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Death at a Funeral

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Death at a Funeral

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America is at the heart of a fresh era of films with racist connotations. The films define race in a very different way as compared to early films – a far more open approach to racism. Of course, racism has dominated American films for decades. The earliest movie that made racism a subject was The Birth of a Nation in 1915 in which the roots of Ku Klux Klan was celebrated. Movies also highlighted slavery in light of the white perspective on the topic. Classic movies like Gone with the Wild paid greater attention to the manner in which brute slave labor enhanced the lives of the whites – their idealism, romance and gallantry. The civil rights movement came out strongly to strike a balance between whites and blacks by the counter-narrative – Roots – that revealed the disguised cruelty in the white charm. Divisions have intensified since these early times. Movies by white people often justify the struggles whites endure in coexisting with the blacks. Similarly, movies by black people often justify the struggles blacks endure in coexisting with the whites. The division has intensified even in movies that incorporate aspects of both blacks and whites. Jungle Fever and Do the Right Thing were a manifestation of the difficulty in reconciling black and white narratives. At one moment, the two are together as depicted in some films while at yet another moment the two are torn apart in other films. This confusion is even worse than what used to be at the beginnings. This paper uses an expert analysis of Chris Rock’s Death at a Funeral to depict representations of race in American cultural productions.

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Introducing the Expert

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Kwame Anthony Appiah is a Ghanaian of British origin. He is a novelist, cultural theorist and philosopher. His areas of interest are philosophy of mind and language, political and moral theory, and African intellectual history. Appiah was bred in Ghana but pursued his Ph.D. at Cambridge University. He taught philosophy at the Princeton University before proceeding to the New York University early this year. Currently, Appiah is a member of New York University’s departments of law and philosophy.

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Appiah’s dissertation at Cambridge University was an exploration of the challenges in semantics. He is attributed to the 1992 award winning novel In My Father’s House. His later books included The Ethics of Identity, Color Consciousness and Cosmopolitan: Ethics in a World of Strangers. He was also an editor of Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. In 1995, Appiah became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Summary of Death at a Funeral

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The film is all about a funeral ceremony. Aaron and Ryan’s father is being buried. The older son, Aaron, has been staying at his parents’ home together with his wife Michelle. Dwspite several attempts to acquire their own home, Aaron and Michelle have never succeeded. Aaron envies Ryan, his brother, because the latter has succeeded in life as a writer. Ryan has published a novel. He lives a classy life. Ryan books expensive plane tickets from New York to Los Angeles but he cannot help his brother offset the funeral expenses.

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Aaron and Elaine (his cousin) set out to pick a brother Jeff so that they can proceed together to the funeral. Elaine is accompanied by her fiancé Oscar. Oscar is quite nervous. Aaron gives him some pill to ease the nerves. He takes out the pill from some bottle labeled Valium. After sometimes Aaron reveals that the pill was a powerful hallucinogen he had prepared for a friend. It did not take long before chaos erupts. Oscar began to hallucinate about the coffin moving. To stop the coffin, Oscar knocks it, causing the body to fall out of it.

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Some dwarf person named Frank approaches Aaron. He comes with surprising news that he was the secret lover of Aaron’s father. In fact, Frank even has photos to prove his point. He threatens to make the photos public and to send them to Aaron’s mother unless Aaron pays him $30,000. Aaron has no money to pay. He approaches Ryan to do it. They decide to join hands in the payment. However, as Aaron and Ryan deliberate to pay, Franc starts ridiculing Aaron’s writings. This annoys Aaron so much that he abandons the payment.

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Frank becomes violent. He pretends to draw a gun out of his pocket as he exits the room. Ryan pulls him over. In joint efforts, Aaron and Ryan tie up Frank, preventing his exit from the room. Norman appears from nowhere and finds the drama on course. He administers several doses of Valium to Frank so that he can calm down. Jeff reveals that the substance is similar to the hallucinogen earlier administered to Oscar.

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While Jeff and Norman are supposed to keep an eye on Franc so that Uncle Russell does not get distracted, Frank releases himself from the daunting task. He jumps from the couch and in the process bangs his head on the coffee table. The incident makes the others think Frank is dead. They form a plan to dump Frank into the coffin. Outside, everyone is helplessly watching Oscar, who stands on the roof threatening to jump down due to what he considers infidelity of his girlfriend after catching her kissing with Derek, an ex-boyfriend. Ryan and Aaron dump Frank into the coffin.

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Elaine tries to calm Oscar down by telling him thet the incident was forceful due to Derek’s insistence. Elaine reveals that she is pregnant. Soon everyone gets back to the ground, and the eulogy continues. As Aaro n gives his speech in an awkward manner, Frank starts the drama. He bangs the coffin so loud that it opens up. Frank comes out of the coffin. The photos he had in his pocket scatter on the ground. Cynthia, Aaron’s mother, sees the photos. She screams so loudly at Frank and starts attacking him. Meanwhile, Aaron goes the extra mile to win everyone’s attention to his moving eulogy. He stresses how his father was a man of morals and had no flaws.

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Appiah’s Take on Racial Identities

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Appiah is the postmodern Socrates. He questions what being an African or African-American entails. However, the answers he offers raise pertinent issues that are all inclusive (that is, encompass all people). Appiah’s major concern is how people construct themselves individually in the society, privately or publicly, presently or in the past. This situation prompts him to explore the complexity of the process of personal possession. He stresses the dangers and opportunities of self-creation in a world that is culturally hybrid and ethically fluid. He formulates standards to measure the morality of people’s lives today while obliging people to examine those lifestyles and restructure them accordingly.

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Death at a Funeral is racially charged. Blacks dominate the cast, and the atmosphere is one against the whites. Aaron and Ryan are determined not to cause shame and embarrassment to their deceased father. The white man – Frank –, who appears from the blues on the funeral day, is armed with loads of evidence to tarnish the deceased’s name. He encounters a combined force of black men. The demonstration of hatred starts when Frank ridicules Aaron’s novels as lacking flavor. This comment angers Aaron to the extremes until Aaron withdraws from the $30,000 deal he had made with Frank to keep him off the funeral. Aaron and his group resort to tyranny of numbers to eliminate Frank. They administer a toxic drug to Frank, which makes him run wild. As if that is not enough, the black group does the extraordinary – they fix the white enemy into a coffin. Although sounding comical, the racial setting and interpretation is quite sad. This incident is one of the gravest manifestations of racial identity. The blacks are so tired of whites that burying them alive is the best remedy.

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As Appiah articulates, “…racial identification is simply harder to resist than ethnic identification. The reason is twofold. First, racial ascription is more socially salient… Secondly, race is taken by so many people to be the basis of treating people differently” (Appiah 46). So entrenched is racial identification in American society that all spheres of life, including cultural presentations, want to manifest it. Death at a Funeral is among many other films that present race as a cultural aspect of the society. According to Appiah, “There is not now and there has never been a common culture in the United States” (50). Appiah then argues that collective identities force people to behave in certain ways so that to fit within the ideals of their group: “The large collective identities that call for recognition come with notions of how a proper person of that kind behaves: it is not that there is one way that blacks should behave, but that there are proper black modes of behavior” (57).

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Conclusion

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Death at a Funeral, therefore, is a classic manifestation of the racially charged American society. Much has been done to fight racism from all angles, but it will certainly never end. As Appiah has articulated in his academic work, racial identity is different from other forms of identity. However, in as much as people identify themselves along racial lines, Appiah urges people to recognize contingency and practice irony. It is only better for the film industry to reconsider racial connotations of the films they release. Hollywood influences huge masses, and their presentation of race as a good thing will only polarize American society more and extend it to the world.

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Works Cited

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Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race. New Jersey:

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Princeton University Press, 1996. 40-60.Cinema Blend. Death at a Funeral (2010). Cinemablend, 2010. Accessed at

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http://www.cinemablend.com/reviews/Death-at-a-Funeral-2010-4581.html 8 November 2014.

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