From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Blog For A Beer: Not Down With A Brown Harry Potter (Or Prince of Persia)?

Welcome to Fantasy Friday everyone.  It’s time to Blog for a Beer!  (Click here for the rules.)  But, before we get to the scintillating topic, just want to remind you of the Survey we’re conducting of Fantasy readers.  Just trying to collect some information that will help us make the magazine even more awesome.  If you’d take a moment, we’d appreciate it.

Now, on to the fun!  This week’s blog prompt comes from Randy Henderson, who obviously enjoys his puns far, far too much.

Warner Brothers is suing a Bollywood film company because the title of their film is ‘Hari Puttar: A Comedy of Terrors’ and Warner Bros. thinks that name is too much like Harry Potter.


Yet the film has nothing to do with wizards or magic. It is a Home Alone-style story. And according to the article, Hari is a common Indian name, and “puttar” means son.

Meanwhile, a quick search of the ethernet (purely as research for this article, I assure you) reveals that there are a number of porn movies that are actually based on the Harry Potter films:

Hairy Pooter and the Sorcerer’s Bone

Harry Potter in Hermione’s Chamber of Secrets

Etcetera. Or perhaps these are proposals for porn movies. Either way, I’m certain that Harry Potter-esque porn exists out there someplace.

Yet I have not heard anything about Warner Brothers going after them. Which made me wonder to what degree this is also because they object (consciously or unconsciously) to Bollywood applying ethnicity to their white character and English character name? Perhaps some racial prioritization process in their unconscious, kind of like the difference between people’s reaction to the Russian invasion of Georgia (aka Russian defense of South Ossetia ) versus the ongoing genocide in Darfur ?

Well, Warner Bros. and Rowling did, in fact, go after a Russian knock-off of Harry Potter (Tanya Grotter). So arguably not. On the other hand, a book series featuring a female heroine who wears round spectacles, flies a magic musical instrument, and attends a school for young witches is one thing. Suing over a vague resemblance to a name is another.

On a side note, there’s the fact that Rowling herself “arguably” borrowed from many sources to create her series. Two notable ones are Gaiman’s ” The Books of Magic ” comic series, and the 1986 move Troll. Yet she is not being sued for plagiarism — probably because she made a lot of people a lot of money. There is, I suppose, the argument that no idea is truly original, it is just how well and cleverly you use the idea that counts. But in fact, I suspect it has more to do with how much money you make than with quality or similarity, etcetera. After all, Rowling has graciously chosen not to sue fanfic writers, as long as they don’t try to publish their work for profit.

In fact, I’m sure it really all does just come down to money, like everything else in Hollywood. That is, everything except the excellent Star Wars: Clone Wars, of course. Obviously, they released that because it was a much needed and well-done addition to the Star Wars saga, right?

Basically, Harry Potter porn movies don’t compete for the same box office money as the real Harry Potter movies, and aren’t likely to be marketed to the same audiences in competition with actual Warner Bros. movies, so no real impact to Warner Bros.’ bottom line.

And possibly some of the producers quite enjoy them.

I would apply the same argument to the counter-evidence as well. For example, Warner Bros. is releasing “Towelhead“, which I think is awesome. But again, I suspect that has less to do with support of cultural awareness and diversity and more to do with the way books about Middle-Eastern and Asian women (particularly ones who must assimilate into western culture) are selling gangbusters, and they want to cash in on that. Of course, even then, they went with a “safe” story where the characters are all Christian (even the Lebanese father) and American rather than showing a true clash of cultures.

Meanwhile, they churn out action movies featuring stereotyped Muslim terrorists, for example (in the tradition of Executive Decision), without balancing the movie with fair depictions of the average Muslims who aren’t extremists.

In response to Muslim protests to an Executive Decision screening, Warner Bros. reportedly released a statement saying that it shared the “goal of increased understanding and sensitivity in the portrayal of Arabs, Muslims and Islam to audiences around the world.” But the movie was not changed. And they continued to release more movies that played on or exaggerated stereotypes, one of the most notable and latest genre films being 300, which incited protests over its portrayal of Persians, for example.

Speaking of Persians, have you heard that Walt Disney studios is making a movie version of the “Prince of Persia” video game? Could be cool. But it stars Jake Gyllenhaal — a Californian of Swedish and Jewish descent — in what I can only assume is a bad wig. The female lead is played by a Brit named Gemma Arterton, with supporting roles by Ben “I’ll star in any bad video game movie” Kingsley, and Alfred Molina (a Brit Spanish-Italian). Seriously, you are telling me they couldn’t find anyone of Persian descent to star in the Prince of Persia? Okay, yes, technically the area of Israel fell under the umbrella of the Persian Empire. But really, you couldn’t find any Iranian, Iraqi, or Syrian actors? I guess the video game does sorta depict him as a slightly tanned white dude with blue eyes, but come on …

On a related note, however, I wonder where you draw the line at bowing to the sensitivity of others. Obviously, you are not going to make everyone happy all the time. And equally as obvious, something you do may (unintentionally or not) offend an entire culture, and rightly should be addressed. But is there a gray area between? Take Towelhead, for example. The term itself is offensive to Arabs and Muslims, and many Arab and Muslim groups are expressing their unhappiness that the movie retained the book’s title. Yet the movie is not a movie promoting racist views, it is attempting to do the exact opposite.

So the title is arguably meant to A.) draw in some who don’t understand the irony of the title and might benefit from a bit of enlightenment, and B.) intended as a one-word commentary on racism. So is it offensive in context? Or does that not matter? What if there was a movie that is positively addressing the issue of racism against African Americans, and the title was N!@@3R (you know the word). Does the question become academic, regardless of the intent behind the use of the word because, bottom line, if the affected group feels it is offensive then it is offensive? And what constitutes valid offense? If a particular organization protests? If several organizations protest? I’m sure, as with most things, such questions must be answered on a case by case basis, with variables like who wrote and who directed the film, the actual content of the film, the overall intent and clarity of the message, the efforts made to solicit and respect feedback, etcetera.

Anyway, it’s just a shame movie studios can’t do a better job of pursuing profit AND racial and cultural diversity, fairness and sensitivity in their films (and perhaps come off a bit less hypocritical in the process).

I’m just hoping they don’t come after me for my forthcoming, “Brahman Begins: The Dharma Knight.”

Share your thoughts on the Warner Bros. lawsuit, or on Bollywood, or the degree to which movie studios should attempt to be culturally sensitive (either beyond or because of a concern for their bottom line), or the hypocrisy (or lack thereof) of Rowling’s plagiarism charges, or the awesome casting of Prince of Persia. Or get creative and offer some clever pornification of Warner Bros. movie titles.

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