Starting in February of 2005, we began to post a number of items regarding Walt Disney’s proposed plans for showing Island Caribs as blood thirsty man eaters. In Dominica, where parts of the film were shot, then Carib Chief Charles Williams loudly protested the movie and condemned select members of the Carib Territory for collaborating with Disney. The Government of Dominica warmly welcomed Disney, guided by the incredible notion that a media giant showing local natives as cannibals would promote tourism to the island. The movie was also shot in St. Vincent. Since then, Chief Williams was deposed by the Government of Dominica (although to what extent Williams embarrassing the government over this issue played any role in the government’s decision is unclear for now). Other indigenous communities, including Tainos, Garifuna, and the Caribs of Trinidad, also vigorously protested the movie in the news media. Indian Country Today in the United States ran an editorial that was very critical of Disney’s plans.
Now, the movie is about to hit theaters and, if anything, it appears to be worse than was first imagined. A trailer for the film clearly shows the Caribs roasting live people on spits and holding captives to be eaten…in a stark reminder of some of the most vile imperialistic imagery produced in the early colonial era. Such images are getting a new lease on life thanks to Disney, which with the resources that rival those of a colonial power, has now dedicated itself to popularizing and internationalizing images of the Caribs as “cannibals”. You can see the movie trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAx02SQ5Mjs&mode=related&search=pirates%20of%20the%20caribbean%20dead%20mans%20chest. Images that follow are stills from the trailer, accompanied by one colonial illustration that seems to have been part of the corpus of visual imperial denigrations that the movie so cheerfully enhances.
Let us keep in mind that such depictions were used to enslave and murder the ancestors of today’s Caribs, there was never anything innocent or “fun” about these portrayals. In addition, generations of Carib descended school children in the Caribbean have been taught that their ancestors were savage cannibals. Shame over ancestry was inculcated as a matter of routine. In my own field research experience, I have encountered individuals in their forties and fifties who told me very directly that the main reason they did not wish to self-identify as Caribs is that people in the wider world see Caribs as cannibals, as inhuman man eaters, and they found the stigma unbearable. Disney is playing its part in centuries of ethnocide.
This action on the part of Disney, flying in the face of countless protests, is not accidental, nor just uninformed carelessness. Let’s place these images in their current context as well. This is a time of renewed generalizing about the “non-West” as the “uncivilized” world of inhumane acts of savage atrocities. Anti-immigrant attitudes are on the rise in many Western countries. Anyone “brown-skinned” is deemed a potential terrorist. This is not inflammatory exaggeration on my part: for a glimpse at the tip of the iceberg, look at reports produced within the Canadian media itself:
Many white citizens adjoining Native reserves seem to feel empowered now to express openly derogatory views about Natives, even joining in the occasional riot where they can bash some in the face. A peaceful gathering of Natives in Canada is widely depicted as “terrorism”. You don’t believe me? Please have a look at pages from the Caledonia Citizens Alliance where members of the public submit their feedback on the issue of the Native reoccupation of their territory.
Images specifically of charred bodies, hung like roasted offerings, have also been popularized in the international press, especially when showing the “horrid” acts of Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah who captured and killed four American mercenaries in March of 2004.
All of the raw material, daily news, centuries of inherited stereotypes, revived bigotry, fear, hatred and paranoia are all out there ready to be fused in people’s minds who are thus predisposed to making a series of associations. One line of association is that linking Al Qaida with all Muslims, then immigrants, “brown skin,” Natives, and finally Caribs. The other line of associations to complement the first: terrorism, insurgence, resistance and cannibalism.
This is the world we are inheriting, folks! Either we deal with these issues head on, or sit back and let the tide of a new nazism wash over us with the help of our own quiescence.
Disney’s concept of family “fun” is about as light hearted as showing groups of Jews as rats. Disney won’t do exactly that, since that is anti-semitism, and numerous holocaust memorials tell us “never again.” But really, never again? That seems to be either unduly hopeful or just terribly naive.
You are encouraged to actively protest and boycott Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and any and all Disney products. Such cultural imperialism cannot be allowed to pass without consequence.