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No, That Old Movie You Love Probably Wouldn’t Be Made Today. Get Over It.

What is it with my fellow white people and the N-word? Why are so many of us seemingly obsessed with finding any loophole or exceptional circumstance to say that word? Can we not just accept that there are some words too hateful and ugly and loaded with painful history to casually bandy about in polite company, and leave it alone?

Tom Nichols on Twitter: “I’m watching pulp fiction right now and wondering, 28 years later, if you could make this movie today / Twitter”

I’m watching pulp fiction right now and wondering, 28 years later, if you could make this movie today

Oh dear, how awful, what is this world coming to, that Quentin Tarantino probably wouldn’t be able to shoot a scene where he casts himself as a dude who says the N-word multiple times in front of a black man? Truly, we are witnessing the death of artistic freedom! And yes, that’s what he’s complaining about. Read the rest of the Twitter thread from Tom Nichols and you’ll see that he’s not referring to the movie’s violence, or its drug use, or the harrowing sequence involving a brutal rape. No, he’s specifically complaining that today’s so-called cancel culture wouldn’t allow Pulp Fiction’s liberal use of the N-word.

Similar gripes have been made lately about Blazing Saddles and Tropic Thunder as well; that those politically incorrect barnburners could never be made today because woke youngsters all just too sensitive, blah blah blah. No, see, I’m not out-of-touch or oversensitive like my stodgy parents were! I’m ackshually complaining because Kids These Days are the stodgy ones! Yeah, that’s it! They’re too thin-skinned for the cool, bold, boundary-pushing films that were made back in my day!

Miramax Films

Here’s the thing – even if we Thanos-snapped Blazing Saddles, Pulp Fiction, and Tropic Thunder out of existence, and we lived in a world where those movies didn’t exist, they still wouldn’t be made today because 2022 is not 2008 or 1994 or 1974. Those movies wouldn’t have influenced future filmmakers to move past them and up the ante to challenge the next generation of audiences. Since the release of those movies, new artists push the envelope in ways that are different from how Mel Brooks pushed it nearly five decades ago, or Ben Stiller nearly fifteen years ago.

That’s just… how linear time works. New generations aren’t entertained or challenged by the same things their parents were, which is an observation so obvious I feel mildly embarrassed that I have to even say it. We went over something like this not long ago regarding politics, remember? Remember how silly it was for Ryan Murphy to assume Gen Z audiences would continue to be riveted by the sex scandals of a man who was President before they were even born? Pulp Fiction couldn’t be made today because Pulp Fiction was made for the 90’s. Hundreds of movies since have taken inspiration from, paid homage to, and have built something new on top of the foundation it laid.

And malcontents like Nichols intuitively know this, even if they don’t consciously realize it. D. W. Griffith could never have made The Birth of a Nation in the 70’s and 80’s. Stepin Fetchit would have never been a successful screen actor during that time, either. Yet you don’t see Boomers complaining about those examples. Why? Because their generation rejected those during their time, to the chagrin of their parents. So they don’t see or won’t accept that the same cultural growing pains are going on right now.

So yes, no one currently working in Hollywood would be willing to produce a raunchy comedy where the hero literally rapes a woman and portray that as sweet and romantic. Steven Spielberg would not be able to get away with an Indiana Jones movie portraying so many gross racial stereotypes, anymore. Fisher Stevens would never be cast as an Indian character named Ben Jabituya in a family film these days. Modern audiences would not accept the blatantly transphobic jokes of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Naked Gun 33⅓. So what? That’s a good thing!

A24

You know what I’d like to see, just once? For one of these old pundits to publicly say, “Hey, I just watched Moonlight, a bildungsroman about a young black man surviving poverty and coming to grips with his homosexuality, and that movie could never have been made on that scale when I was growing up, much less win the Academy Award for Best Picture. That’s pretty cool!” I see so many complaints about how modern filmmaking doesn’t “allow” for certain movies to be made anymore, but I hardly ever see acknowledgments of the kinds of movies being produced today that wouldn’t have ever been made back then. Pulp Fiction was considered a controversial choice for the Palme d’Or back in its day; what do you think the reaction would have been to last year’s winner of that award?

If anything, this current era of filmmaking is too deferential to the past. We’re seeing too many films that are just reskinned versions of old ones instead of moving on. We shouldn’t be having debates over whether or not Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is progressive enough in its depictions of dwarfism, because of course it isn’t. That should just go without saying. It was released during the Great Depression! I’m happy for Rachel Zegler and I hope she got a lot of money for signing on to the part, but perhaps we shouldn’t try to retrofit progressivism and diversity onto the template of a decades-old movie that was exclusively written, produced, and marketed to white people who have all since passed away? One of the main reasons why Walt Disney chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as his company’s first feature-length animated movie was because he was worried audiences wouldn’t “buy-in” to more lifelike rotoscoped animated characters, so he figured more fantastical-looking dwarf characters taking up a big portion of the runtime alongside the heroine would be a convenient hedge on that front. This is a technological limitation that doesn’t and has not been a problem for a very long time. So why continue to operate as though it does? Why spend millions to CGI a young Uncanny Valley Luke Skywalker in a supposedly vast galaxy full of potentially new stories and adventures? Why remake Disney princess movies with awkwardly-inserted scenes of how take-charge and hashtag girlbossy they are but still have them go through the same story motions as they did in animated movies where they had, at best, limited agency?

See what I mean about certain movies that can’t be made today for good reasons?

Oh, and just to get this out of the way: Tarantino casting himself as Jimmie going on that N-word-filled rant was the biggest flaw in that otherwise terrific movie. He’s not a natural actor, and the whole scene comes off as self-indulgent with him delivering those lines. He should have cast Steve Buscemi in the part because he would have sold that character more effectively and would have been less of a distraction. So even if we take out the loaded social/racial context of that scene in hindsight, it’s still a problem.

Wait, one last note! If Blazing Saddles were made today, imagine the collective freakout from aging conservatives in response to this specific scene:

Weird how praise of that movie’s “political incorrectness” always seem to forget about that joke, huh?

Okay, rant over! How did the Academy Award nominations turn out? Please tell me Ruth Negga and Mike Faist made it. 

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Joey Magidson
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7 months ago
Reply to  Robert Hamer

Alas.

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Written by Robert Hamer

Formerly an associate writer for recently-retired Award Circuit, Robert Hamer is a military veteran who now spends his time obsessing over movies and pop politics.

He is returning to film and awards season commentary to return to a sense of normalcy in these plague-ridden times of rising fascism and late-stage capitalist dystopia. Join him, won't you, in these unorthodox attempts at cinematic therapy?

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