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This past weekend, we went to a showing of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which had a significant weakness in being very obviously a bridge between two thirds of a trilogy, and could not stand alone in any way. It had a few very snappy lines, some neat fight scenes, a really hot kiss, and good integration of CGI and physical actors. It also had some truly disenchanting, archaic racism, occasionally sluggish timing, and the aforementioned sequel-itis.

The racism thing really, really hacked me off. It was rife throughout this movie, and it struck me as so egregious, gratuitous, and utterly inappropriate. We're talking about a movie pitched to kids, though viewed by many adults, too. Therefore, the fact that the mutineers were all black, the “cannibal tribe” was a herd of gibbering stereotypes, and the seer/voodoo lady was this exoticized, sexualized, predatory, dark, “dangerous,” and mysterious otherworldly creature…all of these things jarred with me. A lot of people, especially a lot of white people, never notice, nor take exception to minorities being portrayed as weird, exotic, savage folk. Or the black guy who is the first to die. The “sexy” Latina, the “braniac” Asian…stereotypes keep playing out over and over and over in movies, like Hollywood can and will never learn.

A while back, a friend of mine and I had a discussion about the ambient racism present in children's movies from the 1930s like the Shirley Temple movies and Our Gang/Little Rascals. The discussion started when she stated that she was quite uncomfortable with the portrayal of minorities in those old shows, and how she felt they were unsuitable to show to children these days, while I argued the opposite, that it is well to show these movies, and discuss with the kids the fact that people used to have strange, incorrect ideas about how people of different races looked and acted, and move into a substantive, child-led, and child-level discussion about stereotypes, racism, how times have changed, and what things are still not right in this world. That's how things like that were presented to my sister and me when we were little kids. Why did Alfalfa have “bows” in his hair, why do the black kids talk in baby-talk with exaggerated Southern accents, why are there only white people in the older Sally, Dick, & Jane books?

So, I can kind of give a daypass to Shirley Temple in Kid in Africa or the Little Rascals “Hottentots” episode, because they were products of a time in which racism was overt, accepted, and unfortunately considered quite funny. Nowadays, that sort of thing is incredibly counterproductive and utterly unnecessary, and as far as I'm concerned, added nothing to the movie and detracted a whole lot. There are hundreds of different ways they could have put Jack in peril that would have been infinitely less offensive. Disney, what century do you think you guys are operating in? Have a little responsibility, sense, and sensitivity, won't you?

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