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Coen Brothers Films, Ranked by Problematicness

History's greatest monsters (AP)
• October 12, 2015 5:00 am

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On Friday, Jezebel published an item about the Coen Brothers' latest film, Hail Caesar!, that featured the headline, "The Coen Brothers' New Movie Hail Caesar! Looks Very Funny, and Very White." I had a bit of fun with that post, which was written by noted white person Bobby Finger, but it really made me think. Lots of people have ranked Coen Brothers films by quality. Heck, I've done it*:

But no one, as best as I can tell, has ranked the Coen Brothers films based on how problematic they are. It's important that we judge art not on its aesthetic qualities but on how well it hits certain marks, like "minority representation." How else will those who profess a desire to engage in the quest for social justice know which Coen Brothers films to avoid because they are too white or whatever?

So, without further ado, here is the definitive ranking of the Coen Brothers oeuvre, from least problematic to most.

16. The Ladykillers

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Easily their most diverse cast, The Ladykillers features multiple minority actors in several speaking roles. Granted, they're mostly criminals, which is a troubling fact (hence the two problematics rating). But the head criminal is a white guy who looks like Colonel Sanders, so I think we can let it slide.

15. Inside Llewyn Davis

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The Coens deserve a modicum of credit for casting as the lead of this film Oscar Isaac, a Guatemalan-American, and also for treating abortion like a regular, normal thing that people do. On the other hand, it deals with the whitest art form that exists (folk music). Also, New York City in the 1960s and there isn't a single black character in the movie? FFS.

14. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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On the one hand, I want to give the Coens credit for at least briefly acknowledging the contributions of African-American songwriters in this movie and also for making the villains of the picture the KKK. But there are a lot of white people in a movie ostensibly set in the South during the Great Depression. Erasure is problematic. SMDH.

13. Intolerable Cruelty

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Oh yeah, it's hilarious that women have to fight for every penny in a divorce. And what's with all the slut-shaming? The only reason this isn't all the problematics is the prominent role played by Cedric the Entertainer. Otherwise this could have topped the chart. What a gross movie.

12. The Man Who Wasn't There

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More like The Black Man Who Wasn't There, amirite? JFC. I still have no idea what this movie is about, but I do know that when I look at its IMDB page I'm blinded by the whiteness of the cast. (Tony Shalhoub doesn't count and you know it.)

11. Blood Simple

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Another movie saved from being much higher on this list by a key performance by an African-American, in this case Samm-Art Williams.

10. True Grit

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For a movie that talks a lot about "Indian Territory" I don't remember seeing all that many Native-Americans. Probably for the best. Knowing the Coens, they'd go all Tiger Lily on us.

9. A Serious Man

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You'd think a movie about the Jewish experience in Middle America in the 1960s wouldn't be problematic, but you'd be wrong. (Jews have plenty of privilege, thanks; make the same movie about a Palestinian family in Jerusalem and I'll be impressed.) Just think about the treatment of the Chinese student. Might as well have slapped a triangle hat on him and had him shout ME SO SOLLY. Ugh.

8. Barton Fink

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Like Hail Caesar!, this is a movie that takes place in Hollywood during its Golden Age. And, like Hail Caesar!, this is a movie in which the Brothers have chosen to totally erase any non-white people from existence. (No, Tony Shalhoub still doesn't count, and you still know it.)

7. Burn After Reading

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Some people have said that Burn After Reading is a brilliant "Washington, D.C. Movie." Those people are probably racist. I mean, Washington, D.C., is affectionately referred to as "Chocolate City." But all I see above is vanilla. SMDH, guys. SMDH. (Of course, referring to vanilla so as to mean "white" and "bland" is deeply problematic; I'm solely using it for the sake of this metaphor.)

6. The Hudsucker Proxy

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This movie has a literal "magical negro" in it. What in the f—k.

5. The Big Lebowski

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So, you're asking me to believe that in the city of Los Angeles there isn't a single Hispanic** or black person? Mark it problematic, Dude.

4. Raising Arizona

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It's not just that Raising Arizona is as blindingly white as the desert sun—more like Raising Aryanzona, if you know what I mean. I've come to expect that much from the Coens. What's truly problematic about Raising Arizona is the way it treats those who have been victimized by the criminal justice system. One ex-con kidnaps a baby before two of his escaped convict buddies kidnap that baby for a second time and then take him on a bank heist. Way to perpetuate negative stereotypes about so-called "criminals," guys. At a time when we're trying to set free lots and lots of criminals in the name of social justice, it's pretty despicable that this hate film is still on heavy cable rotation. SMDH.

3. No Country for Old Men

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The only thing worse than the Coen Brothers having no minority characters in a movie is when they decide to have minority characters in a movie. If one were to watch No Country for Old Men, one would be mistaken for thinking that the only Mexicans that exist are those who commit murder in the name of selling drugs. JFC.

2. Fargo

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As with No CountryFargo‘s use of minority characters is pretty gross. There are only two non-white characters of note in the film, a Native American and an Asian American. The Native American? A criminal. The Asian American? A creepy beta male who lies about his relationship status in an effort to seduce the (white, obvs) lead character. I'm not even sure this movie passes the Bechdel Test despite the fact it has a "strong" female lead. Ugh.

1. Miller's Crossing

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Oh, sure, you might think that it's "ridiculous" to expect there to be an abundance of minority characters in a movie about Irish and Italian mobsters dueling it out during Prohibition. But as Bobby Finger's colleague Kara Brown would probably put it, "don't be simple." It's fiction! They could do whatever they want regardless of how much sense it makes! Don't even get me started on the treatment of John Turturro's character in this film: one of the few gay characters in the Brothers' oeuvre, and he's a creep and lowlife and a criminal? Ugh. I just cannot even with this. I can. Not. Even.

*If I were to redo that list now, I'd probably swap Miller's Crossing and No Country for Old Men, and put Llewyn Davis a spot after Burn. These things are fluid, dontcha know.

**Update: There's some question as to whether or not Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) is "Hispanic." I played it safe by leaving him off, given the pronunciation of his name, the fact that he only utters one Spanish phrase, and the fact that Turturro is Italian-American. That being said, if he is Hispanic, The Big Lebowski might be the Coens' most problematic film, given Quintana's status as a pederast.

Published under: Satire