MINORITIES: Hollywood Sour on Interracial Romance


This article originally appeared in Issue# 46

TV has been teaching the American public since the 1940s. Movies, however, have been providing informal sex education since the turn of the century. But what have movies taught about minority teen relationships?

Seldom have movies seriously explored minority love. But they certainly have exploited minorities, particularly in the realm of interracial sex. Three minority teenage stock figures have become dominant in the Hollywood sexual pantheon.

Stock Figure One — The loose minority teenage girl.

This began with silent movies, when young Mexican and Indian women 'led for the favors of white pioneers and cowboys.' Since then minority young women, from plantation blacks to urban Latinos, have provided a convenient pre-marital sexual rite of passage for young white males. Even a film as generally innocuous as the 1978 Grease fit into that hallowed cliché, as John Travolta sows his teenage oats with hot-blooded "Cha-Cha" before settling down with the acceptable Olivia Newton-John.

Stock Figure Two — The sexually threatening minority teenage boy.

Reverse the gender and wild oats become sexual danger. Once again, silent movies set the pattern, from The Greaser and The Girl to The Birth of a Nation, in which a lustful young black man drives a white girl to suicide to escape his advances. So when Esai Morales rapes Ally Sheedy on the streets of Chicago in the 1983 Bad Boys, it extended the long Hollywood tradition of minority manipulation.

Stock Figure Three — The laughable (and therefore nonthreatening) minority male sex machine.

The current king of teenage sex comedies, John Hughes, employed this seedy device in his 1984 Sixteen Candles, in which a white high school girl becomes enchanted with an oversexed male Chinese exchange student with the oh-so-clever name of Long Duk Dong.

With rare exceptions, Hollywood has warned against interracial teenage love. Transgressions can be tragic, even lethal. In the 1961 West Side Story, Polish-American Tony and Puerto Rican Maria pay for their error of falling in love, as Tony is shot and killed by Maria's Puerto Rican boyfriend. Jump ahead a quarter of a century to the 1987 China Girl, and the message remains the same. This time an Italian-American boy and a Chinese immigrant girl fall in love, with nearly the same tragic results...both are shot and killed by a young Chinese tough.

Some variation in plots, but the Hollywood warning continues. While awakening to love and sex, teenagers beware: cross racial lines at your own risk!

Author Bio: 

Carlos Cortes is Professor Emeritus of history at the University of California, Riverside. His most recent books, The Children are Watching: How the Media Teach about Diversity (2000) and The Making - And Remaking - Of a Multiculturalist (2002), were published by Teachers College Press. He is co-author of the Houghton Mifflin Social Studies series (2005) and Cultural Consultant for Nickelodeon's Peabody-award-winning children's series, "Dora the Explorer", while he also performs his one-person, one-hour autobiographical play, A Conversation with Alana: One Boy's Multicultural Rite of Passage".