No room for PRejudice

Cleavon Little and Mel Brooks in "Blazing Saddles"

Cleavon Little and Mel Brooks in “Blazing Saddles”

Film comedy fans are celebrating the 40th anniversary of “Blazing Saddles,” Mel Brooks’ landmark film which Entertainment Weekly said “redefined comedy forever.”  It’s the story of a couple of crooked politicians in 1874 who appoint a black prisoner the sheriff of a Western town so they can drive out the townspeople and build a railroad through it.  The movie, famous for its outrageous characters and a singularly hilarious beans-around-the-campfire scene, uses the “n” word 17 times, according to various Internet sources.  Yet “Blazing Saddles” is on most critics’ lists among the funniest comedies of all time.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling made controversial remarks about African-Americans in a private conversation that was recorded and later made public.  Although he didn’t use the “n” word, he’s been found–in the court of public opinion–guilty of extreme racial prejudice, and has subsequently been barred from basketball.  Now it’s likely that the other National Basketball Association (NBA) team owners will force Sterling to sell the team.

So why do we celebrate a 40-year old movie that liberally sprinkles racial and other prejudices throughout, and yet we feel compelled to throw an 80-year old bigot out of professional basketball? Let me suggest a couple of reasons:

First, no one should be subjected to bigotry.  Second, the NBA is an international brand.  “In recent years,” wrote Alicia Jessop in Forbes in February, “the league has…develop(ed) its brand outside of the United States’ borders.  The NBA has done this by, amongst other things, establishing league offices overseas, developing training facilities outside of the U.S. and supporting various goodwill initiatives globally.”  Jessop noted that 312 international media members from 46 countries traveled to Houston to cover the NBA All-Star game last year.  

As a worldwide brand, the NBA depends on goodwill, good PR, and projecting a positive image.  Sterling’s comments put that image at risk.

Mel Brooks made “Blazing Saddles” to effectively laugh at prejudice and expose its heinous stupidity.  It worked.  The NBA is now compelled to punish that same prejudice– and do it very publicly.  Your thoughts?



33 thoughts on “No room for PRejudice

  1. stephleal

    I thought that NBA and its commissioner did a great job dealing with the situation. The NBA is a brand outside of the US and there should be no room for racism in sports. In recent years, you see members of the FIFA trying to combat racism within futbol. It is a sad reality that it still exist, however the way we should handle it is by having no tolerance for it. Mr. Sterling should be banned and his team should be sold. Its one thing to make a fictitious movie perhaps mirroring real life and another to have real-life people subjected to racism at their workplace. Especially if that “workplace” is public and it has impact and direct influence to other members of society.

  2. ALTernate Ears

    I think there is a clear difference between a movie and real life. While the movie did make fun of racial issues, it was simply that: a movie. Not to say that it is okay, but there are other movies, tv shows, and even cartoons that deal with racial issues in a comical way. But, it is not real nor is it supposed to represent something that’s real. Someone that is supposed to be representing the NBA should NOT be doing what Sterling did.

  3. Samantha

    All of this really boils down to context. A film, akin to a book or a painting, is an artistic medium and cannot really be compared to a recorded racist rant. Additionally, one also has to take into consideration the social and historical context of Donald Sterling’s tirade and the film. It’s apples and oranges. Policing racist behavior is a relatively new phenomena, and as the NBA is comprised mostly of minority athletes the organization definitely followed the appropriate course of action.

  4. Zachary Kizer

    While the Blazing Saddles movie did have a large amount of racism, it did so in a manner that was satirical. Film is an art form, and should be held to a different standard to an internationally recognized sports organization like the NBA. It is important for the NBA to try and separate itself from the views of Sterling, so that they can better move on from the incident. I don’t believe that Blazing Saddles was created to hurt anyones feelings, but the statement by Sterling was laced with negative emotion.

  5. Candace Brown

    I think that regardless of the times, Blazing Saddles and other offensive comedic works are acceptable because they’re satirical. They aim to mock the real-life bigots among the likes of Sterling. These films and television shows that include racial slurs or offensive remarks do so to flaunt how stupid it sounds; how people who use these phrases casually in their daily lives are parodies of themselves. It’s easier to sell fabricated, creatively written (for lack of a better word) bigotry because it’s manufactured; it’s not genuine. In Sterling’s case that’s who he is, and it’s a lot harder to sell a bad personality than a bad personality created for laughs.

  6. Katherine Hammer

    I personally have watched Blazing Saddles and I thought it was a very well done film. During the movie everything was satirical so it never really felt like the severity of the NBA case. Mel Brooks is known for creating satirical movies and comedies, that do not target one specific audience. Everyone knows that his jokes are not to be taken seriously, they all address and make fun of how ridiculous stereotypes are. In the case of the NBA and Donald Sterling, his remarks were not spoken in a comedic fashion, he was stating his opinion. I think that the lengths that the NBA is going to to address this issue is completely right, for in no way was Sterling meaning for his comments to be taken in a comedic fashion.

  7. Dan Savarino

    The sign of the times, that is one way to put it. During the days of “Blazing Saddles” shows could get away with some of the things they said. DId this mean it was right? No. However the intention was completely different. One was for a laugh, that even those with the particular race can chuckle. The other was serious. The NBA is a predominantly black league. When you have a situation like that, where there was obvious not any joking involved, action needs to take place. Adam Silver made a statement during the Donald Sterling situation. This is not a joking matter at all.

  8. sfoley62014

    I believe these are two completely different situations. I say this because the film was made to entertain and it was applied it to a different century. The NBA had every right to ban Sterling from the organziation. He was saying the “n” word in a different mannor.

  9. Olga Varnavskaya

    This situation is pretty much similar to how the society treats nudity. Try to explain, for example, to my 12 year old daughter, why on the ceiling of Boston Theater naked women are portrayed. Of course, she understands that it’s not a norm to see a naked body on the street in everyday life. I had to answer this question of hers before, when she saw pieces of art with the naked bodies in some fancy hotel and the art gallery. To be honest, I don’t find it easy to explain the reasons why it’s ok to expose naked bodies in the art, especially when she accentuates that mostly women are portrayed like that and not the men.
    Obviously, “Blazing Saddles” is a piece of cinematography art, and it had to portray the things the way they were in order to make fun of prejudice and reveal its absurdity. Good or bad, history shouldn’t be forgotten. That’s how people make sure they won’t repeat the same mistakes again. The story with Donald Sterling is quite different though, his remarks were racist and had the purpose to insult which is unacceptable by no means.

  10. Avalon Bohunicky

    I remember seeing “Blazing Saddles” when I was fairly young. I was warned beforehand that it was a rather offensive movie in terms of race. If Sterling felt this way about African-Americans, then he definitely got into the wrong field of business. Basketball is known for being racially diverse, and it is a shame that he feels this way and would offend the people of his own team. Sterling’s comments and opinion have caused an unsettling tension in the NBC. While “Blazing Saddles” makes jokes about prejudices, Sterling’s comments were offensive and unacceptable.

  11. Mike Iadevaia

    Although I have yet to see the film “Blazing Saddles,” I can say that film is an art. Like dangerous technology, what one sees in a film should not be attempted at home. For instance, using racial slurs just because a film used it is not a good excuse. Furthermore, Sterling’s comments were both out of line and offensive. The NBA reacted diligently and effectively in rectifying this issue. Then again, the NBA had no other choice. The players in the NBA are overwhelmingly African American and by not fixing the issue it would cause more outrage.

  12. Brittany Witter

    I think the difference is the time in which the movie was made and in which the comments by Sterling were made. I don’t support racist movies and I have never seen “Blazing Saddles” so I can’t fully comment on that. However, I think that Sterling has no business being apart of the NBA organization is those are his views on African Americans. Considering the fact that African Americans no only make up majority of his own players but majority of the league itself and the league supporters. I think is does nothing but damage the NBA’s public image and I think banning him from the NBA and forcing him to sell the Clippers to another owner is the right move for the NBA and anything opposite of the move will cause bigger and more negative waves for the organization.

  13. Kayla Marzo

    I would say that the time difference could be a huge factor, but that is no excuse. The movie was made in a time where whites and blacks WERE equal, so it’s still not acceptable to use racial slurs. I believe that the NBA is doing the right thing with the Donald Sterling case. In order to uphold a positive image for the NBA they have to trim the negative, which is Donald.

  14. Christine W.

    I think the difference here is clear. The movie was made for entertainment and at a different time. I think movies with certain language are developed that way to give them a real world feel. At the time, the n-word was a word that was associated with people of color. Times have changed. People fight for equality daily and Mr. Sterling is a great example of why people fight. He owns a team with African American players on it, was set to receive an award from the NAACP and it is even rumored he has ties to prisons that hold a lot of minorities. The NBA need to stand against Sterling so they can show that they don’t stand for racism. If The NBA ignored Sterling’s rant, the subject themselves to bad PR and boycotts of their own organization.

  15. Sydney Myers

    Personally, I never saw “Blazing Saddles,” so out of fairness I don’t think I can voice my opinion on the movie. But, I did listen to the Sterling tapes. Clearly, Sterling was out of line and the NBA had to react. The NBA is a huge corporation, with a large following, so with a situation like this they had to be proactive and do something. I absolutely agree that Sterling put the NBA’s reputation at risk. Imagine if they didn’t do anything about it, what it would do to the company’s reputation?

  16. Kim Gray

    These are two very different situations that happened at two very different times. During the “Blazing Saddles” era, racism was more accepted and the film just highlighted and pointed out racism during that time. It was not right, however, African-Americans didn’t have the rights that we do now. Donald Sterling grew up in those times so I do not expect anything more from him. He has the right to his opinion. However, the players in the NBA are predominately black, so if that’s how Mr. Sterling feels about black people, then he shouldn’t associate with them at all, not even in business ventures. If commissioner, Adam Sterling, did not take the actions that he did regarding banning Mr. Sterling, it would have greatly tarnished the NBA’s image considering the league is predominately African-American.

  17. LaChele Prophet

    Yeah these two situations are very different. Being prejudice is just wrong. Donald Sterling should be banned from NBA because its wrong for him to have those feelings knowing most the players who play for him are black. It’s just so sad that this day and age people like Sterling still think that way.

  18. Francesco Vivacqua

    I agree. The NBA, as an international brand cannot have its image tarnished by one man, when the NBA has worked so hard to establish itself in multiple countries. So that is definitely why the NBA punished Sterling harshly. “Blazing Saddles” is a movie that is meant to poke fun at racist. Had the movie targeted a certain race in an attempt to degrade that race, then it would be racist and unacceptable.

  19. taylorpaige

    It is difficult to justify both instances. The NBA is 100% right for punishing Sterling for his actions. For so long we have tried to avoid and remove the use of the “n” world. Repeatedly it comes back. There has not been a case like this is a very long time. I say that only because have become so intrigued and aware of it because it affected the NBA. Sterling being who he is in the business, should not be rewarded and his comment should not be ignored simply because of what he contributes financially. If it was anyone else in the world, they too would have been exposed. As far as the movie, “Blazing Saddles”, I have never seen it but that movie along with hundreds of other movies that came out years away have used the “n” word on multiple occasions. I feel that because now, we are trying to refrain from it, this movie catches our eye but before this instance there would have been no reason to reflect back and find movies, articles, pictures that depicted that because we don’t think of it on a daily basis. Movies are made to be funny and therefore not that using the word is appropriate but it fits the script. Whereas Sterlings mishap was not a script and was intentional.

  20. Kristin Neuman

    I think the two situations are pretty different. Brooks’ film was made to laugh at prejudice and show how stupid racism is. Donald Sterling, on the other hand, made comments that were blatantly racist. There was no deeper meaning behind his words other than the way he feels. As you stated, the NBA is an international brand. Brands rely on a good public image and reputation in order to remain current and on top. Because Sterling made these comments, it put the NBA in a bad light, which put its public image at risk. In order to insure that the public has a positive view of the NBA, it was necessary to let Sterling go. With him still associated with the team, there would still be negative opinions about the organization.

  21. chrisswenson2014

    There’s a huge difference between an actual racist making racist remarks and racism portrayed in a movie that is meant to be funny. Comedy has a long history of being a means for raising conversation and exposing the faults of things, and this is its saving grace. Intentions make a huge difference here, and in one instance they’re good, and in the other they’re far from it.

  22. russellrothenberg

    I think the NBA did the right thing for punishing Sterling. But when you think about it these are two different situations. The movie Blazing Saddles is strictly for entertainment. It reflects and even mocks how people behaved in the late 1800’s and shows how much we have evolved since then. Sterling’s actions were inappropriate and unjust. He actually meant what he was saying and he didn’t intend on being funny.

  23. Marisa Beachdell

    I think that being an international brand makes image and branding vital to success. Due to this, it is critical to uphold high moral standards for representatives of the brand. From a PR standpoint, it makes sense to take Sterling’s position away after the leak of his racial comments. Blazing Saddles, on the other hand, was created and written to be just what it was, and since it was made in the past, we put less pressure on being politically correct. I think it is important to leave culture as it is and not critique things that were funny in the past, simply watch for the humor and take the racial comments with a grain of salt.

  24. akof123

    I think the NBA was in the right for punishing Sterling for his use of the N word. As a coach his image is representative of the NBA, and his negative actions have consequentially shed a negative light on the NBA. There is a huge difference between a movie and reality, which is why the movie is glorified, for it is merely a work of fiction where as Sterling actually meant his words.

  25. Devon Hambrecht

    I think that this two instances are completely different. One is a movie that was made for entertainment and pokes fun at the idea. But what Sterling did was a real life situation and has effected people in a negative way. It was unacceptable and not done in a joking manner. This completely hurt the NBA image and their brand they developed that encourages diversity and positivity. What they have been maintaining would definitely been hurt by keeping Sterling as part of their team.

  26. Hector Bonilla

    I would like to say a film like Blazing Saddles would be deemed offensive in modern times, but Quentin Tarantino has kept the satirical racism genre alive and well. And while I love both the former in its entirety and the latter’s work, I must admit that as a person of color I still notice some relatively minor examples of ignorance in both. Yet these are essentially forgiven or ignored for the sake of art and the overall message of poking fun at prejudice. They entertain and educate the public a little more – that’s why they’re accepted. Sterling’s comments, on the other hand, are just plain – and bluntly – racist. His words are unacceptable even before you take into account he’s part of an organization that employs a majority of African-Americans and other people of black descent. It’s more unacceptable when you take into account the progressive image the NBA has garnered in recent years as opposed to other sports organizations, such as when players wore jerseys promoting Latin American culture during the Arizona immigration fiasco. The NBA has choice other than to make an example out of him in order to maintain this image.

  27. jmmcphail

    I would agree with your analysis that there is a difference between being bigoted and espousing bigoted views versus portraying bigotry in the media, in art, and in film to make a larger statement as part of social commentary.

    The difference is, the Clippers owner is actually racist. This has much larger implications when you consider that he employs dozens of people of color, and that the NBA at large employs probably thousands of people of color. How can this man be expected to treat everyone fairly, including those he employs, if he has such horrible views about them. Furthermore, the NBA, as a private organization, has the right to expect certain behavior of its members. If a person going on a bigoted rant doesn’t fall under those behaviors, then they are more than entitled to fire that person.

    Blazing Saddles on the other hand takes a hard look at racism. And though it does so through comedy, the message is much bigger and much more serious. It’s obvious that neither Mel Brooks, nor the actors in the movie are actually racist. I think it’s also important that these depictions of racism, including using the n-word in historical and relevant context remain in art and in the media. Though these actions and words are certainly unacceptable today, they are still an important part of our history. Censoring them does a great disservice to those people of color who actually did live through specific periods of history where racial tensions were high, including the ancestors of slaves, sharecroppers, and those who were called the n-word every day in their fight for civil rights in this country.

  28. Catherine Benny

    I think that using the n word in the film was more acceptable because, as I believe you were suggesting, it was a satire meant to expose the stupidity of racism. I think the NBA’s actions are justified. America is known as the “melting pot” so allowing racism and bigotry to go unpunished or unnoticed, particularly in a well-known organization such as the NBA would be completely contradictory to our fundamental values.

  29. afitting

    The NBA commissioner now has the difficult job to lead the organization through this public relations crisis. He seems to be taken the classic crisis management measures to address the Starling racist scandal. He announced Sterling’s lifetime league ban and a $2.5 million fine, the maximum amount allowed by NBA rules. Moreover, the commissioner indicated that those funds would be donated to groups that battle anti-discrimination and server tolerance efforts.

    This response is a good start and demonstrates strong leadership in managing the crisis by taken definitive steps to gain the fan’s trust and protect the NBA brand. However, the commissioner will need continue to release positive messages and other actions to show this is a genuine concern for the organization. I’m not sure if he has explained why the NBA ignored Sterling’s racism in the past, apparently it was a known fact.

  30. Laura Schioppi

    This is a hard topic to talk about. I believe any racist remarks are bad. I do agree with your reasoning.

  31. Ken young

    It is important that we not forget that, having nothing to do with prejudice, “Young Frankenstein” remains Brooks’ best film and arguably one of the funniest of all time.


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