In the last couple of years, people around the world have become more attuned to the issues of sexism, classism, racism, homophobia, and bigotry. With that, many things we once loved have been slapped with big old “what were they thinking?” stickers.
Several films, television shows and songs that were once loved and held up as great examples of their genre are now being examined under a stricter microscope, oftentimes being revealed to be deeply problematic.
Beloved musical Grease has not been exempt from such criticism. In fact, the film’s star, Australian legend Olivia Newton-John, recently defended her iconic role as Sandy and the movie itself arguing that it’s a “fun story” and that she’s never taken it “too seriously”.
Now, a fresh batch of controversy has enveloped the 1970’s hit, after a screening in Britain on Boxing Day left moviegoers up in arms about the film’s problematic plot with some calling it “rapey” and accusing it of promoting “slut-shaming.”
Ahhh man. Just watching #Grease one of my favourite films and it’s so of its time. Misogynistic, sexist and a bit rapey.
— Dr Kelly 🔶 🕷 (@KellyQuilt) December 26, 2020
Viewers cited several troubling incidents in Grease — Sandy changing her whole image to get Danny to like her, Putzie peeping up girls’ skirts, and asking Danny “did she put up a fight?” during Summer Lovin’. Meanwhile, character Vince Fontaine not only makes a move on an adolescent Marty at the school dance but homophobically declares that all couples had to be boy/girl.
It’s a sign of the times, a growing cancel culture, and the global reckonings that are the #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and LGBTQ+ Rights movements that audiences are now hyper-aware of issues we were oblivious to, or simply cared less about, the first time around.
Other films, television shows, and songs that have not aged well include:
For a certain generation, Friends was the epitome of a perfect sitcom, replete with witty dialogue, a plot that explored that awkward grey area in your 20’s, endless A-lister cameos, and a cast of loveable and relatable characters who were actually friends in real life.
Over the years though, a younger horde of viewers have pointed out that the show’s ongoing gay jokes and its lack of any main characters that were not white is offensive, and also declared it an inaccurate representation of a city as diverse as New York.
Some have also noted that casting Kathleen Turner to play Chandler’s father, instead of casting a transgender actress to inhabit the role, was the wrong move.
Gone With the Wind
The Oscar-winning 1939 film faced intense criticism in 2020, as protests about racial inequality raged across the world.
In an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times, filmmaker John Ridley, who wrote 12 Years a Slave, urged HBO Max to remove Gone With the Wind from its platform writing, “It is a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.”
The Academy-award winner’s request did not fall on deaf ears with HBO Max agreeing to remove the title from their library, adamantly stating that the film’s depictions do not align with their values.
While no plans were made to edit the actual film in any way, the company stressed that when it becomes available to stream once more it would do so with a “discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions.”
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
In 1961, when this iconic film was made, racist humour was unfortunately pervasive and permissible. Many film lovers have since noted that Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr Yunioshi is deeply offensive and certainly nothing to laugh about.
Mr Yunioshi is the only non-white character in the entire film, so it’s confusing as to why he was played by a white actor, no matter how famous. Additionally, the multitude of stereotypes he plays into are harmful, unnecessary and a detractor from one of the most popular works of cinema in history.
Sadly, even though “yellowface” has been banished to the darkest annals of moviemaking, studios have still been guilty of whitewashing Asian roles in recent years with Emma Stone in Aloha and Scarlett Johanssen in Ghost in the Shell being notable examples.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
The Christmas classic faced the music at the height of the #MeToo movement, thanks to its disturbing lyrics that many listeners felt promoted sexual misconduct and even drink-spiking .
The daughter of the song’s composer was forced to come to the tune’s defence, arguing that the context of the time was important in appreciating the lyrical content. She explained that when the song was written in 1944, the concept of consent was quite different and nothing insidious was intended by the duet.
Regardless, the track was pulled from several radio stations around the world and enjoyed a more respectful reimagining, thanks to The Voice judges Kelly Clarkson and John Legend in 2019.
Colin Firth’s character falls in love with a woman who cannot speak English and who waits on him hand and foot — implying that the most desirable women are essentially mute servants.
Alan Rickman’s character not only cheats on his wife but does so with a woman who works for him – an unfair power dynamic.
Andrew Lincoln’s character professes his love to his best mate’s wife — who he’s always been a bit of a knob to — perpetuating the narrative that if a guy is mean to you, it must be because he fancies you.
Hugh Grant, who plays the Prime Minister, fires his assistant after witnessing her being sexually harassed by the President of the United States AND manages to call her fat while doing so.
Incredibly, the couple who meet while acting as stand-ins for a porno are the least problematic, because at least everyone there is a consenting adult of equal power.
I guess we shouldn’t be so surprised that this is a Christmas film, given that Christmas is a holiday that sees us celebrating a man that’s clearly a stalker, and who needs to work on observing boundaries.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”… that’s it! Santa just made the damn list too.