Function of Stereotypes in 50 First Dates
The Hollywood film 50 First Dates stars Adam Sandler as Henry Roth, a marine life veterinarian based in Hawaii. Roth is obsessed with sex, a "nympho," as one of the Hawaiian characters describes him early in the film, but also not interested in long-term commitment. For this reason, he takes advantage of the booming tourist trade in Hawaii in order to find women to have sex with for one night stands. One of the diners that he occasionally visits for breakfast, which is staffed by native Hawaiian islanders, is also the place where one Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) eats breakfast each day.
Roth, who is white, notices Lucy almost immediately after going into the restaurant and making small talk with the staff. It is inferred that the reason why he notices her is because she is a beautiful, young, slim blonde girl. But it should also be noted that she and Henry are the only two European-Americans in the restaurant at the time of their first meeting. The entire staff of the restaurant is comprised of native Hawaiian islanders, and every single one of the patrons in the restaurant also belongs to this ethnic group.
The interactions between Lucy and Henry are rooted in repetition. This is because Lucy, it is revealed the following day when he approaches her in the restaurant and she does not seem to recognize him, suffers from anterograde amnesia owing to an automobile accident that she suffered with her father two years prior. Her short-term memory has been affected, although she does have long-term memory. As a result, each time she goes to bed each night, she wakes up the following day believing that it is still October 13, 2002. Her father and brother, having been informed by the doctors that the disorder is likely irreversible, decide to "play along" with Lucy's delusion. Thus, the father has had copies of the October 13, 2002 printed out, and the staff at the diner where she goes for breakfast each morning has been instructed to play along, as well. The matriarchal owner of the diner had been friends with Lucy's deceased mother, and promised her that she would take care of her. For this reason, the diner owner is particularly hostile to Henry's advances.
Henry continues to pursue Lucy on a daily basis, aware of her condition, but hopeful that she will come around. Through his infatuation with her, he loses interest in all other women.
As the Hawaiian environment - with its mixture of largely white (European-American) and native Islander (i.e. Asian) ethnic groups - forms the setting for the entire film, we will analyze some of the key interactions between Henry, Lucy, and the non-white, Hawaiian denizens of the island, as they occur throughout the film. We hope to show how stereotyping functions throughout the course of 50 First Dates, on not only an ethnic and racial level, but on the level of gender and sexuality, as well.
Stereotyping as been defined as "exaggerated beliefs associated with a categorizing system." Henry's best friend in 50 First Dates, Ula, is a native Hawaiian islander portrayed by Rob Schneider. Schneider's portrayal of Ula was deemed so offensive that one critic wrote
Watch Rob Schneider play Ula, a leering Hawaiian in the Adam Sandler movie 50 First Dates, with a pidgin accent by way of Cheech and Chong, and you get the sense that Hollywood still believes that there is no ethnic caricature a white actor can't improve upon.
Schneider defended himself in an open letter to the New York Times in which he claimed that his portrayal was based on a real life pidgin-speaking one-eyed native Hawaiian islander.
Still, there is a clear tendency in Hollywood for actors to portray ethnic minorities in a wacky, crude, stereotypical fashion. (One need only look at a few of the Cheech and Chong movies mentioned in the quote above to establish the veracity of this remark.)
Another "wacky" Islander is found in the diner each day. This unnamed man, who speaks…