Is 'Dune' a White Savior Movie?

'Dune'Credit: Warner Bros.
Can you fall into this trope if you're not even from earth? 

The release of the movie Dune has been shrouded in controversy, from the decision to be in theaters and simultaneously streaming, to the decision to only film half first, with the potential to never see the conclusion. To get a complete and better understanding of the film itself, check out our Dune analysis and summary

Now, as the film begins screening for critics and some select audiences before its release, one of the knocks on the original Dune novel has crept its way into the conversation. Is this elaborate story just one huge white savior trope

For the uninitiated, A "white savior" movie is a movie where the story is about a white character stepping in to save a person or people of color from their struggles. While a lot of these stories are period pieces used to talk about racism, some of them are contemporary stories meant to be about deeper understanding, but actually, enforce whiteness as a sort of "messiah" to a class considered to be an "other." 

When Denis Villeneuve was asked about the fact that this is a movie (and a book) about a white civilization landing on another planet with people of color, and telling them how to live, he answered the idea very diplomatically. 

'Dune'Credit: Warner Bros.
Villeneuve told journalists at a recent roundtable, "It's a very important question, and it's why I thought that Dune is when, the way I'm reading it, relevant. It's a critique of that. It's not a celebration of a savior. It's a criticism of the idea of a savior, of someone that will come and tell another population how to be, what to believe. It's not a condemnation, but a criticism. So that's the way I feel it's relevant, and that can be seen as contemporary. And that's what I would say about that. Frankly, it's the opposite."

Without having read Dune, I'm not sure how valid the worries are, but we can confirm the plot is about one planet showing up to collaborate with another. It'll be interesting to see how the film handles these worries and if they arise more directly in any sequels that may occur. For now, it seems like Villeneuve is handling the narrative. 

Dune arrives in theaters everywhere on Oct. 22. 

Let us know what you think in the comments.     

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28 Comments

Here we go again with the woke non-sense...we're going to kill art if we keep going in this overzealous direction that is more akin to authoritarian regimes than it is to open and free societies where an artist makes his/her art freely without impositions from external pressures.

September 10, 2021 at 5:34PM

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Joshua
209

September 12, 2021 at 8:23AM

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Sketkh Williams
StoryArtist
279

No art has ever been made that is entirely divorced from the politics around it.

That aside, I mean, don't you think you're overreacting just a tiny bit? Unlike you lot, complaining about "woke assholes" and whatnot, nobody in the article has said any negative thing about any specific person, called Dune a bad movie, bad book, or called for it not to be watched or endorsed - simply openly asking the question of whether this cultural trope applies here (or whether it's being played with or deliberately subverted or whatnot) is about the tamest possible take the article could have. Making the leap from that to "authoritarian regime" is a bit ridiculous, don't you think? (If you want to see your government as an actual authoritarian regime in action... well, Googling the names and fates of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Aaron Swartz is certainly a start.)

A cultural trope doesn't have to be employed with malice or even awareness to apply. We look to be surprised in stories, but we also look for things we recognise, things that resonate with us based on past experience, that's why tropes exist. Sometimes we employ those tropes without fully examining why they resonate with us, or whether they might resonate differently (and not in a good way) with part of our audience.

Noting use of a trope like White Saviour (which has racist connotations) isn't even the same thing as calling the work, per se, racist. Works can be a mixed bag when it comes to progressiveness - hell, this is the rule rather than the exception. Works can be progressive for their time but not measure up to modern standards, and a 60-year-old book like Dune certainly runs risk of that. Dances with Wolves and Last of the Mohicans are both works that use tropes that, to the modern eye, are somewhat White Saviour-y and/or dehumanising in their own way (e.g. the Noble Savage trope), they're still very much a White Man lens on the First Peoples/Native Americans... BUT, they were also made in a time when depicting the First Peoples with any kind of positivity or depth or admiration at all was very much taboo. I mean, Last of the Mohicans was written in 1826!! Armed hostilities between First Peoples and the European invaders continued until 1890! Last of the Mohicans was very much political art at the time, taking the highly unpopular stance of "Maybe these people have good qualities and shouldn't be exterminated??", and likely did some amount of social good through that. That doesn't mean modern audiences can't or shouldn't find issue with it. It means that - much like this article - there's a conversation to be had.

It's not as simple as saying "ohhh, White Saviour trope! work bad!!!".

December 21, 2021 at 9:28PM

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Enough with these stupid new made-up phrases, "White savior." Put an end to this bullsh*t

September 10, 2021 at 7:04PM

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Rory
Director
414

“White savior” is a trope that’s existed (and been thoroughly examined) for awhile. Get over it.

September 10, 2021 at 7:22PM

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And the point is, it’s a pile of garbage and time shouldn’t have been wasted on examining said pile of garbage made up by rabid woke warriors.

September 12, 2021 at 10:58AM

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Bishop
336

ThinGs I DoNt liKe OnLy JusT goT MaDe Up ReCeNtLy AnD ARE StUpID

September 12, 2021 at 4:00AM

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No it isn't, Frank Herbert said the reason he wrote Dune was he wanted people to "beware of Prophets".

September 11, 2021 at 2:32PM

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Esprit D Mendoza
Musician/vocalist/artist
81

You guys are making stuff up just to start trouble. Can’t you just leave a good story alone and not make it about something that it’s not. Its a great book and story hopefully a great movie and all you can do is add racism into without ever reading the book. So keep your uneducated opinion to yourself and wait for the movie. Or better yet read the effen book

September 11, 2021 at 6:19PM

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who are you referring to when you say "you guys"?

September 12, 2021 at 4:00AM

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Woke assholes I assume

September 12, 2021 at 10:59AM

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Bishop
336

Fun fact, racial segregation in the US legally ended only one year before Dune was written.

Any book from an era that old warrants the "does this have racist tropes?" conversation. It doesn't mean the book is bad, the author is a terrible person, and that you yourself are racist for enjoying it. Get over yourself and stop reducing critical media analysis to something it isn't.

December 21, 2021 at 9:32PM

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Dune is a white savior movie, based on a book about a white savior, by a guy who had to create a whole religion so he himself could feel like a white savior. Anyone assuming the idea of a "White-Savior-Complex" is either blinded to the reality they live in, where media celebrates the great white hype first and foremost, or willfully ignorant and acting like that fantasy is their life, whether they're conscious of that or not.

September 12, 2021 at 8:22AM

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Sketkh Williams
StoryArtist
279

Incorrect, the media actually goes out of its way to discredit and malign anything that is ‘white hype’. Case in point this very article; a movie, a piece of art, that is being labeled as racist for daring to have a white protagonist in the story. This is ridiculous to the extreme.

September 12, 2021 at 11:03AM

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Bishop
336

It's less about "there's a white protagonist!" and more "white colonialist secretly magical Chosen One of savage brown-skinned desert people and is not only accepted by them with uncharacteristic ease, but is adept at their ways and customs without even trying".

I mean, I'm white and the movie made me raise an eyebrow on multiple occasions. Didn't stop watching it, but I can see why some might. Even if the next movie is heading towards subverting it or critically examining it or whatever.

Thing is, colonialism is very much an intended part of the premise and narrative. It's there deliberately. The author (presumably) knew what he was writing, the directors (hopefully) know what the author was going for. The colonisation element is objectively part of the plot. The racial inequality element is there inescapably the moment you cast the ruling family as white and the colonised "savages" as darker-skinned and attach a bunch of cultural stereotypes to the latter that's mixed and matched from various IRL Arabic cultures. That's there, that's the plain text. The only questions that remain are the complicated discussion of whether it was done well, whether it succeeds at saying what it's trying to say, whether it's a white author's place to say it in the first place, why we're filming Dune instead of one of the million fantasy or scifi books by authors of colour who examine the colonisation topic with the subtlety brought on by personal perspective, et cetera et cetera.

People are going to have these conversations, and you can just keep quiet and let it happen if you don't want to be involved in them. Nothing of yours is under attack here, ffs.

December 21, 2021 at 9:39PM, Edited December 21, 9:41PM

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When you look at a painting, do you look at it with through that lens?

For example, when you look at the Mona Lisa, do you think to yourself "this is a white woman who was privileged back then and could afford to have Da Vinci paint her", or do you look at the painting and judge whether you like it or not based on the style, technique, and artistry? If you do the former and not the latter, you have no business judging art.

And if you judge a painting for its style, technique, and artistry then...why do you not judge films likewise instead of through an identity politics lens that has nothing to do with the actual artistry (or lack there of) of the film?

September 14, 2021 at 11:09AM

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Joshua
209

C'mon Josh...
A static image can speak 1000 words, but a motion picture has the ability to perpetuate or change a culture.

It's not about being "woke" as some of these trolls imply, but it is about being conscious and considerate of other social and ethnic groups and the stereotypes they've been subjected to since the conception of motion pictures and media in general.

The fact that people are angry about this article alone suggest a degree of fragility and bias towards their preference. Keep talking, you're saying everything without saying much.

September 16, 2021 at 11:41AM

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L. Michael Lee
Director
74

Any reason you can't do both? Social and political context of an artwork is very much part and parcel of art critique.

But please, tell us what your qualifications for 'judging art' are...

December 21, 2021 at 9:33PM

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I’d love to hear the take on fox’s new “Our Kind of People”

September 13, 2021 at 11:05AM

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Aaron Harper
Rental House Manager
546

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And when white savior leaves you get Taliban.

September 14, 2021 at 12:06AM

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Regis.U
Filmmaker
465

Just when you thought you'd heard the most ignorant possible perspective on the Afghanistan conflict, "Regis" appears to take it to the next level.

If you were over 14 years old, you might realize that "white savior" was destroying a much better version of Afghanistan decades before the Taliban entered to fill the leftover war-ravaged remains.

October 18, 2021 at 12:04AM

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Jon H
15

The simple fact that the author of this "article" hasn´t read the book wich the movie is based on, nor has watched the film but clickbaits with words like "white savior" says everything you need to know. Woke attention seeking at its finest.

September 14, 2021 at 4:53AM

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In Dune, Paul is an intentional commentary of the White Savior trope; the novel uses the white savior trope but not to give us a white savior. Herbert saw Western society as flawed in its exploitation of non-western cultures. In the book (don't know how this is treated in the new movie) Paul and Jessica talk about how the Fremen culture has been seeded with certain myths and legends by the Bene Gesserit's Missionaria Protectiva that they will have to utilize and leverage to save the Atreides house (not trying to get too spoilery about the movie but the book should be beyond spoiling by now). In some interviews he compares Paul to the main character in "Lawrence of Arabia" and how Paul is an alternative take on the story. Part of the conflict of Paul is that once he has started the "savior" myth to save himself and his family he loses control of it. Part of the sequel "Dune Messiah" is Paul dealing with the horrible costs of starting that ball rolling. He's not a "savior" but an opportunist using a convenient story to save himself and only later seeing the costs and wondering if he did the right thing (short-term gain vs long-term cost).

September 17, 2021 at 12:26PM

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Mike Hodge
Director/Producer/Etc.
183

Garbage like this makes me want to unsubscribe from the newsletter, which is otherwise helpful. The reason movies are horrible today is they're mired in a shallow, idiotic ideology - which often yelps "WHITE MAN BAD!" - instead of exploring universal human struggles and themes. In short, truth.

Race isn't truth. It's a clever lie used to divide.

Also last I checked, Dune isn't set on earth.

September 17, 2021 at 4:24PM

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I don't think Frank Herbert specified the Ethnicity of almost all the characters in the book. One thing that works in print but has issues doing in movies...
Oh and the Atreides are meant to be descended from the Greeks and have Olive skin, so maybe not White saviour as such?

September 18, 2021 at 4:08AM

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He's may be a "White savior", but I'm White, so he's just a savior. BET can produce their own version of Dune with a black hero to help bust this trope.

September 23, 2021 at 11:04AM

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Marc B
Shooter & Editor
1033

It can be a worthwhile critique sometimes (Avatar is a great example), but it doesn't work here on multiple levels, as others have already noted. First off, no one is trying to be a "white savior" outside of maybe Liet Kynes, who himself is mixed-race and thus is saving his own people as much as he's working to save another. Second, what Paul does carry out (which is done for his own reasons and his own destiny, not to "save" some other people) is heavily critiqued and gets pretty darn ugly, especially as the books progress.

October 18, 2021 at 12:09AM

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Jon H
15

Don't like white people? Don't see Dune. We don't need you.

November 5, 2021 at 3:29PM

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