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MISADVENTURES IN ‘BABYSITTING’

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Turns out that Gary Franklin--who lambasted “Adventures in Babysitting” for its treatment of blacks--wasn’t alone.

“Babysitting,” from Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, is all about a batch of white-bread kids (led by babysitter Elisabeth Shue) who have a wild night in inner-city Chicago where they encounter lots of stereotypical black characters. Among the critical responses:

L.A. Sentinel’s Alan Bell delivered a roll call of black roles: “There is a young black car thief, a very well-integrated stolen-auto organization with a black production manager working for a largely white board of directors, an all-black nightclub full of happy Negroes laughing and singing and having a good time, a black bag lady who steals, three black rappers singing to no one in particular outside a subway station at night, and a black street gang ready to do battle with a Hispanic one on a subway train.”

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Added Bell: “Yep, it’s SOS: same ole (Hollywood) shuffle.”

“It’s all so stupid,” wrote the L.A. Daily News’ John H. Richardson. “These ultra-suburban white kids seem to never have been outside their yards, much less to the big bad city. Worse, the film makers seem to share their naivete--to them, the city seems to mean black car thieves, black blues musicians, ethnic street gangs, Mafiosi and teen-age hookers.” (Richardson also derided the film for its treatment of the homeless: “With 40,000 homeless on the streets of L.A., you’d think they could find something better to make bad jokes about.”)

Accusing the film of attempting to “exploit fears and prejudices,” the Chicago Tribune’s Dave Kerr added: “Although much of the movie is centered on a paralyzing fear of blacks, the film makes a vague attempt to cover its tracks by presenting its street gangs as racially mixed. Somehow, the suggestion that crime is an equal opportunity employer only doubles the offense.”

Detroit Free-Press’ Elvis Mitchell: “What the movie seems to be about is a simple, vaguely racist theme: White kids should remain in the warm, velvety womb of the suburbs. When they enter the city, they encounter terrors of all sorts, coming mostly from one-dimensional blacks.”

Was it all unintentional? “It’s tough to be sure if (director Chris) Columbus, 28, realizes just what he’s doing by having his characters recoil in fear whenever darker faces show up in a scene. Surely, he’s trying to convey a suburban fear of the unknown, but this fear translates into a classic white fright that probably sent these kids’ parents dashing into the suburbs in the first place.”

The folks who made these “Adventures” refused to talk about the allegations of racism. Producer Lynda Obst, a former New York Times Magazine editor, wouldn’t come to the phone. Various executives at Disney failed to return repeated phone calls.

First-time director (and Steven Spielberg protege) Columbus was out of town and “unreachable,” according to an associate.


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