The 5 Most Unintentionally Racist Movies About Racism
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."
AMERICAN HISTORY X
The Aim: To show the world that skinheads are big meanies.
The Clueless White Guy(s) Who Fucked It Up: Tony Kaye and Edward Norton, the artiste who wrote and directed the movie, and the spoiled snot who jacked the movie in the editing room and cut the fuck out if it, respectively.
How They Fucked It Up: This is a movie whose entire message of forgiveness and reconciliation hinges on the idea that a murderous skinhead can be redeemed because a black guy in prison can be funny while washing the underwear of rapists and child molesters.
That's all it takes to wipe away an entire life of racism and make a hero out of Edward Norton. First he indoctrinates a bunch of idiot white kids into a neo-nazi group, then he symbolically asserts dominance over the black race via a playground game of basketball, and he does it with professional tub-o-guts Ethan Suplee on his team.
"I don't care if you got Magic, Michael, Bird and Shaq on your squad, you are NOT WINNING with this guy."
And then (slow music swells) he recognizes that black people are funny, and the movie says, "Well, that's good enough, I guess. You're a decent human being now, worthy of being rooted for! Go and save your shithead little brother, Captain Curbstomp! Save Eddie Furlong in the name of racial equality!"
Oh shit, I guess the transformative power of bad standup comedy isn't enough, is it. It wasn't even close to enough. It was close to simplistic bullshit that says the best way to combat racism is to carpet-bomb Idaho with Def Comedy Jam DVDs, when everyone knows just regular old carpet-bombing will do.
DRIVING MISS DAISY
The Aim: To show that with time, even the most closed-minded human being will recognize that down deep, we're much more alike than we are different.
The Clueless White Guy Who Fucked It Up: Bruce Beresford.
How He Fucked It Up: Not that the Oscars are really worth a shit anyway, but fuck this movie for winning Best Picture over Do the Right Thing in 1989. I'm not saying that because I'm a huge Spike Lee fan. He willingly roots for the Knicks and he made Girl 6, two transgressions that put him just above "Freelance Babypuncher" in my book. But Do the Right Thing was an honest, evocative examination of why America just can't get over its own inherent racism, and it lost to Miss Daisy, a film rewarded for teaching audiences a Very Important Lesson: Nothing fosters understanding like decades long servitude to a pruny, rich bitch who talks so much shit her teeth are literally brown.
Four out of five dentists agree: Don't brush your teeth with Racism, the #3 leading cause of gingivitis."
This film prepared Morgan Freeman for his role as God in Bruce Almighty, calling for a level of forgiveness that Jesus himself didn't have. I figure Jesus would have lasted five minutes before he snapped, shot Miss Daisy in her shitty mouth and then drove the car into a fucking volcano.
"Eternal Oblivion beats schlepping this bitch around."
Insult to injury? Freeman's character is named "Hoke." You can't just give the guy a regular name? It can't be "Jack" or "Bill" or something? Hoke is the sound your throat makes when something is lodged there. Something like the saccharine, bilious vomit about to drown your mouth after enduring Driving Miss Daisy.
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For more from Fatboy, check out 5 Reasons It Sucks Being a Joss Whedon Fan and The Informant! Is Not As Bad As The Ads Want You to Believe.
And stop by our Top Picks because it's the weekend, and you definitely should not be going outside.