You, Tarzan; Me, Conflicted
By Alexa Day
I’m coming home from the RWA National Conference as I write this, and after several days of immersion in the industry I love, I’m asking myself tough questions and making big plans.
When can I finish that extensive set of edits?
Which of the many projects in my to-do list should move up to the on-deck circle?
And most importantly: should I go to see Tarzan?
I want to be okay with Tarzan. Hell, I want to love Tarzan. I’ve always wanted that.
But let’s be honest with each other. Tarzan is kind of a racially complicated story.
Tarzan has had my attention since I was a little girl parked in front of Saturday morning cartoons. That sort of adventure spoke to me for some reason. I’m not sure if I was sucked in by the settings or the characters or what, but I wanted to be part of Tarzan’s world. Young Alexa’s mind worked in weird ways even then, I guess.
This is where the trouble starts.
For a story set largely in Africa, the Tarzan of days past was kind of light on black people.
This is probably something else I can blame Hollywood for. I haven’t read Tarzan in the original Burroughs, but I understand the movies get a couple of things wrong fairly consistently. The Tarzan of the original stories spoke beautiful English, for example. My understanding is that this Tarzan lived in an Africa populated by black people, although I also understand that these are the sorts of characters I spend lots of time complaining about. A paragon of race relations Burroughs was not, or so I hear.
By the time I discovered the lord of the jungle, he lived in a pretty monochrome world. At the time, that didn’t bother me quite so much. Honestly, at the time, there wasn’t anything on TV with an appropriately diverse cast. While it annoyed me a little that Tarzan’s love interest had to be flown in, I wasn’t shocked by it.
Today’s Tarzan is definitely more diverse, at least superficially. I’m still not sure I want to see it.
Why am I still so conflicted about this?
It sounds like Jane is the sort of feminist who’s been written by men who don’t really understand what a feminist is. Sure, she’s waiting to be rescued — but look! She talks back!
I think I’m supposed to be encouraged by Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance in the film, and Jackson himself has said that he hopes to draw viewers’ attention to the real history of Belgium’s destruction of the Congo and of George Washington Williams. Williams is exactly the sort of historical figure I keep saying I want to see in the movies, a Civil War veteran whose writings chronicled black history in America and exposed the Belgian depredation of the Congo. The director suggests in this Los Angeles Times article that Williams is the real hero of the film. That position seems somewhat inconsistent with press coverage, which does little to identify Jackson’s character.
And is there really not a way to place a black female character somewhere in this story? Really?
There is, of course, the matter of Alexander Skarsgard in a most unseemly state of undress. It would be wrong to overlook that.
In fact, let’s pay attention to that right now. Check it.
And how about this?
Let’s don’t forget this important point.
Now that we’ve reviewed that, well, I’m not sure I need to give anyone good movie money to see the rest of Tarzan. I can perform some of that hot writerly magic and lift what I need out of the story — little known black history plus shirtless Alexander in an untamed world — and then do something with it that works for me. Or I could see Star Trek Beyond twice. Or maybe I could do both of those things.
I am, however, open to suggestions. Am I wrong about Tarzan? Do I need to come off that money? Is there some other way to see shirtless Alexander? How about shirtless Djimon? Why aren’t we paying more attention to shirtless Djimon?
Sound off in the comments. And follow Lady Smut. It’s cooler out here.
Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and recovering attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.