Warning: spoilers ahead
While servicing the Hubble Telescope, medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) must work together to survive after their shuttle is damaged by debris caused by a missile strike on a defunct satellite.
Characters and cast members:
Dr. Ryan Stone played by Sandra Bullock
Matt Kowalski played by George Clooney
Shariff Dasari voiced by Phaldut Sharma
00:03:30: Houston (USA’s NASA command center) gives Shariff the rest of the day off after he completes the engineering job on the Hubble telescope. Shariff celebrates by whooping and dancing around while floating in space. Houston asks Matt Kowalski, “Matt, do you have a visual on just what Mission Specialist Shariff is doing up there?” Matt responds with, “he appears to be doing some form of the Macarena, but that would be just a best-guess scenario on my part.”
Theme: White man hangs around doing nothing while supervising Asian man and white woman at work. When Asian man celebrates his accomplishment, white man disses him with a joke.
00:08:00: Kowalski and Dr. Stone work on the control panel of the Hubble. Shariff continues to enjoy floating in space and dancing around, flinging himself into space while tethered to the space station. He exclaims in a stereotypical Indian accent, “Kowalski, is this great or what!?” Matt glances at Shariff before looking toward Stone and says, “And to think he went to Harvard,” showing how childish he thinks Shariff is.
Theme: Asian man is book smart but socially inferior in the eyes of white people.
00:20:30: Dr. Stone and Kowalski retrieve Shariff’s body. His face has been penetrated cleanly through by debris. A photo of him, his wife and child is tethered to his suit.
01:14:20: Dr. Stone enters the Chinese space station, the Tiangong. Conveniently, it contains a floating ping pong paddle.
Theme: Asians must LOVE ping pong!
Dehumanization is the central theme here. Shariff is the first character to die (there’s even a film trope for this – http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlackDudeDiesFirst), showing the other two characters how dire their situation is. His body is retrieved yet his face is unrecognizable from the damage. Dr. Stone looks in horror at the family photo (wife and son) tethered to him. The viewers are supposed to feel sad but Shariff never appears in the film except inside a generic astronaut suit. The viewer never sees Shariff’s face. In fact, the character of Shariff is merely voiced by actor Phaldut Sharma. Shariff is only recognized by his stereotypically thick Indian accent and the silly dance he does prior to dying unceremoniously. How is the viewer supposed to feel for this character? They aren’t.
Instead, the directors of the movie purposefully focused the movie on how charming the white man, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), is and how much Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) needs his assistance in order to survive. Kowalski even sacrifices his life in order to save Dr. Stone. The film is a drama of how a white woman survives in space with the help of a white man while the Asian man dies unceremoniously as a dancing thick accented clown.
It’s perfectly normal for the white man to be seen as a hero in a western film. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the dehumanization of the Asian man that is troubling both on screen and on screen. These “goofy and funny” stereotypes have real life consequences for Asians, where they are perceived as lacking “leadership” abilities.
Prescriptive Stereotypes and Workplace Consequences for East Asians in North America
CATEGORY OF OFFENSE: Self-Aggrandizement
MEDIA TYPE: Movie
OFFENSE DATE: January 1, 2019