Wild Kingdom

Believe it or not, Rob Schneider's 'The Animal' makes a statement about racism in America.

Ron Schneider's work has always reflected his deep political convictions. While at NBC's progressive comedy show Saturday Night Live, he tackled issues of workplace justice with his subtle and nuanced Copy Machine Guy. Later, he kicked off his film career by dealing with the sexist nature of our capitalist society in his moving Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo. Now, at last, Schneider has turned his considerable talents toward the issue of race with his latest, The Animal.

While seemingly just another politically correct post-SNL movie like the affecting Blues Brothers 2000, or that paean to socialized medicine, The Coneheads, Schneider's film is much more subtle and moving than even such important work as It's Pat! The Movie. With The Animal, Schneider finally finds a voice for the complexities of the race issue that he has no doubt personally experienced as America's leading Filipino film star.

Schneider plays Marvin Mange, a man who dreams of being a police officer. Of course, the racist society in which he lives has continually thwarted his dream, and he spends his nights drinking alcoholic beverages with his friends Miles and Fatty.

Fatty, surprisingly, is somewhat overweight, and is more a commentary on "lookism" than a fully-developed character. It is Miles, however, who gives strongest voice to the issues of this film.

While the three sit enjoying such unusual ethnic delicacies as Buffalo chicken wings and pretzels (a German pastry composed of twisted, salted bread), a waitress comes to pour more beer. When she pours Miles's drink first, he rightly notes that it is because he is black. Clearly, he decrees, she is trying to make up for 400 years of oppression.

Miles continues to note the unfair advantages directed at him as insufficient compensation for the oppression he has suffered. While working as an airport security guard, he is given career advancement at an inordinate pace. No one objects to his smoking in "No Smoking" areas. Even a crazed mob refuses to attack him, for fear of being labeled racist.

In contrast to the minor perks that Miles receives, Marvin is treated badly, since our society, while now hyper-sensitized to issues of anti-black racism, lacks a strong consciousness of the history of oppression of Pacific Island peoples. Marvin is passed over for promotion at the police station, women ignore him and even young children feel free to attack him in much the same manner that the U.S. attacked a variety of Pacific nations during World War II.

However, after a car accident leaves him near death, a renegade scientist inserts a variety of animal organs into Marvin's mangled body, giving him super strength, enhanced senses and a deep desire to have intercourse with goats.

His new powers allow Marvin to gain the police position that he had long wanted, and also to attract the attention of Rianna, an environmentalist whose intense, Caucasian beauty had long been denied to the likes of Marvin. But at what price does Marvin enter into the mainstream of white society?

He must, of course, become "animalized." That is, he must act as members of non-majority races are often portrayed in racist literature. He must become subhuman, animal, pure instinct lacking refinement. Only in conforming to these racist stereotypes is Marvin capable of enjoying the benefits of majority society, and then only as a token, an example that white society uses to make the claim that it celebrates people of other races. Of course, the fawning attention paid to Marvin is merely the exception that proves the rule, as a variety of Asian and Pacific Island characters in small background roles point out. A brief word from a Japanese-American newscaster, a glimpse of an Asian-American working as a security guard, the shouts of a Filipino homeowner (played with a keen sense of anger by Schneider's own mother, Pilar Schneider) show the marginalization of the non-white community in our contemporary "race blind" society.

Ultimately, of course, that society is incapable of tolerating Marvin's increasing fame, and the film's final sequence features an angry, all-white mob hunting Marvin through the forest. Here, the symbolism nearly gets out of control as motifs of white/hunter/oppressor/community come together to oppose the motifs of non-white/hunted/oppressed/ ostracized. Still, in spite of this nearly Brechtian reduction of characters to ideas, the film becomes strangely moving at this point, due mostly to Schneider's emotive and engaging performance. The last moments of the film, which I refuse to spoil for you, feature a truly affecting speech on race and a weary acceptance of the necessity of change. Also, a shot of a goat's udders and some little babies with really hairy butts. Truly, truly, moving.

The Animal is not showing in any theaters in the area.

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