In her article, “Boycott The Rum Diary–a racist, sexist screed,” Dr. Maritza Stanchich, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras professor of English, voices the concerns of many who have been following the flurry of activities and monstrous traffic jams in Old San Juan surrounding the filming of Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-autobiographical novel The Rum Diary [also see Puerto Rico according to Hunter S. Thompson], starring Johnny Depp.
In her cleverly biting analysis of the literary work, published in The Puerto Rico Daily Sun (June 9, 2009), Stanchich asks whether the filming of Thomson’s novel in San Juan is actually worth the trouble, despite the Puerto Rico Film Commission’s assumption that it is economically favorable to shoot films on the island as ways to create more jobs and to promote Puerto Rico as a destination. Upon reading the book, “set in boomtown 1950s Puerto Rico, when Hunter Thompson freelanced for The San Juan Star,” she says, she was “appalled at its consistently dehumanizing, distorting and damaging depictions.” She also points out that it is very probable that, like the Pirates of the Caribbean series of blockbusters and Thompson’s book, the filmic version will contribute to highlight “the most enduring stereotypes.” I quote directly from Stanchich’s article:
Normally I’d admire Depp’s dedication to the legacy of his friend Hunter Thompson, a luminary of 20th century U.S. literature. I’d also celebrate Thompson’s off-the-hook journalistic style and jaundiced political eye. I hardly miss the point that Thompson presents himself and his colleagues as degenerates, but that doesn’t justify a completely degenerate portrait of Puerto Rico, especially considering such views– often linked to imperialist notions of racial mixing– have been perpetuated throughout the country’s and the region’s colonial history. This was not lost on the Caribs in Dominica, who protested cannibalism scenes in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. I’m all for creative adaptations, but unless the screenplay by director Bruce Robinson reverses this offensive portrait, we should boycott this film.
Stanchich supports her denunciation by offering a very brief, but effective, selection of the distasteful statements that will hopefully not make their way into the film dialogue. Many more examples of Thompson’s depictions of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans are available in the longer (unpublished) version of her article. I will only quote two: “Robert, the streets are full of whores. You should look around sometime. I saw so many on the way up here I wanted to grab about six and fall down naked and let them crawl all over me like puppies;” and “The Puerto Ricans take a real interest in abandoned cars— they set upon them like hungry animals and tear them apart. [. . .] like ants dragging a dead beetle, hauling it off to some junk dealer for ten yanqui dollars, then fighting with knives and broken bottles for shares of the money.”
As Stanchich declares in her closing statement, “At least West Side Story had catchy tunes.”
Maritza Stanchich is professor of English and Caribbean Literature at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras. A former journalist for the The San Juan Star she has lived on the island for eleven years.
There is no link available at the moment for the full article. Photo of Hunter Thompson from http://www.privateislandsonline.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=796 [Not meant as a tongue-in-cheek reference to my co-blogger’s previous post— Johnny “Columbus” Depp now owns his own Caribbean island— intended. Well, maybe a little . . .]