The Commitments and Cultural Appropriation

I really enjoyed both reading and watching The Commitments, and found it very interesting how this story displays a convergence of the Black and Green Atlantics through music. The band members were drawn towards soul because it was music of the working class— “Soul is the politics o’ the people”— and invented by Black Americans (38). In the film, when describing his inclination towards soul, Jimmy says “The Irish are the blacks of Europe, and Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland, and the northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.” I noticed that during this scene in the book, his character says almost the exact same lines, but uses the N word instead. This and several other instances of anti-Blackness in the movie and novel, along with The Commitments’ use of a Black musical style, had me thinking about our discussion in class about appropriation. One of the ways that cultural appropriation is described today is when someone adopts an aspect of another culture without understanding the significance of it and the way in which it fits into that culture’s history— and this is most often a culture that has been oppressed or marginalized. I think it’s fair to say that the characters in The Commitments do not have a full understanding of African American history, and how soul music was intertwined with the Civil Rights movement. They have an understanding of soul as working class music, but there is not an acknowledgement of the nuances that separate their experience as working class Dubliners in the 1980s from those of Black Americans in the 1950s and 60s. At the same time, I do believe their adoption of soul music is out of respect and admiration, and that they aren’t trying to claim soul music as a genre they invented, but rather cover existing songs and pay homage to the great Black Soul artists. I am curious if any of you have thoughts on this topic— are The Commitments culturally appropriating by playing soul?