As John Q's exploration of movies from the 1980s which deserve the Fahrenheit 451 treatment was so popular, we locked him in a dark room with a Netflix account and his weekly allowance of absinthe until he made another glorious slice of borderline-illegal viral content. The kids love lists, and we need the clicks! Thanks John, hope your time in rehab goes well. Here are 10 movies from the 90's that would never be made in our modern, progressive utopia.
10. The Lion King (1994)
As an allegory for mass Third World immigration and the consequent environmental degradation, cultural subversion, tyrannical Marxism, and ultimately population replacement, the film hits way too close to home. It also reinforces gender expectations via the patriarchal right of succession and is, in its portrayal of both the hyenas and Rafiki the mandrill, undoubtedly racist. Despite the setting in Africa, the source material is Shakespearean, and as a Dead White Male, this is strictly forbidden. What, Alice Walker isn’t good enough for you bigots?
9. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
An all-(white) male ensemble cast? Oh honey, you’re dreaming! Not today, not ever again (unless it’s gay porn, to borrow the joke from Zack and Miri). As an added “bonus,” the film is decidedly anti-egalitarian in orientation, and is replete with a number of homophobic slurs. Deeply troubling stuff, here, folks.
8. Man of the House (1995)
Easily one of the most culturally appropriative scenes of all time takes place about mid-way through the film in the Boy Scouts-equivalent meeting where the entirely white (possibly minus one ethnically-ambiguous pair) male cast is wearing all manner of headdresses and war paint imitating Amerindians. To add insult to injury, the father-son duos are in a circle and are practicing a kind of “Native American” initiation rite by way of introduction, called the “Naming Ceremony.” I want to unpack how problematic this scene is further, but “I can’t even.”
7. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
The entire premise of the film is built on the decision of a man so desperate to spend time with his children that he enlists his fabulous brother to turn him into a nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire. The problem is that the humor of the film derives almost exclusively from Robin Williams’s gender-bending and the absurdity of it all, thus, the humor must come at the expense of the Other; Williams’s character’s son completely freaks out after seeing Doubtfire/his dad urinating while standing: “He’s a she, she’s a he, she’s a he-she!” The children quickly turn against Doubtfire. Not very open-minded if you ask me. As Nico Lang wrote for The Daily Dot:
If Mrs. Doubtfire’s casual transphobia is a product of its era, so is its comedy… Mrs. Doubtfire also debuted the exact same month as The Crying Game, another AMPAS favorite that relied on the inherent titillation of transgender bodies…A culture that continues to laugh at “men in dresses” will continue to invalidate the struggles that actual transgender people go through every day, both in and out of the workplace. If our comedy is stuck in the ’90s, our treatment of LGBT people will be, too…What plays well in 1992 reads very differently today. Mrs. Doubtfire was a product of the gender politics of its era, a cultural panic about divorce and men’s declining roles in the home, as well as a deep insecurity about masculinity…Sally Field’s “Mean Mom” is the real threat. Because she wears the pants in the family, Williams’ character has to prove his worth by wearing a dress.
Commenter Gegenny on Reddit’s “r/asktransgender” forum doesn’t necessarily see the film as transphobic so much as nakedly misogynistic, declaring:
It is less transphobic so much as misogynistic. Man is willing to endure the most humiliating thing possible to see his kids, so naturally that means posing as a woman. The aspects of that humiliation are then played for laughs.
The reactions to the film are mixed; some consider it to be transphobic, others, as the quote above exemplifies, consider it “just” misogynistic, and still others say that it is transvestite-phobic. Whichever (or all of the above) the film is, it is definitely hurtful and hateful and should never have been made. As a final note, one could definitely read the “drive-by fruiting” as having homophobic undertones. A very problematic film any way you slice it.
6. Kindergarten Cop (1990)
More transphobia here. One of the most appalling scenes in all of cinema is when young Joseph, at only 27 months old says, seemingly innocently enough, “Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina!” After being triggered by this shocking ignorance of gender as a social construct when I re-watched the film for the purposes of this article, I was literally shaking. What were they teaching kids in school back then?
5. Aladdin (1992)
According to The Washington Post, 90% of the lines in the movie go to male characters. For Christine-Marie Liwag Dixon:
Nearly a decade after slave Leia appeared in Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, Princess Jasmine faced similar circumstances in Aladdin. The depiction was no less creepy and no less sexualized, but is made worse by the fact that Aladdin is supposed to be a kid’s movie…To see Jasmine forced into subservience by the evil Jafar is nauseating. It’s not really surprising that Jafar treats women badly, but this scene goes a little too far for comfort in a children’s film, especially after Jasmine uses her feminine wiles to distract Jafar before Aladdin saves the day. Watching the sham seduction take place is gross, but is even more disturbing when you remember how many kids watched this scene without understanding just how messed up it is.
Furthermore, the film shows Arabic society (and Islam by extension given the source material) in a bad light as intractably patriarchal—this is extremely problematic as we all know that anything less than the deification of brown folks is racism, and anything less than hosannas to the heavens for Islam is “Islamophobic,” for it is well-established that Islam is enriching, empowering, peaceful, and tolerant.
(Let us not even get into how even the lyrics to the intro song were considered too racist, and were changed. Tsch, maybe we had 9/11 coming after all -Ed.)
4. Starship Troopers (1997)
Despite director Paul Verhoeven’s attempt to satirize the source material, Robert Heinlein’s novel is just too strong and the satire falls flat, instead making fascism look way too appealing. In fact, the entire future society was only made possible by the reclamation of Western civilization from the near-abyss of “democracy”; one may choose to remain a civilian with all attendant rights and privileges, but no vote and no ability to stand for public office and certain other professions, or one may earn the franchise through military service for the Federation at the potential cost of their lives. Furthermore, the protagonist of the novel, Juan Rico, is Filipino, whereas Verhoeven intentionally “white-washed” Rico and his friends and family for the film to highlight the overt “Nazism” of Heinlein’s creation. The problem is that, beyond betraying Heinlein’s point that race was largely irrelevant in the Federation (its military predicated exclusively on merit), the actors are all extremely good-looking, and their attractiveness only makes saving humanity from the Bugs while exercising their civic duty that much more, well, attractive.
3. Hocus Pocus (1993)
From the hook noses to the child sacrifices, the anti-Semitic overtones in this film are extremely problematic. In the opening scene, the local white populace comes with pitchforks to execute the three witches for stealing their children and using them in their rituals, which evokes uncomfortable images of an Eastern European pogrom. For context, Ron Unz explains:
It appears that a considerable number of Ashkenazi Jews traditionally regarded Christian blood as having powerful magical properties and considered it a very valuable component of certain important ritual observances at particular religious holidays. Obviously, obtaining such blood in large amounts was fraught with considerable risk, which greatly enhanced its monetary value, and the trade in the vials of this commodity seems to have been widely practiced.
Additionally, according to Sheikh Khaled Al-Mughrabi, the Jews were killed by the Nazis because they were kidnapping Christian children to use their blood to make matzah.
2. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
The 90s were probably our most transphobic decade. Elena Nicolaou writes:
Trans women in ‘90s comedies like Ace Ventura were often law-breakers who deliberately hid their trans identities, as Meredith Talusan points out in a Buzzfeed article. Consequently, “the exposure of these women becomes synonymous with ‘catching’ them; there’s no meaningful difference made between finding out a woman is trans and discovering that she’s a criminal.”
When Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) finds out that he’s kissed a man dressed as a woman, who also happens to be the villain, he has what Nicolaou describes as “an outrageously transphobic reaction.” He vomits in the shower and sets his clothes on fire. R. Kurt Osenlund recaps:
At the time of this movie’s release, Ace’s revelation was played entirely for laughs, but seen today, it’s basically horrifying. “Finkle is Einhorn!” Ace declares to himself. “Einhorn is a man!” With that, Ace, remembering that Einhorn pinned him on her desk and gave him sloppy kisses, goes into a violent burst of queer panic, purging in the toilet, loading his mouth with toothpaste, taking a plunger to his face, purging some more, burning his clothes, and finally crying naked in the shower, all to the tune of Boy George’s “The Crying Game.” Spying the pre-op trans woman the next day, Ace, still loading his mouth with chewing gum as a disinfectant, notes that “the gun” that was “digging into [his] hip” during the pair’s make-out session was in fact a penis, and he shudders madly at the thought.
The next day, as Nicolaou recaps, “He stages a big sex ‘reveal’ in which he pulls down the character’s pants.” In a thoroughly humiliating transphobic vaudeville show, returning to Osenlund:
Einhorn stands there on display, until, thanks to a tip-off from Marino, Ace grabs his culprit and spins her around, revealing the vivid bulge of a dick and balls that Einhorn had tucked back. Just then, “The Crying Game” picks back up on the soundtrack, and all the males on site begin spitting and cleaning out their mouths, as they too have all locked lips with a woman packing a cock. There is no redemption for Einhorn. She’s knocked into the water and left humiliated all over again—a pathetic loser who deserves to suffer not just for kidnapping, but for the gross crimes of mental instability, sexual deviance, and anatomical otherness.
If one thing is certain, it is that trans people should be above any and all reproach, even if they are sociopathic criminals. Which leads me to my final film:
1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
As perhaps the mother of all transphobic films, the portrayal of transgendereds in The Silence of the Lambs as lethality incarnate probably set the LGBTQI+’s agenda to invert heteronormativity-as-deviant back a good decade. As author Mey wrote for Autostraddle:
Perhaps the most famous instance of a trans woman being used to scare audiences is The Silence of the Lambs. When we see serial killer Buffalo Bill in their most famous scene, it is meant to be one of the most jarring and disturbing moments of the film. We see someone who is presented to us as a man tucking their penis between their legs, wearing a wig made from a woman’s scalp, swaying and dancing to music. Growing up, I remember many times hearing that this was one of the strangest and creepiest scenes in modern film. This action of putting on makeup and a wig, tucking and trying to look as beautiful and feminine as you can is something that a lot of us trans women can relate to. It’s something that a lot of us trans women have done. And here it is being presented as the epitome of horror.
Mey is right—the perfectly benign activity of murdering women in order to skin and scalp them and literally “wear” them is presented here as deviant and horrific.