The dark heart of Hollywood
AS THE WEINSTEIN REVELATIONS PEEL BACK THE CURTAIN ON THE SORDID WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD, VICKY ALLAN DELVES INTO TINSEL TOWN’S DARK PAST
THE revelations about sexual predator and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have exposed the dark, beating heart of Hollywood. The allegations that have emerged serve as a reminder that while the American film industry may try to present itself as progressive, it is at its core a deeply ugly and unpleasant realm. The truth has been hiding in plain sight all along – the movies which Hollywood produces are stained with sexism, racism and hate.
The movie industry, and the films it produces, were never really liberal at all. For every Brokeback Mountain or Wonder Woman, there have been many more movies that have stunk of misogyny, white supremacism and a delight in crushing anyone not white, male, straight and middle class. Look back into its history and we can see how frequently the movie industry has supported prejudice. Here, the Sunday Herald delves into Hollywood’s past, and digs up the films which show just how tainted Tinseltown really is.
WHITE SUPREMACISM The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
YES, the first blockbuster in cinema history – originally called The Clansman – really did romanticise the Ku Klux Klan. Created by DW Griffith, it is rarely now screened publicly, frequently picketed and subject to boycotts. The film, which many credit for inventing narrative cinema, the movies as we know it, was also a deplorable piece of racist propaganda created to reassure American whites of their primacy and fire up hatred of black people. It climaxes with Confederate soldiers, clad in white sheets, rescuing white woman Lillian Gish from a sexcrazed black militia. A title card reads: “Former enemies united in their defence of their Aryan birthright!” Most of the main black roles were played, grotesquely, by white actors in black face. The NAACP protested it, but still audiences lapped it up, and it held onto box office records until Gone With The Wind (hardly a high watermark in race relations itself) was released in 1939. It is still widely considered the most racist movie ever.
RACIAL CARICATURES Dumbo (1941)
THOSE jive-talking black crows singing to Dumbo may seem not so very much worse than the many other racial caricatures that litter Disney films (happy slave Uncle Remus, for instance, in Song of the South, or the hyenas in The Lion King), as they sing, “I’d be done see’n about everything when I see an elephant fly”. But what makes this the most shocking of Disney caricatures is that someone seemed to see fit to call the chief crow Jim, a name that at that time would only have evoked one thing – the Jim Crow racial segregation laws. And that really doesn’t seem something to joke about in front of the kids.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE The Quiet Man (1952)
THERE are plenty of films, of course, with much darker scenes of violence or abuse, but there’s something in the light-hearted, comic tone of the long scene in the John Ford classic The Quiet Man, in which John Wayne drags his wife, played by Maureen O’Hara, across the countryside, occasionally slapping and kicking her, that seems to say all too much about a normality of domestic violence. Worse still, they are followed by a whole baying crowd, one of whom offers Wayne a stick to beat her with.
TORTURING WOMEN The Birds (1963)
“HE was a misogynist,” Tippi Hedren said of Alfred Hitchcock in 2012. And The Birds does indeed look like a film that is all about tormenting women, but especially Hedren’s character. Famously, in order to get a realistic performance out of her, he locked Hedren in a room with live birds. But The Birds is still not as bad as Marnie, the
film in which Hitchcock took the star he was obsessed with, and put her in a role as a kleptomaniac who is repulsed by sex and raped. As Richard Brody has put it: “Marnie is a woman who is othered to the vanishing point.” He describes the film as “sick”. Hitchcock also allegedly made sexual advances towards Hedren, and when she refused and asked to be let out of her contract after Marnie a year later, he effectively ended her career. On hearing the Weinstein allegations, Hedren last week said: “This is nothing new.”
CASUAL SEXISM Goldfinger (1964)
JAMES Bond films have never been known for their enlightened approach to female characterisation. But, even for the Bond franchise, Goldfinger represented a real low. For starters, the film took empowered lesbian Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) and put her through what looks very like a rape scene, in which “no” is interpreted as a “yes” and even her judo throw isn’t enough to knock back the predator 007. “Skip it,” says Galore, when Bond makes his approach, “I’m not interested.” Not only does she seem to be telling him “no” but also that she’s gay. Nevertheless, Bond follows up by asking: “What would it take for you to see things my way?”
“A lot more than you’ve got,” replies Galore. But before we know it he has her pinned to the hay, and though she fights back, the scene, at the very last minute, suggests that she really wants it (Bond has “turned” her).
Bad as this is, it’s not Goldfinger’s only crime. It has, as film critic Peter Bradshaw has put it, the “most sexist scene in cinema history”. When Felix Leiter turns up to find Bond in what he describes as the “good hands” of a masseuse, Bond dismisses his female companion almost the moment he has introduced her. His explanation? “Man talk,” he says, before he promptly slaps her on the ass to send her on her way.
PREDATORY OLDER MEN Manhattan (1979)
IT’S hard now to watch this film, in which a 42-year-old Woody Allen dates a 17-year-old student (played by freshfaced Mariel Hemingway) given all we now know about the director. The claims that emerged in the early 1990s that Allen had sexually assaulted his adopted daughter Dylan – allegations that Allen has repeatedly denied – as well as the revelations that he had taken nude photographs of SoonYi Previn – the adopted daughter of then-partner Mia Farrow – whom he later married, leave the film unpalatable. It also doesn’t help that in her memoir, Out Came The Sun, Mariel Hemingway even claimed that Allen had attempted to lure her to Paris once she turned 18. “I started to see that he had a kind of crush on me,” she said, “though I dismissed it as the kind of thing that seemed to happen any time middle-aged men got around young women.”
HUMILIATION OF WOMEN Return of the Jedi (1983)
IT’S hard to believe it, but, yes, George Lucas did turn the bold female heroine of his kids’ space saga into a sex slave in a gold bikini chained to a giant, wrinkled slug. The late Carrie Fisher herself criticised the outfit, advising new Star Wars actor Daisy Ridley: “Don’t be a slave like I was … You keep fighting against that slave outfit.” However, she has also said: “What redeems it is I get to kill him [Jabba], which was so enjoyable.”
DATE RAPE AS COMEDY Sixteen Candles (1984)
IF you want a shock reminder of just how casually sexist, homophobic and racist the 1980s was, a binge session of John Hughes movies should do the trick. Of them all, however, Sixteen Candles has got to be the most shocking, partly because it happens to feature the caricature of a Chinese student Long Duk Dong, but also because it treats the idea a teen girl who is so intoxicated she’s passed out and unable to give consent as material for comedy. Romantic lead Jake discusses his conked-out girlfriend and observes, “I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to”. His friend, the Geek, responds: “What are you waiting for?” Jake then puts his girlfriend in the car with the Geek, telling him to drive her home and “have fun”. These days we’d call that date rape: back then, it appears, it was just a bit of a laugh.
HOMOPHOBIA Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
THE teen movies of the 1980s provided plenty in the way of casual homophobia and “fag-ribbing”, but one scene from Adventures In Babysitting stands out. In it the young sister of the family, dressed in a Viking helmet, muses “Thor’s my hero.” “Thor’s a homo,” says her brother, Brad, and a squabble ensues. She says: “Is not.” He keeps saying: “Thor’s a complete homo.” “Take it back, Brad,” she says, enraged. “Take back what you said about Thor.”
PROSTITUTION CELEBRATED Pretty Woman (1990)
ORIGINALLY planned as a cautionary tale about the horrors of the sex industry, this star vehicle for Richard Gere and Julia Roberts treated prostitution as fine career choice which could nab a lucky girl a rich man. One of the most morally disgraceful films ever made.
OLD FASHIONED MISOGYNY She’s All That (1999)
THE need for a woman to put on some slap, change, or even get a full style makeover, to be good enough to nab a man has been an enduring theme throughout movie history, from My Fair Lady to Grease – a film which also made it clear that girls should “put out” no matter what. However, what made She’s All That – produced by Harvey Weinstein – so shocking was that a film like this, in which a popular jock bets that he can turn an ordinary geeky girl into a prom queen, was made not all that long ago, in 1999. Begging the question, when are we going to see the end of all that?
EXTREME MISOGYNISTIC VIOLENCE The Hateful Eight (2015)
THIS one’s from that old pal of Harvey Weinstein, Quentin Tarantino. The Hateful Eight is an American Civil War film in which the only significant female character, Daisy, is subjected to relentless extreme violence, called a “diabolical bitch”, a “lying bitch” and a “mean bastard”. As AO Scott, critic for the New York Times, put it: “She is the film’s scapegoat and punching bag and, above all, its excuse for its own imaginative failures. At a certain point, the n-word gives way to the b-word as the dominant hateful epithet, and ‘The Hateful Eight’ mutates from an exploration of racial animus into an orgy of elaborately justified misogyny.”
Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles and, left, in Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman
Abov: Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Hateful 8 and Carrie Fisher Princess Leia, below