One night we were sitting around a fire with another friend having a beer or two, and we started discussing a recent article I had seen. It was an interview with Karen Allen, Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark. She touched on the fact that some dialogue in the film intimated that Indy and Marion’s relationship started when she was a young teen. She also said George Lucas wanted her to have actually been eleven. This part could not be corroborated and if true – shocking. So people had discussed cancelling the film, making Indy (a fictional character) out to be Woody Allen. Keep in mind the film takes place in the 1930s when this was not as much of a taboo. So I said we should do a Podcast called “Cancel this Film” where we discuss films that people would try to cancel. Well at this time we are not Podcasters, so here we are with our lists.
I am a proponent of leaving art alone, especially when someone has a choice to view it or not. Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind for example are films that are great, but their point a view is not exactly something I would side with. I am ok maybe putting a disclaimer or warning, so people understand the context. Art, especially film and print, are a moment in time, right or wrong. We can use them to show how people thought or how pieces of society viewed certain things. Don’t cancel it, use it to educate. I have picked three movies that I could see people trying to cancel, and they are not all good but have the right to exist.
I remember seeing this film as a way too young boy, how my father allowed me to see this is beyond me. There are no high school “sex comedies” today, and probably for good reason. But I must still say, keep this for posterity. Do not cancel Porky’s or Porky’s II: The Next Day or Porky’s Revenge. They show the complete indifference and excess of the 80s. This film basically kicked off a whole trend of these films. It wasn’t the first, but because it was so successful, it spawned a whole new genre. It begat, the Revenge of the Nerds films, Spring Break, Screwballs, and Hot Dog…the Movie for examples. It shows boys in a 1954 high school in Florida and their sexual repression. Of course, it has plenty of breast shots, lots of conversations about sex and lots of bad, raunchy behavior. What is also has is a bunch of degradation of women and racist slurs used for comedy. The films that Porky’s inspired were even worse. The premise involves the boys trying to hire prostitutes out of Porky’s strip club. Porky the proprietor takes their money but doesn’t deliver the girls. The side plots involve two teachers having sex in a supply closet and some boys looking through a peephole into the girl’s showers. It’s ridiculous, of course, and it’s supposed to be a look into the 1950s life. It does do this and the dialogue is probably accurate to the times, women were degraded, racial slurs were used by some. But it’s certainly not taking the realism route and uses titillation instead. This film would not play well today and is not held in much high esteem except for nostalgic 80s kids.
MG: Both my parents and my own strict Catholic moral code prevented me from seeing this film as a kid. I was definitely aware of it as a film that had nudity and sex in it, though I never realized it was set in the 1950s. Maybe I’m forgetting about some films, but is it me or do you not see the sex-romp films like American Pie anymore? Is there a feeling that putting a film like that in the theater would generate too much backlash – that women were being objectified or something along those lines? Shouldn’t sex be fun, funny or light-hearted, or does it always need to be presented as a “serious subject”? I feel like flim producers, writers and directors aren’t sure what sex portrayals will cause backlash in social media, so just avoid it all together.
Soul Man (1986)
I am almost positive this movie could not be made today. People were upset in 1986 about it. C. Thomas Howell plays Mark Watson, a rich white kid whose father blows his college fund and in order to pay for Harvard Law, he goes for an African American’s only scholarship. In order to get it – he takes tanning pills to darken his skin. Hilarity comes in the form of Watson experiencing life as a black man and trying to act the part. Unfortunately, he experiences the 1980s black man’s life. Oh, and he also falls in love with Rae Dawn Chong. Spoiler, when she finds out he tricked her and stole her scholarship, she is pissed. Somehow, she forgives them – happily ever after. He also gets a loan from his dad. Sounds funny right? Despite protests at the time, the movie was a success. The movie may be a film I never watch again, but it does show race relations back in the 80s, however crude. Racism was still alive, and no surprise, hasn’t gone away. Any form of “blackface” is not accepted today. To see it in a movie, it would have to be a historical film or a parody. In the film Watson does come to an epiphany and by the end starts to understand what it means to be black in America but, like I hinted at, in the most basic and Hollywood ending possible. I can’t recommend this film unless you want to cringe – a lot.
MG: No way would this film even get made today. Somehow Robert Downey Jr. never was tainted by his “blackface” in Tropic Thunder in 2008. Even though it was self-referential and done to skewer blackface roles, in today’s climate he would still be torn apart on Twitter. At risk of courting backlash, I firmly believe the outrage over years-ago blackface costumes was an ignorant witch-hunt that put undeserved decent people through the cultural wringer. A politician or celebrity’s Halloween costume from 20 years ago doesn’t require a formal apology. Put your energies and pay more attention to the people RIGHT NOW that are engaging in discrimination and passing laws restricting voting (among many other things). Those are your real villains.
I love this film. I generally like Woody Allen films. Manhattan is just a shade under the brilliance of Annie Hall. First a quick note. This is not an endorsement of Woody Allen the person. I don’t see enough proof to convict him for what he is accused of and either did the courts, but I can’t fully ignore the accusation either. His films those are always beautifully shot and have some of the best dialogue in film. People look at this film with some misgivings based on Allen’s alleged crime. In the film, Woody, playing 42-year-old Isaac Davis, is dating Tracy, a 17-year-old girl played by Mariel Hemingway. In 1979 there was no controversy with this romantic match. As time has gone by and along with Allen’s troubles, people have gone back to this film to rage on it. Rewatching the film, I still love it, it’s gorgeously shot, uses Gershwin throughout and has a witty script. The romance did leave me a bit uncomfortable. It’s autobiographical and so it did happen, and I have no clue what age of consent laws were in New York back in the 70s. People would still argue that 17 is still a kid, and it’s wrong. I can’t argue with that, but it’s again a moment in time. If you get rid of films that make you uncomfortable, better line up the trucks to haul them away, because they could total thousands. People argue that this is a trend in Allen’s films, and maybe something could be said about that, but I still don’t believe in cancelling this film. Hemingway is excellent in it, showing both her age and maturity. She was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. The film really captures the essence of 1970s New York.
MG: So you and I have a different take on Allen. As an artist, I appreciate his contributions to film, but I have always felt he was overrated and the unbridled gushing/fawning over Allen by “serious actors” over the decades is preposterous. I also believe Allen to be most likely guilty of his sexual abuse allegations, and find the details and age gap of his courting of his step-daughter (now wife) Soon-yi to be distasteful at the least. So I’ll be honest, these things make me less likely to want to watch a Woody Allen film, but it’s mostly because I just don’t have the artistic interest. If he was directing the next Marvel or Star Wars film I would definitely watch it. Regardless of my personal feeling I don’t think his films should be “cancelled” or pulled from being shown on cable/streaming. On the other hand, his pedigree shouldn’t earn him a “pass” from Hollywood, especially from all those vocal MeToo women like Natalie Portman that said any male accused of sexual wrongdoing didn’t deserve to work in the business.
I’m not a fan of “cancel culture” and agree with DJ that art should be left alone – both art from the past and new works. For people to have the time to dig into the hidden meanings of Raiders of the Lost Ark is nothing short of moronic. (By the way, Alfred Molina and John Rhys-Davis were Brits cast in Raiders as a Latino and Arab, respectively, so shame on George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg!) That doesn’t mean I don’t cringe when I watch some older films. It’s mostly with the depictions of women and minority stereotypes. It’s so hard to measure cultural progress, though, and I hate the thought that certain topics, themes or historical elements are considered “off limits” due to the threat of Twitter condemnation. It also feels like we have regressed in terms of what is permissible morally in film and TV, particularly when it comes to nudity and sex. When was the last film known for nudity/sexuality released in a movie theater? Have we regressed to the 1950s moral codes, content to keep sex and nudity in the shadows of the internet? I’m not advocating for the exploitation of women, but if we are going to tell stories of adult existence, then completely avoiding the topic of sex is not realistic. I want films, shows, comedy, books, etc. to be edgy and challenging, even if that offends a few people. If there’s too much focus put on not offending anyone, that’s going to seriously impact artistic freedom and ultimately the quality of the product.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Films in the 1990s had a bit of a golden age reminiscent of films of the 70s: dark, gritty, edgy, bold – and also often violent and centered on flawed anti-heroes. I loved these films: Seven, Fight Club, LA Confidential, etc. but I wonder how they would be received today. Quentin Tarantino added several classic films to this neo-noir line-up, chief among them the Oscar nominated Pulp Fiction. It was widely praised by critics and audiences alike in its time, but there are a number of things that would draw the ire of today’s culture police. To start with, the film fetishizes IV drug use, and even though it later shows a bad OD scene, in today’s post-opiod crisis society, I don’t think the depiction of drug use in this would pass muster. The bigger sin in this film is the casual use of the N word by white people, which was something Tarantino liberally included in a number of his other films as well. By my count, at least five white dudes say the N-word at least once, including Tarantino himself acting in a role, and using the term “dead n***** storage” several times. If I watched this film today with my later-teen kids, I may be the most uncomfortable with that scene, and that’s saying something in a film that includes male rape. I am confident people would be demanding this film not be shown in theaters if it came out today. Speaking of that rape scene, it features two white guys (with a confederate flag hanging in their store) raping a black guy, while the other protagonist, who is white, escapes his bondage and saves the day (would some consider that a “white savior” plot?) At least it was men getting raped, and not women, but that already disturbing scene is made more bothersome when you look at it from a race perspective. Again, Tarantino owes no one an apology, and there’s no need to take the film off of the AFI 100, but I have no doubt that film could not be released without major controversy in today’s America.
DJ: I love Tarantino, but I was never big on Pulp Fiction, it’s not even in my top 5 Tarantino films. I cringed at the time when I heard the “N” word. It was over the top and just unnecessary. I never watched it again. He seems to like the word. Bill Maher said the N word once on Real-Time, referring to someone else using it, and the world wanted to cancel him. It’s Tarantino’s art, I won’t watch it again but it should not be canceled, the words were not used for hate despite the uncomfortable feeling they left me with. I have to remember it’s the character using the words not the filmmaker.
Long gone are the days of the muscle-bound, machine gun-toting action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’s an upcoming film called Jolt that features Kate Beckinsale kicking ass and mowing down the bad guys. We are comfortable with beautiful, and often waify, women unleashing bloody mass violence (Charlize Theron has made a second career out of it), but dominating white males? Nah – too threatening. Can you imagine a film coming out today with a white guy looking like Arnold going to an Arab, African or Latin country and killing people non-stop? That would be more exploitation of white men on innocent, marginalized cultures. Commando is chock-ful of cultural sins, starting early when Arnold is reading a teen magazine and remarks to his daughter “Boy George? Why don’t they just call him Girl George”? How insensitive! We also see actor Dan Hedaya, a New York Jew, playing a South American dictator – trading on Latino stereotypes and stealing a role from a deserving Latino actor. When we get to the main action set piece, we see Arnold mowing down hundreds of generic Latino-looking soldiers, who run around with full ineptitude on display as none of their bullets hit the white guy. I don’t think audiences would be able to enjoy and laugh at this nonsense like we did back in the 80s. Sure, the John Wick series was a recently successful shoot-em-up action film, but it has a totally different feel, and the Wick producers were careful not to have one race/ethnic group be the focus of the carnage. I think we will continue to see mostly women playing the spy/assassin/revenge killer roles (Black Widow being the latest entry) with an occasional non-threatening male like Bob Odenkirk (Nobody) in the mix. The worst part about Gina Carano being cancelled was at least she was a female actor that was believable at kicking ass.
DJ: Men kicking ass is a rarer occurrence these days. I did watch Boss Level on Hulu but I can’t even remember the main actor, I know Mel Gibson was in it. It’s ok to mow down the dead, lot’s of Zombie films. The Boy George line does still make me laugh, maybe it’s Arnold’s delivery. It’s so ridiculous. The long list of actors playing ethnic parts is overwhelming, I think of John Wayne playing Ghengis Khan or Eli Wallach, a Jewish man, playing a Mexican bandit in The Magnificent Seven. I mean it’s acting right? Being someone else? The problem is, it limits actors of color. The Commando type films made today are buried on streaming services or cable TV, if made at all.
American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty was the best reviewed film of 1999 and cleaned up at the Oscars: winning Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay. It was also a commercial success, bringing in over $350 million worldwide. So it was pretty interesting when I searched for the film on Roku, and it didn’t readily come up in the search results. I put in the whole word “American” and found tons of movies with American in it, obscure, crappy and well known like American Pie, but not this film. I actually had to start typing Beauty before it came up. So is that a sign this film is getting buried/forgotten/cancelled? Perhaps. The films’ first strike against it is obvious – KEVIN SPACEY- which is garbage, in my opinion. Spacey may be an asshole or sexual creep, but it’s never been proven in any court. The cases against him all came up during the MeToo frenzy, and then the allegations imploded and were dropped. Merely based on unproven allegations, he lost his career-defining show, House of Cards, and was ridiculously CGI’d out of All The Money In The World. Bottom line – in the context of Hollywood’s (and throw in politics and sports) timeline of misconduct and criminal behavior, Spacey doesn’t deserve to be cancelled like he has. As for the rest of the film, there was no controversy about it at the time, but I can see it having issues now. Both teenage characters are naked in the film, and one of the teens is lusted after by a 40ish year-old man, which would get certain people in a frenzy, based on the Raiders of the Lost Ark “controversy” DJ mentioned in our blog opening. The fact that a repressed gay character commits a murder would also get complaints from the LGBTQ community. There was controversy in the 90s (before social media) with Basic Instinct, with the criticism being that a bi-sexual character was a villain in the movie, because, you know, non-straight people are incapable of breaking the law. Lastly, American Beauty was partially about the loss of power and identity of white males in American culture, similar to other films around that time such as Fight Club. Today’s culture of identity politics doesn’t care about that anymore and would spit on an story that deals with such themes. I’m not asking anyone to shed tears for the white guys, just saying that no art subject should be looked down on or marginalized due to the tyranny of the Twitter mob.
DJ: Another film I don’t wish to see again. Kevin Spacey, whatever, he was in a lot of good films that other people were part of, cancelling him cancels them. That’s just not fair. Probably lots of bad people in films, from actors, to directors, to writers. but they are one person, can’t cancel the work. I do take issue with young girl – middle aged man portrayal. It’s uncomfortable and maybe Mendes was going for that. He may be portraying someone’s reality but it’s tough to watch. Again I wouldn’t cancel, it’s a thought provoking film and needs to be discussed. The young nudity was unnecessary. I am ok with this film being forgotten but not cancelled. I did read that foreign films take some of these type films even further.