House3
CLOSE
MENUCLOSE

‘Isle Of Dogs’ And The Problem Of The “White Savior”

Culture
Photo via Fox Searchlight

Is the film racializing morality?

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is a politically charged story mirroring the unrest and blind xenophobia in our society. In the film, the citizens of Megasaki City go along with Mayor Kobayashi’s anti-dog proclamations and initiatives, allowing their canine best friends, now infected by Snout Fever, to be systematically banished to Trash Island.

It’s a premise that reflects on the sort of complicity needed to perpetuate autocratic regimes. However, in this case, it's also a narrative that utilizes a white savior trope, a concept premised on the myth that morality is racialized. Through this trope, as Dr. Brittany A. Aronson wrote in the  Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, white people are “rewarded [for] ‘saving’ those less fortunate,” or take it upon themselves to save a community in which they are an outsider. It can be seen in the decision of the film's writers to focus on the influence of one particular character: a foreign exchange student from Cincinnati, Ohio, named Tracy Walker. Blonde-haired and hazel-eyed, she is the leader of Megasaki City’s student-led “pro-dog” movement, galvanizing her peers and the staff of the school paper, The Daily Manifestovia rallies and editorials. She radicalizes the student-led pro-dog movement and is ultimately credited as one of the main reasons why dogs are allowed back into the prefecture. 

Walker’s fight is twofold, as she is not only attempting to save the dogs but also fighting against the plight of human complicity—namely the complicity of the people of the prefecture in following orders from a despot. Before she entered the narrative, most of the citizens of Megasaki City appear content with allowing the government to take their dogs, the majority staying mum in the face of this discriminatory new policy, aside from main protagonist Atari Kobayashi, Professor Watanabe (a scientist and oppositional mayoral candidate), and his lab assistant Yoko Ono. 

Granted, Walker is inspired by Atari’s bravery in his ambitious quest to rescue his beloved guard dog, Spots, but she is positioned as the rallying organizer of the political movement that ultimately leads to a town hall showdown where the anti-dog policy is reversed. This scene resonates particularly strongly now, with the wave of current youth-led activism; the movie was released the day before the Parkland student-led March For Our Lives occurred and following 2016's youth-driven protests at Standing Rock, as well as nationwide protests against police brutality. Co-writer Jason Schwartzman told USA Today that Isle of Dogs felt somewhat like a prediction of current events, namely the fact that adults were “not listening to their hearts or conscience, and no one is seeing the great corruption happening.”

"That led us to the younger people, who have to see through the BS,” Schwartzman explained. “Their minds are more agile. And they have a say." 

In the film, the older opponents of Mayor Kobayashi are either eliminated or become disillusioned, making it clear that salvation relies on the young people of Megasaki City. But still: Why does Walker, out of the hundreds of students at Megasaki City High, have to be the primary one educating, galvanizing, and leading others toward a more equitable, dog-embracing future? 

It might be that we are not supposed to take Walker's role as "white savior" seriously. Walker is presented with an undeniable glibness within the movie, so perhaps the larger implications of her narrative trajectory should be taken with a grain of salt. Additionally, Isle of Dogs co-writer Kunichi Nomura has defended Walker’s presence as an example of how “one group is persuaded when an outsider brings a different perspective to see what's happening.” However, it is interesting that within a movie so heavily preoccupied with the culture of Japan, a white foreign exchange student takes on such a huge role in actively fighting against the powers that be. Perhaps it’s a symptom of treating Megasaki City as mere background, rather than an actual city filled with people who are able to recognize what's happening to their pets. Or perhaps it’s the result of an attempt to streamline the story, but it still remains an uncomfortable gesture toward a trope that removes agency from the people already present and grappling with the issue at hand. 

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"Shame on you"

After actress Bella Thorne posted her own topless photos following a hacker threatening to release them, Whoopi Goldberg criticized her for having taken them in the first place during a segment of The View. In response, Thorne took to her Instagram stories to call out Goldberg for shaming her body and sexuality and announce that she'd be canceling her interview with The View.

Keep reading... Show less
True
FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Your IG feeds aren't ready for this

A new Infinity Room from artist Yayoi Kusama is headed to New York City later this year. According to Dazed, Kusama will return to the David Zwirner Gallery with a never-before-seen mirrored wonderland from November 9 to December 14.

Keep reading... Show less
True
Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images

RIP

Lindsay Lohan's Beach Club is canceled. According to a new report by Page Six, Lohan's MTV reality series will not produce a second season. What's more, Lohan's beach resort on the Greek island of Mykonos, which the show centered around, appears to have also shuttered.

Keep reading... Show less
True
Asset 7
MORE in VIDEO
Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images, Photo by Miami Dade County Corrections via Getty Images

"Hope you're okay up there," okay

Billie Eilish paid tribute again to XXXTentacion; this time, for the one-year anniversary of his death. In a series of three posts to her Instagram Stories, Eilish remembered the rapper without naming him directly, writing "miss you," "hope you're okay up there," and "long live you" over black, blank screens. The tribute, screen-grabbed by a fan account and first reported on by NME, has already garnered criticism online.

"Up where baby he's in hell," a popular tweet from @vondylantweets wrote. Jokes aside, Eilish's continued support of the rapper and convenient refusal to acknowledge his long history of violent abuse is extremely disappointing.

Last year on the day of his death, Eilish posted a screengrab of a conversation with XXXTentacion captioned, "the strongest human being ive ever known. all you ever did was care." Months later, she played a tribute song for XXXTentacion, and was called out for her disappointing ignorance of his horrifying history of abuse (notably by NYLON).

One day following her first performance of the song, recordings of XXXTentacion admitting to domestic abuse and stabbing nine people were released by Pitchfork. In April of this year, Eilish defended her performance yet again, insisting her right to mourn while still not acknowledging his actions.

True

You love to see it

Welcome to our third annual NYLON Pride party, which came in two parts: a panel, hosted at The Phluid Project, and a very big, very gay bash, which we threw at the Bowery Electric. It was easily the best Pride party of the year.

Keep reading... Show less
True