Saturday, 18 August 2012

White Dog

 I've got a treat for you, below is the a full Hollywood made film with no ad breaks. The film is White Dog, made in 1982 but denied a full release in US until 2008 Britain and France did get it much earlier and art house cinema's did show it killing its profit margin. It made under $50,000 despite a seven million budget.

Why the distribution suicide? Well due to the film's grizzly subject matter a "white dog" Which is an attack Dog trained to specifically target black and brown people, the film was plagued with rumours that it promoted racial abuse. This misinformation was excerbated by the fact that the novel the film was based on of the same name also heavily criticised the Civil Rights movement. There was talk by the NAACP that a boycott of the film could be on the cards forcing the studio to decide it was better to cut there losses with a limited release. That was both a mistake and tragedy.

A brief synopsis for those reading who didn't bother to watch the film above. Julie Sawyer an aspiring actress whom lives alone in the hills runs over a white Alsatian after getting it treated at the vets she takes pity on it and takes it as her own after putting out a missing dog found advert. Whilst the dog stays with her a white home invader breaks in and attacks her, the dog comes to her rescue and it looks like we're in for another tired 80's buddy flick with one of the buddies being a dog.

However its not long before things start going off centre, after taking the dog to one of her roles it attacks and severely injures a fellow actress whom happens to be black completely unprovoked. Thinking she has an attack dog that needs retraining (she can't bare to have it put down) she seeks the help of Hollywood's animal trainers. However whilst there the dog sees and attacks a black member of staff, and thus the truth is revealed the dog is racist. Ok its actually been brutalised and taught to attack dark skin tones (dogs of course can only see in black and white) on sight. Fortunately for Julie one of the animal trainers Mr Keys (played by Paul Winfield) decides to take on the difficult job of deprogramming the dog, as he's been trying out new techniques on such animals in his spare time for a few years. Its his hope that if he can successfully de-program a White dog without having to resort to euthanasia, it'll mean racists won't bother training new attack dogs.

And despite a few setbacks it seems to work, (sort of) you'll have to watch it, I don't want to spoil the ending.

As I've said earlier the film an extensive and overt condemnation of Racism and some of its ugliest practices and mindsets was itself dogged (heh) with allegations of being racist itself. These allegations killed any chance it had of reaching its intended audience mainstream America both Black and White whom were coming to terms with the aftermath of Civil rights movement and racial tensions of the 60's & 70's. This is a shame as the film is a powerful examination of the psychology of racism. Using a dog as the main racist character rather then say a Klansmen or police officer* is a feel a perfect character to represent racism in America. Lots of people all over the states and of course the globe keep dogs which means racism can't be explained away as a bad apple or a special segment of society with its unique experiences. The fact its a dog obviously means it had to be taught its racism, even if you believed in the out dated theory that racism is somehow innate, why on earth would a dog another species entirely view black or white humans differently left to its own devices?

In addition the way dog acts around white people and black people is in my experience a very accurate depiction of racist behaviour, minus the biting obviously. The dog is perfectly sweet and harmless around whites unless you physically attacked its owner, but as soon as it sees a black person it gets angry, very angry. In fact it gets very creepy to see that dog happily cover itself in blood and then just as happily pad on over to its owner with its tail wagging for a pet and dinner. If you're fortunate enough to have zero first hand experience of racism you might be thinking the dogs almost bipolar reactions are a bit of a caricature, but I can assure you its very realistic.

I'm a supporter of the Mariners (Grimsby Town FC) and have been for a few years now. When I first started going to matches I made a few new friends who'd been going for Donkey's years. They were nice lads, they were also ex hooligans, had a few convictions in the 80's for violence and spent a few nights in the cells. As I said they were perfectly all right when I met them and that nastiness was all years ago, so I figured why not let bygones be bygones? We joked around went to the pub, you know normal bloke things. Unfortunately a few of them would at times also get quite angry and upset for no reason at all as far as I could tell. It took awhile but it wasn't long after that rants about the immigrants started completely out of the blue and there was lengthy stares at random black guys in the pub. It seems that the very presence of random dark skin would just cause extreme annoyance, now it wasn't to the point of violence (usually) I remember a very awkward lift I got to a match through the back streets where we saw a lot of brown skinned people just walking along, to the shops or park, he really didn't like that, he began pointing at them spitting out the word "immigrant" and I swear at one point he was actually shaking. After that ugly experiencing I began distancing myself from them. This was before I became politically active beyond watching HIGNFY and Question Time so the few attempts I made to get them to just "let it go" whatever "it" was failed miserably. After my sister started dating a Jewish fellow (apparently that annoyed a few of them too, I don't know why but I do know it had nothing to do with the Israel/Palestine situation as they didn't give a damn for anything outside the UK) and he and some of them met (it was all civil, but extremely tense) I cut my ties completely and took a break from Blundell Park for awhile.

Basically what I'm trying to illustrate with this little trip down memory lane is that racism is vicious, it is irrational and at times bestial, but that does not mean a racist person is incapable of what we view as good qualities. I think in our haste to make amends for our centuries long laziness and acceptance of racism society and the media have been a bit too zealous in depicting it and its adherents as being completely irredeemable and uncompromising. In reality they can be charming, polite and good fun with you so long as you aren't on their list of inferiors/enemies. This White dog perfectly demonstrates that attitude. And if you don't believe me simply put your mouse pointer over the above video and click play.

* The book was somewhat biographical as it fictionalised an attempt to de-program Alabama police dogs whom had been trained to go after Black people specifically in an attempt to intimidate Black organisations into submission.

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