The Washington Post published an article written by co-host of The Global History Podcast, Jeffery C. J. Chen, that claims John Williams and his Star Wars score “reproduces harmful prejudices in pop culture.”
Not only does Chen take issue with Williams’ score, but he goes after the entire film franchise claiming in his article that “Star Wars is shot with “Orientalizing” stereotypes — patronizing tropes that represent an imagined East, or the Orient, as inferior to the rational, heroic West.”
For evidence of this claim he points to the “conformity of the evil Empire vs. the scrappy (American) individualism.” He also points to “the vague Eastern mysticism of the Force and its Shaolin-cum-Samurai practitioners, and the uncomfortable racial stereotypes embodied in the hookah-smoking Jabba and the miserly Watto.”
After attacking the franchise as a whole, Chen then specifically singles out John Williams’ musical score. He details that the music for the heroes is done in the style of European Romanticism while those of the villains are inspired by non-western music.
“Williams’s music associates the “good guys” with the grand orchestral style of the European Romantics (think of the beautifully hummable melodies for Luke, Leia and Rey), while the themes for the “bad guys” are expressed in the vocabulary of Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern music.”
He claims this “reproduces harmful prejudices in pop culture.”
“This may seem incidental or unimportant. But this music reinforces, even at an unconscious level, the primacy of Western culture against an imagined “other” that reproduces harmful prejudices in pop culture that, given the power of mass media, has larger political consequences.”
Chen then declares that “Star Wars builds on a long history of using Eastern music to depict evil on -creen or to convey to moviegoers that they are entering an alien world.”
He then takes issue with Williams’ iconic Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace.
Chen attacks the song insinuating its racist.
“Its orchestration and melody are emblematic of how Williams uses Oriental sound to represent villainy in all of the Star Wars films
The use of Sanskrit lends the piece an appropriately “alien” feel and conjures atmospheric menace as best demonstrated in this clip. (Editor’s note: He’s referring to Maul arriving on Tatooine and subsequently fighting Qui-Gon Jinn.) In these brief minutes, we see evil depicted by Sanskrit chanting (0:17) and solo percussion (0:52). Heroism, on the other hand, is scored to a rousing statement from the orchestra (1:30) and to a quotation from the brass fanfare of Luke’s title theme (1:48).”
He also takes issue with the Tibetan/Tuvan throat singing that is part of Emperor Palpatine’s theme.
After attacking Williams for the majority of his piece for his choices in music, Chen would eventually reveal his true intent, ensuring that only people of certain identities can perform music of that specific identity.
“We should also think about who gets to score films in the first place and how those choices contribute to the longevity of this type of music in contemporary filmmaking.”
In fact, he wants to ensure that composers like John Williams are not allowed to work in Hollywood again.
He declares that Williams’ music “reflects long-standing prejudices in American society — ones we should seek to excise by promoting songwriters, storytellers and artists who break out of the Hollywood mold.”
YouTuber Itchybacca would respond to Chen’s attack.
“Basically what this is, is the SJW will take anything you write, anything you say, anything you create, and transform its meaning into something the SJW would like to respond to. And they respond to it in a way that is intended to paint themselves as some social justice folk hero fighting a variety of social injustices. This article is essentially more of that.”
And he’s right on point with that criticism. Chen doesn’t even point out that Williams’ score introduced millions of people to this type of music that they now regularly enjoy.
It’s even possible upon discovering the origins of the music, they decided to delve in and discover more of that type of music.
What do you think of this attack against John Williams and his musical scores for Star Wars?