I should have known what a dreadful film Purple Hearts was going to be by its name.
A metaphor of red (Republicans) and blue (Democrats) coming together in love, Purple Hearts is a story about left-wing feminist Cassie (Sofia Carson) who is diabetic and in desperate need of insulin. Instead of looking to mutual aid groups or finding assistance from literally anyone else in her life, she fake-marries Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) — a right wing, racist marine who she’s only just met — for his health insurance. And then she abandons all her core moral values to fall in love with him, while he interrogates approximately none of his bigotries in return.
Throughout the film, Luke is consistently ableist, misogynistic and racist. In their first meeting, he goes on a rant glorifying the military and scorning feminists and left-wing politics. Later, he asks Cassie if her parents are in America “illegally” and refers to her attempts at obtaining life-saving insulin as “scamming the government”. When she wears a shirt that says “the future is female”, he objects and says he finds it offensive. He also has rage issues. Fkn charming.
The movie is supposed to appeal to fans of enemies-to-lovers tropes. Like a racist Romeo and Juliet, except our white nationalist love interest unfortunately does not die in action.
Purple Hearts is not a romance it is a horror film because I literally cannot think of anything more terrifying than having to marry a military dude to afford my insulin.
— Jebediabetes (@abbejah) August 10, 2022
In probably the most heinous scene in the entire movie, Luke defends a fellow Marine for making a toast to “hunting down some goddamn Arabs, baby!”
He tells Cassie to “sit down” and shut up when she objects to the disgusting hate speech and she… listens to him. The shrew has been tamed, and Luke is forgiven for these horrific views because, and I quote, “Without guys like Armando do you really think this country would be safe from terrorists?”
Translation: “If we don’t demonise Arabs, how can we justify blowing them up for our own sick amusement?”
Despite all this, Cassie falls in love with Luke and tries to make a relationship work. Some might call this unrealistic, and for many it is, but I’ve learned not to underestimate (mostly white) women and their penchant to choose themselves over their politics. As writer and disability activist Zoe Witt put it for Teen Vogue, “the greatest, unintended truth Purple Hearts has to offer is that some women are willing to reorient their world towards a fascist government if it personally benefits them.”
Purple Hearts, unsurprisingly, has gotten a lot of backlash — so much so that Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, the director and a noted white woman, has spoken out defending it.
“I hope that people understand that in order for characters to grow, they need to be flawed in the beginning,” she told Variety.
“We very much intentionally created two characters that had been bred to hate each other.
“In order for the red heart and the blue heart to kind of turn purple, you have to have them be kind of extreme.
“They’re both neglected by the system, and then they live under one roof, and in these extreme circumstances, they learn to become more moderate and to listen to each other and to love.”
Yeah, except when I think about characters needing to be “flawed”, I think of them being emotionally unavailable, lazy or incapable of commitment. You know what isn’t a flaw that we should casually be writing into characters that lead a romance movie? Being a raging racist who justifies killing Arabs. Especially when Luke doesn’t overcome his bigotries — he loses his leg in a landmine and then is forgiven for his sins because of it.
In fact, Luke’s newly acquired disability then takes precedence over Cassie’s as she becomes his caregiver, centring his pain as supreme and reinforcing sexist stereotypes about women who must ignore their own suffering for the sake of their man.
Oh, and the token Black character is killed off.
Rosenbaum’s use of hate speech and racism as a casual plot device reminds me of male directors who brutalise women in their films for the sake of ~character development~. It’s dehumanising, derogatory and outdated. We’ve come a long way in recognising how these things are harmful for women, and I don’t see why white people can’t apply the same lens to how they write about people of colour. You don’t get to use our traumas to develop your white characters.
Let’s also interrogate Purple Hearts push for more “moderate” politics.
Arguing that people need to become more moderate in the face of bigotry, specifically racism, is tone-policing and racist in and of itself. No, we shouldn’t become more tolerant of misogyny and hate speech, and we should seriously be weary of people who suggest we do.
The fact that Rosenbaum can even pretend Cassie’s performative feminism is somehow equal to or just as bad as Luke’s racist hate speech is mind-boggling and a pretty good indicator of how she views progressive politics as a whole.
As Martin Luther King put it in his famous letter condemning white moderates, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
On top of all this, Purple Hearts is also military propaganda film.
Rosenbaum said in an interview with Military.com that the set had a military advisor who demanded the story show a “more balanced depiction of the Marine Corps”.
Parts of the script were re-written to make the military look better (which is insane considering how racist it still appears) and apparently “everything went through” Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. James Dever. Who is the same guy that advised American Sniper, a military propaganda film that was so intensely racist people walked out of the cinema.
Purple Hearts is a clusterfuck of right-wing politics and military propaganda that actively seeks to convince you caring about marginalised folk is somehow just as harmful to society as wanting to hurt them.
The moral of the story for this film is “hunting down some goddamn Arabs” is acceptable in a person if he’s hot, actually. Morals begone.