The 1983 movie Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Al Pacino, can be seen as part of Cold War Politics whose Anti-Communist message supports the American stance against Communism after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cuban Revolution and the rise of Fidel Castro.
Scarface portrays the character of Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who rises to power through violence and criminal activity, eventually becoming a drug lord in Miami. The movie does not overtly reference Communism, but it does depict the violence and corruption that can arise in countries with weak or corrupt governments, a narrative that supports the American stance that capitalism and democracy are superior to socialism and authoritarianism.
To understand the context in which Scarface was released, we need to go back to the events that took place in Cuba in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. The new government led by Castro began implementing socialist policies and aligning itself with the Soviet Union, which further exacerbated tensions between the U.S. and Cuba.
In 1961, the U.S. backed a failed invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles, known as the Bay of Pigs. This was a clear indication of the U.S.’s opposition to the socialist government in Cuba and its efforts to support anti-Communist forces in the region. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, as the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba in response to U.S. missile placements in Turkey. This was a pivotal moment in the Cold War and heightened tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
The political climate in the U.S. at the time was one of fear and suspicion of Communist influence, and this was reflected in the media and popular culture of the time. Hollywood films often portrayed Communists as evil, scheming villains who threatened the American way of life. This fear of Communist infiltration was also evident in the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which investigated supposed Communist activities in the entertainment industry and ruined the careers of many artists.
In this context, Scarface can be seen as a continuation of this anti-Communist sentiment, albeit with a twist. The movie presents the main character, Tony Montana, as a Cuban refugee who rises to power through violence and criminal activity, eventually becoming a drug lord in Miami. While the movie does not explicitly reference Communism, it does portray the violence and corruption that can arise in countries with weak or corrupt governments, a narrative that supports the American stance that capitalism and democracy are superior to socialism and authoritarianism.
Furthermore, Scarface reflects the cultural and social changes that were taking place in the U.S. at the time. The movie was released in 1983, during the height of the Reagan era, which saw a resurgence of conservative values and a pushback against the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The film’s portrayal of Tony Montana as a ruthless, self-made man who is unapologetic about his wealth and power resonated with the cultural shift towards individualism and the celebration of the self-made millionaire.
However, Scarface also contains elements of critique and subversion that challenge the mainstream narrative of the time. The movie portrays the American Dream as a twisted and corrupt ideal, one that is only attainable through violence, crime, and exploitation. Tony Montana’s rise to power is fueled by his desire to achieve the American Dream, but his success comes at the cost of his relationships and his own mental health. The movie also challenges the idea that wealth and power are the ultimate goals of life, as Tony Montana’s downfall is brought about by his own greed and arrogance.
Moreover, Scarface can be seen as a critique of American foreign policy in Latin America, which often involved supporting dictators and oppressive regimes in order to maintain American economic and political interests. The movie portrays the corruption and violence that can arise in countries where the U.S. has intervened, and highlights the plight of refugees who flee their home countries due to political turmoil and economic hardship. This is evident in the character of Tony Montana, who is a Cuban refugee who is forced to turn to a life of crime in order to survive in the U.S.
In addition, Scarface can also be read as a commentary on the drug epidemic that was ravaging the U.S. at the time. The movie depicts the devastating effects of drug addiction on individuals and communities, as well as the role that drug trafficking plays in perpetuating violence and corruption. This was a topic of great concern in the U.S. during the 1980s, and Scarface reflects this anxiety and fear.
However, it is important to note that Scarface has also been criticized for its portrayal of Latinos and its use of stereotypes. The movie has been accused of perpetuating negative and harmful stereotypes of Latinos as violent and criminal, and of glorifying the drug trade. This is a valid critique, and one that should not be ignored when examining the political and cultural context in which Scarface was released.
Despite these criticisms, it is clear that Scarface can be seen as part of Cold War politics and as supporting the American stance against Communism after the Cuban Revolution with Fidel Castro. The movie portrays a narrative of violence and corruption that is associated with socialist and authoritarian regimes, and contrasts it with the American ideal of capitalism and democracy. The movie also reflects the cultural and social changes that were taking place in the U.S. at the time, and challenges the mainstream narrative of the American Dream and American foreign policy in Latin America.
Moreover, Scarface remains a powerful and enduring work of art, one that continues to provoke discussion and debate. Its themes of power, wealth, and corruption are universal, and its critique of the American Dream remains relevant to this day. Scarface serves as a reminder of the complex and often contradictory nature of politics and culture, and of the importance of examining media and popular culture in their historical context.