We dove into discussion after watching the last few minutes of Rocky, with Jaap asking us why this clip, or the film as a whole, would be significant to Guerrero. Naturally, the first answer was the possible racial subtext, and one or two students proceeded to point out aspects such as the excessively patriotic imagery in the fight, the positioning of a white hero in an epic battle against a powerful “black threat,” and the fact that everyone roots for Rocky – not just we, the audience, but the spectators in the film – and no one is really on Apollo’s side. The idea of this racial subtext was challenged by other students who held that Rocky is simply the story of a guy from the ghetto who pulls himself up and accomplishes something great, even if he doesn’t win, and the portrayal of a black man and his team as very successful serves to argue against it. However, we also recognized that the casting of Rocky’s entire team as white and Apollo’s entire team as black, must have been intentional and had some racial considerations, and it may be worth noting that in the sequel, the opponent and his entire team are Russian – a certain enemy of the US at the time of its release.
After watching a video of Eddie Murphy’ stand-up routine about Italians seeing Rocky and being super racist, we had a student presentation on the Andrew Ross reading. It focused on some of the racial aspects of Batman, especially the presence of the Joker, who, in his white-face, could be said to represent “black crime,” which Batman, a very white Protestant, Puritan Enforcer-esque character fights against. In the discussion following, we did a lot of comparisons between Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and that of Tim Burton, in which it is a little hard to see the intentionality in touching on race or other social issues, especially considering its whacky, carnival-like tone. In Nolan’s take on the superhero’s story, social issues, such as poverty, crime, and corruption are much more in-your-face, and there is certainly something gained in the freedom to compare, examine, and exaggerate in the context of a fictional American city, rather than trying to set it in a real one.
We then watched a few minutes from the beginning of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, which Jaap told us was criticized for being too long, and spending too much time on the background and minute details of Maclolm X’s life, or at least Spike Lee’s version of it. So Jaap posed the question of why he made this choice to focus on smaller, less extraordinary aspects of the overall story, much like he did in Do the Right Thing. The class seemed to pretty much agree that this was done in order to make us see him as an individual, because the film was the story of him as a person – not just a documentation of his activities, accomplishments and struggles as a black leader and an important figure in American politics. This was especially important in making the film both more accessible and more interesting to non-African Americans, because all races can connect to the personal story of one man’s struggle against an oppressive force.
We closed out the recitation by discussing Jaap’s question about why we thought Mookie threw the trashcan through Sal’s window towards the end of the movie. Although some people thought it was simply his move to express his anger, and embody his giving up on the sort of awkward, racially-dueling position he was in as an employee at Sal’s, most of us recognized the strong possibility that Mookie did it to try to direct the crowd’s anger towards the Pizza shop, and thus, away from Sal and his sons, who it looked like the crowd was moving in on to attack.