Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest

The second Pirates movie was an entertaining romp, with some great action sequences, featuring the always-compelling Johnny Depp. However, the film also featured a disturbing racial subtext. 

Most blatantly, the film trafficked in broad racial stereotypes (which is not unusual for Bruckheimer productions), most notably by reviving the “savage cannibal tribe”. This image of a group of bloodthirsty but comic primitives had long been a staple of vintage media, but had seemingly been discarded as an embarrassing relic of cultural ignorance during the 90’s and early 2000’s. To see it back in its place at the center of mainstream media was a bit disconcerting. 

Another piece of retro racism was provided courtesy the “voodoo priestess”, who was presented as a figure both sensual and disgusting. 

The most telling piece of racial mummery, however, was quite a bit more subtle. It begins with the early scenes on board Captain Jack Sparrow’s, which is then noticeably multi-racial. Later the scene shifts to show two groups of pirates trapped in giant nets, and attempting to escape up a cliff. One group is led by the movie’s hero, Orlando Bloom (“Will”) who is trapped with a set of mostly white pirates. The other group is led by an East Indian pirate, and is more multi-racial. 

Although there seems no reason that the two groups –who are, after all, shipmates –cannot cooperate, the situation soon develops into a competition, with the two groups racing each other up a cliff. Bloom’s character warns the other group to quit racing ahead, but they refuse to listen. Their reward is to encounter a poisonous snake and then plummet to a nasty demise.

When the next scene aboard ship is seen, the crew is markedly whiter and less multi-racial. 

Overall the message seems either a warning to East Indians or a reassurance to whites that direct competition between non-whites and whites will result in disaster for the non-whites and the triumph of the whites.

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