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Quequeg was the least racist stereotype I've ever read. He was more real than Ishmael. And the beginning of their love affair/friendship in chapter two or three was one of the greatest Literature Moments I experienced in adolescence.

Shame on your silly colleague.

Kevin Wolf

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for GWTW, I do have to agree that it just wants to tell a big story, while BOAN glorifies the worst of America's racism.

It's a wonder no one approached SONG OF THE SOUTH in this discussion. I haven't seen it in so long I can't speak to it; maybe no one has. Could be it deserves its status as one of movie history's "disappeared."

I do wonder, however, about retrofitting movies that are only partially offensive. I'm thinking of the controversy among film buffs when Disney reissued FANTASIA and, in the centaur scene, removed a black caricature by cropping and looping some frames. It was awkward as hell - really looked bad - but when I looked into the story and saw a picture of what they'd excised - whew! I'd say they had no choice.

I wonder with digital imaging as advanced as it has become today whether more of this editing will happen, only in an almost invisible way. (Like Speilberg's stupid decision to remove guns from scenes in E.T.) As more studios try to exploit their back catalogs, one wonders what no longer acceptable "treasures" they may find.


I agree 100% with your conclusion, and I hope that was clear in my original post, where my GWTW indignation had been stoked by reading too many Southern apologist commentators on IMDB. I am, in fact, a purist and loathe having things painted over, clipped, altered or withdrawn altogether to aid modern sensibilities. I'd argue that when Disney removed the black centaur, it actually whitewashed its own past and in so doing, lied to the audience by making the studio and the film's creators seem better than they were. Bowdler lives! I argued the same thing when the racist Bugs Bunny cartoon was left off the marathon shown some time ago. And Song of the South shouldn't be left in the vaults, either, though I have no idea whether the movie's stereotypes are mild or appalling.

My reaction to Birth was almost identical to yours, except that the battle sequences were pretty thrilling to me, and it was possible to concentrate more on the astonishing technique than on the movie's politics up through Lincoln's assassination. (In her autobiography, Lillian Gish claims that in 1915 there were almost no black actors in California and very few in the East, hence the blackface. Sounds bogus to me, but I have never checked the assertion.) Still, I would scream bloody murder if it were withdrawn from circulation, and not just for its place in film history. Now it's the movie's themes and attitudes that are "history written in lightning," and not its Civil War setting.

The ludicrous evaluation of Moby Dick by your colleague reminds us that the people across the aisle aren't the only ones who let their ideology blind them to all merit.

Exiled in NJ

Seems like history is always trying to pull us back. Films released to theaters or on DVD just after 9-11 made conscious efforts to cut views of the Twin Towers, but older films never had this erasure, so that a throat-grabbing moment can pop up unexpectedly.

Fantasia? I always knew the crows in Dumbo were these jive talking Blacks from some city, but reanimating it to have pigeons play the role would be ridiculous.

The thought comes to mind that some day I shall watch His Girl Friday and reach a point where Grant's voice is beeped over so that we don't disparage the memories of Hawks, Hecht and company. Those familiar will well know the line I mean.

While we are in this part of the forest, what of Leni Riefenstahl? Do we bury Triumph of the Will? Olympia?

Rosie Powell

["But maybe that's what Steve Gilliard means by the racism in Birth of a Nation being upfront and that's why the movie's less despicable than GWTW."]

I don't share his feelings. Both movies are racist, but there is a vindictiveness to "Birth of a Nation" that truly makes me angry. "GWTW" simply annoys and exasperates me.

Rosie Powell

["In her autobiography, Lillian Gish claims that in 1915 there were almost no black actors in California and very few in the East, hence the blackface. Sounds bogus to me, but I have never checked the assertion.)"]

She is right. The Hollywood studios did not hire black actors and actresses for African-American roles during the silent era. They usually hired white performers. The advent of sound made the studio bosses realize that white performers could not portray black roles effectively, with the addition of dialogue; and began hiring black performers.

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