OPINION: These movies aged like cottage cheese left out in the sun.
Being a Gen X-er/elder millennial all but demands that we scrutinize the media from our formative years.
Unlike our Baby Boomer parents, who don’t really care as much about evolving social propriety, we tend to have an almost visceral response to the stuff we enjoyed in the 1980s and 1990s that didn’t age well. Presumably, it’s happened to us all: We watch the digital version of a film we used to wear out on VHS, or we stream a jam we used to own on cassette, only to clutch our teeth and let out an “Eeeeeeee.”
Below are several of those films that elicit such a response. In some cases, it’s one scene or plotline; in one case, you can just throw the entire film away. Note that this list is far from exhaustive and doesn’t include films in which the offensiveness is intended. (see: Blazing Saddles)
Purple Rain (1984)
My favorite terrible movie of all time. I’ve seen Purple Rain more times than I can count over the last 38 years since my mama’s massive Prince fandom circumvented any concerns about her kid watching R-rated content.
But it was as an adult that I realized no one involved in the making of this film gave even a tincture of a damn about women. From The Kid’s interminable petulance (and ultimate violence) toward Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero) to tricking her into jumping topless in “Lake Minnetonka” to the marginalization of Wendy (Wendy Melvoin) and Lisa (Lisa Coleman) until it benefited The Kid, Albert Magnoli’s musical drama is steeped in Olympic-level misogyny.
The worst scene, however, is when Morris (Morris Day) is confronted with one of his “sexies,” whom Jerome (Jerome Benton) picks up and tosses in a dumpster. Twitter would be on fire if, say, Bruno Mars made a movie pulling this s— in 2022.
The Best Man (1999)
Perhaps not as egregious as the other films on this list, but The Best Man delves into the Madonna-whore complex and what constitutes a “good” man, and, I think, inadvertently hoists up outmoded ideas.
The core conflict lies in a semi-fictional book that Harper (Taye Diggs) wrote based on his quartet of homies. Professional athlete and recovering man-whore Lance (Morris Chestnut) learns just before the wedding that fiancé Mia (Monica Calhoun) smashed Harper back in college while he was cheating on her left, right and sideways and is ready to blow the whole wedding to pieces over it. Because God forbid a woman demonstrates some sexual agency before she hangs it up.
Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) is a one-note shrew of a girlfriend, and while the first film did well with Candy, the stripper with a heart of gold (Regina Hall) linking with the pusillanimous “good guy” Murch (Harold Perrineau), they throw the goodwill of that plotline out the window in the sequel, The Best Man Holiday, when Murch jeopardizes their marriage after receiving a video of Candy living her best sexual life before they met. Meanwhile, the capricious “bad guy” Quentin (Terrence Howard) is the only character living out their truth in either film.
The Best Man isn’t exactly unrealistic in its core depictions, but the original would light up social media if it were released in 2022.
Love Jones (1997)
Perhaps the most divisive film on this list (read: you might get cut amid debates), the entirety of Love Jones isn’t terribly problematic, and I appreciate the way it handles the complicated nuances of marriage via Isaiah Washington’s character.
Love Jones (Photo: New Line Cinema)
But one sequence is a no-go: Larenz Tate’s Darius Lovehall shows up at the house of Nina Mosley (Nia Long) only because he jacked Nina’s address from a check she writes at the record store. And Darius’ girl, Sheila (Bernadette L. Clarke), who works at the record store, allows it.
The film presents it as a noble whatever-it-takes romantic gesture. But it screams “stalker,” and the 2022 version of Nina would’ve likely tased Darius in the nuts and called the cops.
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)
Both of Jim Carrey’s star-making Ace Ventura films wouldn’t fly in the Age of Twitter—the first movie is rife with homophobia. But the sequel features a plotline involving a fictional indigenous African tribe whose customs are played for laughs in contrast to Ace’s western sensibilities. Any African stereotype you’d imagine white Westerners harbor is probably in the film.
Tommy Davidson portrays tribe member “Tiny Warrior,” speaking no actual words in lieu of animal noises meant to portray him as less human, more rabid rodent. That the film has the distinction of being America’s first exposure to the lovely Sophie Okonedo doesn’t absolve it of its sins.
Soul Man (1986)
The apotheosis of obsolete filmmaking, the most offensive thing about this film isn’t the fact that the protagonist Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) complains about tuition and fees at Harvard Law School totaling just over $10,000 (which will probably buy you one textbook and a sandwich in 2022).
It’s that the entire conceit of the film involves a white man exploiting affirmative-action scholarship benefits by enrolling in and attending the school in blackface. Considering we’ve had a blackface reckoning in recent years that even caught up the beloved prime minister of Canada and that we’re forced to have the same god—m conversation with white folks every Halloween, Soul Man wouldn’t have made it past a first script draft in 2022.
Apparently, the film was even controversial when it dropped in the mid-1980s. But social media was decades away from being a thing, so it wasn’t around to prevent Soul Man from becoming a commercial success.
BONUS: Every black film that exploited LGBTQ+ people
It would probably blow the mind of your average 20-year-old to see how reckless Hollywood was with the LGBTQ+ community a couple of decades ago. Film and television were full of either latent or blatant examples of rank homophobia.
A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994) featured Wayman (Corwin Hawkins), a gay Black man who existed only to be demeaned by Keenan Ivory Wayans’ Shame. The entire talky twist of The Crying Game (1992) involves the “reveal” of the deceitful trans woman.
Also, figure every film and television show involving a dude dressing up as a large, “unattractive” Black woman is predicated on some degree of transphobia. I’m looking at you, Wanda and Sheneneh.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him.
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