Public Release: 

Airbrushing out racism is attempting 'to re-edit the past'


London, UK (January 27, 2016). Racist words and stereotypes in old films, television programmes and books are a vital insight into our past, says film historian Kunle Olulode. In the latest issue of Index on Censorship Magazine, published by SAGE, Olulode argues that, however uncomfortable, they should not be edited out.

"There is a growing modern-day presumption that by airbrushing out racist words and stereotypes of the past we are, in some way, making improvements to the way equalities will be shaped in the here and now. This view has created a new industry geared to suppress edit and, in some cases, revise certain books and films that are discordant with modern life", explains Olulode, who is part of the BFI's African Odyssey programming team.

Arguing that today's restrictions are put forward as progressive tools for equality, Olulode asks us to question whether we "should not accept that films and TV programmes of the past will include some stereotypical images of minorities?"

Using Leni Riefenstahls's 1935 Nazi film Triumph of the Will as an example, Oluode explains how we must continue to watch and discuss it even though we know it's a pro-fascist propaganda film to question why we are not open to seeing and talking about racist TV programming in the same way, and the context of its time:

"It's not about making excuses or leaving our critical faculties behind, it is about understanding why something was made, how it was made and how audiences responded to it. This is surely better than attempting to re-edit the past and is it not better also to be able to see how our society's thinking has developed over time."

Olulode concludes that the problem is not the film or the TV programme itself, but our pre-disposition to react to something from a modern-day perspective and not by understanding it from the perspective of the culture that produced it:

"Racist culture will have produced racist works of art, and by the same token, racist entertainment and literature [...] Learning to live with and understand this conundrum is part of modern life."

Index on Censorship magazine editor Rachael Jolley said: "This move to edit out the parts of history we disapprove of appears to be growing in the past six months. If we do not understand our history, how can we learn from it?"


"Airbrushing racism", by Kunle Olulode, published in Index on Censorship magazine, will be free to access for a limited time and can be read here.

The article is part of a special issue from global quarterly magazine Index on Censorship which explores worldwide taboos in all their guises, and why they matter. More about 'What's The Taboo?' can be found here. Others authors include Alastair Campbell, German crime writer Regula Venske and Russian author Oleg Kashin.

Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 900 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. A growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company's continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne.

Index on Censorship launched in 1972, has reporters around the world. International in outlook, outspoken in comment, and publishing some of the world's finest writers, Index exposes stories that are suppressed, publishes banned writing, investigative journalism and new fiction. Previous contributors include Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, Nadine Gordimer, Aung San Suu Kyi, Salman Rushdie, Tom Stoppard and Ai Weiwei.

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