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How "Beetlejuice" Aged Like Milk

Born in 1986, this '80s baby and '90s kid remembers the colorful and naughty side of millennial youth.

Depictions of an African headhunter and African American football team in "Beetlejuice" are problematic, but the fact they weren't credited might be worse.

Depictions of an African headhunter and African American football team in "Beetlejuice" are problematic, but the fact they weren't credited might be worse.

Never Trust the Living

Beetlejuice is an 80s classic and an annual Halloween staple with fans in every age group. Most of the jokes are still just as funny as when the film debuted on March 30, 1988. The more times you watch it, the more you will discover in the background. Care in the details of Claymation and makeup has helped the film stay fresh long past the point where modern films relying on CGI start to look their age.

But for as much as the film and its subsequent cartoon and musical are still captivating fresh audiences year after year, there are some points that are decaying faster than Barbara and Adam at their exorcism. For example, there is an issue with how certain groups are portrayed.

Problematic African American Representation

One African American football player in the film is played by Duane Davis, but in the credits, he isn't listed as "Football Player" or even as "Dumb Football Player" as Gary Jochimsen and Bob Pettersen were. Instead, Davis's character is listed as "Very Dumb Football Player" which could be seen as a little offensive, but hey, at least he was credited. Most of the football players were not, and they weren't alone.

The Witch Doctor, who seemingly gets the last laugh over Beetlejuice, not only sits in the waiting room with cartoonishly offensive "cannibal" makeup, he isn't even credited in the film! This character has his own action figures and he appears on a small line of merchandise, but despite his popularity and his significance to the film, this stereotype of an African healer doesn't even get the dignity of having his actor's name listed with the rest of the cast.

Mocking suicide is not a good look for "Beetlejuice."

Mocking suicide is not a good look for "Beetlejuice."

A Risky Jump in the Line

Another stereotype that slips right through the cracks involves Beryl, the significant other of interior designer, Otho. During the dinner segment, Otho chides Beryl multiple times because she has attempted suicide more than once.

While this is offensive just on the merit that suicide isn't something to joke about, and off of the fact that the two share a toxic and unhealthy relationship, it's actually a little worse when you consider the fact that Beryl's actress, Adelle Lutz, is half Japanese.

The repeated jabs from Otho's character mock a historically serious problem with Japan's long-standing rates of self-harm and come across as incredibly inappropriate and off-putting.

Suicide Shouldn't Be a Punchline

This isn't the only character with this problem. A running gag in the film is that those who died because of self-harm spend all of eternity as servants.

Every receptionist, including Miss Argentina, played by late Mexican-American actress Patrice Martinez, bears scars of self-harm, and the film trivializes such with insensitive mockery.

While the film pokes fun at all types of death, the jokes and visual gags feel exceptionally mean-spirited at the suicidal, and with the franchise having always had a toy line aimed at very young children along with a Saturday morning cartoon, it feels more apropos to quietly remind viewers of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (formerly 800-273-8255) than it does to mock those who are struggling.

Early in "Beetlejuice" we learn that Barbara and Adam recently lost a pregnancy.

Early in "Beetlejuice" we learn that Barbara and Adam recently lost a pregnancy.

Maitlands: Party Of Two

Beetlejuice is rife with dropped characters and stories. Within the first twenty minutes, we meet Jane, her children, and the townspeople of Winter River, Connecticut, all of whom seemingly know Adam and Barbara Maitland pretty well. None are ever heard from again. The movie also never explains what happened to Lydia's mother—though the non-canon musical was quick to name her Emily and then kill her off.

However, but there was one major plot point dropped onto viewers and then just as quickly erased. Barbara and Adam's issues with fertility and miscarriage. In the first eight minutes of the film, we have disturbing dialogue from Jane, Barbara, and Adam implying that very recently, the couple suffered a lost pregnancy.

Barbara's Miscarriage a Flippant Plot Device

Barbara's cousin Jane, a thoughtless and pushy real estate agent, aggressively demands that her cousin sell their beautiful home they spent plenty of time and money decorating to their tastes, to a "growing family who deserves it more" because after all, a childless couple who doesn't have a real family doesn't deserve all that space. Callous, heartless and completely dismissive of Barbara's still very fresh grief, Jane is far more ruthless than anyone Beetlejuice may know.

In the following segment, Adam dismisses Jane's brash rudeness by correctly declaring it isn't her business. He then suggests in a flirty manner that perhaps it has been long enough, and they could try again, but as soon as the accident occurs, that's it. It's never mentioned again.

Baby Never Mentioned Again

There is no further comment on the family Barbara and Adam wanted to have, or on the baby they may have lost or why it happened. In fact, even in the afterlife, they never come into contact with their lost baby.

This is a touchy subject just blurted out for the sake of it, and it holds no meaning to the rest of the film. Miscarriage and infertility shouldn't be used so flippantly, but then the same should be said for hebephilia.

The relationship between Beetlejuice and Lydia is totally inappropriate.

The relationship between Beetlejuice and Lydia is totally inappropriate.

Please Don't Shake, Shake, Shake, Senora

One thing that didn't get dropped, but definitely should have, is the inappropriate relationship between Beetlejuice and Lydia. In the film, Juno's former assistant takes an unhealthy liking to Lydia, who in the finalized script is around 13–14 years of age.

When he tires of groping Barbara (which is its own ugly mess), he sets his sights on the goth girl, persuading her to agree to marriage in exchange for saving Barbara and Adam from a grizzly exorcism.

Sexual Predation Played for Laughs

Before the nuptials, he is caught in several scenes making inappropriate comments about Lydia, who almost becomes a child bride.

The original script for Beetlejuice called for him to try and sexually assault the girl while being depicted as a racial stereotype of a Middle Eastern man, while another scene would have had him using Ebonics and attacking a cut-from-the-script nine-year-old little sister for Lydia named Cathy. Thankfully, these disturbing segments were scrapped.

Beetlejuice's Obsession with Teenager was Basis for Cartoon!

However, not only did Beetlejuice's obsession for Lydia remain in the film, it became the entire premise for the Saturday morning cartoon.

While the cartoon cut out The Maitlands and retconned Delia to being Lydia's biological mother instead of stepmother, it failed to erase Beetlejuice's unhealthy feelings towards Lydia, who in season one was twelve, and who did not turn fourteen until very late in the series.

Many of the episodes follow Beetlejuice—now nicknamed B.J. in another cringe worthy gag—as he openly pines for Lydia and does not understand her repeated request for them to just stay friends.

Hebephilia Won't Age Well

He cries over her, he is openly jealous when the equally dead but slightly more age-appropriate Prince Vince goes on a few dates with Lydia. He spies on her, poses as a tween and teenage girl to stay around her. His obsession turns to stalking, but it's always played off for laughs.

A grown man's romantic obsession of an underage girl isn't just trivialized in the franchise, it's celebrated and normalized, and that is scarier than any old sandworm.

The Beetlejuice film and subsequent cartoon are a time capsule of Gen X, Yuppie Americana, and there's still great humor and visual appeal to the series, but these issues are only going to become more glaring as time moves on.

© 2021 Koriander Bullard