Do Culturally Sensitive Notices at the Beginning of Certain Movies Matter?

In June 2020, HBO removed Gone With The Wind (1939) from its films available to be shown. A spokesman stated, “[The film was] a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society." Two weeks after it was removed, HBO brought it back with two video clips that address the stereotypes of slaves depicted in the film and how the film downplays the horrors of slavery.

On the Disney network, the movie, Mr. Magoo (1997) contains a statement, before the movie begins that partially states, “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures.” Do these videos or statements matter and in what ways?

The Birth of a Nation (1915), a silent film originally called The Clansman, depicts the Ku Klux Klan in heroic ways. The film is available for sale on Amazon but not found online easily if at all. Somewhere there seems to be a line that can and cannot be crossed. A warning label allows one film to be shown online but is not sufficient for another.
Addressing culturally insensitive and disturbing issues in movies from previous eras will, no doubt, be an ongoing issue for years to come. Someone choosing to write this essay can address these issues and even might speculate about if or which current films might need warning labels and why. It may be difficult to be completely free of grievance by some group that feels a film has offended them in some way. Is cultural sensitivity in films a goal that can be completely achieved? Several questions and issues are raised in this proposed topic and an essay can address them.

  • I personally have mixed feelings about the warning labels and removal of films. As a black man, I'm used to seeing racist depictions of people of color. And I don't believe removing these movies fixes the situation. I believe having an actual discusion about what is being shown is far more important than censoring. Censoring doesn't change the fact that the people who made these movies or see nothing wrong with them still hold these ideas. While adding the caption at the begining of the movies does help (Toon heads a cartoon anthology series on did something similar in the late 1990's for early merry melodies cartoons) I still think more should be done. It's a very difficult conversation to be had, as where the line should be drawn is difficult to determine. More recently, people have been critcizing Quinton Tarrintino for some of his more questionable decisions on how he depicts race in films. People Like Samuel L. Jackson have defend him, but that doesn't mean Tarritino hasn't made a mistake in his depiction. But I think this is a good topic for who ever wants to write on it. Believe looking into director's intent is the key to determing what should be done with certain films as films like The Birth of a Nation were often used to recruit members into the KKK. Not only that but they actively demonized black men and women. Simultaneously, other filmmakers like Tarrintino despite being accused of racism often sought to depict racism and social divide realisticly or mock it. How succesful he was is up for debate. – Blackcat130 2 years ago
  • Warner Bros. disclaimer (I'm not sure which films they apply to) states that they have chosen to continue showing the films, despite their outdated depictions, because they believe simply not showing the films would be to pretend the prejudice never happened. So in some way, cultural sensitivity warnings can serve as a tool of accountability for the filmmaker, to acknowledge they have made offensive content in the past. This could potentially form an interesting point of discussion. – Samantha Leersen 2 years ago
  • Its quite the difficult question. On the one hand movies are products of the historical process and the prejudices reflected in the movies are often present even in contemporary society, but on the other I feel that movies like The Birth of A Nation and The Triumph of the Will have aesthetic value. That being said, anything other than censorship is preferable as a method of engaging with these issues. – Sathyajith Shaji Manthanth 2 years ago

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