Jul 19 2006

Racist Stereotypes in Pirates of the Caribbean

Racist Pirates of the CaribbeanGUEST: Cheryl L. Noralez, President and Founder of the Garifuna American Heritage Foundation, United

Long before the film “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” opened to record-breaking box office numbers, indigenous groups raised strong concerns over the film’s racist depiction of the native Carib peoples as cannibals. Prior to production of the Pirates sequel, Michael Polonio of the National Garifuna Council of Belize accused Disney of perpetuating an unjust myth that harms the Caribs and their descendents. Carib Chief Charles Williams criticized Disney’s producers and stated that, “Our ancestors stood up against early European conquerors and because they stood up…we were labeled savages and cannibals up to today.” Despite such objections to the script’s racist portrayal of the indigenous people, Disney refused to make alterations. In response, Los Angeles area Garifuna leaders organized a protest outside of Disneyland for the film’s premiere on June 24th.

Watch a scene from the film here:

The Garifuna American Heritage Foundation, United can be found here.

43 responses so far

43 Responses to “Racist Stereotypes in Pirates of the Caribbean”

  1. Sueon 19 Jul 2006 at 11:41 am

    Pirates is a ficitional movie…therefore, the natives are fiction to me. In no way did I ever think that these people did this, and I’m sure the most people agree. Time to stop bashing Disney for a great movie!

  2. Rachaelon 19 Jul 2006 at 1:15 pm

    There are greater issues in the world to fixate upon. I agree with Sue. Next we’ll be hearing from pirates who are offended about they way they were portrayed. Everyone knows these movies are campy and silly.

  3. Gloriaon 19 Jul 2006 at 1:59 pm

    Wait a minute! The British are scoundrels; the pirates are rogues; the natives are cannibals and the dog is the ruler/god (or didn’t you wait to see the scene after the credits?). Come on, folks! If you’re going to protest something, protest something really important and forget about protesting fiction!

  4. Max Forteon 19 Jul 2006 at 6:31 pm

    Ethnic slander and racism are perfectly fine, these comments say, as long as it is “fiction and fun”. The Nazis liked to show Jews morphing into rats in their propaganda films…also fiction, and some at the time even found it funny. As for “Disney bashing” I have rarely encountered such misplaced heart bleeding for a multi-billion dollar transnational corporation.

  5. Rony Figueroaon 19 Jul 2006 at 9:12 pm

    It’s hard to understand the issue of degradation against the Garifuna when people all over the world have been brainwashed by movies and television shows glamorizing pirates lifestyles and natives playing the role of the bad guys. Try to reverse that thinking when people have been conditioned all of their lives to believe what they see. It’s time to get educated about the indigenous peoples of our planet in order to stop this erroneous thinking. Garifuna, Kalinago, Taino, etc. -peoples of the caribbean- are not cannibals, never were cannibals…It was just warfare tactics used by the British to overcome the so called enemy of the time. These tactics are still being used against the enemy…it’s called character assassination!!

  6. John Riddellon 20 Jul 2006 at 5:57 am

    The [first] three comments reflect the casual dismissive attitude many Americans take towards racism in movies and other forms of entertainment. A common theme is to admonish those afflicted by this bigotry to stop obsessing over “small” things and start focusing on really important matters. It’s shameful and I condemn it. Kudos to Sonali and Cheryl for bringing this light!

  7. Rosson 20 Jul 2006 at 10:23 pm

    I agree with others here who are critical of misrepresentations of oppressed peoples. The treatment of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean was horrific. The natives of Haiti commited mass suicide to avoid the brutality of the Spaniards. (Eduardo Galaeno mentions this in the first chapter of his book The Open Veins of Latin America (page 15 of the 1997 edition).) I don’t see this as a trivial issue. I think America’s biggest problem is widespread ignorance of the past, present, and future.

  8. Zoila Blancoon 27 Jul 2006 at 6:03 am

    I think that what Cheryl is doing deserves applause. It is by ignoring the so called little things that lead to the big things like lynchings. Sounds extreme? Think about it.

  9. Claire Meurens-Yasharon 28 Jul 2006 at 12:54 am

    Sue, Rachel and Gloria just don’t get it, so let me make this clear: EVEN FICTION CAN BE HURTFUL.
    Would they feel the same way if, let’s say, the WW2 concentration camp victims were portrayed as cannibals and thus made their unhumane treatment justifiable?
    Today, perpetuating this myth is sadistic. It is a throwback to the racial antagonism of the indefensible ideology of the twentieh century, an embarrassment to our culture. It has to stop.

  10. Karl Eklund, Ph.D.on 30 Jul 2006 at 5:21 pm

    A report of the way the Garifuna acted during the the Second Carib War, not long after the pirate era, can be found at http://1795.karleklund.net The story would make a better movie script than the one Disney used.

  11. Luison 08 Aug 2006 at 4:23 pm

    garifuna people i live in france so my english is not very good but i want to say how this stéreotype of our nation is dangerous because it is a way to turn the real history of the caribean wars in occidental avantage! Read this book it is our géopolitical action excuse my language it is not my first speaking language… Karthala, Nicolas Rey, “quand la revolution, aux amériques, était nègre…”. I think it existe in spanish and english.

  12. rosieon 24 Dec 2006 at 4:26 pm

    let the past be the past we have come a long way from that stereotype

  13. Wrongon 05 Jan 2007 at 7:55 pm

    Fiction or not it is wrong.

  14. Jeremyon 15 Apr 2007 at 8:05 pm

    Why do they care about what this movie depicts the natives as? They are such a minor role in the movie; and nowhere in the movie is the name Carib mentioned. When Gibbs mentions them he says “Pelocaustus”, or something along those lines. And who cares about political correctness when there are swinging cages and giant sea monsters and three guys fighting on rolling wheel? I mean come on, that is much more fun.

  15. Cheneepon 19 Apr 2007 at 2:31 am

    When prince Harry deceided to dress up as a Nazi guard complete with Swastika to have a bit of fun at jews expense at a party, it caused a furor ( no pun intended!!). Why was he accused of being insensative???
    Surely, and I quote, “who cares about political correctness”, when he could of been left to have SO much fun, Goose-stepping and saluting!!
    I mean, come on THAT is much more fun.

  16. Jession 26 Apr 2007 at 3:24 pm

    I understand everyone’s sides here… I, however, think that Disney meant no disrespect. Natives of island countries all over the world have been portrayed ad carnivals and savages for hundreds of years. Yes, it’s wrong and hurtful sometimes. Still, my father always told me that people’s opinions of me don’t matter. Shouldn’t this same principle apply to these Carib natives? If this kind of portrayal is hurtful to natives shouldn’t several pieces of classic literature fall under a ‘racist and hurtful’ category. I’m in no way supporting racism or even the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. I didn’t even like the movie. However, I have to live with cries of ‘racist’ repeatedly at school for everything. A student fails a test because he didn’t study and yet the teacher is being ‘racist’. He gets called on in class because he was sleeping and the teacher is again ‘racist’. It seems to me that racism is becoming more of an excuse and less of a reason. Regardless… I grow tired of these racism debates.

  17. Cheneepon 28 Apr 2007 at 6:35 am

    Your father, IF, he said such a thing is wrong. No, this principle should NOT be applied to the Caribs or ANYONE else full-stop.
    If several pieces of classic literature falls under racist and hurtful catagory,I am sure if the will is there to change it, then it can be done.
    When “people” like disney, stereo-type others not like them, it is dangerous. Stereo-typing DOES damage to communities, when people BELIEVE that those “others” people not like them, are seen as “terrorist” or potential “terrorist”, because of their religion, OR like Blacks, who are viewed as being responsible for most shootings, drug related incidents, and crimes, not to mention portrayed as welfare queens, etc, etc. THATS people’s opinions that most law abiding black people have to live with and is expected of THEIR group, when it isn’t even true.
    Many whites in Europe STILL SEE Jews as evil, usurious, dangerous and ratty. That’s people’s opinion for you. Besides this nonsense about people “always” blaming racism for their failings, is just as tired and worn out as those who always harp on about anti-semeticism, because some white gentile person has the audasity to express HIS OPINION.

  18. sw taion 27 May 2007 at 4:59 pm

    The casual slip of the tongue reflects much of our unconscious mind…and in this case…the ingrained racist images of many races.

  19. xoon 27 May 2007 at 8:48 pm

    I always found the cannibal scene disturbing all though I wasn’t entirely sure why. I LOVE Pirates, but was saddened that such a scene was in the movie. However, I don’t think the movie’s creators were trying to be hurtful. Maybe they included the scene for “entertainment value” because it seemed “exotic” (which is a whole other issue – exotic can be anything foreign to any one that is not familiar with it) which would still be wrong. But I don’t think they were trying to stereotype the Carib people. I, for one, did not automatically see that and believe that people form that island were cannibalistic, much less all Carib people. Also, in regard to Captain Jack speaking the natives’ language – that could either be a reference from the first movie (an obscure line) or just the nature of his character (picking up on things quickly, well-traveled, picked up on many cultural traits, etc.) but I do not believe those scenes were portraying a colonialist view that a white man could come in and command the language in an impeccably short time. Nonetheless, I do feel the scene should have been dealt with better (if put in the film at all). If the film’s creators wanted to use cannibals as an “obstacle” of some sort the humanity of the cannibals should have been considered. Granted the scene where Jack was to be eaten was (seemingly) in a religious context which is not so far from the truth and certain individuals from the tribe were portrayed with distinct personalities. However, I think it should have also been noted that cannibalistic societies could have reacted favorably towards people, they weren’t just there to eat or capture everyone in which sense seeing them as merely an obstacle is unfavorable. However, if their humanity had been shown more and only under strict, traditional religious circumstances Jack was to be given up then that would put the scenes in a more accurate context. Also, the natives could have been seen as antagonists only by some people because they caged the rest of the crew. However, more likely, the crew was caged because they were intruders on the natives’ land, making the crew the primary antagonists. I, personally, didn’t come away thinking negatively of the Carib people, but I completely understand how perceptions could have been skewed and how the creators could have executed the scene (if at all) much better. And what people think of you SHOULDN’T matter, and it can be argued that people should have the freedom to act (in non-hurtful ways) as they like, but then there is the Prince Harry incident. Not technically hurtful, but very offensive to people and emotionally hurtful. Really, those decisions are personal. If we limit what people express (except in cases of extreme danger) then what else are we on the verge of limiting? I think it’s a very tricky area and people should have the decency to respect each other and each other’s heritages.

  20. xoon 27 May 2007 at 8:54 pm

    And, yes, it was just for “fun” but often times what is fun to one can be hurtful to another. I do think there are MORE pressing issues, as I didn’t find this incredibly horrific – I should correct myself, I didn’t watch it believing that this was how the people actually were, nor did anyone I know, yet it definitely had racist undertones and was offensive to a group of people. Disney should have accounted for that and changed something or AT LEAST had a disclaimer at the end of the movie. But I’m sure some people out there would watch that and believe it which puts it at higher risk of being horrific. Joking about race, religion, etc is tricky in that some people in the group being made fun of will laugh along, others are more sensitive. There’s no right or wrong. What about Talladega Nights – could be offensive to Southern white Christians. But that seems more “acceptable” somehow. Should those types of entertainment be banned as well? Or do those people not care as much? I don’t think we can generalize either way. At the very least it should be made resolutely clear at the beginning and end that the depictions are solely for entertainment purposes not actual representations of any person, place, or people. I’m new to these types of discussions and very eager to learn and discuss more about racism especially as modernly portrayed. I’m eager to hear more.

  21. Clarkon 30 May 2007 at 3:22 am

    The belief that all stereotyping must end seems not only ludicrous to me, but completely impossible. Everyone does this each day to help us make safe and efficient decisions. One might want to take a shortcut through the alley, but there is a man standing there that looks dangerous so you go the long way instead. He might have been a great guy, but something about his appearance made you judge him to be unsafe. You made the right decision under the circumstances, but if he knew your thoughts, he’d probably be offended because he thinks he’s an okay guy. So now we’re going to make a world where no one is offended? It will never happen. I’m offended many times each day as I’m sure you are. But we tolerate it most of the time because we live in a society of people who are at various stages in learning about life. Those of us with any sense do our best not to drastically offend others, but it happens. A few weeks ago I called a woman “Sir”. She was offended. I was embarrassed and apologized. But she looked just like a guy! Really, she did! Believing her to be a man, I couldn’t call out “Hey, Ma’am!” What should I have said to get her attention? “Hey, You!?” When I was younger I was hospitalized for two months and barely ate a thing. After leaving the hospital, someone called me a skinny wimp. I didn’t like it. I was hurt and offended. But I could choose to hate him for it, or learn to like myself regardless of what was said. I got a lesson in forgiveness and learning to like myself. There are some that want the world so free of offenses that they’ll support any law restricting individuality to achieve their purpose. Only they forget one thing: the world consists of evil people who have no intention of being thoughtful towards others. They don’t follow the rules of decency. They don’t even want to. I feel empathy for the Carib natives who feel wronged, but we all need to grow thicker skin and realize that we will be offended often in life. As long as it is not a threat or causes harm or injury, we need to get over it as best we can and use the situation to gain some wisdom. Now if we really want to be concerned over racial stereotypes, consider Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who made a racial comment and threat when he vowed to ignite a worldwide Islamic revolution. He stated that “Israel must be wiped off the map of the world, and that a world without America and Israel is both possible and feasible.”
    A blatent threat generated from racial and religious prejudices. I don’t think the Pirates of the Caribean went as far as that. Ahmadinejad offened me. He also threaten every single person I care about, and two whole countries of people! I’d ask him to apologize, but he doesn’t care. His wish is that I, along with all Americans are dead. He isn’t playing by my sense of right and wrong. Maybe Disney needs to take more care in its portrayal of people, but Ahmadinejad and many who think like him won’t be swayed into learning how to curb racism. It seems they believe its much easier and rewarding to kill rather than to participate in a civilized society where people communicate, learn, grow, sacrifice, forgive, and build bridges to a better world. That’s a lesson that will always need to be learned over and over again.

  22. Ceeon 18 Jun 2007 at 8:34 am

    I never heard so much tiresome non-sense in a long time. If Caribs need to grow a thicker skin, then so should a lot of other people who make a career out of being victims whilst scape-goating, and wilfully stereo-typing other peoples. People all over the world care about their country and others as well, it just that some folks have been made strangers in their own lands and do not have this luxury to call home their own.
    Besides, didn’t the Bell Curve do a hatchet-job to Black people. That book was a lot of crap, trying to pass it self off as academic intellect.

  23. nesson 19 Sep 2007 at 10:03 am

    todos queiren en un momemto hacerse un nombre, y por eso se imbentan lo que sinceramente y descaradamen yo llamo puras pendejadas; Y si uno las cree sin inbestgar uno se buelbe pendejo; Y si lla es, se b uelbe mas pendejo.

    El entretenimiento rebela lo que la persona es pordentro, Y ni Yo ni nadien puede cambiar esto, solo Dios puede cambiar ala gente.

  24. Ceeon 20 Sep 2007 at 7:09 am


  25. Chick:)on 30 Sep 2007 at 9:25 am


  26. Broedon 07 Jan 2008 at 5:18 pm

    I think it’s silly to get all huffy about this. It’s like pretending that cannibals don’t exist. Surely /that’s/ worse “Oh, these people are so bad so we must never speak of them again” I think THAT would be rasist.

  27. Pirate liberation nowon 01 Feb 2008 at 9:25 pm

    The same movie where a woman turned into a 50 foot giant and then turned into a million crabs and a ship full of dead stereotypical pirates(nobody says that pirates were nothing like that) and people are bitching?

    It also showed corporate power as bullshit and put the anti-corporate freedom fighters as the heroes. But hey, people will complain.

  28. dj labugaon 16 Feb 2008 at 8:53 pm


  29. Mickon 27 Feb 2008 at 4:51 pm

    I’m Native American and I wasn’t offended. Get over it. I’s fiction.

  30. Sarahon 18 Jun 2008 at 8:39 am

    One word: FICTION.

  31. Joeon 14 Sep 2008 at 3:12 pm

    although it is fiction, the problem is that it perpetuates a stereotype. this is especially bad when the target audience is the younger population who are much more susceptible to accepting a racist attitude. fiction yes, racist yes, bad…yes.

  32. Dan Kon 17 Dec 2008 at 10:11 pm

    This movie IS racist. As a white man, I am very digusted with the portrayal of my people. We do not wear powdered white wigs and we don’t all speak with British accents! When will the film industry end this blasphemy?

  33. Benon 28 Jul 2009 at 7:44 am

    I knew a guy that was REALLY racist. Whenever he wore a white shirt he would wash it after three days claiming the shirt was ‘dirty’! Sometimes he wouldn’t wash them with shirts of other colours, claiming it would ‘ruin’ the shirt. I started a protest movement and we convinced the government to ban segregated washing. The clothing industry was pleased, now you can only wear a shirt once!

  34. dj labugaon 14 Aug 2009 at 10:52 pm

    It’s ok! Not really! Don’t be fooled by the stereotype labeled to these indegenous people of the Caribbean. They were warriors and the British, the French and the Spaniards didn’t like it, too bad! Caribs, Arawaks, Tainos and all natives were uneducated idiots (so they thought!). Not…Thank God for Garinagu who fought the English tenaciously for over 100 years. Unfortunately, they (the British)kept St. Vincent & The Grenadines and the poor natives were denied of their culture and identity. But it’s never too late, people of St. Vincent are coming up and waking up to see that what they had is better than what they have now!

  35. rony figueroaon 14 Aug 2009 at 10:55 pm

    Fiction…in your mind, brother! Stop this character assassination. It’s time to reverse the roles.

  36. polly phippson 08 Oct 2009 at 5:18 pm

    pirates of the caribbean brought to my attention. a part of the world i was not aware of. i visited wallaboo last january. the caribs should be proud that their small island was chosen to show the whole world what a beautiful place full of people of rich history, that i as a white person felt very privileged to be there. there is racism everywhere. these people should hold their heads high and be very proud of who they are. racim cannot take their heritage away from them.

  37. sonofthedestroyeron 17 Jun 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Hollywood is extremely racist.
    They are clever about it
    And they get away with it because they have plenty of ethnic actors who are willing to appear on screen and perpetrate racial stereotypes against themselves.

  38. Caion 10 Jul 2012 at 9:33 am

    Pirates of the Caribbean embraces traditional racial stereotypes in a tongue in cheek way and for pure entertainment value. Its part of these films, and maybe has been perpetuated over the years by this film and others like it (indiana jones to name one), but hasn’t this just made the stereotypes more ridiculous and completely unbelievable. I dont see racial stereotypes (I think there is british, spanish, Caribbean tribes and pirate stereotypes in this film) as a real representation of those countries and cultures, and neither does anyone else. I hope.

  39. Walteron 11 Jul 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Movies are written by people who make choices. Script writers made the deliberate choice to write the natives as savage cannibals. Writers, the director and casting agent made the deliberate choice to have only one non-Caucasian main character, and for her to be a witch. Fiction might not be racist. But writers can be.

  40. 5fwefon 29 Sep 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Dude honestly I never even thought they were American Indian! They looked black to me! After hearing Norrington mention a hurricane off Tripoli, I assumed they had sailed southwest around Africa and that these “Caribs” were stereotypes of West Afrricans! oh well…

  41. Amelon 03 Apr 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Something just struck me in the movie: the black women pirate who is supposed to be in charge of the ship at one point is completely losing power, even considered unreliable, and ultimately totally useless. Her power is transferred to the white woman as soon as the latter comes on board, and then from the white woman to the white man. Like if there was a racial and gender hierarchy to be respected. I have read above that this discussion is useless and that there are more important issues to deal with in this world. However, these movies might have a significant impact on society as a whole especially if they are watch by millions of children.

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