Movies, we all love them. They’re timeless. Unique in their own way, each movie mirrors its era. They’re great. Pick one from the 1970s, or one made in the early 2000s. Movies allow us to take two or three hours from the day and indulge in what hopefully is an entertaining time. Laugh, cheer, or cry, good films can move us to do any of them. We were discussing movies here at LRM Online and we came across the topic of offensive themes. Some of our favorite films have them. Yours might too. Themes deemed entertaining from some of my favorite films made twenty years today would be considered distasteful if they were to appear in a modern movie.
Sexually suggestive and crude racist situations considered proper pieces of entertainment wouldn’t be accepted if made today. Each of us will be examining the themes of several movies that while good, wouldn’t be made today. We’re winding the clock back for a nostalgic trip visiting some of our favorite movies.
In no way are we judging any of the filmmakers, nor are we saying you’re not allowed to find some of them entertaining or funny. Movies manage to showcase the times of their Societies ideals about what is acceptable is mutable. What’s okay one decade isn’t okay ten years later. In fifteen years from, now we all may look back on movies released in 2019 and point out themes not acceptable at that time.
Keep in mind, in order to fully explain what made these movies offensive for the time, you may come across some objectionable terms. You’ve been warned.
Song of the South
Picked by Brendan Hughes
When talking about offensive media, looking into past is a good place to see how the level of acceptability has changed over time. Disney is littered with offensive material with Dumbo and Aristocats immediately coming to mind, but the most offensive release comes from their 1946 release Song of the South. While this film brings up historic significance of the Reconstruction period of the United States shortly after the American Civil War, many moments may be found as offensive.
The blissful harmony on the main character’s family plantation sugarcoats the period presenting false happiness in a very dismal time for the country. The film tiptoes around certain topics and words to make the film more idyllic. Though it is hard to tell when the film takes place — it is after the end of the war which is blurred in the film leading to some mild confusion in the minds of average viewers. Critics also point out the stereotypes made in light of African Americans based on mannerisms and vernacular (particularly in Br’er Rabbit). These offensive traits are the reason as to why Disney has locked this video behind their vault for nearly 80 years refusing to release a home release of the film.
Despite all of the issues in the film, many find it as a charming film that was groundbreaking visually for its time. The film also marks African Americans breaking into Disney with James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus, receiving an Honorary Academy Award. Baskett is the first black male performer to receive an Oscar. For a film that has given us Splash Mountain and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is the level of hate justified?
Selected by Nick Doll
I decided to look at a more recent film, 2007’s Superbad, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. A lot of what we are looking at here are older films, as times have changed a lot since the ’80s, for example, but even looking back just a decade, we can see how tasteless some jokes we thought were hilarious at the time, are in a much more “PC” 2018.
Let’s start with the plot. Two high schoolers want to buy the girls they like booze so they can have sex with them. They need to “pound vag” now and over the summer so they are ready to be like every other frat boy in college. It’s not exactly a heroic quest for your protagonists when they are seeking out to get girls drunk so they can get laid. That’s what the villains do in these types of movies, while the heroes must use their charm to win as the “nice guy” who respects women.
Of course, in addition to that very #MeToo unfriendly plot, comes plenty of other slurs that don’t sit so well in movies today. Fogle aka McLovin, gets called “Faggle” and other homophobic slurs by Jonah Hill. Sexism is seen throughout the film, with nearly every woman acting as a foil to the men, from Seth and Evan’s perspective lays, to the woman who dances with Hill and leaves period blood on his leg.
It was funny ten years ago, but we probably shouldn’t have been laughing at it even then. Though most of the world is only coming around to a more PC outlook only recently, these jokes surely insulted and belittled female and gay audiences even back when the film was released. Now, most of it is completely tasteless.
Selected by Joseph Jammer Medina
Mine is a bit of a mild offender — especially when compared to many of the others on this list. As such, this isn’t a movie that wouldn’t exist in today’s day and age — it totally would, and on the whole, it definitely holds up — but rather there are a couple of things that would have either been played down or changed altogether. More specifically, the homophobic undertones in the flick.
Just a few minutes into the film, we’re introduced to Bradley Cooper’s character, Phil, middle school teacher who pretty much hates his life and can’t wait to escape his family and head to Vegas for a night of drinking and debauchery. When pulling up to Stu’s house, he calls out “Paging Doctor Faggot! Doctor Faggot!”
Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t something that is taboo in films nowadays, but if you’ll notice, the context around that word has changed. No longer would this be used as the punchline to a joke. Sure, it’s used in films still, but its use is relegated to characters we hate or in decades previous when its usage was more common — almost as a way to date world the characters are living in.
This is a fact that was pointed out by Channing Tatum’s character in the 2014 film 22 Jump Street when a goon dropped the F-bomb.
“You can’t use faggot.” his character said in the film. “Gay’s okay. Homosexual maybe. And if you know the person, you may be able to call them a queer.”
It’s amazing how quickly things can progress over just a handful of years. In addition to this are the homophobic overtones from Ken Jeong’s character, a flamboyant man whose catchphrase revolves around the phrase “gay boys.” Again, those same words could still be used, but rarely would they be used in a comedy as a punchline to a joke. It would be used more to give color to a character than for laughs.
Luckily for The Hangover, it’s such an amazing film with a great mystery backbone that it would change almost nothing from the plot to change these things up a bit. On the whole, this is definitely one of the more mild examples here, but it’s a testament as to how far we’ve come in less than a decade.
Okay, now let’s get into more genuinely offensive picks.
Selected by Kyle Malone
I love comedy films, there’s something so therapeutic about laughing, but times change and what was funny before can be considered offensive or insensitive today. I personally take historical context into account in all things in life, but that doesn’t change the fact that something was or is in poor taste. With that said let’s dig into a film where a rich white guy buys a poor black man.
The Toy is a 1982 comedy film starring Jackie Gleason, Scott Schwartz, and Richard Pryor. It was directed by the talented and popular Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies). In the movie down on his luck Jack Brown, Pryor, is bumbling through jobs at places owned by Gleason’s character, U.S. Bates. While goofing off in a department store, Jack is spotted by Eric, Schwartz, the spoiled son of Bates. Eric decides that he likes Jack and wants to buy him since his father said he could have anything in the store. Jack agrees and becomes Eric’s “toy.” Eric is unaware how to treat people and humiliates Jack to the point of him leaving. Jack is then brought back with the promise of more money but he plans to teach Eric how to treat friends. The two start a newspaper and report on the corruption of Eric’s father. This eventually leads to a showdown with KKK members at a party. Jack ends up saving Bates’s life after an accident and, in the end, Eric learns to be a friend and give his father a second chance at being a dad.
In addition to the actual act of buying Jack, there are racial issues with his treatment from the young Eric Bates. I think it is logical to see Eric as spoiled and ignorant instead of racist, but the images aren’t good. Just take a look at the poster.
Jack is even thrown into inappropriate situations with Bates’s trophy wife which can be taken as a jab at interracial relationships. Hell, the idea of a trophy wife can be problematic itself.
I don’t think Donner or Pryor would have done this movie if they felt it was purposefully racist. The movie deals with themes of racism, paternal relationships, growing up, and corruption of money. As a matter of fact, you could do this exact story with a white Jack today. It may not make a lot of money, but you could make it. There’s no way you could make this movie with a minority playing Jack today
There are a lot of good lessons to be learned in this movie and it happens to be one of Pryor’s cleanest films, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s racially insensitive to show white people buying black people. This isn’t one of those movies I would say you should never watch, although it isn’t the best of Pryor’s films, but keep in mind the context of the story. Have you ever seen The Toy? What did you think? What do you think about movies like this being offensive by today’s standards? Thanks for reading!
Selected by Fox Troilo
By now you have the gist of this article. When we held the last LRM writer’s room roundtable, we all pitched movies for this piece. Eventually, someone offered, “What about Soul Man? It’s film from the mid-80’s about a white man who, in order to go to Harvard, pretends to be black.” I asked him to repeat himself because surely, I misheard.
So I tracked down this 1986 blackface comedy as, despite my strong knowledge of cinema, this particular gem had eluded me. Directed by Steve Miner and starring C. Thomas Howell, the plot is essentially the aforementioned elevator pitch. A whiny spoiled brat doesn’t know how to pay for Harvard Law School so he overdoses on an experimental tanning pill to turn his skin dark brown in order to apply for a scholarship designed to assist African Americans. He dons a cheap curly black-haired and voila, he becomes the greatest master of disguise since Clark Kent, “fooling” every person he encounters. I want to reiterate that this includes several distinguished Harvard Law professors.
It’s almost difficult to even list all the atrocities this film commits. The narrative arc of Soul Man is that a white kid (despite his age, I find it nearly impossible to call the main character a “man” given his juvenile behavior) learns a life lesson about what it is like to be black. He hears racist jokes told by snickering Aryan socialites. He’s fought over to join two basketball teams because the white captains think he’s a secret weapon. But what Soul Man actually does is simply perpetuate racist stereotypes further. For example, the basketball scenario plays out that the one real black man on the other team is athletic phenom while the white “hero” fumbles around like an uncoordinated goofball. So, the takeaway is…what exactly?
Films that play out the adage of walking a mile in another person’s shoes is a great premise, but you would be hard pressed to find a more offensive example of it than Soul Man. I could write a thesis about the problems laden in almost every scene and many of them we haven’t even touched on yet—three words: Ray Charles impression. I watch several movies while riding public transportation, and I’ve never felt legitimately embarrassed screening something on the D.C. Metro until this. And oh, by the way, James Earl Jones is in this. The reason why will remain one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
Superfly (The Original 1972 Version)
Selected by Stephon White
I will start this by stating I had never seen the original Superfly. Being African-American growing up, most of my watch habits gravitated towards the science fiction and horror. Though I did have eclectic viewing habits watching Homeboys in Outerspace and then channel surfing for Seinfeld. I recall one time a friend of mine named Chris mentioned he had recently seen the movie Ticks. I had yet to see it, and as of writing have still not seen Ticks. At my request, Chris espoused a full-length beginning to end synopsis for me. That’s how into sci-fi and horror I was, and stay. That day I was a mad dentist pulling scene beats from Chris’ head.
So, when the opportunity came up to watch the original Superfly and share my thoughts about why the film is popular, yet offensive. I jumped at the chance. I don’t own the movie, but I figured it could be found online. After typing “watch original Superfly,” I soon figured out the film was available on Amazon Prime and viewable by subscribing to its Brown Sugar channel. I popped a quick bag of popcorn and hunkered down on the couch. Then I hit play.
It should also be mentioned that Superfly was made in the 1970’s during the height of the Blaxploitation film wave. You get the following results when googling Blaxploitation: the exploitation of black people, especially regarding stereotyped roles in movies.
The scene opened with two junkies coming up with a plot to rob someone named Priest. Seconds later the sounds of Curtis Mayfield drown out the on-screen action. Having never seen Superfly, I was unaware the legendary Curtis Mayfield composed the entire soundtrack to the film. By now I am settling in to take in the rest of the film. Thus far it’s two black drug addicts. We have found one stereotype, and that’s just in the opening scene.
Next shot opens with a black man of the fairer complexion. His hair hangs just above a bushy handlebar mustache. This is Priest, the film’s protagonist. A blonde white woman lays in the bed beside him as he shoves pops of cocaine up his nose. This is Cynthia, Priest’s white mistress. That’s three stereotypes now. A scene later and Priest is robbed by our two junkies from earlier. What results is a very impressive foot chase with some early shaky cam shots from DP James Signorelli. The scene climaxes as Priest kicks the living shit out of junkie #2. I mean, he kicks him so hard that he pukes all over himself inside a stranger’s home as the residents awaken from the disturbance react in disbelief.
Soon we are introduced to the rest of the cast including Priests drug slanging cohorts, all of whom have been making a killing killing the black community with drugs. Like all protagonists, Priest has a dream goal to make one last drug running payday and retire somewhere nice and quiet with his main chick, Georgia. This plan falls apart when Priest attracts the ire of a high-ranking policeman with plans to make money by fronting Priest drugs to sell to the black community. Knowing he is disposable, Priest schemes to permanently rid himself of the police in time to make a cushy retirement from the drug game.
All in all, the film was really well made for its genre. It would have been amazing to see it during its initial theatrical run back in 1972. It does possess many stereotypes. I couldn’t see the film being made this way today. I know it was recently remade, but I have read reviews, and while entertaining, the remake’s version of Priest, played by Trevor Jackson does not operate in the same moral grey area as his character in the 1972 classic. It’s a blaxploitation classic, but I don’t think it’s use of offensive themes would be well accepted today. There are a lot of original stories and themes out there to explore so here’s hoping we see them on the big screen.
Selected by Mark Cook
Mel Brooks is an icon for his comedic classics. Some of my favorites are Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs, among many of his other greats.
Even though Brooks set his movies up to evoke as much humor as possible, there is no way that some of his hits would be made by today’s standards, including his classic: Blazing Saddles.
For any who are unfamiliar with the movie, the plot is the ultimate Western parody in which the town sheriff is killed and the townspeople demand a new sheriff be instilled in order to stop Hedley Lemar from taking the land in order to build a railroad through it. Now, the townspeople are given a new sheriff, but not quite what they were expecting; the sheriff, Bart, is black.
Now while subtle racial jokes still take place in the present day, many of the jokes used in Blazing Saddles would be seen as over-the-top, in your face offensive. What was seen as “edgy” for the time I feel would now be excessive.
Blazing Saddles doesn’t hold back in regards to race/ethnicity, sex, and religion, which are obviously hot topics.
Let’s start with the obvious: race. Look no further than the opening work song…yikes. Aside from the fact that the “N” word is dropped throughout the movie, slandering the Irish, Chinese, and Native Americans takes its place as well. Even with Mel Brooks being Jewish, there is a line talking about killing all the firstborn males of a family which the reply is that the idea is, “too Jewish.”
The objectification / sexual harassment of Lili Von Shtupp, and other women, especially by the Governor, are as clear as day, and I don’t think needs much explanation, especially in the lights of the Me Too movement.
Finally, religion. Shooting a bullet through a Bible may ruffle some feathers today and either start a religious debate, gun-control debate, or probably both. Regardless, someone would more than likely be offended.
The way that the film mocks American bigotry in such a straight-forward way really is a reflection of the time, yet aspects of this day and age as well. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy parts of the film today, with the wonderful partnership of Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, but so many parts make me cringe and feel uneasy, which I feel many would share.
The excessive nature of the jokes are the reason there is no way this movie would be made today, and that’s something even Mel Brooks agreed to be the case..
What are you favorite classic with offensive moments or premises? Let us know down below!