"I was never going to use the N-word": "Fargo" seeks to examine our racist past without new injury
Chris Rock as Loy Cannon on "Fargo" Elizabeth Morris / FX
Language. The fourth season of "Fargo" is a prose buffet, heavy and lyrical. Depending on how you judge the balance between showing and telling your TV series, Noah Hawley's final chapter will either seduce you with his pun or send you to pack.
This is both understandable and the loss of self-exile, as even a less than stellar episode of the FX series remains one of the best hours on television. And the new season is nothing but ambitious, a crime drama in which an Italian mafia family competes against a black syndicate in Kansas City in 1950, under the headline of Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman, What It Means to be American.
But as you wander through this part of the "Fargo" mythology, there is one word that is conspicuously and intentionally missing.
"I never wanted to use the N-word in the story," Hawley said on a recent phone call. "I never want to use that word. Neither do I think you need to use this word to tell the story because unfortunately, people will hear this word in their head, whether we say it out loud or not, you know what I mean? "
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Knowing Hawley and his approach to Fargo is by no means surprising. (And in all honesty, there are more than enough of them captured and aired in terrible videos in 2020 that their absence in this piece would not be noticed or overlooked.) His take on the universe that from the Coen Brothers movie of the year Inspired in 1996 is purely driven by the moral concepts and problems as opposed to the crime or misdemeanor at the center of each season.
The Kansas City section in his take on American history is not about a single transgression, but one that engenders new violence, generation after generation, between clashing groups of people, as evidenced by a large number of characters cultivating individual motivations of many of which are at odds with those of others.
Hawley creates this particular "true" story to speak with the hypocrisy of the Crucible myth, by bringing with him two groups of other people, immigrants and Native Americans, descended from enslaved Africans.
"It wasn't that long ago that things were really so different that we couldn't really tell the difference. Do you know what I mean?" Hawley explained. "I mean, we can all see [Martin Scorsese's 2002 film] 'Gangs of New York' and see Leo DiCaprio go down to the docks and yell at the next immigrant boat to come to America because the last one is in the door The bottom rung of the ladder is always there. "
"But I found it interesting to tell this story where you have a power struggle between two groups, neither of whom have real power," he continued. "If you put these two groups outside of the mainstream economy, they will create their own economy and their own sense of hierarchy and their own sense of power to try to gain respect in the world."
Still, Hawley insists that he didn't want to position this season as an exploration of race and racism. "You can see that in Jason Schwartzman's character, what bothers him the most all season isn't really the fight he's in with Chris Rock's character. It's the fact that he and his father are out of a hospital were thrown because they were Italian instead of being white, "he insists.
In telling this story, Hawley inevitably has to grapple with the reality of race and racism in America, which he primarily handles through Timothy Olyphant's Mormon US Marshal Dick "Deafy" Wickware, a godly man who heralds his racist viewers in his introductory monologue . But the hallmark of Deafy's character is his persistent politeness - he doesn't swear or use surnames to refer to Rock's Loy Cannon or any of his associates, or mockingly refer to Schwartzman's Josto Fadda.
"The biggest problem in figuring out how to tell the story and one that got me interested in shows like 'Watchmen' and 'Lovecraft Country' is how to present the world as it is with no new injuries to cause? "said Hawley. "How can you create scenes to show the racist past without putting characters in scenes where they are victims of such overt racism that it feels like you are harming the actors? How can you do it without it ? " new injuries for the characters, for the audience? "
His answer is to allow his characters to behave as they would during this period, which means wearing a mask of courtesy over their bigotry. Together with Deafy there is Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley) and Angel of Death, who is interested in her young neighbor Ethelrida Pearl Smutny (E'myri Crutchfield), a biracial girl, who she decides for her "project". If a viewer didn't know better, they would consider Oraetta's offer to be kind and generous, when in reality it is quite condescending and scary. She doesn't see Ethelrida as a young friend, but rather as a curiosity to be loosened up and dominated.
When we speak of "Fargo," this subtlety is in line with the series' general approach to American history. The world that Hawley and his writers create is a world created by finding meaning in landscape and detail with a dialogue that greatly influences the atmosphere. The drama’s signature dialogue may be too much for some people to process, but for those with an ear for it, its musicality will ride as part of the experience. Seeing that way, an offensive insult isn't just common or lazy. For Hawley, it doesn't match the rest of the show.
Hawley is referring to "the scenes we fear because we know they're coming and we know exactly what's going to happen in them. You know what I mean? The racist sheriff pulls you over and says the racist things and does the racist things we do all know he's going to do it, and on one level you grasp reality, on another level you show people a scene that they already know how it's going to play out historically is not a surprising drama. "
In addition, it allows him to expand on a thought he had in season 3. "What I found back then and what I've been researching here is that sense of irony with no humor. Where it's like the setup of a joke, but it's not funny when that makes sense," he said. "That's not to say the show isn't funny, but this idea of racial injustice, this idea of anti-immigrant fervor, this idea that we are a nation of immigrants, the new immigrants are telling new immigrants that they can't be Americans , there's an irony to that, right? "
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"I mean, it's so obviously a joke and yet not funny," he added. "And irony without humor is just violence because when you say your country believes in justice but justice is not available to everyone. Yes. When people say there is no justice, you yell at them for being un-American Without irony humor. That's just violence. "
"Fargo" is broadcast on Sundays at 10pm. on FX and streams the next day on FX on Hulu.
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