that’s why they call it the jungle, sweetheart
I find it interesting that Space Ramblings calls Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark "a tough as nails equal to Indiana Jones" when her abduction and presumed death, and her need to be rescued (even if she almost manages to outdrink Belloq and escape) is central to that film. And, Matthew Rozsa at Salon calls Marion "a proactively adventurous female counterpart worthy of Indiana Jones" even though she was (offscreen, anyway) a child when she was involved with Indiana and is tied up more than once in the film--to be fair, Indy doesn't fare very well himself. Still, Marion feels like a more solid character than Willie Scott. That might be because Stephen Spielberg and Amy Irving's relationship wasn't the most solid (and he would end up getting together with Kate Capshaw, who plays Willie Scott, later) and George Lucas was going through a divorce (he admitted at one point, purportedly, that he was "not in a good mood" because of the divorce). But, maybe it was just because that was how you portrayed women in a film like this at this time in America. Nicholas Tassoni, looking back at the film in 2015 for Lafayette University says Willie "seemed only to be around to nag, complain, and scream. A very sexist view of women in the film, she was probably supposed to be the comic relief of the movie".
But, it's actually hard to believe that anyone thinks Willie Scott--even if she was given not just one man's name but two--was even close to a progressive, feminist character.
(Side note: regardless of how sexist the character may be written, she also never feels like a woman from the mid-1930s.)
In 1984, we laughed at her ridiculousness, we were annoyed by her shrill screams just as Indy is. We were as sexist as the film is.
We were also as racist as the film is. The production was banned from filming in India because of its subject matter. David Sterrit writes in the Christian Science Monitor, "Indiana Jones is shown as a great white here, battling evil Chinese at first, then rescuing the hordes of India from a foe they're helpless to fave by themselves." When Indy and company are initially led to the small Indian village, for example, the crowd swarms around them as if in worship. Follow that up with their guides fleeing when they find the Kali statue, and then the dinner with each course more shockingly grotesque than the previous one. The film is built around the revival of the Thuggee cult of Kali-worshippers. Portrayer as violent, as slavers, and of course they've got that ritual with the removal of the still-beating heart. Like any 80s portrayal of devil-worship with cups of blood and crazy skull hats.
Sterrit continues: "The message is plain: White people are good, yellow people are shifty, brown people are weak or sinister. Some lesson for the '80s!" That last line is sarcastic but this is actually some lesson for the 1980s. Rambo and Braddock went into the jungles of Vietnam. John Matrix fought brown-skinned soldiers in Latin America. Indiana Jones faces Nazis, sure, but also the Hovitos, Arabs, Thugees, and whatever the natives were called in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (I only saw that movie once and I don't recall if they're even named).
In the end, it is the British troops that finally come to the rescue. One of a couple Lord of the Flies references; in that novel, the boys are eventually rescued in the midst of their own violence by soldiers shipping off to a war of their own. The other reference is in one of Mola Rom's chants (as they're whipping Short Round so Indy will drink blood)--"maaro maaro sooar ko, chamdi nocho pee lo khoon"--which translates roughly to “beat beat the pig, flay his skin, drink his blood." In Lord of the Flies, the boys chant, "Kill the pig" and "Kill the beast, cut its throat, spill its blood."
My next film in this childhood deconstruction is The Karate Kid, a film that deals in a different kind of co-opting of foreign culture. (And which, at least in passing, comments on American hegemonic destruction of other cultures and other peoples.) I'm eight years old. I'm being told time and time again, white folks are the best, men are the best, but all of the other people, the other cultures... Maybe they've got some stuff worth stealing, some exotic locales worth visiting. But, only visiting. Don't want to spend too much time away from home sweet American home.