It’s time to acknowledge the existence of prejudice in film history

Media is my comfort food. My dad introduced me to his favorite television shows as soon as I was old enough to understand them. I grew up on movies like Stardust, Stargate, Superman and Spider-Man. Since I’m going to college for screenwriting soon, I may finally have the opportunity to make television shows that the next generation will consume. That being said, I do not want to make series like those I grew up on.

Take for example the Stargate franchise. Stargate SG-1, a television show based off of the aforementioned movie Stargate, follows an American military group who combat an alien race enslaving humans across the galaxy. I love Stargate to the moon and back, but not acknowledging its colonialist themes would be ignorance. On top of the colonialism, the franchise doesn’t have a great deal of representation. It has few people of color, and the main black character, Teal’c, isn’t even human: he’s an alien from an enslaved race, contributing to the dehumanization of nonwhite characters.

The lack of representation in older media isn’t an outlier: it’s an epidemic. Labyrinth doesn’t have a person of color in sight, and the character Hobble is based on a Jewish stereotype. The Indiana Jones series features caricatures of native peoples, and its main character blatantly steals artifacts from other cultures. Animation is also suspect, with Lady and the Tramp drawing upon negative Asian stereotypes to create the Siamese cats, and Peter Pan depicts “savage” Native Americans.

What does this mean for the history of cinema? Should we simply stop watching old media, instead upholding modern-day classics?

Promoting modern media with appropriate representation is definitely a step in the right direction, but completely ignoring older movies would be a mistake. Despite their faults, enjoying these movies is not a sin. However, holding these movies to be faultless is. The time period in which media was made in is not excuse: society must hold the creators accountable for their prejudices. In ignoring their faults, viewers repeat the mistakes that resulted in these faults in the first place. Viewers must consider the entire movie, not just its merits.

Knowing the history of underrepresentation and the damaging tropes of the past allows creators to avoid the same mistakes in the future.