Hollywood has a reputation for being a liberal bastion of political correctness. But as these appalling movies show, it wasn’t always so.Some of them—such as 1975’s Mandingo—are almost fetishistically racist.
Others are fantastic movies degraded because stereotypical characters such as Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles” or Mr. Yunioshi from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
We’ve compiled a list of the worst racist indiscretions made in Hollywood from the very birth of film.
And there are a lot. Warning: Some of this material may be upsetting.
21. “North” (1994) had Inuit/Eskimo racism in one ridiculous scene.
In this strange and terrible film, Elijah Wood plays North, a child prodigy who ‘divorces’ his parents and sets off on a cross country trip to find a new family. On the way he meets cowboys, Amish people and Inuits played by Kathy Bates, Graham Greene and Abe Vigoda.
The portrayal of Inuits was racist and the movie as a whole was a huge flop despite the star-studded cast and director (Rob Reiner).
20. “The Last Samurai” (2003) is a prime example of a “white saviour ” film.”
Tom Cruise plays an ex-soldier who takes a job in Japan to help suppress a Samurai rebellion. However after he is captured by the Samurai, he learns their ways and saves them from being destroyed by the Japanese army by teaching them how to properly fight using their own techniques.”
19. “Fantasia” (1940) features a half-man, half-donkey centaur who is black.
The ‘Pastoral Symphony’ section of this classic Disney film used to feature a scene with a centaur named Sunflower who acts as a servant for the rest of the characters.
Sunflower, unlike the other centaurs who are half human-half horse, has half a donkey’s body where the horse part should go. She’s giddy and sloppy and was seen at one point polishing the hoofs of her white-centaur counterpart.
Disney took out the scene in versions of the film from the late 1960s. The fact that it was featured at all shouldn’t be that shocking considering Disney’s track record.
Check out the uncut version of ‘Pastoral Symphony’:
18. “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” (2008) messed with Middle Eastern stereotypes.
Is it surprising to see an Adam Sandler flick on a racist movie list?
This is another one of those ‘Love Guru’-type movies that aims to poke fun but not offend, and fails. Sandler plays Zohan, a soldier in the Israel defence Forces who secretly wants to become a hairdresser in America. Rob Schneider, the consistent sidekick of Sandler in every film, shows up as a Palestinian cab driver.
As with most Sandler comedies, the movie received terrible reviews but was a box office hit.
17. “Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom” (1984) shows Hindus as evil, human-sacrificing psychos.
Just so everyone is clear, Hindus are not human-sacrificing, creepy idol-worshiping people. And sure, ‘Temple of Doom’ is not saying they are, but for people who don’t know anything about the religion, it sure looks that way. Perhaps it was a change of pace from fighting the Nazis.
16. “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (1961) would have been perfect without Rooney’s Yunioshi.
This film as a whole is a classic.
But casting Mickey Rooney as I.Y. Yunioshi was really a faux pas. The actor wore makeup and prosthetic teeth to play up the stereotype of an Asian man. The role is still protested today. In 2008, a free outdoor screening of the film in Sacramento was changed to ‘Ratatouille’ because of the racist portrayal.
15. “Soul Man” (1986) tried to teach us about the difficulties of getting into college, but used racism to tell the tale.
A young man gets into Harvard but realises he can’t pay the tuition. So what does he do? Dons blackface to get an affirmative action scholarship, of course!
‘Soul Man”s racism is topped by its terrible logic. How long is he going to have to stay black? Why would anyone believe he is black in the first place? This is a prime example of stupidity in storytelling.
14. “Planet of the Apes” (the original, 1968) is racist even though monkeys are controlling the world.
Light-skinned apes take over Earth and control dark-skinned apes while also subduing the remaining human survivors.
Apparently, even if apes take over the world, there will always be racism.
13. “White Chicks” (2004) shows that it’s not just blackface that’s not funny.
This comedy (if you can call it that) follows two FBI agent brothers (Shawn and Marlon Wayans) who must go undercover in whiteface as the socialites they are tasked with protecting. The brothers make a whole lot of jokes about white people, attempt to wear thongs, go shopping and sing Vanessa Carlton.
12. “The Love Guru” (2008) is a really vulgar look at what Hindu gurus are NOT like.
Mike Myers tries to recreate his winning Austin Powers formula by playing a completely ridiculous character in this horrendous movie about a football player who enlists the help of a fake guru to get his mojo and his wife back.
The movie was critically panned and won three out of its seven Razzie nominations including worst movie.
11. “The Littlest Rebel” (1935) is one of many films that features slaves who are unhappy to be set free.
Shirley Temple stars as Virgie Cary in this Civil War-era film about a young girl who goes to Washington to ask President Lincoln to pardon her father, a Confederate soldier, after he is arrested. Even though Temple was adorable as always in the film, ‘The Littlest Rebel’ glorifies Confederate ideals.
Even the slaves nervously wonder what will happen if they are set free — they’re not too pleased about the possible consequences. They’re especially frightened when the Union soldiers show up to the plantation to find Cary’s father because they believe the Union soldiers are evil.
10. “The Toy” (1982) shows that Richard Pryor can’t see when something is racist.
Richard Pryor stars as an unemployed newspaper reporter/part-time toy store employee who accepts money to be a ‘live-in friend’ for a rich child for one week.
The child humiliates Pryor’s Jack by making him play ridiculous games and pulling pranks on him. Eventually, they end up becoming friends. There’s also a side story that involves crashing a Ku Klux Klan fundraiser.
This film was trying to show that a friend is earned by showing respect, not by being bought. But many believed Pryor’s role was modern-day slavery, and degrading on all counts.
9. “White Dog” (1982) tried to be anti-racist. But most people thought the opposite.
This film, which Paramount deemed too controversial for release, is about an unnamed German Shepherd that is trained by his previous, racist owner to attack black people.
After a young woman almost runs the dog over, she adopts him without realising this important fact. The dog goes on a African-American killing spree and the woman’s boyfriend, who is black, tries to cure him of his trainer-caused mental defect.
In the end, the dog is accidentally trained to start killing white people instead of black people and is shot. The movie rights were bought by NBC for an edited TV broadcast but they canceled the plan when the NAACP, advertisers and viewers were outraged. In fairness, the movie was intended as an examination of racism as a mental disease, but that message was lost.
8. “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) made it very obvious that Mel Gibson was anti-Semitic long before any drunken mistakes or angry voicemails.
It seems as though Mel Gibson is trying to make audiences hate Jewish people by brutally showing the crucifixion of Jesus in his adaptation of ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ The Anti-Defamation League released a statement before the film’s release in order to bring up serious issues they hoped the movie would address in a sensitive, non-hateful way.
They were wrong. After the organisation saw the film, they called it ‘one of the most troublesome texts, relative to anti-Semitic potential, that any of us had seen in 20-five years.’
7. Why is Boris Karloff playing an Asian in “The Mask of Fu Manchu” (1932)?
Starring Boris Karloff as the evil Asian Fu Manchu, this film follows British Secret Service agents as they try to beat Manchu and his army in the race to find Genghis Khan’s tomb. Manchu wants to harness the power of a sword in the tomb that will give him the ability to wipe out the white race forever.
The film was met with protests from different Japanese and Chinese communities including the Chinese government. It contains a famous speech by Fu Manchu that includes the line, ‘Kill the white man and take his women!’
6. “Dumbo” (1941) attempts to make Jim Crow lighthearted.
‘Dumbo’, the Disney story of an abandoned elephant trying to fit in, is an adorable story … until the crows show up.
On Dumbo’s journey to visit his mother, he runs into a group of crows that talk jive. And the main crow’s name is Jim (as in Jim Crow). The birds then make fun of Dumbo with this song:
5. “Gone With The Wind” (1939) is one of those iconic racist films.
Come on, this is obvious.
‘Gone with the Wind’ glorifies the Confederate soldiers by showing the war from their side, suggesting the Union brutalized their simple, peaceful life. The main character, Scarlett O’Hara, loses his husband to the war (even though she doesn’t really care about it that much), she loses her house in a fire set by evil Union soldiers and she’s later attacked by ‘Yankee carpetbaggers.’ All that torture because the poor South just wanted to own slaves.
4. “The Sheik” (1921) was one of the first films to show racism against Arabs.
This drama is a perfect blend of racism and sexism.
‘The Sheik’ is about a stubborn woman who stumbles into a forced marriage with a sheik after she witnesses some rich Arab men gambling off their women. Spoiler alert: The two fall in love and stay married. The movie was a gigantic box-office hit in 1921 and George Valentino in the lead role was an instant heartthrob.
3. “Song Of The South” (1946) tried to promote racial unity but ended up making really stereotypical African American characters.
This Disney movie based on the Uncle Remis stories was never released on DVD or VHS in its entirety because of racist depictions in almost every scene.
Even though it won Best Original Song at the Oscars (for ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’), ‘Song of the South’ glorifies life on a plantation after the Civil War and glosses over the racial tension in an effort to achieve unity between the black and white children in the film.
2. “Mandingo” (1975) is just plain crazy.
A film about interracial couples that’s also racist at the same time.
‘Mandingo’ follows James Mason as Warren Maxwell, a plantation owner who rejects his wife after their wedding when he discovers she was not a virgin. He later seduces his female slave while his wife seduces his male slave, Mandingo. The two love affairs end bloody and tragic when the wife claims Mandingo raped her and he is hung for the crime.
Just watch the trailer. It’s hard to believe it ever got the green light.
1. “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) is the granddaddy of all racist movies.
The silent film by D. W. Griffith follows two families during the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era: the pro-Union Stonemans and the pro-Confederate Camerons.
‘The Birth of a Nation’ was heralded as a milestone in the advancement of filmmaking. But from its release, it’s always been known as one of the most racist movies due to its portrayal of African Americans by white actors in blackface, and it’s sympathetic showing of the Ku Klux Klan.
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