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Caution: Comedy ahead

HBO Max adds trigger warning to a satirical classic

Cleavon Little (left) and Gene Wilder in a scene from Blazing Saddles Warner Bros.

Caution: Comedy ahead

When HBO Max users started streaming Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles last week, they noticed the subscription service had added something new: a warning.

Now, before the parody about a black sheriff who wins over the white population of an Old West town begins, University of Chicago film professor Jacqueline Stewart comes on screen to explain that “racist language and attitudes pervade the film.” She points out that Brooks used small-minded characters to illustrate the absurdity of racism.

HBO has prefaced a classic movie with what it calls “proper social context” before. After the death of George Floyd in late May sparked racial unrest across the country, the studio pulled Gone With the Wind from its platform for two weeks. When it returned, it included a new disclaimer advising viewers the film “fails to [acknowledge] the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery.”

While David O. Selznick’s historical drama about the antebellum South minimizes America’s racist past, Brooks’ satire highlights it to illustrate the foolishness of bigotry.

While some fans have said they appreciate the trivia Stewart’s new three-minute introduction offers—like how close actor Richard Pryor came to playing the lead role—others said they feel insulted by the implication they won’t get the joke.

“What kind of melonhead doesn’t realize the purpose of the slurs in Blazing Saddles is to make the racists look bad?” asked film critic Kyle Smith in the New York Post. “We don’t need this explained to us unless we just arrived on this planet from a faraway star system or attended Oberlin.”

Brooks, an Oscar-winning writer and director, hasn’t publicly commented on the new addition to his film. But he warned in a 2017 interview with BBC Radio that he wouldn’t be able to make Blazing Saddles today.

“We have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy,” he said. “It’s OK not to hurt feelings of various tribes and groups. However, it’s not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks.”

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Megan Basham

Megan is a former film and television editor for WORLD and co-host for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman’s Guide to Having It All. Megan resides with her husband, Brian Basham, and their two daughters in Charlotte, N.C.



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