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Posts tagged ‘racism’

Racism In Vintage Films: It’s Not A Simple Black & White Matter

By , 5 March, 2010, 9 Comments

Cliff talks about Handling the Subject of Racism as a Classic Film Blogger — and there’s lots of interesting discussion in the comments too, including mention of a post about the film I reviewed, The Toy Wife.

I agree that too many vintage films are underappreciated — if they’re seen at all. Which is partly why I didn’t mention my queasiness about several scenes with slaves in The Toy Wife. But that wasn’t the only reason…

Along with struggling with how to balance presenting the issues of racism in films of the past, of not wanting to let the known facts of past ruin a film for potential viewers, I struggle with being a white woman discussing it. It’s one thing for me to point out gender issues (I am one, and can honestly react as one), but when it comes to racism I flounder.

It’s not simply a matter of white guilt, or of defensiveness, or even of committing a sin of omission that a person of color can call me out on; it’s about how to honestly portray my horror without co-opting the issue, of committing some sin of insensitivity… If that makes sense. (I bet that does make sense to at least a few other white folks though.)

Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt

But, like all the discussion points at Cliff’s post, we shouldn’t just ignore mentioning the subject any more than others should let being told about racist depictions in films sway themselves from watching old films; it’s avoiding the past.

Because of that, I don’t think we should sanitize the racism from vintage films (and animated works), editing out the scenes with mammy’s like cigarettes from Bogart’s hand. Racism is shameful, but like our past obsession with smoking, we can’t deny it simply by giving it the old whitewash — for whatever reason. We have to remember our past honestly, even if it’s painful.

But these are my views… My questions for you, dear readers, are:

* How does racism in film affect your viewing? Do you stop watching &/or avoid films because it’s so uncomfortable? Do you just write it off as “unfortunately, that the way things were…”?

* Do you find the racism so uncomfortable in vintage movies that you wish it was edited out of the film — or that there were edited versions available?

* If you review or blog about movies, do you mention the racism? Why or why not? And if you do, how do you do it?