If a critique of TAXI DRIVER is to carry within its basic coordinates an understanding that Scorsese’s film was produced as a response to the Ford picture, the logical scholastic point is to ask what work, if any, was a response to the writings about colonialism by Mannoni, whose writings are used in criticism of THE SEARCHERS to explain Ethan’s behavior. And this of course leads to a discussion about Frantz Fanon’s 1952 Black Skin, White Masks, which includes a chapter that rebuts Mannoni in a vociferous fashion. The operative question, however, is whether one can utilize that critique in a wider response to TAXI DRIVER or, putting it another way, watch the Scorsese film with Ethan Edwards’ eyes.
The question of intertextuality is perhaps much less obvious when dealing with the later work. The retroactivity of this analysis is less involved than that of the previous chapter because it is much more obvious that TAXI DRIVER is dealing with issues in THE SEARCHERS.
It is worth noting here that there is a level of similarity between John Ford’s biography and that of Frantz Fanon. Both come from families that were impacted by colonialism and fought in the Second World War. Ford was the son of Irish immigrants to America and Fanon was born in the French colony of Martinique. The two created works that contemplated and grappled with identity in the face of imperialism. However, there is a divergence worth noting also. French politics since 1917 has been impacted in a serious fashion by the Communist Party, which as of this writing continues to hold elected seats in the halls of government. Fanon’s mentor Aimé Césaire was elected as mayor of Fort-de-France, the capital city of Martinique, and later as deputy to the French National Assembly for the island on a Communist ticket. Both Césaire and Fanon would break with the Party over its shortcomings after World War II for reasons related to racism and colonialism that are not too different from those raised by Ford’s critics. The letter narrated in the video below, written during World War II, details how Fanon felt about his wartime experiences.
Fanon opens the book with an Introduction that includes the famous comment “Don’t expect to see any explosion today. It’s too early… or too late.” With references to Sartre, Freud, Lacan, Hegel, and Marx, the book is an existential dissection of the mentality of the colonized and colonizer. Fanon’s brother Joby told Isaac Julien in an interview “It’s an essay for the dis-alienation of both Black and white” (FRANTZ FANON: BLACK SKIN WHITE MASKS). British social critic Stuart Hall adds in Julien’s documentary:
The struggle between the master and the slave is a struggle for power. Partly for who possesses the products of the slave’s labor. This is the bit that interests Fanon because he sees of course that the colonizer-colonized relationship is a struggle to the death and indeed in his life he pursues it to the death. At the same time he sees it is also a struggle by the slave to win recognition and also the dependency of the master on the recognition from the slave. What Fanon says is in the colonized colonial relationship there is no recognition going on. And that’s why Fanon is concerned racism de-personalizes, it is a denial of recognition. It is the master saying ‘I do not see you at all.’
This denial of existence informs the behavior of both Black and white, as we shall see. White supremacy is a mental illness that damages everyone and not just those who are the direct victims of it.