Garfield Senior High School

Commentary: Are movies racist?

How often do you think people use inappropriate racial slurs and stereotypes without knowing their true impact? Well, a lot more than you may expect.

This has nothing to do with racism, oppression, or even internal prejudice. No, this is due to the entertainment industry. Specifically, how the entertainment industry utilizes stereotypes and slurs as a form of entertainment.

This is more apparent in comedic movies that use derogatory terms and slurs as jokes or puns. The movie centers the “funny” aspect of its content on these jokes and puns in order to get viewers to laugh and, more importantly, remember the movie.

The movies do turn out to be memorable thanks to these jokes but not in the way we would like. People who hear these stereotypical jokes take them as just that: jokes. Consequently, people leave the real meaning behind each stereotype and slur in the dust, thus, underestimating the impact these words can have.

Think of it like this: a man sees a funny movie filled with stereotypical jokes. Then this man believes these jokes to be widely accepted so he decides to use them outside of the movie theater. Now this man, believing his purpose of using the joke to be strictly funny, says that same racist joke out in public. Some may find it funny but for those who find themselves the subject of the joke, the joke could be found insulting.  These people will see the joke as offensive and, most important, not funny. Indeed, some people are bound to find these jokes as discriminatory which leads to a confrontation of racism and bias. So tell me who is to blame?

Despite how hilariously funny some of these movies may be, they still have a negative outcome.

An example of said movies are the ones Adam Sandler appears in, everyone knows the comedian Adam Sandler. Right? Now before I start I would like to point out and make it clear to everyone that this is not an “attack” onSandler. That said, an article published by the internet news site The Daily Dot and written by Feliks Garcia titled “5 Adam Sandler movies that are way more racist than you remember,” details movies that Adam Sandler plays a major role in and, as the title implies, are more racist than you probably thought.

Of the five movies, the ones that caught my attention the most we’re “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” and “Jack and Jill.” These are undoubtedly good comedic movies but at the same time it’s as racist as it is funny. For example, in “Jack and Jill,” the lead character employs a Mexican gardener with a large number of family members. This movie embraces the stereotype that all Mexicans are gardeners and have huge families who are all named Juan and can come back from the dead thanks to the smell of a red-hot Jalapeno.

In the real world, Mexicans do work jobs of manual labor to support their families but they also contribute much more than manual labor to the U.S. economy. Sure, the movie plays it off as a joke but many immigrants, myself included, find this extremely  offensive and belittling.

As for “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” the stereotype that is depicted is that of the post 9/11 Arabic culture and how Arabs are generally associated with terrorism. Yes, the ending of the movie portrays the Arabic culture in a positive light but this does not dismiss the fact that the movie used Arab culture as a joke and entertainment in the first place.

These are only some of the examples of movies that have used cultural stereotypes as a way to make themselves “comedic.” But we need to recognize this concept and rationalize when, where, and how to utilize said jokes. There is still a chance for some problems to occur due to people using the jokes. You must look beyond these jokes and realize the true culprit is the entertainment business and their “funny” movie.

1 Comment

  • Reply Douglas Campbell October 31, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    In order to watch any kind of movie, you have to deal with stereotypes. Even in “Miracle on 34th Street”, you get to deal with the stereotypical atheist and the stereotypical — but doubting — person of faith.

    I note the stereotypes you left out of your criticism of “You don’t mess with the Zohan” — Israeli stereotypes, Jewish stereotypes, redneck stereotypes, and, last but not least, rich person stereotypes. Apparently, those depictions aren’t as important to you as that of the Palestinians in the movie. But how do they put out fires? What’s common between the two sides of the street even in their contempt for each other? However, note that the movie is upbeat — the Jewish and Arab sides of the street learn to get along — when faced with an even more horrible stereotype. How could he have illustrated that outcome without using the stereotypical enmity which exists between the two, the stereotype of the redneck, and the stereotype of immoral wealthy person?

    I do understand your point — I don’t really like “The Godfather” — because of its stereotypical depiction of Sicilian immigrants. My grandfather was from Sicily — like all the Sicilians who emigrated, a stonecutter — but my grandfather spent 40 years working in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, and died of the black lung — not of a gunshot in New York. And yet, somewhere in that stereotype is a kind of truth, for stereotypes don’t come from nothing. Sicilians do have a culture of honor, interestingly akin to the culture of honor of those Hollywood amusingly calls “rednecks” which came from the Scots culture from which they were separated when the British transported their ancestors. These people do not take well to being insulted, nor to having their trust betrayed.

    The stereotype is always used for that which is alien to the dominant culture. Only when you are not of the dominant culture and in the stereotyped one do you realize that they have some elements of your culture wrong. But what is also interesting is what the stereotype gets right about your culture — as I have pointed out above with respect to both Sicilian and Scots culture — and I know it’s right because I’m of Sicilian/Scots extraction.

    What will happen in the end is that anyone with thin skin will be ignored, because all white men are racists — are they not? And you can take a kneel on that one.


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