Intercultural communications is concerned with face-to-face communications between people from different cultural backgrounds. Ethnocentrism, racism, discrimination, stereotyping and acculturation are some of the phenomena that arise when intercultural communication takes place, each of which is further explained with sequences from the movies. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s culture is the centre of the world and thus considering all other cultures as being inferior. This natural phenomenon can be expected to arise where a contact is established between different ethnic, racial or linguistic groups.
This is what happened when Europeans and other explorers started to move to faraway places and explore new worlds. They were directly confronted with cultural variations. People commonly feel that their own customary behaviour and attitudes are the correct ones; therefore, people who do not share such patterns are immoral or inferior. An example is seen from the movie The Mission where a Spanish Don is trying to convince the Cardinal, who is inspecting the work of missionaries with the Guarani people, how inferior and dangerous the Guarani are to the Spanish settlers, just because they are different.
They are considered as ‘animals’ and not humans: Cardinal: Don Cabeza, how can you possibly refer to this child as an animal? Don Cabeza: A parrot can be thought to sing, Your Eminence. Cardinal: Yes, but how does one teach it to sing as melodiously as this? Don Cabeza: Your Eminence, this is a child of the jungle, [pulls him down] an animal with a human voice. If it were human, an animal would cringe at its vices. These creatures [he points at the Guarani] are lethal and lecherous. However it can be that our own customs and ideas may appear strange or barbaric to an observer from other society.
In Walt Disney’s Pocahontas, Pocahontas herself could not understand the lack of concern the settlers had for Mother Nature, to which the native Indians are spiritually connected. And this is shown in this song she sings to the captain of the English settlers: Pocahontas: You think I’m just an ignorant savage And you’ve been so many places; I guess it must be so But still I cannot see, if the savage one is me How can there be so much that you don’t know? You don’t know… You think you own whatever land you land on The earth is just a dead thing you can claim But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name. You think the only people who are people Are the people who look and think like you But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew. In this song, as a member of the host-culture, Pocahontas explains her view of the English settlers. The observer must try to locate the reasons why people with different cultures do what they do, and not judge according to first appearances. Looking at other cultures from a distance and not trying to integrate one’s self into the host culture, leads to misunderstandings of certain behaviours.
In this sequence from The Mission, we see how Father Gabriel, a missionary who has been assimilated into the Guarani’s way of life, defends their culture, as he knows the truth about the Guarani’s behaviour: Father Gabriel: [The Guarani] are naturally spiritual. Spanish Judge: Spiritual? They kill their own young! Father Gabriel: That is true. May I answer that? Every man and woman is allowed one child. If a third is born, it is immediately killed. But this is not some animal rite. It’s a necessity for survival. They can only run with one child apiece. And what do they run from?
They run from us. That is they run from slavery. This sequence demonstrates that to an out-group member, some behaviour might be seen as being “animalistic” – thus inferior to the Spanish settlers who failed to notice that this behaviour is attributed to their intrusion in the natives’ lives. Thus ethnocentrism hinders our understanding of other cultures and at the same time keeps us from understanding our own. Anna and the King develops on the portrayal of two different cultures as equals, through Anna, an Englishwoman, and the King of Siam, King Mongkut.
However in the beginning of the film, when Anna arrived in Bangkok for the first time in 1860, she still had to discover equalities between her culture and the host-culture. As she stumbles her way through the foreign and “frightening” marketplace near the docks, she further confirmed her belief that “the ways of England are the ways of the world”. She looked at the local people in the same way they looked at her – a foreigner who is culturally different. During her first days at the palace grounds, and without having even met him, Anna discriminately thought of the King as:
Anna: A monarch [the King] who refuses to keep his word is uncivilised, unenlightened, and frankly, ungrateful. There are no principles at stake here. Definitely she was talking about her first impression of Siam and its people’s way of life and verifying even more her belief in the ‘civilized’ English ways. However, as the film develops, we see how Anna starts changing these early beliefs, as she acquaints herself with the customs of the Siam people and starts to be accepted into the community by the king and his subordinates. When Mr.
Kincaid and Lady Bradley, two respectable English people, uttered nearly her same words regarding the ways of England, she defended the Siam people because her idea of this culture has now changed. Mr. Kincaid: There’s no arguing the superiority of the English. [… ] Anna: Superiority, Mr. Kincaid? I do not recall anyone being given the right to judge whose cultural customs are superior. ~ Lady Bradley: The ways of England are the ways of the world, my dear. Anna: They are the ways of one world, Lady Bradley. One that I am ashamed to call my own.