The Backstory of Somali Pirates Does Not Fit Neatly on the Big Screen

Captain Phillips is a cinematic feat of suspense: masterfully directed, superbly acted and beautifully executed. It is a thrilling and compelling ride into a harrowing journey through the pirate infested waters of Somalia. It also happens to be a superficial exercise. The tragic story of Somali piracy is turned into a pantomime.

The pirates of Captain Phillips are cruel, maniacal, murderous and fueled by uncompromising greed. Dark-skinned, emaciated, hollow-cheeked and garbed in rags and AK47s, they are modernized, Africanized caricatures of the stereotypical pirates of lore. When we first see Muse, played by Somali newcomer Barkhad Ali, the leader of the pirateband, standing before a frightened Phillips, played to everyman perfection by Tom Hanks, you can’t help but think that this gaunt, menacing creature is the embodiment of the modern pirate.

The film puts up a fa├žade of contextualizing the motivations and origin of these pirates. Muse at one-point laments that Somalia’s fish had been stolen, that he could no longer be a fisherman. As we watch a hysterical and sobbing Tom Hanks pushed to…

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