Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean (I'm going to spoil your fun)

Pirates are fun right?

Oyceter had a recent post on race and racism in the recent movie Pirates of the Caribbean 2.

Race and Pirates

And I watched, and I grew more and more uncomfortable. Jack Sparrow and crew run amok of cannibals. The cannibals, are, of course, Black. They have face paint and random piercings; they have made Jack Sparrow their king. He speaks to them in terms like, "Licka licka, savvy?" There are a few people of color in his pirate crew, but their speaking parts are small, and they all have very strong accents. Or they don't speak at all and lend their faces to the motley look of the crew. The main character of color is a Black woman, a voodoo witch or something, with eyeballs in jars, blackened teeth, and an accent so strong that I couldn't understand her half the time.

While I was noticing this and noticing the fact that there were no non-stereotyped portrayals of people of color, I was growing more and more uncomfortable with this awareness. I'm actually very ashamed to say this, but I kept thinking of things like, "Oh, is it really that bad?" and "It's just a movie" and "Really, it's about pirates, what can you expect?" and "It's all in good fun."

Except... it isn't.

And I can't get over the fact that even though I had been reading about race right before the movie, noticing the stereotypes and being critical of race in the movie made me incredibly uncomfortable and squirmy, so much so that I tried to rationalize it away. I spent the first half of the movie squirming and becoming more and more aware of the fact that my mind kept trying to slip away from the topic of race, kept trying to not confront it and come up with more and more reasons why it really wasn't that bad.

Except... it is that bad.

It is bad that I cannot think about race without this extreme uncomfortableness, that I cannot do it without attempting to rationalize and excuse, that I cannot do it even after reading about it and being fully committed to speaking out. And it is even worse, because I know if I had seen the movie without having read the Tatum beforehand, I would have noticed, but I would have let myself brush it off, let myself not post about it.

I didn't even post about this last night because it made me so uncomfortable.

Read the rest here

It's easy to turn a discussion like this into white vs. black or some other stupid thing like white=racism=bad. But I think that it's ok to know this movie is racist, and yet enjoy it. Alot of the arguments made for POTC can also be made for Lord of the Rings (and don't even get me started on how much I dislike Tolkien's use of female characters), a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed.

There are some works (see my Fahrenheit 451 post) that I cannot enjoy, simply because for my personal tastes, it reflects a view of society that I find offensive. At the same time, I think of myself as a staunch free speech advocate. I think artists should never be forced to censor themselves. The only solution is to make more informed decisions about your choice of entertainment.

As for POTC, it's a choice that everyone has to make for themselves. Personally, I don't think I will see the movie until it comes out on DVD and I can get for free at the library, but I'm not going to call those who enjoy the movie racists.

Every dollar you spend in fact, is a political act. You buy sweatshop labor at Wal-Mart, sandwiches at the local deli made by illegal immigrants, gasoline to fill your car that is being subsidized by American soldiers, etc. You can try and live in denial about the effects of the American lifestyle, or you can accept it and live with the fact that in the daily course of living you do harm and let that drive you to make better choices and do better things.

As a writer, I write about strong female characters and strong supporting male heroes whose masculinity isn't threatened by women like Buffy or Wonder Woman. I also write characters who are diverse in terms of race and class, and use my knowledge of history to try and make insular Americans better informed about the outside world around them. Writing fiction may not produce as drastic results as feeding the poor in Rwanda (which I have seriously considered doing), and may seem more frivolous, but I think that people learn more from pop culture and fiction then they're even aware of, which is why POTC, a frivolous movie deserves serious consideration as to what it conveys about our commercial culture.


At 5:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm going to have to say something.

Pirates of the Carribean 2 is a wonderful movie, with fencing and over the top swordplay scenes I haven't seen since the likes of The Princess Bride. The plot is thin, but judging the movie solely on some kind of societal basis is being ignorant to it's purpose.

It's an action movie for godsakes. The focus is swords and gunplays, and stereotypes make an excellent shortcut that provides flavor at a low intellectual cost. You know how difficult it is to write something- it's made even worse if you have to dance to a political sensitivity tune as well. That sort of thing gets in way of real artistry, replacing the desire of creation with the fear of intellectual retribution.

The stereotyping in Pirates of the Caribbean was never meant to be meanspirited and is generally a fair treatment of everyone involved. You don't think the white actors escaped the stereotypes of the evil business man, corrupted officals and in Sparrow's case, the effeminate lier? And everyone knows Orlando Bloom is just the stupid pretty whiteboy naive in every way and dancing to everyone's tune.

The people who wrote Pirates never had an 'agenda' to promote one race over the other, far from it. The inclusion of many ethnicities in a pirate movie is one of the few acknowledgements of the race problem seen in earlier versions, notably the lack of other ethnicities. One could say that they've matured past their bigotry enough to start making fun of each other again. There's nothing mean spirited or condescending in the script, only passing attempts at historical humor.

Would you begrudge Dave Chapelle, Family Guy, or heavens Shrek for making a little jab at racial perceptions, or including some stereotype for the sake of some (vague) historical accuracy? No. I don't see why you'd begrudge Disney. Pirates 2 isn't exactly the most appropriate movie for little people.

Or would you prefer to go back to the 90's era of pandering to every group out there in an attempt to 'humanize' them? I certainly found the part and parcel 'Chinese Immigrant Abuse' episodes from series like McGuyver, Louis and Clark, Law and Order and CSI alot more offensive than this movie. It's condescending and humiliting. Being able to be portrayed as background noise is alot more inclusive than having your differences pointed out and 'featured' over.

The writers, actors and directors of major blockbusters are certainly aware of any implications that could be made from racial bias. They have entire legal departments watching for such things. Just because they use some racial stereotypes doesn't mean you should be going all apeshit on them. At worst, they're in it for the money, and certainly they see that racial controversy= Bad.

The new generation of writers/directors is certainly aware of all the issues you've brought up.

They're simply tired of pussyfooting around PC terms when they really -don't- intend to be racist, and taking advantage of whatever tools they can use to create a story, political sensitivities be damned. It's high time everyone stopped being afraid of each other.


At 3:40 PM, Anonymous lindsey said...

1. that is how i felt about xmen 3...all the main bad guys were hip dark skinned tattoo freaks

2. my phone crashed adn i lost your phone number

3. thanks for the card

4. i have a dessert review blog, and coming soon a fiction blog. giantsweettooth.blogspot.com

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just thought I may aswell ad my two cents

it's lazy and stupid to put black cannibals in the movie

but to say that the black witch used to be beautiful before she was turned into that image is just disgusting, the most disgustingly outright racist thing I've ever heard in a film aimed at families.

it's just a film? don't make me laugh, the only people who could try to settle it by saying that are non victims or intellectually dull human beings.


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