Eterna and the Problem of Representation

Unfortunately, this is not a real movie.

We don’t often do fan videos, but I figured that something that managed to make both The Last Airbender and Ghost Rider movies look cool deserved some credit. I originally found this trailer here on the Mary Sue, who found it here on Vimeo from Behind The Epic.

Essentially, this six-minute long trailer for an epic movie that you’ll never get to see is comprised of clips from dozens of Sci-Fi and fantasy movies, some bad, some good, and quite a few that I’ve never seen before but now want to.

When watching it, I had a lot of fun trying to remember where I’d originally seen the parts that I recognized, but I was also struck by how much work had to go into this thing. And as I said, there are a lot of terrible movies that made it into this trailer that don’t look so terrible anymore. I almost feel disappointed that I can’t go watch the live-action The Last Airbender movie and be just as wow’d.

I’ve seen a bunch of trailer mash-ups before, but as of right now, Eterna is definitely my favorite. Unfortunately, while watching it, I did notice that the movies used are disproportionately more about male characters than they are about female characters. And to be clear, this isn’t any fault on the part of the makers of this fan trailer—that’s just unfortunately how most movies are.

It’s not hard to notice that movies are more likely to feature a male protagonist over a female one. We live in a male-centered society that likes to adhere to what men want and can relate to as opposed to what women want and can relate to, instead of a balance between the two. Another sad observation is that even when these movies feature female characters, they only exist to further their male counterpart’s story arc, such as the case with characters like Jane Foster from Thor. That’s not true for all movies. Epic featured both a female and a male protagonist, and I thought that movie was equally balanced between the two characters.

Eterna is actually made from one hundred different films, if I counted correctly, and the majority of them are about men. The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, John Carter, Battleship, Eragon — just to name a few. And while I’m quite certain that there’s probably more than just two or three movies focused on women in this—since I haven’t seen all the movies that went into it—the Resident Evil and Underworld films are the only ones that stick out to me immediately, and I don’t even think those are very good franchises. Sucker Punch is also in here somewhere. I haven’t watched that movie, but I’ve only ever seen about one positive review of it anywhere, and even that review isn’t all that positive.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s sexist or misogynistic to have a movie about a male character. However, I think the fact that the majority of movies are disproportionately about male characters is sexist. And just because a movie happens to be about women doesn’t automatically mean that it won’t have some sexist qualities to it. There are also some movies in here that have a diverse cast in terms of male and female characters, such as the Narnia movies, which is a positive, but movies like those are few and far between, and unfortunately, very few of these movies even come close to passing the Bechdel test.

Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency explains why we have more films about men over women probably better than I can. A lot of it has to do with a lack of female directors and a higher value placed on men than on women.

Avatar is another movie that could arguably be about both a man and a woman, but when you really think about it, the story is Jake’s, and Neytiri is just there to be a love interest who teaches him that trees are good and technology is bad. But Avatar brings forth another problem in terms of representation. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed that this movie is about a white man saving the Native Americans or even called that racist if people of color had more screen time and bigger roles in the media altogether. As far as I can tell, according to this trailer, the world is inexplicably white—with the occasional blue, green, or black person. I think I saw someone from India in there thanks to The Last Airbender clips, but that movie deserves no praise whatsoever in terms of representation.

The movies here that do feature PoC normally have that character shoved into the back somewhere, the subtle message being that they are seen as not as important or interesting to audiences as large.

Another group of people seemingly absent here are LGBTQ+ members. I don’t think I saw a single movie on the list that has one queer person. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community who loves science-fiction and fantasy, I feel extremely underrepresented in this regard as well. Like PoC, when we do appear, we’re normally secondary characters, who are more stereotyped than interesting, and shoved into the background.

Now Eterna leaves out a lot of movies from a lot of other genres, and there are also a lot more science-fiction films that are not in this trailer. But lack of representation is not just limited to the films shown. It’s across the medium and other mediums at large.

All that said, I still find plenty of these movies enjoyable, and a lot of them are well made. Hopefully, as we continue to call attention to these issues, future movies will improve upon them. Regardless, Eterna still looks like an awesome film, and I lament that it doesn’t actually exist.