Let’s start with one of my guiltiest pleasures, Black Hawk Down, because – like multi-storey car park crime – it’s wrong on so many levels. It’s directed by Ridley Scott, for a start. What has Ridley Scott contributed towards the happiness of man? I mean, apart from Alien and Blade Runner? And the gladiator bits in Gladiator? Apart from that, what has he contributed?Black Hawk Down recounts the famous episode in 1993 when US Delta Force and Army Rangers tried to abduct the Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and the shit hit the helicopter blades bigtime. The film makes no effort whatsoever to humanise the Somalians, or explain their (self-defensive) actions. They are just faceless black people, there to be killed, in their hundreds. But at least you get to see all the American soldiers being killed as well, which makes it kinda worthwhile.
I first saw this film on magic mushrooms, at Redwood Lodge Country Club, on the outskirts of Bristol, around 1979 or ’80. That was a strange evening, and not just because of the film. On the plus side, it has Brad Davis, and John Hurt doing a great turn as the world-weary junkie Max, and Randy Quaid wheeling out his big dumbass country hick act (see also The Last Picture Show, The Last Detail, The Long Riders). There’s Mike Kellin as drug smuggler Billy Hayes’ dad, chewing the furniture spectacularly in his one or two scenes, and Bo Hopkins of Wild Bunch fame as the CIA agent Tex, who recaptures Billy when the latter makes a run for it in the backstreets of Istanbul. Verily it is a roll call of great ’70s actors from both sides of the pond, and for that reason I’d normally give it a massive double thumbs-up. Alas, it is also one of the most racist films ever made, with nary a good Turk in sight. Fair enough, you might say – perhaps all the Turks Billy Hayes met in prison WERE horrible to him. But a quick glance at the book which Hayes wrote about his experiences, the book on which the film is based, suggests otherwise. In real life Billy had relatively little to complain about, didn’t hate Turks, embarked on a loving sexual relationship with a fellow prisoner, and escaped not by donning the uniform of the head guard he had just killed but by bribing his way out. None of that makes it into the film, or only in the perverted, crowd-pleasing, truth-twisting manner one has come to expect from director Alan Parker and producer David Puttnam (at least Oliver Stone, who wrote the screenplay, has proffered a suitably grovelling apology, which is more than can be said about the others).
Aside from being the most overrated script/film of all time, Chinatown is also quite racist. What is it with the constant references to Chinatown? Why, at the end, does Nicholson’s partner say “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown…”, as if that explains everything? Do they do things differently in Chinatown? They don’t have feelings? When you cut them, they don’t bleed? Oh yeah, I forgot, they eat weird shit like sheep’s eyes and monkey brains and panda cock. At least The Deer Hunter has the courage to call a gook a gook. Is The Deer Hunter a racist film? In the sense that the only Vietnamese are either making Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken play Russian roulette, or, later, when Walken takes up Russian roulette for a living, betting on the same, yes. But I still prefer it to Chinatown.
Like most racist films, Gandhi doesn’t MEAN to be racist. It’s just they couldn’t find an Indian actor to play Gandhi. There’s only a billion of them, after all, and it’s not like India has a film industry to speak of, so where are they going to cut their thespian teeth? Hence we get Ben Kingsley as Gandhi and then, because Ben Kingsley is Gandhi for ever after, we get Gandhi as the sociopathic Don in Sexy Beast, offering to put his cigarette out on the air stewardess’s eyeball and saying ‘cunt’ a lot. Hang on, though – Gandhi didn’t smoke, and I’m pretty sure he never said ‘cunt’ either. Racists.
This was the second film directed by Richard Lester and starring the Beatles, or Be-Atles, as buffoonish, blacked-up ‘Indian priest’ Leo McKern has it. As a kid, I loved this film, and now my daughter does too, despite my protests, which involve standing in front of the TV screen with a placard on which I have written the words “This film is racist and if you watch it I won’t cook your dinner.” This is a lot of information for a twelve-year-old girl to take in, admittedly, and the text is quite small. Perhaps she needs glasses. Or perhaps she sees beyond the of-its-time racism to the good things in Help: the musical interludes, the four terraced houses knocked into one, the scene where the Mop Tops get shrunk. Plus Ringo, for once, gets to take centre stage, having come by a large diamond ring, which just happens to play a vital part in the human sacrifices of the Kali-worshipping cult that McKern and his sidekick Eleanor Bron belong to. Throw in a power-mad scientist (Victor Spinetti) who also wants the ring, and much comic mayhem ensues. But it IS racist.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
As with the Turks in Midnight Express (see above) there isn’t a single good Indian in Temple of Doom, unless you count the stupid ones who are under the spell of the Thugee cult and its bloodthirsty priest, and who need a white man to come along and save them, just as those black people down in Mississippi Burning needed the white people like Alan Parker to help THEM. Not only do these Indians rip people’s hearts out, but their maharajahs eat monkey brains and snake soup (and I thought they were vegetarians). Gandhi pops up at one point (played by Ben Kingsley, misguidedly reprising his career-defining role) and bites a baby’s head off. OK, so I made that bit up, but there is an annoying Chinese kid (Short Round) who can’t speak English properly, and the entire plot is ripped off of Help. Forget it, Jake, it’s just the Temple of Doom….
An imaginary, rather than real, film. Ben Kingsley plays a coldly fanatical, loincloth-wearing Hindu priest who leads a gang of Asians in an audacious raid on the Tower of London to ‘liberate’ the Koh-I-Noor diamond and return it to its rightful home (India). Every possible stereotype is employed in a film that goes beyond simple Temple of Doom racism to become an auto-critique, like the criminally-underrated Mandingo and its sequel Drum, in which the slaves rise up and kill everyone, even Warren Oates. The more I write about this imaginary film, the more I think it could work as an Asian heist movie, which is something no-one, to my knowledge, has done. So perhaps I’ll take it off the list of Most Racist Films Ever, since it hasn’t even been made.
Manson: The Musical
Another imaginary film. Nor is it technically ‘racist’, any more than other films ‘about’ racism, such as Mandingo, White Dog or The Klansman are racist. White liberals always get their knickers in a twist over scenes which are merely DEPICTING racism, because they feel uncomfortable when they have a mirror held to their faces and are confronted by their own prejudices (not me, I’m above that). It’s true that the climactic scenes of Manson The Musical, in which Charles Manson (played in my imagination by Vincent Gallo, or Willem Dafoe, or possibly Steve Carell) has a vision of dozens of dune buggies sweeping down from the desert and racing through the streets of LA, machine-gunning every black person in sight, are deeply disturbing. But no more so than the songs in Annie, or the presence of Gandhi in Schindler’s List.
Do I need to spell it out? Darth Vader is BLACK. Luke Skywanker and Princess Leia are WHITE. Nuff said. It’s Birth of a Nation without the ironic distance. Birth of the George Lucas Nation, and its millions of zombie followers. Everything that is evil in modern cinema can be traced back to this film.
The trouble with Africans, according to Zulu, is that they can’t win a rumble unless they have overwhelming odds in their favour, and even then it only takes a handful of plucky Brits to see them off. Like Black Hawk Down, Zulu is based on historical ‘fact’ (the famous Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879) so that makes it alright then. And when all those beautiful, semi-naked, black bodies have been shot and bayoneted to death, the surviving 10,000 Zulu warriors acknowledge the courage of the 19 British soldiers and walk away, to fight another day. Stupid Zulu warriors. If only they’d kept going, they’d have killed Michael Caine (in his first film) and spared us all those dreadful films he made after Get Carter.
Dai the Llama’s verdict: Perhaps someone should tell my master Plankton that Ben Kingsley IS actually Indian, or at least part “Indian”, in the sense that his Kenyan father was of Gujarati descent, and that Ben’s birth name is Krishna Pandit Bhanji. He probably doesn’t now that Cliff Richard, Freddie Mercury and Kapil Dev are/were all Indian as well. Not only that, but most so-called “Indian” restaurants are actually owned and run by Bangladeshi families. Strike him down with an onion bhaji and take Gandhi off that list. You can include Aguirre Wrath of God instead. What do the llamas get to do in Aguirre Wrath of God except carry all the food and weapons for the Conquistadors? Why no speaking parts? I could have played Aguirre. “I will write history the way others write plays. I am Dai, the Wrath of God.” See? Simples.
A longer version of this article appears in 68½ – MOVIES, MANSON & ME (Plankton Produktions, 2016)