“Getting to have discussions in the gray area was something that interested me,” host Alicia Malone says
“It’s not about censoring the film, it’s not about treating your audience as though they’re not intelligent enough to see the issues, and it’s not putting a childproof lock on the movie or a caution label,” Alicia Malone, one of the hosts of the “Reframed” series, told TheWrap. “It’s about giving it some context.”
The discourse around some of these films has been extensively covered. Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of a stereotypical Asian landlord in “Breakfast With Tiffany’s” is a well-known sore spot. The portrayal of Native Americans in many Westerns, but especially films like “The Searchers” or “Stagecoach,” has long been criticized.
TCM host Jacqueline Stewart recently filmed an introduction to run before “Gone With the Wind” on HBO Max that discusses how the film romanticizes the Antebellum South. In the spirit of the series, Tabesh actually recommended that HBO Max include a video intro of someone talking about “Gone With the Wind” rather than a simple warning label or disclaimer calling it objectionable.
“A lot of this is stuff that we as a society are just trying to re-address ourselves,” Malone said. “It’s nothing that was untoward when they were making the film, but it’s stuff that we can see is problematic through our modern lens.”
Charlie Tabesh, TCM’s SVP of programming, said that each of the films in the “Reframed” series is a “true classic,” not an obscure title, something that has stood the test of time and exactly the sort of thing you would expect to see shown on TCM.
Some films on the list you may not have thought about as problematic. Katharine Hepburn’s “Woman of the Year” is an early example of a strong feminist character — but one who gives up her career to become a housewife struggling to make toast for her husband. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was seen as progressive in 1967 but raises eyebrows for Sidney Poitier’s character today. And there’s 1954’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” which Malone called a “delightful musical but it involves a lot of kidnapping of women.”
And Malone also pushed to include Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in the lineup, which has recently been reassessed for how it portrays a cross-dressing character as different, monstrous, evil and suffering from a mental illness. “What does it mean if you have a character who is dressing up in a film and is the scary monster of the movie? How does that make audiences then think about transgender people when they meet them in real life? What does it say about womanhood in general?” Malone said. “That’s one I’ve started to think about differently in the past couple of years. It doesn’t mean I don’t still love it for all of the reasons why it should be enjoyed, but it’s just given me another layer on top of it.”
As part of the series, other TCM hosts Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Eddie Muller and Dave Karger will join in discussions of the film in prefaces that include both their classic qualities as well as how modern audiences might reassess them.
“Each of us don’t pretend to have all the answers, and we’re not saying to the audience this is how you should feel about a movie, but it is interesting to grapple with that idea of loving a film and being able to appreciate so many qualities of them,” Malone said. “These days these can sometimes be quite binary; you love it or you hate it, it’s good or it’s bad, and getting to have discussions in the gray area was something that interested me.”
She continued: “We definitely didn’t want to ruin anyone’s cinematic experience with these films. We didn’t want to layer in all these problems and then be like, ‘Enjoy the movie!’”
Tabesh said the “Reframed” series was designed to focus solely on the content of films that may not have aged well over time.
But he allowed that future editions might explore the works of artists or filmmakers who have been accused of serious wrongdoing, such as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Allen’s “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall” were both screened last April as part of a series about New York City cinema — but Tabesh said we shouldn’t expect a full Allen retrospective anytime soon.
“We wouldn’t not play a certain movie, partly because film is so collaborative. If you’re going to get rid of any movie because of the director or an actor, you’re going to get rid of everyone else who worked on that film and that’s kind of an issue,” Tabesh said. “And gosh, if you look at any movie we play, you might be able to find someone who was horrible and we might morally object to them. But having said that, there are people we wouldn’t necessarily pay tribute to. We wouldn’t do a Roman Polanski tribute on TCM even if we play ‘Chinatown.’”
TCM’s mission is broader than any one artist. “We’re very careful not to delete films from the film canon, edit movies or cancel people,” Malone said. “We present the films in their entirety, we just make people aware of what was going on at the time.”