I am about to describe a movie that, to the best of my knowledge, no one but I, my husband, and a handful of film critics ever saw. This film has no online presence and received no DVD release. Its official website is long gone, though it does retain a Wikipedia article, which cites it as the lowest grossing film of all time.
Also, the trailer is still on YouTube.
When I sneaked into Proud American eight years ago as a joke, I had no idea my brain would one day become the primary record of its existence. At the time, I just wanted to have a giggle at the most naked, artless piece of propaganda to hit theaters since World War II. Produced by Hallmark and financed by Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, MasterCard, and American Airlines, Proud American is ostensibly five intertwining stories about Americans making good. In actuality, though, it’s a hyper-capitalist nightmare. If a corporate lobbyist and a Fox News commentator had a love child, and that love child had a wet dream, and the fluid products of that wet dream were pressed into celluloid and run through a film projector, this is what you would get.
Given the recent resurgence of nationalist feelings in the United States, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit this lunacy. Keep in mind, however, that I saw it exactly once back in 2008 and am thus describing it from long-decayed memory. Keep in mind also that there are practically no screen shots online, so I’ve made some crappily Photoshopped approximations of what I think I saw all those summers ago.
POOR KID MAKES GOOD
It began, I believe, with a poor child of color going to see the doctor. My husband and I missed this vignette because we were sneaking into Proud American after watching Hancock, which ran later than expected. Anyway, the actor who played the child as a grown man is pretty good-looking, so most of the available movie screenshots feature him.
I’m sure he worked hard and pulled himself out of poverty. Because, you know—America.
IMMIGRANT MAKES GOOD
The next skit, which I actually saw, was about a Southeast Asian immigrant getting bullied at school. While eating her vaguely ethnic cuisine in the cafeteria, the girl is approached by some blonde queen bee who tells her to get on a boat and go back where she came from. The story is set in modern times, however, so of course that’s just Blondie being ignorant. Asian people haven’t immigrated by boat in like, half a century at least.
Wait, just kidding. The very next scene is stock footage of what looks like a dinghy crossing the Pacific Ocean. So apparently, in the Year of Our Lord two-thousand-eight, this Vietnamese girl came to American by stowing away on a pontoon boat. From those humble beginnings, she grows up to become an independent business woman. Again, because America. That’ll show you, blonde girl who probably got legacy admission into a top university and rode her sorority connections to success! Bet you’re crying into your capers right about now.
INTERLUDE: YELLING HISPANIC MAN
Admittedly, Vietnamese teens hitching rides in cuddies is not what comes to mind for most Americans when they think of immigrants. Proud American addresses this fact with an insane clip of a Latino motivational speaker yelling about Wal-Mart, a store that somehow represents everything he loves about his adopted homeland. My memory of this scene is fuzzy, but I do have a very clear recollection of this man capping off a rambling speech about Sam Walton by bellowing: “WHAT A COUNTRY!”
What a country indeed. This film is bonkers.
TOWN INSULTS JEWS (THEN MAKES GOOD)
The next vignette is about a Jewish family that gets their window smashed in by a gang of anti-semites, or possibly just extreme Christmas enthusiasts.
“Merry Christmas!” the gang leader crows as he and his buddies flee the crime scene, having knocked over the family’s menorah.
The family wakes up and is devastated, or possibly just tired. This skit features the crappiest acting in the whole film, so it’s difficult to tell. Anyhow, their neighbor arrives on the scene, giving off a strong “Poor Man’s George Wendt” vibe without actually looking that much like George Wendt.
“Oh, this is terrible,” he says. “It’s just really bad.” Which doesn’t quite measure up to other great historical pleas for tolerance, but you try coming up with something on the spot like that.
The next night, every house in the neighborhood displays a menorah in the window as a show of solidarity. I think that’s a nice thing to do? Or is it religious appropriation? Whatever, I’m sure Weorge Gendt had the best of intentions.
INTERLUDE: BIRTH OF AN AMERICAN INSTITUTION
This is the scene that literally made me yell “fuck off” in the theater. Fortunately, there were only two other people in the audience. Unfortunately, my cry of despair drew the attention of an underpaid teenage usher, and my husband and I had to split. I’m not too bothered, though. There’s no way anything else in the movie could have surpassed the balls-out idiocy of this skit.
A colonial-era man sits in his home, eagerly stitching some type of banner. The Betsy Ross overtones are as blatant as can be. The man’s friend chooses that moment to drop by for a visit.
“What are you making there?” the friend asks.
“It’s a logo for our new company,” the seamstress replies. “What do you think?”
He unfurls the banner, and I swear to Jesus Christ and all the saints in heaven, it’s the god damn Coca Cola logo.
I have no words. Besides “fuck off,” I mean.
There’s a difference between being a proud American and being a Proud American. Loving something shouldn’t blind you to its faults, which in this case are many and various. The next time you catch yourself ignoring the countrywide escalation of sexism, racism, and Islamophobia, the next time you realize you’re popping one over living in the “greatest country on earth,” I want you to remind yourself of one thing: This country created Proud American. And that’s nothing to be proud of.