“Unexpected, jarring, complex.” – Nikki Silva, of NPR’s Kitchen Sisters
WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU GO LOOKING FOR THE SOURCE OF THE POLISH JOKE IN AMERICA?
BOMBSHELLS. HUNKS. SKINHEADS. TWINS. COMMUNISTS. RIOTS. DISCO. MONSTERS. THE POPE. A PLANE CRASH. AND CATS.
A closeted Polish-American seeks answers but must face the hard truths hidden beneath the humor. A complex documentary, Polack layers striking images from history and pop culture, with a gay man’s search for home. Beyond the punch-lines, we sway between outsider and insider, where victim becomes bully.
SCREENED AT PIXAR STUDIOS, THE BUG THEATRE IN DENVER, THE RED VIC MOVIE HOUSE IN SAN FRANCISCO, & THE ANGELIKA THEATER IN DALLAS.
“WHAT A ROLLER COASTER! ENTRANCING FROM THE START. I was completely caught up and off guard by this beautifully crafted, deeply personal journey into history. Just when you’re delighting in clever animation interwoven with old TV episodes and extraordinary archival footage, you’re hit slam-dunk with Nazis and gay bashing. Unexpected, jarring, complex – like a cubist painting or climbing into an imaginative mind. Made me think twice about every joke I’ve ever been party to.”
– Nikki Silva, NPR’s Peabody-Winning Kitchen Sisters
“ENLIGHTENING. BOLD AND SHOCKING. A VISCERAL EXPLORATION. LIKE A POLITICAL AWAKENING, IT WILL INSPIRE YOU TO TAKE A POSITION.”
– Gorilla Film Magazine
“A fascinating look at Polish jokes and what it means to be Polish. And oh, there’s one small thing they didn’t tell you… Polack starts off one way but ends with a whole different story, while being VERY ENTERTAINING & ENLIGHTENING ALL THE WAY THROUGH.”
– Bart Weiss, Art and Seek
Polack is a documentary film about the search for the source of the Polish joke in America. Many ethnicities have been the subject of jokes – often these same jokes; however, the Polish joke is the longest running joke cycle in American history.
Polish jokes often portray the Polack as dumb, which is common for ethnic jokes. But additionally, Polish jokes are unique in their portrayal of the Poles as dirty. (Additionally, there are some jokes about promiscuity, especially in reference to women).
As a category of folklore and sociology, joking is often the subconscious effort of an inside group within society to goad a fringe group into assimilating. Poles in America stayed within their communities and close to their families. Clean Protestant capitalist America feared groups that potentially owed their allegiance to a foreign power, the Pope, and didn’t strive toward the American dream, but instead were rather happy in their often dirty blue-collar jobs.
Additional theories for the source of the joke include: 1. rival ethnic groups importing old-world hostilities; 2. the Polish cavalry with swords and fancy costumes attacking Nazi tanks in WW2; 3. difficulty for Polish-Americans to learn English because their native tongue was slavic; 4. categorization of Poles as Communists; and 5. an early Polish legislative policy called the Liberum Veto, in which any member of congress could nullify the entire session, which lead to easy pay-offs and the inability of Poland to centralize its government against hostile neighbors.
“Polack” is used as the spelling for the movie, because it is the most common American spelling of the ethnic slur. It is also the German variant of the spelling, which is significant because the jokes likely began in the upper Midwest where many Northern European immigrants were prevalent. Other spellings for the Polack include “Polak” which is the correct spelling for a Polish man. Pollock was a painter. Pollack is a fish…
Often many additional Slavic ethnicities are grouped under the slur of Polack. Other slurs include Bohunk or Hunky, technically for people of Hungarian origin. The word “hunk” alludes to the strong physical nature of the Slavic men and their base sexual potency.
In the documentary, an in-the-closet Polish American searches for the source of the jokes in the history of Poland. Many archival and entertainment footage examples are compared and discussed in the film. The documentary film is a great source of research and history for those with Polish American heritage who would like to better understand their roots and ancestry. Additionally, the film’s subject travels to contemporary Poland, hoping to gain acceptance, but only finds new levels of rejection. One film viewer paraphrased this irony best as: “the reproduction of oppression that occurs so often in cultures/communities that have experienced subjugation.” It could also be said that Poland isn’t accepting because it has never been accepted…
The film’s end shifts to question the myth of home, the harm in secrets, and the time to stand up.