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White Nationalists spend a lot of time analyzing the themes in movies and the impact they have on our people [3]. However, we often ignore what lessons non-whites take. Consider the one movie that has had a greater impact on hip-hop culture (which is to say, the dominant culture of this country’s youth and underclass) than any other — Brian De Palma’s 1983 Scarface [4]. As chronicled by books [5], articles [6], or even a simple glance at the themes in contemporary rap, no movie has a greater hold on the imagination of black and Latino youth.

The film stars Al Pacino ferociously chewing the scenery as Tony Montana. Montana is a Cuban immigrant who rises to become a prominent cocaine dealer in Miami before dramatically losing his friends, family, power, and life.

The film is noted for its extreme vulgarity, especially for the use of one particular example of Anglo-Saxon 226 times, or about 1.32 times per minute. For those who have overall questions about the plot, you can actually figure out the entire movie from just viewing every use of that one word.

The movie itself is simply a more explicit version of one of the uniquely American film genres, the gangster film. An immigrant of lowly origins rises to the top of society through unethical methods. However, in his desire to become a powerful and wealthy man, and thus a true “American,” he loses the very things (culture, family, traditions, identity), that made him who he is. Eventually, the now deracinated protagonist is destroyed, losing even the ethereal wealth and power that he once possessed.

In The Godfather Trilogy [7], for example, Michael Corleone, despite taking the family to new heights, dies alone and isolated, his daughter a victim of the violence he used to build his fortune, his son alienated and disgusted, his father Vito’s hopes that the Corleone family will “make it” as a prominent American family in ruins.

In Goodfellas [7], Henry Hill ends up betraying all of his former friends and colleagues, and is disgusted to have to live as an average, anonymous American working on the consumer plantation, without even the comfort of his old neighborhood friends.

The Sopranos [8] television series begins with Tony Soprano bemoaning the collapse of community standards and his acknowledgment that he is fighting a losing battle to keep La Cosa Nostra going.

Scarface is a story in this vein, about an ambitious outsider caught between his old identity and the need to secure the wealth and power that modern America values far above family, patriotism, or identity. Even the hero’s name is a signal that Tony represents not Cubans per se but the universal experience of every “new American.” Montana is even an anti-Communist, butchering a former Castro confidante with a knife to earn his green card and entry into American life. In the end, though, Scarface is a cautionary tale. Tony’s mother, a humble house cleaner, sets up the conflict by saying, “You think you can come in here with your hot shot clothes and make fun of us. That is NOT the way I am, Antonio! That is NOT the way I raised Gina to be. You are not going to destroy her. I don’t need your money. Gracias! I work for my living.”

Ultimately of course, Montana does destroy his sister, and everyone else around him. He murders his best friend in a jealous rage and sees his sister killed. His trophy wife abandons him, disgusted after a flabby and drunken Tony embarrasses himself at a restaurant. He is murdered, and perhaps even worse, defeated with no friends left to avenge him. Behind the cursing and bluster, Scarface suggests that American success comes at too high a cost. At the end of the movie, Tony lies floating in his own blood, his mansion occupied by his enemies, the line “the world is yours” serving only as an ironic counterpoint. Montana’s collapse and ruin are far more complete than anything suffered even by Michael Corleone or Henry Hill.

This depressing lesson seems to have completely gone over the heads of the largely non-white fans of Scarface. When a new DVD version was released of the movie, crowds of Latinos camped outside the Best Buy in Secaucus, New Jersey like it was Black Friday. Scores of gangster rappers claim Tony Montana as a role model and an inspiration. Aaron McGruder, certainly the most perceptive critic of black culture from within the black community (and perhaps in the whole country), makes sure to characterize his pop culture-worshiping young black everyman character Riley Freeman as an outright Tony Montana wannabe. At any major city in America, T-shirt vendors can be found hawking cheap knockoffs of Al Pacino’s iconic pose, alongside images of Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and of course, Barack Obama.

The nonwhite worship of Tony Montana tells us a great deal about the values that blacks and Latinos internalize from American popular culture and what they believe America is all about. Collectively, nonwhites seem to simply block out not just Tony Montana’s defeat, but even the corruption of his career. For many, the ending needs to be changed outright. In the Scarface video game enthusiastically advertised to “urban” markets, Tony Montana’s iconic last stand is reimagined as him blasting his way out of trouble so he can rebuild his empire [9].


Al Pachino as Tony Montana

Why the attraction to blacks and Hispanics? Tony Montana represents not just the quintessentially American desire for money and power, but the uniquely non-European American desire to have these things without having to identify with the American nation or its institutions. Montana neatly summarizes his view of his new hometown of Miami and his adopted country with the quote, “This is paradise, I’m tellin’ ya. This town like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked.”

Watching a news report on cocaine in Miami, Tony neatly transitions into a rant against the “bankers and politicians” who are the real bad guys. While Tony hates Communists, he also casually defines capitalism as “fuck you.” Tony accepts this, even revels in it. America is a Hobbesian jungle of all against all, with money and power as the only absolutes.

However, there is a moral code behind Tony’s bluster. In contrast to the “WASP whores” with their money and connections, Montana’s criminality is more honest and forthright. By relying on his “balls and his word,” Tony simultaneously shames all of the law-abiding, bourgeois Americans who obey a corrupt system and also the rich businessmen and politicians who are just as bad, if not worse, than drug dealers.

In the famous “bad guy” speech, Tony Montana echoes a favorite Culture of Critique theme. Tony says drunkenly to a group of shocked whites at a fancy restaurant, “You all a bunch of fuckin’ assholes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be. You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That the bad guy.’ So. . . what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide — how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say goodnight to the bad guy!”

After all, if everyone is equally corrupt, no one can be good. In line with Tony’s own moral code though, the speech takes on a different meaning. All the old “mummies” with their illegitimate wealth and power are the real bad guys. They are soft, corrupt puppeteers who hide behind courts and fancy suits but don’t have the cojones to put their own bodies on the line. Tony, who earned his money with manliness and physical courage, is the real moral exemplar.

This is the moral code that elevates the drug dealer over the legitimate businessman, or the street enforcer over the snitch. This is the code celebrated in the narcocorrdios of Mexico, or the rap anthems blaring in Los Angeles or Baltimore, or the stop snitching shirts and signs displayed with pride all over the ghettos.

In fact, Tony Montana might even be a civil rights hero. Crime, murder, and crude displays of violence to show who can be the “big man,” if only for a few moments, are all ways of sticking it to the white power system. Ken Tucker, author of Scarface Nation, notes that white critics didn’t understand the movie in 1983. “But very quickly, Latino and black audiences seized on the story of Tony Montana. . . as an example of how a poor, disenfranchised ethnic person in America could improve his life in the Reagan era. That story has remained powerful.” Criminal action is not wrong, but simply a more honest and direct way of expressing one’s individuality and rage at “oppression.”

Of course, the more direct the approach the better. Contemporary hip hop culture values the direct use of force and display of masculinity rather than the more subtle strategy favored by a Don Corleone. Tony Montana does not fail to disappoint on this front as well. The most relevant example is the case of Montana’s Jewish mentor Frank Lopez, an aging drug lord with a chai necklace and a blonde shiksa mistress. Frank doesn’t want to rock the boat, and when Tony gets out of hand, Frank arranges to have him killed. But Montana, who kills him first and secures both his business and his girl, is more moral because he uses straightforward force as opposed to Semitic intrigue.

You can buy Greg Hood’s Waking Up From the American Dream here. [11]

While the Jewish identity of Lopez probably goes over most urban audiences’ heads, the frustration at the “white” (mostly Jewish) shop owners who run small businesses in the ghettos and barrios to “exploit the community” is very real. We can imagine many blacks and Hispanics fantasize not about having to build up such a business but about being able to simply claim it, or at least try to destroy it as they did during the LA Riots.

The irony, of course, is that Tony is not ruthless enough to maintain his power. He refrains from killing women and children even though he was ordered to by Sosa, his Bolivian cocaine supplier, killing Sosa’s henchman instead. If he had done this, his downfall would have been avoided. This speaks well of Montana, indicating at least some semblance of decency. But perhaps it is more a reflection of his own machismo. After all, he had no problem working with Sosa and profiting greatly from the relationship, despite Sosa’s tactics. He also glories in his murder of Sosa’s henchman. He presents his refusal to do Sosa’s will less as a moral stand than as a display of dominance over other men.

After he shoots Sosa’s henchman, he crows, “I told you, man, I told you! Don’t fuck with me! I told you, no fucking kids! No, but you wouldn’t listen, why, you stupid fuck, look at you now.” The code of aggressive machismo, displays of dominance, and the quick resort to violence are of course all staples of contemporary urban culture. Tony Montana’s bloody last stand, after all, was not a defense of loved ones, a noble idea, or even himself, but simple rage at the people who were “fucking with him” and who didn’t realize they were “fucking with the best.”

Scarface, despite the hilarious 80s montages, comic book dialogue, and over the top accents, is actually a chilling representation of what America has become and what people value today. Perhaps the most significant dialogue is not the famous “Say hello to my little friend” or the quotable “The only thing in this world that gives orders. . . is balls” but an exchange between Tony and Elvira, his white, blonde, junkie wife that he claimed from Lopez, the mentor he killed. Elvira states, “You know what you’re becoming, Tony? You’re an immigrant spic millionaire, who can’t stop talking about money,” whereupon Tony interrupts, “Who the fuck you calling a spic, man? You white piece of bread. Get outta the way of the television.”

The display of barely concealed racial hostility, papered over with money, drugs, alcohol, and television to fill the empty hole that used to be a country, perfectly sums up what America has become. Scarface is actually a profound criticism of the American Dream, suggesting that hard work and traditional values lead to greater happiness than the pursuit of quick money through criminality.

Blacks and Hispanics, however, seem to have missed the point, seeing the antihero as an honest hero, and aspiring to be the next Tony Montana.

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This review was originally published on February 27, 2011. If you liked this article, click here [14] and here [3] for more like it.