Cannibals of the Caribbean

There are spoilers for the new Pirates movie in this post. I warned you.

There’s been some talk around the blogosphere about a section of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Specifically, the part where Jack Sparrow and the crew are captured by some brown savages who are cannibals and want to eat Jack because he’s a god whose spirit is trapped in a fleshy prison and the crew because people just taste good. When our heroes finally get away from said savages, they turn on a dog and make him their leader/god*. I suppose, someday, they will eat him.

This sequence of events upsets and angers some people — with good reason. It pissed people off before the movie was even filmed. Chief Charles Williams of the Dominica Carib Territory issued a statement where he outlined the interactions between himself and other Dominican leaders and the producers, director, etc. of the film.

They explained that the movie is fiction, there is strong element of cannibalism in it, there is an encounter with a pirate on the beach, there would be savages who wants him to lead their clan and to do so they have to kill him to get his spirit to do so, they spoke of the chase, the capture, hanging of people in a cave upside down saying we are all there to be eaten, roasting of someone like on a barbeque fire, and the scenes of mountains and gouges is needed so to fire their bow and arrows.

They said they cannot hide the fact there is cannibalism in the movie one will not see blood and actual flesh eating but cannibalism is strongly implied, they cannot show us the script because it is not Disney policy to do so, they cannot change the movie, they must film it…

I as chief explained that we have to understand that we through our ancestors were the ones whom the pirates encountered in the 15th 16th and 17th century when they came, and we were labeled savage cannibals because we stood and fought for our rights, and this is documented in every history book around the world that speaks of the Caribbean history, we are stigmatized up to this day as cannibals, every time that some conflict arises between blacks and Caribs right here in Dominica it is thrown into our faces “we ate the Arawaks but wont be able to eat us blacks”.

Today Disney wants to popularize that stigma once more, this time through film.

I have two reactions to this part of the film:

My writer brain feels that it was unnecessary because it was an extra 30 – 50 minutes spent not dealing with the plot, but driving around the plot in circles until an appropriate parking space could be found. There was no real reason for Jack and The Black Pearl to be on that island. It was padding, all of it. And I cannot abide unnecessary padding in narrative.

My Angry Black Woman-ness is pissed off that, in the course of adding unnecessary padding, they also managed to add racist portrayals of brown people.

That’s two points against you, Disney.

I am not Dominican and therefore must admit that the sting of this doesn’t go right to my heart. I’m only emotionally attached in a tangential way. And, honestly, I was an apologist for the sequence until I read Chief William’s statement. It’s true, folks; even the Angry Black Woman is capable of insensitivity. Chief Williams’ words reminded me that POTC2 wasn’t just showing a fictional depiction of fictional people, but a fictional depiction of a real stereotype.

It’s not okay. It’s not harmless.

What’s the proper course of action? I can’t boycott the film, I already saw it. I can’t tell you, dear readers, what to do. I will say that denying Disney your $12 won’t change anything, alas. What will change things is raising a stink about the issue and not allowing the assholes of the world to characterize the whole thing as ‘just a movie’ or anything like that. Get angry, get vocal, and don’t buy any POTC2 stuff (just in case).

ETA : An excellent post from Marc Singer who is even more erudite than myself on the suject.

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*While watching the movie I was almost ready to give the ‘cannibals’ the benefit of the doubt. If they really thought Jack was a god, their actions could be chalked up to religious fervor. But when they just as readily elevated the dog to leader status, I felt the script writers were saying that these stupid brown people would worship anything that washed up on the beach. Not cool.

7 Responses

  1. I’m kind of retrospectively pissed off about it, too – I didn’t think about the racism at the time (because the plot was so stupid, this section was filler like you said, and anyway it was all just a set up for the rolling cage sequence which is no doubt going to be a theme park ride in due course) but now, dammit, you’ve made me think about the racism. Grr! I hate racism! I hate finding myself colluding with it, mentally, even if I DID fall asleep later on! Grrr Disney!!!

    As far as what to do… hit them where it hurts, maybe? In the pocket. Now, what have Disney got to sell that we can refuse to buy??? Thoughts, anyone?

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only person who was bothered by this. I was actually so uncomfortable in the theater that I leaned over to my girlfriend during the extended (and I agree with your characterization of it as unnecessary!) cannibalism bit, no doubt during some particularly eggregious “brown people whoopin’ it up in the jungle” sequence, and said “Dude, can they still make movies like this?!?”

  3. The thing is I thought it was a good movie before and after the pointless cannibalism part. I didn’t really think about the racism while I was watching it, I just thought about how completely bored I was with the movie at the moment. AFter the movie I thought “that movie was good but at least 30 minutes too long” and thought of what should have been cut, and I realized that not only was the cannibalism scene pointless filler in a 2 and a half hour movie, but racist to boot. Why add racist filler in a too long movie? You fuckers?

    Oh yeah, not to mention that they managed to kill off all the black crew members in that scene. What the fuck were people thinking?

    And while I’m on the subject of what was wrong with that movie, how incompetent of a choreographer do you have to be to make a 3-way swordfight boring?

  4. [...] Over in the comments on the Pirates post Wendy said something very prescient: I didn’t think about the racism at the … but now, dammit, you’ve made me think about the racism. Grr! I hate racism! I hate finding myself colluding with it, mentally, even if I DID fall asleep later on! Grrr Disney!!! [...]

  5. Morons! This is called fiction and entertainment. Get over your pissy selves.

  6. Hmmm.. I’m Filipino+White and yeah it kinda got to me.. But some of us were canibals back in the day..

    But so was EVERYONE.. I’m not mad that they portrayed poleynisians as canibals.. But that they hella just put that shit out there and don’t admit that they were like that before too. . I’m half white but I learned you can’t really trust white people.. They try to underhand you while smiling in your face.

  7. I know exactly how you feel. Some of my ancestors came from Italy, and all the media keeps wanting to do is portray them as organized criminals and gangsters. Others came from Poland, and I cringe every time I see anything in the media about Polka music because they are always portraying it as this horribly geeky, awful music when in fact, this music is so light-hearted because the Poles lived in abject poverty, and music and dance was the only form of entertainment they had, and it was meant to lift the spirit, much like the Negro Spiritual (I have a Masters in Jazz).

    Also, my ancestors on both sides came to the U.S. fleeing wars and oppression. They came here with nothing and worked as indentured servants in the anthracite coal mines of Pennsylvania; I’m not sure if you know any of the history of this work, but I assure you, it was not a pleasant life. And yet, I find my “white” heritage (Italians were not considered white when the emigrated to the U.S.) often portrayed as being one of privilege and ease, and of being oppressive to other cultural groups when in fact, I had no ancestors in this country prior to 1908.

    So, I absolutely agree with you on this point. It is horrendous the way Disney portrayed these people, and it does nothing but create negative stereotypes. I wish that people would stop doing this.

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