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  • Disney's current stance on Song of the South is that it is too racially insensitive even for a home video release. The movie is an adaptation of Joel Chandler Harris' renditions of actual African-American folk tales, with a framing tale about Harris' narrator, Uncle Remus. Remus is a sharecropper during the Reconstruction era of the United States, just after the Civil War. Sharecroppers were free men, but many were former slaves, and most lived hard lives being exploited by landowners. The film has been criticized for portraying Remus as a happy, carefree man who spends his time entertaining local white children, which was seen as whitewashing history and aligning Remus with previous stereotypes of "happy slaves" presented by slavery apologists. However, the film also presents Remus as intelligent and mature, keeping his white neighbors' family together through his care. One should also consider that the film is a cartoon for children when examining its upbeat, innocent tone. Walt Disney intended to pay tribute to the African-American folk tales he had loved as a child. He even campaigned for James Baskett, who portrayed Remus, to receive an honorary Academy Award, the first one awarded to a black man.
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  • South Pacific was intended as an anti-racism musical and movie. Rodgers and Hammerstein originally intended the show to end with Cable and Liat getting married, until public and political pressure led to Cable being killed to prevent an interracial marriage from occurring on stage. However, they still had a man in a past interracial marriage (with mixed race kids) portrayed well, and his Southern love interest is shown as in the wrong for initially disliking them (although she comes to accept it over the course of the story).
  • The Charlie Chan films of the Thirties and Forties may cause some embarrassment to modern audiences, with their hero's You No Take Candle English and stereotypical "Oriental" aphorisms; however, the character was actually intended as a subversion of the then-ubiquitous Yellow Peril villain and actually did a good deal to rehabilitate the character of Asians among Westerners. It's worth noting that Charlie Chan's sons were played by Chinese-American actors and given a "Gee, Pop!" all-Americanness. In "Charlie Chan at the Olympics," Charlie's son is representing the U.S.A. as an Olympic swimmer. Earl Derr Biggers originally wrote the novels because he was appalled by the racism he witnessed when he visited California. He specifically portrayed Charlie as having learned English by studying the classics, and once inserted the clue that an impostor was pretending to be him by using the word "savvy", which Charlie would never do.
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  • Broken Blossoms would be considered racist today, as the Chinese character is called "The Yellow Man", and played by a white man in yellowface. For its day, however, it was quite enlightened, as it portrayed a Chinese emigrant positively — as a Buddist missionary, no less — as opposed to the Yellow Peril depiction that was prevalent in the 1910s.
  • Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen contains a Swedish actor in yellowface who plays General Yen, but he's a complex character who wants to teach a naive missionary the truth about human nature. He falls in love with her (played by Barbara Stanwyck), and she with him. This film shocked its audiences and flopped, but it has some very biting criticisms about missionaries and their tendency for Condescending Compassion, their racism, and their love for ideology but never practicing what they preach.
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  • The portrayal of Buckwheat in many The Little Rascals shorts is considered quite offensive by many today, yet at the time it was considered fairly daring in many quarters to show a black child hanging out on a more-or-less equal basis with white children. Several episodes show Buckwheat sitting in the same classroom as white students at a time of rampant segregation. In addition, Stymie may have been illiterate, but he was a clever lad who was the main character as the brains of the outfit until he was gradually eased out due to his advancing age for Spanky to take over that role.
  • Flower Drum Song is one long list of cliches, but a Hollywood movie in the early sixties with a cast composed entirely of Asians? Unexpected. Also, while there are significant cliches, you also see many characters be as shallow and annoying as other "hep" characters from this period. To put this in perspective, the movie came out in 1961, the same year as Breakfast at Tiffany's, which had Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese landlord with no problems.
  • Sayonara, with Marlon Brando, Miiko Taka, Red Buttons, and Miyoshi Umeki. Japan is portrayed as a land of geishas, Takarazuka, kabuki, bunraku, pagoda, arched bridges, and cherry blossoms; Japanese women as delicate doll-like creatures who exist to scrub their husbands' backs — demure lotus blossom stereotype right out the wazoo. Still, when it came to sympathetic portrayals of Japan and interracial relationships in 1957, the pickings were pretty slim.
  • 1960 sci-fi B-movie 12 to the Moon features an international, multi-ethnic, mixed-gender crew, all of whom are introduced as being legitimate experts in their fields (although most of the crew are still white males). It's also notable for portraying the Soviet Russian scientist in a sympathetic light. The Frenchman, on the other hand...
  • The film of Live and Let Die may look incredibly offensive today with its seeming stereotyping of all black people as superstitious drug-dealing criminals. However, the film was surprisingly liberal for its time in showing Bond in an interracial relationship, two of the most competent agents in the film (Quarrel Jr. and Strutter) are black, and the most incompetent of the "heroes" is the racist sheriff, J.W. Pepper, who is explicitly shown as an idiot. While the black mooks are walking stereotypes, Mr. Big himself is every bit as intelligent, sophisticated and charismatic as any other Bond villain. It is also far less racist than the original Ian Fleming book.
  • The classic Hollywood western was criticized by later audiences for its negative stereotypes of Native Americans, for reinforcing Mighty Whitey and its uncritical glorification of Violence Is the Only Option. Having said that,
    • John Ford's westerns are often held up as uncritical glorifications of the Wild West, and thanks to the association with John Wayne, everyone assumes that Ford and Wayne shared the same political views. Jim Jarmusch and others criticized Ford for casting Navajos as various tribes irrespective of heterogenous differences in language and customs, but Ford westerns were shot on location in Monument Valley and used Navajos as extras on union scale at a time of segregation, and he maintained such good relations with them that he even spoke the Navajo language, and was given the honorific title "Natani Nez" ("tall leader"). Likewise, Ford always said that Wagon Master was his favorite film, one reason being that it was his only western actually set in Utah where the Navajos played themselves.
    • The Searchers in particular dwells in a strange twilight zone between unconscious racism, visceral racism, and subtle condemnation of the second element. Apart from a protagonist who's an Indian-hating lunatic yet is treated mostly sympathetically, there are murderous, rapist Comanches and the most likable full-blooded Native is an Abhorrent Admirer and Butt-Monkey. But the film at least decries the slaying of white women who have been defiled by Comanches (the characters who view this as Staking the Loved One are portrayed as heartless) and puts in a (somewhat) heroic role the quarter-breed Native Martin Pawley, who can't stomach his adopted uncle's racism and makes that very plain.
  • A lot of revisionist Westerns made in the '50s and '60s, which were daring enough to depict Native Americans sympathetically, haven't aged well, whether due to Noble Savage stereotyping or off-color casting. Broken Arrow (1950) being the best example: Jeff Chandler's Cochise was considered groundbreaking, as an honest, sympathetic, and intelligent Apache Indian — but today comes off as an improbably perfect wise man, played by a Jewish New Yorker.
  • Nicholas Ray's The Savage Innocents was shot on location in the Arctic and was intended to subvert the stereotypes of Eskimos and Inuit, a fact that a modern audience will see as fundamentally compromised on account of its casting of Anthony Quinn rather than an Inuit actor as a lead (which Robert Flaherty did with Nanook of the North), and equally offensively, for casting Japanese actress Yoko Tani as Quinn's wife. However as noted by Tag Gallagher in the context of films made in that time:
    Tag Gallagher: The Savage Innocents possibly comes closest to a non-white point of view of any film by an important [white] filmmaker; it goes out of its way to render the strange and bizarre as normal, and succeeds so well in inducting us into the alien sensibilities of its Eskimos that, by the time a white man shows up, we feel him as the abnormal one.
  • Ben-Hur: The Arab sheikh is portrayed by a white guy, Welsh actor Hugh Griffith (although some Arabs, from the more northern parts of the Middle East especially, look almost white, so it's not too much of a stretch. They also often view themselves as white, and have been called Caucasians). He's also portrayed as a decent person, has a Star of David talisman fashioned for Ben Hur, explicitly draws a parallel between the oppression of Jews and the oppression of Arabs at the hands of the Romans, and is generally one of the very few male characters with no obvious bigotry.
  • Gone with the Wind, unlike other films made in the early twentieth century, thoroughly avoided using blackface, having actual black people play the black characters. Also, Mammy was hailed at the time as a strong black female character, with Hattie McDaniel becoming the first black person to win an Academy Award with the one she received for Best Supporting Actress. Additionally, the makers of the film actively refused to give the Ku Klux Klan the glorifying treatment it received in the book. The film is also a rare example of a film that easily passes the Bechdel Test and has strong female characters.
  • In M*A*S*H, the lone black character is a former college football player nicknamed "Spear-Chucker" who's brought in as a ringer to win a game. On the other hand, he's an officer and a neurosurgeon, and his white colleagues treat him with respect (even adulation) despite the film being set in the 1950s. The film even Retcons the book by claiming his nickname referred to his time as a champion javelin thrower (though with a strong suggestion that no one buys that for a minute).
  • In Kitten With a Whip, to modern sensibilities, Jody is clearly bi-polar; a criminal, dangerous to herself and others, and in clear need of meds and psych counseling. By the standards of the day (mid-1960s), Jody would've been considered a troubled girl, in need of a firm hand to guide her on the right path (this was long before the current practice of charging youth offenders as adults came to be). Indeed, this is how she's described by the juvenile facility matron Jody hospitalized in her escape.
  • Howard Hawks was known for having some surprisingly impressive depictions of women despite the bulk of his work being made in the studio era.
    • His Girl Friday can be somewhat troubling today with Hildy's talk of wanting to "become a woman" by getting married. On the other hand, Hildy is a strong-willed, intelligent, and hardly submissive woman (some of the men even start making bets on how much time it will take before she will want to come back to the paper) and is respected by her male colleagues as an equal, as well as being acknowledged as one of their best reporters. This is all quite impressive for a movie released in 1940, but even better, she ends up overcoming her previous aspirations and sticking to her work in the newspaper, albeit on the condition of remarrying her boss and getting a proper honeymoon this time.
    • Similarly, in The Thing from Another World, the female lead really only exists as an added love interest (though to be fair the movie didn't have a whole lot in common with its source material, so this is one of the more minor changes). However, she is probably one of the most memorable characters in the movie. Much like Hildy Johnson, she is sharp-witted, intelligent, and far from submissive. Even while most of the choices are put in the hands of the men, she gets a few moments (a memorable case being when the fact that she wasn't involved with an argument among the men allowed her to be the first to notice that the Thing was cutting off the heat). Also despite being in a horror movie from the 1950's, she manages to avoid any kind of Distressed Damsel situation and never once screams in the movie (the only time she actually raised her voice was near the very end, and that was because she was trying to alert the protagonist to a very legitimate problem).
  • Them! is another 1950s monster flick that has a progressive female lead in entomologist Dr. Pat Medford. She's a competent professional who ably assists in dealing with the film's giant mutant ants, including going down with the male (non-scientist) heroes into a gassed colony to make sure the inhabitants are all dead. She does scream once, when she abruptly and unexpectedly comes face to face with one of the creatures, but beyond that moment she also never falls into the Distressed Damsel category.
  • Lawrence of Arabia
    • The film is often praised for its anti-imperial politics and providing sympathetic, complex Arab characters, and was considered fairly progressive in 1962 because of this. Today, however, the movie draws heavy criticism for focusing on Bedouin looting during the desert campaigns (which is well-documented) and the political/tribal discord among Lawrence's allies (ditto, though this angle's exaggerated in spots). Not to mention Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn playing Arabs, though for the most part both of them avoid playing their characters as stereotypes. Guinness went to extraordinary lengths to portray Feisal accurately. It worked, too. While on location he met several people who had known Feisal and were impressed by the resemblance. He listened to Omar Sharif to learn his Arabic accent. Jordanian officials and clergy worked closely with the production crew and actors, even coaching an English actor in proper recitation from the Holy Q'ran.
    • Today the film is appreciated for being an Epic Movie that dealt with homosexuality in a complex and non-judgmental fashion. The fact that David Lean and Robert Bolt refused to de-gay Lawrence by adding a token female love interest (to the extent that the movie has absolutely no women in any parts outside of extras) and otherwise resorting to standard Hollywood hypocrisy when dealing with the topic. To some extent, it makes it even more radical than big budget films made today.
  • Most early movies depicting homosexuality directly, as opposed to through coded inference, inspire critical responses from modern viewers, especially for the prevalence of the Bury Your Gays cliche. The Children's Hour (1960) has generated controversy through the unfortunate implications involving Shirley Maclaine's character Martha committing suicide after she breaks down from stress and finally confesses to Karen. Others criticize Basil Dearden's Victim (1961) for showing its gay characters as passive victims of criminals and blackmailers, focusing on their sexuality to make a social statement. However given that homosexual acts were still illegal in the UK at the time, Victim broke new ground in portraying the lead character, who eventually agrees to testify against the blackmailers, in a sympathetic way.
  • Conquest Of Space (1955) may be shocking to a modern viewer in that it seems to imply the non-existence of female astronauts, meaning that the space program is made mostly of white men. However, the one Japanese crew member we see is treated as competent, professional, and equal to his white comrades.
  • When seen today, a lot of Blaxploitation films from the 70's and 80's might come off as little more than cheap action films that just happen to have a black protagonist, but at the time the idea of a black actor making a successful career as an action star was relatively new. For a lot of black audiences at the time (and even some white viewers) having anyone that could be seen as a strong black lead that they could root for was seen as a huge step forward. The fact that there were even a few black women like Pam Grier who managed to make a successful career in these films is also remarkable when you consider that action heroines were only just starting to become popular in mainstream films.
  • Silent film The Half-Breed might have its eponymous half-breed protagonist played by a white actor in Brownface (Douglas Fairbanks), and the local natives are kind of minstrel-y figures that wind up setting fire to the forest for no reason. But in some other ways, it is remarkably enlightened for a film made in 1916. The eponymous half-Native American character is chased off his adoptive father's land by evil racist white folks. The film even goes so far as to mull on the idiocy of white supremacy, with a title card snarking about a "specimen of the 'Superior' white man" followed by a cut to a dirty alcoholic hobo.
  • Nowadays, Lincoln Perry's infamous "Stepin Fetchit" character is mainly remembered as an embarrassingly racist caricature of African-American men, the poster boy for Ethnic Scrappies, and an outdated relic of a time when casual racism was Played for Laughs—which it is. But of course, it's important to remember that Perry wrote his own material, demanded and got creative control, and had his first major studio contract in 1927. In a time when Blackface was still a popular form of entertainment, it was a pretty damn big deal that Perry was able to launch a successful film career at all. And for him to become a bona fide movie star in such a time—the first Black actor ever to become a millionaire through the movie business, in fact—was nothing short of miraculous. As demeaning as the character might seem by today's standards, there's a good reason Perry was eventually given a Special Image Award by the NAACP in 1976.
  • Glen or Glenda, directed by and starring the infamous Ed Wood, is one of the most notoriously awful movies of all time for its rambling narrative, terrible dialogue, and all of its nonsensical scenes and asides... but it's also a surprisingly open-minded film about transgender people, crossdressing, and anyone who oversteps society's "accepted" gender roles. It presents some ideas that would be laughable today, such as the idea that the titular Glen only crossdresses as Glenda because he needs a "perfect woman" in his life and that developing an interest in housework and cooking will "make" a man into a trans woman, but the movie also condemns those who would use religion to demean these people and asks that the audience be open-minded and accepting of them.
  • The movie Rain Man is criticized nowadays for introducing the stereotype that all autistic people have savant skills, and for giving out a strict criterion for autism portrayals when the condition is, in reality, loosely defined (Hence why the full name for the mental disability is "Autism Spectrum Disorder"). However, the film was responsible for mainstream awareness of autism, and it opened the floodgates for introducing mentally-challenged characters in media. Also, as the book NeuroTribes points out, the movie helped the general population become much more sympathetic towards autistic people thanks to it giving them a basic understanding of the condition.
  • Philadelphia is criticized for falling into the But Not Too Gay trope when depicting homosexual characters, and for portraying Andrew as a saint who happens to be gay and have AIDS. The studio imposed both elements onto the production as conditions to make the film. The studio also forced the omission of scenes showing Andrew and his partner Miguel in a more intimate light. Still, the film was a massive step forward for LGBT portrayals in cinema, to this very date.
  • The 1943 film version of For Whom the Bell Tolls featuring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman is a politically progressive work. The heroes of the film include a band of Spanish anarchist guerrillas, even if their beliefs are whitewashed into "normal" liberal patriotism. This at a time when many people in America and Europe - especially Christians and the wealthy - viewed anarchists as little more than common criminals. Also noteworthy is the lack of sexism within the guerrilla ranks, even if the Action Girl is a heteronormative tomboy and the pretty female rebel never actually fights.
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's is notorious for its yellowface caricature Mr. Yunioshi, played by Mickey Rooney. However, the film does at least give him a respectable profession as an artistic photographer rather than saddle him with a stereotypical trade, such as running a laundry or restaurant. Judging by the comments of Holly's friends, he's quite talented. The film also pointedly features a mixed-race couple at Holly's party consisting of a white man and Chinese woman, putting them in the center of the frame in several scenes. This was pretty progressive for 1961, when whites were still barred from marrying Asians in nine states.


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