Adam Sandler’s latest film nobody will watch, the Spaghetti Western spoof Ridiculous 6, received some unwanted attention last month when a dozen Native American actors walked off set in response to offensive, racist depictions of their people in the film. Netflix, who will release Ridiculous 6 on its streaming site, quickly retorted, “It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only a part of—but in on—the joke.” The diverse cast must have missed the memo that they were in on it.
Never one to learn from his mistakes, Adam Sandler is doubling-down on his Native American racism.
The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that the film’s makeup department is “darkening actors of various ethnicities (including black and Asian talent) to make them appear Native American.” Happy Madison, Sandler’s production company, seems determined to characterize Native Americans in the most reductive way possible, crying “Satire!” when they receive negative criticism for racism that would feel right at home in the imagination of U.S President Andrew Jackson, the man responsible for the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Racism has been one of the more prominent components of Sandler’s films throughout the 21st century, peppered in since Billy Madison premiered in 1995. Not counting when he acts in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, Sandler’s lazy, unfunny, grating movies have devolved into straight up minstrelsy, demonstratating the pervasiveness of racism in popular culture.
So what are some of Sandler’s most racist films?
The film was widely panned for its offensive depiction of African culture, treating the continent as a monolith, packed with images of an anachronistic tribalism, wild animals, and crazy accents. South African movie critic Binwe Adebayo called the film “a shameless sequence of tired stereotypes made for a seemingly ignorant, borderline unconscious audience”:
[Sandler’s Africa] completely divorced from any urban or rural reality in this country. There is ostrich-riding and elephant-feeding, and large herds of giraffe and wildebeest walk gracefully across the ‘savannah.’ Similarly, the “native” people are divided into three categories: oversexed and leering, bumbling and inarticulate, or just bone lazy.
Whether meant for laughs or not, this brand of comedy reproduces discriminatory ideas, and considering the treatment of black culture in the U.S. today, maybe Sandler should have maybe asked anybody before making a movie about Africa.
2) Jack and Jill
In an hour-long, point-by-point takedown of Jack and Jill, Mike of Red Letter Media explains, “What we should mention is that Jack and Jill is the most racist film since The Birth of a Nation.” Is that a little too hyperbolic? You be the judge.
In a moment they refer to as “the most passively racist scene in movie history,” where Sandler’s Jill goes to a family picnic with Sandler’s Jack’s Mexican gardener, Felipe (Eugenio Derbez). The gardener makes self-deprecating jokes at the expense of Mexicans throughout the film that cover immigration and the name “Juan,” often “resolved” with a “Just kidding!” At the picnic, Jill accidentally knocks out Felipe’s grandmother, also played by Derbez, with a soccer ball. She can only be revived using the volatile scent of jalapeños. This gag happens twice in the movie.
Felipe continues to be the mouthpiece for unprovoked Mexican humor, that can in no way be classified as satire. For instance, one of the characters casually asks Felipe, “Oh, did you have a nice Thanksgiving?” He responds, “Yeah, I had the whole family come over. Even my Aunt Rosa snuck across the border.” It would be offensive if it weren’t so lazy and depressing.
3) 50 First Dates
Rob Schneider is Adam Sandler’s go to guy if he needs an “ethnic” character in a movie. Schneider was the Middle Eastern delivery man in Big Daddy, the random vaguely Latino “You can do it!” guy in The Waterboy, the Asian minister in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and the Asian waiter from Eight Crazy Nights. There are almost too many to choose from, but I decided to go with his portrayal of Ula in 50 First Dates.
Similar to Blended, 50 First Dates combines racist colonial fetishism with ethnic stereotype to create the ultimate dry-heave inducing movie-watching experience. In 50 First Dates, Schneider plays Sandler’s sidekick, described by the Honolulu Advertiser‘s Michael Tsai as “a heavy pot-smoker, indifferent worker, and a bit of a conniver” who confirms many of the worst “wacky stereotypes” about Native Hawaiians. In a memorable 2005 editorial, the New York Times condemned the character as a “leering Hawaiian…with a pidgin accent by way of Cheech and Chong.”
In addition to the inherent racism of portraying Hawaiians, Asians, and other ethnicities this way, roles that are going to Rob Schneider—who I would argue has zero box office draw—could very well be given to more talented actors of color.
4) You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
I admittedly found You Don’t Mess with the Zohan funny when I first saw it in theaters. It was a simpler time, a time before I knew the destructive power of racist humor. Zohan follows the titular character, played by Sandler, as he leaves the Israeli Defense Force to pursue a career as a hair stylist in New York City. Not a bad premise, right? The logline still makes me laugh!
But Zohan is rife with post-9/11 Arab stereotypes. I can see them writing the screenplay now. “Okay, this Salim character. Does he drive a cab? Yes. Is he a terrorist? Most definitely. Who should we get to play him? Right! Schneider, of course! We’ll have to paint him brown…”
The joke in Zohan isn’t so much the hilarity of the fish out of water story, it’s centered around the insidiousness of Arabs in America. CounterPunch’s Remi Khenazi explains that the “negative stereotypes in Zohan strip down the Arab people to RPG wielding animals that senselessly thirst for Jewish blood.” Khenazi continues:
Other stereotypes saturate the movie. The Palestinian salon that Zohan gets a job at is described as a dump, Palestinians constantly cheer for the “terrorists,” a crowd of Palestinians applaud the death of “heroic” Zohan (which he faked), and the “terrorists” are so stupid and illiterate that they purchase Neosporin instead of liquid nitrogen to make their bomb to kill Zohan.
You can defend all this by saying, “Hey, it’s just an Adam Sandler movie! Stop taking it so seriously.” But explain that to the children living in refugee camps on the Gaza Strip or the men and women who lose their lives every day in an ongoing conflict, one perpetuated by misunderstanding and racial division.
Stereotypes don’t just hurt. They kill.
5) Billy Madison
As much as this will betray my 15 year-old self, Billy Madison, Sandler’s feature-length breakout, has one of the most loathsome depictions of a black woman I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Billy, the billionaire son set to inherit his father’s hotel business, is primarily cared for by his black nanny, Juanita (Theresa Merritt), who is a shameless variation of Scarlett O’Hara’s Mammy from Gone With the Wind. Juanita is sassy, loyal, and lecherous. Throughout the film, Juanita makes subtle passes at Billy under her breath, to which he responds, “What a weirdo!” in an early scene. In another, she tries to console Billy by asking him, “Want me to take my shirt off for you?” When he rejects her, she reminds him, “OK, baby. But remember, the offer is on the table.”
Even dating back to Billy Madison, Sandler’s humor depended on portraying people of color as absurd and laughable, the butt of the joke, and Ridiculous 6 clearly retreading the same path as his previous work. Without having learned anything in the past month, the movie will still likely hammer in the same, tired, lazy stereotypes at the expense of Native Americans.
And whether we like it or not, Sandler will keep producing images like these in his movies—and he’ll keep counting his fat stacks of cash.
Feliks Garcia is a writer, powerlifter, and foster of homeless cats. He holds an MA in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, is Offsite Editor for The Offing, and previously edited CAP Magazine.
Screengrab via MOVIECLIPS Trailers/YouTube