Ghost Dog: Racism and a Changing Generation

Ghost Dog shows many facets of American culture.  Part of its focus is on the issue of race relations and marginalized cultures.  This topic was handled earlier in Jarmusch’s masterpiece Dead Man which was a deconstruction of the Western film.  Ghost Dog is an acknowledgement of a checkered past, with the hint of a new multicultural generation taking over.

The white Mafioso’s as represented in this film partially represent the white power structure combined with an early attitude of racism.  There are many scenes which show the racist and even misogynist nature of the mobsters.  For example, there is a scene where two of the mob break down the door to Gary Farmer’s place and have an argument on the ethnicity of Farmer.  One almost wants to kill Farmer because “indian, nigger”; there is no difference in skin color.  This prompts Farmer to give his signature line in Dead Man “Stupid fucking white man.”  There is a strong resentment to Louise Vargo.  In addition, we have another scene where Louie and an injured mobster are pulled over by a female state trooper.  The mobster shoots the trooper to which even Louie is shocked by his behavior.

A strong scene that highlights the race theme is where Ghost Dog comes upon a pair of bear hunters.  An earlier scene Raymond compared Ghost Dog to a bear, and seeing it tied up with rope could be construed as coded imagery to lynchings.  One of the hunters remarks that they killed it because they don’t see many of the “big black fuckers” around and the other notes there aren’t many “colored folks” in the area also while threatening Ghost Dog with a shotgun.

The race/sex dynamic is played out better in the representations of both cultures.  The white mob, which at one time represented power and a ruling culture, is now run by a group of washed up retirees who can’t even pay the rent.  African Americans are young, fresh and vibrant with their culture and music permeating the entire film.  Ghost Dog is almost the embodiment of that and his strength and cunning allow him to defeat his enemies.

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2 Responses to “Ghost Dog: Racism and a Changing Generation”

  1. Kind of seems racist that most of the caucasians are depicted as racists and idiots watching cartoons while the black people are all very intelligent and interesting. I know there are countless films that are the opposite though, I just wonder if the movie was meant to be an insult to caucasians in general as a “come back” to all the racist movies against black people. The movie reminded me of Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”

    • For one I don’t know what watching cartoons has to do with being an idiot. Second this was probably poor wording but I like how you mention the fact that black people are smart equals racism in the film. True some definitions are about establishing superiority of a race but colloquially it is referred to denigrating another race. In this case an example that bucks the trend is Louise who is intelligent (she reads and becomes the head of the Valerio organization) and shows no indication of racism. What I am referring to when it comes to racism is more cultural. With each generation we become more accepting and understanding than the last so to me the old gangsters represent dying ideas.

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