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In the real world brothas get a bad rap. Rap artists and nightly news programs do their very best to portray black people — especially black men — as the most dangerous creatures on earth. In the movies, black guys are quite the opposite. Rather than being scared of them, brothas are the most vulnerable people on the big screen. The brothas always get killed off as innocent bystanders or sacrificial lambs so early on in the movie they might as well not get paid! Don’t believe me? Keep reading (The following comments are written in a spirit of fun and not meant to enrage angry black or non-black people)…
A lot of people die in movies, not just innocent black folks. But it just so happens that if you are a black person cast in an ensemble film primarily made up of white people and some sort of violence is in the plot, you will frickin' die. The only exceptions are top-billed black actors like Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones. And heck, all of those skilled thespians had their fill of death scenes earlier in their careers.
Disney animated movies have a long history of using culture as a vehicle for their playful stories. Think of Mulan, Pocahontas, and Tiana, the first black princess from The Princess and the Frog. Movie trivia fans, this is your queue to protest; the first black princess portrayed in a Disney film was a little lioness named Nala in The Lion King. After all, she's African. In that movie, the black culture is evident in the story and the chosen voice cast. It just so happens that Mufasa, voiced by James Earl Jones, dies heroically early in the story. Thus black guys also die in children’s animated features. No shame, Hollywood, no shame.
The most famous A-List African American actor killed on film is Samuel L. Jackson. Deep Blue Sea is just your average Jaws rip off. The sharks have enhanced brains, swim backwards, and have serious bloodlust. The cast of typical characters includes good looking white people and Samuel L. Jackson. When the kids start to fight and their fear grows out of control, Jackson takes center stage in the underwater refuge giving a speech to bring everyone together. As he bellows in typical Jackson style and his troops look on mesmerized, a shark jumps through an opening in the tank and pulls him to his death. It was the scene that made everyone in theaters across America jump, scream, and then cry laughing. Please watch it again right here:
Refreshing wasn’t it? Anyway, Deep Blue Sea proves another movie cliché: in the off chance there are two or more black people in your violent ensemble movie, one of them may survive. LL Cool J is one example: he escaped one smart shark's attempt to bake him in an oven. Only a black guy would hide in an oven…and only in Hollywood will a shark know how to turn said oven on to 450 degrees and try to make a hoodie encrusted filet of dark meat. Busta Rhymes similarly escaped the grasp of Michael Myers in Halloween Resurrection. His additional gimmick (also employed by LL Cool J) was to include a self-awareness of the racial cliché in horror by continuously yelling out “black guys never survive this sh**!” in every scene and then surviving the heck out of that sh** in the end.
Often, black guys don’t die first, though they do die eventually. Such is the case with the black-and-white classic Night of the Living Dead. This 1968 horror movie might just be the one that started the black guy killing trend. In it, a group of random people hide in a house while their town is attacked by flesh eating zombies. After beating the heck out of the undead, boarding up the house and finally escaping to the basement, the one black guy (Ben, played by Duane Jones) waits until morning to see if the world has survived. It has; local men have killed (again?) the zombies and are looking for any surviving cannibals. Ben emerges from the basement warily only to be mistaken as a zombie and shot through the window. The only more messed up black-guy killing that year was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Another 25 years later and a senseless tragedy struck. In the opening scenes of Jurassic Park, some attendants at The Lost World’s theme park attempt to unload their creature cage. A nameless black man a bit too close to the opening is snatched and chomped by a cloned dinosaur. This unknown black guy’s death is the foundation of the entire bloody plot of the movie. The rest of the dinosaurs' victims are called in to investigate the park’s safety. The black guy in Jurassic Park III, however, wasn’t so essential. This black guy was a pilot attempting to get his crew the heck off the island only to have his plane crash in a dinosaur-infested forest. While his white passengers scream and hide in terror, his body is torn from the plane and dropped to the ground. In honorable black-guy fashion, he keeps on kicking, attempting to crawl to safety. He is crushed by a dino-paw and his head is eaten. Ouch.
Some people think black guys only die in horror or creature movies like Gremlins, The Shining or Alien. Not so! A black guy died in Witness, a thriller starring Danny Glover, Unforgiven starring Morgan Freeman, drama Forrest Gump, war movie Red Dawn, and even the boxing movie Rocky IV. A whole lot of black guys have died in every genre.
In recent years, Michael Bay received accusations of creating racially insensitive Autobots in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Just as with The Lion King movie trivia, fans know his first incident was the single (yes, the only) killing of an Autobot voiced by a black guy and given a hip-hop persona in the first Transformers. Jazz, a fan-favorite autobot got little screen time and died like a punk at the hands of Megatron. Similarly in X-Men: First Class, Darwin (Edi Gathegi) is the first mutant good guy murdered.
Even half-black guys like Vin Diesel are fair game. He ate the dust in Saving Private Ryan. If biracial black guys aren’t available, then a black woman will do the trick. I’m a sista, and the only thing more annoyingly hilarious than the black guy getting sliced, shot or tomahawked first is when it happens to a black female instead.
Megan Goode is a three-time victim. In Saw V and The Unborn she survived almost the whole movie only to be electrocuted and stabbed in the gut respectively. Her most insulting death was in the One Missed Call remake where she is drowned before the opening credits even begin to roll. Kelly Rowland attempted to fake her way out of being killed in Freddy vs. Jason, only to be crushed against a tree by an unconvinced Jason Voorhees. But most despicably, Vivica A. Fox is beaten up and stabbed by The Bride in front of her young daughter in Kill Bil: Vol. 1.
I could keep this going another few pages but I won’t waste the font. You already know there is a bias in Hollywood to always kill a brotha in an ensemble movie. It’s a conspiracy from those Tea Party nuts that disaster movies like Deep Impact and 2012 where the United States is being blasted to hell always include a black actor as president.
Recently, marketers have gone as far as killing black guys right in the trailer. In the Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance preview, Idris Elba is flying off a freeway overpass or something. We might not have the TOD from the coroner yet, but what are the odds he suvives the whole film? In the Killer Elite trailer, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is being choked out. And the movie that inspired this entire feature, Shark Night 3D, which comes out Friday, shows some low-budget black actor being bitten and swimming for his life from a freshwater shark. Watch him draw his last cliché breath in three dimensions this Friday at a theater near you.