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Is it just me, or is there a weird thing in American storytelling where outrageously sexual and violent conduct is depicted as being “traditional” for some outsider culture?

I’ve mentioned the movie Aquaman, where two different women are subject to forced marriages, while the leading man is compelled to fight a death duel. A similar ritual of combat is a central theme in Black Panther. In both movies, we are told that this behavior is a sacred tradition, that to refuse would be a huge dishonor.

The underlying impression I get is that the modern screenwriters are setting themselves up (and by extension, the Americans in the audience) as superior to the cultures in the movie. “Look at those barbarians, how they need the American hero to civilize them.”

This really struck me in Black Panther, where all the natives are black. It isn’t quite so glaring in Aquaman, where most of the Atlanteans appear to be white people. (Except for the ones who look like mutated sea creatures, of course.) I had the impression that the creative team on Black Panther were all or mostly black themselves. This led me to wonder why they couldn’t come up with a more interesting “tradition” than hand-to-hand combat. Like, I don’t know, maybe something that actually is traditional in one or more African cultures?

Maybe it’s just me seeing this in the work. But I don’t think so.


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I mentioned how movies and literature often show it as supposedly an honored tradition to force male characters into ritual combat for political reasons. The flip side of that is when female characters’ families force them into marriage under a similar rationale.

In watching Aquaman, I noticed that the main character’s Atlantean mother had been fleeing an arranged marriage when she met his father, a surface man. But then assassins showed up and she left her surface family to go marry the guy who sent assassins after her. Wha..?

Later in the same movie, Arthur meets Mera, another Atlantean princess and freedom fighter. But just as they get close, guess what? She’s been promised in marriage to his brother, Orm! (Yes, the same guy he later has the death-duel with.)

Ugh! Enough with the forced marriages. We see these so often used as a threat against women. There’s usually a rationale that, on some level, the men who are forced into ritual combat want to fight and show their manliness. But with women characters, this is always sex-as-threat. Marriage is a way to control them, take away their freedom — and allow some man to creepily gloat over them. “I know you don’t like me, but once we’re married, you’ll be forced to sleep with me!” *Insert lurid chuckle.*

Arthur and Mera have been an established couple in DC’s main continuity for a long time, although I don’t know whether the original Aquaman stories had Mera being promised to Orm first. That could have been something the screenwriters threw in to make it “spicy.”

I know it can be hard for fans to let go of a familiar story, but Aquaman’s origin was written decades ago. 21st century screenwriters are in a position to add and subtract material that suits our times. I wish that they had done so, instead of presenting yet another odious, sexually threatening “forced marriage.”


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