General Question

rockfan's avatar

Does outdated and offensive language in old movies ever entirely ruin the experience for you?

Asked by rockfan (13428points) January 2nd, 2021 from iPhone

I try to watch old movies with the expectation that there’s going to be outdated language and attitudes in them, however, I just watched the classic western comedy “Destry Rides Again” starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, and while I enjoyed most of it, the use of the N word in the last couple minutes ruined the film for me.

What do you think?

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28 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

It would ruin the movie for me too.

I watched “That’s Entertainment”, the retrospective on all the MGM classic musicals that came out in 1972. In ‘72, minstrelsy and blackface were still “okay”, especially looking at old movies. It was jarring to watch in 2021.

janbb's avatar

@zenvelo I noticed that too in the film. Quite shocking.

To answer the question, it depends how egregious the offending language or actions are. I watched Gunga Din and was very put off by the casual racism. In some films, I can accept some sexism as being from that time but sometimes it is too glaringly offensive.

JLeslie's avatar

It would probably ruin it for me too. It would depend on the setting and the plot. If it’s truly pertinent to the theme in historical terms for the movie I’d be ok with it, because I’ve basically agreed to the difficult topic when I decided to watch it. If it’s slang being thrown around and not really relevant to the story it would bother me a lot, and I might ditch watching the movie.

I hate name calling and I hate watching people being treated badly, it’s very hard for me. At the same time, I’ve become very interested in Black history, so the last ten years or so I have watched a lot of the more recent movies that have come out. Not exactly what you are talking about, but still has it’s moments. Movies like The Green Book,12 Years a Slave, Hidden Figures, Marshall, Selma, many more. All good.

Some words have changed over time and that might not be as bad. Words that now are considered a slur or derogatory, but previously were acceptable. Calling someone East Asian, Oriental, for instance.

Caravanfan's avatar

Generally not. Movies are a product of their times. And I am rewatching “The Wire” and it is filled with the N word

SergeantQueen's avatar

No. As said above they are products of their times. I appreciate it for what it is. Those things were acceptable but now they aren’t. I cannot think of an example right now, but I am sure 50–100 years from now, some movies produced in the years 2000–2020 may be seen as offensive and we just don’t think that way now.

rockfan's avatar


Context matters. The n word in The Wire isn’t the same thing as an 80 year old movie using it.

Caravanfan's avatar

@rockfan Sure. But I was just answering your question.

LadyMarissa's avatar

Considered a classic in my younger life & a movie that i thoroughly enjoyed, I had the opportunity to watch Blazing Saddles & decided that after ALL the self-isolation that I could use a good laugh so watch it I did!!! I knew that the language was going to be very salty & rationalized that was part of the humor. What I didn’t realize was how much that “I” had changed since the last time that I had watched it!!! This time, I found that some of the funniest lines made me cringe. I had to take my mind back to the days that that crap was funny & it wasn’t exactly a trip that I enjoyed!!!

Did it “ruin” the experience??? NO, but it did leave me feeling kind of empty!!! When I think back to the good old days, I remember it as one of my favorite movies. When I think of today, I thin of it as a movie that I NO longer care to watch; so, into my movie vault of “used to enjoy” movies it goes to probably NEVER be removed & viewed again!!!

stanleybmanly's avatar

I think it’s a good thing to be reminded just how deep the hole is from which we continue to climb. The odds are nearly certain that the people responsible for nearly every aspect of that film were numbered among the leading progressives of their day. It’s a better history lesson than the average lecture on this topic.

JLoon's avatar

No not really.

As others here point out, part of the reason older films and other art forms survive to become classics is that they not only capture a sense of their own times, but touch something universal too.

Does James Brown singing “This Is A Man’s World” offend some sensitivities? Maybe. But the emotional power makes it ring true. Do straight actors like Tom Hanks who portrays a gay character in the movie “Philadelphia”, engage in cultural appropriation? How could he effectively humanize the role any other way?

What really bugs me is the dull-witted political conformity that passes for “woke” intellect, and cheapens & attacks every work of imagination that doesn’t fall in line with their jacked up language and thinking.

Jeezus, did I really just say all that? Not bad for a slut – Huh?

Patty_Melt's avatar

I’m in the consider the times crowd.
If we watched a movie about neanderthal people, we would not expect to see blue jeans, or coffee makers.

Mostly I appreciate them, because watching makes me appreciate ways we have matured.
Actually, thinking back, I remember seeing women get slapped by a man sometimes, and usually, it is some bitch who has it coming. I find myself thinking, if she asks for it, don’t disappoint.

ragingloli's avatar

Django Unchained is not that old.

gondwanalon's avatar

There’s a lot of movies shown on Turner Classic Movies that have actors with black-face and use the N-word a lot. I saw one movie with a black man with white-face. Some of it is weird. Some is awesome acting, singing and dancing. Some of it is funny. None of it is offensive to me. They are not just movies. They are the way things use to be.

janbb's avatar

@gondwanalon I’m not trying to argue but I’ve watched TCM a lot this year and haven’t seen one with the “N-word” in it. Maybe there were more in the past or maybe I just haven’t seen those?

LuckyGuy's avatar

When I watch an old movie I just consider the offending dialog and action a part of history. It does not ruin the movie for me even if it is jarring.
I like to watch sci-fi movies from the 1950s. Even there, the dialog contains things that would not be close to acceptable today. For example: the commanding officer telling his female subordinate that the only reason she is on the moon mission is because she weighs 90 pounds and she’d better watch it or he will put her over his knee.

janbb's avatar

@LuckyGuy You’d better watch it or I’ll put you over my knee!

Zaku's avatar

It depends, but I am a fan of many old movies (if fact, most of the movies I like are old now, due to the extreme stupidity level of most recent films I’ve given a chance), and when I have watched some of them in recent years, I have been surprised to see the extreme differences in attitudes etc, and my adjusted lenses since then.

Watched the Dean Martin roast of Sammy Davis Jr. lately? Not that I would have ever enjoyed it or not noticed that it was terrible, but w o w . . . The Revisionist History podcast series has a good one on it. And good ones on several other related topics, such as the history of school integration, and the first black lawyers trying to save falsely accused black people from the courts, and many others.

LuckyGuy's avatar

—Listening for the sound of one flipper swinging in the air.—-

The movie is: Project Moon Base from 1953. The General says that to Colonel Briteis , pronounced “bright eyes”.

stanleybmanly's avatar

knees on a penguin?

janbb's avatar

^^ It’s an amazing world!

Caravanfan's avatar

@ragingloli I love that movie.

filmfann's avatar

Putting a films production date in context is important, so some blatent racist language or actions are understandable. Jolson in blackface in “The Jazz Singer” is important to the plot, and represents attiudes at the time. Harold Lloyd calling to a black janitor named Charcoal makes me wince.
And Birth Of Nation just angers me to no end.

seawulf575's avatar

I think you have to remember what the timeframe of the movie is. For instance, I was watching The Butler the other day and the N word was thrown around quite a bit. But it was how things were at the time reflected in the movie. Growing up at the turn of the 20th century in this country, that word was commonplace. To avoid using it or trying to make it PC by today’s standards is bogus and would detract more from the film than the more realistic language. Imagine watching a remake of Roots and having them say something like “You’re a good house African-American”. It would just lose something in the translation.

gondwanalon's avatar

@janbb I don’t remember when I last saw “Blazing Saddles” or “The Producers” or “Gone with the Wind” on TCM. But they’ve been played there more than just a couple times. Also very recently like a few months ago TCM had a documentary on old movies with actors with black-face (and there were a lot of them). The experts on black history concluded that such movies should be preserved for history and anyone who wants to watch them. Some have truly great acting.

Also TCM played “Watermelon Man” last year. A movie made in 1970 about an extremely bigoted white man that finds out the hard (and supposedly humorous) way what it’s like being a black man, firsthand! Yes the white man was actually a black man with white makeup. I didn’t find it humorous. Just dumb.

janbb's avatar

@gondwanalon Thanks for the specifics. Haven’t seen them there but I’m sure they were.

And I agree that old films should be watched, enjoyed, and discussed in their historical context if warranted.

I don’t know who owns the rights to Gone with the Wind but I believe it was withdrawn by the owners and is now being shown again with an explanatory statement.

Pandora's avatar

Yes, it’s why I hate movies from the 70 and 80 of NYC. I grew up in NYC and in some of those movies, there was so much cussing that it’s obnoxious. Are there people who cuss a lot. Sure, but they would make it seem like everyone and their mama cussed 24/7. I felt the writers were often just being lazy or just purposely trying to make it seem like all city people are horribly ignorant or too stupid and so, unabled to string a sentence together without using cuss words. Even when they were complimenting people. You are f-ing beautiful. Can you come to my f-ing house later so we can f around? We can go to f-ing dinner at a f-ing restaurant before you come to my f-ing house.

JkrbyPlylsts's avatar

Personally no. If a film is good, well acted and written were all set. Sure some films are dated as things thankfully change, but many are a product of the times. One should be able to enjoy a film without picking it apart, unless the facts are wrong. Different strokes.

AK's avatar

There is an old show called – Mind your language. It is a British TV series and it ran for 4 or 5 seasons, back in the 80s. The premise was about an educational institution that specialized in English classes for immigrants. As you would have guessed by now, the class was made up of people from all parts of the world, who tried to learn the language. Of course, the show was full of racial and cultural stereotypes. I watched a re-run of that recently and was left wondering if that show would have even taken off in modern times. I thoroughly enjoyed the re-run, as I did when I first saw it on TV as a kid, back in the 80s. It was and is funny. In modern times, we are sometimes too caught up with semantics and literality of words that are spoken. We forget that the intent of the person is more important than the words.
So no, I don’t find the language in old movies and shows offensive. It was ok for people back then, who am I to question that. If it doesn’t offend them, it doesn’t offend me. I really don’t buy into this argument that the ‘old’ people didn’t know what offensive language was (which is the modern argument). I do not want to discredit those ‘old’ people off that intelligence. They KNEW what it was and they didn’t mind. We of current times should accept that and move on.

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