Opinion: How Black Lives Matter is changing how we view film and TV | Cinema | DW

Let me tell you a story. A long time ago there was a wonderful place, where people lived in harmony. The white people who ran the place were gentle, kind and fatherly. The black people, who did all the work, had all their needs taken care of and really had no complaints.

Then, a savage army came down from the North, burned the beautiful houses of the whites and raised the blacks, causing them to rise up and kill their white masters. It was chaos and destruction. Almost everything was lost. But, in the end, the violent Northerners left, leaving the whites of the South with hope that they might one day return to their way of life.

Recognize the story? This is the plot of Carried away by the wind. The 1939 film was back in the news last week when Warner Bros., the studio that owns the film, pulled the classic from its streaming service, HBO Max, citing the film’s problematic racial stereotypes and its glorification of humanity. ‘slavery.

Warner Bros. temporarily pulled the film amid global Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man.

Amid protests, from statues to Confederate heroes, these southern whites defending their way of life in carried away by the windare being demolished.

And now the movement has set its sights on the landmarks of film and television.

Read more: N-words and gender politics: how German translators deal with them

A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia has been toppled by protesters

Blackfacing and the N-word in comedy sketches

While Warner Bros. carried away by the windcomedy sketch show little britain was removed from Netflix and the BBC iPlayer in the UK, due to concerns over the use of blackface by its white stars, David Walliams and Matt Lucas.

Netflix also dropped The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh – two other British comedy sketch shows – because they feature white actors with dark makeup.

UKTV, a BBC-owned streaming platform, has temporarily removed ‘The Germans’, a beloved episode of the comedy classic Fawlty Towers, because it contains “racist insults”. The insults in question were not those aimed at German customers by John Cleese as the owner of the eponymous hotel Basil Fawlty – goose-stepping around the room, imitating Hitler, shouting ‘don’t mention the war !” – but refer to a scene in which the character Major Gowen repeatedly uses the N-word in reference to members of the West Indies cricket team.

Is it censorship?

The latest removals have sparked a debate about which TV shows and movies might cross a line with their depictions of race and whether their removal constitutes censorship.

First, to be clear: none of this is censorship. carried away by the wind will soon return to HBO Max – this time with an introduction by a film expert to place the film in its “multiple historical contexts”.

UKTV will reinstate the Fawlty Towers episode with a warning to viewers that it contains “offensive content and language”.

little britain and The League of Gentlemen remain available on other services (as does carried away by the windwhich boosted Amazon sales amid publicity for the removal of HBO Max).

Having to switch streamers to watch your favorite series or old movie is not a sign of Orwellian mind control.

Open a wider debate

A trickier question is where to draw the line. Social norms have changed rapidly over the past decades. We rightly denounce harmful or stereotypical portrayals of marginalized groups – whether defined by gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation – that were once considered acceptable, even commonplace.

Scott Roxborough

Scott Roxborough, DW Film Specialist

If you object to carried away by the wind‘s happy slaves and chivalrous confederates, must you not also balk at Fred Astaire in blackface in swing time or the representation of Native Americans in Researchers (and pretty much all the “classic” westerns)?

One solution, adopted by Disney on its Disney+ service, is to slap a generic disclaimer on many of its older films that they “may contain outdated cultural representations”. But it is a way of avoiding the debate, of not engaging in it. The most problematic movie in Disney’s catalog – the 1946 animated musical southern songwhich describes life on a slave plantation as idyllic – was completely left out by Disney+.

Warner Bros.’ approach to some of the other questionable content on its HBO Max service is a warning that reads the material “may depict certain ethnic and racial biases that were once commonplace in American society. Such portrayals were false then and are false today. ‘today’. It’s better but it still smacks of facade and fails to distinguish between movies and TV series that perpetuate and reinforce racial and social stereotypes and those that seek to expose them.

John Cleese, who co-wrote Fawlty Towersargued, quite convincingly, that Major Gowen’s racist rants are meant to be ridiculed, not celebrated.

do the right thingSpike Lee’s 1989 prophetic drama about racism and police brutality, is full of racial epithets, but no intelligent viewer would mistake the director’s progressive intent.

Fawlty Towers - John Cleese

For ‘Fawlty Towers’ co-creator John Cleese (top), the racist character’s outdated worldviews were something to be laughed at

Who can tell the stories?

At the heart of this debate over representation is the impact that the stories we tell – “narratives” to use the fashionable academic term – have on the real world.

carried away by the wind is not just a made-up story about the Civil War. His account of the “glorious Confederacy” and the supposed virtues of the antebellum South helped shape Americans’ views of their own history and reinforced ideas of white supremacy.

carried away by the wind was and is extremely popular. Adjusted for inflation, it’s still the most commercially successful film of all time.

Two other hugely successful pieces of pop culture – American reality TV shows Cops and Live DPwhich both show violent police car chases, arrests and apprehensions, usually of non-white suspects, were canceled last week for a similar reason.

Critics of the shows, such as civil rights group Color of Change, say they have played a “significant role in promoting distorted portrayals of crime, justice, race and gender in culture.” . Their argument: If black men are constantly portrayed as dangerous and violent criminals in movies and on television, is it any wonder that American police officers treat real black men as dangerous violent criminals in real life?

The debate on carried away by the wind it’s not about censorship. It’s about the stories we tell, who can tell them and how they are told. Old stories, old tales, shouldn’t be locked in a safe and forgotten. We need them to understand how we got here. But if we want to change things in the future, we will need new stories to tell.