Hollywood has given us some of the most beloved and well-written fictional characters of all time. We watch movies to dream about the people we wish we could be, or to see ourselves reflected back from the screen. However, for every Luke Skywalker or Diana Prince, there are probably about fifty characters who are as one-dimensional as the pages on which they were written. And then there are the characters who are little more than poorly drawn caricatures.
If there’s one thing that Hollywood is good at doing consistently, it’s throwing every stereotype known to man onto the silver screen. Women are reduced to scantily clad eye-candy, immigrants sports accents that are used as punchlines, and racial stereotypes constitute a character’s entire personality. Films produce stories that reflect (whether intentionally or not) the inner beliefs of the creators. And sometimes, that gets ugly.
From the early twentieth century to now, the American film industry has a long history of churning out characters that are sure to make you cringe. We’re counting down the top 15 Unbelievably Offensive Movie Characters.
15 The Crows from Dumbo
It’s no secret that a lot of Disney’s earlier films were sometimes high-key racist. Dumbo might be a classic, but it’s no exception to this rule.
If you haven’t seen the movie in awhile, you might just remember the crows as nice singing birds who helped the titular elephant out. (And the fact that the crows helped Dumbo is usually the point that Disney superfans make to try to claim that the movie isn’t racist.) On the surface, that would be true. But give it another watch and you’ll realize that the jet-black crows sing and speak in jive, including the line, “I’d be done seen about everything/when I see an elephant fly.”
The crows act in a stereotypically black manner, which is only made worse by the fact that the lead crow’s name is Jim. Yes, his name was Jim Crow. No, Disney was not subtle at all.
Throw in the fact that white actors were hired to do stereotypical black voices and you’ve got a “murder” of offensive crows.
14 Blackface Characters in The Birth of a Nation
Almost everyone knows that every second of the 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation is purposefully racist. It was basically a propaganda film for the Ku Klux Klan -- the original title was even The Clansman. They weren’t very subtle.
We can safely assume that the vast majority of the characters were racist, but by far the most offensive are the white men in blackface playing black characters. The black men are portrayed as stupid, violent, and sexually aggressive towards white women. The only people who can save America from them are -- you guessed it -- the members of the KKK.
Before you think that fictional portrayals in film are no big deal, consider the fact that The Birth of a Nation was used as a recruiting tool for new KKK members. They considered the stereotypes shown in the film to be an accurate portrayal of black people, and it actually inspired the “second era” KKK in Georgia later that year.
13 Watto - Star Wars prequel trilogy
In the Star Wars prequels, Watto is a Toydarian junk dealer who buys Anakin and his mother as slaves. He is greedy, always looking for the best deal, and only lets Anakin go after he loses a bet...though he still tried to cheat to win that bet.
In case you’re wondering how a CGI character ended up on a list of the most offensive movie characters, his design and character traits raised a lot of questions. Watto has a humongous hooked nose, small eyes, and is known for being both immoral and great at haggling. It wasn’t hard for people to spot the Jewish stereotypes that just happened to make their way into his character’s concept.
Anti-Semitism has associated greed, immorality, and cheating with Jews for centuries, so it’s no accident that Watto embodies all of those characteristics and has the stereotypical physical features as well. Multiple critics accused the movie of Anti-Semitism, and one even said that she heard two little boys calling Watto “the weird little Jew guy” as they left the theater.
Kids pick up a lot, even if adults don’t want to see it.
12 Shun Gon - The Aristocats
Disney continued its tradition of putting racial stereotypes in its movies with The Aristocats, which was released in 1970. If you haven’t watched the movie in awhile, you’ll probably cringe during your next rewatch.
In the middle of the feel-good story about the cats just trying to make it back to their rich Parisian owner, we’re introduced to an alleycat jazz band. This seems like it’s shaping up to be an entertaining scene with decent music...until we get to the cat who is clearly supposed to be Asian.
Shun-Gon (voiced by Paul Winchell, who -- you guessed it! -- is not Asian), pronounces his Ls as Rs and plays the piano with chopsticks for no reason other than to hit you over the head with an offensive stereotype. Somehow, it still gets worse. When he starts singing, instead of anything that makes sense in the context of the scene, he sings “Shanghai Hong Kong Egg Foo Young / Fortune cookie always wrong.”
This is why we can’t have nice things.
11 Christmas Jones - The World Is Not Enough
If you’re looking for positive female representation, James Bond movies are likely not for you. However, even with the bar already set super low, the character of Christmas Jones still managed to disappoint.
Christmas Jones is a nuclear physicist working in Russia to dismantle and reduce the Russians’ nuclear inventory. When she accidentally blows Bond’s cover, the terrorist in the facility tries to kill them. She becomes the Bond girl of the movie, working to help 007 save the day. Except, for some reason, this nuclear physicist is always dressed in skimpy clothing. It’s insulting to both the character and the audience’s intelligence that anyone would think that makes sense.
To top it all off, her name is used as a punchline at the very end of the movie. Bond closes out with, “I was wrong about you...I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”
That noise you heard was every female audience member rolling their eyes in unison.
10 Maurice Pitka - The Love Guru
When it comes to Hollywood comedies, no stupid concept is off-limits. However, some probably should be. In Mike Myers’ The Love Guru, Maurice Pitka is the number two guru in the world, second only to Deepak Chopra. He’s the orphaned American son of two missionaries, so he’s lived in India all of his life. Despite this, he can’t seem to speak a single word from one of the twenty-two officially recognized languages in India.
Instead, his dialogue and the names of the characters are grossly inaccurate stereotypes of East Indian culture. He lives in an Indian village named “Harenmahkeester,” learns from Guru “Tugginmypudha,” and says “Mariska Hargitay” as his mantra. His “teachings,” as one of the most famous gurus in the world, are just silly plays on words.
Audiences saw the movie for the trainwreck it was, and it tanked at the box office. Mike Myers’ career never recovered -- he hasn’t appeared as the lead in a film since The Love Guru’s 2008 release.
9 Bella Swan - Twilight
It’s been nearly ten years since the first Twilight movie was released, but Bella Swan hasn’t gotten any better in hindsight. Bella, a seventeen year old who falls in love with a century-old vampire, is apparently supposed to be a feisty, confident, and inspiring character. In reality, she’s nothing more than a vehicle for people to insert themselves into the story to imagine being loved by Edward Cullen.
Over the course of the five movies, Bella does an excellent job of waiting for Edward to save her, going comatose when her first boyfriend breaks up with her, gaining the affections of two men even though she has the personality of a dishrag, and lying to all of her friends and family. She doesn’t do a great job of being a well-rounded character, however. That’s even more pitiful when you think about the hours of screen time they had to make Bella seem like an actual person and not Stephenie Meyer writing herself into her own dream.
8 Jar Jar Binks - Star Wars prequel trilogy
It’s no secret that Jar Jar Binks is one of the most universally hated Star Wars characters. When he was first introduced in The Phantom Menace, he was almost immediately lampooned by both critics and by fans. The character intended to provide comic relief just made fans furious every time he appeared on screen. Jar Jar ends up being far more irritating than he is funny.
That would be enough to land Jar Jar on this list, but the character has also been followed by accusations of racial stereotypes since the first “Meesa” that left his mouth. One critic said he had “the voice of a rasta on laughing gas”, and others also pointed out the black Caribbean stereotypes that they noticed in Jar Jar Binks.
George Lucas has vehemently denied that any kind of racial connotation was intended with his character, but he still rewrote the last two films of the trilogy to give Jar Jar less of a role.
7 Skids and Mudflap - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
It should be easy to avoid racial stereotypes in a movie about robots. After all, robots don’t have a race, so there should be no stereotypes attached to them, right?
However, Hollywood has found a way to ruin almost everything with racism, including Transformers. Enter Skids and Mudflap, twin Autubots who for some inexplicable reason are blatant caricatures. The two characters speak in slang using stereotypical black voices, have huge ears, buck teeth, and claim they don’t do much readin’. One of them even has a gold tooth. Michael Bay claims they weren’t meant to be offensive, but he definitely checked off a good number of the common racial stereotypes with these robots in disguise.
What makes this even worse is that the Autobots aren’t even from Earth, so there’s less of an argument that could be made for why this is okay. Jazz from the first movie was also coded as black, but not nearly as stereotypically. Then again, he was also the only Autobot to die in that movie, so there are no real winners here.
6 Madea - any Madea movie
Madea is loved by audiences of various creeds and cultures alike. Tyler Perry’s Madea movies always promise the same thing -- laughter, someone beaten up by Madea, and a moral lesson about values at the end. They also promise stereotypes, but people tend to overlook that last part.
Black America is split on Madea. While some happily go to see whatever new movie her character appears in, others have called her character a mammy-stereotype. The mammy is the most common stereotypical depiction of black women, usually depicted as large, ugly, and unusually strong. Odds are that she’s also prone to violence and rules her house with fear. Sound familiar?
Madea is also another instance of black men dressing up as and making fun of black women for laughs, like in Norbit -- which we’ll get to shortly.
There are still relatively few films led by black casts in Hollywood, so Madea films make money even though they caricature black women the entire running time.
5 Uncle Remus - Song of the South
Song of the South is probably the Disney movie most well-known for being racist. The 1946 film is so offensive to modern viewers that it’s been completely pulled from stores. It’s almost impossible to get a copy of it now.
It follows a young white boy from Atlanta who moves to his grandmother’s plantation, where a man named Uncle Remus tells him stories about Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear. The word slavery is never uttered, though it’s heavily implied that Uncle Remus is a slave on the plantation and, for some reason, happy about his lot in life. The movie is so blasé about its time period that an uneducated viewer would think nineteenth-century black and white people lived in perfect harmony, with Uncle Remus as an example of how happy black people were.
“Whatever, I bet it’s only offensive to people today who are mad about everything,” you might be thinking. Uh, wrong. Uncle Remus was heavily protested by the black community when the movie was released, and protesters carried signs that said, “We fought for Uncle Sam, not Uncle Tom.”
4 Tonto - The Lone Ranger
You may have forgotten, since the movie flopped, but back in 2008 Disney (yes, again) and Johnny Depp decided it would be a great idea for Depp to play Tonto in a remake of The Lone Ranger. The backlash was swift, but Depp went ahead with the idea anyway. The movie was released in 2013 and almost immediately panned.
Most people know that blackface in America is bad, but not as many know that “redface” has a similar history and is equally offensive. Native American people are almost never portrayed in pop culture, and when there is a rare Native character, a white actor is usually hired. Contemporary Native American people are practically invisible.
Depp’s portrayal was still filled with stereotypes, even though he said he wanted to move the character away from that. Depp’s Tonto speaks in stilted sentences with an accent only known to Depp himself and has a costume cobbled together from multiple Native cultures instead of just sticking to one. For one of the few Native portrayals in a blockbuster film, it was more than a little disappointing.
3 Mr. Yunioshi - Breakfast at Tiffany’s
While Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a beloved classic, it’s marred every time Holly Golightly’s neighbor and landlord Mr. Yunioshi appears. Mr. Yunioshi is supposed to be a heavily caricatured Japanese person. The role would have been offensive no matter who played it -- the character was given false teeth, an outrageous accent, and is always bumbling around angry about something. The fact that Mr. Yunioshi was played by none other than Mickey Rooney just makes it even more insulting.
Once again, instead of actually casting an Asian actor in the role, Hollywood decided to cast a white actor to portray an offensive, stereotypical idea of what Asian people are like. Mickey Rooney’s portrayal was supposed to make people laugh at his character, but given that the movie was released barely 15 years after the end of the Japanese internment camps, it’s hard to imagine why.
2 Rasputia Latimore - Norbit
Hollywood has a long history of being dismissive towards overweight people, women, and black people. When you combine all three maligned groups into one overweight black female character, you get the cringe fest that is Rasputia Latimore, the main character’s wife in Norbit.
Rasputia isn’t written as an actual human being, she’s written as a joke. Her size is the basis of constant jokes throughout the movie -- she can’t fit in the car, she terrorized her classmates as a child, and she looms over the man whom she terrified into being her husband. She’s portrayed as rude, selfish, and abusive, someone you’d have to endure being with. She was even laughed at while getting married to Norbit, because large, dark-skinned black women can’t possibly be beautiful.
The entire movie makes fun of large black women and ends with the skinnier, lighter-skinned woman running away with Norbit instead. Thousands of people protested Rasputia’s character (if you can even call her a character) and creator Eddie Murphy was slammed.
1 Long Duk Dong - Sixteen Candles
No teen classic is complete without a side of racism, right? In this case, Sixteen Candles’ Long Duk Dong provides the racist comic relief as the Japanese foreign exchange student whose first appearance in the film is marked by a gong. Yes, really.
Aside from his name, Long Duk Dong also has lines like “no more yanky my wanky” and is consistently portrayed as the socially awkward, inept foreigner who just has no idea how he’s ‘supposed’ to act. Samantha’s younger brother immediately labels him as “totally bizarre,” which is also how the audience is supposed to see him.
Long Duk Dong also perpetuates the stereotype of Asian men being overly feminine -- his girlfriend is much bigger and stronger than he is, which the movie directs us to laugh at. Gender reversals can be a great thing, but in this case, it was meant to show Long Duk Dong as the weak, silly Asian.
Did we miss a cinematic character that was even more offensive? Let us know in the comments.
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