Boomers never imagined that a John Wayne or Clark Gable movie would at some point in time be considered a little distasteful.
Earlier this year, the Turner Classic Movies channel showed several "classic" films in a format called "Reframed: Classics in the Rearview Mirror." The hosts discussed the movies from historical and cultural perspectives.
Two of the films they reviewed during the viewing included Gable’s "Gone With the Wind" and Wayne’s "The Searchers." Movie fans of my generation know the issues regarding these films.
To quote the TCM website, “We are applying a modern lens to these films that come with the benefit of decades worth of activism, growth, and education.”
Those of us who grew up with zero diversity didn’t know what may be offensive to some. The "good guy" was white, and he even rode a white horse.
I recall Mom making popcorn and our family of five gathering in front of our television, which was still considered a treat, for “Saturday Night at the Movies.” This was the early '60s, and at the time, the Else clan was living on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
Around that time, I started to watch more movies, and was soon a John Wayne and Clark Gable fan. When I watched various films years ago, I didn’t understand the stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans or Black Americans.
But life must be experienced, and kids of the '50s started to grow up. Some joined the military or would be called by Uncle Sam. No matter what color you were, you were brothers or sisters in arms.
Some of us set foot on diverse college campuses. My first history class in college was taught by Edwin Nakasone. He witnessed the Pearl Harbor attack and would serve our country as an interpreter during the occupation of Japan after World War II. For me, teammates were Black. All of these were significant, life-building experiences.
I learned, I listened, and many of us started to understand civil rights and discrimination. Despite what stereotypes some early movies put in my brain, I began to recognize it for what it was.
Boomers then hit their career trails. Personally, I had the good fortune to work for an agency that strived to hire a diverse staff. The change I witnessed during my career was helpful for me and advantageous for our agency.
You learn respect for each other by laboring side by side. As I worked with Black, Hispanic or female co-workers, I discovered we all have similar issues in life.
We can’t change what was said or portrayed years ago, but we can learn from it. Movies and actors from our early years were flawed. We all are. I can now watch an old film and understand what is not right.
I will always appreciate the classics and the characteristics of characters played by men like John Wayne or Clark Gable. Traits like toughness, integrity, confidence, and being a man of your word. These movie characters believed in individual freedoms and had old-school philosophies, such as staying out of other people’s business.
I believe our country is not as divided as the media portrays. The name of the game seems to be to polarize us. Boomers have participated in the struggle forward for equality.
Americans of different ethnicities continue to learn, work and live together. We are an incredibly diverse nation, and this is a strength. Our remarkable community right here in Rochester is an excellent example of that.
I could sign off by using Rhett Butler’s final line in “Gone With the Wind,” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” However, I do give a damn — that we all understand and care about each other.
Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s “Day in History” column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at firstname.lastname@example.org.