Acting While Black

Dog+lazing+on+a+sofa+listening+to+headphones

Lately we’ve been slumped over on the sofa, unmoving, glassy-eyed, barely blinking and uncommunicative.

We’re okay, though. The only “virus” we’ve succumbed to (so far—knock on wood) is the addictive stupor of movie bingeing while locked up inside like everyone else.

During these dazed purgatorial viewings we’ve stumbled across that strange convention of mainly Sci-Fi movies but also lots of action movies, diminishing to a lesser degree as you delve into the other genres, where the black character is either the first one killed off or just eventually killed off period.

It may not be amusing on many levels but on at least one level it’s jaw-droppingly hilarious. So I’m gonna name a few of the most outlandish examples as an ode to the absurd, an elaborate Elizabethan bow to the comically bizarre.

ESJfZcJWoAE54xX

 

In The Lazarus Effect, Olivia Wilde kills her friends one by one in admittedly unpleasant ways. But while they later go out by choking, poison, and the swift, clean, preferable death of neck snapping, the first person she kills is Donald Glover of Community, the Martian, and Solo: A Star Wars story fame, and his death is spectacularly violent compared to theirs–namely being telekinetically hurled across the room into a locker and then crushed inside like a car compacter.

WTAF?! OMG!

the-lazarus-effect-donald-glover-olivia-wilde-900x288

Remember The Transformers? There’s a “black” robot in The Transformers! Jazz! Guess what happens to him. He dies! Not right away, later, but who cares? He still dies! The “black” Transformer robot gets killed off!

Jazz’s curtain call actually didn’t bother me that much, since he was somewhat of an annoying cliché, even as a robot, but still…really?

Seriously?

jazz

One of the most ironic and farcical deaths in schlocky sci-fi history happened to Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters fame in Leviathan from 1989. Having survived all the horrors below and actually having made his way to the surface along with two others, he is summarily consumed by the monster (which was supposed to be dead) seconds before the other two characters scramble onto a helicopter and are whisked away to safety.

leviathan

I’m not sure when this started in earnest. Maybe the ‘80s? Certainly the ‘90s.

Because looking back, in opposite world, we can’t forget that Yaphet Kotto almost made it to the end of Alien in 1979. And he gets knocked off at exactly the same moment as Hollywood darling Veronica Cartwright.

In Carpenter’s The Thing from ’82, Keith David DOES make it to the end with Kurt Russell. I never can remember his name because he has two first names. David Keith? Keith David?

the-thing-lg

Similarly, Keith David survives in 1988 for most of They Live, and in a pretty big role too.

They Live, by the way, was based on a mere short story by Ray Nelson from 1963. A tiny five-page short story called Eight O’clock in the Morning, a commentary on modern-day slavery,  toiling in the shadow of capitalism and getting absolutely nowhere while the powers that be continually insist that all you need to do is buy things, have fun, and “obey” to have a good life.

sq3_capitalistic_values

It had always irked me that Kubrick kills Scatman Cruthers in The Shining, because having been a huge Stephen King fan as a teenager, I knew Scatman’s character didn’t die in the book. I didn’t know if Kubrick’s subconscious was buying into the stereotypes like everybody else or if it was just a director’s ego. Still, Scatman almost made it to the end.

scatan

After the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, though, I think hiccups like The Thing, They Live, and Alien became few and far between as the black sacrifice to the movie gods started becoming a “thing.” They even made fun of it with Omar Epps in Scream 2 in the late ‘90s.

A movie favorite of mine, 300, has Leonidas kicking the (black) Persian messenger into a well, and even though 300 was based on a comic book, the actual Spartans from history were not the righteous defenders of all good in the world, and the Persians were not the monsters and villains they were made out to be.

One of the best lines from the movie, though, from Xerxes, the 9-foot tall Persian King, speaking to Ephialtes: “Unlike cruel Leonidas who demands that you stand…I require only that you kneel.”

Which sounds a lot like the Chinese “curse” that says, “May you live in interesting times.”

The words sound really good at first, right? Then little by little you start to realize, hey, wait a minute…

But by then, it’s too late.

xerxces

One of the most ironic deaths ever—even more than Ernie Hudson getting dispatched by the monster two seconds before his cast mates are saved—is that of Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead from 1968.

Duane Jones had a starring role as a strong character and capable leader (something fairly unheard of during those days) during a Zombie crisis and who—like Mr. Hudson—made it all the way through to the end… only to be shot by police… who thought he was undead.

Whoa!

But, boy, we were on the right track once with casting. I wonder what happened. One thing, though: it won’t last forever. This, too, shall pass. And become a footnote in history.

night of

As time went by, the acronym DWI turned into the jokey DWB (driving while black) which then in turn became a running theme: RWB, EWB, SLB (reading while black, eating while black, sleeping while black) which, beyond the ominous symbolism, is also an attempt at levity, something desperately needed these days.

So as my husband and I slowly de-evolve on the sofa before the flickering Netflix screen, and maybe you do, too, we can add to the growing list of acronyms with lighthearted humor as we wait for perspectives to change, society to shift (if even a little; already the skies are cleaner!) as the light at the end of the tunnel gets nearer:

SNNSFC: Saying no to Netflix and Sci-Fi Channel

TRHTDFDC: Trying to remember how to do fractions during coronavirus

SOTWDL: Staying on the wagon during lockdown

NSOTWDL: Not staying on the wagon during lockdown

SPPUZAWARTJSFWT: Surviving the pandemic/possible upcoming zombie apocalypse while any race by telling jokes, sharing food, and working together

ffi-working-together

33 thoughts on “Acting While Black

  1. Wow! That is impressive. Tubularsock hasn’t seen THAT MANY films in Tubularsock’s several life times. But great coverage and observation. For Tubularsock, sitting on his front porch is scary enough here in Oakland! But the other morning Tubularsock took a 3 AM bike ride and discovered that he is totally alone in this city. WONDERFUL with space!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Movies are like 3 am bike rides–wonderful escapes!
      I’d urge you to see more of them but you probably don’t have time between political rallies.
      Thanks, T-sock!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that top photo of your lounging furbaby! A very enjoyable essay, the topic of which cannot be disputed. I’d like to see you do one on how females have been portrayed over the years and how that’s changed with time (pretty please??) Now that we have more black and female actors, directors, producers, screenplay writers getting at least some time in the limelight, things unquestioningly headed in the right direction. Hopefully quicker than the decades it has taken to get this far.

    Liked by 2 people

    • No, Glen, you can’t to any of that! You must remain a master of your vessel and its every detail at all times.
      (And I won’t admit in public exactly how much I’ve forgotten, haha).

      Like

  3. This is so true…..brothers are always the first to go,I think even on Star Trek,they had a few black redshirts and you know how that went. “Night of the Living Dead still bothers me a great deal because of its ending simply because its still happening today,trigger happy pigs looking to shoot first and quite fast. Scatman dying in The Shining instantly soured me on the film and I have never watched it since. We could mention Garrett Morris almost making it through The Stuff before buying it…..cripes,now I have start thinking of the films where this happens……

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t heard of The Stuff. Need to look that one up.
      I’m glad you felt the same way about Scatman. I was REALLY pissed when I first saw that. Later when I heard that Stephen King hated the movie and hated Kubrick, for a while I was really on his side. But as years went by I thought, “Geez, little bit of a prima donna happening there….” because, after all, it was Kubrick. Still, same here. I’ve never liked the Scatman thing. And, btw, I’ve NEVER liked the blood pouring out of the elevators. It just looks dumb to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Its movies like The Shining that show why many novelists like King,Cussler and Moore absolutely hate the Hollywood process. Of course King now controls his own works as he rightly should but many writers have to sit and watch their hard work get turned into shit…..except for Robert Jordan because his books were already shit.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Quote: “the powers that be continually insist that all you need to do is buy things, have fun, and “obey” to have a good life.” That’s predatory capitalism’s mantra. They’re about to re-write it however. The’re going to remove the “have fun” from it. Then after a while they’ll re-write it again and again until at last it will say what they always wanted it to say: Obey and don’t think.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, right on target. I think one of the signs in “They Live” actually does say “Don’t think.”

      Like

  5. Not sure why the “reply” beneath the person is limited. It’s like you can reply once and then that’s it.
    So this is in response to Michael: I’ve never heard of Robert Jordan and looked him up. Why were his books such crappola? You seem very passionate about that!

    Like

  6. Nice little Scatman and Shining and Transformers connection in that he voiced Jazz in the 1986 movie.
    The horror genre love’s to give the token black guy or most minority’s the boot first. The poor chubby’s get a bit of a smashing too to be fair.
    Great call on Keith David (HAHA just dawned on me two first names, I’m never gonna remember which way round now myself!!) That guy always did well. The Thing and They Live two top Wolfie favs.
    I watched The Hand That Rocks The Cradle when it came out. Saw it again maybe 4 years ago. You know what me and mrs wolf sat there dreading the moment Ernie Hudson (ok they did make him “special) was going get killed off. Convinced we remembered it happening! Oh my gosh! In my mind I’m killing off the black guy too! WTF lol.. He didn’t get it and I was so happy. But for the whole film I was convinced he had been “knocked off”.

    But Fuuuuck That! (sorry swearing). The Ernie slaying at the end of Leviathan was totally uncalled for. Made worse by the fact that the two survivors didn’t give too shits! I wasn’t happy with that at all! No no no. Ernie made it that far!! He should of been saved whilst being pulled out the sea fist fighting that blob beast.
    I suppose Candyman was an exception to the rules. Tony Todd bringing the pain to everyone.
    And good old Austin Stoker heroically smashing his way through zombie like gang members in Assault on Precinct 13.

    Such a long time ago but maybe, I can’t remember, was Ben getting killed by the cops at the end of Night Living Dead meant as a social commentary of the times? I wanna watch that right now! Still such a sad ending.

    Stacey what a fantastic article. poignant, knowledgeable, fun, true and as always a great dose of laughter over tears.

    Sounds like you and the hubby have been having good fun smashing through the films.
    I’m the whitey of the family and this subject has come up many times. Always with a smile.

    PS You know what once this lock down is over I’m gonna go to a few churches and start saying your acronyms TRHTDFDC NSOTWDL SPPUZAWARTJSFWT. (the last one is my fav 🙂 ) The whole place will think I’m talking in tongues.

    Ok sorry for the bonkers Mikey style all over the place reply. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Aaaahhh! No apologies, Mikey! On the super-duper contrary and beyond, thank you for your enthusiasm !!!
    Omg, I totally forgot about Mr. Hudson in Hand that Rocks the Cradle!! Candyman…yes, yes. No one could win against THAT guy, hehe.

    But Assault on Precinct 13–we never saw that one. I looked it up, though, and saw that Kim Richards had a part on it, and that was pretty freaky. How weird! Escape from Witch Mountain and Nanny and the Professor was the last place I saw her before she showed up on reality TV looking much the worse for wear (sadly) and definitely NOT on the wagon.

    * Soft and sweet *
    * Wise and wonderful *
    * Ooh our mystical, magical Nanny *

    (Remember the theme song from Nanny and the Professor? I wonder what the hell “soft and sweet” means,
    or more specifically, “soft”, LOL)

    As for Ben getting shot by police at the end of Living Dead, you’re probably right. What makes it more poignant and endlessly tragic, of course, is that not only has very little changed since then (only on the surface, but not deep down where it counts, I think), it’s gotten worse! That movie and ending would be even MORE of a symbol of what goes on today with law enforcement here in the U.S. and the black (generally male) populace. Holy craaaaap! Whyyyyy?!

    Thanks so much for your insights and kind words, Wolfman. Spread the acronyms! Spread the love! But, yeah, don’t let them catch you with the giant “looney” net if they haven’t picked up on your message and the only inspiration they’re receiving is to get you professional help!
    SPPUZAWARTJSFWT!!!
    They will understand one day ! ! ! ! !
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my I believe you are in for a real treat with Assault On Precinct 13. John Carpenter brings a low budget classic with extra bonus, his own awesome soundtrack. It’s got real tension and dread. Like an urban gunfight at the ok corral. Well worth checking out.

      I don’t believe Nanny and the Professor ever crossed over to this parts so I’m afraid I don’t get the references. Looking at the pictures it does looks like a fine, fun and great family sitcom. So many great American sitcoms.
      I think the last one I had a real soft spot for was Out Of This World with Doug McClure. Am still known to sing the theme tune to that one hehe.
      To be honest I don’t know Kim Richards but looking through her filmography I have seen many in the 70s just never knew who she was. Strangely I was eyeing up Tuff Turf (1985) with James Spader to watch again as I remember renting that. Was it any good? Probably not. However I see that Kim is the female lead. There you go!

      Lucky the claws are sharp and I keep escaping the pesky loony bin nets coming to get me, thankfully!

      Liked by 1 person

      • An urban gunfight at the OK Corral sounds good to me.
        As for Kim…yeah, really big here. I just figured some of her stuff got out to other parts, but maybe I’m wrong.
        Didn’t get to Canada, at least!
        I’m not sure I remember Out of this World, myself. I know Doug McClure, though. And James Spader, the cute, usually rich bad guy everyone loved to hate. Boy, does HE look different now. It’s probably just the fact that all the voluminous blond hair is gone. He actually looks pretty good, just different.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You spot on with James Spader. I wasn’t really a fan of his in the 80’s. Yeah that rich bad kid you did really hate. But then he started popping up in films I liked but wasn’t that keen on him, like Sex Lies and Videotape. Which was made worse by I wasn’t that into Andie MacDowell either. The first time I really liked him was Stargate. Then I was super jealous of him in Supernova when he rolled out in the Zero G hay with the beautiful Angela Bassett. My jealously was made better when I found out it was actually two different actors rolling around with there faces cgi on. Even worse was the fact that was that the white actress was digitally blacked up. LOL
        Flash forward to Blacklist! James Spader is a completely different looking human!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Brilliant post, Stacey. That’s par for the course with Hollywood values/morals/ethics–they are so blurred that they cease to exist. But at least they try! Ha!
    Here’s my take on it…The black guy/gal biting the dust is supposed to solicit sympathy from the white folk rubes…And in my case it worked! I was brought to tears in The Towering Inferno when OJ Simpson got burned up. It sucked. That was before I saw The Night of the Living Dead. Now that film was subversive. Not only does the black guy get killed, but he’s really, really smart! Then he gets killed by a bunch of white rubes. It was so subversive that it solicited sympathy from my pathological racist cousin! Amazing!
    But Night of the Living Dead was too much. It was too radical. So the black guy would be forever relegated to the trusty side kick or side kick’s second best friend who gets tortured, blown away or something like that. Wonderful! Bravo Hollywood for doing your part in the civil rights struggle. And BRAVO white folk rubes for giving a damn. And white folk intellectuals too, of course.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Yep. He was “up in smoke” but not in a good way like in Cheech and Chong. Ha! And yep I come from pretty good local yokel stock, if, indeed, there is such a thing. Now my racist cousin…he’s another story…I love him, but only because he’s family.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I forgot about OJ’s demise too. SO long ago.
    And thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it!
    I guess Night of the Living Dead’s message WAS too heavy for everyone and they just sort of looked the other way. Very sad, considering the consequences in films for years to come–blatant, predictable, boring patterns.
    Oh well….
    At least things are *starting* to change a little bit..now……slowly………..

    Like

  11. Yeah, Wolfman, Supernova! I DID really like James S. in Supernova. He was excellent. The movie was duuuuumb, mostly, but engaging here and there. For one thing, the guy talking to the computer “I know you love me,” and stuff like that. Wtaf?! So corny and made no sense. But I didn’t know the stuff about doubles during the sexy scenes and adding what was the equivalent of CGI blackface to a white actress. HAHAHAHA. OF COURSE! HAHAHAHAHA

    Like

  12. My ex used to tell me, at the beguiling of the movie: “Oh, oh, the black guy is gone get killed!”
    Depressingly she was always right…
    Great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Burning Heart. Thank you!
    And yeah…it’s really become kind of a running joke, huh? We’ve got it already! Try something new !!! 🙂 🙂

    Like

  14. I’ve never read/watched The Shining, but I went to a Kubrick exhibition in London last year, so I know what happens. I love a good spoiler.
    OWOS sums me up at the moment – Only Watching Old Stuff (with exceptions to please hubby). I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything new. So, Doctor Who, Life on Mars and Death in Paradise is keeping me going. Happily the lockdown is starting to ease, and there’s talk of returning to work, or I’d run out of Doctors!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A Kubrick exhibition sounds fascinating, actually.
    And sometimes the old stuff is the best stuff, isn’t it? It just hits the spot. My husband and I were just wondering two days ago what happened to Babes in Toyland that used to come on every year, or Mad Mad Mad Monster Party? You may not have heard of them since you’re in the UK. But I guess they’re either SO old they’re not relevant anymore….or all the channels that we have now makes them irrelevant. I just know I never see them and many other titles I used to ALWAYS see come up anymore. Boooooo!

    Like

  16. Great post 🙂 I do not know If you noticed this, but Ken Foree in George A. Romero’s 1978 horror classic Dawn of the Dead (he played Peter) survived in the end. I do not know If you saw that one, but I felt like bringing it up given the relevance of this entry. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi John! Thanks! No, I did not see that one. I looked it up. Interesting! But you know, it still fits into the ’70s when the “tradition”: hadn’t quite taken hold yet. So….makes sense that Peter was still okay by the end of the movie, lol. Oh, well. They can’t keep doing it forever, right?

    Like

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