You, Tarzan; Me, Conflicted


An impressionable girl's first Tarzan. As I recall, he was quite articulate and well spoken.

An impressionable girl’s first Tarzan. As I recall, he was quite articulate and well spoken.

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.

Kaboom.

Kaboom.

And how about this?

Yes indeed.

Yes indeed.

Let’s don’t forget this important point.

Well, all right then.

Well, all right then.

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.

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16 Comments

  • annamieuk
    July 19, 2016 at 6:41 am

    At the risk of showing my age here, 😉 my first Tarzan was Ron Ely in the B/W TV series, when I was about 9 or 10 I suppose. My brother and I would sit glued to the old B&W Television set, for our weekly fix. We loved it. I guess I saw the odd Hollywood movie version over the years since then, even the oldTarzan series eventually got a make-over when colour TV arrived, but I have to say, I can’t recall any of the later Tarzan’s invoking quite the same level of affection I felt for dear old Ron, and of Cheeta. I haven’t seen Skargard’s latest re-incarnation yet, but after your post today, I’m fairly itching to see it when it arrives on my small screen. Thenks for the ‘taster’. 😉 Hmm! Now that’s another picture I’ll have to consign to my wild imagination for now, hehehe! 😀

    • Alexa Day
      July 19, 2016 at 11:15 pm

      There is a certain nostalgia attached to The First One. I’m still very attached to Roger Moore for that reason — he was my first Bond. I do love Pierce, and I guess I’m open to Daniel (because Roger is open to Daniel), but nobody did it better than Roger.

      Maybe I should come off that money for shirtless Alexander. Hmm. 🙂

      • annamieuk
        July 20, 2016 at 3:47 am

        Ahh! When it came to the Bonds, Sean was my first, but Timothy Dalton was my favourite. Very palpably Dom material. 😉

  • Kayla Lords
    July 19, 2016 at 8:41 am

    As someone who badgered her indulgent partner until we went to see it last week, I’d spend money to watch it again…and not just because Tarzan is one of the most beautifully sculpted men I’ve ever seen (although that’s enough reason).

    This Tarzan is set several years in the future from (what I gather) typical Tarzan flicks aren’t which (kind of) explains why he speaks flawless English. Jane isn’t my perfect feminist character but damn, who is? Probably the thing that amazed me – after watching countless films set in Africa with African characters played by white people – is how they used black people to play Africans. In one scene (no spoilers here, promise!) there’s a moment when many tribes of the Congo come together and there are clear differences between them. I choose to believe that’s a more realistic portrayal of African tribes than we’re used to seeing.

    So is it perfect? No. Should there have been a main female character on the African side? That would have been nice. But it didn’t strike me as the typical white-washing we’re used to seeing.

    • Alexa Day
      July 19, 2016 at 10:52 pm

      That’s the thing, though — I have to congratulate the filmmakers for putting me on the fence about Tarzan. Not so long ago, Tarzan would have been an easy no for me. That’s progress. Plus shirtless Alexander.

      I don’t mind Tarzan’s perfect English. I understand that the original Tarzan from the Burroughs novels spoke the same way. Hollywood hasn’t been kind to Tarzan over the years, either, I guess.

  • Carol McKibben
    July 19, 2016 at 11:26 am

    I loved this movie. I thought it captured Tarzan”s love of the animals and people of the Congo with whom he was raised. I saw respect
    and loyalty for them. I thought Jane a strong character who refused to be a victim. I thought it brought about a historical perspective about which I had little knowledge. And, hey. You write erotica. What’s wrong with enjoying Alexander without a shirt?

    Go see the movie, and then critique it. Might be a better way to go. It bothers me when someone reviews without having read or seen the subject matter. Then, if you don’t like it, you’ll have a basis for that opinion.

    • Alexa Day
      July 19, 2016 at 11:16 pm

      Yeah, maybe I’ll go. I might get an idea out of it after all, and then I can try to deduct that ticket. Win win win, right? 😉

    • Madeline Iva
      July 20, 2016 at 10:29 am

      I’ve heard people say that they really like it. Have to say, Alexander’s torso is the staring attraction for me too!

      • Alexa Day
        July 21, 2016 at 10:29 pm

        I’ve heard that from people, too. I don’t know. I’ll probably end up surrendering some of my hard-won dollars for it.

  • Elizabeth Shore
    July 20, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    You raise some interesting points. All good, thought-provoking points. But then you posted those pics and suddenly all thought-provoking points went flying out of my brain because all I could think about it was “those abs! those ABS!!”

    • Alexa Day
      July 21, 2016 at 10:26 pm

      Lol. I just want to be fair to Alexander. He put a lot of work into that look. Maybe I should have tried harder to get the last word.

  • carlyquinnauthor
    July 22, 2016 at 10:26 am

    This is one of the movies I’ve looked forward to all year. In fact, that picture at the top of the post is the Tarzan I grew up with. I would get up at six o’clock in the morning on a Saturday to watch him and that’s saying something, I don’t voluntarily get out of bed before noon on any given Saturday unless there’s a damn good reason.
    I had only seen the original preview of the movie before I saw it and Mr. Jackson was a huge surprise for me, as was the entire story. I LOVED it. Loved every minute of it. The story was fascinating, the scenery was beautiful and it was just action packed enough without going Transformers 7 Hi-def or whatever on me.
    As for Jane, I like Margot, looking forward to watching her as Harley Quinn later this summer, but I’ve never loved Tarzan because of Jane. 😉

    • Alexa Day
      July 22, 2016 at 9:59 pm

      I’ve just started seeing Suicide Squad ads — how cool that Harley Quinn is coming into her own! She deserves it.

      The Filmation Tarzan at the top of the post brings back a lot of fond memories, right? I was up bright and early to see him and Isis, back when cartoons were cartoons. 😉

      I probably will go to see Tarzan at some point. I think this is a move in the right direction for the story. I just can’t go to see it soon, since Star Trek Beyond is this weekend. I’m Trek til I die!

      • carlyquinnauthor
        July 22, 2016 at 11:54 pm

        I’m excited about Beyond as well! I wait all the long cold winter for summer blockbusters, woot!

  • Alexa Day
    July 26, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    Reblogged this on Alexa J. Day and commented:

    How do you solve a problem like Tarzan?

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