The ‘rona makes you do crazy things. Unable to leave the house and with much time on my hands and bottles of Jack that needed sipping, I decided to rewatch movies that I hadn’t seen in a while.
I started off with the Lethal Weapon series. Four movies of the salt-and-pepper duo of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover blowing shit up as cops with no due process. It was funny because I realized that the movies were really bad (haven’t aged well at all), and it made me continue down a Mel Gibson wormhole that ended with an apt viewing of 2000’s The Patriot.
Twenty years later, it’s aged about the same as Gibson’s hairdo in the first three Lethal Weapon flicks.
Before I get into The Patriot, I have to get into the odd global fascination with Gibson. I mean, we’ve been told he’s an Aussie, but he often plays the quintessential American badass. And he made Braveheart (which a friend once called “white people’s Malcolm X”), which got him a few Oscars and apparently bulletproofed him to the public.
Sure, he made Titanic-like money with his Passion of the Christ, but things got murky for him when his ex-girlfriend released tapes of a racist rant after he got angry about what she was wearing, saying on a voicemail, “You look like a f#!king pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n#!gers, it will be your fault.” It doesn’t seem like it was a one-time thing, as Winona Ryder recently said that Gibson asked her if she was an “oven dodger” when questioning her Jewish heritage.
I mean, Riggs would never say s#!t like this, right?
OK, let’s get into The Patriot. It takes place in South Carolina in 1776, and Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a farmer who knows the perils of war. With his wife having passed away, he just wants to farm and take care of his kids. His eldest son Gabriel (a baby-faced Heath Ledger) is itching to join the Continental Army, but Martin is against it, wanting to push his children away from war after a checkered past in the French and Indian War.
Blah, blah, blah — at some point Martin joins the fight. I mean he’s the effin’ Patriot, right?
The movie didn’t just suffer from awful historical accuracies (I mean, we know it isn’t Ken Burns). But there were a few cringeworthy moments. When the Brits take over the Martin home, Col. Tavington (Jason Isaacs) tells the Black people living on the Martin farm that they should rejoice, they are now free. A random Black man in a headwrap tells the redcoat that he is actually free and that they work this land as free men. It was a transparent attempt from the writers to try to gloss over slavery being a huge part of South Carolina in the 1700s by showing that Benjamin wasn’t one of “those” white people.
Therein lies the conundrum: How can you have the main character in a movie called The Patriot that is a slave owner? I mean, Benjamin was a farmer. Who in the hell was doing the farming?
Another tone-deaf moment occurs when Gabriel, holding a tarnished American flag, talks to an enslaved Black man about his vision of America. He tells him, “We will have a chance to make a new world where all men are equal in the sight of God.” The enslaved man responds, “Equal. That sounds good.” I laughed hysterically at the script, but also really believe that people who write this stuff really believe this. The rare moments you see Black people, they don’t show that they are slaves and seem to be in good spirits.
Similarly, when I tried to rewatch Gone With the Wind, with the Black characters occasionally smiling and running in fields or fanning white women that are too hot — it somehow gives people the idea that it wasn’t that bad.
I realized The Patriot is Braveheart with muskets, and it’s all Independence Day porn.
Gibson’s Benjamin was based on Francis Marion, who was known as The Swamp Fox and was a really horrible human being. When the film was released 20 years ago, The Guardian wrote about it under the article’s headline, “Mel Gibson’s latest hero: a rapist who hunted Indians for fun.”
So if you’re looking for some July 4 movie watching, I suggest Independence Day. Sure, it’s probably crappy, too, but an alien invasion’s more fun and believable than The Patriot’s historical white-washing.