11 Classic ’90s Movies That Have Been Called Out for Racism

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<p>For many people, one of the most shocking things about the cultural reckoning that’s happening in light of the <a href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/black-lives-matter-progress/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Black Lives Matters protests</a> across the country is finding out how much of the pop culture we consume has racist associations. Those who thought <a href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/tv-shows-blackface/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>blackface was a relic of the past</a> have been reminded of several more contemporary examples recently, and <a href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/disney-movies-racist/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>beloved Disney classics</a> have been called out for cultural insensitivity and racist stereotypes. With that in mind, there are plenty of more recent films worth examining, too. Here are some classic ’90s movies that have been called out for racism. And for more films that haven’t aged well, check out these <a href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/racist-80s-movies/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>9 Classic ’80s Movies That Have Been Called Out for Racism</a>.</p>
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<div class=”number”>1</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-238980″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/quigon-obiwan-maul-duel-tall.jpg?resize=1200%2C675&ssl=1″ alt=”still from star wars the phantom menace” width=”1200″ height=”675″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p>From the moment the long-awaited <em>Star Wars: Episode I</em> hit theaters in 1999, the film <a href=”https://www.independent.co.uk/news/star-wars-accused-of-race-stereotypes-1097783.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>faced accusations of racism</a>. Several alien species speak with accents that sound like stereotypical approximations of different ethnicities, but Jar Jar Binks, portrayed by <strong>Ahmed Best</strong>, was a particular point of contention. In an article for <em>The Nation</em> at the time, <strong>Patricia J. Williams</strong> wrote, “Whether intentionally or not, Jar Jar’s pratfalls and high jinks borrow heavily from the <a href=”https://web.archive.org/web/20060920011550/http://www.thenation.com/doc/19990705/williams” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>genre of minstrelsy</a>.” She also noted that the character of Watto could be considered “both anti-Arab and anti-Jew.”</p>
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<div class=”number”>2</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Aladdin</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-238996″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/58a32a1f8275e886728b4a54.jpeg?resize=1100%2C825&ssl=1″ alt=”still from disney aladdin” width=”1100″ height=”825″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p>When <em>Aladdin</em> was released in 1992, it was heavily criticized by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee for its <a href=”https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1993-07-10-ca-11747-story.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>negative depiction of Arab culture</a>, leading Disney to change some of its more objectionable lyrics. But for some, the problems with <em>Aladdin</em> go beyond a few word choices. As Vox explains, “the 1992 film <a href=”https://www.vox.com/2019/5/24/18635896/disney-live-action-aladdin-controversy-history” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>revels in a lot of Orientalist stereotypes</a>,” including a “mythos [that] reeks of mystical exoticism” and “the citizens of Agrabah [being] frequently depicted as barbarous sword-wielders and sexualized belly dancers.” And for more on Disney’s racially insensitive history, check out <a href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/splash-mountain-disney/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>This Classic Disney Ride Is Being Changed Due to Its Racist Associations</a>.</p>
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<div class=”number”>3</div>
<div class=”title”><em>The Green Mile</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-238994″ src=”https://i1.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/dATygzDbQGJWlolx2vebgqFYAKO.jpg?resize=1200%2C674&ssl=1″ alt=”still from the green mile” width=”1200″ height=”674″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p>Perhaps the most notable critic of 1999’s <em>The Green Mile</em> is filmmaker <strong>Spike Lee</strong>, who noted in 2001 that the character of John Coffey—played by the late <strong>Michael Clarke Duncan</strong>—is one of several examples of Black characters with magical powers who <a href=”http://archives.news.yale.edu/v29.n21/story3.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>reinforce the traditional stereotype</a> of the “noble savage” or “happy slave.”</p>
<p>In his list for Salon of the <a href=”https://www.salon.com/2016/02/24/the_15_most_racist_oscar_films_of_all_time_heres_why_oscarssowhite_is_not_a_surprise/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>most racist Oscar films</a> of all time, <strong>Ibram X. Kendi</strong> writes, “Coffey uses his magical powers to heal White authority figures and punish their enemies. Coffey uses his magic to show his innocence. But he amazingly does not use his magical powers to liberate himself—or oppressed Blacks in the segregated south of the 1930s.” The way Kendi sees it, <em>The Green Mile</em> “is only believable through the illogic of racist ideas.”</p>
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<div class=”number”>4</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Falling Down</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-238997″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/falling_down_douglas_squat.jpg?resize=1000%2C563&ssl=1″ alt=”michael douglas in falling down” width=”1000″ height=”563″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p>Filmed during the <a href=”https://www.npr.org/2017/04/26/524744989/when-la-erupted-in-anger-a-look-back-at-the-rodney-king-riots” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>1992 Los Angeles riots</a>—a response to police officers being acquitted for the violent beating of <strong>Rodney King</strong>—<em>Falling Down</em> is a movie with racism on its mind. At the same time, the film’s depiction of an angry white man (<strong>Michael Douglas'</strong> D-Fens) going on a violent spree does not hold up for some critics.</p>
<p>For the film’s 25th anniversary in 2017, <strong>April Wolfe</strong> wrote an essay about the complicated legacy of <em>Falling Down</em> for <em>LA Weekly</em>, calling it “one of Hollywood’s most overt yet morally complex depictions of the modern <a href=”https://www.laweekly.com/hey-white-people-michael-douglas-is-the-villain-not-the-victim-in-falling-down/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>white-victimization narrative</a>, one both adored and reviled by the extreme right.” Wolfe goes on to say that the movie too often seems to side with Douglas’ character, and that “anyone paying attention to white rage today will find familiar the ways that the film couches D-Fens’ behavior in economic anxiety.” And for more things being reexamined for negative associations, <a href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/master-bedroom-slavery-association/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>You May Have to Rename This Room in Your House Due to Slavery Associations</a>.</p>
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<div class=”number”>5</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Dangerous Minds</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-238998″ src=”https://i1.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CmPPO2IVYAA41o9.jpg?resize=1200%2C782&ssl=1″ alt=”michelle pfeiffer in dangerous minds” width=”1200″ height=”782″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p><em>Dangerous Minds</em> falls into the familiar genre of “inspirational teacher” movies, but many believe it also includes a more insidious trope: the “white savior” narrative. Twenty years after the film’s 1995 release, <strong>Aisha Harris</strong> wrote in Slate that <em>Dangerous Minds</em> oversimplifies the theme of race and “elevates the … <a href=”https://slate.com/culture/2015/08/dangerous-minds-20-years-later-the-real-life-louanne-johnson-screenwriter-ron-bass-on-why-the-film-doesnt-quite-work-video.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>white-savior narrative</a> that so frequently rests” at the core of inspirational teacher dramas.</p>
<p>To Harris, one of the movie’s most egregious errors is focusing on teacher Louanne Johnson (<strong>Michelle Pfeiffer</strong>) being bullied by her students for being white. “By having the students exert prejudice upon their teacher rather than make any explicit mention of how the education system overwhelmingly fails black and Latino students in turn, the students are largely responsible for their own failures,” Harris writes.</p>
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<div class=”number”>6</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-238990″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/AAAABQgHpvvve68sFFfTsO1Vzip48ezdtB8aKYYrmrbpHRqvMWV6Rj2SpX2q8opg5sq2gY2Ol2B6hCRPxslYu9ksHVDzcoNy.jpg?resize=1200%2C675&ssl=1″ alt=”still from ace ventura when nature calls” width=”1200″ height=”675″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p>While some called 1994’s <em>Ace Ventura: Pet Detective</em> offensive, the 1995 sequel, <em>Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls</em>, drew even more ire for its broad, stereotypical, and negative portrayal of African culture. The film moves the action to the fictional African country of Nibia, where the titular character is caught in a dispute among (equally fictional) tribes. As a review in the <em>Hartford Courant</em> said at the time the film was released, “The tribes, by the way, are depicted here as warlike, superstitious and essentially stupid. Such patronizing, demeaning, if not also <a href=”https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1995-11-11-9511110055-story.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>racist stereotypes of Africa</a> probably haven’t been seen in Hollywood movies for decades.” And for more things you might not have realized were racist, discover <a href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/common-phrases-racist-origins/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>7 Common Phrases That You Didn’t Know Have Racist Origins</a>.</p>
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<div class=”number”>7</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Bulworth</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-239000″ src=”https://i1.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/bulworth.0.jpg?resize=1200%2C800&ssl=1″ alt=”warren beatty in bulworth” width=”1200″ height=”800″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p><em>Bulworth</em> is another film expressly about racism: <strong>Warren Beatty</strong> stars as a senator who decides to start speaking freely about his views, including those on race relations. Though much of the 1998 film is intended as satire, some believe it ultimately does more harm than good. Complex included <em>Bulworth</em> on their list of the 50 <a href=”https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/05/the-50-most-racist-movies/bulworth” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>most racist movies</a>, calling it “the most embarrassing and racially insensitive two hours ever committed to celluloid.” And in a piece for <em>The Baltimore Sun </em>at the time the movie was released, <strong>Peter W. Bardaglio</strong> wrote, “<em>Bulworth</em> reinforces rather than undercuts certain <a href=”https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1998-06-14-1998165037-story.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>racial stereotypes</a> about white men and black women.”</p>
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<div class=”number”>8</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Jungle 2 Jungle</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-238983″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/B004L924ZU_Jungle2Jungle_UXDY1._SX1080_.jpg?resize=1080%2C743&ssl=1″ alt=”still from jungle 2 jungle” width=”1080″ height=”743″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p>With a title like <em>Jungle 2 Jungle</em>, perhaps it’s no surprise that this 1997 film is not particularly respectful of indigenous cultures. Michael Cromwell (<strong>Tim Allen</strong>) learns he has a long-lost son, Mimi-Siku (<strong>Sam Huntington</strong>), who has been raised among a tribe in Venezuela. In a 2016 article for ATTN:, <strong>Almie Rose</strong> notes that <em>Jungle 2 Jungle</em> “peddles heavily in <a href=”https://archive.attn.com/stories/7393/childhood-movies-that-are-racist” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>insensitive stereotypes</a> about natives being clueless savages who do things like eat pet fish straight from the fish tank and always walk around barefoot in war paint.”</p>
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<div class=”number”>9</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Billy Madison</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-239002″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/billy-madison-still-01.jpg?resize=758%2C426&ssl=1″ alt=”still from billy madison” width=”758″ height=”426″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p><strong>Adam Sandler</strong> is no stranger to <a href=”https://variety.com/2015/film/news/adam-sandler-ridiculous-six-native-american-actors-walk-off-set-1201478694/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>racial controversy</a>, so it’s probably no surprise that his early films are not immune either. In 1995’s <em>Billy Madison</em>, the character of Billy’s maid Juanita (<strong>Theresa Merritt</strong>) has been criticized for playing into the <a href=”https://goodmenproject.com/arts/5-adam-sandler-movies-way-racist-remember-hesaid/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>racist “mammy” stereotype</a>. As <strong>Ellen E. Jones</strong> explains in a 2019 BBC article about the <a href=”https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20190530-rom-mammy-to-ma-hollywoods-favourite-racist-stereotype” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>history of the stereotype</a>, “Traditionally depicted as a dark-skinned, overweight woman, wearing a headwrap and shawl, the mammy is employed by a white family to care for their children and is utterly devoted to her charges.”</p>
<p>Juanita also makes frequent sexual advances toward Billy. In Collider’s list of problematic movies, <strong>Greg Smith</strong> says that “the character comes dangerously close to <a href=”https://collider.com/galleries/30-problematic-classic-movies/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>harmful stereotypes</a> about the oversexualization of black women, particularly in jobs like ‘being a maid to annoying, wealthy white people.'”</p>
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<div class=”number”>10</div>
<div class=”title”><em>The Siege</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-239003″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/526684214.jpg?resize=852%2C480&ssl=1″ alt=”still from the siege” width=”852″ height=”480″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p><em>The Siege</em>, which focuses on a fictional terrorist attack, was controversial immediately upon its 1998 release. <strong>Hussein Ibish</strong> of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee called the movie “extremely offensive. It’s beyond offensive. We’re used to offensive, that’s become a daily thing. This is <a href=”https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/popcult/handouts/demoniz/TERR05.htm” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>actually dangerous</a>.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement, “In this film, the Muslims have total disregard for human life.”</p>
<p>There were even protests outside theaters playing <em>The Siege</em>. An article from the <em>Deseret News</em> at the time mentions protestors waving signs reading “<a href=”https://www.deseret.com/1998/11/8/19410998/the-siege-is-under-siege-as-racist” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Hollywood Racism</a> Is Terrorism” and “Don’t Pay for Racist Movies.” And for more up-to-date information, <a href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/newsletters/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>sign up for our daily newsletter</a>.</p>
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<div class=”number”>11</div>
<div class=”title”><em>Krippendorf’s Tribe</em></div>
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<p><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-238988″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/krippendorf.jpg?resize=1200%2C614&ssl=1″ alt=”still from krippendorf’s tribe” width=”1200″ height=”614″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></p>
<p><strong>Kevin Thomas'</strong> <a href=”https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1998-feb-27-ca-23421-story.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>review of <em>Krippendorf’s Tribe</em></a> in the<em> Los Angeles Times</em> begins with the line, “If you thought that blackface went out with <strong>Al Jolson</strong>, you’re wrong.” The 1998 film, in which <strong>Richard Dreyfuss</strong> plays an anthropologist who concocts a fictional African tribe, does indeed include multiple actors in blackface, while they pretend to be members of the tribe. As Thomas continues, “<em>Krippendorf’s Tribe</em> revives all those old demeaning racist stereotypes in the most horrible ways.”</p>

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