Is Love Actually Problematic?

Amy Child

Richard Curtis, the director of beloved Christmas rom-com Love Actually, has recently admitted that the film’s lack of diversity makes him “feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid.” But does this remove from the film’s merits? How should we treat those old flicks with aspects which cause us to wince? Amy Child explores.

I’m sure we’ve all been there: watching a film and thinking, ‘that wouldn’t fly nowadays’. Whether a lack of diversity, problematic race or gender depictions, or a generally questionable storyline, it seems that some films age like milk. But does that mean we should throw them out, never to be watched again?

Curtis is undoubtedly right to comment on Love Actually’s lack of diversity. Watching the film in 2022, it is certainly easy to notice that almost all the couples are white and straight. However, before condemning it utterly, it is important to also factor two things into consideration: the time in which a film was made and the intention behind it.

The original West Side Story, for instance, was made in 1961 and tells the touching tale of a Puerto Rican girl falling in love with an American boy. However, the use of white actors to play Puerto Rican characters, with fake tans and fake accents, is bound to make the modern viewer uncomfortable. Yet despite the problematic execution, it seems that the film’s heart was in the right place, aiming to show how love transcends racial divisions. A similar thing could be said for Disney’s Pocahontas (1995), a film with arguably positive intentions but extremely ignorant by way of its storyline, which romanticises the encounter between Native American Pocahontas and her English colonizer John Smith.

It is important to watch with a modern mindset and engage in active critique rather than simply accepting it 

These films, and indeed many others, also include a large heaping of stereotyping. The lyrics to Tell Me More from beloved musical Grease (1978) are painfully obvious in this respect, and the line ‘did she put up a fight?’ is especially questionable looking back. But in spite of this, the song retains its sense of fun. Whilst watching Grease, it is possible to enjoy it for what it is whilst also acknowledging aspects of it as problematic. Though a film may be ‘of its time’, it is important to watch with a modern mindset and engage in active critique rather than simply accepting it. However, context and intention should equally not go overlooked. It is for these reasons that we can often take old films with a pinch of salt.

Of course, it is up to the individual to decide whether the pitfalls of a film outweigh the positives. Evidently, Love Actually’s intention to showcase different forms of love meant something much narrower in 2003 than it would today. But for those still wishing to watch Love Actually this year, do so. You can laugh at Hugh Grant’s dance in 10 Downing Street whilst simultaneously disagreeing with the lack of diversity and being aware that a broader spectrum of love exists.

Amy Child

Featured image courtesy of Shaira Dela Peña via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In article trailer courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes Classic Trailers via YouTube. No changes were made to this video. 

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