“Gee,” people ask. “Why is Afrofuturism important? Why Black Horror? Why can’t we just ignore race? Aren’t you promoting racism by talking about it?”
Sure, in the same way a doctor is Typhoid Mary for cataloguing and treating disease. Or a fireman is the same as an arsonist.
It is difficult for a human being to evolve without healing the wounds that drain his energy. And as I draw connections and parallels between the person and the social, I believe social wounds stop a community from progressing. This is CRITICAL for the directly affected community, but is important even for the oppressor: damaging others damages yourself. We are one soul looking out through many eyes. It can be effective short-term to cheat, lie, steal and worse…but it damages the soul. So while the victim is the one bleeding in the gutter, the mugger has damaged themselves as well.
You’ll pardon me if I have less sympathy for the perpetrator, however. Sue me.
When I was a kid, I’d go to the movies and was pitifully grateful just to see a black man on the screen. So grateful that I didn’t let myself notice how often he died. Often to protect white people. It wasn’t until my friends would ask me: “how’d they kill the brother this time?” that I was forced to wake up.
Now…this was the Civil Rights era, and on my television screen I saw images of black people set upon by dogs and fire hoses just for asking to be treated as human beings. My mother told me tales of Georgia lynchings, saying “if you let white people know how smart you are, they will KILL you.”
It took me forty years to wonder if that sentence, from the person I trusted most in all the world, might have had something to do with my academic troubles. Ya think?
It wasn’t until a very specific incident that I realized I clearly saw something that white people couldn’t see. I was watching “Damnation Alley” on Hollywood boulevard with my buddy Dan Pinal. In this post-apocalyptic film, George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent and Paul Winfield travel across a nuclear wasteland in an atomic Winnebago. They seem to be the only ones left in the world. They travel to Las Vegas (I think) and out of the rubble comes…the last woman in the world. And…she’s white.
I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I turned to Dan and said: “they’re going to kill Paul Winfield.” He said I was full of it. Why would I say that. “Well,” I whispered. “They can’t pretend he wouldn’t be interested. And they won’t let her compete for her. Their only choice is to kill him.”
“Damn, you’re cynical” he said.
Five minutes later, Winfield was eaten by giant cockroaches.
By the way, thirty years later, in “I Am Legend” they did indeed pretend Will Smith wouldn’t be interested in the last woman in the world. Sure as shit didn’t do that to Charlton Heston in the earlier version “Omega Man” where he promptly boffed Rosilyn Cash. But then, he’s white.
Yeah, I said it. Come at me.
There was a television show called “In Living Color” headed up by the Wayans brothers. My buddy Gordon Lewis used to be a writer on it. One killer sketch was a take-off of “Lethal Weapon”. I think Jim Carrey and David Allan Greer were in it:
Visual image: Jim Carrey drives a car like an Indy 500 champ while Greer screams like a little girl next to him. Narrator: “He can’t drive!”
Visual Image: Greer struggling impotently to escape the grasp of a single antagonist while Carrey beats up two men with crisp karate moves. Narrator: “He can’t fight!”
Visual Image: Carrey is making out with a chick while Greer watches with a huge grin on his face, giving a “thumb’s up”. Narrator: “He’s not interested in sex!”
Title Card: “The SIDEKICK”. Narrator: “But when his partner is critically injured, its time for THE SIDE KICK to step in!”
Visual Image: A crowded bar. Greer is sipping a drink. A gorgeous woman sidles up to him.
Woman: “I couldn’t get the information, baby. But I’ve got a room upstairs, and if you come with me we could have a LOT of fun!”
Greer: “Baby…I’m a black man in a crossover movie. You’re barking up the wrong tree.”
After I picked my jaw off the ground, I realized I simply couldn’t believe that someone had spoken that out loud. Could. Not. Believe. It.
Hell, of course it was true. But we weren’t supposed to TALK about it. Talking about it was dangerous. Which is, of course, why it took a comedian to say it. Comedy is a release of tension. The same reason why there were no successful (lasting more than two seasons) black-led hourlong dramas on television until “Deep Space Nine” in 1993…and no NETWORK successful black-led hourlong until 2006’s “The Unit.” Countless comedies. No dramas.
There were things you don’t say out loud. It is dangerous. You will, as one Southerner told me with a terrifying growl: “reap the whirlwind.” Oh, my. Pardon while I change my diaper.
In 1990 I was traveling to a convention, and had about four hours to kill. Went to Westwood to watch DIE HARD 2. Before the movie began, there was a trailer for Denzel’s “Mo Better Blues”. A love scene was displayed. I was the only black person in the theater, and in an evil mood. Instead of watching the screen, I turned around and watched the audience. I wanted to see them react. Know what I saw?
All the white women in the theater leaned FORWARD.
All the white men in the theater pressed themselves BACK into their seats.
Oh, my. And yes, I’ve repeated this experiment numerous times. Same approximate result, although admittedly since 2010 the reaction isn’t as strong.
It was right about then that I formulated my “breeding circle” theory, that black men in movies were disproportionately too young, too old, too fat, too gay, too married, or too DEAD to be reproductive competition for the white guys. We weren’t cock-blockers. White guys, especially, simply couldn’t believe this was going on (“it is hard to wake someone up when admitting a problem would deny an advantage”) and so I found a simple test: no black man had ever had sex in a movie that earned over 100 million at the domestic box office, the standard measure of success.
About 20 percent of 100 million plus films had love scenes. And about 20 percent of them had black stars (!). But the circles didn’t overlap. Ever. Oh, there were black WOMEN having sex, Asians, too. But only with white men. It was fascinating. And inarguable. I would throw that statistic out, challenge them to go to Box Office Mojo or Variety and look it up for themselves. And they would. And come back dejected, because I WAS RIGHT. Period. Nothing to argue with.
The next step is they’d try to blame it on “them durn Liberal Hollywood execs”. Well…I’ve been in Hollywood all my life. And trust me, while they have problems, they aren’t lagging behind the rest of the country. They don’t have the courage to lead, and respond to the market forces. At worse, they are in the middle of the pack. My personal experience, having traveled to most states of the union, is that California is better than average on this point. Wouldn’t live here otherwise.
Looking at the Yogic Chakras, these two things: death and lack of sex represent the same thing: extermination. Extinction. Either through literal death, or preventing reproduction. THIS IS THE FANTASY. The movies we love represent our fantasies about ourselves, and the world. The world we’d like to see.
We sit in the darkened theater, lean back, roll up our eyes and go into Alpha, and have a collective dream. And there is nothing about this imagery that contradicts the history of race in America.
I remember the riots in Ferguson and elsewhere. I could understand people thinking the rioters were wrong about police violence. That is at least a debatable factoid. But what was NOT tolerable was the belief that the rioters THEMSELVES didn’t believe it. For a certain segment of the population it was all theater. All pretense. Professional protestors. And the protest about Trayvon Martin was all manufactured. Fake. No one really believed he wasn’t a thug, and George Zimmerman an heroic neighborhood watch officer.
Note that I’m not saying protestors were CORRECT. I’m saying that black people really believe we are under threat. If you don’t grasp that violence usually stems from anger, and anger from fear, you will never, ever understand what is happening. And I, for one, will suspect you don’t WANT to understand. That you NEED to remain oblivious. That there would be real pain in admitting that these people you have so little respect for have at least the DELUSION that they are threatened. If you can’t get that far…I have no idea how you make sense of the world, and frankly suspect that you don’t.
What was even worse is that people without a single black FB friend other than ME or my wife would try to lecture me about black people. A staggering amount of self-deception and unconsciousness…and that was giving the benefit of the doubt that they were merely “asleep” and not lying snakes or monsters.
Yes, I consider the movies we consume to be indicators of our unconscious desires for power and beauty. They reflect our inner desires and fantasies. And yes, I consider that who survives in movies mirrors our values (the most common survivor of an American horror film is either a white female of breeding age, or a pair of attractive young white people. This symbolizes continuation of the species, and the last male will often die to protect her…especially if they have had sex, and she may therefore be carrying his seed. Yeah, its that simple.)
No, its not “the black man dies first.” That trope hasn’t been true for decades. But it persists, at least in part because it is easily refutable. But I have presented this challenge to thousands of people over the course of decades, and so far not a single American film, not a single one, violates the premise:
THERE IS NO AMERICAN FILM IN WHICH ALL THE WHITE PEOPLE DIE, IF ANY BLACK PEOPLE SURVIVE.
Actually I could say “non-white” people survive, but then I have to deal with people putting Jews or Greeks or Arabs in the “non-white” camp. Screw that.
So here are a bunch of random thoughts on the subject. Then, I’ll give you the list. I published this before when there were about 50. I may publish it again when I reach 70. That sounds about right.
- I wouldn’t doubt that a couple of the movies on this list are wrong. The definition of “character” is someone with at least one line of dialogue. There may be a black character somewhere with a line of dialogue that I missed. I appreciate someone pointing it out. I doubt there are ten, however, which still gives me a ration of at least 50:0. If that isn’t enough to convince you, in my mind…you are asleep, or a snake. At best. You know I’m telling the truth, and are lying to protect your privilege.
- So the standard is: all the black people die. Or: all the black adult males die. In “Terminator 2” for instance, a black male CHILD survives the movie. But the Joe Morton dies.
- This is similar to the reason that a black WOMAN surviving doesn’t count the same. Traditionally, tribal warfare kills the men and rapes the women. “Kill your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women.” What the hell did you think they meant? So black MEN are rivals, competition for resources and reproductive space. They must be killed, controlled, castrated or infantalized. Black women are potential breeding partners, even if you won’t marry them. Harsh. But historical.
- It used to astound me that white men argued that it was a complement for black people to die protecting white people. Just yesterday a guy went on and on about how if white people were not allowed to create such images, there would be no chance for racial harmony (!!) In fantasy terms: “if we aren’t allowed to exterminate you at will, we will be unhappy.” Wow. Boo hoo. Bite me.
- Another fascinating thing is how often white people will see a movie with multiple white people, but if they aren’t the stars will literally forget they are there. There were countless comments about how Black Panther was “all black”. Excuse me? There are at least five white characters with dialogue in BP. Maybe as many as seven, depending on how you count.
- The BP trailer even BEGAN with two white men talking (remember? Klaue asking Ross “What do you know about Wakanda?”), a clear and canny sop to the white audience who would otherwise complain. And some people STILL said “it’s all black!” Jeeze. What a bunch of snowflakes. If you aren’t the center of the universe, it feels like death. But when you deal death to others, we’re supposed to be GRATEFUL.
- The reason this is important is that people who cannot see this–or won’t ADMIT to seeing this–are a group that overlaps strongly with those who argue that BLM has no legitimate complaint. They are similar to the group that complains that protestors marching in Ferguson were simply political agitators, not even believing that THEY believe there is a problem. At best, at very best, these people are asleep. Snakes and monsters are genuine possibilities.
- No, I don’t think this is conscious. White people aren’t smart enough to plan and execute a conspiracy of this size. NO ONE is. It is an “emergent” pattern, tiny preferences multiplied across millions of individuals making millions of choices.
- Not some kind of Hollywood plot. Hollywood follows, not leads. Disturbing as it may be, this pattern exists because enough of the audience approves of it that it has been persistent through the entire history of cinema. There are no movies with the opposite pattern (IMO) because no movie makes it to the theaters without passing some white guy’s desk. And if all white people die, they get very uncomfortable, and ask for changes, won’t fund, or kills the project. Refuses to distribute, or exhibit. That’s a long chain, and if just ONE link breaks, the movie dies.
- This is “first chakra” stuff–survival. But “second chakra”–reproduction and sex–can be seen in a similar light, in the “black man can’t have sex in a film white audiences support”, measured by crossing the “100 million dollars domestic” line. One movie finally did it. I wonder if you know what it was? And what that director went on to create? No accidents here.
- What is the point of this rant? I can’t stop you from enjoying watching us die. But I can stop you from pretending that’s not what you’re doing. And if you have a more egalitarian bent, you can add your voice to the call for diversity. Not IN FRONT of the camera–BEHIND it. Among the decision makers. That is the way things will change. Otherwise, you keep prodding sleeping people saying: “See? See?” and they drowsily say “Sure” then roll back over and go back to sleep, like my teenaged son Jason. “Just five more minutes…” Forcing you to start the process all over again. This is how they wear you out. First, denial. Then anger and threats. Then grudgingly changing a few images IN FRONT OF the camera (“see? We don’t kill you FIRST anymore!”) But nothing really changes until the faces BEHIND the camera change. How do you do that? Simple. Human beings can be bigots. But corporations don’t give a shit about race–they are just simple organisms that eat money and crap products and services. Stop feeding them and eating their shit, and they will sniff around asking how they can make you happy. Yeah, I said it.
- And the ultimate purpose is to make potential artists ANGRY. To give the voice to your pain. No, you haven’t been hallucinating. Yes, this is why it is CRITICAL that you create and produce your own work, and force Hollywood to live up to its promises, as we must force America to live up to hers.
- If you want a complete basic education on how the myths of the Diaspora have been influenced and created, you’ll want to get the complete Afrofuturism and Black Horror class package, available at www.afrofuturismandhorror.com. Our children deserve to see us shine, not die protecting those who pretend not to notice our deaths. Or believe we should be honored to perish that they might live better, nobler lives.
- The Alamo
- Beware! The Blob
- Big Jake
- Body Snatchers (1982)
- Capricorn One
- Conan the Destroyer
- Damnation Alley*
- Death Hunt
- Deepstar Six
- Dirty Dozen
- From Dusk Til Dawn
- Freddy Versus Jason
- Ghost Ship
- The Green Mile*
- Hard Target
- House of Wax (2005)
- Jurassic Park
- Kill Bill
- Kill Bill 2
- King Kong (Peter Jackson)
- Magnum Force
- Man on Fire
- The Mummy (2017)
- Murphy’s Law
- Night of the living Dead
- Pacific Rim
- Planet of the Apes (1968)
- Return of the Living Dead
- Logan (no black man survives ANY film in the X-Men franchise)
- Resident Evil
- The Shining*
- Beyond Skyline
- Starship Troopers
- Sudden Impact*
- Terminator 2
- Total Recall*
- True Romance
- The Unforgiven
- Unknown (2011)
- Wrath of Khan
- Whatever Happened to Monday?
- X-Men. No black man has ever survived an “X-Men” movie. I don’t have a taste to go back through them, but feel justified in listing them again here.
Copyright 2018, Steven Barnes. All rights reserved. You may reproduce with appropriate attribution and all links preserved. www.afrofuturismandhorror.com