John Hughes: Racist?

Growing up in the 80's was tough for me; I wasn't athletic, smart or good-looking, but somehow I made do. I was funny and that helped. I was great at dodging as well. And then 16 Candles ruined it all.

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The movie was okay. Trite, a little fun, but I remember seeing it in the theater and thinking to myself, "This is going to be trouble."

How is that okay?! 16 Candles was THE movie of 1984 and just about every single class "comedian" would quote lines from the move to me. And not in a friendly manner either. For years, I thought it was just me being annoyed. But it's not.
Don't get me wrong, I love most of John Hughes' work. Home Alone is a wonderful movie and I love Uncle Buck for some reason. For me, personally, 16 Candles is very racist and that character overshadowed the entire movie experience.
I would like to think that something like that wouldn't happen nowadays, but (NSFW)...

It's not just me either. Some fellas over at NPR think the same thing.
I'm sad that such a talented writer and director has passed away, but I can't forget how that movie affected my life.

Filed under: movies

Tags: 16 candles, John Hughes, racism

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  • You "made due?!

    Sub-standard schooling, or...?

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    Hahah. I've always thought that both "do" and "due" were correct depending on context. BUT, I did look it up and you're right.. "make do" is the more accepted term. Look at me! I'm learning!

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    LOL We know you are Harvard educated so get over it.

  • Sure it was a bit racist. But was he racist? Maybe...maybe not. However, he never had any other races in his films. I wonder why?

  • In reply to namahottie:

    No, I don't think John Hughes was racist. And if we're going down path, why aren't there more minorities in film and tv? Who knows? I think basically, most studios don't think Americans will watch a non-white lead actor.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    The question 'why aren't there more minorities in film and TV' seems odd to me. One thing that stands out about John Hughes movies (and many movies of the era set in standard American suburbia) is the near-total absence of minorities. You hardly see that in movies any more; instead there is a deliberate, conscious effort to include minorities, even as tokens if that's what it takes to include them.

    Minority-free movies like the Hughes classics seem unenlightened by today's standards. Then again, he was portraying the reality of the suburban settings he filmed in that era. Even though suburbia is becoming more integrated, much of it remains lily-white. Even so, that lily-white reality would almost certainly yield to a more ethnically mixed cast if Hughes were to have made his movies circa 2009.

  • In reply to drover:

    "new in town" - a movie made in 2009. minority free and actually partially based in miami. whack.

  • In reply to drover:

    Great post Alex.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    I can't decide which is more idiotic: that you're crying racism on Sixteen Candles, or that you think "irregardless" is a word.

    Here's a tip: just because you can write about something on the internet, doesn't mean you should.

    Now no more yanky my wanky. The Donger need food.

  • In reply to secondhand1:

    I'm glad you we could conversate. Irregardless of our differences, I appreciate your posting muchly.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    More minorities in TV and film? Really? You don't think studios don't want a non-white lead actor? What is this, the 1930's? Any of these names of actors who have starred in leading roles (and some Academy Award winners) ring a bell?:
    Denzel Washington
    Halle Barry
    Jackie Chan
    Angela Bassett
    Morgan Freeman
    Louis Gossett, Jr.
    Whoopi Goldberg
    Will Smith
    Laurence Fishburne
    Don Cheadle
    Forest Whitaker
    Samuel L. Jackson
    Eddie Murphy
    Spike Lee
    Sidney Poitier
    James Earl Jones
    Kal Pen
    John Cho
    Bruce Lee
    Jessica Alba
    Salma Hayek
    Jennifer Lopez
    Jennifer Hudson
    And these are ones just off the top of my head.
    So are movies like "Barber Shop" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" racist because of its all-black cast? No. These are movies based on experiences and culture, just as Hughes' movies are.

  • In reply to maye:

    Have you ever listen to what these actors have to say why do you think Spike lee started making his own movies because no one would hire blacks don't you think it's pitiful someone has to start their own movies because blacks can't be hire unless their light skin look at Halle berry even Denzel and Samuel said that blacks and other minorities have a harder time than whites making it in the industry and all those people you name don't get half the respect as George clooney brad Pitt google minorities in Hollywood see how they are type casted

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    I am so sick of hearing how bad the minorities have in this country!! Everytime i see something about how it is so wrong to pick on someone because of their color, heritage, etc. it makes me sick. Stop trying to sue others by screaming racism, go out and get a real kjob and start making a living instead of screaming for money from lawyers!! If minorities do noit like this country get out and go to Iran, you see what they do with crybabies, they imprison them and torture them. Maybe we should start that here in the USA, would solve alot of the bickering about sensitivity and the constant poor me attitude that seems to be prevalent among minorities in this country!!

  • In reply to atomicdan:

    Who mentioned anything about suing? It's the height of irony that you excoriate people for utilizing the very freedoms that make America great. And then you wish for the US to become more like Iran! You are indeed an AtomicDong.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    Jason, why even try to make sense of ignorance.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    Let's discuss the FOX network's unfair portrayal of fat, white guys.

    Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are unflattering examples of portly Caucasain men.

    Let's all whine about it!!

    Lighten up it's a comedy.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    Lighten up, Francis-san.

  • In reply to atomicdan:

    Prozac, anyone??

  • In reply to atomicdan:

    This is exactly why racism will continue in our country because people like act like it doesn't it why don't you study the criminal justice system and you will see how divide we are or research White Privilege and you will see why minorities speak out about injustice this isn't a poor me mindset just because this isn't the 1950s doesn't mean stuff still isn't going on and just because you don't have to go through it does not mean you just dismiss it

  • In reply to namahottie:

    No, "make do" is not the "more accepted term," Jason. It's the only term. "Make due" is absolutely void of meaning. You can find "make due" in Google results only because it's an error made by people who can't process English, i.e., Internet-dependent Gammas.

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    Irregardless, it's a shame that Mr. Hughes has passed off.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    "Irregardless" is not a word, either. The correct term is "regardless" or "irrespective". And Mr. Hughes was one of the best film directors/writers of our lifetime.

  • In reply to JerryDowney:

    Zzzzzoooom! You'll get that one on your drive home tonight, AdPub, and kick yourself.

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    As someone who grew up alongside you in the 80s, I have to say that you were both smart and good-looking.

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    I grew up in Palatine in the 80's when there weren't too many Asians around. I took so much crap from this movie. It was even worse because I hadn't even seen the damn thing. Between this movie and crap like the Joy Luck Club the Asian man doesn't get any love from Hollywood unless he can Kung-Fu fight. How Asian men are potrayed in media is important. Match.com published data on the most and least desireable races for dating. Guess who was on the bottom for males.

  • In reply to Fetsby:

    What about Harold & Kumar go to White Castle?

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by racist. You got picked on as a result, obviously that's no good. But was the character portrayed as an inferior, or were stereotypes just magnified? Western and Russian cultures are very distinct, so would that make the portrayal of Drago and the cheating, cold-blooded Soviets in Rocky IV (or any '80s cold war film) racist? I do think there's a difference between 16 Candles and early movies where blacks were made to look like simpletons, criminals, and only good for dancing. And, ultimately, Dong wins. I don't not sympathize, but I've heard Polish jokes all my life and don't consider them offensive, even though they are intended to make my ancestors look utterly stupid.

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    don't forget the racist scene in ferris bueller's day off. The only minorities in the movie, a latino and black man who play valets, take a car in their care on a joy ride (after they were given extra money to guard it). as a child i even knew that was messed up!

    i think the key in talking about racist portrayals is about balance. the problem isn't necessarily that someone from a certain race is portrayed negatively, the problem occurs when that's the ONLY portrayal in a film. that's what makes it harmful. i wish more people in the media and entertainment industries had a modicum of emotional intelligence or at least gave a darn about how their "creative" choices can perpetuate dangerous stereotypes and engender new ones.

  • In reply to joker:

    Joker,
    I don't know if you were around in the 80's, but that was who was parking cars then. Now its Middle Eastern, Black, and Hispanic. Take a look around you and look at the area where the film was shot. The schools are 99% White, look it up. Sorry that reality hurts my friend.

  • In reply to Realist:

    um, i'm from that area. i don't have to look it up. it is not true that *only* blacks and latinos were parking cars then. obviously if i mentioned i knew as a child when i saw the movie that the scene was racist, i was aware enough to know he did not have to make those criminals minorities.

    in regards to your 99% white comment, you're missing the point and i'm not sure you are able to understand. if there is a film where the only portrayal of a race is negative, and it's not the "dominant" race, that's irresponsible. someone could shoot a movie with all whites except for one non-white character who happens to be chinese and he cast as a murderer in the film - that is racist. now if you balance it with a good, decent portrayal of a chinese man in the film, that's a different story.

  • In reply to joker:

    I understand and agree with your point about balanced portrayals and the lack of minority faces across Hughes' films, but I always thought the "latino" (I thought he was just a white dude) and black valet guys were supposed to be a parody of the Miami Vice characters Crockett and Tubbs. You know, scruffy "white" guy and black guy flying down the street in a convertible Ferrari.

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    Funny, I grew-up Asian in the 80's and never had a problem with 16 Candles. As one of the few Asians in a mostly white neighborhood, I commonly got asked if I knew "kung-fu".

    Hughes's films were more about the difficulties growing-up and the fact that, despite our perceptions, nobody led a perfect life. Long Duk Dong hardly spoke English, but had no problems making friends, while the popular kids were drowning in their own angst. Sure, to us it's shallow and trite, but to an adolescent, it was pretty profound.

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    This topic has already been discussed ad nauseum, and people seem to be missing the point. While the portrayal seems ill-advised and bigoted in retrospect, there was a point to it: to cast him as the ultimate outsider, completely foreign to his surroundings and his surroundings foreign to him, and yet he still manages to find his groove while those who supposedly "fit in" with the scene and surroundings still struggle to find theirs.

  • In reply to Gongfucha:

    Wow dude, irregardless isn't a word either. Just regardless suffices.

  • In reply to reggie:

    Mr. Chin was being sarcastic, he threw in irregardless and passed off

  • In reply to reggie:

    ordinarily, i'd say the donger was a racist stereotype. but the film was pretty clearly written from the viewpoint of sheltered white teenagers learning around their way around their world. even the adults are caricatures. so it follows that the exchange student would be not only asian, but a complete confusion of actual personality and stereotype.

    take a look at the films where his characters are older -- not nearly as much stereotyping.

  • In reply to patricking:

    Great point, Patric!

  • In reply to reggie:

    I feel you. I'm not Asian but I get how you may feel. I can imagine how you felt when those ignorant people would make comments like it's funny like they feel they have to put you down to make themselves feel better. I'm sure you know people will rant about minorities voicing complaints or totally not understanding your side because their race was never made to feel unwelcome in here or they are from the race that usually oppresses people. They will think you should get over it.

  • In reply to Dee950:

    Thanks, Dee!

  • In reply to Dee950:

    We all had problems when we were growing up, ok? You see yours as being ridiculed because of a film, whereas kids are cruel and if it was not about the film it would have been about something else. Get over it, for heavens sake. I think most of us are a bit tired of hearing the term racist. I am a huge SEINFELD fan and they made fun of everyone, every race, you name it. The only ones who were offended were the Puerto Ricans when the show lampooned the NY PR parade; the producers buckled under the protests and pulled the show. I am happy to say the show was later put back in rotation, as well it should have been. People are way too sensitive and you should save your whining for something more important and current.

  • In reply to maddie:

    I have every season of Seinfeld on DVD. Before that I had the entire series on VHS because I recorded it every week and saved the tapes. I adore Seinfeld and their brand of satire was brilliant because it came from such an modern, urbane take on human behavior and social morays, regardless of race. BTW, three things:
    1-I brought up 16 Candles because it's in the news. I didn't randomly write about a character that's two decades gone. I am "over it" but I thought it worth noting. After all, this is a blog.
    2- "I think most of us are a bit tired of hearing the term racist." Really? It's been in the news lately. Do you think racism is over? That's cool if you do.
    3- I will save my whining for more important things. Look for "An Improvised Blog" special report on Healthcare, and an indepth exclusive on the Blackwater scandal. It will, sadly, be hilarious.

  • In reply to maddie:

    I'm waiting for Godwin's Law to go into effect.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    I loved your book, "My Struggle."

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    Oh Jason. Where DID you go to school? It's "sooing" not "sueing". As in "to soo one's ass off".

    Irregardlessleyyy disorientated,
    Crescent

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    I had a very good friend from Japan names Hiromishi Yoshida who was exactly like Long Duc Dong... I haven't seen him in 20 some years - but this characature was right on teh money to my friend... so I don't find a validity to your statement. And I do not want to be pegged as "Ferris Beuheller" Think of this comparison... did Ferris get laid??? NOPE! Did Long Duc Dong??? Yes, in fact he was the only one in the movie who got laid (except for the person he was with). The very bottom lines are this:
    1. Long Duc Dong was successful and popular
    2. Jason Chin was offended by this character because people thought that he looked like Long Duc Dong.

    I am white... I can't go through life getting upset that Bruce Willis represents my race, or that Robert Downey Jr. looks like me. Larry the cable guy does not reflect my personality, and I do not act like Mitch Hedberg (although he was really funny). In my opinion Jim Baker is a terrible example of a Christian, and Ace Frehley will never be able to play guitar as well as I do...

    So What? Should I claim racism for these peoples' poor portrayal of my race?

  • In reply to JETIV:

    Ace Frehley plays a waaaay better guitar than you do. KISS...my ass!

  • In reply to JETIV:

    You are forgetting the concept of balance. For every Bruce Willis or Robert Downey Jr. character, there are countless other portrayals of white people that you may or may not find as disagreeable. Yes, there are movies which contain caricatures of white people as rednecks, racists, NASCAR loving, beer drinking buffoons, etc. But there are many other movies that do not. Moreover, often in those same movies which contain "offensive" white caricatures, there will be other white characters who do not fit that mold and balance out the offensive portrayals.

    You say you are white. How many times growing up did someone ask you if you chewed tobacco, lived in a trailer park, or were the product of incest? As an Asian kid, I know I was mocked with "ching chong" comments and asked whether I knew kung fu on many occasions. Where do you think these brilliant kids got this idea that all Asian people speak "ching chong" and know kung fu or karate? It wasn't watching Sesame Street.

    The issue of balanced portrayals has always been somewhat of an problem for minorities in general. I would say it's become much less of an issue for Blacks since, although there are still the occasional ghetto/gangster/crack-smoking film characters, you do have numerous prominent leading African American faces in non-stereotypical roles.

    Back when 16 Candles was released, how many other prominent non-stereotypical portrayals of Asians were there to help balance out Long Duc Dong's character? Not many. Things are improving somewhat as non-stereotypical depictions of Asians are becoming more commonplace, but there are still gains to be made.

    So, to answer your question, you can claim racism for Bruce Willis or Larry the Cable Guy's portrayal of white people all you want--it's a free country, after all. But it's not quite the same as an Asian person taking issue with Long Duc Dong's character in 16 Candles.

  • In reply to JETIV:

    To the spelling police, I present to you, the word "irregardless".
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/irregardless
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/irregardless

    Yes, it is a word.

    To the white folks who are getting their butt hurt over the calling out of racism, in likewise fashion, I say, "get over it."

    Alex summarised it pretty well on his point about balanced portrayal. I'd like to quote Margaret Cho at this point.

    "Maybe someday, I could be an extra on MASH".

  • In reply to SunWuKong:

    You're offended by The Donger, but you quote Margaret Freakin' CHO as if she: a. were funny; or b. knew anything about... well, about ANYTHING? And all this time I thought irony was dead...

  • In reply to SunWuKong:

    A Mexican ate my doughnut.

  • In reply to SunWuKong:

    Fernando encouraged me to post - so here it is:

    I always felt a little weird about the Asian Exchange Student in 16 Candles. Growing up, I really enjoyed 16 Candles but felt conflicted about that character. I did not thoroughly hate the Donger in the end because he was treated well by the grandparents, got the girl, and seemed to have a good time. What bothered me most was the fake Chinese accent and the caricature.

    I am not sure how necessary it was and I wasn

  • In reply to JETIV:

    That second movie looks awful.

  • In reply to mollyemmons:

    ahah! First comment on that part of the post! Thanks! (I like the director and the cast, but oy... that's a rough looking comedy.)

  • In reply to mollyemmons:

    Everyone should relax and cool out. Check out:
    http://wellknowwhenwegetthere.blogspot.com/2009/08/sincerely-john-hughes.html

    It's a wonderful story about John Hughes, the man. Please give it a reading. Please come back here on Monday where I'll explain how Tom Hanks is really a murderer.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    It is a wonderful story! Now I know why John Hughes quit Hollywood. It actually made me cry a little. Thanks for sharing the link.

  • In reply to JasonChin:

    I didn't vote for Obama and according to liberals I'm a racist. That word is thrown around too much. So I guess Mel Brooks is racist for making one one of best movies of all time Blazing Saddles? Which could never be made today because parents and society have made their kids "little kitty's".

  • In reply to mollyemmons:

    LOL - well at least Jason has a sense of humor! : )

  • In reply to JETIV:

    I was the extreme minority growing up in south Tucson where my peers were 90% hispanic and 8% Native American, and yes I was asked if I was "born that way" and "you should get a tan" etc...(sterotypes such as NASCAR didn't exist that long ago)
    Now many years later my neighborhood is 60% Indian and 25% Black. White's have been the minorty in this country for some time now, we just don't get the benefits - doesn't bother me - none of this does - if it bothered you when you were growing up - well more power to you I can't comment on it because it was your personal experience. But if you think that Long Duc Dong created racial problems for Asians then I honestly think the person you should blame would be Gedde Watanabe. If he thought it was so offensive to his race then he shouldn't have done it. Not the writers or directors or the people who enjoyed the character. That would be the same as Blacks being upset with Snoop Dog for portraying other blacks in such a poor light.

    Its a movie, and even if it wasn't a movie one person does not represent a race.

    In my opinion racists are those who find fault in others based on race.

    This article qualifies.

  • In reply to JETIV:

    True, one person does not truly represent a race/ethnicity/[insert other demographic]. But, believe it or not, media portrayals CAN actually impact people's perceptions of people of a particular demographic. And when media depictions of people from a minority demographic tend to be nothing more than stereotypical caricatures, guess what the mainstream's perception of that minority demographic tend to be, especially where they have otherwise not had much exposure to that particular demographic? Fair or not, that's unfortunately the way the world works. The fact that you are apparently oblivious to this phenomenon is a testament to the privilege you hold as someone in the majority.

    I believe Gedde Watanabe has taken his fair share of shit for many of the roles he has played over the years. But I can honestly say I don't fault the actor who takes an offensive role to the same degree as I do the writer who created the offensive role in the first place. You can say the actor has a choice not to take the part, but where roles are few and far between (particularly for minorities), that could mean a choice between taking the role or not pursuing your chosen profession as an actor. And if that person turns down the role, there are probably hundreds of other aspiring, hungry minority actors who will take the role. (And if not one of them takes the role, then you risk ending up with Mickey Rooney or Brian Dennehy in yellowface.) The writer has a choice, too, of not writing the offensive/stereotypical part in the first place. But as between the writer and a supporting actor, wouldn't you agree that the writer has just a little bit more influence on what finally makes it onto the silver screen?

  • In reply to Arex:

    Well written and reasoned, Alex. Thanks for contributing. I appreciate it. -J-

  • In reply to Arex:

    It's interesting how, in film, stage and television, the Asian man in America is depicted as ineffectual somehow, not as much of a "Man" as the Western man and thus easily the clownish character. I do believe that there has been a cultural shift and that "Sixteen Candles" could not get the same yuks for such an out-there character. I think Asians (and other more vulnerable minorities out there) are just finding their voices in order to say, "Enough!" So. I DO think that character was racist and have a lot of friends who cringe at the memory, just as I do friends who cringe at Apu in "The Simpsons". *sigh* Great post, Jason. KA

  • In reply to Arex:

    John Hughes set his movies in Northbrook and the surrounding North Shore communities in the 1960's and 1970's. Minorities did not start moving into those communities in any quantity until later. To have included them in his movies would not have been an accurate depiction of the time.

  • In reply to reggie:

    I think this is an interesting question. I think we have to remember that movies are works of fiction and don't necessarily represent the views of the director or the actors in them. So I don't take the character to mean Hughes was racist. But I can see how, to you, the character is offensive.

  • In reply to namahottie:

    looking at the cast photos on www.imdb.com is interesting

  • In reply to namahottie:

    If the movie had portrayed ALL Asians as they did this one character THEN you could say that it had racists tendencies.
    Otherwise it is not racist it is a portrayal of one individual. Calling this one character a racist act would be the equivalent of saying that ALL white people act and look like Ferris Beuheller.
    Are we not allowed to have individuality? And are we not allowed to represent that individuality on screen?

  • In reply to JETIV:

    You're right, the other asian characters in 16 Candles are well-balanced. Of course, individuality is desired, but the character of "Long Duc Dong" is a caricature, not a true character. Like I mentioned above, I DON'T think John Hughes was racist. I think "Long Duc Dong" was a racist caricature.
    And I think most people would be pleased if their race was stereotyped as Ferris Bueller-like. That'd be cool. That kid could wear a vest like no one else!

  • In reply to JETIV:

    Ali Farahnakian, an Iranian friend of mine, wrote a very funny one-man-show about what it was like growing up in America during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

    At school, his status went from pet-minority to hated-minority: 444 terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

    As an Asian kid, Jason Chin had an emotional reaction to Long Duk Dong. It's valid. It's important. What's more, it's raw insight. This scares the crap out of white people. God forbid we're ever wrong!

    As an adult, we should expect more from John Hughes. But as a storyteller, I have to defend the right to yanky his wanky. Which is unfortunate, but so north shore.

  • In reply to GregMorelli:

    I love Ali. He's great. He's the only person I know to play 4 different characters on Law & Order.

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