For St. Patrick's Day, we drink beer, we parade around in green and if we're Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, we shout "Meghan!" into crowds of inebriated strangers.

However, sometimes, we forget the historical roots of St. Paddy's, ones that resulted in a holiday all people celebrate in the U.S. today. If you're interested in exploring those roots, I have a perfect movie recommendation: Leprechaun in the Hood. 

Released in 2000, the direct-to-video cult hit was released on March 28 — as close to St. Patrick's Day of that year that it could be — for pretty obvious marketing purposes. But wait — before we begin talking about the movie, you need to know that the history of St. Paddy's Day and Irish in the U.S. stems from Irish oppression earlier in our nation's history. You also need to know it mirrors the Civil Rights movement and the story of black history and the history of people of color (POC). So, here's a brief breakdown of how the greenest (calendar) holiday came to be.

While Saint Patrick's Day* is widely recognized in the U.S. as a celebration of Irish culture, what once was a day marked by going to church became a day of Irish unification sometime in the 19th century. The holiday was also a recognition of solidarity, especially during times of anti-Irish sentiment like the 1850s, when the Nativist political movement incited in born-and-bred Americans to keep Irish Roman Catholics out of the country, resorting to job discrimination, arson and even mob violence to reach their end-game. 

Many minorities in the U.S. have, at one time or another, experienced similar types of persecution, so it's not out of line to say that the anti-Irish historical movement is extremely comparable to the story of POC communities from Reconstruction to Ferguson (though it's important to keep in mind that the relation between POC American history and racism is amplified by the history of black slavery and genocide in the American South before that, so they're definitely not the same). OK — how does this all relate to Leprechaun in the Hood?

Strangely enough, somehow letting the titular Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) run rampant through the streets of Compton brings both cultural groups together in a Venn diagram of shared historical oppression. The choice makes a kitschy horror-comedy also a niche piece of important social commentary.

 

The first Leprechaun movie saw Leprechaun's watered-down Irish mythology — which, like St. Paddy's Day itself, is a mainstreamed celebration of a type of white culture that once created a safe space for Irish pride in the 1800s — serve as a door for POC narratives. It transforms Leprechaun in the Hood into a film where non-white characters take center stage.

For instance, this flip shows up during the first lines in the movie: what starts off as a traditional warning not to steal a leprechaun's gold suddenly turns into a bizarre mimic of hip-hop slang ("... for no one is safe from a Lep in the Hood!"). In a world that quickly filled with signifiers of (admittedly cartoonish and cringe-worthy) black or hip-hop culture, like rappers (Anthony Montgomery, Rashaan Nall and Red Grant) and pimps (the one and only Ice-T), it's dated and far from perfect — but it's also kind of extraordinary.

For a bit of perspective, I spoke to pop culture expert and critic Nico Lang for a particular take on these themes. Lang, who has written on topics of camp, horror and identity politics for publications like AV Club, Salon and Consequence of Sound, noted that, over the course of its seven-movie run, a rare switch occurs.

"Even down to the national heritage of the movie's antagonist, the original film, which debuted in 1993, was a white movie," Lang stated via email. "It was written, directed by, and starring white people. The lead in Leprechaun is Jennifer Aniston, which is the whitest thing I can think of."

Yes, Leprechaun in the Hood differs from the prior movies in the franchise, simply because its mostly-POC cast is placed in a setting that, while problematic and peppered with stereotypes, was supposed to appeal specifically to POC audiences, much like the blaxploitation movement did in the 1970s.

As Lang explained:

"If horror movies (and film in general) treats black bodies as material to be destroyed for our pleasure, films like Leprechaun in the Hood follow a tradition of reappropriating horror for black audiences through parody. Leprechaun in the Hood is more appropriately part of a genre of black horror spoofs that both lampoon common tropes in horror films and place black characters within those filmic contexts. [...] [It] can be extremely powerful for black audiences-getting to 'take back' a genre that's long marginalized black experiences. No matter your opinion of the film's sometimes problematic content, it does something sadly rare in the horror genre: place black bodies and lives right at the center of the camera." 

The influence of blaxploitation, along with comedy and camp, makes Leprechaun in the Hood both hilarious and digestible (in what other genre would Ice-T smoke a joint with a green-suited, gold-stealing little person? Seriously). Out of so many moments, its kitsch factor is best defined the ending, in which Davis performs a rap in Irish brogue with a troupe of brainwashed exotic dancers dressed in gold lamé, performing the most '90s dance routine I can imagine.

Yes, you read that correctly.

 

The whole thing is meant to be over the top, but there's something weirdly reminiscent in the rap's chorus ("Lep in the Hood, come to do no good/Lep in the Hood, when we're bad, we're good") — something that sounds a lot like what the Nativists of the 1850s said about the Irish, or what white Americans said about POCs during the Civil Rights movement in the Jim Crow South. Sadly, this kind of rhetoric is heard even now in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Like Lep's rap, Leprechaun in the Hood is stupid and campy and cheesy — but totally by accident, it also ends up being a subversive lesson in our nation's history.

* There were no snakes banished from Ireland in the making of this article. Also, Ireland probably never had snakes to begin with, so we're all good.

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