“Gran Torino,” White Masculinity & Racism

HarryThe recently released film “Gran Torino,” which Clint Eastwood stars in, directs and partially scores, is being hailed as a tour de force of filmmaking and a harbinger of a hopeful future by many critics.   The review of the film that appeared in The New York Times entitled, “Hope for a Racist, and Maybe a Country,” written by Manhola Dargis, is characteristic of the kind of praise the film is receiving (Creative Commons License photo credit: Daquella manera).  The film also reveals a good deal about white masculinity and racism.  [WARNING: *SPOILERS* follow]

The plot of “Gran Torino” revolves around Walt Kowalski (played by Eastwood), a Korean war veteran, a retired autoworker, and an extremely misanthropic and apparently deeply racist man.  The film opens just after the death of Kowalski’s wife.  His grandchildren are shallow and self-absorbed, and Kowalski has no interest in nor affection for them.   His two grown sons are anti-Eastwood figures of masculinity: weak, ineffectual men, dominated by their shrewish, materialistic wives.  He has no interest in bonding with his parish priest, another representation of weak, white masculinity.   Kowalski is a loner and he likes it that way as he sits on his front porch, growling at people and drinking can after can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.   Kowalski seems incapable of interacting with a non-white person without using the most offensive racial epithets, and his racism is played mostly for laughs throughout the first part of the film.   This snarling character represents a particular form of white masculinity that relies on overt racism as a constituitive feature.

Kowalski’s Detroit, Michigan neighborhood is changing around him and he is none too happy about it.   Although we never learn the exact setting, in many ways the neighborhood evokes the rise and fall of Highland Park, Michigan.   When the city was founded in 1919, it was home to the flagship factory of Henry Ford and the highest average living standard for U.S. workers.  Today, it’s the site of some of the worst poverty in the states.  Setting the film in the context of the auto industry is not coincidental, and the fate of Kowalski character and this dying (or, at the very least, seriously troubled) industry are intertwined.    Both appear to be on their way out, but the cherry perfect condition of the Gran Torino speaks of a past, muscular glory.   Along with the car, Kowalski’s house stands out in the neighborhood, and his meticulous tending of his small, tidy lawn serves as a marker of his class (and moral) values.  He mows his lawn with a manual – not a power – lawn mower, thus reinforcing the muscularity of the muscle car’s aging owner.   When Kowalski’s effete sons try to get him to leave the neighborhood, he chases them from his house, and we barely see them in the film again.   Instead, Kowalski chooses to stay in the neighborhood, looking down the class ladder at his neighbors.

The Detroit neighborhood in the film is becoming a primarily Hmong (pronounced “mung”) enclave. Many in the Hmong community throughout the U.S. are heralding the film as a wonderful opportunity for raising awareness.  For example, Brooke Thao, the actor who plays the widowed mother and next door neighbor, tells Hmong Today:

“Eastwood is a miracle in the Hmong community. I hope that this really sheds some light.  … it tells people that Hmong exist and how we helped in the war. My own father was recruited to fight for the US when he was only 14.”

Despite the warm reception the film is receiving among many in the Hmong community, the depictions of the Hmong characters in “Gran Torino” are closely aligned with stereotypical representations of Asian Americans.  Sue and Thao Lor, part of the family that live next door to Kowalski, and most of the members of the Hmong characters in the film, are depicted as people who are unable to care for and protect themselves and thus desperately need Kowalski’s intervention. There are no Hmong characters, male or female, who emerge to mobilize the community to fight back against the gang who terrorizes it. There are no Hmong characters, male or female, who attempt to take individual action to protect the community. Importantly, the gang that threatens the neighborhood is also Hmong. As such, the Hmong are represented in ways that are consistent with stereotypical images–Asian Americans are either passive, docile, and acquiescent, “model minorities,” as Chou and Feagin explain; or dangerous criminals who constitute, as Yen Le Espiritu writes, a “yellow peril.” Simply put, all the Hmong characters in the film are either weak and in need of protection, or they are depraved criminals.   Espiritu argues that both stereotypes legitimize discrimination towards Asian Americans.    By depicting the Hmong community only through these two stereotypical extremes, “Gran Torino” represents the Hmong as powerless, dependent, and in need of the patriarchal machismo of Kowalski’s white messiah to protect them from their criminal counterparts.

Eastwood’s fictionalized city stands in sharp contrast to the actual racial composition of Detroit, which has experienced a dramatic white flight and simultaneous large migration of blacks into the city’s urban center. Given the reality of this racial makeup of Detroit, it’s noteworthy that blacks rarely appear on screen in this film.  In the one scene in which three young African American men do appear, they are quite predictably cast as thugs, harassing the perky Sue Lor whose hapless white boyfriend is useless at diffusing the tense situation or protecting her.   In movie magic timing, Kowalski happens to drive by (in an old pick-up truck, not in the Gran Tarino which he rarely drives) at the precise moment that Sue is in trouble.  Remarkably, Kowalski makes it through this entire encounter with three young, black men without ever once uttering the “n-word” (and, even when he’s in a bar with his buddies telling a racist joke, Kowalski never utters this epithet, instead referring to a black man as “colored”).   After the encounter, he lectures Sue about avoiding dangerous situations and about her dating choices.    While these scenes are likely intended to show that Kowalski is becoming a father figure to Sue, the racial dynamics of the film reinforce the idea that people of color must rely on white heroes to provide guidance, stability, and pathways to safety.  It’s interesting that the screenplay’s author, Nick Schenk, chose to tell the story of Kowalski’s racism through his encounters with the Hmong people rather than with blacks or Latinos.   The racial epithets in the film get big laughs from most American audiences; it seems reasonable to wonder how many laughs there might be if the racism were directed at a different group.   Perhaps the contrast between the sympathetic Hmong and the violent or absent African Americans reflects Frank Wu’s argument that the representation of passive, contented Asian Americans offers a symbolic contrast to African Americans, who are considered to be “bad” minorities who are too strident and forceful in their push for equal rights.

The representation of masculinity in “Gran Torino,” is racialized in such a way that the subordinate Hmong masculinity is continually juxtaposed against the hegemonic white masculinity of Eastwood.   Rutgers scholar and expert on Hmong culture Louisa Schein, notes finds the representation of Hmong men problematic:

“I feel a lot of the plot about the Eastwood character is driven by the fact that he is a veteran. Yet there is no possibility for representing the fact that the Hmong were veterans too.”

Schein also notes that the only Hmong men shown with any depth are a nerdy teenager and a tough-guy gang member.  All the adult Hmong men are absent: the Lor family’s father is dead and the only other adult Hmong man is a elderly man that asks for help repairing his house.  Into this context of missing adult Hmong men, Kowalski takes on the role of teaching the young Thao how to “act like a man.”   The initiation into manhood for Thao focuses, in part, around manual labor tasks, learning about the vast collection of tools in Kowalski’s garage, and getting an entry-level construction job (he offers none of this sort of guidance to Sue).  The rest of Thao’s rite de passage involves being schooled in the elocution of racial epithets that Kowalski has honed through years of practice with his Italian barber.    Kowalski bring Thao to his barber, and through a series of trading racial epithets (the rules about which are mystifying), Thao learns how to “talk like a real man,” by trading racist insults.  (This skill proves to be useful when Thao interviews for the construction job.)   This scene in the barbershop, perhaps more than any other, illustrates the point that the form of white masculinity on display here relies upon overt racism for its raw material.    Kowalski’s only relationships in the film with friends or peers (the barber, the men at the bar) are premised upon this shared exchange of overtly racist language.   For Kowalski to be able to regard Thao as a “real man,” he has to be initiated into this racist ritual.   To object is to risk losing one’s manhood.   In contrast,  Sue, Thao’s sister, is not subjected to this kind of hazing as there is no possibility that she can enter the exclusive club of masculine privilege that awaits Thao if he is successful.
Even as Kowalski’s relationship with the Lor family is the mechanism in the film by which he finds redemption, he still continues to engage with the family in racist ways. Throughout the entire movie, he uses racial slurs to refer to the Lors (even Thao, to whom he is supposed to be a father figure), and repeatedly mispronounces Thao’s name. In keeping with the “passive Asian American” meme, the Lors do not take offense at the fact that Kowalski frequently addresses them using racial slurs. They simply take it in stride—Sue in fact goes so far as to say that she wishes their father had been more like Kowalski.   This not only legitimizes the use of racial slurs that many Asian Americans find utterly offensive and harmful, but reinforces the message of Asian Americans as so passive and acquiescent that it’s perfectly fine to subject them to overt racial stereotyping.  Sue’s evocation of her dead father, and her longing for Kowalski as a father figure, reinscribes a version of white masculinity that relies on over expressions of racism.

“Gran Torino” can be viewed as a story of one man’s personal triumph over racism and his redemption through his friendship with the Hmong Lors family; and, that certainly seems to be the intention of the film’s director, the author of the screenplay, and the intrepretation of many critics.    Yet, a different reading of the film suggests that the central narrative relies on the intertwining of racialized stereotypes juxtaposed with heroic white masculinity.  As Kowalski, Clint Eastwood plays a variation of the standard tough guy roles he perfected as “Dirty Harry” and continued in his performances in films like “Million Dollar Baby.”   Indeed, as New York Times critic Manhola Dargis writes:

“We’ve seen this western before, though not quite. Because this isn’t John Wayne near the end of the 20th century, but Clint Eastwood at the start of the still-new 21st, remaking the image of the hero for one more and perhaps final time, one generation of Americans making way for the next.”

Eastwood’s role is emblematic of the “white messiah” image conceptualized by Hernan Vera and Andrew Gordon in their book, Screen Saviors. Vera and Gordon argue that white male characters in film often embody a white messiah where they are cast as the saviors of people of color. Often loners or outcasts, the white messiah typically establishes his heroism by rescuing or saving a group of racial minorities who are depicted as too childlike, infirm, or weak defend themselves from peril.  In “Gran Torino,” Eastwood’s Kowalski takes the trope of the white messiah to a new level with the telegraphed ending and the Christ-like pose of the final scene.

Eastwood’s creation of the growling Walt Kowalski character effectively captures a particular form of white masculinity that relies on overt racism as a constituitive feature.  Whether or not this is a dying form or a core feature of our culture remains to be seen.


  1. Will

    Perhaps we should expand this lens to include all of the “oscar worthy” movies that have been recently released. Of late I have also seen “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Doubt.”
    In the former there are four people of color, all African American. Brad Pitt’s adopted mother, “Queeny” who takes the role of mammy throughout the entire movie playing a mothering role to any number of elderly white people. The movie states a number of times her goal in life is to have a child of her own. The young male father figure, whose name escapes me, who, while literate and loves Shakespeare, is portrayed as constantly trying to sleep with Queeny; advances she seldom rebukes. And finally Pitt’s younger black friend from Africa who has spent his career living in a cage with monkeys and scaring white children.
    “Doubt” set in a 1960s catholic school also has two characters of color, both African American and a memorable reference to a third who has never pictured. A young African American boy is being abused by the pastor of the church and at 12 does not raise any alarm. His mother, an interesting portayal, tells the principal who has discovered the abuse (Merryl Streep), that she is willing to look the other way, “for the benefit of the child.” This is in part because of her abusive husband who “will kill the child” if the abuse is discovered. While the roles of people of color is changing in movies (ie African Americans aren’t regulated to janitor characters) racist images are still abound. My question is, does having these images in modern “quality film” lend validity to the racist reality they support?

  2. GDAWG

    “……And finally Pitt’s younger black friend from Africa who has spent his career living in a cage with monkeys and scaring white children.” Yep. It actually happened. He, the African, was on exhibit at The Bronx Zoo.

  3. Jessie Author

    Hey Will, GDAWG ~ thanks for your comments. Yeah, Will excellent point about expanding the category. Of course, there’s a long history of this sort of not-so-subtle racism in the “oscar worthy” category. Recall that in 1989, two films were released: “Driving Miss Daisy,” and “Do the Right Thing.” Guess which one won 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, and which one got shut out of any wins (except for Best Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello)? Go ahead, guess. 😉 I’m predicting that “Gran Torino” wins one of the big categories at the Academy Awards. Hollywood loves rewarding itself for this sort of stuff.

  4. Rosalind

    Well I had been holding back talking about this movie because it was just so ridiculously upsetting. I thought about writing up a post for this blog, but was really emotionally affected by the experience of watching it in the theater. The most disturbing part, sans that whole concept of Eastwood as some sort of “hero” was the reaction of the white audience which surrounded me. Their laughter lingered too long during and after Eastwood’s use of racial slurs. Scenes that were just offensive turned comic fodder for the audience. It was almost as if they were adolescents unable to control their laughter when their high school health teacher used the word “penis,” but, instead, the funny words of the day were “chink” and “gook.” It seemed like Clint Eastwood wanted an excuse to use every racial slur he could think of without consequence.

    I sat there wondering just what was so funny. I wanted to know what joke I was missing, when in reality, I have a difficult time identifying why the degradation of other human beings is comedic. As a person of color, I don’t get the benefits of power and privilege or real-life superior station. So, I endured two hours of humiliation and discomfort. In the end, I came up with a list of morals of the movie:

    1) Men of color are dangerous.
    The criminals were Latino, Hmong, and Black. Yes, they were also rapists. The one young white guy tries to be “cool” with the African American men, but he’s just dorky and useless against these scary men of color that want to rape women. But the old white guy, veteran with lots of guns can stand up to these “degenerates.”

    2) The main Asian American male character is not a REAL man.
    He does women’s work (parallels with labor patterns or modern day constructions?). He is even called “dickless” at one point, and doesn’t know how to talk to girls. The older white man has to teach him.

    3) Asian Americans are model minorities, even if the Hmong youth are involved in gang activity. The supporting Hmong actress is a “smart girl,” but called a “dragon lady.” It is her job to teach the older white man, who just happens to be ignorant (no systemic link, this is just an individual racist), about her people. He directs racial slurs at her and in the face of this racial taunting, she continues to let the Eastwood know that he’s still a “good man.”

    4) Even though they are model minorities, they are still foreign.
    He calls them “barbaric,” jokes about food, customs, you name it. These Asians won’t ever be REAL Americans.

    5) In the end we, the audience, just need to realize that an old bigot is just out of touch. This is an individual issue and that ultimately we owe him a lot. He saved us all with his service during the war and ultimately is giving us (people of color, new immigrants) the chance at the American Dream. Eastwood is a symbol of old problematic America, and the laughter in the theater is not characteristic of any larger systemic problems, no way, get a sense of humor, will you?

    This movie just fuels the rhetoric of our post-racial society. Eastwood is the pre-Obama generation. Yet, why is it that all of the audience members who are the younger generation aged 45-20, who probably voted for Obama (I viewed this movie in Austin, TX not College Station), laughing inappropriately at the hateful racial language?

    My roommate’s younger (19 years-old) brother also saw the movie. He is white, but has a critical understanding of race in the United States. He went to a separate viewing of Gran Torino and independently brought up the same concern about this white laughter. I had not mentioned that I had even seen the movie and he came to me expressing his discomfort with the timing and length of the chortling. Eastwood has really produced and directed a comedy, not a drama/action flick. This is a film that creates a safe space for whites to be free from racial critique. This is yet another award winning white savior film.

  5. Sharpe

    It wouldn’t have been my choice to pay money to see this film and I must confess I wanted to not like it from the outset, just from the trailers. But I ended up seeing the film this weekend and wrote this review for Yahoo!:

    Clint, the Messiah

    Reviewed Jan 18, 2009

    A well crafted movie with all of the elements to draw you into the story: drama, tension, comic relief, side story. And as much as this movie is watchable to me, the story is pretty unpalatable: A Korean war vet who has never done anything worse than not claiming taxes on an item he sold years ago (i.e. “a good man”); he is (sort of) haunted by having had to take the lives of the “enemy” during the Korean war…not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of it, he says near the climax of the film. And also the decline and selling of the American infrastructure (the American Dream?) as characterized by the failed US Auto industry, for which he worked and produced his prize possession, a 1973 Gran Torino (later to go on to fame in its own right as the “striped tomato” for Starsky and Hutch) has added fuel to his disillusionment of life. His disillusionment, by the way is portrayed as the type of character who calls Blacks “spades” (or worse), Asians are “zipper heads” (and anything else that can make the audience titter as they wish they had the balls to utter these phrases maybe or maybe he reminds them of grandpa or something…) this character was the flag waiver “Joe”, portrayed by Peter Boyle in the ’70’s. I think the creator of Ren and Stimpy has a character like this called “George Liquor”. I think Joe McCarthy played this character in the Senate in the fifties too. The character belongs on the comic pages, in a cartoon. Not being ennobled on the big screen by a Hollywood icon. Eastwood offers vindication for the unapologetic, hard drinking bigot with a heart of gold. Great news for hardcore republicans, the John Birch society and the guys and gals out buying up the gun market as Obama’s inauguration approaches. Icons like Eastwood know exactly the weight their characters bring to the screen: “Dirty Harry” is part of the American folklore. “Go ahead, make my day” is a line that will be quoted for years to come just like “These colors never run”, “better dead than red” and “my country, right or wrong” to name a few. It’s a well constructed movie that has a message condoning hardcore racism as an American virtue. If only everyone would adopt (Eastwood’s character “Kowalski’s”) virtues we’d all get along on the basis of toughness and mutual, if not grudging, respect. Eastwood hammers home his message in homage to Jesus near the end. Over the top, baby…over the top!!! Yes, if only “they” would clean up their yards and keep the property values from dropping; if only “they” would speak English; if only “they” could understand that real Americans just talk rough and politically incorrect because we’re tough but we don’t mean anything by it as long as you adopt American culture at the expense of your own…? Is that part of the message, Clint? Did you ever read John Wayne’s playboy interview? Of course you have. And you don’t have to give interviews, do you? Your eloquence is up there on the screen for all to see. I wonder what would happen if you used your great talent to promote understanding and constructive gain instead of the redemption of hate and violence?… See Full Review

  6. exstatic22

    I am disappointed and shocked at the praise this movie is getting. Not only was the acting mediocre, but the stereotypes were so blatant. We need to let those at the oscars etc. that this film is not worthy of ANY awards. Coverage of this film and the likes has been distancing me from hollywood and pushing me towards independent and underground films.
    P.S. Rosalind, your critique is right on!

  7. dale

    I saw the movie. My ancestry is Chinese. I thought it was one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. You people are, as Walt Kowalski might say, a bunch of jabbering dimwits. Your analyses missed the substance of the movie so completely that I can’t possibly illuminate to you to all of the great nuances and complex handling of race, but here’s a few of the biggies:

    1) Walt is a tough and traditionally masculine man on the outside, but disarmed and impotent when it comes to dealing with his family who he considers shallow and degenerate, and the guilt he feels about his actions during the war. On the other hand, the Hmongs are immigrants who are vulnerable in an unfamiliar, foreign world, but at home they have strength that comes from their family unity and the traditional values that even the children respect. Just to drive this theme home for the audience, the two houses are made to symbolize these inverted themes of strength: Walt’s is immaculate on the outside, but withered on the inside (he’s nourished with beer and jerky). The Hmongs’ lawn is dirt and weeds and the paint is peeling off their house, but inside it’s always packed with the multiple generations of their family, and they eat and laugh abundantly.

    2) The point of Walt’s hilariously over-the-top racism was to illustrate the fact that his traditional masculinity is an anachronism that hasn’t helped him leave his neighborhood, understand his children, come to grips with his religion, properly articulate his emotions, or even tell his son that he’s dying. I laughed because his racial epithets were so absurd. I’ve heard a lot of Asian epithets directed at me, but the ones I never heard before were hilarious.

    3) You guys got the whole savior thing totally, totally wrong. The Christ symbol at the end wasn’t a paean to the values of Dirty Harry. Yes, he protects them with his fists and guns, but it’s the strength of the Hmong family unity that renews Walt. He finds redemption because for the first time he discovers that he’s able to be a real father to Thao and Sue. The Hmongs show him that the family values he thought were gone for good are still alive – this is why he says “Christ, I have more in common with these gooks than my own family.” It’s because he gains familial completeness from the Hmongs that he’s able to sacrifice his life and die in peace. He’s a finally a complete man, get it?

    4) The whole portrayal of asians, while a little blunt, was still pretty dead-on. The scolding matriarchs? The tough-as-nails grandmother? The big family gatherings with huge casseroles of food? Yeah, that was my family, and every asian family that I know. My high school had the asian kids who formed “gangs”. They didn’t have guns, just knives, but they did drive around in white Japanese cars with spoilers on them. We called them FOB cars (fresh off the boat).

    It’s clear that you walked into the theatre with the “-isms” of a decades-old analytical lens. Go see it again, but this time drop that crap and try to see it without the baggage of your preconceptions. It’s a really great movie.

  8. Z

    I saw the movie in an empty theater, and my experience was more like Dale’s as a result . Instead of hearing snickering and wondering what, exactly, other people were finding so funny, I was able to simply concentrate on the movie. The message I got wasn’t that Hmong people need white saviors, but that this Hmong family was in need of someone like Walt, and Walt of a family like their’s.

  9. Joe

    Still, Dale and Z, Rosalind’s comments are on target. Why can’t Hollywood make movies where the Asian or Latino actors play heroic roles and are the heroes of movies that are not about martial arts? Why so much attention to men of color in gangs? (Couldn’t this movie have had one strong Asian male who protects his family?) How about an Asian or Latino American actor in a central role of “screen savior” of whites? how about a Walt who is Japanese American and saved whites with his war service in WW2, as many did? WHITE-controlled Hollywood is afraid to do really honest movies about Asian Americans.

  10. dale

    But I disagree with the fundamental assertion that Walt is the hero in this movie. He is if your sensibilities are more Western and equate heroism with physical aggression. But I believe that the Hero in this movie, with a capital H to denote the Joseph Campbell-y interpretation of the Hero’s Journey, is actually Thao. I suppose you could make a case for Walt, but IMHO Thao fits the Hero mold much better. Briefly, he’s a neophyte who encounters an obstacle and an older, wiser figure along the way who helps him in his eventual transformation into a mature figure who brings change to himself and his community. Note that at no point in this trope is it required to blow anyway your enemies, or even threaten to do so. The classical example of the Hero’s journey is the Buddah. I’m no expert on Buddhism, but I’m pretty sure that Buddah wasn’t packing heat at any point.

  11. adia

    Dale–no one is saying there isn’t complexity to the representation of Walt Kowalski. I agree with you that he is also depicted as broken and alienated, but this doesn’t prevent the film from using the “white savior” meme to depict him in relation to the Lor family. In fact, if you review Vera & Gordon’s analysis of the white savior concept, this is often part of the characterization–that the white savior is “disarmed and impotent” but finds redemption through his symbolic “rescue” of racialized Others and the realization that he can form strong ties to, and find a recognition of common values with, the very people he stereotyped. As you point out, in this film Kowalski’s impotence in dealing with his family, discovery that the Lors share the family values he thought were dead, and virulent racism establish his ability to evolve and find redemption in a community/family he once dismissed. This is hardly new or unique, but a pretty consistent theme in these types of movies (anyone see Monster’s Ball?) and one consistent w/ the theme of the white savior who learns that the racial others he once despised are really humans to whom he can relate after all. It seems to me, however, that many films in this genre use the white savior character while simultaneously reinforcing some of the stereotyped images the protagonists are supposed to be learning to question (see Joe’s point at #14 and Rosalind’s at #6). If you are fine with the racial stereotypes and find them amusing and cute, that’s certainly your prerogative, and a place where we part company. I must say, though that I think it’s unfortunate that you can’t state your disagreements without inserting derisive Walt Kowalski-like remarks that insult the readers of this blog and thus distract from the substance of your argument. In your second comment (#15), I do think you make an excellent point that Thao is the real hero of the film, and appreciate you doing so in a manner that doesn’t include insults along with your opinion. We can disagree and have productive discussion without name calling.

  12. Eddie

    Wow , what a biased site…Where are the articles on Malcom X? or the new Black Panther Party and Malik Zulu Shabazz?…Oh i’m sorry you can only be a racist if your white…You people are sad,Racism is prevalent on both sides of the fence, but you choose only to exploit whites.White people got Obama elected, so do us all a favor and stop crying racism and acting like minorities are nothing but victims…Your old 1960’s hippy propaganda has no place in todays America.

  13. Seattle in Texas

    Eddie, why don’t you look up the definition of “racism” first. Second, why don’t you provide us with a definition of what “todays America” is exactly. And only some white people voted for Obama. I would have to say that the folks on our money, several of the flags flown through out the nation, most of the monuments and statutes, etc. throughout this nation are extremely outdated…. I would say the Republican Party is outdated. Many things in all reality are outdated, but not hippie propaganda.

    To my own personal disappointment, I haven’t seen much hippie propaganda on here. And there is plenty of room for alternative mindsets and freethinking in this society–one of the decent things in this society of which not enough white people subscribe to. Oh, speaking of hippie propaganda, I would encourage you to consider attending http://hempfest.org/drupal/ this year (I noticed there are other hempfests in other places throughout the nation too) for your own good.

  14. Eddie

    Are you freaking kidding me???The folks on our money and statues ect… are outdated??They are the founding fathers of this country.If not for them there would not be this country to smoke your weed.You fucking hypocrite, with Obama’s election, white guilt and black victimhood is slowly fading away…”Todays America” is a diverse melting pot of cultures, sorry pal the segregated 50-60’s are over.Keep on fighting the good fight though.I will tell you this take the whites out of America and let the blacks and mexicans have power and we would become a 3rd world nation, but at least you would be getting stoned right?Loser…

  15. Joe

    Eddie, actually, much of the labor that made the elite founders wealthy was earned by the sweat and deaths of enslaved African Americans. Jefferson, Madison, and Washington likely never worked even one day as hard as the 1000 or so African Americans they, as lazy elite guys, enslaved mostly did for many years of these so called founders’ lives. You are just brainwashed. Where are the statues to all those enslaved Blacks? They also built the white house and the capitol ….. and Most whites suppress this knowledge.

    Much research proves there is still widespread discrimination in housing, jobs, etc, against African Americans and other Americans of color. Opinions are NOT data. Give me some hard data on your fantasies of a free country.

  16. Dennis

    Hi Joe,

    Are you optimistic about bridging this seemingly insurmountable disconnect between “most” blacks and whites regarding the WHOLE TRUTH about America’s racist past and how our current day institutional racism-white supremacy reality (that many whites WON’T see or admit to) whose origin stems from slavery, Jim Crow and it’s present day equivalent – putting black and brown people disproportionately in cages for petty so-called crimes? It seems there are so many CLOSED white minds (and a few non-white also) who don’t care to examine the root and current causes, or talk face to face as to why things are the way things are.
    Do you see true hope for America in her inability to come to terms with her racist past and present?

  17. Response to Dennis....

    Without “those whites” Dennis (who ARE the majority of the country)… WE would not have our first BLACK president.

    Do you think for a second that if this country’s whites were THAT racist… would we have voted for Obama and not Mccain?

    It is BEAUTIFUL that someone as smart and educated etc… is our President (who happens to be black) because NOW blacks (not all) have NOOOOOOO excuse to not pull up their pants, get an education, speak properly (no not white….PROPERLY) and if necessary use the VAST resources available to them (just for being black).

    Racism will NEVER hold the black man down if he chooses to do all that is necessary (like the rest of us) to be successful. Obama is proof.

  18. Dennis

    “Response to Dennis” I think you’re very *confused* about whom you think you should be responding to. My previous comment does not have in it, “those whites.” Unless you are the official spokesperson for all those with a “white racial frame” mindset, I won’t waste my energy debunking your utterly erroneous and bull-sh*t racist assertions.

  19. Sasha

    Rosalind, I am Ukrainian (not very famous ocuntry), but we have also suffered and still do from russians, so some parralels were pretty obvious. About those, who say “this was historical, we used to call them pejorative names but this was OK”, well, for you it was ok. As well as russians call us “small brothers” and other offensive names, nd don’t consider this offensive(of course, for them it’s not) the whole image of other races were portrayed in the movie was strange. Simply the good white man (the hero, a bit strange and old-fashined, but still) and a bunch of bad or stupid guys, and almost every scene shows this. I noticed quite a bit of american movies who portray other nations as minor humans. This is very obvious. It’s so much easier to call other subhumans then, when ideologically prepared. This has an economical reason, as always.

  20. I just returned home from seeing Gran Torino feeling very emotional and had to get these feelings off my chest so I could go to sleep. As a veteran, I feel I understand what the screenwriter of this fictional story was trying to teach us. Although fiction, the story is too much true to deny. Of all the previous reviews, I find the Chinaman Dale (comments 12 & 15) offer the most grounded and especially in his comment: “You people [reviewers] are, as Walt Kowalski might say, a bunch of jabbering dimwits.”

    For all the reviewers who would rewrite the screen, note that you did not produce this movie which is destined to become an Academy winner. The movie is about the story represented and that was not your privileged (if only you could be so successful). The story is about a Korean vet (like most) who came back home worked hard, retired, were never offered treatment for PTSD, lost his wife, and held on to good basic life values. This movie perhaps is one of the most accurate reflections as to of what has happened to this country since the end of the Korean War.

    Walt, as he was for his Hmong neighbors, is a real American hero whom we need more like today within this country. Also the young Hmong hero (Thoa aka Toad) by learning to use his calm head also with a hope for the future of all people facing community difficulties. Sure some comments will get racial purists uptight (whom I feel often see a racist under every bed as the problem while neglecting main issues). Aren’t the objected comments pretty real among many Walt-type people real? Walt did not retreat either in war or his community when its color changed. Although he could have, he did not move away to the suburbs with his former white neighbors and his children. He stayed. I consider him to be much less racist than the 95% (whites) in this country who abandoned their former beautiful neighborhoods that have been overtaken by new ethic peoples and the poor. Look at Boston, LA, Detroit and all the big cities! The movers did not have to say racist comments, they showed it.

    So what if he was a cranky old (80 years old?) man saying things that “good proper Americans” should not say. As a 100% disabled combat veteran (Special Operation Forces), I know that if you saw what he impliedly did in combat 55 years earlier (killing 13 enemy including a young 17 year old), most of your perceptions might differ very little than Walt’s. He has a real story that he did not discuss. War takes a tolling affect on all warriors with a conscience. That alone makes many veterans present too often a bitter feeling in today’s world when they see what is happening to their country for which they offered the supreme sacrifice.

    The truth is that most Korean and Vietnam veterans have referred to their Asian enemy as gooks. Many combat vets are easily triggered emotionally even with the sight of Asians or recollections from that period of their life. After all, the military inspired within us that a gook was lower than a dog so that it was okay to kill this person who could make you dead if you did not react the right way. So within the soul of many combat veterans rest this disturbing feeling that is real in their perceptions, intrusions, and often nightly dreams. Don’t we know that war is hell emotionally to defeat the person. Yet these veterans must come home often to uncaring people who supposedly “are against war.” (KNOW that the strongest desires for peace always rest with the soldier.) Wasn’t Walt trying to teach Thoa to avoid violence because it can hurt one’s soul for a very long time.

    I am sure that retired white auto workers’ comments reflect their former enemies successful assumption of the automobile manufacture as Americans adopted foreign cars and left our people unemployed. This does not seem right for those who won the war to lose their jobs to those we helped (Koreans) or defeated (Japanese, Germans, and Italians). How would you feel if your neighborhood turned into a dump because of that? Furthermore, unless you are blind, you must realize that Gangs throughout the US have an unduly affect on the poorer inner communities. These young men do not much hope but a lot of crime and use of drugs but most Gangs are comprised today of young men of color. Yes, Walt saw it that way but it did not mean that he had to give into their destruction of his neighborhood and abuse of its peoples. If we only had more leaders and judges who stood against this encroachment into our society.

    Major General Vang Pao, the war hero who for two decades led the Hmong in their fight against North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces, said, “If the United States won’t help us, they should drop a bomb on us so we won’t suffer any more.” The story of the Hmong has been a story of neglect and betrayal. Our most faithful and courageous people during the Vietnam war were paid and encouraged by the United States to resist the advance of Communism in Southeast Asia. But the US abandoned them and left them to a precarious fate when the Laotian domino collapsed in 1975. After that there was a slaughter of the Hmong, with a few being saved for relocation to US Hmong Communities.

    So, Walt no doubt gave his life for these Hmong and this Hmong family so they could live unintimidated. Knowing that he would soon die (probably cancer?), he made one last sacrifice plan offering his life that would result in the jailing of the Hmong gangsters for killing him. He knew precisely what he was doing. His life was over anyway and he made his peace with God and his confession. Perhaps he felt the Americans owed more to the Hmong for what the faithful Hmong had done for the Americans in combat considering what happened to thousands of Hmong who lost their lives after the United States abandoned them.

    Is there a moral that transcends any of the racial or crude comments uttered by Walt? You betcha. There are many morals in this story that could someday be a classic study in schools. Sue Lor said it right – Walt Kowalski is a good man. While fiction, it offers an excellent sociological and historic story of today’s inner city and major issues as to what is going on in this society. The screenplay’s author, Nick Schenk, deserves an OSCAR.

  21. Michael Parker

    I was really impressed with the movie’s brave representation of masculinity and racism. I think that some things in the movie have to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, when Clint Eastwood directs and writes a movie, he’s going to be the hero. Period. White man or not. But talk about a flawed hero. This guy was so appallingly racist and ignorant. Many of the offensive remarks are used in an ironic way. The audience is supposed to see the character’s flaws. I did not see it in a theater, but I would guess that a lot of the people who were laughing were probably racists. But there may be another subset of people – liberal individuals who are constantly offended by racist parents or grandparents, and who laughed in relief to see the character portrayed in a movie. Laughing with other audience members in an “hey I know someone like that” way of community. Just a thought.

  22. Michael Parker

    I would also argue that ultimately it is not the stereotyping of the Hmong characters as “feminine” and “passive” that needs to be challenged, but the value judgments we as viewers bring to the movie that deems these qualities to be NEGATIVE. In my opinion, it is the dominance of patriarchy that brings us to think these characters were negatively stereotyped. I think the movie does an excellent job in challenging our beliefs. In the finale, the protagonist’s act of non-violence, which succeeds in sending the gang members to prison, signifies his disavowal of his violent masculinity in exchange for the more gentle traits of the Hmong community.

  23. Ken Tenis

    “Current day institutional racism?” Please. Blaming whitey won’t get you anywhere – education will, pulling up your pants and staying off drugs will, taking responsibility for your own destiny will.

    If you hate the so-called “Current day institutional racism,” why don’t you just get the hell out? Find a more tolerant place to live and rid us of your divisive bellyaching.

  24. This movie simply recycled racist/sexist stereotypes cast upon Asian immigrant & Asian American communities for decades. White benevolence saves the backwards people of color. Thank you white men for teaching us because without your guidance, we’d all be a bunch of dependent emasculated males, gang members, sexual objects… That’s the racist/sexist story that’s been told in different form via American cinema for literally decades.

    Hegemonic Masculinity Run Amok in Gran Torino

    Honestly, there is quite a bit of literature out there that applies to this formulaic film – “Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture” by R. G. Lee; “Monitored Peril: Asian Americans and the Politics of TV Representation” by D. Y. Hamamoto; and the best for this topic would be “Romance and the ‘Yellow Peril’: Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction” by Gina Marchetti.

  25. name

    Hey, I saw Gran Torino, I’m white, here’s my opinion:

    Good movie, but,

    It did seem Eastwoods character was set to be the hero but I’m not seeing it as much of a racial thing. Sure it seemed that everyone in the movie was set sort of below. The blacks, mexicans, the asian gangsters but you guys are acting like it’s everyone but the white people. Did you guys even pay attention to his selfish white family? Trying to send him to a retirement home to take his house, his ungrateful granddaughter wants his car after he’s dead, what the hell is that about?

    Also why are people bringing new stereotypes. The asian stereotype seems to be either smart, wealthy, gang banger, or just plain low class FOB’s. I think they cover just about every social class based on those stereotypes and that doesn’t make much sense. Now we can’t have an american movie about asians without someone having a fit about stereotypes because of this.

    And about stereotyping white people, Obama did get the white vote. Most people who voted for McCain were white but were also really biased republicans. You people are also complaining about comparing asians to the whites that it’s stereotypical for asians to be wealthy. Do you ever notice that you are now just stereotyping whites by saying that they are all rich? That’s a bunch of bullshit. Just because whites are the majority doesn’t mean there aren’t any lowclass ones.

    Besides you think the white people in the government don’t give a shit about black people? The governments job is to protect america and keep it safe. Everyone who is born here, white, black, brown, yellow, fucking what ever. We are currently feeling threatened by N.Korea while other minority americans are complaining that they didn’t get enough money out of a college fund for being black. And if you think that the system is set up to fuck over you people, just look at who became president god damn it. You are just stereotyping yourselves.

  26. name

    Oh yeah I forgot. I did laugh at some of those comment but not because they were racist, it was how he said them. Like when he was talking to the black thugs. “Shut your fucking face”. Almost like billy-bob thorton from bad santa how he just threw fuck in every other sentence. I’m not racist, I just found his speech to be kind of funny.

  27. @name – the majority of whites voted for McCain. McCain won the white vote.
    – in terms of have a movie is written, directed, etc, the 1 selfish white family is “overmatched” by all the lowlifes of color and the white hero. Basically, whatever negativity there is about the white family doesn’t equal the negativity of the people of color.
    -I’m black and I have no intentions of ever watching that movie. Not because of this post, but because the trailer is enough to let you know it’s a racist movie. Taking into account Eastwood’s reaction to Spike Lee’s criticism of his WWII movie, Eastwood is a little suspect.

  28. And general question – Why do white people seem to think think their opinions about the racism in/of a movie, in this example, actually matters in a discussion about how racist a movie is? It’s like they think if they say, “No, I didn’t see it as racist,” that it makes people of color feel better. (And isn’t that a sympton of white privilege itself?) What makes white people think they should be trusted when judging the racism of a movie, song, picture, etc?

  29. Matt

    Dale, Z, Rosalind, adia, et al:

    The crown of thorns you have chosen to wear has slipped, gouged out your eyes, and left you blind.

    The movie was excellent. Actions are far more important than words.

    Whining, even when it is multisyllabic just ain’t productive. Go do something worthwhile.

    A White Devil

  30. adia

    Name–despite your extensive and rather vitriolic comments, you seem unfamiliar with the “white messiah” trope established by Vera and Gordon. Part of my argument was that Kowalski fits this characterization, which includes but is not limited to, white male alienation from larger white society. This alienation enables the white male protagonist to “save” people of color. So when you point out that Walt’s white family was horrible and selfish, you actually further prove my point that he fits this classification. You might familiarize yourself with Vera and Gordon’s discussion of this image, and then point out to us how/where Walt Kowalski *doesn’t* fit this meme.

    You are also incorrect in your assertion that Obama won “the white vote.” While obviously some whites voted for him, exit polls revealed that McCain won the white vote decisively–I believe by a 65/35 margin. A small minority of whites voted for Obama, but he did not win the majority of whites’ votes. You should review your statements for accuracy prior to posting.

    I’m not sure to whom your comment that “You people are also complaining about comparing asians to the whites that it’s stereotypical for asians to be wealthy. Do you ever notice that you are now just stereotyping whites by saying that they are all rich?” is directed. This was not a statement I made in the above post; if you read it carefully, you’ll see that nowhere do Jessie or I argue that whites are all rich. However, in terms of income/wealth disparities, whites do tend to outpace groups of color in terms of wealth acquisition and income (see Oliver and Shapiro 1994 and Shapiro 2004). This is not to say that there aren’t poor whites–obviously there are–but their issues are often ignored and overlooked, perhaps because the stereotype attached to the poor is that they are black or brown? Lastly, you might read up on the origins and fallacies of the “model minority stereotype,” and the arguments that this stereotype presents an inaccurate image of wealthy, (relatively) assimilated, docile Asian Americans while ignoring those groups who are often economically disadvantaged (ironically, including the Hmong, who are featured in Gran Torino). It seems like you might just be defensively reacting to our analysis of racism in this film without familiarizing yourself with the literature we use as the foundation for our argument.

  31. Ben

    Dear Writer:

    I am so disappointed that your education has led you to perform the same run of the mill, please my college professor, nonsense analysis of this movie. In particular, I note that you say:

    “There are no Hmong characters, male or female, who emerge to mobilize the community to fight back against the gang who terrorizes it. There are no Hmong characters, male or female, who attempt to take individual action to protect the community…etc., etc.”

    I find your analysis to be lazy and assume you must have watched the film with a blind eye, seeing only the opportunity to complain about stereotypes, the apparent one and only lens through which you see the world. In particular, the female lead and her family fight the gang on their own lawn. The boy attempts to avoid being in the gang, but has no real way to fight back. He also wants to fight them to the death after the gang takes action against his family. I would certainly consider those to be “attempts” to fight the gang.

    I guess you would only be happy with this movie if a Hmong only group rose up and in some unquestionably righteous way “mobilize the community” to fight the gangs. I also disagree that the male and female Hmong fit into either of the stereotypes you describe. The male is strong, wants a career, is not an unbelievably smart person, but a normal person who has a difficult set of choices in his life. The female is smart, but again, not a super-genius, with similar problems. Both are well developed into individuals who transcend the stereotypes you complain about.

    In fact, it appears that the only Asian character in the movie you approve of is the doctor who treats Eastwood’s character.

    In the end, it seems that you have such a list of exhaustive potential stereotypes for Asians, and, no doubt, all races that there is no depiction of them that would meet your approval. They are either too smart (not really in this movie) or too evil (the gangsters maybe). You force yourself to fit characters into these categories to justify your premise.

  32. name

    “In the end, it seems that you have such a list of exhaustive potential stereotypes for Asians, and, no doubt, all races that there is no depiction of them that would meet your approval. They are either too smart (not really in this movie) or too evil (the gangsters maybe). You force yourself to fit characters into these categories to justify your premise.”

    thats basically what i said

  33. Karma

    Superficially , this film is about a car – as the name suggests. I suspect that this is a deliberate device, to divert our attention, albeit temporarily, from the true nature and purpose of the film. It is a film about racial stereotypes, and how ‘we’ the general public encounter one another. The ethnic groups presented in the film for examination through the lens of the sociological ‘stereotype are;

    1) White American – (The Eastwood character & the White boyfriend).
    2) Black American – (The three Black men on the street corner).
    3) Mexican American – (The gang harassing Thao near the beginning).
    4) Hmong American – (The central ethnic characters of the film.

    In a very real sense, none of us escape the net of how we view one another. Perhaps the Gran Tarino (1972 model), is designed to conjure up the nostalgia of a by-gone age in American culture, an age that is viewed now as somekind of lost ‘utopia’, when there was order in the world, and different communities kept very much to there own areas and themselves. The Eastwood character is a White stereotype who is continuously living in the past, living with the companion of continuous racism, is not developed during the Korean War (1950-53), then certainly strengthened and bolstered by the experience. As a White stereotype, the Eastwood character views all Asians as ‘the same’, and it is obvious that he can not distinguish someone of Korean and Chinese ethnicity from that of the Hmong. In a very real sense, the other members of the cast, have to be ‘stereotypes’, because that is how Walt views the world. Like the Gran Tarino of the by-gone age, Walt’s views seem never to change, in a world that changes everyday.

    However, through day-to-day interaction, Walt slowly comes to acknowledge the ‘humanity’ within his Hmong neighbours, that his racist views had up until that time, not allowed him to see or indeed, grant. He undergoes a metamorphosis in his own viewpoint of the situation he lives within. But this change does not compromise the notion of what he thinks is ‘right’. What does change, is the idea of whom he thinks is worthy of his sense of ‘righteousness’ – obviously, this is his Hmong neighbours. Coupled with this developing narrative, is the revelation that whilst a serving soldier in Korea, he killed at least 13 men – one of which he shot in the face, when he had surrendered. This one act of barbarity within the madness of war, has haunted him ever since. The eventual juxtaposition is obvious; he replaces the Asian (i.e. Korean or Chinese) soldiers he had fought and killed in Korea, with those of his Asian Neighbours, whom he decides to help.

    He initially uses violence against a Hmong gang member, that eventually results in this gang using rape and shooting in retaliation. From then on, Walt decides to sacrifice himself for what he feels is ‘right’. In a sense, he masterminds his own demise, by ensuring that he will be shot, an event he prepares for by getting a hair-cut, a bath and a new suit – a procedure that is almost ‘samurai-esque’ in its ritual deliberateness. He dies unarmed, holding his lighter that bears the insignia of the 1st US Cavalry, his unit in the Korean War. The Hmong gang that had been terrorising his neighbourhood, are arrested and taken out of circulation, presumably for a very longtime.

    The stereotypes are frequent. For instance, all White people are either selfish racist bigots, or, in the case of the potential White boyfriend, an imitator of the street cultures of others. This stereotype is juxtaposed by a pious Catholic priest. Black people are depicted as street thugs and nothing more. Mexicans travel in car drivern gangs, harassing all and sundry, and the Hmongs (indicative of American Asians) are either passive neighbours, self-absorbed by their own culture, or part of a ‘gangbang’ culture, whose main victims seems to be members of their own ethnic community. At one point in the film, the Hmong matriarch (grand mother), sits on her porch, and asks herself( in subtitled Hmong language), something along the lines as to ‘why’ her White neighbour has not left the neighbourhood yet, like all the others. The Black characters refuse to accept the White boyfriend as a fellow gang member, whilst physically and verbally harassing a Hmong character. At one point, and in humour, the Eastwood character is referred to as a ‘White Devil’, etc. No one group in the film is free from this treatment. The Eastwood character of course, is racist from beginning to end, with a larger than life depiction of a racist bigot. It is difficult to imagine that someone could be that racist for so long, for no apparent reason.

    The film is interesting. It can also be very uncomfortable viewing, but not because the film is bad, on the contrary, it serves as a reflection of how human beings view one another. Of course, it could be argued that as it is a White writer, all that is being presented is a limited Eurocentric view of the world. This maybe true in-part, but does not explain why by and large the American Hmong community have welcomed this film with more or less open arms, according to the review at the top of this topic. Films that deal with inter-communal dialogue, will always face criticism from at least one direction, or perhaps many. The potential desire to ‘water-down’ all films so as not to offend anyone, inevitably leads to non-descript narratives of more or less limited sociological relevance. Gran Tarino took the opposite tendency and let everything be shown. It is up to us as individuals to ‘see’ through and beyond the superficial method of delivery. A White racist bigot, had his heart changed by his experience of mixing and interacting with the American Asian Hmong people. I think this is the central part of the film, well hidden behind a veneer of relentless racism and stereotyping. The film redeems itself from the inside out, providing its exterior is not allowed to obscure its humanist message. And the fact that racism and humanism can be delivered at the sometime within the same film, is the exact genius of the film.

    Thank you

  34. Ben

    Well said Karma. I’d also add that simply using stereotypes in film, or art in general, is merely part of the medium in a time when the examining of cultural differences or relationships between different ethnicities is in vogue. Furthermore, film in particular is limited to maybe 2 hours, and presenting a world where all characters fully developed is nearly impossible, if not unrealistic when “point of view” is considered. Were Gran Torino an HBO series, we would no doubt learn the background, and character of the gangsters and the other cast members, etc., as we did in “The Wire.” However, a full length feature film maker does not have the opportunity to do this. Instead, much like in life, Eastwoods presents a spectrum of options, many of which are stereotypical, for his developed characters (here, the Hmong teenagers & Kowalski) to choose from and live within. Sadly, this point is lost in your analysis.

    Lastly, it is painful to see stereotypes portrayed on the screen when those stereotypes hit home or even address one’s ethnic group. However, film makers and artists should be permitted and encouraged to address these issues. Handcuffing filmmakers by preventing their use of stereotypes or depiction of racism, as you seem to want to do, inhibits a national or international discussion on race relations. Film and art should be descriptive and/or prescriptive, and should be presented in that manner to address all parts of life, not just the way you think life should be. (re: your idea that the Hmong in the film should rise up on their own and mobilize the community, etc.).

  35. Ben, I don’t say this glibly – Only white people can afford to look at movies as just “typical” stereotyping of the industry.
    What you’re forgetting is the idea that the movie is a reinforcing agent. It either reinforces negative stereotypes, or it can actually be a part of moving the country into a different direction. BIRTH OF A NATION is an example of both, though both the stereotype and direction the movie took is wrong.
    Because movies are a mirror of culture, critiquing a movie isn’t entirely
    different from critiquing the culture the movie claims to represent – depending on who wrote and directed and produced the movie. But, because movie also have the power to push, critiquing a movie when it comes to race is also critiquing the complacency white America has with racial status is America. To say, “Oh, well, it’s just part of the medium,” is a little insensitive and unthoughtful. It’s easy to say that when for the most part whatever negative stereotypes there are of white people don’t affect their lived experience. But, when these movies are the only experience a great number of white people have with people of color, the negative stereotyping fo people of color has a negative impact in larger society.
    Karen – For all the films apparently redeeming qualities, it’s still framing racism as something one person feels towards a group of others without addressing structural and institutional racism. And, studies have shown the differing amounts of credibility a stereotype has depending on who’s being stereotyped and who’s stereotyping. And, I’m sorry, again, but for all it’s redeeming qualities, at the end of the day, with everyone’s personal biases against others, is the white guy the only hero?

  36. yomama

    As a Korean-American, certainly we all respect and appreciate America and the Korean War veterans for their sacrifice. I’ve met several Korean War veterans, and I’ve never felt any hatred or racism towards me. The movie was good, but too many stereotypes. Sue is the typical smart Asian girl. Thao is the typical quiet nerdy Asian. Walt white family are uncaring and only want the inheritance. The black kids are thugs. Hispanics are thugs. C’mon, that’s ridiculous stereotyping. I think the main good thing about the story is that maybe that Walt, Sue and Thao became friends, despite Walt’s initial racism.

  37. Patrick

    I wanted to add one point I haven’t seen here regarding the laughter by white (and others) at the dozens of racial epithets spoken by the Eastwood character as well as comment on context.

    I did not see this movie in a theater, so I can only comment on my own reaction and guess at the reaction of others. Frankly, I was more taken aback by the dialogue and found myself “laughing” almost out of a kind of embarrassment. It’s awkward to hear the terms used in the film anywhere. While some white folks (and others) laughed because they thought it was funny, I believe that many people who were “laughing” may have done so because they weren’t sure HOW to react. It’s hardly an uncommon reaction.

    For the character in the film, and for most people (men in particular) of that generation, referencing ethnicity was a normal, everyday occurrence. I would also argue that more often than not, it was not intended to be harmful in any way. Irish were referred to as mic’s, Italians were dago’s or wops, French were frogs, English were limey’s, Jews were heeb’s, Asians were slopes or chinks, Latino’s were spics or wetbacks, etc. These were commonly used terms and used directly between the groups. At some point (not hard to understand why) people in these groups stopped wanting to hear themselves referred to in these ways. What was “normal” to those of this era became racist speech over time. And those who grew up with this don’t understand why it is now considered racist when it wasn’t thought of that way before.

    I understand that there have been many points made in this thread regarding the pain of hearing these types of comments. My belief on this topic is that people should attempt to put themselves in other people’s shoes. If being called a name engenders pain, then it’s understandable that you don’t want to be referenced in that way. That said, it would have been false to have this character use terms like Asian, or Hispanic, etc. Those are not the words he would use. You can argue that the film went overboard with it, but for Walt to speak the way he did was entirely in character.

    Note that of the above groups, I excluded Blacks. My reason for doing so is that it is my belief that racial references towards Blacks in America by non-Blacks have indeed been, for the most part, used with malice. The reality is that with most non-Black groups, coming to America was their own idea (even if they were fleeing persecution, they chose to come here). How they were treated once they got here is an entirely different matter, but for the most part, non-Blacks were not brought over as slaves. With that in mind, usage of the “N” word as a reference is understandably hurtful to Blacks in this country. The problem that many whites have, specifically with the African-American community is the all-to-true fact that Blacks themselves use the “N” word with regularity; in speech, in song, etc. The argument then becomes; “how come it’s racist if I say it, but they call each other “N” all the time?” I’ve never heard a particularly persuasive argument on this one.

    Along the lines of being in character; I would imagine that most people have either seen or at least heard about the mini-series Roots. If you have not seen it, or perhaps don’t remember it, the “N” word was used liberally throughout the series. And rightfully so! It was the term used as reference during the time being shown. As distressing as it may have been, it was accurate for the film. I honestly believe that because of the prevailing sentiment in America now, that Roots could not be made today. If it was, it would be homogenized beyond all recognition. And I view that as a sad thing. If we deny our history, how will we ever learn from it?

    Bottom line, we can argue the merits of “Gran Torino” as a film. But in the context of this discussion; was the Eastwood character racist? Of course he was! But the deeper question is; was that an unrealistic portrayal of a man from his generation? Absolutely not. Perhaps the most unrealistic aspect of the film (and this is what makes it Hollywood) is that Walt ultimately discovered the good in those he felt such animosity towards. If this were commonplace this country sure would be a much nicer place to live.

  38. Man with a brain

    Why is it always white people who are offended by “racism” against “minorities”. You people need to get a life.
    I’m part asian and loved the film. Clint Eastwood’s character is not racist, he is merely ignorant as are most people who seem to visit this website.

  39. It Burns

    Let’s just say, for the sake of moving past the quarreling that seems to have dominated this thread after a very interesting, and impressively welcoming beginning, that Gran Torino asserts that racial slurs in modern America are absurd, and are best left dead, bullet-ridden, and Christ-like on the lawn of the very stereotype portrayed (feel free to argue; I’m simply giving one possible interpretation), and lets say also, for sanity’s sake, that it was successful.

    Are stereotypes and ethnic violence in this country really the only problems we face when concerned with racism? Gran Torino is obsessed with the former topic, and uses the latter dramatically to “show” where these stereotypes lead us. But do any of us in this discussion, on both sides of the isle, really think eliminating both these poisons will solve the problem? Gran Torino neglects an important part of racism that, more often than not, is guarded by the argument over stereotypes: a person whose mind contains racism does not always express that racism vocally, and just because the old, vocal racists are dying away, and even if, no longer did young Asian-Americans kill other Asian-Americans (I use this example simply because it’s applicable to the movie), racism will not die because it is anchored in the racist person’s mind, not the external, or “vocal” characteristics of stereotyping and violence.

    Gran Torino is a lazy, lazy movie because it is preoccupied with external racism. Stereotyping and gang violence are problems–big problems, and they must be dealt with, but I find it very immature to think that a movie that slams stereotypes down your throat in an attempt to invalidate them is actually fighting against racism in any way.

    Examples of better studies on race relations and class conflict: The Wire, Do the Right Thing.

    And, seriously, I didn’t want to be rude in this post but their are several comments about our recent presidential election, and how everything is different for people of color now because Obama got elected that warrant a shut the fuck up.

  40. Michael Parker

    While I really enjoyed the movie, I’ve definitely been enlightened by this discussion of the racist nature of the plot. I am more inclined now to see the movie from 2 different perspectives. On the one hand the messiah figure of the white protagonist is clearly problematic and something that the movie industry needs to address. On the other hand, I really loved the interactions between Walt and the Hmong people in the neighborhood. For most of the movie he was just a racist white guy learning to open up his mind, and I actually thought that aspect of the movie was really moving.

  41. Michael Parker

    For some reason, I just keep coming back to this discussion:) Most recently, I have realized that there is a certain aspect of the movie that has been missing from our discussion…the cowboy myth. Can we really understand American art without this point of entry? It seems that our country is in many ways obsessed with the cowboy. (George Bush, anyone?) He is the guy (read white male) in the cowboy hat who does his talking with his gun, who may have a few vices (a history of drinking or war atrocities or domestic problems) and is looking for redemption. This is exactly the plot of Gran Torino, the only difference now being that there is an attempt to reconcile the cowboy with modern race relations. It seems to me that this loyalty to the cowboy myth is the biggest problem with Gran Torino (despite my continued claim that there are many positives to the movie). Not only do we as a culture continue to pump out art that is stuck with this cowboy character, but we are seeing it realized in our every day lives. Again, I’m talking about George Bush! The problem is that if being a cowboy is a virtue, then being intellectual instead of shooting from the hip is seen as weak. Putting in your dues in the classroom instead of on the prairie inspires hate and scorn (read Obama)…there are all sorts of parallels here. But, in general, it is this (white male) cowboy myth that we critics of Gran Torino may all be talking about. Any thoughts?

  42. Jason

    There is no way that this movie can be seen as anything other than a comedy. The stories sucked, the idea is as far from groundbreaking as it can get, everything was so cliche.

    The only thing that saved this movie was the blatant racism, the racial insults were just goddamn hilarious and it made me laugh harder than all the other lame comedies put together.

    This is one movie that cannot be taken seriously, because it’s not even realistic. Everything about it was just one big fat comedy. From the way Toad “acted” (don’t even know if you can call that acting), don’t really know what the hell he was doing half the time. But come to think of it, this Toad guy is actually one of the few “normal” Asians you’ll see in Hollywood films. Most Asian males are presented as weak nerds with no personality, but Toad actually had something in him that was interesting, he wasn’t a nerd, and he had probably the most development in the entire film. At least that’s something.

    But back to the fact about the movie’s realism. When Clint pulled up on those Black guys and called them Spooks, did that finger thing….why didn’t those Blacks just whoop his ass right then and there? Why didn’t the Asian gang just whoop his ass? I can’t believe how those Black guys didn’t do a thing, that’s not even realistic. And it’s ridiculous how they represented Black people as gangbangers who would rape some broad in broad daylight…..that was atrocious.

    Very mediocre movie….I mean comedy.

  43. MOM@ALL

    If you are talking about Grand Tirino and just got the messages of sterotyping then watch it again!! The movies was about a old man that finally woke up to the fact that he hated the world because of the war and he really hated the Asian/Koreans. It was also a story of repentance, and did anyone watch at the end of the movie when he died, and the way he was standing when he died, like a CROSS! What is the matter with looking at the good in people once in a while? I say well done and there should be more people that should repent for their sins.

  44. Sonia

    After Million Dollar Baby, I expected more from Clint Eastwood. I was eager to rent this since I was told it was one of the few if only Hollywood portrayals of the Hmong. This film attempts to portray a racist character and the issue of racism in a manner that is way over the top and unrealistic. Worse, racist stereotypes are reinforced by this film. We see Hmong youth who speak and act ‘gangsta’ and the only blacks in the film are thugs.

    Most racism today is covert or subtle, rather than overt. Eastwood’s character spitting racial epithets all day long is unrealistic. Even the KKK these days know how to use coded language and implicit means to hide their racism. The most ridiculous scene was when Eastwood’s character approaches the 3 black teens and calls them a racist name to their faces. What elderly white man gun or no gun is going to do something that stupid? That would be suicide in the real world!

    Most racist white people are polite and courteous, which is why racism is so pervasive. Few even consciously recognize themselves to be racist.

    If Eastwood’s character was so racist, why didn’t he move? Why stay in a Hmong neighborhood?

    The other stereotypically stupid scene played on the ‘model minority’ stereotype when the good Hmong boy was reading while walking from school and gets harassed by fellow Hmong who speak like ‘ganstas.’

    Any college student who was taken a intro sociology course would know better than to craft such an absurdly racist script. I am still in disbelief at how this movie received any critical praise. Eastwood does the Hmong a real disservice in this film Horrible!

  45. Mom

    What elderly white man gun or no gun is going to do something that stupid? That would be suicide in the real world!

    Not to be a smart bu**, but I know a few that would, and probably would win! However, those few are trained to killers that have not been deprogrammed after the war, and we live next door to many of these people and don’t know it. LOL:)


  1. Posts about Mashups and Memes as of January 18, 2009 | The Lessnau Lounge
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