The Unseen White Dog
For those who do not know who Samuel Fuller is White Dog is a great introduction to his films. The film stars Kristy McNichol as a woman who finds and adopts a white German Shepherded after hitting it with her car. Soon after she comes to believe that the dog might be an attack dog, a dog trained to attack people. In order to recondition the dog she takes it to an animal trainer (Paul Winfield) were it is discovered that the dog is a “white dog” a dog that has been trained to attack only black people. They both then decide to try and retrain the dog in order to save it.
Fuller has always been known for making controversial films and had done films that contained anti-racist themes before such as 1951’s the Steel Helmet, a film about racism during the Korean War which got him in trouble with the FBI. So it is ultimately ironic that White Dog came to become Fuller’s last American film. The film was finished in 1982 but was shelved and not seen until 1991 because of protest from the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) who found the film to be racist.
By the time Fuller made White Dog racism had change it was no longer seen so bluntly and officially it had crept into people homes and Fuller knew this well. One scene shows Julie (McNichol) being attacked by a home invader while a war movie is playing on the TV set is symbolic to this but Fuller still challenged people to think and take a hard look around at the world and yet it seemed as people were not ready for it. By 1982 audience’s had developed an escapist view toward life, life it’s self had become one big television channel if you didn’t like what was on you simply changed the channel. In the film when Julie finds out about “white dogs” she is dumbfounded while Keys (Winfield) treats it as just another hard fact of life. The whole film is basically about if racism can be cured, it forces us as the viewers to think about the subtle side of racism. It forces us to think about things we normally wouldn’t think about when we looked at racism such as pet care and passing on attitudes to children who then become instinctually blind to racism.
At one point in the movie the dog is called Mr. Hyde which prompted the question who is Dr. Jekyll? We get our answer near the end of the film when an elderly man approaches Julie with his two grand children. The elderly man brings Julie a box of chocolates for taking care of his dog. At this Julie explodes screaming at the elderly man, refusing to give him the dog and telling him that a black man has cured him before speeding off in her car. By showing us the human and non-human face of racism Fuller gives us a better understanding of this complex subject. Fuller strongly believed that education was the best way to deal with racism. He believed that we should reeducate instead of exterminate which is emphasized by Keys when he states that by being able to recondition the dog, it will discourage racist from spending time and money training white dogs.
By the time the 90s came along society’s views on racism had changed drastically due to modern music such as hip-hop. There was a sense of “Socially indoctrinated racism” and because of that even after it had been released, White Dog was still sadly ahead of its time. Fuller put so much of himself into this film that it’s too bad that this still remains one of his less seen films. But even with that said White Dog remains one of the most straight on approaches toward racism that challenges society to take a long hard look at the way we treat each other, it’s a testament to Fuller’s belief that racism can be fought with education rather than extermination.
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