By Deputy Editor Thea Lim
I had a great time with this article sent to us by reader mra: Complex Magazine’s run-down of the 50 Most Racist Movies You Didn’t Know Were Racist. The list spans not just time but also ethnocultural group – I was happy to see that Complex pounced on movies offending all sorts of people of colour. (They even include White Chicks as token movie that offends white people, though I don’t believe in reverse racism.) As you know, cross-community-of-colour solidarity is something we really prize here at the R.
Some entries were obvious – like #47: Big Trouble in Little China:
It’s hardly an ancient Chinese secret that the most populous country in the world, with a cultural legacy thousands of years old, really only excels at doing laundry talking funny marshalling inscrutability and mysticism for untold evil. But you know what’ll stop them? Knocking down their fuckin’ BUDDHA statues. Take two Jesuses and call Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) in the morning!
A direct adaptation of the 1994 french film Little Indian, Big City, Jungle 2 Jungle changed the title but kept everything just as racist. Tim Allen meets the son he never knew he had, a 13-year-old who grew up native with his ex-wife and a tribe in Venezuela, and takes him to New York City, where his backward customs simply don’t fly! It just goes to show, video games don’t turn good little white kids into savages—brown-skinned savages turn good little white kids into savages!
But some surprised me, especially the ones that I saw as a child and have not since revisited. Like this classic of my youth, #23: Adventures in Babysitting:
When a lily-white babysitter (Elizabeth Shue) journeys to the ghetto to rescue a runaway friend who’s stuck in the heart of darkness, she and the kids she’s caring for encounter the full spectrum of black people, from car thieves to gang members, and even the kind that sing and dance! And they say Hollywood doesn’t grasp the diaspora!
While I was puzzled by their numbering system (after all, how do you rank racism?), I really enjoyed this list. Though of course, as is the nature of lists, they missed some films that would’ve made my top 10. For example any number of movies by my ex-friend Wes Anderson (other than Bottle Rockets), or Lost in Translation, which to this day I continue to argue about with Sophia Coppola devotees. Apart from the overt racism – like the scene with the Japanese escort that is deeply offensive to both Japanese/East Asian people and sex workers on multiple levels – the whole point of the movie disgusts me. As in, the nauseatingly self-indulgent focus on the deep, brooding subjectivity of two Anglo-Americans, against a backdrop of depthless Japanese people who, with their hilariously absurd subcultures, bizarre language and affinity for bowing, are all exactly the same.
Or taking it one step further, our friend Restructure! recently articulated this superb critique:
One movie that disgusts me is Lost In Translation (2003) and its associated white perspective and white privilege. A typical white liberal may assume that the problem with the film is that existential ennui is an alleged “white” problem, and that white existential angst is trivial to the harsher, material struggles of people of colour. This critique is partly true, in that if existential ennui is your only problem, you have it easy.
However, what disgusts me about Lost In Translation is that it centres on the lives of white people in a country where they are the minority, and it suggests that the social isolation that comes from being a minority is something that could only happen to white people.
This notion makes absolutely no sense, except to self-absorbed white people who are completely oblivious to their white privilege, to the point where being a minority in a non-white country only amplifies white navel-gazing, and leads to zero empathic recognition for the condition of people of colour in white-majority countries.
What about you? Did Complex remember your most hated racist flick, or do you have one to add to the list?