24 June 2017

Working with Lovecraft’s racism and gothic sexism

One of the difficult things with adapting other people’s stories for films is the baggage that comes with some of them. Many times it’s just odd plot machinations or maybe older references modern people have completely forgotten. Sometimes, it's much more delicate. 

H.P. Lovecraft was notoriously racist. There isn’t much of a debate about that. He wasn’t pulling an Eminem, saying he was just writing characters who happened to be racists. He was saying Italians are a filthy race living in squalor (as just one example) in stories, correspondences and personal interactions. I would argue it’s much less present in his literary work than his personal life and some of the offensive stuff in his writing might be us putting our modern sensibilities over those of a time where  racism was open and common - but I wouldn't argue it’s not in there or acceptable.  

Gothic horror stories and many stories from that period in general, including Lovecraft’s, have an inherent sexism as well. The protagonists are almost always male, and often there are no women at all! When women are present they are often victims, or sickly or at the mercy of some guy she married. To be fair, that was the case for many women at the time so it’s no surprise that’s how they were represented in fiction. 

So, why would I choose to make films from such problematic source material? For one thing, the stories themselves are fun, amazing, scary and have attracted me since I first learned to read. They are not about being racist or sexist, they are just trained by those elements. Since the authors are dead and the stories are for the most part in public domain, they are a rich source of ideas a poor filmmaker like me can actually make use of. As time goes by and immortal corporations have begun to own everything for forever and a day, making freely adaptable material more and more rare. 

In the case of my Lovecraft films, I easily can cut the stuff I like out. In fact, it never has anything really to do with the basic story so it’s never missed. I am also not lining the pockets of some bigot with cash in order to make them. Despite his influence on the horror genre, he is still relatively unknown in the world at large and, face it my little films won’t change that. His stories are also simple enough at their root to cut down to 2-4 characters and a few settings. This is vitally important when you are a one man show making an animated film by yourself with no budget. 

Sexism in gothic horror in general is little harder to get around and I haven’t been able to do what I would like to change them in a way I think would work. I have exchanged some men’s parts for women but then I can’t get a woman voice actor to record the part. The doctor in Cool Air would have been a woman if I could have found someone is one example. I added a mention of a sister in Staley Fleming’s Hallucination just to have the mention of a women, even though in that mention she is the grieving fiancé. 

In conclusion, I guess I still have some way to go to combat the problems in the stories of others I am telling. like many things, some of it because of budget, resources etc is beyond my control - but I do try. 


T' said...

Glad you're cognizant of the problems of your sources. Good that you're trying to do something about them as well. I can't really do a woman's voice (well, I can KIND of do Edith Bunker...) so I can see the problem getting voice actors. You're trying and with no budget, I think you're doing pretty well.

Behemoth media said...

There is always the urge to do the stories "as is" and many fans of any author will sometimes INSIST you be 100% faithful to the text - even though when changing mediums that is impossible. If Lovecraft was alive and making money off his material i wouldn't be adapting the stories. I don't want to give money or attention racists, they seem to have enough of both. I even keep smoking out of my work, photos, drawings, films whenever I can now because i feel it promotes a habit that is killing millions a year. It IS visually interesting but as an artist I should be able to be visually interesting without it if I am creative e enough. If I was doing a film where racism, sexism or even smoking was the point of the story of telling, I'd wouldn't shy away from it but I don't think having those things in something JUST because the original text did is helpful.

T' said...

I agree on all points. To this day, I cannot tell you why Tamino has a pen in his mouth through the whole comic. NO idea. It's just there. But it's amazing how no one ever though it was anything but a cigarette even though there's never smoke or sign of it being lit. It's a ballpoint pen. The only thing I can think of was that during 5th and 6th grade, I was nearly infamous for having a pen in my mouth all the time. Weird. Anyway, you're adapting; that means you're taking one art form and bringing it into another. Do you still have the main meaning of the story, the same theme, make the same point? Then it doesn't really matter in one way. Since animation was barely a thing when Lovecraft was writing I doubt he'd have anything to say about it. And he's dead and was an asshole. So good for you. :"D

Behemoth media said...

Lovecraft would say nothing to me, being a mongrel mix of the filthy Irish and I Italians!
Funny i always thought it was pen in Tamino's mouth because artist always seem to put pen/pencils/paintbrushes in their mouths.