LOS ANGELES (AP) — Harmless comic characters or racist robots?
The buzz over the summer blockbuster "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" only grew Wednesday as some said two jive-talking Chevy characters were racial caricatures.
Skids and Mudflap, twin robots disguised as compact hatchbacks, constantly brawl and bicker in rap-inspired street slang. They're forced to acknowledge that they can't read. One has a gold tooth.
As good guys, they fight alongside the Autobots and are intended to provide comic relief. But their traits raise the specter of stereotypes most notably seen when Jar Jar Binks, the clumsy, broken-English speaking alien from "Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace," was criticized as a caricature.
One fan called the Transformers twins "Jar Jar Bots" in a blog post online.
Todd Herrold, who watched the movie in New York City, called the characters "outrageous."
"It's one thing when robot cars are racial stereotypes," he said, "but the movie also had a bucktoothed black guy who is briefly in one scene who's also a stereotype."
"They're like the fools," said 18-year-old Nicholas Govede, also of New York City. "The comic relief in a degrading way."
Not all fans were offended. Twin brothers Jason and William Garcia, 18, who saw the movie in Miami, said they related to the characters—not their illiteracy, but their bickering.
"They were hilarious," Jason said. "Every movie has their standout character, and I think they were the ones for this movie."
That was the aim, director Michael Bay said in an interview.
"It's done in fun," he said. "I don't know if it's stereotypes—they are robots, by the way. These are the voice actors. This is kind of the direction they were taking the characters and we went with it."
Bay said the twins' parts "were kind of written but not really written, so the voice actors is when we started to really kind of come up with their characters."
Actor Reno Wilson, who is black, voices Mudflap. Tom Kenny, the white actor behind SpongeBob SquarePants, voices Skids.
Wilson said Wednesday that he never imagined viewers might consider the twins to be racial caricatures. When he took the role, he was told that the alien robots learned about human culture through the Web and that the twins were "wannabe gangster types."
"It's an alien who uploaded information from the Internet and put together the conglomeration and formed this cadence, way of speaking and body language that was accumulated over X amount of years of information and that's what came out," the 40-year-old actor said. "If he had uploaded country music, he would have come out like that."