed beauty as the real hero, there was a strike of defeat where there was no hope left for the characters in the film. You almost felt bad that they were so lust driven and idiotic that they were too blind to credit the soldiers who sacrificed themselves to bring down Kong.

This film did not lay low with the cuts at African Americans, in modern times there would be no time at all before petitions to bring it down would be released if this came to the big screen once more. The problem was in the 1930s there was no limit as to what you could do to a black person, one could offend as much as they`d like and nobody would blink an eye. The tribesmen at the start were depicted as savages, sacrificing their young out of fear to the beast behind the wall. With a stereotypical appearance with grass skirts and tribal markings with a foreign language which was almost alien with no subtitles given to the audience. It was hinted that when kidnapped and restrained, Ann was placed in a similar position to a crucifix showing the tribe in a murderous light (similar to how the Jewish had
killed Jesus). “Racist conceptions of blacks often depict them as subhuman, ape or monkey-like. And consider the plot of the film: Kong is forcibly taken from his jungle home, brought in chains to the United States, where he is put on stage as a freak entertainment attraction.” David N. Rosen, King Kong: Race, Sex and Rebellion (1975) “As Denham says in the last words of the film, “Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.” If we look at KING KONG in terms of a racial metaphor, “Beauty” turns out to be “the white woman.” This kind of theme is foreshadowed in the behavior of the “natives” on the island where Kong is captured. When he first sees her, the “Native Chief” offers six of his wives for Ann, and when this is refused, he kidnaps her.” David N Rosen, King Kong: Race, Sex and Rebellion (1975). Both interesting points by the same critic , where the film director had called the woman “A golden beauty” making the audience believe her looks are worth a lot and rare and only the best and richest can afford her. Where the tribesmen are looked down upon as not worthy to have her even when offering six of his own women for her, then, when it comes to them kidnapping her this makes the tribesmen seem like petty thieves.

Overall despite this being a stunning revelation in special effects, the racial and sexist issues circling the film was too distracting to be able to enjoy the film. The characters were simple with no chemistry backing up their relationships and the symbolising of Kong as a savage foreign man, who challenges the masculinity of the sailors was saddening to watch. Reading other critics and how there was an underlying love to Kong’s actions, it made his demise slightly saddening and made you wish to understand the beast further.


Rosen , N D (1975) King Kong : Race , Sex and Rebellion :                                        

Ebert , R (2002) Great Movie : King Kong :


  1. Interesting review Sarah, with good discussions around race and gender :)

    Try not to use too long a quote... if it is difficult to shorten the quote, it is always possible to paraphrase it, and use it as a discussion in its own right. So you could say something like,

    'In his review of the film, Rosen discusses the use of the white woman as an item of worth, a commodity which.... blah blah blah...' (Rosen, 1975)

    Notice that after the quote, you only need the author's surname and the date, the rest of the information appears in the bibliography. Your bibliography needs a little more information in it, and should be organised alphabetically according to the author's surname. See here -

    You also need to label your images, and reference them too, in an illustrations list.

    1. Thanks Jackie! I`ll try not to use to long of a quote ,but, yeah I do struggle with cutting it down so I`ll try paraphrasing it instead. Okay then , thank you I`ll take your advice for the next review. :)