On July 2, 1999, a radio signal detected by SETI begins a chain of events that will alter the course of human life on Earth. An alien fleet arrives and begins hovering over many of Earth’s major cities. Although most of the world is ready to welcome the unknown travelers with open arms, a television systems expert discovers a hidden plot to destroy the world. Rushing to Washington, D.C. to warn the President, David Levinson manages to get the President and his staff out just before the strike.
July 3, 1999. The forces of the Earth attack the alien ships hovering over the cities. The battle, although fierce, was a debacle for the humans; the alien ships were equipped with force shields that simply deflected any enemy fire. Captain Steven Hiller of the Black Knight Squadron would record the only live kill during this battle at the cost of his own plane. He would also capture the alien pilot of the ship and transport it to Area 51. President Whitmore, from his makeshift HQ within Area 51, orders a tactical nuclear strike on the ship over Dallas, with no success.
Captain Hiller would soon take a helicopter from Area 51 to El Toro Naval Air Station, where he would meet his fiancée, Jasmine, and several survivors of the alien attack on Los Angeles. Among them would be Mrs. Whitmore, the President’s Wife. Although they would return to Area 51, Mrs. Whitmore’s injuries would prove to be fatal.
July 4, 1999. David Levinson discovers a weakness in the method that the aliens use in coordinating a worldwide synchronous attack and develops a computer virus that would make their systems lower their shields. Communicating by Morse Code, the Americans begin to coordinate a world-wide attack plan. Captain Hiller and David Levinson use the craft captured 30 years ago to fly back up the mothership and plant a virus into the systems. President Whitmore personally leads the Area 51 attack. Unlike the first air battle, this battle ends up victorious for the Earth – all of the attacking city ships are destroyed, and a nuclear device carried by Hiller’s spacecraft destroys the alien mothership.
When this movie first came out, I actually liked this movie. I thought that for once, a person of color saving the world would be cool. Plus, watching stuff blow up on the scale that ID4 provided was fun to see.
But, as time goes on, there was something that seemed to bother me about watching this movie. It would not be until I would gain the jaundiced perspective watching many seasons of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and its progeny Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax that the answers would come as to why this movie hates me:
Independence Day is one of the most caricature-ridden and misogyny-laced action movies of the decade.
Female Character Analysis:
Women featured in this film had very little to do with the actual main plot – and that is Humans vs. Aliens. In this particular film, there were three main women, all of them tied to the male stars, all of them never involved in the fight, and all of them having marital and love issues that lead to all of them being sidelined.
Marilyn Whitmore is a poor Hollywood representation of (then First Lady) Hillary Clinton. The significance? Much like Hillary Clinton represented the most “liberated” and involved First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, Marilyn Whitmore was involved in politics and political matters much like her husband. Note the first scene in which she is introduced: She is out on some political trip in Los Angeles, making power moves – while her husband is in the White House with their child (who is a little girl, Chelsea Clinton, anyone?).
When the aliens appear, she decides that instead listening to her husband’s impassioned plea for her to leave, she would stay in L.A. for some interview before leaving. This, of course, would be the move that prove to be wrong for all parties involved; the alien attack takes place as her helicopter takes off, killing the pilot and crew, and leaving Marilyn severely injured.
Mrs. Whitmore is further humiliated in a scene where Jasmine, one of the few survivors of the L.A. attack, finds her – and gets her to El Toro. Mrs. Whitmore’s sensibilities about nuclear families and job types are put through the wringer when she finds out that Jasmine is engaged to marry a man that did not have her child – one born out of wedlock on top of that – and that she is a woman who works as a stripper for money…otherwise called an Exotic Dancer.
Normally, this should be enough. But not for her. When Steven Hiller flies to El Toro and finds Jasmine, they transport Mrs. Whitmore to Area 51 and the doctors are unable to save her life. This is all so that there can be a ‘poignant’ death scene before starting the 3rd Act of the movie.
Connie is President Whitmore’s Press Secretary, whose cues were taken from The West Wing’s Alison Janney. Like Marilyn Whitmore, Constance is a liberated, ambitious woman who is introduced in the middle of performing her job. Several years ago, she and David were married, but apparently, she divorced him because he did not want to pursue what she thought was his higher calling – instead, he wanted to be a “simple TV Engineer.” Although she was in the middle of all of the action before the alien attack, something happens after the aliens destroy the first wave of major cities:
As in, Connie Spano-Levinson is left with nothing of substance to contribute at that point, except to be “redrawn” back to her ex-husband, with a scene where Steve Hiller and Jasmine get married…and she finds that her ex is still wearing their wedding band.
Even sadder, after they get off of the plane at Area 51 – they give her some of Jasmine’s clothes!
And the War Machine Proton Cannon begins blasting in earnest with this entry.
Women of Color get a very bad shrift in these kinds of movies, and Independence Day is no exception. First of all, while the other two women with any kind of expanded part are given actual duties (Levinson as Press Secretary; Whitmore as, essentially, co-President), the geniuses behind this movie decide that the only job suitable for a black woman is:
Let this occupational choice sink in for a second.
Second, they make Jasmine a single mother. And, of course, her diction is that of a stereotypical Sassy Black Woman in a Movie, who spends more time yelling at Hiller for returning to his military base when he was called to do so than actually doing anything of use.
Third, Jasmine’s character is only introduced as a backdrop for Wil Smith’s Steven Hiller. But why any of her specific back-story was necessary is still beyond the realm of this reviewer.
First, she could have been a business woman. This removes about 1/3 of the stupidly created conversation between Jasmine and Marilyn Whitmore. It was funny the first time around (everyone laughed at it in the theatre when it first came out, including me), but now, in retrospect, it adds nothing to the movie at all. Plus, it also removes the comments by Jimmy (Harry Connick’s character) about “marrying a stripper.” It also has the added bonus of knocking out the scene of Jasmine pole-dancing and the subsequent scene of her warning her friend not to join the revelers at the top of the Library Tower – which I may point out could have still been done at a more “respectable and traditional business-like” establishment. Second, she could have been married to Steven Hiller. This removes the moronic Area 51 wedding scene – which was done not to seal of bond of love between Steve and Jasmine, but to show Connie and David looking to restart their marriage. It would also remove another chunk of the conversation between Jasmine and the injured First Lady.
But, perhaps the worst part, is that Steven Hiller is closer to Jasmine’s kid than Jasmine was throughout the film. And, she doesn’t even get to be in the last shot with her son and husband:
…she gets shuffled off to the President and his daughter! Huh?
Cultural Character Analysis:
This movie has another small issue that perhaps no one was supposed to see – or at least pay very close attention to:
In the run-up to the first attack, the counter-attacking pilots represented an Affirmative Action-like cross-section: African-Americans and Asian-Americans were found among the pilots and soldiers shown (and featured).
All of the pilots died in the attack, with the exception of Captain Hiller.
When the second aerial attack takes place, all of the pilots shown in the sky (and in the subsequent celebration) were all white males. And…no women.
I can understand the first attack, with the use of the current military forces – which do not include many female combat pilots (although there are plenty), but there is no excuse for the second attack.
Then there are the kids that belong to Russell Case. All three are obviously supposed to be Hispanic, but their mother is nowhere to be found. Now, supposedly, he is supposed to be their caretaker, but it is not really clear if Russell Case is their natural father. The whole thing is rendered moot because it is clear that Miguel, the oldest, is the one who takes care of the two younger siblings. This is important because when the pilots are recruited, Russell Case is first in line to volunteer, even as a drunken fool. Remember, however, that the youngest boy is sick to the point where he should actually be in a hospital. His role ends up being a throwaway because the producers wanted to make a point with the young girl (Russell’s third kid) being a virgin in midst of an alien attack. This was supposed to be a heart-warming moment to placate the Religious Zealots, but no one looking after their sick younger brother ruins the scene.
Finally, in what was supposed to be a moment of catharsis for Russell Case, he performs a suicide attack on the alien city destroyer ship; in sacrificing his life in the explosion, he destroys the aliens. But now the kids do not have a father figure.
Well, Miguel, you’ve been drafted for the permanent, full-time position as Dad of your siblings.