Here at the United Nations Cultural Reform Centre we are working on a major project that will help deliver us a better world.
Many decent people have already destroyed the statues of racist dregs of the past like Cecil Rhodes and Robert E. Lee and universities have been fitted out with safe spaces and trigger warnings to return them to the peaceful Arcadian groves they used to be, where no-one disagrees with anyone else.
Christmas carols have been rewritten to remove their blatant sectarianism. Courageous entertainers have refused to perform in the apartheid enclave known as Israel. All this is progress. But there remains one last bastion of racism, nationalism and misogyny that has not been challenged: the so-called classic cinema. In fact, these so-called gems should be consigned to the dustbin of history where they belong.
Accordingly, we have embarked on a major project to rewrite the most offensive ones and recast them in keeping with the more inclusive and non-judgmental standards that apply to the cinema today.
Our first target is Casablanca. This piece of celluloid trash is called a masterpiece, and, as an exercise in hypocrisy, it is very appropriate to call it one. Its whole tone is a hymn to the superiority of the white master, his domination over servants and the subjugation of women as chattels to be bought and sold at the whim of their male owners. Look at the demeaning way the nightclub owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) dominates Sam, his black pianist, and pushes him around with peremptory orders like ‘Play it Sam!’. No wonder they call it ‘film noir’. How appropriate it is that Sam should be black: he could have stepped straight out of the cotton fields of Alabama to play a role in that other racist ‘masterpiece’, Gone With the Wind. And performing as a black pianist in a white man’s club is just so evocative of the hideous black and white minstrel shows that besmirched that ignorant era. Sam, in turn, knows his place and he always addresses Rick as ‘boss’, while the croupiers and waiters cringe before their master in the same demeaning and servile manner.
Even the women are contaminated by the racist zeitgeist of Casablanca. When Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) sees Sam in the club for the first time, she asks: ‘Who is the boy playing the piano?’. ‘The boy’, if you please! And the women are victimised simply for being women: Yvonne, Rick’s current mistress, is naturally a dizzy blonde, a collaborator with any Nazi who will give her a pair of nylons and a good time girl who is bought and sold for a few chips at the roulette table. Recent research shows that Bogart actually stood on a box to make him look taller than Bergman! Again, in one of the most disgraceful examples of male domination in cinema history, Ilsa is bundled onto the last plane to Lisbon like a piece of checked luggage while Rick and his rival Victor Laszlo fight over who should go with her. And of course the whole film is a paean to aggressive male nationalism as the two boys’ clubs, the Nazis and the fascist French, bellow out their jingoistic national anthems. Rick calls his nightclub rival Ferrari ‘the fat gent’, an appalling example of body-shaming. Indeed, the Australian MP, Kelly O’Dwyer could have used Casablanca as the source for branding her colleagues as ‘homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers.’ This film should be eradicated from celluloid history, just as we got rid of the statues of so-called heroes of the confederate south. In the meantime, the least we can do is make a new, kinder and more inclusive Casablanca. And this time we will create, not a discredited faux masterpiece, but a peoplespiece of which we can all be proud.
We start by giving the film a new name. The old Casablanca was an obvious racist invocation, as if all houses were white, like the capitalists who own them. So the new film is Casabeige, a more inclusive colour. Rick still runs the casino, set in South Sudan, but a neon light outside says ‘Gamble Responsibly.’ As Ilsa enters the club, Rick exclaims: ‘Of all the equal opportunity workplaces in the world, she walks into mine.’ The club is raided by Captain Tim, the head of the local Human Rights Commission who declares: ‘I am shocked to find there is misogyny taking place on these premises. And man spreading.’ It seems that a croupier has been caught saying to a female patron who had just won at poker that Lady Luck must be with her, the demeaning implication being that women are so stupid they could not win on their merits. Captain Tim gives her a complaint form, a secret hearing is held and the woman is awarded $1 million in damages. Other female patrons are also attracted to the money and cry ‘Me Too!’ as they are given claim forms. For good measure Tim orders: ‘Round up the usual climate change deniers’. Rick decides it is time to explore other business opportunities and sells the club to a transgender couple who introduce an all-vegan menu and a total ban on fossil fuels in the kitchen, while the staff sing: ‘As thyme goes by’. Rick proposes a toast to the new owners: ‘Here’s looking but not leering at you, sisters.’ He looks back wistfully and says ‘At least we will always have Paris – the Paris Agreement on Climate Change’. He dashes to the airport and catches the last plane to the Writers’ Festival in Cuba to deliver a joint paper with George Clooney on the evils of logging old-growth forests. In the final scene we see a sign at the entrance reading: Rachel and Reuben’s, while the old Rick’s sign is used as kindling for a smoking ceremony. A rainbow flag flutters over the solar panels. Good news! We have had a stunning review in the New York Times.
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