Recently, Adam Sandler made headlines when a group of Native Americans reportedly walked off the set of his newest film The Ridiculous Six, the first of four movies the actor plans to make for Netflix.
The source of Native American discontentment is the false lighting the movie paints them under. Navajo natives claim that the scripts and costumes were not only outdated and inaccurate, but that also the script was disrespectful to their culture, elders, and women.
While outlandishly offensive material is nothing new to the cinematic scene, Sandler’s situation does pose a relevant question to today’s entertainment industry: How far is too far?
Nowadays it seems that Americans have been more politically correct than ever before, but there was a time when controversial material was the norm in the filmmaking industry because it was thought of as harmless humor.
Sure, essentialism and stereotypes are steps in the wrong direction, but as long as we all know it’s stupid, does it matter? If that type of humor did not exist, be honest: would stand up comedians have anything to talk about? Where would society be if people back in the day had taken any of these films seriously?
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Considered a cult classic, Blazing Saddles tells the satirical story of a black sheriff struggling to earn the approval of his peers in an all-white town. Complete with KKK appearances, multiple references to lynching and Native American silliness, the movie was nominated for three academy awards. I highly doubt the same would happen if it came out in this era.
White Chicks (2004)
The outrageous buddy cop film starring Shawn and Marlon Wayans became an instant classic, but had they developed the concept ten years later, it probably would have gotten way more backlash for its insensitive takeaway: White girls are shallow and black girls will cut you.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
At a cursory glance, the John Hughes directed film seems like a sweet coming-of-age narrative about a pessimistic girl whose birthday everyone forgets in the midst of her sister’s wedding preparations. Well, think again. Never mind the fact that the Chinese foreign exchange student living in Molly Ringwald’s house is named Long Duk Dong. Every time he enters a scene, a GONG rings in the background. Foolishness at its finest, people.
In Living Color (1990-1994)
Way before White Chicks even came out, the Wayans Brothers were often controversial. While In Living Color is not a film, the sketch comedy series was infamous for leaving no demographic unscathed, performing heavy-handed skits offensive to almost every community there is: gays, women, convicts and even the handicapped.
Soul Man (1986)
If there is one movie on this list that could have really never been made, it is this one. The tagline for this film is quite literally, “Instead of giving up, he got down.” A young white man struggles to maintain a major hoax by posing as an African American, using blackface which is notoriously condemned nowadays, so he can reap the benefits of a college scholarship. You do the math.
Undercover Brother (2002)
First off, if you have not seen this film, you need to reassess your priorities in life. Secondly, the spoof on Blaxploitation films such as Foxy Brown (1974) and Blacula (1972), is unapologetically blunt in America’s general perceptions of what white people are and what black people would never want to be. From brainwashing fried chicken to Caucasian overload, this film would have heard major backlash from the “twittersphere.”
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Yes, I said it. This animated feature film could never be made today, especially since there is a growing feminist movement in the United States. Although the film isn’t outrageous, there are some pretty clear anti-feminist undertones here. We have Merida, we have Elsa, and we have Tiana, all Disney women who couldn’t have cared less about getting a man. Meanwhile, Ariel sees her perfect match and can only say, “He sure is handsome, isn’t he?” This chick knew nothing about the boy, and yet she decided to uproot her entire life for him. Social media would have been on fire had this movie come out today.
Maryam Outlaw is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.