Take Home Exam #1 The Last King of Scotland, through it’s character development, cinematographic imagery, and linguistic/semiotic messages reveals a plethora of concepts that have been historically created by Eurocentrism, and that reinforce the notion of “us” and “them,” or “the Other,” thereby illustrating many stereotypical depictions of blacks and blackness. From the onset of the film, the character Nicholas Garrigan is portrayed as a privileged and affluent Scot who is well educated and has the ability to leave his seemingly mundane surroundings and travel.
His choice to leave Scotland and go to Uganda as a doctor with intentions of helping and healing sick and needy Africans can be viewed as a white man penetrating a black society. Upon arrival, Nicholas meets two other white characters, both of which are there to act as doctors and saviors to an immensely underprivileged Ugandan community in need of medical care.
This situation is applicable to Pieterse’s concepts discussed in chapter four of White on Black; Pieterse states that European missionaries were characterized for centuries as the holy hero bringing knowledge, light, and Christian goodness to the “dark continent,” while traditional forms of medicine and healing were described as “evil,” and “uncivilized,” only practiced by heathens. (69-70). This is expressly stated by Dr.
Merrit when he comments to Nicolas that the natives “interestingly” still prefer witch doctors to modern medicine in an incredibly condescending tone, automatically discounting and discrediting older and traditional tribal medical methods and emphasizing racist ideas. Other racist comments are made during the film. For instance, when Stone and Garrigan are in the tailor’s shop, Stone comments that Amin can be brutal, but “a firm hand is the only thing the African understands. This statement alludes to the European notion that the African is uncivilized and incapable of controlling impulses and instincts and therefore needs violence to remain orderly and tame. The idea that the African needs violent and repressive rule to remain in a state of obedience and servitude is overtly present in the practice of slavery both in America as well as in Africa. Although Amin is clearly in a powerful position and not enslaved, he is under the council of Garrigan, a white man who is more educated and portrayed as more rational and level headed.
For example, several interactions between Garrigan and Amin show Amin’s inability to make decisions without Garrigan’s advice. Additionally, when the Asians are dispelled from Uganda on Amin’s order and the plan becomes a disaster, Amin is shown as the rash, violent leader acting in the heat of emotion and not on his intellect, where Garrigan is portrayed as the intelligent and rational character, who was correct from the start and therefore superior to Amin.
This type of depiction seems to show that the black man, without the sound power of a white man, becomes unruly and causes destruction. Extending from that, the African as mentally inferior is ubiquitous in media representations and has been for several decades. According to Berry, in Mediated Messages and African American Culture, “the mass media are the most important instruments of twentieth century capitalism for maintaining ideological hegemony because the media provide the framework for perceiving reality” (vii).
Long before The Last King of Scotland was created or the events shown in it occurred, there were incessant media depictions of blackness in films such The Birth of a Nation (1915), Tarzan (a book and several films beginning in 1918 and persisting to the present) which represents one white man raised by animals who becomes stronger and more powerful than any of the Africans surrounding him. He kills the Africans in the jungle and defeats the lions, while simultaneously conquering and seducing a woman. Many cartoons, such as Jungle Jitters (1939) spread similarly racist notions.
In this cartoon, an African tribe is depicted in the most archetypal environment with huts made of straw and exaggerated physical characteristics such as massive lips, very dark skin, large and animalistic bodies that are dancing, playing instruments, and wearing clothing made of animal pelts as well as jewelry in their noses and around their necks. Contrastingly, there is a white queen (who looks like a chicken) and a white salesman (who looks like a dog) that are portrayed, even as silly animals, as superior to the African tribe, using the tribe as servants.
According to Riggs in his film Ethnic Notions, cartoons proved that blacks came from savagery because the stereotypes used to portray them became laughable and grotesque, dehumanizing the African. This type of behavior can be seen today, and is evident in the film. Several scenes show the villages and native peoples of Uganda via stereotypical archetypes. For example, the film represents children running in the streets with bare feet, also known in stereotypical terms as pickaninnies) surrounded by livestock in a jungle-like environment, as well as overweight women with big smiles stirring massive pots of food (also knows as mammies); however, they are happily dancing and singing even though they have tents for homes and they are still under a despotic governmental regime. Additionally, Amin’s chauffer, Masanga, is shown as a “good negro character” (i. e. the Tom) who is dependable worker, eager to serve, and is non-threatening to whites. This reinforces the European notion that blacks are happier when ruled by whites.
Importantly, Stone mentions Britain’s strong hand in placing Amin in power, which provides a background of European rule behind an African leader. This is only one of the numerous ways the concept of “Othering” is illustrated throughout the movie. According to the Othering Synopsis, as well as some of the concepts discussing in bell hook’s Eating the Other, the concept of “Other” comes from one’s perception of their identity, which depends entirely on a comparison on ones self to those surrounding. As discussed by hooks, constructed social roles and categorizations, such as race and gender, mark someone as the “Other. hooks describes the body of the Other as a commodified entity which provides an “alternative playground where members of dominating races, genders,” and these interaction “affirm their power-over in intimate relations with the Other” (23). Interactions like this are seen twice between Garrigan and African women; initially between a woman he meets on his bus ride into town (acting like the jezebel described by Jewell in From Mammy to Miss America and Beyond) who is seductive and promiscuous, giving him a sense of freedom, adventure, exoticism, and machismo (46).
Additionally, the affair held between Kay (Amin’s third wife) and Garrigan further illustrates Garrigan’s power as a white man over a black woman who has been oppressed by her husband who treats her as a slave and an object. Moreover, the love baby created by Nicholas and Kay is doomed to die, not only because of the political and social taboo caused by their affair, but also because if not aborted, the baby would have been considered the tragic Mulatto, never accepted by the white society and self-loathing of its black bloodline.
Amin and Nicholas’ relationship is founded upon Amin’s conceived connection between them; Amin (who represents the Ugandan population in this case) and Nicholas (who represents the Scottish) have been ruled and oppressed by the British for many years and therefore the two have something in common. Amin’s character is based on the real Ugandan president and is extremely complex. Primarily, he is a modern example of the stereotypical “brute,” as he is portrayed as innately savage, animalistic, destructive and criminal.
Throughout the film there are many instances where Amin shows severe cruelty towards his people, killing and torturing thousands in order to sustain power. As we learned in class, as well as in Black Beginnings: From Uncle Tom’s Cabin to The Birth of a Nation, Amin also embodies the “Black Buck” in several ways. For instance, he has three wives (and is therefore oversexed and savage); he is very large and therefore intimidating and “bad” (Bogle, 13-14).
As discussed in The Whites of their Eyes by Stuart Hall, ideologies depend on an outside set of meanings connected to one another; the same word, concept, etc. , can mean two different things depending on one’s ideology. Moreover, ideologies are not individual but societal and society takes ideologies for granted because they are based on elements we see as natural or given (like race or gender). Nevertheless, these ideologies could not exist without the concept of the Other, which separates people into categories, classes, and identities that are societally constructed and reinforced.
The media is a dominant and powerful producer of ideologies. Ideologies become sets of “unquestioned assumptions” and therefore cause “inferential racism” to perpetually exist (91). Even in our contemporary culture where media attempts to promote and illustrate diversity, “racialism” exists in an almost unnoticed manner. As Berry points out, insensitivity, bias, and disregard for cultures still happens even as the media attempts to be diverse while at the same time always concentration on keeping the status quo (i. e. whiteness) (ix).
Finally, my opinion on Whitaker’s Oscar win is based on the fact that those in power of awarding Oscars are most likely all white, affluent, and highly educated. Nevertheless, they are undoubtedly part of an ideology that exists in the United States and that is rooted in the idea that these archetypes of blackness, however racist they are in reality, are fundamentally extant. Therefore, because Whitaker was able to successfully act as many of the aforementioned archetypes, he was awarded for perpetuating stereotypes (that are seen as given, natural, or innate) through his performance.