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Fox Expresses Solidarity With Wolf, Is Pronounced ‘Racist’

November 30, 2009

Over at Slate‘s Double X blog, Lauren Bans writes to let us know she has seen Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and calls it delightful. However, there is one Very Disturbing Problem with the movie: Racism! Bans writes about Mr. Fox’s “phobia of wolves” which “makes perfect sense strictly in the animal world” but which “takes on a blatantly racial tone when Mr. Fox actually confronts a wholly black-furred wolf” near the end of the movie:

The wolf looks on blankly, big and majestic at the top of a wooded hill. Then Mr. Fox raises his hand into the black power sign—arm straight, fist closed– and the wolf is finally responsive, raising his black arm into the black power sign in return. Then he runs off into the forest a wild creature, while a clothed Mr. Fox resumes his drive back to his furnished home euphoric after confronting his phobia. Hooray!

This sounds fucked-up, right? Why is Wes Anderson making his yuppy forest creatures give black power salutes? What an asshole this guy is.

Then I actually watched the movie.

To put this scene in context, throughout the movie Fox is portrayed of having a fear of wolves. Anderson also plays with a duality between Fox’s “wild animal” side (he wants to run around and raid chicken coops; he literally eats his food like a wild animal) and his “domesticated” side (he plays house with Meryl Streep). And so at the end of the film, Fox is riding back home from his latest exploit and he sees this wolf at the top of the hill. Anderson treats this as a moment of introspection and revelation for Mr. Fox: he is both afraid of his wild nature, as symbolized by the wolf, but he must also acknowledge the wild beast within. At this moment, this tension is resolved when Mr. Fox raises his hand to the wolf in the spirit of solidarity — he finds peace with the wild on his way back to domestic bliss. I can’t fucking believe I have to spell this out, but there you have it.

Yes, the goddamned wolf is black. But black as in the color, not the race — the wolf is literally just a black silhouette with two blazing yellow eyes, outlined against the majestic mountains. There is absolutely zero racial subtext here — the scene is simply a gentle pastiche of the majestic splendor of the wild or some such Thoreauvian shit. Unlike the latest Transformers movie, which featured two jive-talking robots, there isn’t any racial coding going on at all.

And since when is a raised fist automatically a “black power sign?” A quick trip to wikipedia will tell you that a raised fist is a symbol of solidarity that’s been co-opted by everyone from tea baggers to peace activists, including, yes, both black panthers and “white power” groups.

Look, I’m sure Lauren Bans is a great person who I’d like a lot if I actually met them in the real world. I don’t know if she was on an intentional feather-ruffling mission when she wrote her post or what, but it is quite possibly the dumbest liberal addition to the discourse on race since Crash.*

* But wait, what’s wrong with Crash? Well, for starters it’s easy to imagine a more nuanced take on American race relations — for instance, you could lock a black person, a white person and a Hispanic person in a room and have them all scream “RACIST” at one another for two straight hours.


13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2009 4:30 pm

    Yeah, wow. I’m perhaps quicker than most to spot/imagine unsavory subtexts, but the thought never crossed my mind while watching that scene. Absolutely not there.

  2. November 30, 2009 9:29 pm

    Yup, you’re correct. Saw it this weekend with an 8-year old friend, never crossed my mind, and seems blatantly unhelpful on reflection. (Sometimes these things do make sense, even if you don’t catch it the first time through.)

    To go along with the “wild” vs. “domesticated” theme, I noticed that there was also the view put forth in the film that foxes, even if not “domesticated” (read: married), still have a bit of a “complex” when it comes to a comparison with wolves. The foxes live underground, hiding, and live off the scraps of civilization (stealing from the farmers). So, the initial desire to move aboveground into the tree was already Mr. Fox’s move to challenge this double-domestication.

    Okay, enough. Glad I had an 8-year old to entertain for the day, but Wes A. gets no more thought from me, being perhaps my least favorite “in” director.

  3. Joan permalink
    December 10, 2009 1:50 pm

    Perfect – I loved the movie and saw the wolf scene just as you did, it’s purely and simply a “wild” v “domestic” scene. To me it was a lovely way to show that Fox gained a little insight and is happily going back to his domesticity while wishing the wolf a happy return to the wild. I agree with Infinte Tasks – sometimes it is helpful to have these things pointed out – but it just wasn’t there in this case. I saw Fox over Thanksgiving weekend, traditionally a big movie weekend for me, and saved it for last after Precious and The Road. It was wonderful to laugh out loud and one of the rare instances where I’ll probably buy it to have in my collection.

  4. December 18, 2009 9:47 pm

    Can you elaborate on your distate for the movie Crash? I’ve read critiques of it, sure, but I think they were coming from the opposite direction you’re coming from. I am very very curious about this.

    • December 21, 2009 5:59 pm

      Sure. I think my main beef with Crash is that it’s ridiculously over-the-top and unsubtle. It’s kind of like the perfect dramatization of the hysterical shouting matches that pass for racial dialogue in the U.S. If Crash had dramatized this dialogue in order to critique it somehow, I wouldn’t have had a problem. But instead the overarching message of the film seemed to be “OMFG RACE IS A VERY IMPORTANT PROBLEM WE ARE ALL DIVERSE AND WE ARE ALSO RACIST, AT THE SAME TIME!!!!11!!”
      This is going to sound ridiculous at first, but compare Crash to the British romantic comedy Love Actually. Love Actually is kind of eye-opening because it features an inter-racial couple but provides absolutely zero commentary on race. The inter-racial couple is just one of the many boringly upper-middle class couples portrayed in the film. In Love Actually, race isn’t an issue. It’s just another human variable among many. Whereas any American film featuring an inter-racial couple is likely to either be explicitly about race, or at the very least self-consciously patting itself on the back for being so open-minded about the issue.
      I’d argue that a movie like Love Actually, which kind of normalizes and banalizes the question of race, does far more to advance a society’s attitudes toward race than a hysterical shout-fest like Crash does. I think that’s where I’m coming from on this.

      • December 27, 2009 7:07 pm

        Ah. Then we disagree very much.

        So you think a movie which avoids discussing race is, overall, more effective at combatting racism than one which does? What kind of logic is this?

        Commentary on race does not equal capslock!!!!1/1348eleventy.

  5. January 3, 2010 12:15 am

    No, look — in general you need to discuss race to combat racism — I agree there. But you have to be sure to have a smart discussion about race, and Crash does not provide this at all — it’s just a collection of over-the-top stereotyped characters screaming at each other. It’s not going to change hearts or minds.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates over at the Atlantic just posted a great post on the movie that mirrors my thoughts pretty closely and unpacks a lot of the thoughts that I’m clumsily getting at here — definitely worth a read:

    • January 3, 2010 7:12 am

      “If you’ve ever used the term “post-racial” or “post-black” in a serious conversation, without a hint of irony, you probably liked Crash.”

      I feel like there’s definitely a lot to critique about this film, but I feel as if we’re coming at it from two opposite angles. As in, with both see many things wrong with it, but these things are not the same. Your previous comments (“OMFG RACE IS A VERY IMPORTANT PROBLEM” “race isn’t an issue.” “I’d argue that a movie like Love Actually, which kind of normalizes and banalizes the question of race, does far more to advance a society’s attitudes toward race than a hysterical shout-fest like Crash does.”) indicate, to me, that you’re the type of dude who would in fact use terms like post-racial.

      From the comments thread on that post.

      “I always felt that Crash was a movie designed to make the viewer feel good about themselves; “That’s what racism really is, I’m nothing like that”.”
      That’s definitely something to criticize about the movie. But I’m not under the impression that you have a problem with that aspect.
      “This is supposed to be redemption for his racism and his earlier sexual assault of Newton.”
      This too. That’s a big problem.

      This comment seems sensible. I think I’d agree:
      “My theory about the foamy-mouthed Crash haters is that they have this attitude like “how DARE someone try to tell ME about race in America, I KNOW about race, and it was SO simplistic, etc., etc.” (and believe me, this is what all of these arguments boil down to, whether people admit it or not) I think it is borne out of condescending self-importance as to our own individual knowledge or what we think we know about race.

      Mind you, I’m not defending Crash. It’s sloppy, moralistic, too easy, and won the Oscar based on being an “issue” movie that wasn’t about gay cowboys. But I do have a problem with others who froth at the mouth about this movie because, in their minds, THEY know soooooooo much better. It’s annoying, and I’ve been reading that tripe for the past 5 years since the thing came out.”

      Would disagree strongly with this comment:
      “I would discourage you from trying to train people to deal with multiculturalism. […] For another thing, you can’t ‘train’ someone to be a sympathetic human being.”
      That strikes me as the equivalent of saying, “one should never have discussions explicitly about race. One should just be a good person and everything will be fine!”

      Agree with this:
      “oh my god, thank you, thank you, thank you. yes, crash was awful and traumatizing!!! please, don’t force-feed me some kind of liberal crap that attempts to expose injustice while over-playing white guilt!! please, please, PLEASE don’t make a movie with so much energy put into making me sympathize with a white racist RAPIST. please ..please please please… oh god, the movie was infuriating enough, but then i dared watched the dvd extras in which the people of colour were barely given any air time because the white director’s take on racism was so primal, as was sandra bullock’s…”

      “The second thing I hated was how a woman was raped onscreen and the focus was on her MAN. She even said she didn’t mind the rape, but she felt bad for hoe helpless her HUSBAND felt AS SHE WAS RAPED.”
      Agree that this was very, very problematic.

      I think BBM should have won that year, by the way.

      Thanks for the link.

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  10. January 28, 2016 9:31 am

    Thank you for sharing your view on this simple event in one of my favorite movies ever. The first time I saw this film, I loved it and totally got it right away . . . all of it . . . but when I first witnessed “the wolf solidarity fist” scene, I thought to myself: “Knockout. Home Run. Brilliance”.

    It broke my heart, while looking for that image on the internet to share with some people on Facebook earlier, that there was actual DEBATE over the imagery. It makes me think that some people are either unintelligent or simply want to drag their personal drama and frustrations into every single concept. Or both.

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