To the editors:
For the second week in a row, we’ve been treated to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s hysteria about the damage “political correctness” is doing to the movies [“Beautiful and Barbaric,” June 11]. Apparently it’s been a tough summer for white boys.
If I understand Mr. Rosenbaum’s use of the term, “political correctness” means “the belief that some care should be taken in portrayals of women and minorities, and that service–or at least lip service–should be paid to their concerns.”
If political correctness of this sort were really such a huge problem in American movies, they probably wouldn’t be quite so filled with portraits of women as prostitutes and maniacs (e.g., Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Pretty Woman, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Indecent Proposal).
Similarly, the problem with movie portrayals of black people is hardly that they’re excessively evenhanded. Typically, Mr. Rosenbaum misses the point by complaining about the “political correctness” of having both black and white villains in Cliffhanger. Cliffhanger’s real offense is not political correctness but old-fashioned stereotyping: the African American man as sexually rapacious animal. The white villains are in it for the money, but the filmmaker seems to regard his black villain as being of a lower order, giving him the obligatory threatening lines about what he will do to the “bitch” (a white woman, of course) as soon as Stallone is out of the way.
Could Mr. Rosenbaum please waste a little less time worrying about the damaging impact of those who suggest we treat one another with respect, and a little more considering the impact of a movie business which treats so many of us with contempt?
Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:
I never meant to imply that movie portrayals of black people are “excessively evenhanded”; in fact, I can’t see how evenhandedness toward anyone could ever be excessive. Nor did I ever say what Kelly Kleiman puts in quotation marks as my definition of political correctness. This definition implies that the concerns of women and minorities are self-evident, finite, and universally shared. If that were true, women everywhere would be contemptuous of Fatal Attraction and Pretty Woman, when in fact I’m sorry to say that some women have stood up in defense of both.
I agree wholeheartedly that we should treat one another with respect. The grotesque contortions in recent movies that I’m complaining about only point to hypocritical gestures in response to perceived pressures, not respect of any kind.