THE GROWTH OF THE UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT
The 1980s is where it seems that the UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT really took off and hasn't stopped growing. There have been more movies deserving of the URCA since 2000 than all other decades. But it really got moving in the 1980s.
ONE WAY TO AVOID THE URCA IS BY NOT HIRING ANY MINORITIES AT ALL
The UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT doesn't address the many wide ranging forms of racism seen in Hollywood movies. I take a very narrow slice, Horror Thriller movies, and comment on them. But even within that wedge, I take an even thinner slice and comment only on whether or not any minorities are left alive at the end.
I'm not counting all of the many Horror Thriller movies that take place in our day or the future where there are seemingly no minorities at all. How many minorities did you see in THE EXORCIST, JAWS, THE OMEN?
I've no problem with an all white bunch of friends in a secluded cabin story. I'd expect a clutch of friends could be all of one general purpose color as we've seen in THE EVIL DEAD, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL. I can even accept small towns that may be predominantly white like in CARRIE, HALLOWEEN, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE FOG, CRITTERS, CHILDREN OF THE CORN. But the big Hollywood movies where the story takes place in a major city - and there are just no minorities?
I'm also not counting the many Hollywood Horror Thriller movies that have minorities cast as silent or one line extras in the servant or criminal role (or both). INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS , THE HOWLING, ALTERED STATES, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, THE RING, WHITE NOISE, CLOVERFIELD, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D: The gangs, pushers, pimps and prostitutes; the wise man, doctor, nurse, orderly, taxi driver, convenience store clerk, maid, nanny, or cop who is only there for a moment to angrily wave his hands around ineffectually and bark orders to no one, or maybe just stand around while his superior white officers lead.
Nope, this is a Horror Thriller site and I'm just counting those Horror Thriller movies where all of the minorities die. And as I'm keeping track of these movies, you will notice a particular uptick starting in the 1980s. But WHY the 1980s?
That was the decade when White Hollywood decided to show how progressive and racially tolerant they were, by making some of the most racist movies you have ever seen this side of D.W. Griffith's Birth Of A Nation.
What's important to understand here is that the Horror Thriller UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT could be a whole lot bigger than the narrow Horror Thriller movie slice I write about. This isn't something unique to Horror Thriller movies. It is part of a larger culture that is endemic in the system.
A GENTEEL WHITE POSTER DESIGN
1989 was the year that Driving Miss Daisy won a treasure trove of awards. It's the story of a black man named Hoke (Morgan Freeman - nominated for an Oscar), who drives a bitter old racist lady named Daisy Werthen (Jessica Tandy - won an Oscar), and the nice genteel white folks (the Werthen family) who take kindly to an old black man sitting in the same car as a white woman.
From the pen of Alfred Uhry (won an Oscar, script based on his play) and in the hands of director Bruce Beresford (went on to direct a number of "racially sensitive" movies like Mister Johnson, Black Robe, and A Good Man In Africa) the lesson of Driving Miss Daisy seems to be that, even while you are keeping your servants repressed beneath your boot, you don't have to press so hard.
The kindly white folks like Daisy's son, Boolie Werthen (Dan Ackroyd - nominated for an Oscar) are the ones who give black folks jobs in their homes as servants (mainly because they're cheap). The bad white folks are the ones who don't hire black folks and call them the N-word. The main rich white folks in Driving Miss Daisy, who do absolutely nothing to alleviate the minority suffering they see all around them (other than take advantage of the low cost of services such racism provides), are also Jewish. You wouldn't know this except in one scene where some white cops make the remark about Miss Daisy being a Jew.
I've no idea how they could have possibly known that. Even Nazis couldn't figure out who was and wasn't a Jew. They went through birth records and spying and forced Jews to wear yellow Stars of David sewn on their clothes so that the Nazis could tell them apart (and yes, Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss used this star wearing metaphor in his story, The Sneetches - the ones who wore stars upon thars). But by saying Miss Daisy was a Jew, the story then turns on the idea that, even though Daisy's family is wealthy and enjoys all the privilege that their skin tone brings in early 20th century America, she in a sense is just as discriminated against as Hoke: the guy who spends years putting up with her bitter shit, because he has no other choice. But that's okay because the kindly Werthen's will take good care of Hoke in his autumn years. Oh wait, the movie starts in his autumn years. Well, they'll take good care of him in the nursing home.
Driving Miss Daisy swept the Oscars, winning 4 in all with another 6 in nomination (the original play won a Pulitzer). If you watch the movie these days it just makes you wince. What the hell were they thinking back then?
If you really want to put this all in perspective, consider that there was another movie the same year that also addressed race in America. Except it ignored the old Hollywood bromide of going to the South or Away Back When to make its point. Do The Right Thing was set in the modern day in the very liberal state and town of New York City (BedStuy, Brooklyn to be exact).
A BRIGHT AND COLORFUL POSTER DESIGN
Do The Right Thing is a story that takes place on the hottest day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. In Spike Lee's movie, everyone is a bigot to some degree. Every person and every color, though some folks are worse than others. And of course, where racism is concerned, the trump card in the race deck belongs to whoever has the authority or power. In this case, the police.
Lee's movie addressed everyone who, in looking out for only themselves and their family or their people, set up tribal lines of demarcation. Salvatore 'Sal' Fragione (Danny Aiello - won an Oscar) doesn't like the young mouthy black men on his block like Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) and Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), with their rude music, but he dotes on the young black women in a sweaty way that makes his own sons tilt their eyes. Sal employs Mookie (Spike Lee) and tells him that he'll always have a job with them (shades of Boolie Werthen!). But Mookie is fully aware that Sal's sons don't like him and thinks their dislike is because of the color of his skin. He also thinks Sal only keeps him around so he can spend time with Mookie's sister, Jade (Joie Lee).
Nobody here is really a good guy, save perhaps for the 3rd tier characters of the old folks, Mother Sister (Ruby Dee) and Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) who can only sit by and watch as the daily rage, frustration, and bigotry of their block, rise with the mercury.
That the movie will end explosively is a given. Who will survive is the question.
Spike Lee left no stone unturned and no characters unscathed as contributors to the overall anger and impotence of their street. They all contribute to the intolerance, and are all are responsible to greater and lesser degrees.
In Do The Right Thing the police, as in Driving Miss Daisy, aren't symbols of protection or order, but destruction and chaos. Other than that, the two movies are farther apart.
Do The Right Thing crushes everything Driving Miss Daisy tried to say. In Do The Right Thing, there's no value in kindly privileged white folks promising to take care of poor black people - it's simply another facet of oppression. Keeping a people down in order to care for them on your terms isn't kindness regardless of the tint you may want to view it through. That's what parents do to ignorant, naive children, and there comes a time of anger when the child rightfully rebels. Do The Right Thing, which addressed the here and now of American racism, won an Oscar for Danny and another for best original screenplay for Spike Lee. It was very much like a pity-pat on the head, as nearly everything else went to Driving Miss Daisy and its romantic view of the good old halcyon days of patrician racism.
So here's the thing: Do The Right Thing was the indie flick. Driving Miss Daisy was the Hollywood studio flick. Hollywood romanced the racism.
Now sure this is merely my view, but while I've been writing about it since 1998, I'm not the only one who has noticed ...
The Washington Post
Study on Hollywood diversity paints bleak picture for anyone who is not a white man
The 5 Most Unintentionally Racist Movies About Racism
Study: Whites get majority of acting jobs
Gay rights and wrongs: Hollywood's biggest taboo
UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT
Return to Movies
E.C. McMullen Jr. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.