9.04.2007

The Brave One...To Kill Blacks With a Gun?

So I'm relaxing for a bit after studying ancient 5th century BCE Greek for my class (Greek 101) and I decide to turn on the TV. Which was probably a mistake since I always find something on the TV I can't stand, like CNN (oh God!).

As I'm watching the tube a commercial comes on for the movie The Brave One. At the beginning of the clip Jodi Foster is siting down alone in a subway car in the middle of night with no one in the car with her. All of a sudden two young (menacing) Black men (their menacing because their Black, male, and young, duh!) walk up to her. One is wearing a black and green football jersey with a sideways black cap (ah he's gangsta cause it's sideways!) and a silver chain; the other is wearing a yellow and white jacket with a black do rag on (he's gangsta cause it's a do rag!).

As they walk menacingly up to Foster the guy in yellow says in a MTV type of Ebonics talk. "Awww, dis is too eazy man!"

With that they two proceed to try and rob foster buy her quick and skilled white woman reflexes kick into action and she pulls out a gun and pumps some quick lead into the two "thugs."

Now what strikes me the most about this scene is the way the director chose to caste two young Black men for the train robbery scene. Obviously the director wanted something to convey scariness, so he chose two Black men, and the director needed to portray vulnerability, so he chose a white woman. Now in a society where for hundreds of years white woman have been used to portray innocence and chastity and Black men have been used to portray savagery and hyper-masculinity, this movie trailer does not sit to well with me.

Now before you all jump on the "oversensitive band wagon" I'm not neccesarly saying Foster is racist or that the director is racist. What I'm saying is, is that Foster and the director and casting manager, and anyone else involved in this film and who is white is not aware of their white privilege and racial history of America and is in turn unaware of their racist actions...So that means...Oh wait...Yeah, I am calling them racist! Oh well. Get over it. Plus anyone who thinks I'm being oversensitive doesn't deserve an explanation on why their comment is ignorant, but I'm getting off track here.

In a country where race was one of the biggest issues in its founding, preservation, and expansion, a scene in where a white woman is in a dangerous situation that involves a Black male is going to illicit a strong emotional response from any crowd. And mostly that crowd's response will be of fear, fear for that "poor white lady" and hatred for the "menacing Black men."

When I or anyone else talking about a system of racism and white supremacy being embedded within our country and society this is one (of the many) things we're talking about. When we watch the news or television shows like Cops normally the only time we see a Black male is when he's being chased by a cop in the ghetto or a mug shot of a "scary" Black man on the run for doing something, such as robing a bank, etc. For a white person, or really any person, seeing this every single time on the TV or in the newspaper further affects the way we perceive and think about Blacks and Black males. Couple this with movies that portray Black men as gangsters and drug dealers we get an image stuck in our head of what a Black man is. Even movies that try to highlight the imense poverty and racism that Blacks have to deal with everyday, such as Boyz n the Hood, even end up reenforcing these negative stereotypes.

Now couple this with the history of using the hyper-violent and hyper-sexual Black man attacking or "ravaging" a white woman to instill fear and hatred in the white populace you can see how these modern day stereotypes are actually just the bastard step-child of the older, but as equally racist, image of the Black man attacking and raping the white woman in the film Birth of a Nation.

So when the director and producer were trying to convey a scene of vulnerability and fear what was running through their mind when they decided to caste Foster and two young Black men? The answer isn't that they just randomly decided to caste a white woman for the role of Erica (the character) and two young Black men for the role of subway attackers. The answer is much deeper than that and lies in the history of our country, our race relations, and the answer lies in the construction of whiteness and the continual propping up of the white race in our country today.

Images From:
BritFilms.Tv
Hors Champ

11 comments:

Madhat said...

Reminds me of this

nadia said...

it would be helpful if you brought a feminist analysis to this. yes, there is a long visual history of this racist relationship between white women as the pinaccle of purity and virginity and black men as animalistic rapists. there is also the real life reality that all women live with everyday, that we may be raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harrassed, etc, at any given moment, by any man, whether black, white, etc. so i think it's a bit simplistic to speak about it in just racialized terms, when all women of every color can identify with the desire to protect themselves from male assault.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of how I used to write (and think) after my first African American Studies class. Boy, that was a long time ago. I've taken countless courses on race and racism since, and over the years my views have changed quite a bit. I don't usually post on these blogs, but since I see here the exact same sort of well-intentioned naïveté that I used to stand so strongly by, I figured I might be of some use to the discussion, at least as a counterpoint to your original post.
First, and importantly, your indictment of everyone involved in the film who is white is (at least somewhat)unwarranted. Now, like you, I haven't seen the entire movie. However, unlike you, I watched the entire trailer. Apparently Jodi Foster plays some successful woman whose fiancé is murdered by a gang of thugs. What you failed to notice is that these thugs are white. The man who killed her fiancé, the main antagonist who Foster eventually hunts down and probably kills, is white. What you saw was a scene that took place AFTER Foster's fiancé was killed, an event that led Foster to buy a gun to protect herself. When she is once again confronted by people who wish to do her harm (and this time the perpetrators are Black, unlike the situation in the first incident), she fights back, shooting at least one of them. Yes, two of the villains in the movie are Black, but, from what I can tell by the preview I saw, MOST of the villains are white.
Still, this error doesn't entirely invalidate your point: the use of the "Black menace" character could still serve as an effective fear-inducing device that plays upon white society's racist misconceptions. Now, it took me a while to accept this next fact, and I know it's not going to taste good, as strong medicine rarely does. Please see the following link:
http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t4102004.pdf

These are statistics from 2004. I'm not sure what the Black men who confront Foster are planning to do to her, but you seem to be fairly confident that they are going to rob her, so let's work with that. In 2004 there were 79,239 individuals arrested for robbery, 53.6% of whom were Black. Whites made up 44.9%, Native Americans made up .6%, and Asians/Pacific Islanders made up .9%. Now, one could obviously bring up the fact that Blacks are incredibly overrepresented in these percentages, as, according to the notes on page three, the Census Bureau estimates that Blacks compromised a mere 12.8% of the population in 2004, while whites constituted 80.4%. But one doesn't even need to go into such relative issues to make the point: according to these statistics, if an individual is robbed in the United States, it is more likely that that individual will be robbed by a Black person than by a white person. That's the truth. Does the truth suck? You bet. But it's still the truth.

So what, then, should they ("every white person involved in the movie") have done differently? Well, you seem to suggest that the director should have cast different attackers. Maybe white guys, Asian guys, something like that. But statistically, doing so would be an actual misrepresentation of the realities of robbery.

But is that much of a problem, after all? Maybe that's what we should do: cut out all media images of Black criminals, painting a picture of Black life as one that is rich, productive, full of love, education, and so forth. The only representations of Black people we will see would be similar to Will Smith's role in The Pursuit of Happyness. You can do it, negroes! Chin up!!

No, that won't work at all. Presenting such a distorted image just serves to sweep all of the problems under the rug. Should there be positive depictions of Black life? Sure, because there are lots of Black people having positive lives! But to assert (or even to suggest) that Blacks should never be cast in the role of Big Bad Robber is silly, because some Blacks (just like some whites) ARE Big Bad Robbers. Is there a history of Blacks being presented in a negative light by the media (i.e. your reference to BOAN)? Yes, there certainly is. But that doesn't mean that we should swing just as far the other way, deleteriously distorting reality just as the creators of BOAN did.

In your conclusion, you write regarding the casting of Foster's two Black attackers:

"The answer is much deeper than that and lies in the history of our country, our race relations, and the answer lies in the construction of whiteness and the continual propping up of the white race in our country today."

Now, I don't disagree with you here. The reasons for the gross overrepresentation of Blacks in all forms of crime (aside from those that require large sums of cash, like insider trading, etc.) DO lie in our country's history, the construction of whiteness (and Blackness), and the American tradition of propping up the white race. But the reality of this overrepresentation can't be ignored, and shouldn't be obscured. We shouldn't look away from the truth of this situation, however unpleasant that truth might be. Black people don't commit far more crime (proportionally) than white people because they are evil, they do it because of the historical realities that have placed them in the positions in which they now are forced to struggle in. THAT is what we need to examine, and never ignore. By closing our eyes to the realities of crime in this country, we can never hope to address the true causes of it, and we will thereby ensure its continuance.

The truth sucks, I agree. But let's face it without flinching, without giving in to easy outs. That's the only way we are going to make any progress.

--vic said...

Given the facts that anon brought up about the movie, I have to wonder about the way it's being marketed. Why didn't they show clips of the white attackers instead of/along with the black?

xian said...

I don't understand why racism and sexist need to be separated and given equal treatment. It's that type of thinking that has caused the mainstream American feminist movement to be ruled by privileged white women. On the flipside, it is true that many ethnic minority men ignorantly support patriarchy even as they crusade for ethnic equality. But I don't see that in the original post. I mean, why can't we both be responsible in our gender AND ethnic portrayals?

I also understand the casting of her fiance as South Asian American and the attackers as white. But that still doesn't change the fact that the short previews I've seen all involved her attacking African American assailants and depict several different scenes.

The statistics about crime are horribly irresponsible to quote out of context as they neglect to address the "Why"s of the issues.

The statistics cannot be used to explain other "real" statistics: The racialized casting and advertising that rules American film to the point that you have films like "21" which took the real life story of Asian American MIT students and recast them as white and one Asian American "for comic relief". Or look at the constant remaking of Asian films with white actors. Or look at the marketing of Asian films with sexualized images (often not even from the film!) of Asian women on the DVD cover.

American media love reality until that reality does not fit their ideals of white supremacy.

So thanks for posting this! I actually found it on Boogle.com.

Also, don't feel bad about the condescending "I remember when I was naive like you post". It's a typical tactic by those who can't weather a thoughtful discussion.

peace.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if Nadia is calling for a "separation" of racism and sexism; maybe she's suggesting a synthesis of both. Check out Patricia Hill Collins' "Black Sexual Politics," that is a good book that discusses this in depth.

Xian, I'm not sure which previews you've seen, but in the two I've seen one doesn't include the African American attackers at all, and the other one shows her shooting them after they try to rob her, then proceeds to show her getting revenge on the white guys that stole her dog. But yeah, maybe you're right...I won't deny that the depiction of the big scary Black robber is an effective tool for intimidating white audiences. My point is that this might not stem (universally) from "racist misconceptions" as both of you suggest, but rather by simple analysis of empirical evidence, the sort of which I presented.

BUT, I didn't present the evidence "out of context" as you suggest. I did give these statistics context (the historical propping up of the white race, etc.) and I think that you would agree with me when I say that the statistics that I presented can be entirely explained by the context. Moreover, I think it's same to assume that most people reading this blog understand the context to a sufficient degree. If they didn't I don't think they'd be reading this. I could go into the history of colonialism, Jim Crow, etc., but that would make this a bit long(er).

So yeah, let's talk about the context, let's tell people about the context, let's study it, etc. But at the same time, let's not ignore the manifestations of that context, their practical consequences. I think a lot of the time people don't want to look at the manifestations of contexts because accepting liability for the creations of those contexts is too painful. This is why conservatives claim not to "see race": if they had to see race, they'd have to address all of the current inequalities, as well as unpleasant statistics, the likes of which I presented to you in the link. They'd rather just sweep the color line under the rug and forget about it; "criminals are criminals, send them all to prison!"

What you then go into, about the "real" statistics, goes off-topic. That isn't what we are discussing here at all. And actually, I agree with what you say about Asian films in American. But still, that isn't relevant to the present discussion.

Weathering away,

VA

Bronze Trinity said...

What bothers me about the movie is the the scene on the subway was exactly what happened to Bernard Getz on the subway. Some Black males were going to rob him on the New York subway and he shot them. It was big news and started a discussion or vigilantism, racism, excessive force, and self-defense. A lot of racism came out and the way Black men are described by the media was also discussed. That's why it bothers me. It was a very controversial and divisive thing back when it happened in New York and that very behaviour should not be glorified or encouraged in a movie. I can't seem to find an article about Bernard Getz but thats his name for sure.

Anonymous said...

BT,

Yes, I also thought about Bernie Goetz when I saw that scene. That was a very tricky case, and like you said, a lot of important discussions about race, crime, and, I think most importantly, the right of self-defense and concealed carry were brought up in the case.

Vigilantism is never a good thing. Lynching is vigilantism. Bad stuff. However, Goetz's case wasn't one of vigilantism, though it was made into that. His well-being was threatened and he was going to be unlawfully deprived of his property. His actions were acceptable under New York State laws (use of deadly force under imminent threat of robbery), though the fact that he had a concealed handgun without a license didn't fly with the court, and rightfully so. After the trial there was a civil trial, in which Goetz (white) was found guilty by an all-black jury and ordered to pay 43 million dollars for shooting one of the men (who was subsequently paralyzed) that tried to rob him.

Interesting fact: one of the four men Goetz shot at the end of 1984 was convicted of beating, raping, sodomizing, and robbing a 19 year old woman two and a half months after the shooting incident. Another one of the four was twice convicted of mugging.

-VA

Anonymous said...

I guess you thought that movies like this disappeared from the scene. I believe that you can thank the gangsta rappers for the resurrection of the movie's menacing black male. They made the image of the violent, menacing black male popular and palatable to the public. So why can't the white movie makers use that same image. That will be their excuse for it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god Jack, are you even FROM New York City??? You couldn't possibly be from New York the way you're talking. You must be living in a hole somewhere. I've ridden the NYC subway system and in every instance, I was threatened and/or physically harmed or mugged by either a black/hispanic male(s). I'm sorry but that's the honest truth and I'm not making it up. My friends can all tell you the same thing. Only once in my life have I been harassed by those of the same ethnicity - and this was outside on a street corner and they were Asian gangsters back in the 80s. Clearly the percentage and likelihood of crime in an urban setting like NYC shows that in many many many instances, it's either black or hispanic. I used to listen to police scanners and nearly every suspect was exactly that. Erica Bain LIVES in the Upper West Side NEAR Spanish Harlem. Did you honestly expect a couple of Jewish punks or maybe Chinese punks to harass her in the subway scene??? I'm not saying there aren't any Jewish or Asian criminals (there's Meyer Lansky and the fearsome Vietnamese Born to Kill gang of the 80s-90s), but something like that in the subway is UNHEARD of and very very rare if any. Art imitates life and this is exactly what the movie portrays. In NYC, we've had REAL incidents like Bernie Goetz and the Central Park Jogger incident and countless other incidents of muggings, assaults, murders. Do the research and find out the racial makeup of these attackers before posting something like this next time. It's not racism, it's truth. Sorry if the truth is so hard to come by.

GJ Tryon said...

"... the director wanted something to convey scariness, so he chose two Black men..." "Death Wish" (1974) depicted a preponderant number, i.e., a realistic proportion of blacks getting street justice from the hero, although a few whites were thrown in just to placate the mainstream's need for fantasy. Foster is as politically correct, i.e., as mendacious, as they come, so don't be surprised if the ratios are reversed in her flick. As for myself, in my own film fantasy, it's James Bond in "Live and Let Die", done exactly the way Ian Fleming wrote it- (unlike the junk that was shot in 1973) :- Bond unapologetically taking down the "niggers," as they called themselves, 1950's Harlem patois and all. Now that would be scary, brother, and brave!