No place for political correctness in film. By Roger Ebert.
January 18, 2002 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Agreed. I love the comment that American Indians have been relegated to two roles in movies: savages or "spiritual peoples who exist on a mystical plane." The latter category often feels like a forced attempt to make up for the former. There's a lot to be said for being portrayed as human -- flawed in the way all humans are flawed.

I guess the issue is whether a particular fictional character should be viewed as one individual person, or representative of an entire community or classification. If it's the latter, should that apply for certain groups or all groups? My head is spinning.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:25 AM on January 18, 2002

I suddenly have far more respect for Ebert than I ever did. This reminds me of someone's signature (maybe on /. but I can't remember), paraphrased: Would it be racist to build a black robot? Would it be racist not to?

I think the issue goes beyond pardonyou?'s question, at least to me: do artists -- or, indeed, any of us -- have a responsibility to portray any group as better or worse than it actually is? The black community has continued to grapple with this issue for a long time (witness the never-ending debates about gangsta rap music or The Cosby Show).

Personally, I believe that while extra effort should not be made to either conform to or dispel stereotypes -- better to simply reflect the truth, at least in that artist's eyes -- there is often a kernel of truth in many stereotypes. For example, the stereotype of the hard-driving, high-achieving Asian student exists because many students appear to fit it. The specific film in question here dealt with that stereotype, but not in a typical way and certainly not in an apologetic fashion.

And yes, the question is worth asking, as Ebert did: If these had been white students, would this even be an issue?

posted by elvolio at 11:11 AM on January 18, 2002

So we're getting to the point where it's okay for Blacks/Asians/Latino's to make a film which depicts their own race in a regular, human way. Does this hold if a white person makes a movie about Blacks/Asians/Latino's which does the same. Or will this become a corollary of only blacks being able to say the N-word?
posted by prodigal at 11:16 AM on January 18, 2002

prodigal: make the movie, and let's find out.
posted by David Dark at 11:19 AM on January 18, 2002

[this is good]
posted by whoshotwho at 11:26 AM on January 18, 2002

If these had been white students, would this even be an issue?

How does that question illuminate the issue?
posted by sudama at 11:58 AM on January 18, 2002

Prodigal, I'm not positive about this, but I think Training Day was directed by a white director. There are bad guys of all ethnicities in that movie.

Sudaman, the question illuminates the issue because no one expects a portrayal of a group of white teenagers to be a commentary on all white teenagers. It's condescending to think that a portrayal of minority teenagers is a commentary on all teenagers of that minority.
posted by Holden at 12:04 PM on January 18, 2002

excellent link - and surprising to see Ebert so astute

Unfortunately, most people seem to operate under a very naive aesthetics. This naive aesthetics equates depiction with promotion, presentation with intention. Hopefully some work like this from mainstream popular-press critics will help educate the broad public aesthetic.

I think that anytime race backs either pride or derision, it is racism. What is there about being white to be proud of? Or being black? Bah, enough of it all.
posted by yesster at 12:05 PM on January 18, 2002

Holden - exactly!
posted by yesster at 12:05 PM on January 18, 2002

Very nice--Ebert can flex great intellect when he needs to...was at a screening of True Stories in brooklyn last year where he and David Byrne had quite a good discussion going. Favorite quote in that article:
I told the man I thought he was being condescending: "You would never make a comment like that to a white filmmaker."

posted by th3ph17 at 12:20 PM on January 18, 2002

I agree. The type of political correctness we got in Pearl Harbor, The Patriot and judging from the book in the upcoming We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young is infuriatingly banal.
posted by raaka at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2002

Ebert rocks. Don't always agree with his film reviews (but I know what sorts of movies he likes, so can calibrate pretty well), but he's using his position as America's most visible film critic to raise vital issues. Gotta respect that.
posted by kindall at 1:30 PM on January 18, 2002

I don't think political correctness has a place in any art form.
posted by mcsweetie at 2:45 PM on January 18, 2002

Ebert has written stuff like this before; it's not an especially new position. For context, it may help to realize that his wife is black. (You can see her portrait on his desk in the credits of his show.)
posted by dhartung at 3:18 PM on January 18, 2002

Who gives a damn if his wife is black? Hell, did you even bother to read the article, dhartung? The point of the piece was that audiences often have false impressions about a work of art because of political correctness and perception of race, when in fact one should give a good goddam about humanity.

Boy, I thought that 1958 was long gone. I guess I was wrong.
posted by ed at 5:03 PM on January 18, 2002

Boy, I thought that 1958 was long gone.

Now, you'd just about have to be white to think that, wouldn't you?
posted by sudama at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2002

That's a rather prejudiced thing to say sudama
posted by Mick at 5:41 PM on January 18, 2002

Training Day director: Antoine Fuqua from Philly
Race: Appears to be human

Video Footage of a Training Day inteview

BTW: Excellent movie.
posted by srboisvert at 5:51 PM on January 18, 2002

holden and mcsweetie: amen.

not to derail the discussion, but this sounds like a movie i want to see. has anyone seen it?
posted by zerolucid at 5:53 PM on January 18, 2002

Something I always find laughable about political correctness and "racism", it has nothing to do with skin color and never did. It's about cultural differences and ancestral history. Our brains are wired in such a barbaric way as to try and stereotype skin color to match cultural differences so we can tell at a glance where a stranger is coming from. It's actually a symptom of a greater problem human beings have - a tendency to measure people by visual first impressions, before the newcomer even opens their mouth.

Today's cinema must be allowed to reflect the diverse and eclectic community to which it communicates. The multitude of cultures that the 21st century humans have come from all builds to create the mosaic of life that is our history and our destiny. Political correctness seeks to protect people from that diversity through an illusion of tolerance which leads to voluntary segregation.

I've yet to hear anyone scientifically prove that there are different races. The amount of pigmentation in one's skin is about as important as eye color or skin color from a genetic standpoint. There was never a master race and there never will be. There is one race. Homo sapiens sapiens. The Human Race. We're the surviving race. The lucky race. We beat out the neanderthals but just barely.

There's only one political correctness thing I'd like to enforce upon the world: abolish the use of the word "racism." It indicates that there are multiple human races, and this is a fallacy. Racism is a sick joke that mankind has played upon itself. Despite all the bloodshed, imprisonment and torture that has occurred because of racism over the millenia, I really can't help but laugh at it. The entire concept is pointedly ludicrous.

The Earth is still flat.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:02 AM on January 19, 2002

i like your thought, zachsmind. the only problem is that people are still given preferential treatment vis-a-vis their skin color and gender (as well as who they decide to fuck), with heterosexual white men coming out on top no matter how you cut it. i support the vision you extol, but i wish the world was in a greater position to accept it.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:52 AM on January 19, 2002

Great piece.
posted by rushmc at 8:46 AM on January 20, 2002

ZachsMind, according to Dr. J. Craig Venter, president of Celera Genomics, there is no biological basis for race.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:00 AM on January 20, 2002

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