Revisiting Indiana Jones

Watching Indiana Jones for the first time in class since I initially saw it as a child was an interesting experience because it essentially caused me to re-evaluate whether all my favorite childhood films were also filled with dangerous stereotypes and problematic content. Like Indiana Jones, there are other films I have recently revisited to watch for a second time in order to find out whether these films which I was enthralled by as a child were still as entertaining and enjoyable to watch as an adult, and unfortunately in doing so I found that many of my other childhood favorites, namely Major League and The Last Samurai, also were filled with racist content and scenes. The racist issues in Temple of Doom are easy to see: In the second scene of the film Indiana Jones, a white hero, falls from the sky into a Indian village where he is welcomed as the town’s savior and is asked to save their sacred stone along with their children. Right off the bat it becomes evident that there is a pro-colonialist message within the film that is suggesting that in order for the village to thrive and remain safe there needs to be a white foreign presence and this message only becomes stronger as the film progresses and the colonists actually come and save the villager’s children at the end by helping Indiana to fight off the Kali Cult. As a kid I was completely oblivious to these concepts and was simply enthralled by the cool visual effects that Spielberg employs throughout the film, like the mine cart chase scene, but after watching this film in class it’s become evident that Spielberg’s portrayal of Indians as either helpless or religiously dangerous is incredibly problematic because it sends the message to future generations that we either must fear different cultures or try and help them because they are unable to help themselves. I thought that maybe Temple of Doom was an outlier in this regard, but after rewatching parts of Major League and The Last Samurai its clear that there is a pattern of racist misrepresentation within hollywood that still is continuing to this day. In Major League this racist stereotyping comes in the form of the player Pedro Cerrano, a black latino baseball player who relies on voodoo rituals to give him the power to play well and is deeply entrenched in spirituality. Pedro’s character is clearly suppose to be a caricature of a foreigner whose religious customs are alien to American society and he is often mocked in the film because of his cultural practices. The Last Samurai also features a message that is racial problematic because Tom Cruise’s character, an imperialist, is captured by Japanese Samurais and then adapts their culture and takes on the challenge of having to preserve their way of life, which is incredibly confusing because it sends the message that a white man is once again need to come to the rescue and solve societal problems. Before I never thought much about the messages these films were sending and just enjoyed them for their action sequences and story lines, but after discussing the implications of these misrepresentations I’ve realized that films like these can instead be dangerous because they lead us to develop unfair stereotypes and views.

One thought on “Revisiting Indiana Jones”

  1. Chris, you bring up a really interesting point of revisiting films years after initially seeing them and observing how they differ in interpretation with time. It’s alarming to notice that films that you once considered admirable are now perceived to be offensive and insensitive. You also touched upon the idea of how film interpretation changes from time in your presentation today. In your talk today you noted that most of the changes are attributed to the altering political and social environments that coincide with the publication of the reviews. I’m curious to know if you believe the initial enjoyment you received from the first screening of these films emerged from your innocence and perhaps arrogance or because racism and other issues were not as prominent in society as they are today?

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