On Saturday we sometimes ask people whose writing we like to fill in for us. Our readers get to read something a little different, and we get to finish giving our dog full-body cornrows. Today's guest column is from the Bobby "Fatboy" Roberts, who's written movie reviews, and film commentary for Ain't It Cool News. Today he takes a look back at some films that didn't know they were being racist.
Congratulations, America! Now that we've elected a black president, there's no more racism! But don't be so modest, crackers--go ahead, pat yourselves on the back! If it wasn't for you making a bunch of well-meaning but ham-handed and accidentally racist films, why, the rest of us would have never learned our lessons! Hail our conquering heroes, the real champions of equality in America...
The Aim: To tell the story of the Civil War's first company of black soldiers, literally fighting for their own freedom and humanity.
The Clueless White Guy Who Fucked it Up: Ed Zwick, director of The Last Samurai (starring Tom Cruise as the last samurai) and Blood Diamond (starring Leonardo DiCaprio as an African). You can already see a pattern here.
How He Fucked it Up: He cast Denzel Washington, Andre Braugher and Morgan Freeman (great!), and then centered the movie squarely on Ferris-fucking-Bueller (what the fuck!?)
The face of black struggle in America.
Now, Zwick is sorta handcuffed here because his script is based on the letters that Colonel Robert Shaw sent to his family. And not THAT Robert Shaw. Although if a civil war were ever fought against slave-owning, secessionist sharks, it'd be Colonel Quint's company that saved our country.
But still, for every scene where Freeman and Washington are successfully conveying the emotion, the pain and the strength needed to fight for a country that considers you less than human, there are three scenes where Zwick cuts to Broderick moping aimlessly like someone shit in his Cheerios. Because in Zwickworld, there's no way a white audience could possibly know they're supposed to feel bad about slavery unless Ferris Bueller shuffles around his tent like Michael Cera at a Civil War reenactment.
The Aim: To shed a light on everyday prejudices and how quietly destructive they can be when left to simmer for too long.
The Clueless White Guy Who Fucked It Up: Paul Haggis, creator of Walker, Texas Ranger.
How He Fucked It Up: Haggis had his car stolen from him one night, and like most sane people who are robbed at gunpoint, he went home and wrote a sympathetic screenplay about his attackers. In Haggis's case, "sympathetic" means he turned them into Heckle 'n' Jeckyl, and wrote everyone in the film to be shrill, stupid stereotypes hiding their prejudice under a thin veneer of sophistication.
It won a ton of Oscars for being a thought-provoking and insightful look at prejudice in America. Seems almost impossible to concisely sum-up, right?
There. That's the essence of Crash, distilled into its purest form. I just saved you 90 minutes and a stress headache, without losing an ounce of subtlety and nuance. Plus it dramatically reduces unnecessary exposure to Sandra Bullock.
The Aim: To teach children about the importance of family and friendship, and the worth of sharing and generosity.
The Clueless White Guy Who Fucked It Up: Richard Donner, director of Superman and The Omen.
How He Fucked it Up: By attempting to make slavery cute and adorable.
Donner's no stranger to being accidentally insensitive to black people. For a man who made "Verisimilitude!" the mantra of the Superman production, it sure didn't apply to the black populace of Metropolis, the entirety of which was one dude. Who was a pimp. And took time out of his busy day selling ass to congratulate Superman on his "bad out-FIT" before whooing like Ric Flair.
"That's what black people are like, right, Tom? You sure we're not being too conservative?"
But The Toy is the ultimate example of Hollywood's isolation from anything even remotely resembling the real world. Because sane people with a tenuous connection to reality would have noticed that the plot of the movie hinges on Jackie Gleason purchasing a black man for his son to play with.
And it's not as if Richard Pryor starts the movie with a shred of dignity and then has his pride slowly disemboweled by a sniveling, 12-year-old, fuckhead named "Master Bates." No, Pryor is a janitor, chosen to be "The Toy" because he's funny when he bugs his eyes out and bumps into things. As his reward, he gets firecrackers shot at his face.
"This hurts my soul so much. You don't even know. I've burnt my own face off while smoking rock and that didn't hurt like this does."
In it's defense, the movie does contain a facile attempt to make up for promoting slavery as a pillar of family strength, by having Masterbates and Pryor wreck a Ku Klux Klan fundraiser. It couldn't be any more halfheartedly apologetic if the movie stopped and Donner poked his head into frame and said, "No, it's OK. I have loads of black friends. It's cool."