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date: 04 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that the audible signifiers of gender, class, and race in the voices that give life to Hollywood’s robots make audiences comfortable with the robot as worker and, by extension, with the labor practices of an industry in which it is not always possible to distinguish images of and by real people from those generated by a computer. The cinematic robot’s voice unifies an era’s dream of the ideal worker and its hopes for the perfect human. Yet as the tools available to filmmakers change, so do representations of the cinematic robot’s humanity and its relationship to work. By examining a range of robots on screen that begin chronologically with the wildly passionate gestures, dances, and speeches of the artificial Maria in Fritz Lang’s German silent film Metropolis (1927) and end with two recent Hollywood robotic rebels, Ava from Ex Machina (2014) and Vision from Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), this chapter analyzes robot voices in relation to the economic and technological changes affecting the film industry to reveal the troubling connotations in the selection and use of the actors who play them. First the chapter looks at Lang’s Metropolis as an origin tale for the cinematic fembot, then turns to accents to explore the sounds of social class in mechanical beings, and finally examines the role played by race in the construction of the expendable robotic body.

Keywords: accent, Avengers, cinema, Ex Machina, film, gender, Metropolis, race, robots, vocal technology

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