the two main characters in Purple Hearts
Illustration by Tiphany Jackson, University of the Arts

The Problem With Netflix’s ‘Purple Hearts’

Despite its casual racism, misogyny and pro-military propaganda, the film was a major hit, rising to the No. 1 spot in under a week.

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the two main characters in Purple Hearts
Illustration by Tiphany Jackson, University of the Arts

Despite its casual racism, misogyny and pro-military propaganda, the film was a major hit, rising to the No. 1 spot in under a week.

Despite releasing over three weeks ago, “Purple Hearts” is still the center of media discussion and controversy. The romantic drama revolves around Cassie Salazar (Sofia Carson), a struggling singer-songwriter, and Lance Cpl. Luke Morrow (Nicholas Galitzine), a recovering drug addict and soon-to-deploy Marine, who agree to marry solely for military benefits. Cassie needs the extra money to pay for her insulin, as she was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and Luke is desperate to pay back the nearly $15,000 that he owes his former drug dealer, Johnno (Anthony Ippolito).

Although their fraudulent military marriage goes smoothly at first, Luke is injured in combat and sent back to the U.S., forcing Cassie to step in as his caretaker. To make matters worse, Luke violently confronts Johnno, who is still waiting to receive the rest of the money. Out of anger, Johnno reports Cassie and Luke’s fraudulent marriage to the military police, and Luke is charged with fraud. During Cassie and Luke’s trial, he takes all the blame and is sentenced to six months in military prison and discharged from the Marines. Before he is taken to prison, Cassie realizes that she loves Luke and tells him she wants to wait for him. On the surface, the movie is a typical romantic drama. However, though the film is loved by many, critics have had several complaints.

Misogyny

At the beginning of “Purple Hearts,” Cassie is not fond of Luke or his fellow Marines because of their misogynistic behavior. When she first meets them, one of the Marines makes sexist comments toward her. Instead of apologizing for his friend’s behavior, Luke tries to justify it and make her out to be an annoying feminist.

In a later scene, Cassie has an argument with the same Marine who disrespected her in the beginning. The Marine tells Cassie to “watch her tone” when she’s talking to him, then tells Luke to “get his girl.” Luke orders Cassie to sit down, and she actually does. Many viewers were outraged by the character’s submissiveness and the fact that she abandoned her beliefs. The Cassie introduced at the beginning of the movie would never let a man tell her what to do, but it only takes a few scenes for her to not mind being “put in her place” by men.

Racism

Throughout the movie, Cassie is portrayed as stubborn and ungrateful for not wanting to put up with racist commentary from Luke’s fellow Marines, who he says are the ones fighting for her rights. While Cassie is at a restaurant with Luke and his friends the night before they ship out, one of them makes an Islamophobic remark, causing Cassie to become understandably pissed. Not only does Luke casually dismiss his fellow Marine’s racist behavior and tell her that she “ruined everybody’s night,” but Cassie seems to easily forgive both of them and act like nothing ever happened. Critics have pointed out how ridiculous it is that Cassie and Luke still end up falling in love with each other, despite their many differences. Even more appalling, she ends up learning to like all his fellow Marines and seems to forgive them, even though she never received an apology from the Marine who made sexist remarks toward her and felt no remorse.

By the end of the movie, Luke experiences no character development, as he continuously defends their behavior. It also becomes clear that he is no better than his fellow Marines in terms of racist behavior, as he makes a big deal out of the fact that Cassie’s mom had been living in the country illegally for 10 years. Cassie, on the other hand, changes a lot, but not for the better. In the end, she stops speaking up for herself and expressing her beliefs, which makes it seem as though Cassie was the problem.

Military Propaganda

In addition to calling out its use of casual misogyny and racism, critics are also claiming that the movie is military propaganda. Many viewers were disturbed by the fact that the invasion and deaths of over a million Iraqis were used to create a romantic drama. It also doesn’t sit well with people that the U.S. military was involved in the production of the movie. “Purple Hearts” constantly promotes the U.S. military and romanticizes war, and it seems that the people involved in the creation of the movie had an underlying agenda.

Despite the backlash that “Purple Hearts” has received, director Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum has repeatedly come to the movie’s defense. She claims that the movie is supposed to show the extreme of each political side. Although she says that the characters learn to become more moderate by living under one roof, it’s hard to agree that this is the case. Luke never learns to listen to Cassie, and instead always looks down on her opinions and tries to silence her. Considering that Cassie is the only character who stops expressing her beliefs, it seems as though the movie is suggesting that the only way to become more moderate is to stay silent.

Writer Profile

Cassandra Jenkins

Temple University
Journalism

Hi! My name is Cassandra and I’m a senior journalism major at Temple University. I love reading, writing and playing video games.

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