‘Purple Hearts’: Why TikTok is abuzz about the popular but controversial Netflix film

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  • Based on the 2017 novel from Tess Wakefield, the film stars Sofia Carson as a singer-songwriter who marries a Marine to get health benefits
  • The film has been criticised for its pro-military, anti-Arab and anti-Hispanic content
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The Netflix film “Purple Hearts” centres on a marriage of convenience between a US marine and a singer. Photo: Captured from YouTube

The romantic drama Purple Hearts is a hit for Netflix, with some on social media saying they’ve watched it multiple times while others are seeing red.

Based on the 2017 Tess Wakefield novel, the film stars Sofia Carson as Cassie, a struggling singer-songwriter (and Type 1 diabetic) who vow never to date military guys, then weds a Marine named Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) in a marriage of convenience.

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A fandom has sprang up around Purple Hearts, which mustered a paltry 33 per cent fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes yet boasts a decent 71 per cent audience score. According to Netflix, the film chalked up more than 150 million viewing hours in its first 10 days. But naysayers have taken the movie to task for its political views and character choices.

Here’s what people are saying about Purple Hearts:

Netflix’s Purple Hearts has been blasted for anti-Arab rhetoric

One scene in Purple Hearts is the focal point for a lot of flak: At a dinner before they’re married, one of Luke’s more toxic Marine pals gives a toast saying, “This one is to life, love and hunting down some goddamn Arabs, baby!” Cassie takes issue with the comment, verbally sparring with the guy until Luke orders her to sit down. One Twitter user called out the film as being “blatantly” anti-Arab and anti-Hispanic, while another said it was “racist, misogynistic military propaganda.”

To get permission to film at California’s Camp Pendleton, “we did have to adjust a little bit of dialogue to show a more balanced depiction of the Marine Corps,” director Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum said in a Military.com interview. A couple of soldiers in the movie “weren’t particularly educated and were making slurs. So we balanced it out with a couple of the other characters.”

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The idea that Luke and Cassie are “raised to hate each other” is drawing ire

Part of the backlash has surrounded Luke and Cassie, specifically how she changes in her liberal beliefs but he doesn’t with his more conservative viewpoint. Rosenbaum defended the film in a Variety interview with Carson, saying the main characters were intended to be “flawed in the beginning” and then grow closer. “They both have been neglected by the system; he’s hurt in a war that doesn’t seem to be ending and she’s slipping through the cracks of the healthcare system.”

Added Carson: “It’s two hearts, one red, one blue, two worlds apart, who are really raised to hate each other. Through the power of love, they learn to lead with empathy and compassion and love each other and turn into this beautiful shade of purple.”

According to Netflix, “Purple Hearts” chalked up more than 150 million viewing hours in its first 10 days. Photo: Captured from YouTube

Purple Hearts is being both praised and pummelled for its depiction of Type 1 diabetes

In the movie, Cassie gets medical insurance, thanks to the marriage. And filmmakers have earned some kudos online for how “they highlight the reality” of patients unable to afford insulin.

To authentically depict a young diabetes patient like Cassie, Rosenbaum worked with Laura Pavlakovich, founder of You’re Just My Type, an organisation creating community around Type 1 diabetes, and Dr. Michael Metzner, a medical consultant who’s also assisted on Grey’s Anatomy. “We were all truly blown away by how all-encompassing having Type 1 diabetes is,” Carson said in an interview with the non-profit Beyond Type 1 organisation.

However, writer Zoe Witt argues in a Teen Vogue op-ed that Purple Hearts uses diabetes healthcare and “tropey romance” to help craft a pro-military love story: “I have been on the bathroom floor with only a few units left like Cassie, and there’s not a doubt in my mind I would have let myself die before I let this godforsaken country convince me to marry a Marine to get insulin.”

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But at the end of the day, the Purple Hearts faithful are a vocal bunch

TikTok has become a hub for those who can’t get enough of the movie, with the #PurpleHearts hashtag notching 1.6 billion views on the social media platform. Many have created TikToks using Carson’s film song Come Back Home alongside heartwarming visuals of military family reunions while other fans pay tribute to Luke crafting a wedding ring for Cassie from his dog tag chain.

On Twitter, fans have called out Purple Hearts as “the greatest movie ever” and “my new comfort film.” Tweeted one fan at Carson and Galitzine: “I have watched it at least 8X and love everything about it! … Congratulations on the well deserved success! I need a part 2.”

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