Manifest Destiny: Gangs of New York (2002), West Side Story (1961)

Like the era of Day-Lewis’ tour de force, hate-filled construction Bill the Butcher, the politics of the 2010’s in America has laid bare bitter divisions about what is America. The need to either define or redefine a concept of “America” has emerged, probably mainly because one rich clown, protected by an army of lawyers, backed by a cable “news” channel happy to lie to its audience, emboldened by rallies filled with a base of Libertarian Alt-Right neo-nazis, paid his way up to the highest seat in the land all while relying on racist and jingoistic tactics. Similar cynical policies and stratagems appear throughout cinema history, where the faux distinctions make for explosive confrontations, dynamic drama. Latin American exodus, emancipated blacks, seekers of religious freedom, refugees running from genocide, victims of expansionist doctrine… the background of the immigrant changes, but there’s always a self-proclaimed “nativist” to reject them. “Once an immigrant, always an immigrant” says Anita in West Side Story, to introduce one of film history’s most entertaining and poignant musical numbers, but the concept is not true if you take the long view, or the Native American would be running the world. In America, apparently, anyone can become the nativist, if they are prepared to abide a necessary generational patience, ignore those pesky little facts about where they originally came from, and engage in grisly, bare-knuckled, eye-gouging political combat. And, of course, to ignore basic human decency.

Such is the impact of a politics of anger. For a time, it attracts followers and cements loyalties, breeding a spiraling mass of dangerous passions, inspiring some Americans to cast their opponents as a dangerous “other,” dividing the nation, and linking manhood with authority in rhetoric as well as fact. ~ Joanne Freeman, Professor of history and American studies at Yale University, “America Descends Into the Politics of Rage” for The Atlantic

More: Scorsese’s Film Portrays Racist Mass Murderers as Victims, West Side Story: The Blood and Dirt of the Streets, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and the Road to West Side Story, Classic Films: West Side Story, Dance Review: West Side Story, Coming to America: 19 Movies About U.S. Immigration, Fire, Hatred and Speed! The Glamour, Bullying and Violence of the Libertarian Alt-Right Has a Direct Political Ancestor, and It’s Not Nazi Germany.

One thought on “Manifest Destiny: Gangs of New York (2002), West Side Story (1961)

Comments are closed.