When minor characters who are also ethnic minorities start talking among themselves in their native tongues, they sometimes take advantage of their invisibility to say things. Sometimes they break the Fourth Wall and start ranting about the movie director. Sometimes, they spout random obscenities or natter about their lousy lunch. It’s all in not-English, so whatever they say doesn’t matter! And the actual translations of their lines can be a secret source of hilarity in films where actors are instructed to use a Gratuitous Foreign Language (GFL) in order to make a scene sound more authentic. When some Native Americans cast in Westerns were told to speak their own language to add some authenticity, these actors took the opportunity to crudely editorialize about their director, which allegedly resulted in Native American audiences (in)explicably cracking up laughing during scenes that were meant to be dramatic.
Johnnie Phelps, a woman sergeant in the army, thought, “There was a tolerance for lesbianism if they needed you. The battalion I was in was probably about ninety-seven percent lesbian.”
Sergeant Phelps worked for General Eisenhower. Four decades after Eisenhower had defeated the Axis powers, Phelps recalled an extraordinary event. One day, the general told her, “I’m giving you an order to ferret those lesbians out. We’re going to get rid of them.”
“I looked at him and then I looked at his secretary who was standing next to me, and I said, ‘Well, sir, if the general pleases, sir, I’ll be happy to do this investigation for you. But you have to know that the first name on the list will be mine.’ “
“And he was kind of taken aback a bit. And then this women standing next to me said, ‘Sir, if the General pleases, you must be aware that Sergeant Phelp’s name may be second, but mine will be first.”
“Then I looked at him, and said, ‘Sir, you’re right. They’re lesbians in the WAC battalion. And if the general is prepared to replace all the file clerks, all the section commanders, all the drivers-every woman in the WAC detachment-and there were about nine hundred and eighty something of us-then I’ll be happy to make that list. But I think the general should be aware that among those women are the most highly decorated women in the war. There have been no cases of illegal pregnancy. There have been no cases of AWOL. There have been no cases of misconduct. And as a matter of fact, every six months since we’ve been here, the general has awarded us a commendation for meritorious conduct.”
“And he said, ‘Forget the order.’”