Racist Images in Classic Films: A Conversation

Joan Crawford in TORCH SONG (1954)

Today marks the end of TCM’s annual look at “Race and Hollywood.” This year TCM has focused on Arab Images on Film, which has generated some heated debates on the TCM message boards. Fighting a war in the Middle East for the last 10 years has obviously had a profound impact in shaping the way that many perceive Arab Americans and this timely topic couldn’t be more pertinent. I’m always deeply appreciative of TCM’s efforts to expand the conversation about “Race in Hollywood” so I thought I’d share the outcome of a recent discussion about the topic that began on the social networking site, Twitter between myself and some TCM viewers.

I’m fond of Joan Crawford and I recently watched her 1954 performance in TORCH SONG for the first time and was shocked to see Crawford sporting blackface for a musical number. After mentioning how horrified I was by that unexpected scene on Twitter I heard from various individuals and concerned parents who thought TCM might consider adding warnings to particular films that contain racist content and some wondered out loud why TCM was showing TORCH SONG at all. I’ve always appreciated the fact that TCM doesn’t censor the films they show but I’m not a parent myself. I think it’s easy for adults to assume that any “old movie” is okay to watch with kids, which obviously isn’t the case unless adults are willing to answer their questions and explain particular scenes and situations to them. The topic becomes extremely complicated when you consider the number of Caucasian actors that have portrayed Asians, Native Americans and Arabs. Luise Rainer & Paul Muni in THE GOOD EARTH (1937) and Robert Taylor in DEVIL’S DOORWAY (1950) are examples of Caucasian actors portraying extremely sympathetic characters of another race but they aren’t without their own controversies. And there are character actors like Peter Lorre and comedians like Peter Sellers who have occasionally portrayed Asian characters that were intended to make audiences laugh but today they can seem extremely crude.

I assume that a child can watch anything if they’re  brought up without prejudice and taught to be sympathetic to other races but that might be slightly naive on my part. So I decided to borrow an idea from my fellow Morlock, Richard H. Smith, who routinely organizes the insightful Horror Dads Roundtable and I asked a group of classic film fans and writers that regularly use Twitter to share some of their own insights on how they approach and deal with racist images when watching movies with their families or on their own.

I bombarded them with questions like, what classic films are acceptable to view with kids and what’s not? Have your own experiences with racism or racist behaviors effected how you watch films? Have you discussed racist or insensitive portrayals of different races with your kids yet? If not, how do you plan to deal with it in the future? Should a film like TORCH SONG carry some kind of content warning? And if it did, what kind of warning would you suggest for a film like THE GOOD EARTH? Or should parents monitor their child’s viewing habits according to what they think is appropriate? And lastly, what advice would you share with parents who want to watch classic films with their children but are concerned about racist content?

I got some great responses in return and thought I’d share them in hopes that it generates a thoughtful discussion on a sensitive topic that’s often brushed under the rug among classic film fans. Following their thoughts please feel free to share your own in the comments section. I’m sure other classic film fans and parents have considered the topic themselves and I’d love to hear from you.

Sarah Dyer (Twitter handle: @colorkitten) is a professional comic book writer and artist who also runs a blog called Tumbling Tumbleweeds that highlights classic Gene Autry westerns from the ’30s and ’40s. You can find out more about Sarah at House of Fun and Color Kitten.

“There are so many different factors I think parents have to consider when tackling this issue! It’s a tough one for sure. The age of the kids – under a certain age, even the most clever of kid is going to see things pretty literally. They will accept what they see as truth, even if you try to put it into context, so what you might let a 10-year-old watch should probably be different from what a 6-year-old watches. Your own family – what discussions of race and cultures other than your own have you had? What experience does your child have? Can you balance the cartoony representations on screen with reality in some way, either by pointing out real people your child knows of that group, or supplying alternate views?

The content itself is the most important factor though – at the mildest end of the spectrum, I think it’s easy to give a kid a reality check and counter the problems with the material. (For example, the most common offense is that women and people of color are just left out of the story in historically based films – but you can easily provide the missing pieces of the story yourself, and I try to make sure I always do this.) Relying on stereotypes, even when the characters are sympathetic is more problematic, but still something you can discuss. But at a certain point, I think that the material crosses the line into actually being racist – and I think a kid watching that is going to get the message that it’s acceptable, no matter how much you try to put it into context.

That line is probably going to be different for different people, but for me, the things that really cross the line are when history is rewritten completely; or when racism is totally casual, sending the message that it’s completely normal and acceptable. Blackface, for me, falls into that category. It’s weird, it’s racist, and I cannot begin understand it. There is no way for me to put it into context, because I just can’t get my head around it ever having been acceptable. I know that it obviously was, but I do not get it.

Generally, I think parents have to be aware of what their kids are watching, and with younger kids, have some familiarity with the films. But even so, if you watch classic films, even kid-friendly ones, you’re going to get blindsided now and then and that’s the stuff I would like to have some sort of warning about. But to be honest, even though warnings are being used on DVDs (like POPEYE or THE LITTLE RASCALS) I don’t know if warnings should be carried on films – who would even decide which issues to mention? I’d be happy if there was just some way to look films up – I used to say that imdb.com ought to carry a “blackface alert” on films so you’d have some warning. Maybe someday there will be enough parents showing classic films to their kids that there could be a website, maybe a wiki, where parents can check for problematic issues in any film they’re about to see (or check to see what was in a film their kid saw somewhere else) – that would probably make a lot more sense than trying to decide which films get a warning and which films do not.”

Jason Gilmore (Twitter handle: @JasonLGilmore) is a writer, director and producer currently working on his first feature film, ALL THE CHILDREN ARE INSANE. You can see some of Jason’s short films at his Vimeo page and he writes about film at his blog, Jason Gilmore Can’t Lose. His writing can also be found at Intrepid Media.

“What a unique dichotomy: how (or why) do I love films too bigoted to love me back? Racist propaganda in film is almost as old as film itself. Of course, the most notorious example was the “first film masterpiece,” BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), required viewing at any film school worth its salt, despite a rewriting of Reconstruction that is, at best, destructive. But I love classic cinema and always will. It continues to inspire me, as a filmmaker and fan. Yet, troubling moments occur even in many films I adore, such as Ruth Hussey’s crack about pickaninnies in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) or Mickey Rooney’s awful-even-by-1961-standards turn as the bucktoothed Japanese neighbor in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. So many American icons, from The Marx Brothers to Fred Astaire to James Cagney have performed in blackface on film. As a black male, continuing to support them requires a lot of patience.

It is probable that if a Caucasian character in an old studio film has any sort of affluence, they will have a house servant who is black or Asian. And there were a lot of black and Asian house servants in the first half of last century, so I’m not suggesting we deny that history. What I do question is how many of them were nonstop comic relief, had bugged eyes or bucked teeth, spoke like Stepin Fetchit and generally had no other interests than the well being of their white employers?

Still, I’m not in favor of attaching a “racist content” warning on these films. First, there are so many moments in old Hollywood films that are now considered culturally problematic, you’d probably have to add such a label to more films than not. The thing I hate almost as much as racist images is the current politically correct climate that strangles honest discussion, then calls the resulting silence progress. Meanwhile, people are not allowed to ask questions or express their feelings to those whom might disagree; we fear being called racist more than we fear being racist. And where do you draw the line? Should films like IMITATION OF LIFE (the 1959 version) or CHIEF CRAZY HORSE (1955) that feature Caucasians starring in non-Caucasian roles, but are otherwise comparatively progressive, meet the same fate? And how do we really know what is offensive?

Ultimately, it is my job to shape my 10-month-old daughter’s sense of self, to monitor what she watches and place whatever she is exposed to in context. Thanks to parents who did the same for me, the barrage of racist Hollywood images awaiting me as a child in 80’s movie theaters (SOUL MAN, THE TOY, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING) left my self-esteem completely intact. In fact, it may have been the earliest seed planted that this future filmmaker was needed in Hollywood, where I could hopefully combine the very best elements of the studio era while humanizing actors of color in a way that the studio system had failed. We can’t control or change the past, nor should we try. It remains to teach us, and how can we learn if we have no marker of how far we’ve come?”

Farran Smith Nehme (Twitter handle @selfstyldsiren) manages her own classic film blog titled Self-Styled Siren and she has contributed to other sites and publications like Nomad Edition’s Wide Screen and Fandor. She also curated the “Shadows of Russia” film series for TCM in 2010.

“My 8-year-old daughter has a yen for Shirley Temple movies, so I bought her a DVD set that included the 1934 vehicle STAND UP AND CHEER!. I was working at home one day, and as it was the last film in the set that she hadn’t seen, I stuck the disc in the player and left the room. And when I came back downstairs, I stifled a long inward groan at what I had forgotten: Stepin Fetchit, and blackface performer Tess Gardella as Aunt Jemima. I also remembered, too late, the controversy over this movie and the choppy way it was cut over the years to eliminate some of the most offensive sequences.

What do I do now, I asked myself, as I do almost every day of my mothering career; and I made the executive decision to let it play to the end. In a house where old movies are a more consistent presence than ones made last week, she was going to encounter this side of classic Hollywood sooner or later.

When it was over, I asked her what she thought. “It wasn’t nearly as good as A LITTLE PRINCESS or WEE WILLIE WINKIE,” was Miss Ebert’s 100% correct verdict.

“Anything else?” I pressed.

She thought about it. “There wasn’t enough Shirley.” Right again, but not what Mom was driving at. She added, “It was pretty boring.”

Deep breath. “What did you think of the black characters?”

“They were weird,” she said. “That one lady had bad makeup.”

It was then my unpleasant duty to explain that for a long time, the movies mocked African Americans, even to the point of having white performers put on makeup to look like crude versions of them. She listened intently.

“So it was a way of being mean,” she said.

“Right.”

“I didn’t think it was funny anyway,” said my daughter.

She understands, from school and talk at home, that things used to be very different. She knows about segregation and civil rights, about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he was fighting, and why he was murdered. There are years of learning ahead, when she can read about a career like Stepin Fetchit’s and confront the stereotypes found even in the work of as great an artist as Preston Sturges. She can grow up and debate whether children her age should see the uncut STAND UP AND CHEER!.

But I realized I didn’t have quite as much to worry about as I had thought. My daughter could, I believe, see the full version of the film, and she would undoubtedly be more bored, but her reaction wouldn’t otherwise change. To her, those images from 1934 are bulletins from another planet. Day by day, she encounters nothing like the kind of world that produced STAND UP AND CHEER!. She lives in a multiethnic home in a multicultural city. The range of backgrounds of her friends and schoolmates would have been astonishing in the 1930s. Given that, of course she’s going to look at blackface and say, “That was weird.”

I love classic movies far too much to quarantine the problematic ones. I don’t know how I could, even if I wanted to–some great movies have some ugly bigotry. I am far too much of a cinephile, and care too much about history, to want my children or anyone else seeing only those old movies that have been scrubbed of anything offensive. I don’t want to lie to my children; as much as old Hollywood produced some glorious art, this was part of it, too. If I withhold these films, or show cut versions, I am achieving the odd effect of making things seem better than they were. Surely that is not the way to approach the sad story of race in the U.S.

In our house, my husband and I will talk about movies and try to make sure our children understand the history that produced racist images. And we’ll trust that our values will give them the ability to look at crude stereotypes, and know instinctively, as my daughter did, that they have nothing to do with reality. They are, on a basic level, exactly what she said–a way this country could be mean.”

Bob Turnbull (Twitter handle @TheLogicalMind) writes about film at his personal blog Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind. His writing can also be found at Row Three and J-Film Pow-Wow.

“It’s really all about knowing your own child. Knowing their likes, dislikes, fears, maturity level and their ability to digest difficult and complex subjects. I can’t really speak to the general case of where a line should be drawn for what kids can watch, but I can certainly make individual assessments for my own son (who just turned 11). We’re lucky in that he’s always been pretty logical, so we can use specific scenes or events in movies as “teaching moments”, talk honestly about the subject and be able to put things in context. It’s not always easy, but as long as you’re willing to talk openly with your child about what you’re watching, it pays off in the end – particularly if you’ve laid the groundwork beforehand.

Since he was very young, we’ve talked to him about racism and the uselessness of characterizing an entire group of people in a single way. It’s a core belief for us obviously, but also stems from the fact that our son’s a mix of several backgrounds (I’m very pale with Scottish/French-Canadian ancestry and my wife is Bengali – our wedding photographer joked that he could never quite get the lighting right when we were both in the picture because of our skin tones). Since he also has many friends with “mixed” parentage (miscegenation has run rampant in our neighbourhood), it’s a pretty straightforward conversation to have with him. So when we’ve come across blackface in silent comedies, an instance of a character shouting “fag” or even Krusty The Klown doing his “Me so sowwy” routine on THE SIMPSONS, we can have a discussion about it and put it into the context of the characters on screen as well as the time the film was made.

If you aren’t prepared to have “difficult” conversations with your child about certain subjects, then as a parent you need to do the research on a film before you watch it with them. And that means a whole lot more than making a decision to watch something based solely on a generalized “content warning” tacked on at the beginning. I think it’s essential that our kids understand how attitudes and behaviours based on race can affect them and society and older films can provide an excellent window into how things have changed over the years. Given proper framing, these films can be both educational and entertaining and be springboards for further discussion with your child. Of course, they need to be ready for those conversations, but who better to decide than the parents themselves?”

Sara Maria Vizcarrondo (Twitter handle @SaraBoxoffice) runs the review section at Boxoffice Magazine, manages the release calendar at Rottentomatoes.com and teaches film studies at DeAnza College. She also hosts a public access show about film that’s available to view on Vimeo called Look of the Week.

“Media ratings systems are a confounding convention. Though we use ratings to advise on purchases, ratings aren’t like consumer reviews: no one is going to base their car purchase on a PG rating for lack of peril; meanwhile some lend them the gravity of medical warnings (how many people have developed carpel tunnel from XXX and still the customers line up). Ratings are a teleological problem: if we think the value of our ratings system lies in how many viewers can watch a film and not be offended by its content, we’re fooling ourselves. A rating is a tool for making a decision and it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools.

In Mark Keizer’s smack-down of the hagiographic Sarah Palin documentary THE UNDEFEATED he says that the problem with the film isn’t Palin or even the one-note director, the problem is a populace deeply afraid of being challenged or taken to task.  Keizer wrote, “Nowadays, many simply ingest whatever information confirms their existing beliefs and everything else is huffily dismissed as a product of brainwashing and ignorance born of too much MSNBC or Fox News.” If the offending entity is a piece of art (commercial or otherwise), we have an additional license to dismiss.

Many like to treat classic films like time capsules (i.e. THE JAZZ SINGER reveals much about America in 1927), I’m not of the mind that’s our best use for old films. Who among us will say that TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON should be looked back on as a representation of “the moment of 2011?” Certainly, some sentiments seem unique and prescient—SALT OF THE EARTH, THE CONFORMIST, HAROLD AND MAUDE—but say this looking back on a time that’s not ours. Our assessment of these as time capsules will always be rooted in an innocence.

I quick-polled my current media studies class about racial ratings on classic films. They suggested I watch a film starring Jeremy Piven called PCU (stands for Political Correctness University). What an object lesson! A room full of college age students who don’t want to express their opinions or open dialogue about the issue at all, so they advised me to watch a 1994 comedy about navigating racial tension.

Opinions on respectfully approaching cultural difference have changed since 1994—not even 15 years ago—just imagine what respect looks like in a hotbed of cultural flux like 1963, pre-Civil Rights Act. Whatever rating for racial distastes could be applied to a film can’t help but expire. Tastes and standards will change.

I’m not advising we become a culture of pugilists, but a film made during the reign of Breen’s Production Code is not promising it won’t be toothy or provocative—those studio films had to be sanitized of all sex, skin, debauchery and bad behavior, why wouldn’t they take a chance to rough house in another arena of thought? Lacking those selling points, what do they offer but complex moments and challenging ideas presented in really good light? And I’m not even talking about non-studio fare (B-hive pictures, Schlock) or films from the pre-code era—if you ask me that was the real golden age.”

113 Responses Racist Images in Classic Films: A Conversation
Posted By heather : July 28, 2011 5:41 pm

Love this post, especially Jason Gilmore’s comments.

About kids specifically: I think people assume that kids put stock into these images–and internalize their racist messages–more than they actually do. As a kid, I read all sorts of classic children’s books which, in retrospect, contain all sorts of questionable material–Babar’s pro-colonialism, the racism in Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the anti-Muslim sentiment in the Narnia series, the stereotypical Native Americans in Peter Pan. But I remembered very little of that–and most kids don’t. Many progressive adults are horrified to go back and read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and find out just how much racism is in them, because–unless they were raised in a family that emphasized racist views–those weren’t the parts of the book that they were interested in, and they skipped right over it. What they remembered were the endless chapters on setting up homesteads, the candy Laura and Mary got at Christmas, the blizzards, the sibling rivalry. Most readers are the same, and most kids who watch classic films are the same as well. It’s a rare 6-year-old that’s actually going to internalize the blackface scenes in Torch Song or Holiday Inn, or remember them two months later, unless he or she is confronted with that kind of material all the time.

More generally: I disagree with putting warning labels on content because what’s offensive is so personal. One person might be offended by blackface (but not necessarily “yellowface” or “brownface”), others could be offended simply by racist jokes, a third could be upset by a scene that shows people of color that conform to stereotypes (the dragon lady, the Mammy)–or scenes showing black performers confined to the kitchen, deferring to white bosses. And what about the sexism and homophobia that run rampant in many mid-century films? Antisemitism and other religious bigotry? What about racism, sexism, and homophobia which is coded and not overt? What about films that were, in their times, intended to be racially progressive, but by our time have become outdated and contain problematic elements (Broken Blossoms, etc)? If you’re watching TCM, you have to understand that you’re watching films from other eras, and that they reflect the values of those eras. That in itself is your warning label.

What I love about TCM is that it DOES show these films uncut, “the way they were meant to be seen.” Because, while that allows for offensive material to be shown, it also allows for very necessary discussion and debate about that material to occur. And that discussion is how people learn, and how we remember that we can do better, and how–just as Gilmore realized that he wanted to become a filmmaker after seeing these negative depictions of race–people come to understand how more diversity and more viewpoints are sorely needed in the cinema (which is something that today’s filmmakers and producers still haven’t really grasped). Shoving those problematic moments under the rug removes the opportunity for offense, but it also removes the opportunity to discuss and learn and keep getting better.

Thanks for opening up the discussion.

Posted By heather : July 28, 2011 5:41 pm

Love this post, especially Jason Gilmore’s comments.

About kids specifically: I think people assume that kids put stock into these images–and internalize their racist messages–more than they actually do. As a kid, I read all sorts of classic children’s books which, in retrospect, contain all sorts of questionable material–Babar’s pro-colonialism, the racism in Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the anti-Muslim sentiment in the Narnia series, the stereotypical Native Americans in Peter Pan. But I remembered very little of that–and most kids don’t. Many progressive adults are horrified to go back and read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and find out just how much racism is in them, because–unless they were raised in a family that emphasized racist views–those weren’t the parts of the book that they were interested in, and they skipped right over it. What they remembered were the endless chapters on setting up homesteads, the candy Laura and Mary got at Christmas, the blizzards, the sibling rivalry. Most readers are the same, and most kids who watch classic films are the same as well. It’s a rare 6-year-old that’s actually going to internalize the blackface scenes in Torch Song or Holiday Inn, or remember them two months later, unless he or she is confronted with that kind of material all the time.

More generally: I disagree with putting warning labels on content because what’s offensive is so personal. One person might be offended by blackface (but not necessarily “yellowface” or “brownface”), others could be offended simply by racist jokes, a third could be upset by a scene that shows people of color that conform to stereotypes (the dragon lady, the Mammy)–or scenes showing black performers confined to the kitchen, deferring to white bosses. And what about the sexism and homophobia that run rampant in many mid-century films? Antisemitism and other religious bigotry? What about racism, sexism, and homophobia which is coded and not overt? What about films that were, in their times, intended to be racially progressive, but by our time have become outdated and contain problematic elements (Broken Blossoms, etc)? If you’re watching TCM, you have to understand that you’re watching films from other eras, and that they reflect the values of those eras. That in itself is your warning label.

What I love about TCM is that it DOES show these films uncut, “the way they were meant to be seen.” Because, while that allows for offensive material to be shown, it also allows for very necessary discussion and debate about that material to occur. And that discussion is how people learn, and how we remember that we can do better, and how–just as Gilmore realized that he wanted to become a filmmaker after seeing these negative depictions of race–people come to understand how more diversity and more viewpoints are sorely needed in the cinema (which is something that today’s filmmakers and producers still haven’t really grasped). Shoving those problematic moments under the rug removes the opportunity for offense, but it also removes the opportunity to discuss and learn and keep getting better.

Thanks for opening up the discussion.

Posted By suzidoll : July 28, 2011 6:18 pm

Kimberly: Good for you for stirring this pot. I think it’s good that the Morlocks as film historians tackle these things from time to time.

I think parents should speak with children about representation in film, just like they might speak with them about other important issues in our culture or society. Not just racial stereotypes of yesteryear, but images of women in films of the past and present. I wonder if parents who send their adolescent boys off to PG-13 comedies and some comic book films realize how women are depicted in these films. But, I am daydreaming, because that won’t happen. Many parents use film as a babysitter, and they make assumptions about eras and genres based on their uninformed opinions. And, many assume film is harmless because it’s only entertainment. Some don’t even pay attention to the letter-ratings system regarding sexual and violent content. I sometimes see parents with toddlers and kids in R-rated films.

A better answer is media or film literacy or, at least, film appreciation, which details how film reflects or makes meaning–not only in its content but in its techniques. It should be taught as early as grade school by people qualified to do so.

Posted By suzidoll : July 28, 2011 6:18 pm

Kimberly: Good for you for stirring this pot. I think it’s good that the Morlocks as film historians tackle these things from time to time.

I think parents should speak with children about representation in film, just like they might speak with them about other important issues in our culture or society. Not just racial stereotypes of yesteryear, but images of women in films of the past and present. I wonder if parents who send their adolescent boys off to PG-13 comedies and some comic book films realize how women are depicted in these films. But, I am daydreaming, because that won’t happen. Many parents use film as a babysitter, and they make assumptions about eras and genres based on their uninformed opinions. And, many assume film is harmless because it’s only entertainment. Some don’t even pay attention to the letter-ratings system regarding sexual and violent content. I sometimes see parents with toddlers and kids in R-rated films.

A better answer is media or film literacy or, at least, film appreciation, which details how film reflects or makes meaning–not only in its content but in its techniques. It should be taught as early as grade school by people qualified to do so.

Posted By Christopher M : July 28, 2011 6:26 pm

Good stuff–thanks for facilitating it.

Here’s a confession (and this occurred to me as I was reading the original post): Watching “The Toy”–as a kid–was no big deal to me or my two sisters back in the day. I think the way we processed it was that we all liked Richard Pryor and thought he was funny. I’m thinking that none of us had the data necessary to process the premise of the film in the same way we would all probably process it now (I can only speak so much for my two sisters, but I write it off as some racist foolishness today).

Kinda the same thing with “Under the Rainbow”–remember that one? Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher? My parents took us to see that in the THEATER! I mean, there are a bunch of “what-were-you-thinking?” questions I could ask my mother, looking back today. But I realize that the most important thing is that, after being exposed to that kinda stuff (and so much MORE), I was able to grow in my understanding of how the -isms that plague (and shape) our society work. I was smart enough to get that it’s socially counterproductive to think of myself as being lesser or greater than those who might be different from me.

We have to remember, though, that not every child learns the same lesson–they might learn from a different book.

Posted By Christopher M : July 28, 2011 6:26 pm

Good stuff–thanks for facilitating it.

Here’s a confession (and this occurred to me as I was reading the original post): Watching “The Toy”–as a kid–was no big deal to me or my two sisters back in the day. I think the way we processed it was that we all liked Richard Pryor and thought he was funny. I’m thinking that none of us had the data necessary to process the premise of the film in the same way we would all probably process it now (I can only speak so much for my two sisters, but I write it off as some racist foolishness today).

Kinda the same thing with “Under the Rainbow”–remember that one? Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher? My parents took us to see that in the THEATER! I mean, there are a bunch of “what-were-you-thinking?” questions I could ask my mother, looking back today. But I realize that the most important thing is that, after being exposed to that kinda stuff (and so much MORE), I was able to grow in my understanding of how the -isms that plague (and shape) our society work. I was smart enough to get that it’s socially counterproductive to think of myself as being lesser or greater than those who might be different from me.

We have to remember, though, that not every child learns the same lesson–they might learn from a different book.

Posted By Juana Maria : July 28, 2011 6:30 pm

In the “Race & Hollywood” interviews on TCM they mention how Latinos play “Arabs”. I can think of a few: Cesar Romero, Hector Elizando on “Columbo”, both Anthony Quinn and his son Francesco Quinn.(“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Caravans”, “Lion of the Desert”, “JAG”)

Posted By Juana Maria : July 28, 2011 6:30 pm

In the “Race & Hollywood” interviews on TCM they mention how Latinos play “Arabs”. I can think of a few: Cesar Romero, Hector Elizando on “Columbo”, both Anthony Quinn and his son Francesco Quinn.(“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Caravans”, “Lion of the Desert”, “JAG”)

Posted By Anonymous : July 28, 2011 6:38 pm

I agree that it’s vital not to cut problematic material out of old movies- as much as anything else, doing so is whitewashing, and pretending that racism was never so common that you could play racist caricatures as jokes, which does a disservice both to the people who suffered from that racism (sexism, homophobia, etc.) and to the progress that we’ve made since then.

I do think warnings and so forth can be really vital, though, for a couple of reasons- first, if it’s not explicitly commented on, those problematic elements may be normalized, and people watching might never question whether what they were seeing was a problem. It’s easy to pretend that no reasonable adult would make such a mistake, but look at Peter Jackson’s King Kong, or Star Wars and Indiana Jones- in all of them, all the old unconscious colonial racism (the natives of Skull Island, the Sand People, and the Indians in Temple of Doom are all really nasty depictions that seem based purely on screen representations of various people and not any direct knowledge of those people) is reproduced without reconsideration. I doubt any of the creators of any of those works are racists, nor that they intended any offense, but they nonetheless passed on messages that are borne of racist attitudes.

Second, and maybe more importantly, it’s not necessarily dominant culture kids that need protection from those kind of depictions the most- it’s the children who are being attacked or belittled, the little black or Muslim or gay kids or whatever. And the problem there is that the greater issue with the racist elements in old movies isn’t in what is depicted, it’s in what’s left out- with rare exceptions, even my favorite classics have little or no room for black people except as servants and sidekicks, butlers and maids- bad enough explaining to your kid why people thought Stepin Fechit was a fair representation of him or her, but it’s far worse explaining why people didn’t think they had the right to be there in the first place.

I think warnings can help, some, at least in highlighting egregiously problematic stuff. For the larger problems, though, the only real way to address it is to have movies and books and things where people aren’t excluded, aren’t caricatured, aren’t treated as lesser beings. And there are some, even from the classic era- Criterion’s fantastic Paul Robeson set, for instance, has quite a few.

Posted By Anonymous : July 28, 2011 6:38 pm

I agree that it’s vital not to cut problematic material out of old movies- as much as anything else, doing so is whitewashing, and pretending that racism was never so common that you could play racist caricatures as jokes, which does a disservice both to the people who suffered from that racism (sexism, homophobia, etc.) and to the progress that we’ve made since then.

I do think warnings and so forth can be really vital, though, for a couple of reasons- first, if it’s not explicitly commented on, those problematic elements may be normalized, and people watching might never question whether what they were seeing was a problem. It’s easy to pretend that no reasonable adult would make such a mistake, but look at Peter Jackson’s King Kong, or Star Wars and Indiana Jones- in all of them, all the old unconscious colonial racism (the natives of Skull Island, the Sand People, and the Indians in Temple of Doom are all really nasty depictions that seem based purely on screen representations of various people and not any direct knowledge of those people) is reproduced without reconsideration. I doubt any of the creators of any of those works are racists, nor that they intended any offense, but they nonetheless passed on messages that are borne of racist attitudes.

Second, and maybe more importantly, it’s not necessarily dominant culture kids that need protection from those kind of depictions the most- it’s the children who are being attacked or belittled, the little black or Muslim or gay kids or whatever. And the problem there is that the greater issue with the racist elements in old movies isn’t in what is depicted, it’s in what’s left out- with rare exceptions, even my favorite classics have little or no room for black people except as servants and sidekicks, butlers and maids- bad enough explaining to your kid why people thought Stepin Fechit was a fair representation of him or her, but it’s far worse explaining why people didn’t think they had the right to be there in the first place.

I think warnings can help, some, at least in highlighting egregiously problematic stuff. For the larger problems, though, the only real way to address it is to have movies and books and things where people aren’t excluded, aren’t caricatured, aren’t treated as lesser beings. And there are some, even from the classic era- Criterion’s fantastic Paul Robeson set, for instance, has quite a few.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 28, 2011 7:02 pm

Heather – Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You made some great points. There’s a lot of problematic content in classic film as well as modern film. While “blackface” isn’t widely tolerated today, homophobia and Asian stereotypes still run rampant in modern movies for example. As you mentioned, it’s very important to keep things in context when watching classic films but I think some parents often assume that an old movie is a “safe” movie without really giving it much thought. I don’t think censorship is the answer at all but I think Sarah Dyer’s onto something when she suggests that more information about these films should be easily available. The problem is that it’s a topic that classic film fans tend to shy away from. Discussing Joan Crawford, James Cagney and Fred Astaire’s blackface performances is something that’s usually avoided when those actors are discussed or written about.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 28, 2011 7:02 pm

Heather – Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You made some great points. There’s a lot of problematic content in classic film as well as modern film. While “blackface” isn’t widely tolerated today, homophobia and Asian stereotypes still run rampant in modern movies for example. As you mentioned, it’s very important to keep things in context when watching classic films but I think some parents often assume that an old movie is a “safe” movie without really giving it much thought. I don’t think censorship is the answer at all but I think Sarah Dyer’s onto something when she suggests that more information about these films should be easily available. The problem is that it’s a topic that classic film fans tend to shy away from. Discussing Joan Crawford, James Cagney and Fred Astaire’s blackface performances is something that’s usually avoided when those actors are discussed or written about.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 28, 2011 7:16 pm

Suzi – Thanks, Suzi. It’s a hard topic to discuss but I think it needs more discussion. I love your idea about making media and film literacy an important part of childhood education. Kids are bombarded by images on a daily basis on TV, in magazines and on billboards that may seem completely harmless but any honest ad executive will tell you how much of an impact these images make on us. Sexism and religious bigotry in classic films are other topics that are definitely worthy of discussion too. A lot of kids don’t get any help with how to process racist images and it’s hard to even imagine how they may affect someone who doesn’t have a real support system at home. But I think you’re right. Education is really the key.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 28, 2011 7:16 pm

Suzi – Thanks, Suzi. It’s a hard topic to discuss but I think it needs more discussion. I love your idea about making media and film literacy an important part of childhood education. Kids are bombarded by images on a daily basis on TV, in magazines and on billboards that may seem completely harmless but any honest ad executive will tell you how much of an impact these images make on us. Sexism and religious bigotry in classic films are other topics that are definitely worthy of discussion too. A lot of kids don’t get any help with how to process racist images and it’s hard to even imagine how they may affect someone who doesn’t have a real support system at home. But I think you’re right. Education is really the key.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 28, 2011 8:31 pm

One bit of information that’s been rolling around in my head since posting this is Sara Vizcarrondo’s observations on that UNDEFEATED review where she points out that;

In Mark Keizer’s smack-down of the hagiographic Sarah Palin documentary THE UNDEFEATED he says that the problem with the film isn’t Palin or even the one-note director, the problem is a populace deeply afraid of being challenged or taken to task. Keizer wrote, “Nowadays, many simply ingest whatever information confirms their existing beliefs and everything else is huffily dismissed as a product of brainwashing and ignorance born of too much MSNBC or Fox News.” If the offending entity is a piece of art (commercial or otherwise), we have an additional license to dismiss.

I think this is fascinating. We live in the “information age” and with a simple click of your mouse you can find lots of support for any kind of horrible behavior, bad idea or bias. A good example of this is sadly, the religious bigot and nutcase who murdered almost 100 people in Norway recently. He found lots of support for his ideas online and I highly doubt he had the ability or sense to seek out opposing views to his self-made arguments. I would never advocate net censorship but it’s interesting to think about how the www or modern media in general (choosing & picking what “kind” of news you watch or listen to, etc.) is used by some psychopaths to validate their world view and insulate themselves from opposing voices.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 28, 2011 8:31 pm

One bit of information that’s been rolling around in my head since posting this is Sara Vizcarrondo’s observations on that UNDEFEATED review where she points out that;

In Mark Keizer’s smack-down of the hagiographic Sarah Palin documentary THE UNDEFEATED he says that the problem with the film isn’t Palin or even the one-note director, the problem is a populace deeply afraid of being challenged or taken to task. Keizer wrote, “Nowadays, many simply ingest whatever information confirms their existing beliefs and everything else is huffily dismissed as a product of brainwashing and ignorance born of too much MSNBC or Fox News.” If the offending entity is a piece of art (commercial or otherwise), we have an additional license to dismiss.

I think this is fascinating. We live in the “information age” and with a simple click of your mouse you can find lots of support for any kind of horrible behavior, bad idea or bias. A good example of this is sadly, the religious bigot and nutcase who murdered almost 100 people in Norway recently. He found lots of support for his ideas online and I highly doubt he had the ability or sense to seek out opposing views to his self-made arguments. I would never advocate net censorship but it’s interesting to think about how the www or modern media in general (choosing & picking what “kind” of news you watch or listen to, etc.) is used by some psychopaths to validate their world view and insulate themselves from opposing voices.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 28, 2011 9:08 pm

With the possible exception of Michael Bay movies and afternoon talk shows, I cannot think of too many current popular entertainments that appear racist. I think, for the most part, producers, directors, screenwriters and actors are much more sensitive to that sort of thing these days. With it not being so prevalent these days, the topic might not even come up. Kids today, and even while I was growing up, are much more accepting of people of other races than they were in the old days. I believe this so much that showing them an old movie with a character in blackface may just be an aberration to them. That character may either seem like a silly character or they might not concentrate on that character at all. Letting them bring it up if they have any questions might be fine, or asking them if they have any questions would be fine as well. Seeing as how, for instance, the black kids and adults they know do not act or speak like Stepin Fetchit and are more than likely not domestics, it would not cause them too much harm to see a silly character such as that. People act stupid in movies all of the time now and they’re usually played by white people. Kids these days know better than to think of othr races like that. Now, if they do ask questions specifically about a character, it is best to answer them straight on and tell them it was wrong. I would also advise not letting your kids watch Maury Povich or Jerry Springer.

The fact that this bunch of people engaged in this conversation are engaged in this conversation says good things about the children in our spheres of influence. There are still pockets of ignorati, as there will always be, but they dwindle more and more each day. At least, that is what I believe.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 28, 2011 9:08 pm

With the possible exception of Michael Bay movies and afternoon talk shows, I cannot think of too many current popular entertainments that appear racist. I think, for the most part, producers, directors, screenwriters and actors are much more sensitive to that sort of thing these days. With it not being so prevalent these days, the topic might not even come up. Kids today, and even while I was growing up, are much more accepting of people of other races than they were in the old days. I believe this so much that showing them an old movie with a character in blackface may just be an aberration to them. That character may either seem like a silly character or they might not concentrate on that character at all. Letting them bring it up if they have any questions might be fine, or asking them if they have any questions would be fine as well. Seeing as how, for instance, the black kids and adults they know do not act or speak like Stepin Fetchit and are more than likely not domestics, it would not cause them too much harm to see a silly character such as that. People act stupid in movies all of the time now and they’re usually played by white people. Kids these days know better than to think of othr races like that. Now, if they do ask questions specifically about a character, it is best to answer them straight on and tell them it was wrong. I would also advise not letting your kids watch Maury Povich or Jerry Springer.

The fact that this bunch of people engaged in this conversation are engaged in this conversation says good things about the children in our spheres of influence. There are still pockets of ignorati, as there will always be, but they dwindle more and more each day. At least, that is what I believe.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 28, 2011 9:10 pm

On the topic of warnings before movies, I would personally say that there is no need. However, if Turner wants to do it, and it makes certain people feel better about the whole thing, I see no problem with it. Go right ahead.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 28, 2011 9:10 pm

On the topic of warnings before movies, I would personally say that there is no need. However, if Turner wants to do it, and it makes certain people feel better about the whole thing, I see no problem with it. Go right ahead.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 28, 2011 9:17 pm

Kimberly- You nailed it when you called the guy in Norway a psychopath. Whether he read something online, in the paper, heard it on the radio, whatever…it doesn’t matter. He’s a psychopath. Only he is to blame for his actions, just like that crackpot kid who shot Gabrielle Giffords and Jihadists who kill people en masse to get closer to their religious ideal. A lack of respect for human life is lacking in people who do things like that and they eventually snap at some point regardless of when or from where the stimuli comes.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 28, 2011 9:17 pm

Kimberly- You nailed it when you called the guy in Norway a psychopath. Whether he read something online, in the paper, heard it on the radio, whatever…it doesn’t matter. He’s a psychopath. Only he is to blame for his actions, just like that crackpot kid who shot Gabrielle Giffords and Jihadists who kill people en masse to get closer to their religious ideal. A lack of respect for human life is lacking in people who do things like that and they eventually snap at some point regardless of when or from where the stimuli comes.

Posted By Amy : July 29, 2011 4:38 am

This is a great insightful post!

First my thoughts on Joan Crawford. I think the shock – maybe mine in particular – came from how out of nowhere the blackface came from. There was also the shock of seeing her in technicolor… and it was just all too much for my brain.

I think race is a touchy subject, of course, especially for parents. Obviously, one has to mind what kids watch… no one is going to sit a six-year-old and make them watch Birth of a Nation. In fact, I think Birth of a Nation should be watched when you are already have set your thinking… just in case.

But with things like Song of the South, I think it’s pretty harmless. And like Farran did, you should talk about these things… eventually, children don’t make much of it. At least when I was a kid, I didn’t think much of the buck-toothed Japanese soldier on Popeye.

Posted By Amy : July 29, 2011 4:38 am

This is a great insightful post!

First my thoughts on Joan Crawford. I think the shock – maybe mine in particular – came from how out of nowhere the blackface came from. There was also the shock of seeing her in technicolor… and it was just all too much for my brain.

I think race is a touchy subject, of course, especially for parents. Obviously, one has to mind what kids watch… no one is going to sit a six-year-old and make them watch Birth of a Nation. In fact, I think Birth of a Nation should be watched when you are already have set your thinking… just in case.

But with things like Song of the South, I think it’s pretty harmless. And like Farran did, you should talk about these things… eventually, children don’t make much of it. At least when I was a kid, I didn’t think much of the buck-toothed Japanese soldier on Popeye.

Posted By Fantomex : July 29, 2011 6:33 am

With regards to this discussion (and to you, dukeroberts), I would respectfully suggest to all who’ve commented here that they check out the blog Racialicious and read the articles that deal with racial images in film and & TV, and try to get a feel for what youth of color are and aren’t willing to put up with today, and what further change they expect from Hollywood itself. This will help a lot more besides just having a month of movies (which I’m sorry I’ve missed, BTW) about images of Arabs on film.

Posted By Fantomex : July 29, 2011 6:33 am

With regards to this discussion (and to you, dukeroberts), I would respectfully suggest to all who’ve commented here that they check out the blog Racialicious and read the articles that deal with racial images in film and & TV, and try to get a feel for what youth of color are and aren’t willing to put up with today, and what further change they expect from Hollywood itself. This will help a lot more besides just having a month of movies (which I’m sorry I’ve missed, BTW) about images of Arabs on film.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 8:57 am

Fantomex- Is there any article in particular that you recommend?

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 8:57 am

Fantomex- Is there any article in particular that you recommend?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 29, 2011 10:51 am

Kimberly, a terrific piece. As you know, I’ve written on race many times and never get a big response. Discussions of race or, my other favored topic, the use of atomic bombs in war, have never gathered steam and, aside from you, never get many comments. So let me just say both congratulations on getting a great discussion going (finally!) and thank you.

Heather is right that classic films that were considered racially open at the time are now fundamentally offensive. She mentions Broken Blossoms, a perfect example, as its lead Chinese character is played by a white man (Richard Barthelmess) and referred to, at one point, by Dorothy Gish as “Chinky.” Also, the alternate titles of the film and book (Yellow Man and the Girl, The Chink and the Child) don’t exactly scream progressive understanding as we know it. At the time, though, it was considered progressive if only because the Chinese character is not a sinister villain. The fact that it was considered progressive to simply NOT portray a non-caucasian as sinister says much indeed.

My biggest problem with racism in classic Hollywood has never been the big stuff like Birth of a Nation or Amos and Andy or Stepin’ Fetchit movies because it’s so brazen and so omni-present it can be easily seen going in and you’re, in a way, ready for it. My problem is watching a movie that has nothing to do with race, is well-made and entertaining and suddenly, for absolutely no reason, a racist joke is thrown in. It blindsides me every time and I hate it. I saw Upstream (1927, John Ford) at the National Archives when it premiered last year because I had worked on the blogathon to help fund its restoration. I went with a friend, a black woman as it turns out, who also loves classic film. Well, 99.9999 percent of the film, with a story about folks in showbiz all living together in a boarding house, is just showbiz jokes and romantic comedy. Then, a character decides to leave an act two characters have worked up and the other suggests they use the black man who works there and turn it into a “jungle act” at which point the black man bulges his eyes out. I don’t have to tell you that was pretty uncomfortable for both of us, if only for a second, but more than that, it made me angry. Because when I see something like that I think, “WHY?! Why couldn’t you make it through the whole film without making that joke?! Why was that necessary?!”

A large swath of classic films could have been made better by someone simply saying, “We don’t really need that joke, do we?” That’s what bothers me. So many classic films are 99.9999 percent fine except for one, single fleeting moment where a writer or director just couldn’t resist making a joke about a black person.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 29, 2011 10:51 am

Kimberly, a terrific piece. As you know, I’ve written on race many times and never get a big response. Discussions of race or, my other favored topic, the use of atomic bombs in war, have never gathered steam and, aside from you, never get many comments. So let me just say both congratulations on getting a great discussion going (finally!) and thank you.

Heather is right that classic films that were considered racially open at the time are now fundamentally offensive. She mentions Broken Blossoms, a perfect example, as its lead Chinese character is played by a white man (Richard Barthelmess) and referred to, at one point, by Dorothy Gish as “Chinky.” Also, the alternate titles of the film and book (Yellow Man and the Girl, The Chink and the Child) don’t exactly scream progressive understanding as we know it. At the time, though, it was considered progressive if only because the Chinese character is not a sinister villain. The fact that it was considered progressive to simply NOT portray a non-caucasian as sinister says much indeed.

My biggest problem with racism in classic Hollywood has never been the big stuff like Birth of a Nation or Amos and Andy or Stepin’ Fetchit movies because it’s so brazen and so omni-present it can be easily seen going in and you’re, in a way, ready for it. My problem is watching a movie that has nothing to do with race, is well-made and entertaining and suddenly, for absolutely no reason, a racist joke is thrown in. It blindsides me every time and I hate it. I saw Upstream (1927, John Ford) at the National Archives when it premiered last year because I had worked on the blogathon to help fund its restoration. I went with a friend, a black woman as it turns out, who also loves classic film. Well, 99.9999 percent of the film, with a story about folks in showbiz all living together in a boarding house, is just showbiz jokes and romantic comedy. Then, a character decides to leave an act two characters have worked up and the other suggests they use the black man who works there and turn it into a “jungle act” at which point the black man bulges his eyes out. I don’t have to tell you that was pretty uncomfortable for both of us, if only for a second, but more than that, it made me angry. Because when I see something like that I think, “WHY?! Why couldn’t you make it through the whole film without making that joke?! Why was that necessary?!”

A large swath of classic films could have been made better by someone simply saying, “We don’t really need that joke, do we?” That’s what bothers me. So many classic films are 99.9999 percent fine except for one, single fleeting moment where a writer or director just couldn’t resist making a joke about a black person.

Posted By morlockjeff : July 29, 2011 10:52 am

TORCH SONG should come with a warning: Danger, Joan Crawford ahead! Her most ferocious, ball-busting, scene-chewing performance with plenty to offend everyone – blind people, pianists, theatre directors, African-Americans, and just about everybody else on the planet. Proceed at your own risk!

Posted By morlockjeff : July 29, 2011 10:52 am

TORCH SONG should come with a warning: Danger, Joan Crawford ahead! Her most ferocious, ball-busting, scene-chewing performance with plenty to offend everyone – blind people, pianists, theatre directors, African-Americans, and just about everybody else on the planet. Proceed at your own risk!

Posted By davidkalat : July 29, 2011 12:14 pm

Kimberly–

Great post, and a great discussion by the comments thread as well. This is an issue I have wrangled with (and posted about not that long ago myself).

One thing that worries me about all the self-congratulatory “We don’t need warning labels” and “I’m glad TCM shows movies uncut” remarks is that the audience for old movies, the viewership of TCM, and from what I’ve seen of site traffic metrics for this board the readership of the Morlocks, is we’re a bunch of pasty white guys and girls.

I’ll call myself out–I’m a 41 year-old white guy.

That doesn’t disqualify me from having a valid opinion on this issue, but it does mean *my* perspective on what is or isn’t hurtful is bound to differ from someone who belongs to the minority group being belitted by any given movie.

I was reading a profile of former-Google and now-Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg talk about how her son, as a little boy, was enthralled by STAR WARS and fantasized about going into space. She said she’d like to go to space, too, to be near him–and he scoffed, “You can’t. There’s only one girl in space!”

Kids internalize little things–and can be literal in their thinking. If Carrie Fisher or Natalie Portman is the only female lead in a STAR WARS movie, whole conclusions can be drawn about the role of women in a culture overall. Images have power. We wouldn’t still be pouring over old movies with such gusto if they didn’t.

If you show me a theater full of black people enjoying old movies DESPITE (not because of, but despite) images of blackface or cruel stereotypes, and they fill a message board saying, “no big deal, the context is understood, censorship is bad, the conversation helps heal,” then I’d be quicker to agree. As long as the audience for old movies continues to look like the folks who aren’t the target of the racist stereotypes, I’m going to put myself in the pro-warning label camp.

Posted By davidkalat : July 29, 2011 12:14 pm

Kimberly–

Great post, and a great discussion by the comments thread as well. This is an issue I have wrangled with (and posted about not that long ago myself).

One thing that worries me about all the self-congratulatory “We don’t need warning labels” and “I’m glad TCM shows movies uncut” remarks is that the audience for old movies, the viewership of TCM, and from what I’ve seen of site traffic metrics for this board the readership of the Morlocks, is we’re a bunch of pasty white guys and girls.

I’ll call myself out–I’m a 41 year-old white guy.

That doesn’t disqualify me from having a valid opinion on this issue, but it does mean *my* perspective on what is or isn’t hurtful is bound to differ from someone who belongs to the minority group being belitted by any given movie.

I was reading a profile of former-Google and now-Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg talk about how her son, as a little boy, was enthralled by STAR WARS and fantasized about going into space. She said she’d like to go to space, too, to be near him–and he scoffed, “You can’t. There’s only one girl in space!”

Kids internalize little things–and can be literal in their thinking. If Carrie Fisher or Natalie Portman is the only female lead in a STAR WARS movie, whole conclusions can be drawn about the role of women in a culture overall. Images have power. We wouldn’t still be pouring over old movies with such gusto if they didn’t.

If you show me a theater full of black people enjoying old movies DESPITE (not because of, but despite) images of blackface or cruel stereotypes, and they fill a message board saying, “no big deal, the context is understood, censorship is bad, the conversation helps heal,” then I’d be quicker to agree. As long as the audience for old movies continues to look like the folks who aren’t the target of the racist stereotypes, I’m going to put myself in the pro-warning label camp.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 4:32 pm

Anonymous – Great comments. You bring up a lot of important points. I was watching the old TARZAN films on TCM recently and remembering how fond I was of them when I was a kid. If I wasn’t caucasian myself I probably would have noticed the racial stereotypes in the TARZAN films much more easily and not enjoyed them in the same way. I think it’s much easier for caucasians to ignore these types of images or just not notice them as frequently because frankly, they just don’t affect us in the same way. Of course there are also Irish (violent drunks) and Italian (Mob criminals) stereotypes to consider as well, which I can remember my own family being bothered by at times when the jokes weren’t funny. It’s a complex issue with a lot of variables. And while I do think education is the key, I don’t necessarily think it’s TCM’s job to do the educating. I do think their annual “Race in Hollywood” event is an important one and I do think the film hosts often make a point of discussing the racial content of a film before it’s shown but maybe that should be more aggressively done or a bigger part of TCM hosting duties.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 4:52 pm

Duke – Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Duke. As you said, it’s great that we can even have this discussion online and openly talk about these issues. I’ll be honest, I was caught off guard by a few of the responses I got on Twitter after mentioning TORCH SONG. I had never considered the idea of TCM adding warnings to movies before and that’s undoubtedly due to the fact that I’m caucasian myself. It’s an interesting idea because there are warnings for sexual content, language, adult situations and violence already. Would it be a real stretch to add another warning for “racially insensitive material”? I think it would be difficult mainly because it’s a complicated issue still affecting movies being made today even though a lot of people don’t notice it or aren’t bothered by it. A good example is the recent 2007 film A MIGHTY HEART where Angelina Jolie darkened her skin to play Mariane Pearl, a woman of mixed race. It was extremely controversial for a brief time but then Jolie went on to win awards, etc. I was personally pretty shocked by the whole turn of events because it just seamed incredibly insensitive & strange in 2007 for an actress to be darkening her skin for a role even though it wasn’t done to insult anyone of a mixed race. But a lot of critics, etc. never even mentioned the controversy in their reviews. In other wards, as Jason said in his contribution to the original post, how do we really know what is offensive? What bugs me might not bug you. It’s a tough call. I don’t particularly agree with any film rating systems frankly but they’re already in place so would expanding them really be that difficult? Maybe. Maybe not.

Posted By Juana Maria : July 29, 2011 2:26 pm

I believe what the Bible says at Acts 10:34,35: “God is not partial.” Racism is not from God or something we are born with,it is a learnt behaviour.

Posted By Juana Maria : July 29, 2011 2:26 pm

I believe what the Bible says at Acts 10:34,35: “God is not partial.” Racism is not from God or something we are born with,it is a learnt behaviour.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 4:02 pm

David- As I said earlier, I think the warning labels are fine. I think you are also right about the majority of the audience who watches TCM though too. I have tried to interest a few black friends in watching older movies on occasion and they were not even interested due to old movies being racist. I was a little shocked the first time I got this response because the majority of old movies I have seen don’t include anything that I would think could be deemed offensive, but some people of other races or ethnicities do have different barometers. The percentage of non-pasty, non-white folks who watch TCM might already be used to images that might crop up in the occasional film because they already watch the older movies, so the warnings might not be necessary. However, in case there might be a first time viewer of an older movie, who might be of a different race or ethnicity, or of a different sensitivity, the warnings are not a terrible idea to use before some of the movies. Actually, to be safe, maybe all of the movies? One can never be sure. The programmers aren’t mind readers of the masses.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 4:02 pm

David- As I said earlier, I think the warning labels are fine. I think you are also right about the majority of the audience who watches TCM though too. I have tried to interest a few black friends in watching older movies on occasion and they were not even interested due to old movies being racist. I was a little shocked the first time I got this response because the majority of old movies I have seen don’t include anything that I would think could be deemed offensive, but some people of other races or ethnicities do have different barometers. The percentage of non-pasty, non-white folks who watch TCM might already be used to images that might crop up in the occasional film because they already watch the older movies, so the warnings might not be necessary. However, in case there might be a first time viewer of an older movie, who might be of a different race or ethnicity, or of a different sensitivity, the warnings are not a terrible idea to use before some of the movies. Actually, to be safe, maybe all of the movies? One can never be sure. The programmers aren’t mind readers of the masses.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 4:18 pm

I didn’t get a chance to respond to some of the previous comments because they only appeared this morning so I’m backtracking…

Christopher – I’ve never seen THE Toy or OVER THE RAINBOW so I can’t comment on those films but I appreciate your insights. I also completely agree that: “We have to remember, though, that not every child learns the same lesson–they might learn from a different book.” I think that comment furthers the discussion about education as well as the importance of making media studies a part of early education.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 4:18 pm

I didn’t get a chance to respond to some of the previous comments because they only appeared this morning so I’m backtracking…

Christopher – I’ve never seen THE Toy or OVER THE RAINBOW so I can’t comment on those films but I appreciate your insights. I also completely agree that: “We have to remember, though, that not every child learns the same lesson–they might learn from a different book.” I think that comment furthers the discussion about education as well as the importance of making media studies a part of early education.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 4:32 pm

Anonymous – Great comments. You bring up a lot of important points. I was watching the old TARZAN films on TCM recently and remembering how fond I was of them when I was a kid. If I wasn’t Caucasian myself I probably would have noticed the racial stereotypes in the TARZAN films much more easily and not enjoyed them in the same way. I think it’s much easier for Caucasians to ignore these types of images or just not notice them as frequently because frankly, they just don’t affect us in the same way. Of course there are also Irish (violent drunks) and Italian (Mob criminals) stereotypes to consider as well, which I can remember my own family being bothered by at times when the jokes weren’t funny. It’s a complex issue with a lot of variables. And while I do think education is the key, I don’t necessarily think it’s TCM’s job to do the educating. I do think their annual “Race in Hollywood” event is an important one and I do think the film hosts often make a point of discussing the racial content of a film before it’s shown but maybe that should be more aggressively done or a bigger part of TCM hosting duties.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 4:40 pm

I think discussing possible racial issues prior to every movie shown that might have an offensive element to it would take away time from other information that might be more interesting to more people. A short, sincere disclaimer prior to the beginning of the films would be more than sufficient.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 4:40 pm

I think discussing possible racial issues prior to every movie shown that might have an offensive element to it would take away time from other information that might be more interesting to more people. A short, sincere disclaimer prior to the beginning of the films would be more than sufficient.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 4:52 pm

Duke – Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Duke. As you said, it’s great that we can even have this discussion online and openly talk about these issues. I’ll be honest, I was caught off guard by a few of the responses I got on Twitter after mentioning TORCH SONG. I had never considered the idea of TCM adding warnings to movies before and that’s undoubtedly due to the fact that I’m Caucasian myself. It’s an interesting idea because there are warnings for sexual content, language, adult situations and violence already. Would it be a real stretch to add another warning for “racially insensitive material”? I think it would be difficult mainly because it’s a complicated issue still affecting movies being made today even though a lot of people don’t notice it or aren’t bothered by it. A good example is the recent 2007 film A MIGHTY HEART where Angelina Jolie darkened her skin to play Mariane Pearl, a woman of mixed race. It was extremely controversial for a brief time but then Jolie went on to win awards, etc. I was personally pretty shocked by the whole turn of events because it just seamed incredibly insensitive & strange in 2007 for an actress to be darkening her skin for a role even though it wasn’t done to insult anyone of a mixed race. But a lot of critics, etc. never even mentioned the controversy in their reviews. In other wards, as Jason said in his contribution to the original post, how do we really know what is offensive? What bugs me might not bug you. It’s a tough call. I don’t particularly agree with any film rating systems frankly but they’re already in place so would expanding them really be that difficult? Maybe. Maybe not.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:00 pm

Amy – Thank you! And I think you hit the nail on the head in regards to TORCH SONG. I just didn’t expect to see something like that in a 1954 film and the whole technicolor spectacle was just so oddly staged and out of place. Wrong on so many levels. As you said, parents obviously have a responsibility to talk to their kids about these things but as I said in previous comments, a lot of kids just don’t have responsible parents, which makes education a really important factor.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:00 pm

Amy – Thank you! And I think you hit the nail on the head in regards to TORCH SONG. I just didn’t expect to see something like that in a 1954 film and the whole technicolor spectacle was just so oddly staged and out of place. Wrong on so many levels. As you said, parents obviously have a responsibility to talk to their kids about these things but as I said in previous comments, a lot of kids just don’t have responsible parents, which makes education a really important factor.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:03 pm

Fantomex – Thanks for sharing the link. I hope people check it out. I did want to point out that TCM does their “Race in Hollywood” program every year. It’s a month-long event in the middle of summer when families are more than likely to be at home and watching movies so I think the timing is great. They don’t have to do this but I’m really glad they do.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:03 pm

Fantomex – Thanks for sharing the link. I hope people check it out. I did want to point out that TCM does their “Race in Hollywood” program every year. It’s a month-long event in the middle of summer when families are more than likely to be at home and watching movies so I think the timing is great. They don’t have to do this but I’m really glad they do.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:11 pm

Greg – Thanks! I know we’ve had some good discussions before about the topic so I’m glad you jumped in. And I have to agree with you about films that just have this one jarring moment (like Crawford in blackface in TORCH SONG) where you wonder what in the hell is going on here? Didn’t one person involved in this production say “Woah! Hold on a minute. Lets not alienate an entire group of Americans with this bad musical number.” But obviously at the time a lot of people just didn’t see things the way we do now. These moments often come out of nowhere so I can see why a parent who sticks there kid in front of the TV thinking an old technicolor musical will be a fine way to keep them occupied for an hour while they make dinner suddenly feels shellshocked when Crawford appears in blackface.

Jeff – True! she was really nasty in the movie. I was watching the entire film with my jaw on the floor but the blackface bit just took the whole mess to another dimension.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:11 pm

Greg – Thanks! I know we’ve had some good discussions before about the topic so I’m glad you jumped in. And I have to agree with you about films that just have this one jarring moment (like Crawford in blackface in TORCH SONG) where you wonder what in the hell is going on here? Didn’t one person involved in this production say “Woah! Hold on a minute. Lets not alienate an entire group of Americans with this bad musical number.” But obviously at the time a lot of people just didn’t see things the way we do now. These moments often come out of nowhere so I can see why a parent who sticks there kid in front of the TV thinking an old technicolor musical will be a fine way to keep them occupied for an hour while they make dinner suddenly feels shellshocked when Crawford appears in blackface.

Jeff – True! she was really nasty in the movie. I was watching the entire film with my jaw on the floor but the blackface bit just took the whole mess to another dimension.

Posted By missrhea : July 29, 2011 5:17 pm

I was just mentally composing my entry about “Torch Song” when I read morlockjeff’s reply. I had to laugh. I found lots about the film annoying, if not, offensive (including the vocalist chosen to dub the songs). When the black-face number came on I did a double-take. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what it was supposed be representing.

Thanks for such an enlightening article, Kimberly. Your response to Anonymous mentioning the Irish and Italian stereotypes got me to wondering if we are becoming hyper-sensitive to some extent, too. It’s not just racism but also sexism and elitism. I came from a very poor family, esp., compared to the lifestyle I have now. I was also adopted. Neither of those things are significant now but at one time in our country either of them could have kept me from marrying into my husband’s family. We’ve progressed a long way but we’re still not at the “Star Trek: NTG” utopia where race, sex and planet of origin are almost never mentioned.

Posted By missrhea : July 29, 2011 5:17 pm

I was just mentally composing my entry about “Torch Song” when I read morlockjeff’s reply. I had to laugh. I found lots about the film annoying, if not, offensive (including the vocalist chosen to dub the songs). When the black-face number came on I did a double-take. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what it was supposed be representing.

Thanks for such an enlightening article, Kimberly. Your response to Anonymous mentioning the Irish and Italian stereotypes got me to wondering if we are becoming hyper-sensitive to some extent, too. It’s not just racism but also sexism and elitism. I came from a very poor family, esp., compared to the lifestyle I have now. I was also adopted. Neither of those things are significant now but at one time in our country either of them could have kept me from marrying into my husband’s family. We’ve progressed a long way but we’re still not at the “Star Trek: NTG” utopia where race, sex and planet of origin are almost never mentioned.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:35 pm

Davidkalat – Thanks and I’m glad you shared your thoughts. I kind of touched on this earlier in my comments to Duke but I completely agree with you about the different ways we all perceive things due to our backgrounds & race. It’s a touchy topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable but you’ve got to be empathetic to others in order to have any kind of reasonable discussion about racist images in classic film.

There’s a new documentary co-directed by Bill Duke (a man I love) coming out next year called DARK GIRLS and the trailer has been making the rounds lately. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otyiofu1wO8 The woman in that clip are expressing feelings that I’ve never had to deal with but I’m extremely sympathetic to them. Again, I hate to beat an old drum at this point but I think education and adult supervision is critical.

I do take issue with your comment that: “One thing that worries me about all the self-congratulatory “We don’t need warning labels” and “I’m glad TCM shows movies uncut” remarks is that the audience for old movies, the viewership of TCM, and from what I’ve seen of site traffic metrics for this board the readership of the Morlocks, is we’re a bunch of pasty white guys and girls.”

I specifically asked a very diverse group of folks to contribute their thoughts to the original conversation and I think they offered a variety of views. Haven’t seen anyone say outright that “we don’t need warning labels” either. I think it’s a complex issue that’s worthy of discussion and as I mentioned to Duke above, labels could be problematic just because the wide variety of issues they would need to address would probably be utterly overwhelming.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:35 pm

Davidkalat – Thanks and I’m glad you shared your thoughts. I kind of touched on this earlier in my comments to Duke but I completely agree with you about the different ways we all perceive things due to our backgrounds & race. It’s a touchy topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable but you’ve got to be empathetic to others in order to have any kind of reasonable discussion about racist images in classic film.

There’s a new documentary co-directed by Bill Duke (a man I love) coming out next year called DARK GIRLS and the trailer has been making the rounds lately. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otyiofu1wO8 The woman in that clip are expressing feelings that I’ve never had to deal with but I’m extremely sympathetic to them. Again, I hate to beat an old drum at this point but I think education and adult supervision is critical.

I do take issue with your comment that: “One thing that worries me about all the self-congratulatory “We don’t need warning labels” and “I’m glad TCM shows movies uncut” remarks is that the audience for old movies, the viewership of TCM, and from what I’ve seen of site traffic metrics for this board the readership of the Morlocks, is we’re a bunch of pasty white guys and girls.”

I specifically asked a very diverse group of folks to contribute their thoughts to the original conversation and I think they offered a variety of views. Haven’t seen anyone say outright that “we don’t need warning labels” either. I think it’s a complex issue that’s worthy of discussion and as I mentioned to Duke above, labels could be problematic just because the wide variety of issues they would need to address would probably be utterly overwhelming.

Posted By Kevin : July 29, 2011 5:44 pm

Yawn…..Tired of the same old whining. If you want a message use Western Union….someone famous said that, and I agree.

Posted By Kevin : July 29, 2011 5:44 pm

Yawn…..Tired of the same old whining. If you want a message use Western Union….someone famous said that, and I agree.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:53 pm

missrhea – Thank you! I’m not sure that people are becoming hyper-sensitive as much as we’re all finally experiencing the effects of the civil rights acts of the ’60s, which wasn’t all that long ago. 40 yrs is really just a drop in the bucket when you look at human history. We have our first African American president in office and a growing & diverse populace is now able to voice their opinions and share their experiences. 20 years ago this wasn’t possible. Will we ever become a utopian world like the one that’s portrayed in STAR TREK NTG? I’m not so sure about that. I’m not sure I even want that. But I think it’s great that we can talk about these issues and hopefully become more empathetic to how a film like TORCH SONG might be viewed by a young African American girl for example. I don’t have all the answers and would never claim to but I’m glad we can talk about it.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:53 pm

missrhea – Thank you! I’m not sure that people are becoming hyper-sensitive as much as we’re all finally experiencing the effects of the civil rights acts of the ’60s, which wasn’t all that long ago. 40 yrs is really just a drop in the bucket when you look at human history. We have our first African American president in office and a growing & diverse populace is now able to voice their opinions and share their experiences. 20 years ago this wasn’t possible. Will we ever become a utopian world like the one that’s portrayed in STAR TREK NTG? I’m not so sure about that. I’m not sure I even want that. But I think it’s great that we can talk about these issues and hopefully become more empathetic to how a film like TORCH SONG might be viewed by a young African American girl for example. I don’t have all the answers and would never claim to but I’m glad we can talk about it.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:58 pm

Kevin – This is a “Conversation.” No one asked you to read it or participate. And since you didn’t seem to notice I’d like to point out that you’re the only person doing any whining.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 5:58 pm

Kevin – This is a “Conversation.” No one asked you to read it or participate. And since you didn’t seem to notice I’d like to point out that you’re the only person doing any whining.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 6:21 pm

I do think that some people are hypersensitive about these things though. There are much more important things to get upset about. Diverse peoples were able to voice their concerns 20 years ago, just not online. Were you specifically referring to the internet?

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 6:21 pm

I do think that some people are hypersensitive about these things though. There are much more important things to get upset about. Diverse peoples were able to voice their concerns 20 years ago, just not online. Were you specifically referring to the internet?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 6:33 pm

Duke – I was specifically referring to the net and a forum like this one where people can voice their opinions. Sorry if I wasn’t very clear about that above. As for the “hypersensitive” part. As I said, I’m not sure I agree with that because I think the world is rapidly changing and I also think racism is an extremely important topic that people should still get upset about.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 6:33 pm

Duke – I was specifically referring to the net and a forum like this one where people can voice their opinions. Sorry if I wasn’t very clear about that above. As for the “hypersensitive” part. As I said, I’m not sure I agree with that because I think the world is rapidly changing and I also think racism is an extremely important topic that people should still get upset about.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 7:41 pm

Actual racism and racist attitudes: yes. Perceived racism and attitudes from old movies in which every person is now dead: not so much.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 7:41 pm

Actual racism and racist attitudes: yes. Perceived racism and attitudes from old movies in which every person is now dead: not so much.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 7:55 pm

Duke – The media (television, books, magazines, advertising and yes, old movies as well as new movies) play a HUGE role in shaping every individuals world view. I’m not a religious person, but like Juana Maria above, I don’t believe we’re born racist. We learn this behavior from our family, friends and everything else we come into contact with as we’re developing into adults. As I’ve mentioned already, a lot of kids don’t have responsible parents, which is why public education is so important. They learn racist behaviors from the world around them, including old movies.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 29, 2011 7:55 pm

Duke – The media (television, books, magazines, advertising and yes, old movies as well as new movies) play a HUGE role in shaping every individuals world view. I’m not a religious person, but like Juana Maria above, I don’t believe we’re born racist. We learn this behavior from our family, friends and everything else we come into contact with as we’re developing into adults. As I’ve mentioned already, a lot of kids don’t have responsible parents, which is why public education is so important. They learn racist behaviors from the world around them, including old movies.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 8:20 pm

Schools already do so much in the way of bringing about racial and cultural harmony. We can only do so much. It will not get through to all kids. The good thing however, is that the number that do not get it become fewer and fewer as the years go by.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 29, 2011 8:20 pm

Schools already do so much in the way of bringing about racial and cultural harmony. We can only do so much. It will not get through to all kids. The good thing however, is that the number that do not get it become fewer and fewer as the years go by.

Posted By Kingrat : July 29, 2011 8:44 pm

An interesting thing about TORCH SONG is that no one thought at the time (studio, producer, director, agent) that Joan Crawford was making a fool of herself by appearing in blackface. (Kimberly, I really like your article and love that unforgettable picture of Joan at the top of it.) For a programming challenge I put TORCH SONG in TCM Underground for a double feature of campy movies. Obviously there would be a discussion of the blackface beforehand, and the show would be late at night.

Remember BABES IN ARMS (I think) when Mickey Rooney figures out just what they need for the show: a blackface number. This apparently had warmly nostalgic connotations for contemporary audiences.

Remember the scene in Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE when Monica Vitti goes to visit friends back from Africa, puts some dark makeup on, and prances around? Not Antonioni’s finest moment.

When Irene Dunne in SHOW BOAT sings in blackface, that’s a historically accurate picture of the entertainment of an earlier era, however little we like it now.

Part of the appeal of the minstrel show, I think, was to express feelings or ways of behaving unacceptable in polite white society. This is a complicated subject, and I’m glad you brought it up.

Posted By Kingrat : July 29, 2011 8:44 pm

An interesting thing about TORCH SONG is that no one thought at the time (studio, producer, director, agent) that Joan Crawford was making a fool of herself by appearing in blackface. (Kimberly, I really like your article and love that unforgettable picture of Joan at the top of it.) For a programming challenge I put TORCH SONG in TCM Underground for a double feature of campy movies. Obviously there would be a discussion of the blackface beforehand, and the show would be late at night.

Remember BABES IN ARMS (I think) when Mickey Rooney figures out just what they need for the show: a blackface number. This apparently had warmly nostalgic connotations for contemporary audiences.

Remember the scene in Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE when Monica Vitti goes to visit friends back from Africa, puts some dark makeup on, and prances around? Not Antonioni’s finest moment.

When Irene Dunne in SHOW BOAT sings in blackface, that’s a historically accurate picture of the entertainment of an earlier era, however little we like it now.

Part of the appeal of the minstrel show, I think, was to express feelings or ways of behaving unacceptable in polite white society. This is a complicated subject, and I’m glad you brought it up.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 30, 2011 3:15 pm

WHITE CHRISTMAS was made a year after TORCH SONG.
They had a salute to the minstrel days, with Kaye, Crosby and Clooney doing bad jokes – but no Blackface! Somebody in charge must have said, “Hey, lets not do that.” (I suspect Crosby didn’t mind because he did Blackface in HERE COME THE WAVES.) Actually, it might be interesting to compile a list of stars who did Blackface. There may be people even more surprising than Joan Crawford. Elvis? The Three Stooges? (Or, possibly, someone on line has already posted such a list.)

Posted By Al Lowe : July 30, 2011 3:15 pm

WHITE CHRISTMAS was made a year after TORCH SONG.
They had a salute to the minstrel days, with Kaye, Crosby and Clooney doing bad jokes – but no Blackface! Somebody in charge must have said, “Hey, lets not do that.” (I suspect Crosby didn’t mind because he did Blackface in HERE COME THE WAVES.) Actually, it might be interesting to compile a list of stars who did Blackface. There may be people even more surprising than Joan Crawford. Elvis? The Three Stooges? (Or, possibly, someone on line has already posted such a list.)

Posted By dukeroberts : July 30, 2011 3:48 pm

Elvis never did blackface, but he did do brownface for Stay Away, Joe. I believe he played a modern day Apache in that one. If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry about it. He also played a half-breed son of a white father and Kiowa mother in Flaming Star. I believe his own skin tone sufficed in that one. I might be wrong. Suzi might know for sure. That is actually a pretty good western, directed by Don Siegel.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 30, 2011 3:48 pm

Elvis never did blackface, but he did do brownface for Stay Away, Joe. I believe he played a modern day Apache in that one. If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry about it. He also played a half-breed son of a white father and Kiowa mother in Flaming Star. I believe his own skin tone sufficed in that one. I might be wrong. Suzi might know for sure. That is actually a pretty good western, directed by Don Siegel.

Posted By missrhea : July 30, 2011 6:38 pm

Another film in which Bing Crosby dons blackface is “Holiday Inn”. He smears it on Marjorie Reynolds, too. I wonder how Louise Beavers felt about it.

I don’t know if I find blackface as offensive as I do the treatment of Louise Beavers’ character in “Imitation of Life”(1934) where Claudette Colbert’s character essentially steals the recipe, makes a go of the restaurant by Louise’s hard work, and then gives Louise only 20% of the profits. That has eaten at me ever since I saw the film a few years back on TCM.

(btw, it’s Star Trek:TNG – my mistake.)

Posted By missrhea : July 30, 2011 6:38 pm

Another film in which Bing Crosby dons blackface is “Holiday Inn”. He smears it on Marjorie Reynolds, too. I wonder how Louise Beavers felt about it.

I don’t know if I find blackface as offensive as I do the treatment of Louise Beavers’ character in “Imitation of Life”(1934) where Claudette Colbert’s character essentially steals the recipe, makes a go of the restaurant by Louise’s hard work, and then gives Louise only 20% of the profits. That has eaten at me ever since I saw the film a few years back on TCM.

(btw, it’s Star Trek:TNG – my mistake.)

Posted By missrhea : July 30, 2011 9:19 pm

On further research, it appears I forgot that they went on from the restaurant to manufacturing the pancake mix and that’s what the profit was from.

Posted By missrhea : July 30, 2011 9:19 pm

On further research, it appears I forgot that they went on from the restaurant to manufacturing the pancake mix and that’s what the profit was from.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : July 31, 2011 11:11 pm

I don’t remember which John Ford film I saw with Will Rogers and Stepin Fetchit, but my own reading of a scene was that Fetchit was subversively using the appearance of being slow or lazy to his own advantage. John Ford and his films offer a lot to argue about.

Richard Brooks at least gave Woody Strode the kind of part Ford should have given him years ago with The Professionals, although a credit equal to Lancaster, Ryan and Marvin would have been nice.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : July 31, 2011 11:11 pm

I don’t remember which John Ford film I saw with Will Rogers and Stepin Fetchit, but my own reading of a scene was that Fetchit was subversively using the appearance of being slow or lazy to his own advantage. John Ford and his films offer a lot to argue about.

Richard Brooks at least gave Woody Strode the kind of part Ford should have given him years ago with The Professionals, although a credit equal to Lancaster, Ryan and Marvin would have been nice.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 31, 2011 11:19 pm

Peter- Woody did play the titular character in Sergeant Rutledge, but of course, he was billed fourth behind the white leads.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 31, 2011 11:19 pm

Peter- Woody did play the titular character in Sergeant Rutledge, but of course, he was billed fourth behind the white leads.

Posted By Movie News After Dark Batman vs. Bane, When The Internet Kills Us, Smurfin and The Films of Pixar — HaLaMovie : August 1, 2011 2:58 am

[...] Cast and a consistent tweeter of interesting links, is this discussion over at Movie Morlocks about racist images in classic films. It’s worth a look. Also, if we’re down to sites being called Movie Morlocks, I think [...]

Posted By Movie News After Dark Batman vs. Bane, When The Internet Kills Us, Smurfin and The Films of Pixar — HaLaMovie : August 1, 2011 2:58 am

[...] Cast and a consistent tweeter of interesting links, is this discussion over at Movie Morlocks about racist images in classic films. It’s worth a look. Also, if we’re down to sites being called Movie Morlocks, I think [...]

Posted By Fantomex : August 1, 2011 3:56 am

@dukeroberts: I can’t really say as the articles are very numerous and the site has changed itself recently, but whenever there is a article about media and race pertaining to older movies and TV, it should be read.

Posted By Fantomex : August 1, 2011 3:56 am

@dukeroberts: I can’t really say as the articles are very numerous and the site has changed itself recently, but whenever there is a article about media and race pertaining to older movies and TV, it should be read.

Posted By Miss Wilson : August 1, 2011 1:18 pm

Some very good points were brought up in this conversation, especially about having markers to see how far we’ve come from the past. In fact, we have come so far, by even now having regular, complex conversations about these stereotypical images, when 100 years ago, there may not have been so many forums for these types of conversations to thrive.

I personally don’t think the focus should be on complaining on these images, but instead should be on acknowledging them, discussing them (and their context and why they may have come to be), and moving forward by creating more diverse characters that hopefully, our grandchildren’s children might discuss in their college film courses…

Posted By Miss Wilson : August 1, 2011 1:18 pm

Some very good points were brought up in this conversation, especially about having markers to see how far we’ve come from the past. In fact, we have come so far, by even now having regular, complex conversations about these stereotypical images, when 100 years ago, there may not have been so many forums for these types of conversations to thrive.

I personally don’t think the focus should be on complaining on these images, but instead should be on acknowledging them, discussing them (and their context and why they may have come to be), and moving forward by creating more diverse characters that hopefully, our grandchildren’s children might discuss in their college film courses…

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : August 1, 2011 2:26 pm

Well, yes, I have seen Sergeant Rutledge at least twice. But the point was that Ford even told Strode that he would never give him the kind of role that would have been played by John Wayne, whereas in The Professionals, Strode showed off his chops as an action hero.

While not an action film, William Wellman, hardly the definition of a Hollywood liberal, filmed Sidney Poitier, not yet a true star, with the kind of authority given to his more frequent stars, like Clark Gable, in Good-Bye, My Lady.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : August 1, 2011 2:26 pm

Well, yes, I have seen Sergeant Rutledge at least twice. But the point was that Ford even told Strode that he would never give him the kind of role that would have been played by John Wayne, whereas in The Professionals, Strode showed off his chops as an action hero.

While not an action film, William Wellman, hardly the definition of a Hollywood liberal, filmed Sidney Poitier, not yet a true star, with the kind of authority given to his more frequent stars, like Clark Gable, in Good-Bye, My Lady.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 1, 2011 3:10 pm

Thanks for all the great feedback and for keeping the conversation civil! You proved that the Movie Morlocks has some of the best readers on the www. Lots of great input, various points of view and insights shared here. I did want to add that I love Kingrat’s idea on how to show a film like TORCH SONG. It would be good TCM Underground material and I really wish TCM Undergound had a regular host like Joe Bob Briggs for late night programming.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 1, 2011 3:10 pm

Thanks for all the great feedback and for keeping the conversation civil! You proved that the Movie Morlocks has some of the best readers on the www. Lots of great input, various points of view and insights shared here. I did want to add that I love Kingrat’s idea on how to show a film like TORCH SONG. It would be good TCM Underground material and I really wish TCM Undergound had a regular host like Joe Bob Briggs for late night programming.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 1, 2011 3:52 pm

I will be happy to be the regular host of the show. Have them call me.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 1, 2011 3:52 pm

I will be happy to be the regular host of the show. Have them call me.

Posted By HempKnight757 : August 1, 2011 7:16 pm

Don’t mention how every black comic can be as racist as he wants in his stand-up, but if anyone else says the N word just once you are marked for life.

Posted By HempKnight757 : August 1, 2011 7:16 pm

Don’t mention how every black comic can be as racist as he wants in his stand-up, but if anyone else says the N word just once you are marked for life.

Posted By MoviesPassOnTheInfo : August 3, 2011 6:11 pm

My question is why is it okay to do white face today?

Posted By MoviesPassOnTheInfo : August 3, 2011 6:11 pm

My question is why is it okay to do white face today?

Posted By dukeroberts : August 4, 2011 11:57 am

MoviesPassOnTheInfo- Do you mean like the movie “White Chicks”? White people are fair game. Reverse discrimination is okay because of how white men have oppressed everybody else on the planet since the dawn of time. Please note the air of sarcasm in my response. Personally, I am not offended by whiteface. And, if blackface was portrayed in a certain context I wouldn’t be offended by that either. By the way, I’m white.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 4, 2011 11:57 am

MoviesPassOnTheInfo- Do you mean like the movie “White Chicks”? White people are fair game. Reverse discrimination is okay because of how white men have oppressed everybody else on the planet since the dawn of time. Please note the air of sarcasm in my response. Personally, I am not offended by whiteface. And, if blackface was portrayed in a certain context I wouldn’t be offended by that either. By the way, I’m white.

Posted By David Del Valle : August 4, 2011 10:50 pm

I loved this post…now having said that as far as TORCH SONG being a black face howler…it was simply not the case at the time of filming. I did a interview with India Adams who dubbed Crawford in the film and was there onset when they did the TWO FACED WOMAN sequence that has Joan in what both Joan and the studio thought was a “tropical make-up….Joan actually thought she was Lamour rather than Eartha Kitt….not that it would have really made a difference at that time. India was surprised at the way it has been interpeted by fans since…TORCH SONG has a very large gay following that love that moment in the film with all the awful dancing…etc….I used to speculate as to what kind of a Moor Crawford would have made in a MGM version of OTHELLO….so I get it….it looks like blackface to me but I have to speak up for India Adams who should know whereof she speaks….check out my Camp David column A PASSAGE TO INDIA for a more detailed account of TORCH SONG…..love this blog….keep up the great sense of fun….

Posted By David Del Valle : August 4, 2011 10:50 pm

I loved this post…now having said that as far as TORCH SONG being a black face howler…it was simply not the case at the time of filming. I did a interview with India Adams who dubbed Crawford in the film and was there onset when they did the TWO FACED WOMAN sequence that has Joan in what both Joan and the studio thought was a “tropical make-up….Joan actually thought she was Lamour rather than Eartha Kitt….not that it would have really made a difference at that time. India was surprised at the way it has been interpeted by fans since…TORCH SONG has a very large gay following that love that moment in the film with all the awful dancing…etc….I used to speculate as to what kind of a Moor Crawford would have made in a MGM version of OTHELLO….so I get it….it looks like blackface to me but I have to speak up for India Adams who should know whereof she speaks….check out my Camp David column A PASSAGE TO INDIA for a more detailed account of TORCH SONG…..love this blog….keep up the great sense of fun….

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 5, 2011 12:13 am

Thanks a bunch for your input, David! It’s much appreciated. In case anyone is curious here’s a link to David Del Valle’s interview with India Adams where he discusses Crawford’s bad makeup choice:

http://www.filmsinreview.com/2008/10/19/camp-david-september-2008-passage-to-india/

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 5, 2011 12:13 am

Thanks a bunch for your input, David! It’s much appreciated. In case anyone is curious here’s a link to David Del Valle’s interview with India Adams where he discusses Crawford’s bad makeup choice:

http://www.filmsinreview.com/2008/10/19/camp-david-september-2008-passage-to-india/

Posted By ‘Torch Song’ (1953): Holy crap! Joan Crawford in blackface | Five Feet of Fury : August 7, 2011 8:27 pm

[...] But minutes later: [...]

Posted By ‘Torch Song’ (1953): Holy crap! Joan Crawford in blackface | Five Feet of Fury : August 7, 2011 8:27 pm

[...] But minutes later: [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Hooray for Hooray for Hollywood. Also, Boo. : March 24, 2013 10:01 am

[...] Kimberly Lindbergs wrote about racial stereotypes in Hollywood in a great piece here back in 2011 (Racist Images in Classic Films: A Conversation) and I’d like to add Hollywood Hotel to that discussion.  Time and time again, when I see a [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Hooray for Hooray for Hollywood. Also, Boo. : March 24, 2013 10:01 am

[...] Kimberly Lindbergs wrote about racial stereotypes in Hollywood in a great piece here back in 2011 (Racist Images in Classic Films: A Conversation) and I’d like to add Hollywood Hotel to that discussion.  Time and time again, when I see a [...]

Posted By redhen1919 : December 4, 2013 10:42 am

Its not about politically correct; its about respect.After all the statements in October regarding our abhorrence of black face what TCM do? it airs Torch Song. I love the technicolor movies. So I get comfortable and start enjoying the movie. I noticed the innuendo regarding race in the movie, no problem, but when two-faced woman began I was appalled, humiliated and deeply offended. From a distance Crawford looks like Lena Horne and I think it is part of the show and how progressive to have a troupe of black dancers. It is gratuitous. There is no connections for this in the story line.The lyrics to the song imply what has been the media’s stereotypical view of black woman for decades, portraying us as loose women, Jezebels, incapable being faithful. Why was this part of the movie? As one critic said it is just bizarre. It is slap in the face and an insult to black women. Why am I paying for racist programming. I love classic movies, but I doubt I will continue you to watch TCM.

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