Old Movies

I just realised that a good number of my posts have been about movies. I have no idea how this happened as I’m no movie buff but there’s no reason to end the trend now.

I enjoy watching movies from the 50s and such. I really like the transatlantic accent most of the actors use (the Cockney accent is another one that is common) and I like seeing the originals on which many modern Hollywood releases are based. For example, I’ve watched both the original and the remake of ‘The Women’.  I watched the modern version featuring Jada Pinkett Smith first and I was surprised when I watched the original to see that the story was changed very little. Yeah they added ‘diversity’ to the cast in the form of a black lesbian but in some parts the remake sticks almost word for word to the original. This got me wondering exactly how much women’s lives have changed since the 50s if the dialogue from that time can fit so easily in ours.

Something that stands out to me from these movies is the way they feature black people. As expected, most of the movies have no black characters at all. On the occasions they do, they usually appear as servants, labourers or entertainment. The black characters are shown as stupid, slow, infantile, lacking social graces, courage and the capacity for independent thought. My jaw actually dropped when I looked at the screen one day to see a minstrel show*. I had heard that this was a form of entertainment back in the day but I had never come across it before. Trust me, it is as bad as they say.

The only other context in which minorities appear in these movies is that of a grand expedition to an unknown and often savage land. So you get African natives and sometimes people of indeterminate Middle Eastern origin guiding colonial adventurers on a safari or through the jungle/dessert. It’s interesting that Africa is always mentioned as a place to be exploited, a destination for people seeking to make a killing from natural resources. Of course, Africans themselves are never mentioned in these plans except as objects of curiosity or obstacles to  the explorers in fulfilling their quest.

Women don’t do much better (mostly white American or British women). They come off as more human than the minorities but again they tend to fall into the same categories. They are generally sweet and innocent or wily and conniving. Other tendencies include cattiness, hysteria, simple-mindedness, helplessness and lack of courage. I get the impression that speaking plainly was not culturally permitted for them so they had to resort to trickery and plots to achieve their goals.  Interestingly, women characters that are not British are often brash and forward. The idea that marriage is the ultimate goal of every woman’s life is a common theme in these movies, a point that will certainly ring a bell for many Nigerians.

* Minstrel show – form of comedy in which actors dressed up in blackface and acted as black people for the entertainment of the crowd. The result is usually grossly stereotypical and mocking.

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2 responses to “Old Movies

  1. oh boy, film and stereotypes go hand in hand, unfortunately. Some films definitely try to present the multifaceted existence of women nowadays and there seems to be a push towards doing so. However, I wonder if even within that push, we are creating more pretty boxes into which we try to fit ourselves into.

    Let me stop here before I start getting all philosophical. lol!

    How are ya? Thanks for swinging by the Easier blog!

  2. Hi SSD, good to see you again. I am doing well

    I am beginning to suspect that laziness is the reason for the over-reliance on stereotypes in films. It leads to us seeing variations of the same story over and over again.

    I like your point about creating new boxes for ourselves, it’s given me something to think about. Are we trying to present the reality of our lives or an ideal that we might never reach? And who decides what the ideal is anyway?

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