Rather than cancel classic films, TCM reframes them
A new series will take a critical look at movies that may have promoted prejudice
Rather than removing problematic films from its lineup or slapping a quick disclaimer on them, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has decided to educate the public about the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of cinematic history.
Movie houses and cinephiles have struggled for years with what to do with films that include racist stereotypes like Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of the thickly accented, buck-toothed Asian neighbor Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Rooney defended the role for decades but toward the end of his life said he would not have taken it if he had known how many people it would offend.
During the month of March, TCM is airing a series of classics that, while beloved by fans and critics, have come under fire because of changing attitudes about race and gender. The series, Reframed: Classics in the Rearview Mirror, will show problematic films alongside critical discussions to place them in their cultural context.
“We’re not saying this is how you should feel about Psycho or this is how you should feel about Gone with the Wind,” film professor and TCM host Jacqueline Stewart said. “We’re just trying to model ways of having longer and deeper conversations and not just cutting it off to ‘I love this movie. I hate this movie.’ There’s so much space in between.”
From its inception in 1994, TCM has provided introductions explaining films’ contributions to the movie industry. Gone With the Wind was the first film aired, and its original introduction was an unalloyed celebration. This past summer, Stewart, who is African American, provided HBO Max with an introduction to use as a disclaimer before Gone With the Wind. She explained the film’s contributions to Hollywood and its stereotyped portrayal of black people. At the same time, Stewart was thinking up the new TCM series, which will show Gone With the Wind as its first film.
The series airs on Thursdays during March and includes 18 classic films introduced by TCM hosts, including Stewart. Other titles in the series include The Jazz Singer, The Searchers, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Films like My Fair Lady and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers make the list for elements of misogyny or abuse of women. The Children’s Hour and Psycho show how Hollywood historically portrayed LGBT people.
In an interview for TCM’s website, Kim Luperi, a film critic and writer for the channel, applauded how the series would preserve problematic classics and educate people on their importance: “Anyone who broadly slaps a sexist or racist label on a large part of the medium’s history does a disservice to cinema and themselves. That mindset keeps them ignorant not only of some excellent movies and groundbreaking innovation but history itself.” Since its debut in November 2019, the streaming service Disney+ has warned users that some of its movies such as Dumbo and Aladdin contain cultural stereotypes that “were wrong then and are wrong now.”
Constance Cherise, an African American writer for TCM, pointed out in an interview the humility of having a discussion that seeks to understand the historical and cultural context: “In 20 years, what we now deem as acceptable behavior or conversation will be thought of as outdated and will also require being put into ‘historical context.’ What we collectively said, thought, did 20 years ago we are currently either readjusting or reckoning with now, and that is a truth of life that will never change.”
If you enjoyed this article and would like to support WORLD's brand of Biblically sound journalism, click here.