Arthur’s Unacceptable Racism

The Arts

Steve Gordon’s 1981 comedy ‘Arthur’ knew exactly what it was doing; a dryly witty comedy about a man infantilised by his own wealth, it’s fondly remembered for Dudley Moore and his relationship with his butler, Sir John Gielgud, who won an Oscar for the role.

One of the many things it got right was spelling out why Arthur needed to grow up. Gielgud explains that old poor drunks aren’t funny; they freeze to death in winter.The Arthur remake, a car-crash that manages to get everything that was right in the original wrong, revels in Russell Brand’s infantilism and appears to blame it on his Britishness.

The ‘Brits’ (a word that has always struck me as unpleasant anyway, like ‘the Yanks’, are used to being the bad people in Hollywood films; we’re the snobby, venal, top-hatted villains. But the new ‘Arthur’ (also top-hatted) takes its racism further.

Here’s the Guardian’s excellent Peter Bradshaw on the subject: ‘The absolute low point comes with a racist crack about Barack Obama. British matriarch Vivienne sneers at the “coffee-coloured” president, and Arthur feebly objects that “you can’t say that”. Oh yes you can – if you’re a cardboard Brit! Because it’s the sort of thing those uptight Brits do, you see, like wearing monocles and drinking tea. There’s no way on earth an American character would be made to say it.’

Placing the racism in the mouth of a British character seems all the more strange when one considers the relatively lower incidence of racism in the UK. In the 80’s, a New York comedian who had a brief career as a film star referred to American-Asians as ‘the urine-coloured people’, and his career crashed. One can only hope that history repeats itself.

8 comments on “Arthur’s Unacceptable Racism”

  1. Gretta says:

    “There’s no way on earth an American character would be made to say it.”

    Oh yes there would. But you can be sure that character would be an equally offensively stereotyped Southerner.

  2. stephen groves says:

    Hi Chris,
    Things Mrs Stalky will not be allowed to get near.

    1.Cable Ties.
    2.Plastic Bags.
    3.Vacuum Cleaner.
    4.Copulating Chinese Couples.

    Yes I watched DREAM HOME

    All Best

  3. Mrs Stalky says:

    Where’s he put my Hoover?

    I blame you.

    Mrs Stalky

  4. Nah, an American character wouldn’t say that in the US. Mind you, he could publish witty Photoshoping of Obama as the offspring of two monkeys. That seems to be something you do, over there. Three years after a Black US president was elected, just about every country in the world seems to have moved on, but some people in the US still have problems confronting that fact.

    Oh — and there’s Sylvio Berlusconi, too. But let’s not waste our breath on him.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Gretta is right, either that or an Idahoan mountaineer in jackshirt and jeans and equally offensive stereotyping. Why can’t remakes see what it was that made the original work?
    And Patrick is right about Berlusconi. Why are…. no, don’t waste breath on him.

  6. Mike Cane says:

    >>>Because it’s the sort of thing those uptight Brits do, you see, like wearing monocles and drinking tea.

    DAMN! Monocles have come back in style? I look forward to The Doctor putting one on and saying, “I wear a monocle now. Monocles are cool.” And then River Song will… oh wait. Bad idea.

  7. Cathryn says:

    It’s not racist. It’s comedy. It’s a joke, you know the ‘haha’ kind. Possibly not the greatest joke to ever pass someones lips but a joke, nonetheless. Trust me, it hasn’t been said to purposely attack the British or to discriminate by stereotyping them.. I’m sure there are many Americans currently unhappy with having a black President in power.

    The fact is that this movie is a remake.. It has to somewhat align with the original. In the original Arthur is a ‘Brit’ living in American society and they decided to keep the same basis for this movie. So, it can be said then, that it would make sense for Arthur’s mother to be British.. And so she delivers this line.

    I for one found this movie to be light-hearted and hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed it and honestly was in stitches for the majority of the film. I don’t understand why it’s been so poorly received by others.. Perhaps the world is merely becoming far to serious. Or, perhaps I just have a warped sense of humour.

    The thing is, you’ve got to learn not to read into these things so severely. Otherwise, I guarantee you’ll find something to hate about every single movie ever made. Enjoy it for what it is, this type of film is meant to be funny. If you’re easily offended and judging of comedic performances, don’t go and see funny films or comedians (ever). You have to leave your own personal views and beliefs at the door with comedians. They’re not there to attack you or your people personally, they’re there to muck around and have a laugh. Comedians take the piss, it’s their job and we love them for it. So don’t ruin that by making something of nothing.

  8. admin says:

    I take your point, Cathryn, and I’m far from easily offended, but putting the black criticism in the mouth of the non-American is an old trick repeated ad nauseam in Hollywood films. Once is funny, ten times is a trend – and the film is still a horrible travesty of the liberal original.

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