Films can be a great educational tool, but how do we use them to educate without continuing to give offensive media a platform?
HBO Max sparked a conversation when they removed Gone with the Wind from their streaming services because of its highly problematic representation of themes including slavery. While many people agree this is a good thing, others think it is an unnecessary step.
One common reaction I have seen to the action of wanting to remove this type of content has been: “by showing these outdated films, we can show how times are different now.” Yes, we can and should learn from our mistakes, but I do not think the healthiest form of this is to continue to give attention and a platform to films that contain offensive and triggering material. I would rather my future children watch and learn from films that show inspirational Black people, rather than learn about Black people through racial slurs. Why continue to show films that bring a community down, when that same process of education can be done by showing films that build Black people up or share their stories through a much more accurate lens?
However, it can be very difficult to find a line between which content to remove, because very sadly, so many of the films available today contain offensive representations. Even Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999), one of the most well-known and widely watched movies in the last 30 years, has been accused of racial stereotyping.
And so here is the problem: once we start removing everything that contains even a small offensive element, we might find we have nothing left.
Now from there, we either say “good”, and rebuild from scratch, and only watch films that do not intentionally offend any communities. Or we say “these films were made in a time where society was ignorant and disrespectful” and accept that these films were created at a different point in history. We would then use this in order to show how offensive those films really were, and why it is important we do repeat their behaviour in contemporary society.
In my opinion, if these types of films are still shown, every single one needs to have multiple disclaimers throughout the start, middle and end of the show explaining that it contains offensive material and why it is offensive. However, I am much more likely to shout for us to leave those shows far behind us and spend time watching films that do not actively show hurtful or disrespectful representations. We will never truly be able to escape offensive films, but for every one still shown, let us do better for ourselves, for the Black community, and for diversity, by purposefully watching more films that do not negatively stereotype races or have to include a racial slur to be entertaining. We can start changing the future by leaving the messages of those films in history and move on to broaden our watching.