The APAHM Project Day 18: Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
Film: Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
Director: Danny Leiner
Where to watch it: Available to buy or rent on all major platforms
Why it made the list:
Yes, why did a stoner movie make the list? I chose this movie because I think it is the film actors John Cho and Kal Penn are best known for, although they have both gone on to do bigger named projects. Even though there are several Cho and Penn films to pick from (and there are plenty of Cho films on this list), this is one I had heard of but never seen and it piqued my interest to add to this list.
So firstly, I had no idea stoner movies were its own genre. Friends and myself would describe me as being relatively naive and a bit of a goody-two-shoes. However, I can take films as they are, a source of entertainment, even if they don’t reflect my lifestyle. So I went into this film with an open mind.
On the surface “Harold and Kumar” is a straightforward film of two young men who simultaneously look for weed and a nearby White Castle to satisfy their munchies. Madness ensues along the way including college parties, Neil Patrick Harris, and some “extreme” idiot bullies. However, I think this film actually did a good job at shining a light on racism.
Harold is your typical “yappie” whose white co-workers take advantage of him by getting him to do their work while they go out to pick up women. When exiting the office, the two men state that Asians love crunching numbers and that Harold was probably excited to receive extra work. We meet Kumar at a medical school interview, the interviewer stating that Kumar has a perfect MCAT score and a great transcript. Kumar purposely fails the interview by being rude and talking about weed on the phone with Harold.
As the film continues, we see other blatant examples of discrimination, stereotyping, and racism. Harold and Kumar go to Princeton to find weed and run into an East Asian Association where they all ask Harold about his job and seem like outcasted, geeky losers whose mothers send them kimchi-jjigae. It’s later revealed that they have a crazy party with weed brownies. Later, Kumar asks for directions in an Indian-owned gas station where the extreme idiots come to ransack and make fun of the owner and Kumar, using accents to “impersonate” them. The idiots also criticize Harold’s driving when they steal his parking spot and tell him to go back to his country. Lastly, and possibly the most relevant at this time, was when Harold is put in jail to share a cell with a black man. The black man says he was arrested based on racial profiling and, although he did not resist or show any signs of violence, the police still threw him in jail. This is later illustrated when the police believed the man was trying to escape, thinking his book was some sort of weapon, and pushing him up against the wall telling him to not resist although the man already willingly gets to his feet and faces the wall as if it’s routine. Because all the cops were concerned about the black man, Harold is able to escape jail unnoticed. The film ends with a news report stating that Harold and Kumar are fugitives and that authorities had accurate sketches of the pair. The sketches appear to be a stereotypical caricature of an Asian man with a rice hat, lines as eyes, and a beard and an Indian man in a turban.
The fugitive sketches of Harold and Kumar
On John Cho’s Wikipedia page, he is said to have “found freedom in being Harold in the Harold and Kumar films because the stoner character goes against the grain of Asian Americans onscreen. He has said he has experienced racism throughout his career in Hollywood and that he tries to take roles that do not perpetuate Asian stereotypes.” Penn has expressed his own issues with racial profiling, but also justified the role (of a teenage terrorist) as an actor saying “why shouldn't I have that opportunity? Because I'm brown and I should be scared about the connection between media images and people's thought processes?” I think both actors have a great deal of respect towards themselves and their racial background and understand the position that they have to change the narrative for characters of color.
Harold and Kumar, at first glance, are very stereotypical. But Harold in the end shows he’s not a passive Asian and Kumar comes to realize he wants to be a doctor because he wants to, not because his father and brother are forcing it on him.
Some additional thoughts on this film was I could see the appeal, but it wasn’t for me. I actually didn’t laugh a single time while watching it. Additionally, there was a lot of unnecessary nudity that didn’t add to the story at all except to make it raunchier.
Does it deserve to stay on this list?
We laugh at the humor and the jokes, but I think “Harold and Kumar” does an excellent job at making these jokes and us going “that’s too real to laugh at” because you know what, racism is real. And it’s not funny. And using people’s races and cultures as jokes is only perpetuating the idea that those statements are true and okay to say and even laugh at. There are way funnier things in the world we can write about.