This is kind of a controversial subject (and a diversion from the way I normally write on Hollywood Yesterday). Worst of all, it’s a horribly unfortunate look at an ugly part of history – insensitivity, intolerance, and the always hideous and heartbreaking racism.
When, like me, you are obsessed with both history and old Hollywood, there are days when you find yourself surrounded with beauty and there are days when you find yourself surrounded by ugly. One day, about a month ago, I was chin-deep in ugliness and it has left me (to this day) feeling uneasy and unsettled.
I began the day reading from a biography about a personal heroine, Harriet Tubman. The way this VERY brave and noble woman was treated isn’t, of course, surprising to me – I’ve read every book written about her… I know what happened, so it no longer surprises me. However, it continues to shock me.. and, I’m certain it always will.
After finishing the book and telling each of my cats that a braver non-Biblical human may not have ever lived, I decided that the sadness and darkness of the morning called for a little escapism with an old movie (one of my favorite ways to escape!).
I chose a movie from the DVR, Babes in Arms (1939), that I hadn’t seen in two… maybe three… forevers. I love Judy Garland like a sunflower loves sunshine, so the choice seemed like a no-brainer. I was enjoying the movie immensely until it came to a part I didn’t remember – a performance a few of the “babes” did in blackface. It was cringe-worthy, so cringe is exactly what I did.
I also hit “stop” on the movie and called it a day.
The next day, I was still thinking about it. Not about the fact that it happened, mind you. Like I said, as a history buff and old movie fanatic, I am fully aware of how much ignorance existed in the past. People seemingly just did not know how insensitive, ridiculous, and cruel they were. How could they NOT have known? I have absolutely no idea… then again, I don’t know how people could’ve ever enslaved other human beings either.
I just do not know.
It wasn’t “THEN” that troubled these particular thoughts… it was “NOW.” NOW we know better. NOW most of us are sickened by intolerance and racism. NOW many of us had rather endure an offense to US than to witness someone else being offended. I know I had.
Even more than history and old movies, I love children. I love everything about them… even dirty elbows, endless questions, and temper tantrums! After seeing this scene (well, a minute of it before I jumped on the stop button), I imagined what it’d be like to sit with a little girl or boy during this movie. How would you (how could you possibly?) explain to a precious child “WHY” something like this happened?
My primary concern for scenes like this are for children. Can we shelter them from every ugliness that has ever happened, will happen, or is happening? Of course not. But… when it’s entertainment, I think we can and should remove scenes like this whenever possible.
At the VERY least, identify scenes like this clearly in the movie’s description to avoid problems.
As old movie fans, we want more people to see and treasure these movies. After all, one of our primary goals is to keep these beloved stars shining bright. If we want more people to love these movies, we should do our part to make them move lovable!
While the feelings of children (as well as adults) is my primary concern, I have to admit it – I don’t want to see my favorite actors and actresses doing things so insensitive! Again, their actions are a sign of the times in which they lived. I’m not excusing it or even understanding it, to be sure, but it’s a fact.
The fact that I am FOR censoring these precious old movies may seem surprising… given my great love for them. I guess my only response to that is that there are far more important things than movies – like humans.
One of my favorite old movies is a wonderful Western, El Dorado. There is actually a scene in the movie (where James Caan’s character impersonates a Chinese man). Due to the scene being considered greatly insensitive, the scene is often cut from television telecasts. We recently watched El Dorado on television and the cut scene does nothing to harm the movie. In fact, the lack of a cringe-worthy moment makes it better, in my opinion.
Again, imagine sitting with a little Chinese boy or girl and trying to explain to them why this heroic character did what he did.
I can almost hear people, now, arguing, “But what about the way females were treated… if we start censoring for racist moments, we’ll have to start censoring for sexist moments…”
While my response would be, “Okay,” I do have to say this – many times the “sexist” moments happen in context of the plot. Fortunately, in fact, the woman proves the sexist person wrong and they come around to the startling fact that women are equal to men. Startling! On the other hand, racist moments are, more times than not, NOT pivotal… in any way… to the plot.
As I said above, at the very, very least, I’d love to see “Warnings” come on movies (dvd and televised broadcasts). Parents would then be able to decide whether or not they wanted to watch a movie with their child… or if they even wanted to watch it, themselves.
I will begin including blurbs in my old movie reviews on Hollywood Yesterday for this reason. It’ll take a while to go back and add them to old reviews, but I’ll get it done – though, to be honest, I haven’t reviewed many movies in which this would be applicable. I fall into that “…if they even wanted to watch it, themselves” category. There’s enough ugliness in the “real” world, I don’t want to invite any more than is necessary into the “reel” world.
I admit there would be a few slippery slopes – such as WHERE do you draw the line and WHEN is “far” actually “too far.” However, blackface, the N-word, and insensitive impersonations aren’t slipper slopes, they’re vile volcanoes!
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments – and, do NOT worry, I am not the type who is hurt when people disagree with her… I look at such moments as opportunities for me to broaden my own horizons and possibly even learn something!