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 actually 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 has 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)

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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 sex-crazed 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 till 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 the fact 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.


Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)

It was an iconic film adored by many, who thrilled to Audrey Hepburn’s style and the yearning melody of Moon River, but Breakfast At Tiffany’s also contained what now seems like one of the most crude and shocking racial caricatures in Hollywood movies. In false teeth, and complete yellow face make-up, Mickey Rooney slapsticked his way through his role as Mr Yunioshi, a bad-tempered, frustrated Asian landlord reminiscent of the cartoons of the Japanese during World War II. Rooney, towards the end of his life expressed his shock that people had found it racist. He said he had never been aware of any complaints. "Never,” he said, “in all the more than 40 years after we made it.”

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 “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.

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. ... I sawed his neck off with that chain that I killed him with. I really relished that because I hated wearing that outfit and sitting there rigid straight, and I couldn’t wait to kill him.”

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 ten different ways if I wanted to”. His friend, the Geek’s response is: “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.


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.”

Celebrating prostitution

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.


Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Silence Of The Lambs wasn’t the first Hollywood movie to stoke the fear of the trans woman as killer and predator – Alfred Hitchcock had already done that with Psycho. But Buffalo Bill, the film’s serial-killer who skins his female victims' corpses and aims to build a "woman suit" of real skin, seemed to have a potent demonising effect. When director Lilly Wachowski came out as trans, it was this 1991 movie that she singled out for criticism. "Though we have come a long way since Silence of the Lambs,” she said, “we continue to be demonised and vilified in the media where attack ads portray us as potential predators to keep us from even using the goddamn bathroom. We are not predators, we are prey."

Arab stereotyping

Disney’s Aladdin (1992)

Arabs, when they do appear in Hollywood films, are almost always the bad guys: the crazed, incompetent terrorists in True Lies, the money-obsessed sheikh in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. But even in Disney’s Aladdin, the only US blockbuster ever to have an Arab hero, there are scenes of excruciating stereotyping. The film lunged straight in with the excruciating lyric, "Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place. Where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face. It's barbaric, but hey, it's home."

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 make 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.” Weinstein’s retort to those who objected to film's violence and misogyny was that they were “fishing for stupidity”. Perhaps, he is rethinking that comment, but one doubts it.