Fortunately, my daughters share my love of watching movies from my own childhood. Before they ever knew about “Frozen,” “The Gruffalo” or “The Incredibles,” my girls could quote lines from “The Princess Bride,” “The Dark Crystal” and the original “Annie.” But many of the older movies I rewatch with them haven’t always held up, often due to sexist and racist themes. I have to tread carefully when choosing what to share, lest they be convinced that, as portrayed in the old Disney movies, being rescued by one’s true love should be of the utmost importance to a woman. As they age, I’ll probably guide them away from some of the more problematic teen hits that were staples for me and my girlfriends, such as “Heathers,” “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club.”
One old favorite that I may just have to figure out how to edit myself or wait for the inevitable, likely inferior and more politically correct remake is “Trading Places,” starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis. If you haven’t seen it, beware of racial stereotypes, homophobic slurs and lots of sexist jokes. But underneath all that mess is a brilliant retelling of “The Prince and the Pauper.” Only instead of two lookalike boys agreeing to switch places, it tells the story of a rich white man (Aykroyd) and a homeless black man (Murphy) who are pawns in an experiment conducted by two even richer white men in a dispute over nature vs. nurture. Aykroyd’s character, a self-important man of privilege, finds himself incarcerated, homeless and broke after being framed for selling drugs. Murphy’s role is that of rags to riches after being given money and a job.
It’s Aykroyd’s character’s arc that gives me the most pleasure. One minute he is smugly sitting in an exclusive, all-white, all-male private club and the next he is facing theft and drug charges, his credit cards canceled, his bank accounts frozen and abandoned by all his fancy friends after being framed as part of the experiment.
I confess that over the years I’ve wished a similar fall from grace upon a number of people. I’ve come to call it the “Trading Places Award.” The recipient is someone who has shown no compassion or empathy for someone else in a tough situation. As part of their prize, they, like Aykroyd’s character, have to trade places, at least for a bit, with those for whom they show such little regard. For example, I’d love to bestow the award upon those Trump supporters who simply say to the undocumented and to DACA and TPS recipients facing deportation, “Become a citizen or leave.” I’d like to see them in a country where they face few prospects and increased violence. I’d like to see them leave everything they know to travel to a foreign country to work for subpar wages to make a better life for their children, only to be harassed and insulted by those who claim to be Christians. I’d like to see them try to navigate the immigration system, only to find out the wait is a decade or more to enter legally.
I’d also give the award to men like U.S. Reps. Steve Womack and French Hill after they laughed and celebrated the vote to cut health insurance for many women and children. How would they feel as they hopefully checked the GoFundMe account created to help pay the medical bills and living expenses after a child got sick and the medications were so expensive they couldn’t afford them and pay rent, only to find the donations just weren’t coming in?
I think the one that gives me the most satisfaction is imagining President Trump, with all his fancy, albeit incompetent, attorneys, sitting in jail like many men and women across the country, unable to afford bail, unable to afford an attorney, missing out on the lives of his children and grandchildren as he waits for a visit from his overworked and underpaid court-appointed attorney, who has 40 other clients to see before him. Would he then still laugh and encourage police officers to not be “too nice” with those they arrest?
I could go on and on. And, yes, there would be suffering by those award winners. But before you think I’m too terrible a person, in the end of the movie, Aykroyd’s character learns from his misfortune and has a sort of redemption. So, maybe that’s what I’m wishing for. Not suffering, but sympathy for others. At least that’s what I’ll tell my girls when they are old enough to watch the movie.