Vincent S. Moore Presents:
A Mule And Forty Acres Of My Own, part five
Why Should The White Guys Have All The Fun?
Because they have the gold and get to make the rules, that’s why.
In a couple of weeks, more or less, we Americans will find ourselves in a period of making history as the first African American candidate for the highest office in our land with an actual chance at winning will become the first African American nominee from the Democratic Party. Barack Obama is making history and, barring unforeseen accidents and incidents, will go on to make more history by becoming America’s first President of African descent.
All across this great land of ours and the world over, Obama-mania is spreading like wildfire. Whether it be in Ohio or Germany, this man with the strange name and the brown complexion is gathering crowds worthy of rockstars.
And even though Obama himself and others have said to the contrary that his campaign is not an instant fix to the racial problems still in existence in America, there are many that feel this candidacy has proven once and for all America is beyond its racist past.
That is such a lovely sentiment.
Too bad that if you went to the movies or with any of the DVD rental options available this summer.
Because if you did just that, and you didn’t have your blinders on, you would have seen what I saw. That America hasn’t come that far and that those who shape our popular culture and the images we see therein are still up to their old tricks.
When I first began this series looking at the images of African Americans in our pop culture, I had no idea of what I doing. Of what a humongous can of worms I would be opening. Or of how I come to the conclusion that America is often more honest about how it feels collectively about people of color in its pop culture than it is in our daily lives.
Which, particular if any of you reading this are white, may come as a complete shock.
You might ask, “What do you mean that America is secretly more racist than it admits to itself? How can that be? Don’t I see how well Obama is accepted by many Americans? Sure, there are those who can’t get on the bandwagon but those poor folks are in the minority. Aren’t they?”
And my response would be that racism runs much deeper in American thought than can be alleviated by a few laws and just a few decades of time. Racism, the real deal stuff that buys into ideas of whites being superior--mentally and morally at the very least, if not physically--to all the various and sundry black and brown folks upon this planet hasn’t disappeared from this land. Not yet. Not as long as there are still people in this country, whether they be on the east coast, west coast, or smack dab in the middle of this country that think and feel that there is just something about us black folks that makes us less than, makes us dumber, more pitiful, whatever.
You hear such thoughts expressed in the words of those so-called white working class voters that Hillary Clinton courted in the latter days of her campaign. When, with all honesty, they said they wouldn’t vote for a black man under any circumstances. Not because his ideas or policies didn’t jibe with theirs. Not because he was of a different political party than theirs. Simply because these white people honesty couldn’t fathom of a black man worthy of their vote. And being a Californian, I could simply write these people off as being ignorant and backwoods riffraff and call it a day. But I can’t write them off. Because these people have both the courage of their convictions and the honesty to express what is in their hearts and minds.
Unlike those who produce American pop culture.
Those people get to hide behind other factors and circumstances when they are caught playing the race card to the disadvantage of people of color.
When I wrote the first part of this series I started by asking the question of why should the white boys have all the fun? Why should the white boys get to create science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, superhero, and other genre books, films, comics, and games that star idealized versions of themselves alone? Why can’t Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Women in America do the same thing and reap the same benefits? I wondered then and now why did it appear as though being black in my particular case meant that no matter how much I dreamed of gleaming silver rockets and bright tights, of ray guns and singing swords, I could expect those things to elude me and my fellow African-Americans endlessly.
Then, in a darkened movie theatre a week ago, the answer hit me.
Because, for the most part, the white boys have all the gold and they get to make all the rules. That’s why they get to have all the fun.
In other words, the game of popular culture is fixed in the favor of white folks, especially white boys. And until enough people of color and women with comparable power exist and are willing to risk that very power, the realm of American pop culture will continue to be separate and unequal. Even as Barack Obama takes the oath of office in January.
Why do I feel I can make that statement?
Because of where I was when this moment of enlightenment hit me. For I was sitting in a darkened theatre, expecting like many others to be taken into the fictive dream. That place where stories are told and audiences listen, free from their disbelief. I was sitting watching an afternoon matinee of Hancock.
Ah, yes, Hancock.
That latest notch on the box office hits belt of Will Smith, rapper turned actor and now producer. Big Willie, the former Fresh Prince of Philly and Bel Air, having come up with another hit on what he calls Big Willie Weekend. You know, the Fourth of July weekend for the rest of us common folks.
And a smash hit it was, given the amount of money it has earned at the box office so far. Until the new Batman film came out, Hancock ruled the roost in the month of July for superhero movies.
Which is a shame, given how Hancock played to many negative stereotypes of black men some but not all white Americans have.
When viewing it that way, I can see why Hancock was such a hit with so many moviegoers. Because, on a subconscious level, many white viewers could walk away from the theatre feeling as though their very secret thoughts about blacks had been confirmed. And, adding insult to injury, many black viewers probably walked away thinking that it was cool for Will Smith to have played a superhero on the big screen and nothing else. Yet some black viewers walked away having seen what I saw and were disgusted by the whole experience.
Because they saw the real story being told and responded accordingly.
At this point, I will assume that those who were going to see Hancock have and know about it and that those who haven’t have probably heard all about it anyway. So I will talk openly about its plot.
Hancock is the story of a black superhero that drinks and causes all kinds of mayhem and destruction wherever goes. Any attempt to help--to stop robbers or a car chase, to rescue people--goes awry. Within in a few minutes of the movie, you aren’t sure if Hancock--the name this so-called superhero goes by--is drinking because he’s such a fuck up or for some other reason. Into this sad excuse of a life comes Jason Bateman, playing a struggling and idealistic public relations man, who wants to thank Hancock for saving him by helping him rehabilitate his image. In order to do this, Hancock becomes part of Bateman’s life, meeting his wife and child. For some reason, the wife, played by Charlize Theron, is weary of Hancock, who in turn acts as if he knows the wife from somewhere and is curious to find out how and why. Over the course of the film we learn that Theron and Smith are the last two superbeings on the planet and that they were designed to be attracted to each other, as in being a mating pair. We also see Hancock go to jail, learn how to control himself, to clean himself up, and to be the hero he is supposed to be. We learn that whenever Theron and Smith get together they will lose their fantastic powers, so it is in the best interests of both, but as Theron puts it, of Smith to stay away from each other, because the world still needs its last surviving superbeing as a hero. Which is how the movie ends, with Smith on the east coast and Theron and Bateman on the west, each living their lives and doing what they can to make the world a better place.
Something Hancock itself won’t do. Simply because the story has more going on underneath the surface.
For example, that Hancock is often called asshole. That this powerful being is referred to in such a dehumanizing manner is one thing but that he has no real name of his own--because he thought that John Hancock was his name when asked to sign some paperwork 80 years ago--shows just how much of a cypher and an inconsequential being Hancock is meant to be.
Or that the people of Los Angeles, where the story takes place, are content to allow this being to operate in their midst without any attempt to interact with him in any other manner beside derision. That is, until Bateman’s character saves the city by encouraging Hancock to surrender himself to the indignity of jail for his crimes.
Or the message implied by the relationship between Theron and Smith. That as long as they are together, they will become normal, can get married, live, have children, and grow old but those regular desires are not something Hancock should aspire to. Because, Theron’s character already has such things with Bateman’s. But Smith’s Hancock is to be denied such things because his is the destiny and duty of the ultimate public servant, a superhero, and to do so alone.
Or that it is better for a woman, such as Theron, to be a housewife and mother, despite her abilities to do great things. And that such a woman should seek out a mate beneath her own powers, for that way lies happiness. Because being mated to lesser being of the same color is much better than being mated to an equal of different color.
Or, that in truth, despite being the title character, Smith’s Hancock was little more than another version of the Magical Negro whose total existence was meant as a means by which to improve the lives of those white folks he encountered. Theron’s Mary is happy in her role as wife and mother, knowing that she no longer has to fear Smith’s Hancock entering her life ever again. Bateman’s Ray is extra happy because he didn’t lose his wife but grew closer to her with Hancock’s help and has become a celebrity in his field and the world over because of Hancock’s efforts and powers. Meanwhile, Hancock is left alone, a superhero of course, but one that understands his mission comes before any other life goals, such as love and happiness.
When looking at it this way, Bateman is the real hero of Hancock, not Smith. For he achieves the greatest victory out of the three major characters. He gets the girl. He saves the superhero. And he gets to fulfill his dream of making the world better.
Meaning, Hancock could have been called The Legend of Bagger Vance 2.
All because, to borrow Chris Rock’s analogy, Will Smith may be rich, but the producers who write his checks are wealthy. And they get to make the rules to benefit themselves.
Which, in this case, meant that the black superhero had to start the movie as a trifling menace to society and had to end the movie as a pitiful but useful tool of The Man. Nothing more, nothing less.
Because, when you really think about it, Hollywood producers and studio executives are far more reactive than proactive. They react to how much or how little money a movie makes. If a Hancock makes tons of money, then we will see more black superhero movies where the hero is pitiful instead of powerful, where the white people are in some way more powerful than the black superhero, and where the black superhero accepts his role as servant to the desires of these white people. Since, no other fantastic vision of blacks exists or would be accepted by white audiences going to movie theaters.
Take for example another movie that came out this summer. Like Hancock, this one starred a big name black actor. Like Will Smith, this actor came into Hollywood from the outside, having earned his fame and early fortune in another medium. However, this popularity amongst people white and black didn’t help this star’s latest film at the box office. This star’s latest film was crushed by the competition and seemingly ignored by moviegoers, sending this movie into oblivion. What makes this situation worse is that this is the second time this star has tried to make a science fiction comedy only to see it fail at the box office because its marketing people failed the film by not being able to promote it properly to the general public.
The star is Eddie Murphy and the movie was Meet Dave.
And I have my own theories as to why it failed at the box office.
For in truth, that was the only place and way this movie did fail. As I found it to be a charming and fun film to watch.
Meet Dave, formerly known as Spaceship Dave, tells the story of a group of miniature humanoid aliens and their human shaped starship, on a mission to reclaim an object vital to their people’s survival. The movie finds Eddie Murphy playing dual roles, as the starship that comes to be known as Dave Ming-Chang and its captain, and playing both roles very well. As the ship moves amongst the people of New York, Murphy’s performance is a physical comedy tour-de-force, worthy of Buster Keaton. In time, Dave encounters a single mother and her young son who just so happens to be in possession of the very object the aliens seek. In order to recover the object, the aliens through their ship have to interact with a number of people and navigate a number of common human situations. Along the way, the aliens learn about humanity as the young boy learns about the aliens and the mother learns to open herself up to love again. Because she starts to develop feelings for the strange man newly arrived in her otherwise empty life. By the middle of the movie, Murphy finds himself at the point of a very strange love triangle between the mother and his third in command, played by the lovely Gabrielle Union. Before the movie is over, the police become involved, there is a coup on board the ship, Murphy fights to recover his ship and learns to admit his love for Union’s character, Earth is saved from destruction, the young boy learns to grow up, and the aliens escape the authorities and go home.
All in all, Meet Dave was a very good film.
That, it appears, no one went to see.
Could it have been because Murphy did not play a buffoon but rather played an intelligent starship captain?
Could it have been because Murphy starts falling in love with a white woman?
Could it have been because Murphy also falls in love with a black woman?
Could it have been because Murphy played a starship in human form?
The answer is yes to all of the above.
Because, just as many white Americans can’t see themselves voting for a black man, no matter how intelligent he is, many white Americans cannot suspend their disbelief when it comes to black people. In making Meet Dave, Eddie Murphy was in effect asking a significant portion of the American public to believe in six impossible things before breakfast. Every one of which featured a black man.
Something these white audiences could not do.
For it has been long known in Hollywood circles that romance and/or sex scenes featuring black actors will cause a movie to fail at the box office. There was a PBS special where Henry Louis Gates spoke with a Hollywood producer that confirmed any movie featuring, let’s say Denzel Washington and Halle Berry in a love scene, would bomb at the box office, because such things don’t fly with “middle” America.
And the love story was the central point of Meet Dave.
If “middle” America can’t handle black on black love on the big screen, it definitely can’t handle black man on white woman love. As numerous parts played by Halle Berry can attest to, there is nothing wrong with white man on black woman love, especially if she is any kind of victim along the way.
So Meet Dave failed because it asked white America to buy a love story with a black man torn between a white woman and a black woman. Something it rejects every time it is presented with such ideas. Add in the science fiction elements and you have a recipe for failure, no matter how brilliant the movie itself may be.
For not only is it difficult for some but not all white Americans to believe black people doing fantastic things, it is very much more difficult for similar numbers of black Americans to believe black people doing fantastic things as well.
Which explains why the marketing people didn’t know what to do with Meet Dave.
Marketing a love story with black folk in it to white people would get a negative response.
Marketing a science fiction comedy to black folk would get a negative response.
Meaning, the movie would fail to attract enough of either audience to make it profitable at the box office. Therefore, it would be noted as a failure and would serve as another example of why it can’t be done to be brought up by producers when movies mixing black people with science fiction or fantasy are mentioned.
Because the white boys get to have all the fun. And will continue to do so as long as they have the gold and make the rules.
Which saddens me, in this time of hope. Moreso than frustrating me, coming to grips with this realization saddens me.
Maybe if Obama wins the White House, Hollywood and the other purveyors of pop culture will change their tunes.
Maybe if Obama wins, we will see a flourishing of black science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers.
Maybe we will see a true black superhero movie.
At this point, I’m just not sure.
It looks as if that mule and forty acres of my own I wanted to create my own stories is just another empty promise America has made me.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved