Sometimes we old-timers reminisce about the “good old days” when life was simpler. Streets were safe for children. People didn’t swear our use vulgarity in movies or television. Married couples on the old sitcoms even slept in twin beds!
“They sure don’t make things like they used to,” becomes a common lament. Surely everything was better back then, right?
I would never want to go back to driving the cars we had 40 years ago when 80,000 miles on the odometer meant “trade in time.” My current pickup truck will turn 160,000 miles in a week or so and still runs like new.
But what about movies? Yes, I could easily complain about the language and sexual innuendos of today’s movies and TV programs. Not long ago Mary and I literally walked out of a movie that we had assumed would be appropriate. (Remember when movies didn’t need to be given a rating?)
My purpose in this blog, however, is not to lament the loss of the golden age of movies. On the contrary, I am glad they don’t make movies like they used to.
One of our Christmas traditions is watching a couple of classic movies with a Christmas theme, such as It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart, as George Bailey, is contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve due to a financial disaster—not of his own making. Harry is convinced he is worth more dead than alive. Clarence, an angel (I didn’t say the theology was good), tries to prevent Harry from suicide by showing him how his life has had such a positive impact.
It’s a great movie—except the only minority person in the movie is the black maid who is stereotyped, in my opinion, as a busybody.
Holiday Inn is another decades-Christmas classic, starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds. These two men compete for the attention and affection of the same woman. The good guy, in the end, wins the woman. Throughout the movie, however, we encounter only one black maid, Mamie, and her two children. There is a scene where white characters perform a musical routine for the guests at the Holiday Inn. Their faces are painted black with exaggerated lips and eyes to appear comical.
That might have been acceptable in 1954, but should it have been? Thankfully, we will never see scenes like that in a contemporary movie or TV show. It’s offensive now—and really—was offensive all along.
Classic western movies often portrayed Native Americans as capable of uttering only one word, “How.” They were often portrayed as savages. The guy in the white hat was always good; the man in buckskin moccasins evil.
For a different perspective of the battle to win the West, read books such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
While I am lamenting racial stereotyping in classic movies, I add one more observation from the world of athletics. I remember when blacks were not “intelligent enough to play quarterback.” That has, thank God, changed. Black entertainers no longer use separate and inferior toilets and drinking fountains. I am grateful for men like Martin Luther King Jr. who was willing to risk his life by applying biblical principles taught in The Sermon on The Mount. Regretfully, I grew up being taught Dr. King was the villain.
I write today as a Christ-follower. Every man and woman, no matter their race or culture bear God’s image. Every person deserves equal respect. Having just read The Road to Dawn, a biography of Josiah Henson, I was again appalled by the treatment of African slaves in America—especially in the South. It made me sad to read that many who justified slavery and the inhumane treatment of slaves claimed to be Christ-followers.
Henson is believed to be the man behind Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He eventually escaped with his family to Canada where, though legally free, he faced unrelenting racial prejudice. Life for black people in the Northern States—the area that prided itself for supporting the emancipation of all slaves and the end of slavery in the United States—was just as bad.
Looking back, it’s easy to see why Native Americans, blacks and other minorities have been inclined to reject Christianity as the “White Man’s Religion.” Thank God for people of faith like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Josiah Henson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—people who dared to push against an unjust and unbiblical status quo.
Watching classic movies has raised my awareness of how prejudiced we were. I am glad Hollywood no longer produces movies portraying blacks or Native Americans or other races in stereotypical and demeaning roles.
Let us be more like Jesus, who spoke with the Samaritan Woman, touched a leper, and ate with tax collectors. Jesus portrayed a Samaritan as the “man in the white hat” who did the right thing while the religious elite passed by without offering assistance.
God has but one family on earth today—His Church—consisting of men, women and children from every tribe and language group.
There are no distinctions, divisions, barriers, or glass ceilings in His house.