Hollywood has long attempted to make racism towards white people not only acceptable but also humorous. The award for the most amount of derogatory “white people” lines, however, just might go to Peacock’s newest streaming comedy Rutherford Falls. The entire ten-episode series, released April 22, had too many anti-white lines to keep track of, but gave an exemption to liberal actor Mark Ruffalo, "an adorable white ally." There was also bashing of capitalism and a very one-sided version of Native American and colonial history that was as erroneous as it was biased.
Main character Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) is a dense, tone-deaf, and insensitive white man who is obsessively proud of his ancestry and a staunch defender of a controversial statue of his ancestor Lawrence Rutherford. Lawrence Rutherford officially founded the upstate New York town in 1638 and later reneged on a land compensation deal with the victims of the story - the fictitious indigenous Minishonka tribe. Nathan’s completely clueless to the fact that not everyone loves the statue or the Rutherfords, especially the Minishonkans.
Native casino owner Terry Thomas (Michael Greyeyes) is a money-hungry capitalist who believes his version of capitalism is different and acceptable and that his lust for money is justified because he's an oppressed victim struggling for power in an unfair, white America.
In episode four, “Terry Thomas,” Terry urges his daughter to be business-minded like himself, pointing out she could make good money on her beaded jewelry. “Bet you could get $350 for that,” he tells her. “$400 from a white person!” His daughter is more of a socialist, though, and wants to give her jewelry away, much to Terry’s chagrin.
NPR reporter Josh (Dustin Milligan) is working on a story about the town’s battle over the statue. After telling Terry he’d pay $500 for his daughter’s jewelry, Josh asks him if being business-driven is complicated for him culturally. Josh explains, “Casinos have been so divisive among native people, it seems like unfettered capitalism would be at odds with a lot of your cultural beliefs.”
Offended by Josh’s question, Terry brushes him off, but later tells him that “tribal capitalism” is different than American capitalism and is thus acceptable:
Josh: I just meant that, based on my research, the tenets of capitalism don’t exactly jibe with the Minishonka way of life.
Terry: America only champions one form of capitalism, major corporations, which I should point out pay no taxes while we do. They keep all the money for those at the top. Tribal capitalism distributes revenue, in this case casino revenue, to everyone in the tribe.
Josh: Sure. But isn’t that what all capitalists say? That them making money benefits the masses.
Terry: Yes, but in our case it’s true. Long ago, when our men would go out on a hunt, the deer they’d bring back was divided equally amongst the tribe, elders, women, and children first so that everyone would survive. We’d still get our share of the deer, but this time it’s a check.
Josh: This isn’t a deer, Terry. This is a huge, multi-million-dollar corporation. Don’t you feel that by chasing the almighty dollar, you’re selling out your culture?
Young Terry: Your brownies sold out.
Mr. Tomlinson: Great job! See you tomorrow.
Terry: Uh, Mr. Tomlinson? I think you made a mistake. You gave me two dollars. It should be six.
Mr. Tomlinson: Yeah, sure, but I have rent, insurance, ingredients...you don’t have any overhead. In fact, I let you run your business on my property. Some could say you owe me.
Terry: Okay, well, I’ll take $5.
Mr. Tomlinson: That’s not how this works. I tell you what’s fair and this is fair. But, hey, don’t take it personally. Everything is business.
Terry further explains, “Growing up, I didn’t get to learn a lot of my traditional ways, but I did get to learn about the great American pastime, which is power. Power, Josh, is a zero-sum game. If you have more of it, I have less, and then you can treat me however you want.” He adds that power comes from money and that he will not rest until his nation gets “every single thing that was taken from them.” Terry ends the interview and directs Josh to a collection of publicity photos, saying, “I’m partial to the one of me and Michelle Obama.”
Nathan’s childhood best friend, Reagan (played by Jana Schmieding who is also one of several Native American writers for the show), is a native Minishonkan. She runs a pathetically sparse Minishonkan cultural center inside of Terry’s casino which drunken white patrons mistake for a gift shop and cluelessly mishandle the few artifacts on display.
When Reagan wonders why her fellow Minishonkans dislike her, Terry reveals it’s because she cancelled her wedding to another native. “You know we hold a grudge,” he says. “We still bring up Columbus.” Reagan asks incredulously, “Now I’m bad as Columbus?” Terry quips, “Well, crime divided by time.”
In episode five, “History Fair,” Reagan and Nathan are two of three judges reviewing students’ projects in a competition celebrating the town’s history. One entry, Faceless Minishonka, captures Reagan’s attention, until she discovers it was made by a white, male student:
Narrator: What is a nation when you are faceless and ignored? What is sovereignty when the president is treated like a king? How can you protect your image when it’s always under attack? Identity repurposed for entertainment.
Reagan: This is good, right? Like really good.
Narrator: Yes, history is often written by the winners, but if you listen, you can hear the heartbeat of a still great nation. One that will rise again.
Reagan: This is why we do this. This is how you show people that history affects our daily lives.
Nathan: The Minishonka may be faceless, but they are no longer voiceless.
Spencer: Hi, I’m Spencer Vanderslice and I hope you enjoyed my film. One love.
Reagan: Wait, that kid made this film?
Frank: And he did all the narration.
Because of her disdain for the white creator of Faceless Minishonka, Reagan wants to vote for a movie-themed poster with a feminist twist on The Fast and the Furious, called The Fierce and the Furious, to be the winner. The poster depicts Ruth Bader Ginsberg hanging in the air along with current Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor and other women the creator says are the “greatest feminist icons showing off their strength and power.” No sign of Sandra Day O’Connor, of course, despite her being the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
Nathan still wants to choose Faceless Minishonka, but one thing he and Reagan agree on is their mutual idolization of liberal actor/activist Mark Ruffalo:
Nathan: You can’t just arbitrarily decide to disqualify a movie just because you found out who made it.
Reagan: Yeah, but it colors my enjoyment knowing that the film was made by some white kid, albeit a seemingly woke one. I just gotta question his intent in making art about my people. That’s all.
Nathan: And if a Minishonka kid made it?
Reagan: Standing ovation. Give him all the Oscars!
Nathan: Okay, but you loved Dances with Wolves, and that was directed by the exceedingly white Kevin Costner.
Reagan: It’s all we had at the time. I wish that more Minishonka people were positioned to make movies about us, but.... just, Spencer doing it, it feels like a knife twist is all.
Nathan: Okay, yeah, well I think we should at least talk to him, find out why he made the movie.
Reagan: That’s fair. Let’s bring in Spencer.
Spencer: As a white man, I feel conflicted about how my ancestors colonized this land and made its indigenous people faceless. It’s super messed up.
Reagan: No argument there. I’m with you so far.
Nathan: Can’t we just wrap this up? It’s so obvious.
Spencer: It’s like with the Rutherfords. We have this huge, dumb statue honoring them. I mean, are you kidding me? No offense.
Nathan: I’m sorry, why would we be kidding you?
Spencer: It’s just that it makes no sense to have some statue of a white guy instead of one honoring the Minishonka. Why are they faceless?
Nathan: I think you should stay on-topic.
Reagan: Uh, not a bad question, though.
Spencer: You know what? I say let’s take down that bullshit statue and change this town’s name to Minishonka Falls. Or, you know, like whatever it was called before.
Nathan: It’s called Rutherford Falls, okay? That’s the name of the town that we’re in and Big Larry represents our history and our heritage and means a lot to a lot of people.
Spencer: To which people, though? To which people?
Frank: That’s a great question!
Nathan: No, it isn’t, Frank.
Reagan: You know what? You’re not a Spencer. You’re an adorable white ally. You’re a Mark Ruffalo!
Nathan: No, no you’re not. That’s a pretty big honor to be Ruffaloed, and I think maybe we hold back on just bestowing that willy-nilly on any little asshole. I just... no offense, Spooner. Spencer. Sorry.
Nathan’s gender-neutral assistant Bobbie (Jessie Leigh) reveals she did a “deep dive” into Spencer’s Twitter and found a video of him in dreads “speaking full-on Patois.” This makes Nathan acquiesce and the judges choose Bobbie’s “bland, boring but non-offensive” entry. Reagan remarks this is “just like when Green Book won at the Oscars,” which the town’s black mayor, Deirdre Chisenhall (Dana L. Wilson), describes as “a problematic movie about racism made by white people.”
Terry and Deirdre constantly bicker about who is more of a victim and accuse each other of racist language. At one point, Deirdre confronts Terry for trying to take over part of “her town,” in his lawsuit for reparations. Terry tells Deirdre, “My people don’t steal land. That’s your thing.” Deirdre asks with confusion, “My thing?” Terry replies, “Sorry. I deal with white people all day. That line usually works.”
Josh and Reagan end up becoming romantically involved, but even he isn’t exempt from the anti-white language. Reagan uses the term “my people” when conversing with Josh about a falling out she had with Nathan. When Josh says “your people” in return, Reagan scolds, “Don’t say ‘your people.’ I’ve only got the bandwidth to be pissed at one white guy today.”
By episode eight, “Skoden,” Reagan and Nathan’s friendship is seemingly over, and she is enjoying the perks of working with Terry on his lawsuit. We are then treated to perhaps the most offensive anti-white line in the entire show:
Terry: Listen, we spent years trying to work our way up from a double-wide Bingo hall to a mid-tier casino, but with this Rutherford land deal happening so much faster than I intended, we’re in a position to show these other nations that we’re leveling up in a major way.
Reagan: I’m so happy for you. A reminder though, I don’t love your hedonistic, Ayn Rand fever dream.
Terry: What I’m saying is you should think bigger. Forget the SWAG. You’re about to meet the most successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists across Indian country.
Reagan: Nice. Uh, Nathan. He feels bad. I found a Townes Van Zandt cd taped to my door with “If I Needed You” highlighted.
Terry: So much drama. This is why it’s not worth being friends with white people.
In a plot twist, Nathan finds out his mother had an affair and that he’s not a Rutherford after all. He disappears for a while and when he comes to terms with his true heritage, he’s flooded with white guilt and shame. He calls Reagan to apologize, saying he thought he understood the world, but realizes he “doesn’t get it,” and that Reagan does. She forgives him by gently saying, “This world is way too big and messy and complicated for us to ever think that we could divide people into one group that’s fully enlightened and another that is stupid.”
Except that’s exactly what this entire divisive series does. White people are not only portrayed as stupid, but also racist, while everyone else is their victim. Just look at articles about the show that celebrate its anti-white theme. Gotta love the headline, “A groundbreaking sitcom finds the ideal target: white people’s love of a made-up past.”
The only past that’s made up, however, is Rutherford Falls’ version, as history shows that wars happened on American soil among different tribes long before colonists arrived and it might even have been the most violent era ever in America. Colonization was already happening amongst tribes, as well, and the failure to honor deals and treaties went both ways.
Liberals love to accuse white people of “whitewashing” history. Should this then be called “indigenous-washing?” Whatever it is, let’s hope Rutherford Falls doesn’t get a second season so we can be spared more lies, division and hate shrouded as humorous entertainment.
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