Political Correctness in American Pop Culture

In general, political correctness is a pretty touchy area in modern-day America. I will agree that a line of acceptability versus offensiveness is good. But when does political correctness go too far?

Let’s start with Birth of a Nation (1915). I’ll admit, I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s basically about what a wonderful job the Ku Klux Klan are doing at keeping the former slaves from taking over the south. It is quite likely the most politically incorrect movie ever made…except there was no concept of political correctness then. President Woodrow Wilson was a hardcore racist, and he thought the only sad part of Birth of a Nation was the fact that it was all true.

A very recent example of political incorrectness was found in the Indian film Fashion (2008). Long story short, it’s the tale of a woman who enters the world of fashion modeling, and then embarks on a self-destructive journey of sex, drugs, and fashion. In the following scene (2 and a half minutes into the Youtube video), the main character goes to a club, gets totally high, dances with a black man, and then wakes up the next day and discovers (to her horror) that she had sex with him.

The way the camera treated this character was that because he was black, the main character had her, “Damn, I really f***ed up this time” moment and that’s what inspired her to try to redeem herself. I didn’t see much of this movie, but I do know it is full of negative depictions of other groups like Muslims and homosexuals.

Quite frankly, I thought it was one of the most disgusting scenes I have seen in a movie. But then I realized I was watching it through the lens of someone raised in America with modern American values. The reality is that our concept of political correctness simply doesn’t exist in other parts of the world like India. In India, a kiss scene won’t survive the film censors, but rampant bigotry will.

So thanks to our concept of political correctness, movies like Fashion don’t get made. However, I feel there are times when political correctness goes too far.

The last movie I saw was Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (2009). It was a movie that was nominated for several Oscars, winning two of them. If you want me to be perfectly honest, it was seeing how The Help was nominated for several categories in the Golden Globes the other night that prompted my seeing Precious.

Basically, I discovered Precious was nowhere near as wonderful as the Academy clearly appeared to think it was in 2010, and definitely not the amazing masterpiece that co-producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry tried to pitch the movie to be. I do agree it raised important social issues about the plight of minorities in America. However, that doesn’t automatically make it a good movie, with its bad pacing and clumsy direction from Lee Daniels.

On the other hand, you have Gran Torino (2008). Gran Torino was about Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), and how he learned to let go of his conservative views (read: racism) to save his Hmong neighbors from gangsters.

Gran Torino is actually one of my all time favorite movies. It doesn’t raise exactly the same issues as Precious, but it is still about the problems minorities (in this case, immigrants) face in America. Alas, Gran Torino was largely ignored both by the Academy and by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association; all it got was a Golden Globe nomination for “Best Original Song”.

I am aware America has an ugly history of slavery and how civil rights was a completely post-World War II concept. When push comes to shove, however, I feel like that doesn’t give organizations like the Academy or the HFPA the right to simply hand out merits because they deal with things like civil rights for very specific groups in America. The Academy and HFPA should be nominating movies for “Best Picture” for exactly one reason: for being good movies, which Precious was not by any stretch of the imagination.