Orientalism in Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean, a well known franchise adored by a large audience, is a fun, thrilling tale of the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow and his companions. I grew up watching the films as a child and immediately fell in love with the series as soon as jack stepped off his sinking ship onto the dock of Port Royal. The first film follows Captain Jack and Will Turner as they attempt to catch the infamous ship, The Black Pearl, captained by Jack’s mutinous first mate Barbossa. The second film, Dead Man’s Chest, picks up right where the first left off and the viewer can jump right back into the fun. Although an enjoyable movie as a whole, the Caribbean native people in the film are portrayed as beast like cannibals who, are meant to be viewed as merely animals.

When we arrive on the island we follow will turner as he is brought before Captain Jack, who the native people believe to be a god. Immediately, the orientalist tones of the film are clear. Within the first few minutes, the white “civilized” characters are placed on a pedestal above the native people who are portrayed as uncivilized and unintelligent. The film depicts them as static, undeveloped savages who are outsmarted by their white overlord. As the story progresses, the native people, who believe Jack to be a god, decide to eat him in order to “Do him the honor of releasing him from his fleshy prison” In the end, Jack and his crew manage to escape the island on The Black Pearl and continue on their journey.

The portrayal of the Caribbean native people in this film is highly problematic. To the western viewer, who may be being exposed to them for the first time through the film, will not see them as people, rather as animals who act off of their instincts and primitive beliefs. The viewers may then internalize the sense of superiority presented to them about themselves and their culture to those that they view as the other. This belief only works to increase the divide and misunderstanding of people who have different cultures than what is commonly known in the west, increasing the prejudice and hate that we commonly see today.

One thought on “Orientalism in Pirates of the Caribbean

  1. Gigi D

    It was so interesting to see orientalism applied to this very well-known and loved film, especially because I haven’t heard these criticisms being talked about in the media. I think this applies so well considering how this movie ignorantly portrays the natives as barbaric with exaggerated “strangeness”.

    Like

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