Casablanca and its Portrayal of Race


When one considers Casablanca, one immediately recalls memories of the film with Humphry Bogart and Ingrid Bergman; a film that gives an idyllic portrayal of Americans in the exotic land of Morocco. What is not shown in the film is the building racial tensions stemming from years of unrest. The history of the nation is a tumultuous amalgam of rich culture and religious history. In the film, Casablanca shows nothing to signify the true racial politics that are present in this time. There is no mention of Abd el-Krim, nor the violence that escalated between the Spanish and the Moroccans; there is only the picturesque Cafe Americain.

Cafe Americain is a clear example of a crossing-place in Casablanca. It represents not only the physical waiting to cross to other nations, but it represents the crossing of cultures as well; Americans and Europeans alike are the westerners that occupy this land. There is little to no reference or acknowledgement of other races in the film besides the few scenes involving “Play it again Sam.” The few scenes in which he is shown essentially show him as “property” of someone in that he is sold along with the Blue Parrot. Sam is the only character that receives attention in the film; there is no mention of Moroccans at any point.

As Brian T. Edwards states in his article, Morocco Bound, “the complex yet readily apparent ways in which Casablanca brackets or suppresses concerns fo gender and race … are a way of distracting viewers from a more potent possibility repressed by the film: that Sam … might enter into a conversation with the colonized Moroccan subjects who are relegated to the film’s background.” (Edwards 67).This analysis of a film that attempts to avoid addressing race and identity forces one to consider the fact that the colonized American is not allowed to communicate with the colonized Moroccan.

Another example in which the film fails to accurately represent the city of Casablanca is in the brief exchange between Rick and Claude regarding the ‘waters.’ The film successfully “figures the United States as both the end and center of the world” (Edwards 68). The fact that there is a severe suppression of other cultures only furthers this idea that this film refuses to acknowledge any other cultures in a positive light, besides Western Culture. The racial politics of Casablanca are teeming with countless nuances woven between the main plot of this love story. The film, as Edwards argues, “is the paradigmatic example of ‘American Orientalism'” (Edwards 71). This phrase and its description of this film force viewers to no longer acknowledge the Moroccans, and to view Rick and the Americans as central figures in the film. This suppression of racial identities is just another example of the overall suppression of the Moroccan people throughout time.


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