Editor’s note: some mild spoilers for “Kong: Skull Island”
The “King Kong” franchise has been around for a while. The first “King Kong” film came out in 1933 and is often read as a commentary on race with Kong representing the displaced African, enslaved and exploited. One of the main struggles for Kong is his aggressive desire to claim the white feminine figure. Every remake has followed this format. Even the 2005 version, by using the original narrative, fell into the same trap.
I remember watching the first trailer for “Kong: Skull Island” and feeling little concerned. Brie Larson’s character didn’t say a single word in the trailer, which I found a little odd.
Would “Kong: Skull Island” just be another redo of Kong’s past with white femininity playing a key role, but the female figure having very little say in her own fate?
The way race plays into the “Kong” franchise has been broken down before: Kong represents the African man, taken from his homeland, put in chains, and, due to the violence of his displacement, he exhibits an uncontrollable aggression. The female lead, depicted as a frail white woman, has no defense against Kong and therefore Kong needs to be stopped before he can claim her. The black man/white women dynamic is something that plays out in society from movies to celebrity feuds to everyday life.
Remember “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” The tale of an impossibly successful black doctor, John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), and a young white woman, Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton). The creators of the film made Poitier’s character so perfect because they wanted the only objection Joey’s father could have is race, prompting him to reevaluate himself as a liberal.
But, upon looking a little deeper, it becomes evident that the white woman’s future is really what’s at stake. John allows Joey’s father to make the ultimate decision, no matter how Joey, her mother or even his own parents might feel. It suggests that when a white man is comfortable with it, he alone has the agency to give control over white femininity to a black man. “King Kong” takes the opposite stance and Kong is killed instead of being allowed to lay claim to the white woman.
“Kong: Skull Island” doesn’t place white femininity as something to be controlled. Instead of Brie Larson’s character being the struggle point, there is an emphasis on what defines an enemy. Set in 1973, “Kong: Skull Island” takes place during the Vietnam War. A good chunk of the characters are soldiers. The main question of the film is, “Are these ‘others’ really our enemy or did we create a situation that made them so?”
On its surface, it plays like a typical high-octane action movie with thrill, spills, and kills, but there is something beneath its entertainment value. A movie has to bring its story to the audience and when the first “King Kong” came out, African-Americans and women were in a very different place. However, with subsequent remakes, the message didn’t move with the times. “Kong: Skull Island” seems to speak to how, in these uncertain times, there has been an uptick in paranoia regarding the other.
And the icing on top of this multi-faceted sundae that is Kong is the fact that the female lead, amidst all the death and suspense, did not succumb to a misplaced kiss with the male lead, even if he is as beautiful as Tom Hiddleston. Because while I am a sucker for a schmaltzy romance, the idea that people would kiss after so much carnage is a little disturbing.
Like when Lois and Superman had a passionate kiss after he violently killed Zod because Zod had killed a bunch of people… Yeah, awkward… and grossly inappropriate.
Big scale films offer a way to reach a broad audience. “Mad Max: Fury Road” also proved this fact. A big budget film can tout more updated values and be successful. It can be entertaining and woke. Fingers crossed everyone else takes away the same feels I did when it comes to “Kong: Skull Island”.