The title of "How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired" has stirred up more controversy than the movie is ever likely to. The editors of this newspaper and others around the country have agonized over the possibility of offending some readers by allowing such a title to be printed in the paper, and have arrived at such delicate compromises as printing "How to Make Love . . . Without Getting Tired" in English, with the movie's original French title printed in full just beneath.
This policy assumes that a word in English is more offensive than the same word in French, unless you are in France, to be sure. I recall a similar case a few years ago in which the French movie "The Mother and the Whore" got into trouble with newspaper ad departments, and a theater in Wilmette advertised it by substituting the Yiddish word for "whore" - Yiddish, like French, being sufficient to defuse the issue.
In the case of "How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired," the very word "Negro" itself was partially at fault, although it is the correct translation of the French word negre, used in the original title. There is also a pun involved; negre in French is also a slang term for a writer, and the movie's hero is indeed a novelist. But more to the point, I suspect, was the title's implicit reference to the alleged sexual prowess of blacks. Would the title be less offensive if we substituted the word "Italian" or "Finn"? Offhand, I cannot think of a single racial group that wants to be known for its lack of sexual prowess, and WASPs would probably appreciate all the positive publicity they could get in that area.
The movie itself creates another irony, since it is the movie's black character (Isaach De Bankole) who seems most in danger of getting tired. He is an African student in Montreal who lives a relaxed and cheerful life in coffeehouses and the apartments of his friends, and spends most of his free time trying to pick up girls in public places, using the time-honored theory that if you proposition enough different people one of them is eventually going to say yes. In the movie, many of them do, and he gives them nicknames: "Miz Literature," "Miz Mystic," "Miz Redhead," and so on. They all seem to be grateful for his attentions, and occasionally the movie directly addresses the issue of sexual lore, as when one of his dates is told, "I hear they make love like gods." The word "they" is at the heart of my problem with the movie.
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