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The ending of Super Mario Odyssey turned me, a feminist, into a meninist

The latest instalment of the Mario franchise is destined to cause Gamergate 2. 

When I first started playing Nintendo’s latest platformer Super Mario Odyssey, I was amazed by the flawless graphics, enchanting soundtrack, and innovative gameplay. By the time I finished, I realised that all women are whores.

Every woman is a succubus, content only to feed off the hard work of kind men like a-me (Mario), always ready, willing and able to cuck you with a Toad. Are all women essentially evil? I couldn’t say, but I know one who is.

Look, I’m a nice guy. I don’t think Princess Peach owes me her body. For decades, I’ve been rescuing her for little-to-no reward. In 1985, she gave me a kiss on the cheek. Eleven years later in 1996, she kissed me again and baked me a cake. It’s no secret that Princess Peach doesn’t put out – the closest we’ve ever got to banging is when I slipped on a banana peel in Mario Kart Wii.

But Princess Peach does owe me something. I have been a nice, good man for years – for what? Nothing? After fighting a literal lava-headed octopus and flying to the moon in Odyssey, I was finally able to save Peach from Bowser, who had kidnapped her and attempted to force her into a marriage. Without me, she could've ended up married to Bowser! A classic alpha bro who doesn’t care about women’s feelings!

Imagine my shock when, after rescuing her and presenting her with a lone, beautiful white flower (at the same time Bowser tried to gift her some Piranha Plants), Peach walked away. She walked away right towards my spaceship – and then she stole it. I understand that viewing two men fighting over her gave her some kind of feminist epiphany, but that bitch flew away and left me for dead on the moon.

I am all for women having agency. I am all for women’s rights. But isn’t it convenient that Peach decided she was an independent woman who doesn’t need a man AFTER I flew to the moon? AFTER I defeated a really angry octopus? AFTER I flew to tens of kingdoms to collect magical moons? Real nice, Peach. Real feminist.

Is it because I’m short?

And another thing: if you didn’t want me to save you, Peach, why did you scream “Mariooooooooo!” all across the kingdoms? Kids were trying to sleep.

I’m used to being friend-zoned, and I’m used to losing out on profitable plumbing jobs because I’m busy enriching women’s lives. But this was a straight up enemy-zoning. Next time Peach is in another castle, guess who won’t be coming to look?

Social justice warriors like Peach ignore statistics and facts. Scientists have proven that in 100 per cent of circumstances, it is Princess Peach who gets helplessly kidnapped – and since records began, Italian plumbers have needed her help just 1 time (and it was a DS spin-off). You simply can’t argue with science. At this point, you might think I am satirising the boys on gaming forums who are spittingly, irrationally angry at Odyssey's ending. I am not. I have become them. 

And OK, maybe it is partially my fault. Maybe I shouldn’t have done a 3-second dance every time I found a magic moon, wasting Peach's valuable time. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought this sunhat and flower lei and stopped to take a selfie with a rainbow. And I respect that instead of running to save Peach after she gets captured every week, I should have implemented some preventive security measures around her castle.

But can you blame me? I’m a red-blooded, red-hatted male. I like the chase.  

I’ve known for a very long time that Peach doesn’t love men; she only loves what they can do for her. But over the years, I’ve come to forgive her for being adorably helpless – at least she knew her place. I was content to rescue her for a kiss on the cheek, or at least a squeak of “thanks”. But not anymore. Princess Peach: I will never rescue you again.

All this time I thought “it's-a-me”. But now I’ve realised. It’s-a-you.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Smart and politically alert, Black Panther will inspire a generation of film students

Plus, Wakanda has a border control system to make Theresa May swoon. 

Before I went to see Black Panther, I had no idea whether or not it would be any good. That might sound strange, given the positive buzz around it, but I did have a nagging suspicion that “being nice about the first black-led Marvel film” might have got mixed up with “parading my anti-racist credentials on social media”.

Well, that suspicion was an unworthy one. Black Panther is not just smart and politically aware for a superhero film – it’s smart and politically aware, full stop. Its central conflict springs from its alternate-reality vision of Africa: specifically, a country called Wakanda, home of the world’s only reserves of “vibranium”. This has allowed Wakanda to become more technologically advanced than the West – “it’s as easy as riding a hoverbike”, the country’s chief scientist says to a bemused American at one point – and it has not only never been colonised, but never been mapped. It hides its lush plains and skyscrapers inside a holographic mountain.

A rare, mystical natural resource might be a staple of fantasy films (think of Avatar’s Ronsealishly named unobtainium), but putting it in the middle of Africa gives the film both a historical resonance – untold misery was caused by the 19th century efforts of European powers to secure the continent’s mineral wealth – and a contemporary one. It’s impossible to make a smartphone without rare earth metals, and some of the places where these are found, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, suffer from what economists call a “resource curse”. Without strong governments and infrastructure, the vast wealth obtainable by mining creates opportunities for corruption, and funds militias and civil wars.

Rare resources also attract vultures: which is exactly what Wakanda’s rulers fear. If they share the source of their power,  and give away their only advantage over the West, how will they be treated? A glance at their continental neighbours would be anything but reassuring.

That question – could you honestly advise Wakanda to share its vibranium with the world? – is interesting enough. But the film’s politics go even deeper, into uncomfortable questions about culture and immigration. All Wakandans have a tattoo on their inner lips, which grants them access to the kingdom: it’s a border control system that would make Theresa May swoon.

Early in the film, King T’Challa (whose alter ego is the superhero Black Panther) discusses with one of his closest advisers whether or not they have a duty to their fellow Africans, particularly refugees. W’Kabi (played by 28-year-old British actor Daniel Kaluuya) offers an argument we are more used to hearing from Trump voters in those worthy American newspaper profiles of flyover states: won’t mass migration mean the end of our unique culture? Putting that sentiment in the mouth of someone from an uncolonised African country is deeply provocative, helping audiences scale what the anthropologist Arlie Russell Hoschchild calls an “empathy wall”. The film ultimately rejects W’Kabi’s position, but it does give it space to be heard.

There’s another layer of sophistication to the political allegory here. The film’s true villain is not the white South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (although the parents who gave him that name really only have themselves to blame that he turned to crime and prosthetic augmentation). It’s the deeply conflicted figure of Killmonger, King T’Challa’s first cousin.

 Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) fights T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Photo: Marvel.

The king’s father killed his own brother back in 1992 after discovering that he had arranged the theft of a cache of vibranium. The plan was to distribute it to black people around the world, so they could rise up against their (white) oppressors. “I think the best villains are ones that have a point of view that’s relatable and that you can empathise with,” screenwriter Joe Robert Cole said in a recent interview. “Sometimes it’s how far you take things that makes you a villain, and not necessarily the perspective.”

Again, the film gives Killmonger’s argument space to breathe. Raised by a single mother in America, when his dead father asks him in a vision why he has no tears for him, he says that life is cheap here, meaning: black life. The Wakandans are not pacifists – Black Panther can, and will, kill people with his claws – but Killmonger experiences violence as chaotic, meaningless and random. He has been brutalised by the reality of life as a black man in America, and later as a soldier in America’s foreign wars. How radical is that: a $200m Hollywood film where the villain is a personification of America’s domestic and foreign policy?

There is so much more richness in the movie that (I hope) it will inspire a generation of film students. How should we react to a king and his subjects making monkey noises at someone in an ethnic minority, trying to intimidate him into silence? (In this case Martin Freeman’s white CIA agent.) How do black Africans feel about the film’s essentially American perspective, implying a commonality between black citizens in countries with such huge disparities in average income? How do the kind of internet writers who worry about “cultural appropriation” feel about a cast which includes black British, West Indian, Zimbabwean-American and German actors doing Xhosa accents? (“The implicit statement in both the film’s themes and its casting is that there is a connection, however vexed, tenuous, and complicated, among the continent’s scattered descendants,” noted Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker.)

As a white British viewer, the most uncomfortable moment for me was when Killmonger promises that the “sun will never set” on the new Wakandan empire. It reminded me of the developed world’s anxious hope for the future: that the rising nations of the world will treat us better in their pomp than we treated them in ours.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and the News Quiz, and BBC1’s Sunday Politics. 

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia