Political and cultural correctness and sensitivity to such issues have become inherent concerns in many art forms. In films, the topic of racism tends to appear in both personal and professional discussions. Although it is considered subjective in nature and quite complicated to have something identified as racist or not, there are certain elements that typically incite or stir up debates as how people perceive movies as discriminatory. Even critically acclaimed movies can sometimes receive public reactions pertaining to racist elements seen in their stories.
"The Deer Hunter" (1978)
The war drama "The Deer Hunter" by Michael Cimino, a film that showed an in-depth look at how the Vietnam War affected the lives of people in a small American town, received some accusations of inaccuracy and racism from different groups. The story combined the critical exposition of friendships and the disgusting accounts that became controversial for a futile showcase of violence through a Vietcong's use of Russian roulette on POWs. Cimino was accused of providing a one-sided and unrealistic portrayal of the Vietnamese as sadistic killers. The filmmaker reiterated that the film was fictional in nature.
This movie won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director, along with four other nominations. It received the Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture and five other nominations including Best Motion Picture - Drama and major acting awards for Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. It also found its way through many "best film" lists, including the American Film Institute (AFI) "Greatest Movies of All Time."
"Year of the Dragon" (1985)
Cimino ushered in more controversy for his film "Year of the Dragon." Because of its unprecedented degree of violence and sexist and racist stereotypes of Chinese-Americans, this crime drama had to be censored in the United States, the studio also agreeing to insert a disclaimer on its opening credits. The disclaimer specifically mentions that the film has no intention to demean the Chinese-American and Asian-American communities.
With polarizing reviews discussing its cinematic brilliance, elements of racial stereotyping, and twisted depiction of Chinatown, this film turned out tangled with both praise and protests. This picture was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Score - Motion Picture and Supporting Actor for John Lone. At the same time, it also received five Razzie nominations, including Worst Picture and Director.
"Do the Right Thing" (1989)
The Spike Lee drama "Do the Right Thing" worried critics with the way it showed poverty, police brutality, and racial tensions onscreen. Openly stated in newspapers, a number of people said that it would potentially ignite violence and protests in Brooklyn during its release. Although these people believed it would lead to riots from black audiences, none of that actually happened. Lee spoke about it, saying that those criticizing the film tend to think black viewers would do such a thing after merely watching a fictional motion picture.
Beyond its controversies, the film enjoyed a rather good critical response. It received Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay for Lee and Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello. It was also nominated for four Golden Globes, including the awards for Best Motion Picture - Drama and Director - Motion Picture. It was also selected in competition for the Cannes Film Festival, with a nomination for the much-coveted Palme d'Or.
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