Opinion: Film stereotypes more harmful than we think

Anushka Mukherjee | Staff Writer

Peter Pan has always been one of my favorite movies growing up. When I was a kid I longed to go to Neverland. But as I sit here now and watch, I am horrified by what I see: The caricatures of Native Americans leave me dumbfounded. The way the other characters, like Peter, interact with them is appalling. Especially the song “What Made The Red Man Red,” and for the way white characters appropriate headdresses and apparel. Even the dialect and husky tone of the natives in the movie was offensive. 

Originally, at least in Peter and Wendy, J.M. Barrie calls the tribe the “Piccaninny Indians.” What’s alarming is that in a place like Neverland, a place run by savages, it’s the Natives that are portrayed as being the most immoral. Because Barrie had written the story in the early 1900s, people didn’t criticize the racism because they considered it harmless and unimportant as the story itself was well written. 

But does that excuse the racist behavior that is shown in the film? 

If such stereotypes of people of color go unchecked, then it’s understandable why racism is so strong in a country like America. As an audience, we resist questioning them. It seems that we value our childhood memories more than respect for an entire culture. It may seem minor and harmless, but once you consider the facts and the reality of the lives of these people, it’s alarming and uncalled for. But it’s not just Native Americans who fall prey to this racist culture. Take The Blind Side, for instance, a movie that was meant to depict the life of Michael Oher and his athletic journey. Instead of faithfully portraying this, the writers compromise the authenticity of Oher’s story by glossing over many of his struggles. Racism plays a major role in how Oher struggled throughout his life, but the film glosses over the idea and thus preserves the face of white Americans. Despite Oher’s hard work, the movie credited it all to his white mother. The need to idolize the white savior drives filmmakers to sacrifice true storytelling for the sake of the expected narrative 

African Americans, Native Americans, and basically any other minority race are nothing more than a puppet in the industry. Their purpose is to simply prove that the main characters – who are no doubt white – are the true heroes. Minorities have suffered and continue to suffer for the sake of ‘good narratives,’ ‘character development,’ etc. and ignoring such instances won’t make your child any less racist — the racism is still reinforced when you choose to stay quiet about it. Neverland is a place where the kids never mature, but that doesn’t mean we teach our kids to follow in the footsteps of Peter and the Lost Boys. 

Sadly, these atrocities are becoming more of a reality than we would like to believe. And the more we let these racial discriminations pass, the more creative they get. Maybe next time there’ll be a movie about a black man who is out exercising and is hunted down and shot by two white men – a father and a son perhaps. And maybe the justice system will take their sweet old time to prosecute the murderers. Oh but it’s all okay because at least the nation is applauding the makers for creating such a heartbreaking piece of fiction. 

In America, African Americans have probably suffered the most because for them what they see onscreen isn’t limited to their screens. It has become their reality.