‘Django Unchained’ & American Society- What’s it say about us?

movie poster cover for Django Unchained
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Django Unchained was a 2012 American movie by Quentin Tarantino that shook up so many of its viewers. With references to Spaghetti Westerns, Southern epics, and slavery pieces to name a few, this movie also had a lot to say about American society overall. Down below are a few of the points about our society, past and present, that were referenced in Django Unchained.

That’s Racist

The most obvious thing that Django Unchained tells us about America is slavery and racism. We all know about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the nation’s history of African enslavement. In the movie, we see how pseudo-religious and pseudo-scientific concepts were used in those days to justify slavery.

You remember the whole scene where Mr. Candie (DiCaprio’s character) uses one of his former slave’s skulls to demonstrate how black people are anatomically inferior to whites. Or that scene where the slaver uses the Bible to justify his whipping and punishing of the “sub-human” slaves.

The cold part is that this stuff really happened, and a lot. It seems like every five words in Django is the “n-word,” and this is more for a shock effect than anything. I mean, I’m sure white people in those days called black people nigger a lot, but not like every five seconds. Still, the use of this word and other racial slurs in the movie shows us how language has been used throughout our country’s history to uplift certain groups and diminish others. And that goes both ways.

Read more: Are there many interracial couples in America?

Okay, so we saw whips and chains, physical representations of bondage and dominance — not to get freaky. Oh, and we saw a glimpse of a pre-Ku Klux Klan group in one of the funniest scenes of the entire movie. The KKK really formed after abolition as a kind of retaliation against blacks gaining equality. Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. Schultz (Cristoph Waltz) later in the movie start to be treated with a bit of respect when they are presumed to have money and status. This shows how even racism can be curbed when there are benefits involved.

Frontier Living

Django Unchained at its heart is a Western, so the usual gun-slinging and street shootouts had to be a part of it. The characters throughout most of the movie are riding horses and carriages across open landscapes, mountains, and everything we associate with the Old West. We even see the classic cowboy stand-offs in the small frontier town, people running to get the sheriff, and a saloon fight.

The Antebellum South is also represented when they get to Mississippi. There we see big plantations and plantation homes being worked by slaves. Besides that, we get a look at some slave quarters, those common oak and poplar trees of the South, and big fields of cotton to be picked. And of course, all around is the sense of white dominance and complacency for being in control of that crazy world they’d created.

Read more: Isn’t America all cold and snowy?

The Outlaw is B(l)ack!

Another thing this movie does is show audiences how black outlaws and bounty hunters did exist in the Old Western days. I feel like this movie opened up in many ways for people to learn about such figures as black cowboys and bounty hunters, a subject that was not really touched on before in movies or TV (at least to this extent).

Django shows in part the presence of these lesser-known historic black figures of that time, informing that they were also a part of the development of the country. There’s also something many people forget, that some slaves were able to buy their freedom and lead interesting lives outside of the establishment.

Read more: Aren’t there a lot of black people in America, like on TV?

Reparations … or Revenge?

Since the times of slavery in America, there has been a sense of black people recovering some kind of dignity, strength, even ranging into dominance. It’s important to remember that not all people in any group will want the same things, which is normal. Still, when Django goes and kills all of the slavers that did him wrong, there’s this sense of “justice served cold” that reverberates off of every gunshot and explosion.

There’s a constant debate in the USA of whether there should be reparations or compensation given to black Americans for the terrible deeds taken against their ancestors. There is this underlying feeling of getting revenge on these racist actions, which is completely exploited in this movie. Let me also remind you that the German’s full name is Dr. “King” Schultz, likely a nod to Dr. Martin Luther King as a kind of liberator and symbol for good.

Through all the killing that Django does, we also get an idea of the violent nature of rebellions in general, especially as it deals with the black-led ones. There was many a violent uprising in America’s past, and this movie plays a bit on such true historic bloodbaths.

And the White Director

So Quentin Tarantino doesn’t look very black, as far as most of us can tell. The fact that a white guy had directed a movie like this did conjure up some backlash for the film. Django Unchained touches on some pretty sensitive subject matter, particularly concerning black Americans. So one might imagine how some people felt uncomfortable with it.

Tarantino movies aren’t for everyone and lots of people are already uneased by the cartoonish violence in them. Put that together with about a thousand “n-bombs” and you’ve got a sure recipe for retaliation. Even though many people thought he had no business making a movie about slavery, there were still those that enjoyed Django Unchained regardless of its crazy subject matter. Q. T. does actually have a cameo in the movie and gets blown up, which shows that even the director wasn’t safe from Django’s vengeful rage.

Boy, I Swear

Another common feature in Tarantino’s movies is the liberal and consistent tendency of his characters to swear. This is just his style, and it comes more so from this culture surrounding Hollywood or Southern California — where almost everyone I know curses. Some are offended by this constant use of bad words, and others could care less.

One thing that’s funny about this, though, is that people back in those times (early-mid 1800s) definitely did not curse as much as in the movie. Sure, there was cursing, but people back in those days were generally pretty conservative and religious by today’s standards. I had this same thought watching The Hateful Eight which had a similar amount of cussing in a time period that people probably didn’t have such dirty mouths.

Read more: The Wolf of Wall Street

This feature of the movie was likely used to connect modern audiences to this past period in time, similar to how the score contained some rap songs. It also reminds audiences that this story is fictional and for entertainment purposes, so don’t be taking it all so seriously.

America, the Beautiful Mixed Baby

In Django Unchained are black people (obviously), Germans, Australians, other Americans, and Mr. Candie who loves French — even though he can’t speak or understand it. Some aspects of the culture, especially on the German side, are explored a bit deeper. With all of this, we get reminded of America’s very mixed heritage.

Germans at a certain point in the U.S. interior were very prevalent and made up a large part of the immigration there. All these different people of varying backgrounds remind us of this uncommon origin we share that turned the U.S. into a land of immigrants. It also reminds us that a large part of the country, like the West, was built by outlaws, runaways, and people seeking the thrill of adventure until turning it into what it is today.

Read more: Aren’t Americans white?

**What did you think of this movie? Are you fond of Tarantino or do you avoid his movies at all costs? If you can, share what else Django Unchained showed us about American or world society. Also, feel free to check out similar posts on At the Movies. Message me at tietewaller@gmail.com for direct contact or to collaborate on something! Thank you for reading and peace to you.

The Oscars 2021 + society – What do they say about us?

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This year’s Academy Awards (2021) were one of the most unique ceremonies we’ve seen in a long time. That might have something to do with the weird year that proceeded it. Still, this time around the Oscars said some interesting things about American society, and that’s what I want to get at today: What did these Oscars say about us? (Read about what other movies reveal about society in At the Movies) Just like the Covid-19 pandemic, the awards were a little, umm, odd. Despite its drift away from conventions, it was still a groundbreaking show for a few reasons. Let’s take a look, sh-shall we?

a dog with sunglasses lying in a hammock, representing the more relaxed mood of the 2021 Oscars
Cool and relaxed, just like this year’s Oscars – by Linda Segerfeldt

Less Exclusive, More Chill

Without getting too deep into the technical side of what made this year’s Oscars special, one thing you notice right off the bat is the more relaxed atmosphere. The awards themselves took place in Union Station, LA’s biggest transportation hub. The feel of it was a place where people of all kinds and classes pass through on their daily commutes. Downtown Los Angeles is also a lot more “of the people” than Hollywood traditionally is. This made the overall vibe more laid back and less exclusive than the usual Hollywood ceremonies. We also didn’t really see a Red Carpet or all the fancy fettering of previous shows. This made us (me, at least) feel more at home. After all, between that theater in Hollywood and Union Station, the station’s the only one I’ve ever been to.

Besides the actual venue, the whole mood seemed to be more relaxed. Because of coronavirus, there weren’t tons of people all grouped up into the station hall. With fewer attendees, the mood of the ceremonies felt more friendly. Even for me at home, I felt like I was more a part of the awards than in previous years, and a big reason why was the smaller group in attendance.

Of course, another reason why is that my people were represented! Yep, we had Questlove at DJ and interacting with the crowd. Lil Rel was making jokes all over the place. We even got to see Glenn Close getting wild, shaking her tail feather. The awards seemed a lot more intimate and laid back, which shows part of what people are craving right now. I speak for Americans, but people around the world, I’m sure, are craving less isolation and exclusivity. We want more inclusion, and we want things we can laugh at, something that represents us. With this year’s Oscars, that’s what we got!

Representation

Continuing on the thread of inclusion, the awards this year were highly inclusive of minorities. Well, at least as compared to prior years. They had black people nominated, Asian people, dead people, people who aren’t even American, Muslim people, Jewish people, and Christians (I’m sure). There were women nominated in roles that women rarely ever win or get nominated for. Specifically for women, two of them contested for big awards like directing, and (SPOILER) one of them won! Okay, that’s great, but let’s go back to those ethnicities.

The woman I was talking about that won, Chloé Zhao, is a walking glass-ceiling breaker. Not only is she the second woman to ever win best director, but she is also Chinese (by ethnicity) and Chinese! (by nationality) That means not only is she an ethnic minority, but a foreign woman who came across the sea and still won the award. That’s what I’m talking about. Other East Asians had success this year too. Steven Yeun of Korean background was the first East Asian contestant for best actor, and Youn Yuh-jung, a Korean actress from the same movie, won best supporting actress.

She is part of another diverse group this year. Actors in their “silver years” made up a good chunk of nominees and winners. Gotta represent for the 60+, right Anthony Hopkins? He ran up against another Brit, Riz Ahmed, one of the few Muslims and persons of South Asian ancestry to ever contest in the awards.

Diversity had become a big issue in the Oscars since the whole #OscarsSoWhite in 2016. Well, it had been an issue since forever, but it was finally changed after the hashtag was made. The success of foreign films like Parasite and black leading movies Get Out have opened the way for more and more diversity in the Academy Awards in these last few years. These movies’ styles have been loved by filmmakers and moviegoers for years. Finally, they are being recognized in the most prestigious arenas.

Resting in Power

There was a lot to celebrate this year at the Oscars, but one thing still brought us down to earth for reflection. Every year there are tons of filmmakers that pass away and get mentioned in that sad montage in the middle of the awards. This year was another heartbreaking year of filmmakers that had to go, though there were some really big ones that left.

To remember just a few like the legendary Sean Connery and the infamous composer Ennio Morricone, we also had to say our goodbyes to Chadwick Boseman. He is the one that has had the most impact in popular film in the most recent years, and so he’ll probably be the most missed in the public eye for now. Still, so many huge talents in cinema left us this year, but the montage was at least lightened up. Instead of a slow sad song like usual, they played an upbeat song by Stevie Wonder this year. That made the whole section of the ceremony feel more lively like a celebration of great artists. We’ve had enough of crying and death! Now is time to celebrate life, am I right?

Nomadland

The last thing I want to talk about is Nomadland. It’s a pretty peculiar movie on its own. The movie had almost an entirely unprofessional cast, by which I mean they weren’t established actors yet. The documentary real-world style of the movie brought everyone down to the dirt once again. Besides the talented Zhao, McDormand, and their crew, the movie’s message was also special.

Taking place mostly outside under big skies, it fed into a desire many people have to get out and explore the world again. I don’t know about you, but after Covid, I’m not trying to stay cooped up inside the house again. I think the fact that this movie won best picture — and a whole lot of other awards — represented how much people are craving independence, freedom, and the big open sky. It’s a time to break free from lockdown and smell the fresh air, hit that road one more time. With the vaccine heavy underway, many of us are on that road and tasting that dream once again.

That’s all I’ve got to say. What did you guys think of this year’s Oscars? Was it really a unique ceremony, or just like all the others? Let me know what you think. And don’t forget to look around and read more posts here on Cult-Surf. You never know what you’ll discover 😉 Peace!

Gone Girl + society [2014] – What’s it say about us?

A small-town girl from the American Midwest disappears suddenly … and her husband is the prime suspect. Well, actually she’s a grown woman, but you get my point. This is the main plot of this post’s subject, Gone Girl. It was a book by Gillian Flynn that turned into a popular movie. It’s directed by David Fincher (for the movie nerds out there) and was nominated for a lot of awards too. By the way, this is part of a series where we (lightly) analyze English-language movies. If you like that sort of thing, there are more posts like this here.

The book cover of Gone Girl, novel by Gillian Flynn

We’ll look at what the movie has to say about American society at large, as well as some general themes of the film. If you haven’t seen it yet, there might be some spoilers, I can’t make any promises. You can find it on platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix, though it depends on your country or region. The trailer is up top in case you want to refresh your memory or check it out for the first time.

Movie Setting

What does the movie, Gone Girl, have to say about American culture or society? For starters, let’s look at where it’s set. The movie takes place mostly in a fictional town in northeast Missouri. It’s not far from the Mississippi River which forms the border with Illinois. Why is that important? Well, Missouri is a state smack in the middle of the USA. Southern Missouri is a lot more like the South in terms of culture and other ways, while the north is a bit more like the Midwest. Even being in the same country (in this case the same state), being in the Midwest shows a greater lean towards mainstream, heartland American values and identity. You can kind of see the difference in accents, where some people have stronger “rural” or Southern accents where others have a more typical American accent. I’ll explain a bit later.

A map showing the course of the Mississippi River in North America, the setting of Gone Girl
course of the Mississippi River – By Mulad at English Wikipedia

The Mississippi River is the longest, most iconic river in the country. We see big homes with green lawns, quiet streets with cul-de-sacs, and small brick-stone towns. This is all typical of an American city suburb. There are also some scenes that describe what the weather is like in much of the Midwest during the summer. You have people searching for Amy (the gone “girl”) in green fields full of bugs and sweating under the sticky, humid air. There are some scenes by the river or poolside that show us how hot it is. I don’t remember if there is a winter scene, but I feel like there was. Either way, the Midwest also gets extremely cold in the winter months.

Gone Girl is set in modern times, which is important for this next section.

The Media

Maybe you haven’t noticed lately, but the media, especially social and mass media, have been impacting lots of people’s behaviors. From liking photos to deciding whether or not to wear a mask, these platforms have a bigger impression on most of us than we might think. The news especially has a way of leading us into believing what the studio thinks. If they don’t think anything, they are good at making the situation a lot more dramatic than it is. Even before Covid (I know, feels like forever), lots of people were suspicious of mass media and the news. They have a habit of accentuating the bad stuff and pushing people to be more scared than they need to. I’m sure this happens almost everywhere, but Americans have a long history of being suspicious of the government and any other entity that has too much power.

A large crowd of protestors walking through the city streets, representing the retaliation against Nick in Gone Girl
the town coming after Nick – by Alex Radelich, Unsplash

Still, this precaution doesn’t keep most of the town along with some of the investigators from believing that Nick (Ben Affleck’s character) really killed his wife. The news repeats this accusation and fires up conflict at a time when Nick’s involvement isn’t really suspected. This plays on our society’s recent growth in protecting women’s rights and protecting women in at-risk situations like domestic violence. Although this is a very real problem across the globe, the story shows how some women take advantage of this movement toward equality. There are those who intentionally try to harm the image of a man. There have been lots of scandals in recent years of women doing exactly this, as a matter of fact.

The fact that the community starts to turn against Nick after seeing the news sheds light on their innocence. There is a general perception that people from the city are sinners and those from the country are saints. That’s meant figuratively, but in Gone Girl, you can see how much of the community was influenced by the news. They were manipulated into the version of the story that would get more views, higher ratings. Another example of this is one of Amy’s (Rosamund Pike’s character) friends who jogs regularly and talks with her. Amy recognizes her innocence and tricks the woman into trusting her, steadily turning the woman against Nick. These people live a more relaxed, quiet, and routine suburban life. They don’t come across many bizarre situations like this very often. In the end, they don’t know what to believe or what to do about it.

Community

A rural town in the country with green hills and forests in the background, a yellow school bus running down the main road, a community like in the movie Gone Girl
small Midwestern community – by Louise Tollisen, Unsplash

Besides them turning against Nick, we also see how tight-knit this community is. This is a common feature in small towns across the country. People really look after each other and talk with one another when passing on the street, which isn’t as common in big cities. Other themes about the characters’ behaviors are the unhappy couple trying to fake a perfect marriage by putting up a false face of unity. Amy is robbed by a traveling couple with guns. This sheds light on the somewhat loose gun laws in certain states and the hardships many people in rural America face. This can go to the point of committing serious crimes on one another. This touches on gun culture being stronger in the American interior too. Missouri actually has a fairly high crime rate and lots of underprivileged areas. This reality is shown in a few scenes too.

Crime & Violence

This is essentially a crime-novel-turned-crime-movie. A cocky big-shot lawyer, constant snooping by the police, and investigators being quick to decide what happened before the case is closed; these are all common tropes in the crime genre. If you watch CSI or Law & Order, you know exactly what I mean. One thing that’s very apparent, especially near the end of the movie, is the high level of violence and bloodshed. Gone Girl isn’t really a violent movie, but it has a big bloody moment towards the end.

This touches on how common violence is in American moviemaking. I don’t want to say that we all love blood and guts (some do), but from our movies, you’d think so! There is also the theme of a couple staying together “for the baby,” which Amy sneakily tricks Nick into having. She uses her pregnancy in the end to trap Nick into their marriage. This is another note on the manipulation some women perform over men in their complicated relationships. To be fair, she manipulates pretty much everybody in this movie.

A small light sky blue woodshed with a small garden and trees in the background, a symbol of the woodshed in Gone Girl
a creepy woodshed – by James Frid, Pexels.com

The “Woodshed”

Besides small-town family values, heartland America identity, and rural/suburban naivety, there’s one last theme that’s really interesting. If you want, you can read more about this here. The woodshed is where Amy leaves her secrets, and it’s where Nick eventually finds out what’s happening. The woodshed represents a common part of many American homes where a family might store things they don’t use often. It can also be an unexpected symbol for how a figurative “mess” builds up during a relationship, then gets pushed deeper into the “shed.” There’s a related phrase in English: “come out of the woodwork.” This means that something comes out of hiding and into the light from an unexpected place. Basically, it becomes clearer. This seems like a funny way to show this idea. The truth comes out of the actual woodwork, or rather, the woodshed.

Last Thoughts

That’s all, everybody. I hope you enjoyed this look at Gone Girl and some of its themes, meanings, and cultural insights. It’s a story about relationship issues, lies, manipulation, and a whole lot of media interference. Even though Nick cheated on his wife, Amy did a lot more than expose him for it. She kind of ruined his life, not to mention forcing him to keep a marriage he was all but done with. This movie is reminiscent of a TV crime series, and it shows us why those programs can be addicting. Some of the most outrageous and deviant crimes happen out in the country where it seems like no one is watching. But boy, did we watch this one!

Please comment if you agree or disagree with parts of this post. What other ways does Gone Girl touch on true or stereotypical parts of American society? What about society in another country? Share your thoughts, my wonderful reader! And take care out there.

society + The Wolf of Wall Street [2013] – What’s it say about us?

Every once in a while there comes a movie that is so big, so outrageous, and so crazy that it truly shocks us, the audience. Today’s movie under the spotlight will be The Wolf of Wall Street. We’ll take a look at some important aspects of the movie and how they shed some light onto this big complex thing called American society. Are you in? Read on, reader.

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The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie from 2013 and based on the true life story of Jordan Belfort. Personally it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. Now that may be because I-heart Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, and crazy movies in general, but there is more to this movie than Matthew McConaughey beating his chest and humming “hm-hm-hm-hmm” in musical fashion. It actually has a lot to say about American society itself, and we’ll be taking note of some of those things here.

If you didn’t see this movie, you might want to watch before reading this. Or who knows? Maybe this post will make you want to watch it. Last I checked it was available on Amazon Prime and Netflix with a subscription and Google Play or YouTube for rent. If you know where to find it for free, more power to you. I certainly feel like watching it again tonight. If you did see this movie, you might recall lots of cursing, sexual content, drugs, and everything else a Rated-R movie is sure to have. While that R-Rating is definitely a “green-light” for the movie-makers to go ahead and put basically anything they want in the movie, there’s a bit of truth to some of these things. As a director, Scorsese kind of loves to put cursing and bad words in his movies anyway, especially the 17-and-up ones. However, most of the movie takes place in and around New York, the biggest city in the nation. In the U.S., you are far more likely to have people who curse a lot and don’t follow the traditional moral values in big cities than you would see in smaller cities and especially the countryside. This is a common trait of most countries where big cities are centers of more liberal culture movements. So in the cities they let their words fly.

Remembering that the movie takes place in the late 1980s-1990s, this was a time that traditional American values were being greatly challenged and all kinds of movements were in the process of changing culture ever since the late ’60s. That means sexual liberation, decreased censorship, and the popularization of recreational drugs like cocaine and pills. The U.S. economy was in a boom during part of the ’80s too which saw lots of people on Wall Street getting very rich and scheming to make ridiculous amounts of money. So the whole premise of The Wolf of Wall Street is showing what the motives, lifestyle, and eventual decline of these Wall Street schemers was like during that point in history.

In the early ’80s, America was suffering a terrible economic recession considered the worst since the Great Depression about 60 years earlier. This is about the point we see at the beginning where Jordan (DiCaprio’s character), his wife and some acquaintances are going through hard financial times. This struggle is a big motive for Jordan and his friends to start their fraudulent company and steal so much money. This isn’t so hard to understand, since most crime is induced by difficult circumstances. That is until the culprits get greedy and make a whole enterprise out of their crimes. We also see some of the effects of the recession where you had some stock brokers enter into depression and even kill themselves due to their sudden loss of wealth and hope.

Now, when the economic boom came and these guys figured out how to make tons of money, we saw how loose their morals got. This is where all kinds of crazy things happen, many of them in the office space. Jordan even trades his wife for the stereotypical thin blonde. You have derogatory language and actions used against little people, people with deficiencies, women in general, animals, and people of diverse races. Women are particularly objectified and humiliated throughout the movie, which I interpret as a genuine representation of how men in power have seen women, especially since the ongoing sexual liberation period. All the derogatory ideas and language used represent how often white people in power have seen other communities in America. Our acceptance or attempts of being more politically correct have really gained ground recently where now it is becoming more and more taboo to make fun of people for deficiencies, their appearance, their gender, or sexual orientation. Essentially the movie shows us a time when all of those concepts were a lot looser, at least away from the cameras.

An interesting point of the movie shows Jordan and his associates going to hide money in a Swiss bank. There are certain countries and territories that have pretty loose banking/tax laws called “Tax havens,” and so rich people, including many wealthy Americans, have tended to “hide” their money abroad where they don’t have to claim it or pay taxes on it. As you might know, this is a continuing phenomenon. This whole concept as well as the money shed light on the greedy and capitalistic nature of the American economy and the nation’s elite. We see how these rich guys run around with naked women on their yachts, tricking each other, even leaving their own families behind, just to make more and more money. This is more so a statement about rich or greedy people in general, especially those that made their fortunes by stepping on others.

These talk louder – Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

In an interesting way, it also shows what is possible and acceptable in the U.S. Of course, the vast majority of Americans don’t live like the characters in the movie and would probably disagree with several of its moral decisions (Lord, I hope). There was actually a lot of criticism on this movie for the excessive cursing, sexual content, and drug use. It actually had set a record for number of curse words in a single movie. Something interesting about that is showing how cursing is becoming more acceptable in American public life. I know there are some countries out there where cursing is totally natural and others where it is extremely discouraged. Even in the U.S., cursing has been looked down upon in the public eye for many years, even if lots of people did it at work or at home, for example. Again, you still have many Americans who discourage cursing, calling it a lack of intelligence, blasphemous or unnecessary. Yet there is a growing acceptance for bad words among Americans, and especially among the younger generations. No matter how religious or ant-cursing many of us may be, cursing is likely to become a non-issue in the next couple decades.

Watch that mouth! – Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Something else I want to touch on in this movie is Jordan’s jailing. There is a general conception (at least by minorities) that white people in America often get an easier time at trial than minorities do. And certainly wealthy or famous people tend to catch a lighter sentence (less jail time) than poor individuals, even if they commit the same crimes. This is apparent when we see Jordan getting on house arrest and then going to a “white collar” prison. White collar criminals are those that commit crimes involving fraud, tax evasion, and other kinds of corrupt activities that don’t directly harm people’s safety but their wallets. Because these criminals tend to garner lots of wealth, they are able to pay and bribe for less prison time. Either that or juries don’t see them as being as dangerous as the common thief or murderer. Their prisons also tend to be in better condition than regular prisons, even having tennis courts as we saw in the movie.

Jordan’s arrogance throughout the movie came back to haunt him in the end when the FBI finally took him down. It’s sort of a lesson that the U.S. government always wins. The FBI is the main domestic investigative agency and answers to a federal department, so they sort of represent Big Brother’s check on the seemingly “endless” opportunities provided by capitalism, at least in this movie. Whenever you get too carried away, they will swoop in and take their part. And if they can’t get a part, they’ll at least make sure you can’t have anymore.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a very long and complex movie with lots of events and themes. There was a lot more I could get into and really explain, but this is a good introduction. I encourage you to watch the movie again (or for the first time!) and pay attention to these themes and tropes, maybe find your own representations of American or capitalist society. Write some ideas down in the comments if you feel like it! And tell me what you think of this movie? How much cursing is too much? Think about it! And take care, everybody.

society + Coming to America [1988] – What’s it say about us?

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Popcorn anyone? Candies? We are back at The Movies! This time we are going to look at a classic, “an oldie but a goodie” you might say. Where else can you find African warriors, an obvious McDonald’s ripoff and Arsenio Hall in a wig? That’s right, we’ll look at one of the funniest movies of all time and see what it has to say about our good and friendly Americans. Ready to read?

*There may be spoilers here if you haven’t watched the movie yet, but, I mean, 1988.

Zamunda on the map, from Jungle Maps

Now, I know this movie’s a little old. For those who don’t know, the sequel finally came out this year (2021), cleverly named Coming 2 America, and has many of the same cast members as the original. That title alone tells you how much we love puns and double meanings in the U.S., particularly when it comes to naming stuff. The movie is worth a look on Amazon Prime, but I’ll leave a link to the trailer here in case you don’t pay for that service … yet. The first movie has countless jokes that plenty of people reference to this day. It wasn’t just an American success either since this movie and its crazy scenes have fans from all over the world. Despite the fact that the story follows a young African prince — of Zamunda to be exact, please check your nearest map — and his royal assistant who basically tour New York in order to find a princess, the movie itself has a lot to say about our U.S. of A. And what better way to do this than to start with Africa?

The nation of Zamunda is like one of those ongoing jokes about Americans not knowing geography. Now, it is pretty common for filmmakers to come up with a fake name for countries in their movies, but Zamunda sounds like one of the answers you’d get from a classmate after a teacher asks them, “Name a country in Africa.” I know, Zamunda! It just sounds African, even if it isn’t real, and that’s why it sheds some light on American culture. Many people (around the world, but especially in America) don’t know much about Africa at all. You might be surprised just how little many African Americans know about Africa. Zamunda was meant to be fictitious, but I bet you there were many people that thought it was real, and as a matter of fact, probably still think so.

Stepping off the plane in Zamunda, Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

Not to speak poorly of my fellow citizens, to be fair, there are many who know a lot about geography. But, I’m going to go ahead and say that most of us don’t. Poor geography skills aside, the movie says some other things about our view of Africa. It was admirable that they chose to show African royalty as opposed to poverty, and the royal family is very wealthy in the movie. Coming to America stars pretty much all black people too which is appropriate for a movie about Africans, though this has not always been the case. The movie came out at a time when black people were really growing in their pride and interest in African heritage, and this trend has swept over black American culture ever since. In Zamunda we can still see lots of random animals you might find on a safari just running around the palace. This plays on the idea that many Americans have this view as if Africa is full of lions, elephants, giraffes, and whatnot. Many people think you can step off a plane and see a rhinoceros, for example. It goes the same for other countries, like some people believe Brazil is all Amazon or Australia is all kangaroos. Don’t blame the people, blame our T.V. … and Kangaroo Jack, of course.

Many people’s image of what Africa is like (sorry for the moon), Photo by Faris Munandar on Pexels.com

Americans perceive that it is hard for foreigners to speak and understand English the way it is used naturally. Even for Zamundans, a nation that speaks English, cultural differences create a big gap. We see several scenes where Akeem (that’s Eddie Murphy) has hilarious misunderstandings with people because of the way he talks. Often, foreigners learn English in formal schools and their speech sounds very proper to us here. This explains why they had Akeem embarrassing himself so much. He’s also a skilled warrior and fights with spears, which is a sort of stereotype about Africans being wild and hunting with old weapons. Some rural or hunter-gatherer communities do, but most Africans aren’t quite as skilled as Akeem is with the spear.

Soul Glo & the Jheri curl

Going back to ’80s trends, that Soul Glo hairspray stuff has some major moments in the movie. The Jheri curl is the hairstyle that this spray makes, and it was fairly popular, especially among black people in the late ’80s to early ’90s. You had some ladies in tight bikinis, which relates to a sort of sexual revolution that was going on at the time, starting in the ’60s and getting more and more, um, liberated, up until modern times. And talk about that crazy pastor and the “Sexual Chocolate” guy! Most pastors and reverends are decent people, but you do get some bad eggs every once in a while. That creepy one in the movie references these “bad” pastors who care too much about money, yelling loudly, and watching half-naked women. Despite that stuff, you do still see many pastors who speak in the same style that he does. “Yess-uh, I wanna thank yah Lawd, uh-yas Lawd!” I don’t know where this style came from, but it’s very common for pastors to talk like this, especially in black churches in the South or smaller cities.

You know it’s a barbershop when you see this, Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Another part of the movie I want to talk about is New York. They spend most of the movie in Queens, a borough of New York City. Queens during the ’80s and before was known for having lots of black people and being sort of a poor neighborhood. Queens still has some rough parts, I hear (I mean I am from Los Angeles…), but it also has lots of nice neighborhoods nowadays. In the movie you see people throwing trash out their windows, cursing at each other, and people robbing each other. New York is fairly safe now, but before the 9/11 attacks some parts of the city were a lot more dangerous. The barbershop scenes are very important since they are seen as key parts of black communities. All communities have barbershops, but in black communities they are places of communion where people go to hear local news, talk with friends, and tease each other. So it’s really a family atmosphere. Hair has always been really important for black people, and hair care is a big deal for us. Remember that when you visit, and please don’t touch anybody’s weave, wig, afro, braids, or Jheri curl. Well, you can cut off their Jheri curl, I approve.

In the last post on Doctor Sleep, we saw lots of big houses and how they represent the modern American home. However, in big cities and especially in lower-class areas, there are lots of apartments like the ones in the movie; small, dirty, ugly, with neighbors who are noisy or kind of grouchy. In big cities you can see more angry people who are in a rush too. I’ve heard from several foreign people who visited New York and thought Americans weren’t nice people. Remember that New York is just one place and it’s the biggest city, so you get lots of stressed people all having to live on a couple of congested islands. Still, mean and nice people can be found anywhere you go.

The most-played sport in America, Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Akeem watches basketball and tries to talk about American football, which are the two main sports in the U.S. He gets a little confused by the rules which is a normal thing. We also see Akeem and his friend, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), interact with several promiscuous women, including his future wife Lisa’s sister. This might relate to how American or Western women in general are seen as more sexually open than Eastern and African women. That’s why this was sort of a culture shock to the African prince, and it is actually a good point made by the movie. I can’t say too much else. McDowell’s is an obvious ripoff of McDonald’s, but many successful companies and products have come as a ripoff of another product. McDonald’s itself used the idea of two brothers in California to create a worldwide enterprise, and didn’t even change the name. Ah, the things you learn from Netflix.

That’s it people! Thanks for reading. If you want to practice your writing skills, you can answer these questions in the comments:

  1. Do you like the movie Coming to America? What about the sequel?
  2. Have you ever felt like Akeem when traveling to another country? Did you travel for love too?
  3. What is your favorite part of this movie?
  4. Would you rather live in Queens or Zamunda?

society + Doctor Sleep (2019) – What’s it say about us?

curtesy of YouTube

This post is going to be a little different than what you’ve seen before. We’ve looked at music, American society, and even a couple of slang terms. I figured well, I also love movies, so why the heck not do a movie section? Of course, movies tend to be a lot longer than songs and so I’m not going to analyze every line from the screenplay of Doctor Sleep (but you wish!). Instead, I’m going to focus on some elements and imagery from the movie and explain how these things relate to American society, or maybe what they reveal about the culture.

Sound interesting? Sure it does! So let’s keep reading.

I’d also like to point out that this is mainly for English students or foreign people who are curious about American society, just as a warning that some things may sound redundant if you are an English-speaker or American. Though, of course, anyone is welcome!

Doctor Sleep — not to get confused with Doctor Strange — is a supernatural horror movie written and directed by Mike Flanagan. It was made in 2019 and is a sequel to The Shining from 1980. Well, that took long enough! Besides the fact of it being a sequel, I want to mention this because The Shining has been a definitive cultural event since it came out. Not everyone has seen the movie — in fact, lots of people I know haven’t, which is mind … POOSH — but pretty much everyone recognizes at least some of the scenes from this movie.

credit from Fandom, here

The sinister opening music from the score … the waves of splashing blood pouring through the halls … the twin girls staring down the hall with their evil eyes … Jack Nicholson screaming “Here’s Johnny!” as he axes down a door. I mean, there are just too many iconic scenes to go on. The popular impact of The Shining makes today’s subject so significant too, even if it’s a mere sequel.

Just like with its predecessor, Doctor Sleep has several iconic scenes and shots, including a girl running her hands through the mental “files” of her witch foe, people flying in and out of each other’s minds, and the iconic “REDRUM” spelling itself so ominously on the cracked walls. But back to the topic: What does this movie say about America? Well, let’s see…

One noticeable aspect of the movie is the different regions of the country we see the characters going to. Stephen King, who is the author of the books, is from Maine, a state in New England. If you notice in the movie they’re mostly in some town in New Hampshire. There are little brick buildings, central church chapels, and cute little parks in the middle of town. This layout is of the classic New England town. Given the fact that Danny, the lead character, goes there to cleanse and heal from alcoholism, you can tell that these places are considered locations where you can live peacefully, get away from the noise of the city, and enjoy the fall leaves. On the other hand, when Danny is in Florida, he gets high on drugs and alcohol all the time and sleeps around with strange women, which lets you know how other Americans might view Florida. That’s also where the creepy True Knots are first seen attacking that little girl. Sorry, Florida. Harsh.

a field like you might see in the Midwest, Photo by Lawrence Hookham on Unsplash

Later on, they go to Colorado which is full of mountains, forest, and pretty lakes, while we go to Iowa and see nothing but cornfields and baseball diamonds. This probably wasn’t on accident, because Iowa and the Midwest, in general, are seen as centers for agriculture and farming, especially corn. They are also seen as the “heartland” of America, which is why you get such an important symbol like baseball there. A poor boy gets abducted in Iowa, and what happens to him also has something to say about our society.

I don’t know if this started in the U.S. or was brought here by Eastern Europeans, but gypsies are a controversial topic from this movie. Sometimes as kids, people are told to watch out for gypsies because they eat children or some nonsense. True to the myth, that’s pretty much what happens in the movie. Gypsies are based on the ethnic Roma or Romani people, but often any group of people that travel around together without any kind of direction or stability are generally considered gypsies. Especially if they’re in a trailer.

a trailer-home, Photo by John Mark Jennings on Unsplash

Trailers have a lot of importance in America. People use trailers to travel long distances, go camping, and to live in, amongst other things. A popular notion too is that “gypsies” or just people without any stable home roam around the country in a trailer. The scene of the True Knot picking up the boy in Iowa as well as the scene where Danny arrives with Abra, the other main character, at her home, shed light on this. Abra’s dad has a little freak-out session and nearly tries to kill Danny.

These two scenes show how kids in America are taught to deal with strangers (Don’t get into a car with them) and how parents react when they see their children, especially daughters, with strange adults. This seems logical, but I have seen in some other countries that kids interacting with unknown adults is not the most outrageous thing that could happen. No one wants their child to get abducted, but I notice in America, parents seem to be especially cautious in this sense compared to some other countries. Maybe this is because there are tons of cases of child abduction, child molestation, and child abuse that parents become especially protective. Children are a lot less likely to talk to strangers, even if they are genuine and nice people, because of this worry that American parents tend to put into their heads. I blame investigative shows like 20/20 and channels like Investigation Discovery (ID) for this, but I guess they have good reasons.

classic neon movie theater, Photo by Jeff Pierre on Unsplash

I don’t have too much else to say. You could see how Abra’s house was really big and nice, a sort of “classic American home” at least nowadays. We also saw some racial diversity in the movie, kind of lending to the push for more diversity in movies and media in recent years. I think that’s cool. Danny works at a convalescent home (commonly an “old folks home” or “retirement home”) helping the seniors go to sleep … forever. This is more of a Western thing, I think, where it’s acceptable and even pretty common to send old people to live in these care facilities instead of taking care of them at home. The movie theater where the girl, Andi I think, gets recruited to the True Knot team of vagabonds is a kind of classic American movie theater. You get the big neon sign out front with the movie titles on it, a ticket booth, and a big theater house full of seats and balconies and whatnot. Other than that, many Americans like a good scare, a good thrill, a mystic tale of spirit-suckers that get defeated by a living mansion burning to the ground. Or was it a hotel? Those hats the True Knot were wearing are kind of in style with certain hipster communities. I’ll talk about them another day.

I left the trailer up top if you’re interested. Also, did you notice anything else about Doctor Sleep that speaks on American society or society at large? And if any of you saw this movie, what did you think of it? Tell me in the comments, or email me at tietewaller@gmail.com. Stay well!