The Green Pile: The Steaming Racial Dynamics of The Green Mile

The Green Pile: The Steaming Racial Dynamics of The Green Mile

Originally published on

Have you ever met someone that you instantly hated? I mean, with a passion; not a mild distrust or a ‘don’t-drop-the-soap’ hesitation, but a deep-seated gut instinct that this person should be pushed down a flight of stairs in order to save humanity.

For me, that person happens to be a movie: The Green Mile.

For a while before that, it had been Kazaam, and briefly, during a rough stretch in my adolescence, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But no film has retained my enduring ire like The Green Mile.

And yet, it remains one of the most beloved pictures of the past 25 years. A quick perusal of the IMDb reveals a user rating of 8.5 out of 10, and Rotten Tomatoes has it as “Certified Fresh” with a robust 80% Tomatometer Rating, meaning that critics and unwashed masses alike love this fucking movie. Clearly, there’s a disconnect here between me and the rest of the world, so the question is obvious: what the hell is wrong with you people?

As much as it pained me to contribute to the film’s financial cume, though, I decided to rent it again to prove to myself that my detestation was warranted. And so it began…

00:45 — 45 seconds in, and I’m already feeling dread. Even the credits feel as if they were spawned from Satan’s left nut.

07:22 — Edgecomb, Tom Hanks’ character, is all mopey, reminiscing as a senior citizen about the bad old days. Is there anything sadder than seeing an old man cry? What’s up next, a kitten sprains an ankle?

13:50 — John Coffey (the terminally sweaty Michael Clarke Duncan) enters and immediately invokes the stereotype of the big black buck. Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #1.

16:48 — When Coffey opens his mouth, we realize that he’s a simpleton who can only spell his name and who’s deathly afraid of the dark. He is, however, obscenely polite, “Boss.” Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #2: Stepin Fetchit anyone?

20:42 — In a flashback, Coffey is found crying, holding two dead white girls in his arms. How did I get into Kobe Bryant’s nightmare? Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #3: Black man + white girls = trouble.

21:49 — The most polite lynch mob in the world catches Coffey red-handed and decides to turn him into the police, unharmed. Somewhere, Rodney King cries foul.

45:25 — Arlen (Graham Greene), the “Injun,” gets fried. Granted, the term “Injun” is never actually used; must’ve been a deleted scene. Also deleted: on his deathbed, Arlen curses Tonto, the Washington Redskins and Daniel Day-Lewis.

57:00 — Almost an hour into the film, we know little more about Coffey than we did at the beginning. Meanwhile, we have intimate knowledge of Edgecomb’s pee stream. Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #4: Shallow characterizations of black folk, while black issues are explored through white eyes.

1:04:27 — Coffey grabs Edgecomb’s crotch (Has he been in jail that long?) and heals the guard’s junk. Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #5: Now Coffey’s a mystical darkie. Three, three stereotypes in one!

1:05:43 — Hanks reveals a disturbingly doughy double-chin as he pees pain-free. I want chocolate chip cookies.

1:07:39 — Having been imparted the power of the black penis, Edgecomb runs home and bonks his wife. Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #6: Black male virility. OK, so this one’s not so bad, sort of like all Asians knowing kung fu or all Italians being papal.

1:10:54 — Hammersmith (Gary Sinise) discusses Coffey’s origins: “Like he dropped out of the sky”. Coffey as a Christ figure? John Coffey. Jesus Christ. J.C. Chasez. I’m in 10th grade English class all over again.

1:16:58 — Wild Bill (Sam Rockwell) pisses on guard Harry’s (Jeffrey DeMunn) shoes, then…

1:26:05 — Percy (Doug Hutchison) wets his pants, making The Green Mile the most urine-centric film since Golden Showers 34 (Golden Showers 35 being all “artsy”).

1:32:35 — Coffey furthers the Christ comparisons by resurrecting a dead mouse. If he really were Jesus, he’d help me find the stupid remote.

2:10:07 — Edgecomb doesn’t ask Coffey if he wants to help the terminally ill Mrs. Moores (Patricia Clarkson) so much as he tells him to do so, taking him on a ride as you would a wounded dog. Did he not notice how drained Coffey was after saving a mouse? Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #7: Black man exists solely to help the white man.

2:23:20 — Coffey saves the white woman by mouth-kissing her (Apparently, he learned little from the whole white girl incident.). The guards are happy that Mrs. Moores is cured; don’t care much that Coffey now has her disease.

2:26:58 — Coffey transmits the sickness to Percy through hot mouth-on-mouth action (covert anti-AIDS homophobia?), then somehow makes him shoot Wild Bill. If Coffey can control others’ actions, how about getting them to, like, not kill you? That’s what Jesus would do.

2:31:12 — Coffey gives Edgecomb “a gift of what’s inside of me so you can see for yourself”; shows him a vision of what really happened to the girls. Surprisingly, O.J. is nowhere to be found.

2:37:10 — Now that he knows that Coffey is innocent, Edgecomb tells his wife, “This is the first time I’ve ever felt the real danger of Hell.” It’s all about you, isn’t it?

2:40:33 — Edgecomb is afraid of God’s wrath for killing “one of His true miracles.” So, if he were just a normal innocent black man (especially one who didn’t constantly call him “boss”), he wouldn’t care?

2:41:09 — Coffey, awaiting his execution, mutters, “I’m tired, boss.” I know how he feels.

2:42:05 — Coffey explains to Edgecomb that he’s ready to die, sort of like Biggie. So let me get this straight: he’s afraid of the dark and full of wonder at even the smallest things the world has to offer, yet when it comes time for his execution, he’s suddenly not afraid of dying? Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #8: Assuaging liberal white guilt.

2:47:58 — Edgecomb does nothing to help Coffey beat the rap. Coffey’s last words: “I’m sorry for what I am.” Jesus. Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #9: Black man as helpless martyr.

2:57:10 – Back in present times, old man Edgecomb reveals that because Coffey gave him a “gift,” he’s lived for 108 years and is still going strong. His old lady friend weeps. “You mustn’t blame John,” he says, as if living a full life for 64 years after Coffey dies is somehow a curse. Damn pervading deathlessness!

2:58:36 — Whiny ingrate Edgecomb explains that he’s actually not immortal and then follows it up by saying that he wishes for death. So step in front of a bus already! Alarming Racial Insensitivity Alarm #10: Black man gets the shaft, yet we’re supposed to sympathize with the white man.

3:00:47 — Through the ending credits, I wonder…If John Coffey truly were Jesus, wouldn’t he have risen from the grave like the greatest cinematic Christ figure, E.T.? He at least didn’t go out like a punk. The most miraculous part of The Green Mile that I see is how creamy and Botox-smooth Tom Hanks’ skin is. His face looks like a cross between a Cabbage Patch Kid and a Playmate’s ass. I wanted to bounce quarters off his rosy woman-cheeks.

So, if any white (or heaven forbid, black) person still doesn’t appreciate the level of discomfort that black people might feel watching The Green Mile, they should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch a double bill of Bamboozled and Rosewood, followed by front-row seats at a Paul Mooney standup act. If they can make it through that gauntlet without blood on the brain, that would be a miracle.

The Black Die Young: The Internal Struggle of a Black Horror Movie Fan

The Black Die Young: The Internal Struggle of a Black Horror Movie Fan

Originally published on

I have a secret passion; the less addicted of you might call it an addiction. I like to watch. I rent base, filthy movies and slip them into brown paper bags so no one can tell. I sit alone in seedy, near-empty theaters, pleasuring myself with this trash. I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone about my weakness, although my wife has caught me watching a time or two (“It’s a documentary!” is my standard excuse; she’s since cancelled the Discovery Channel.). But now I’m ready to step out of the shadows and proclaim loudly, I am a black man… and I love horror movies.

My guilt is overbearing, given the well-worn truism that “black person + horror movie = dead black person“. This is such an ingrained Hollywood reality that it’s even been parodied in films like Scary Movie and, um, Scary Movie 2 and 3.

Still, whenever I see that a black person is in a horror movie, I have to watch. While most viewers wonder if Neve Campbell will escape the clutches of the psycho killer, I stay tuned to see if she’ll run into Jamal hanging from a meat hook or if Black Thug #3 will find himself on the business end of a mutant shrew claw.

I’ve even begun to root for the worst.

I’m secretly disappointed when black actors don’t die in horror movies… especially that cocksure LL Cool J. (Rappers seem to have an irritating immunity — Ice Cube in Anaconda, Rah Digga in 13 Ghosts, Busta Rhymes in Halloween: Resurrection — probably due to their acute ability to “not go out like that.”) While everyone in the theater is yelling, “Don’t go in there, fool!”, I’m screaming, “Hey, Black Thug #3, I saw a St. Ides roll down that giant shrew hole!”

A while back, a black actor friend mentioned that he has a role in an upcoming slasher movie. “Do you die?” I blurted out, perhaps a bit too eager at the prospect.

He eyed me as if I were plotting his real-life death. “Um, no… I’m actually not in it for very long–“

“Not even off-screen? Like, from natural causes? Or a bear trap?”

“Don’t make me punch you in the head,” he said. Actors can be a touchy lot.

So why would I be so drawn to a genre known for killing off my own? Maybe it validates my suspicion that white people want us dead. Maybe it affirms a sort of racial indignation, like when that SOB Frank didn’t hold the elevator for you at work (“I knew he was a racist!”) More likely it’s the sheer camp factor; black horror genocide has reached such proportions that there’s a goofy appeal to it all. Or maybe I just like watching black people die.

It didn’t take long for me to learn how to uncover the most carnage with the least amount of effort. I quickly discerned that there are four main types of horror movies that feature black actors:

  1. Voodoo/zombie movies: Those wacky Caribbeans, always raising the dead.
  2. “Wilds of Africa” giant monster movies: Those wacky Africans, always getting eaten by unchecked evolution.
  3. Slashers: The conspicuously misplaced homeboy amongst a gaggle of preppy frat types. “Hi, my name’s Fodder!”
  4. All-black horror: The ’70s blaxploitation fare that combined horror — Blacula, Blackenstein, Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde — with potentially horrific “honky revenge.” 

Blaxploitation has since given way to so-called “urban horror,” the prospect of which initially sent my bloodlust into overdrive. But I soon discovered that the effect is nullified if there are no white survivors as contrast. It ends up just feeling like black-on-black crime. Or course, it doesn’t help that urban horror is a lot like urban porn: cheap, ugly and probably mildly syphilitic.

I can only guess that the target audience is either black horror fans like myself or, having seen most of these films, people who cut themselves. The DVD cover art usually costs more than the entire movie, drawing suckers like me into its grasp with bright colors and shiny baubles. And the titles are oh, so hiply misspelled — Vampiyaz, Zombiez, Cryptz — I’m still waiting for The Loch Nezz Monzter or The Abominable Znowman (Illiteracy is so cool!). On some level, when I watch these movies, I feel like I’m supporting “the cause,” although the cause seems to be scamming viewers with crappy movies.

If you wanna see black people die, watching any horror movie made before 1968 is basically a waste of time. Aside from the anonymous “booga booga”-chanting native who gets trampled by King Kong, you’ll find mostly butlers, maids and assorted ethnic interior decoration (“Would you like to have a seat? Hey, Sofa, come here!”) who aren’t important enough to get a name, much less a death scene. Those who were big enough to get billing were typically the Mantan Moreland type of jumpy, “I ain’t a-goin’ in dere” spooks, who have since evolved into today’s streetwise “Fuck that, I ain’t going in there” spooks (See Mike Epps in Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Or don’t. Really, you don’t have to.).

In order to be a connoisseur of black death, you have to train yourself to recognize the death potential of a cast just by looking at the credits. If you see any of the following people listed, chances are you’ll find them at some point walking around in the dark, shouting, “Guys? Guys? Quit screwing around!” or at best, a heroic “Get out of here! Save yourself!” But more than anything, they scream “disposable”:

  • Charles S. Dutton
  • Joe Morton
  • Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas
  • Ernie Hudson
  • Giancarlo Esposito
  • Miguel “Juwanna Mann” Nunez, Jr.
  • CCH Pounder
  • Leon
  • Tom “Tiny” Lister, Jr.
  • Morris Chestnut
  • Omar Epps and/or Mekhi Phifer
  • Nipsey Russell

On the flip side, the most likely to live (and thus the most advisable to avoid) include:

  • Halle Berry
  • anyone resembling Halle Berry (see Salli Richardson in Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid)

Basically, if they’re big stars, they have a shot. But then again, if they’re big stars, chances are they aren’t in a horror movie.

Still, some of our greatest black actors have been “offed” in horror movies: James Earl Jones, Denzel Washington, Ossie Davis, Morgan Freeman, Doug E. Doug. But who speaks for these fallen heroes? I do. If not me, who? If not now, why? If not when, because. So far, I’ve tracked over 300 confirmed kills and 250 “Fuck that, I ain’t going in there”s. I’ve even registered a domain,, to share my findings and maybe post a pic or two.

Sure, there are readily accepted classics of the genre — from Frankenstein to The Exorcist to Scream — but take a moment and pay homage to the most thankless job in Hollywood: the black horror movie victim. Rent Dr. Giggles (Three kills!), I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (Four!), or Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (Five freshly husked corpses!). And every night, say a prayer to the patron saint of black death, Scatman Crothers, who took an axe for that crazy-ass white boy in The Shining so that others might follow in his footsteps.

Scary Sistas: A Brief History of Black Women in Horror Films

Scary Sistas: A Brief History of Black Women in Horror Films

Originally posted on

Black women in cinematic history have long faced the double-barreled Hollywood stigma of race and gender “otherness,” their fleeting moment of glory coming in the ’90s when “You go, girl!” was introduced into the popular lexicon. On the more formal level of Oscar recognition, meanwhile, the black female images thus far celebrated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been limited to “the three ‘M’s”: mammies (Hattie McDaniel), mystics (Whoopi Goldberg) and mammaries (Halle Berry).

With Goldberg’s career on permanent hiatus, the number of black actresses who now routinely headline mainstream theatrical films holds tenuously at one: Halle Berry (although any more like Catwoman might change that real quick). Queen Latifah had a run for a while, but she, like so many black actresses, found safer avenues for acceptance in music, TV and being “straight.” The Taraji Hensons, Gabrielle Unions and Sanaa Lathans of the world get occasional leads in all-black fare, but mainstream top-billing is elusive.

However, a peculiar and unexpected refuge has emerged for other black women struggling to find steady gigs: horror movies.

Since the 1970s, horror films have provided something of a haven for black actresses, serving up roles they wouldn’t otherwise get in more mainstream Hollywood genres and freeing them from the obligation of doing it doggy-style with Billy Bob Thornton. Sure, “types” still exist in these roles (the voodoo sexpot, the mystical darkie), but in general they tend to be larger, more prolific parts — often leads — with less of the stereotypical finger-wagging characteristics detailed in the 2001 study The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America (e.g., 89% of black actresses were found using vulgar language on screen vs. 17% of white actresses. Holy shit!).

In the ’70s, “blaxploitation” horror provided a wealth of substantive lead roles for black actresses (Abby, Sugar Hill, Ganja and Hess), even trickling over into mainstream films (The Omega Man, The Beast Must Die) and overseas into foreign productions (Black Mamba, Night of the Cobra Woman).

In the ’80s, as Reaganomics saw unemployment “trickle down” into all phases of African-American life, opportunities for black actresses dried up, but there were still notable exceptions like Breeders, Vamp, Angel Heart and one of the only all-black horror films of the decade, the uber-campy Black Devil Doll from Hell.

But things picked up as the ’90s dawned and have looked back little since. Black women have been featured as the heroine in major horror releases like Gothika, Demon Knight, 28 Days Later, Supernova and Alien vs. Predator, while Aaliyah’s final screen role came as the titular Queen of the Damned. Plus, with the straight-to-video industry booming, they’ve played lead roles in poorly-spelled “urban horror” fare like Cryptz, Zombiez, Vampz and Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood.

In the 21st century, a string of black female-led psychological thrillers — Beyonce in Obsessed, Taraji P. Henson in No Good Deed, Sanaa Lathan in The Perfect Guy, Regina Hall in When the Bough Breaks — have found an audience amongst filmgoers who might shy away from hardcore horror but are eager to watch black women put the smack down.

Whether it’s ingrained stereotyping of heroic empowerment, black horror heroines are typically hard-nosed and take-charge, unlike the often weepy, shrieking “final girls” of slasher fame. They tend to kick proverbial ass, even going so far as to drop some kung-fu action in flicks like Devon’s Ghost and Shadow: Dead Riot.

As such, they typically don’t survive the rigid moral structure of conventional slasher films (See Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3, Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Friday the 13th Part 3 and 5 though 7, Dr. Giggles, Halloween 2, Halloween: Resurrection, Scream 2, etc.), perhaps because they’re more prone to insult a maniacal killer’s sexual prowess — as Kelly Rowland does in Freddy vs. Jason — and then deal with the consequences. Nevertheless, the sistas have established quite an impressive history in the horror genre. Following are some select highlights. You go, girls! Or stay. Really, you should stay.

Select Filmography of Black Women in Horror Cinema


  • Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934): Voodoo priestess Georgette Harvey steals a white baby and raises her as her own.
  • Ouanga (1936): Voodoo priestess Fredi Washington tries to steal a white man and love him as her own.
  • The Devil’s Daughter (1939): An all-black remake of Ouanga


  • There was a lot of horror, but apparently not a lot of black women.  


  • How to Make a Monster (1958): Paulene Myers has a small but pivotal role in this schlocky monster movie that’s a “meta” semi-sequel to I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.


  • The Leech Woman (1960): Estelle Hemsley and Kim Hamilton play old and young versions of the same “mystical darkie” in this lesser Universal feature.
  • The Horror of Party Beach (1964): Walking stereotype Eulabelle Moore somehow saves the day (sort of) in this campy B-movie.
  • The Rape of the Vampire (1968): In this French film from erotic horror director Jean Rollin, Jacqueline Sieger plays the rare black female primary antagonist, a vampire queen intent on procreating a race of vampires.


  • The Omega Man (1971): Charlton Heston as a Jesus figure, and Rosalind Cash as his brown sugar Mary Magdalene.
  • Blacula (1972): Classic blaxploitation version of Dracula with Vonetta McGee as the object of Blacula’s unhealthy obsession.
  • Night of the Cobra Woman (1972): Philippine import starring Marlene Clark as said snake woman.
  • Ganja & Hess (1973): Artsy, sensual vampire love story with Marlene Clark as Ganja.
  • Scream Blacula Scream (1973): Mildly inferior sequel with the mildly superior Pam Grier.
  • Abby (1974): Blaxploitation version of The Exorcist starring Carol Speed and her eyebrows.
  • The Beast Must Die (1974): Is Marlene Clark a werewolf? Story at 11:00.
  • Black Mamba (1974): Once again, Marlene Clark + Philippines + snakes = evil.
  • Old Dracula (1974): Dracula’s wife (Teresa Graves) is black! And foxy!
  • Sugar Hill (1974): Zombie revenge flick starring Marki Bey and her legion of the living dead.
  • Poor Pretty Eddie (1975): Leslie Uggams adds a racial angle to the seedy “rape-revenge” fare made popular in the ‘70s.
  • Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976): Marie O’Henry and Rosalind Cash try to stop hooker-slaying Mr. Hyde.
  • Nurse Sherri (1978): Marilyn Joi plays a black nurse (not the titular Sherri) who has to save the day when her white coworker Sherri is possessed by the spirit of a cult leader.


  • Tanya’s Island (1980): Surreal fantasy/horror genre-bender starring Vanity and hot (?) girl-on-ape action.
  • Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984): Indescribable low-budget puppet porn starring Shirley L. Jones.
  • The Bride (1985): Jennifer Beals is the bride of Frankenstein. Leg warmers optional.
  • Breeders (1986): One of the first non-all-black horror movies to star an all-black woman (Teresa Farley).
  • Mark of Lilith (1986): British interracial lesbian vampire short.
  • Vamp (1986): Grace Jones, scary even without the make-up, plays one of the most stylish vampires ever.
  • Angel Heart (1987): Bayou voodoo featuring Lisa Bonet’s infamous bloody sex scene.


  • Def By Temptation (1990): Cynthia Bond is the succubus; Kadeem Hardison is the
  • The Borrower (1991): Rae Dawn Chong battles alien headnapper.
  • Critters 4 (1991): Angela Bassett in an early role she’d like to forget.
  • Body Bags (1993): This anthology’s first tale, “The Gas Station,” is one of the rare non-“urban” slashers starring a black woman (Alex Datcher).
  • The Stand (1994): Ruby Dee is the Yoda-like prophet on a mission from God.
  • Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995): Mari Morrow experiences Amish love…and Amish evil!
  • Demon Knight (1995): Jada Pinkett, demon slayer.
  • Vampire in Brooklyn (1995): Angela Bassett upgrades from Critters 4…but not by much.
  • Spirit Lost (1996): Ghostly Cynda Williams haunts (and humps) the new resident of her house.
  • Scream 2 (1997): Jada Pinkett and Elise Neal prove that you can have more than one black female in a horror movie…and they can both die.
  • Beloved (1998): Oprah’s on! And she’s in a haunted house!
  • The Prophecy II (1998): Jennifer Beals is pregnant with a baby angel, although really, aren’t they all angels? Awww… </P>


  • Supernova (2000): Angela Bassett vs. an alien, um, thing.
  • 13 Ghosts (2001): Hey, Rah Digga survives!
  • Code Red: The Rubicon Conspiracy (2001): Marjean Holden kicks alien tushie in this Sci Fi Channel mainstay.
  • 28 Days Later (2002): Naomie Harris stompin’ zombies in the UK.
  • Cryptz (2002): Beware of lap dances in a vampire strip club.
  • Queen of the Damned (2002): Aaliyah may damn you, but you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
  • Arachnia (2003): Irene Joseph leads the way against giant, straight-to-video spiders.
  • Gothika (2003): Halle Berry sees dead people.
  • Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (2003): Evil Irish imp meets “hood” sister Tangi Miller.
  • Alien vs. Predator (2004): Sanaa Lathan can indeed hold Sigourney Weaver’s jock.
  • Frankenfish (2004): Mutant snakehead fish invade the swamp, and K.D. Aubert is there to greet them…with a shotgun.
  • Vampz (2004): Female vamps — er, “vampz” — get their drink on.
  • Devon’s Ghost: Legend of the Bloody Boy (2005): Ex-Power Ranger Karan Ashley gives a ghost the business end of a kung-fu lesson.
  • The Evil One (2005): Candace “I’m not Mariah” Carey must save her daughter from a serial killer…or not.
  • Way of the Vampire (2005): Vampire Denise Boutte is Dracula’s right-hand woman, and lives to make a sequel.
  • Zombiez (2005): Jenicia Garcia evades the lamest zombies ever put on film.
  • Shadow: Dead Riot (2006): Carla Greene is the chosen one in this combination of women-in-prison exploitation, zombie horror and chop-socky kung-fu.
  • Ice Spiders (2007): The other Vanessa Williams battles snowy arachnids in this SyFy fare.
  • Sorority Sister Slaughter (2008): Slaughters don’t only happen in white sororities.
  • Obsessed (2009): Beyonce puts the kibosh on this fatal attraction.
  • Single Black Female (2009): It’s like Single White Female, but black.
  • The Call (2013): Halle Berry is a 911 operator tracking down a serial killer who’s kidnapped a young girl.
  • No Good Deed (2014): Taraji Henson is the only woman on Earth who wants Idris Elba out of her house.
  • The Perfect Guy (2015): Sanaa Lathan is the target of a fatal attraction from Michael Ealy in this thriller.
  • When the Bough Breaks (2016): When a surrogate mother sets her sights on the soon-to-be-father, soon-to-be-mother Regina Hall ain’t havin’ it.

Snakes on the Brain: Racial Representation in Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on the Brain: Racial Representation in Snakes on a Plane

Like every other Internet gnome trolling the Web for treasure, I traced the progress of the film Snakes on a Plane for months, drinking in the online parodies and speculating on the possibility of sequels (Giraffes on a Speedboat) or even prequels (Dodos on a Frigate). I cheered when New Line Studios ordered five days of re-shoots to bump the movie from a PG-13 to an R rating; it showed that they really cared about what we gore-loving horror fans over the age of 17 want. However, extra tits and asps can’t overcome the impact of one particularly egregious edit.

Those MFing snakes.

You see, in crafting their rewrite, New Line execs reportedly took suggestions from the host of bloggers and basement dwellers who had spurred the already huge Internet buzz for the film. Not stopping at general fixes like “more sex” or “pointier fangs,” though, the studio let fanboys dictate an actual line of dialogue. It turns out that they desperately wanted — nay, needed — star Samuel L. Jackson to say, “I have had it with these mother(bleep)ing snakes on this mother(bleep)ing plane!”

Beyond the assault on artistic integrity that arises from writing scripts via the body politic, as an African American, I foresee a more troublesome impact. Black actors like Jackson taking cues from the primarily white online (and for that matter, offline) community raises the inherent issue of racial representation.

To his legion of testosterone-driven fans, every Jackson role should be a variant of Pulp Fiction‘s foul-mouthed cool cat Jules Winnfield a classic character, but one that feeds into the sort of stereotyped African-American swagger and speech patterns that would make Bill Cosby’s ears bleed.

The image of the belligerent, uncouth black man or the finger-waving, neck-craning black woman is a tired Hollywood convention that was quantified in the 2001 book The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America. The study, conducted by professors of communication Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki, found, among other things, that in a sampling of over 60 mainstream Hollywood films, 89% of black actresses used vulgar language versus 17% of white actresses.

Sure, Jackson has willingly selected his risqué roles — many of which were created by black writers — but when the words come from outside the realm of one’s own racial experience and understanding, at some point one has to reconcile oneself to what lies behind them. I like to call this “the Chappelle Syndrome.”

Following Dave Chappelle’s decision to walk away from his popular sketch comedy show and his subsequent retreat to Africa, he spoke about the racial dynamics of being a black performer on The Oprah Winfrey Show. While he himself was responsible for writing most of the skits on his show, he began to question how the bawdy content was being interpreted by fans. Chappelle’s Show mined humor out of drug use, sexual acts, profanity and “pimps ‘n hoes” — vices that, when attached to black characters, could cater to well-worn racial prejudices. He told Oprah about one of the incidents that sent him packing:

Somebody on the set [who] was white laughed in such a way – I know the difference of people laughing with me and people laughing at me – and it was the first time I had ever gotten a laugh that I was uncomfortable with…I don’t want black people to be disappointed in me for putting that [message] out there…It’s a complete moral dilemma.

Judging from the message board on his now-defunct website,, Chappelle had reason to be concerned about his audience’s interpretation. The board served largely as an informal forum for fans to post ideas for skits, many of which pandered to base racial stereotypes. You’d find such bits as “Matrix ho slapping,” a parody of The Maury Povich Show called The Whore-y Po Bitch Show, “whore cuts” instead of hair cuts and a world in which slavery was never abolished and black people are put in shows like dogs.

Of course, I’m not implying that the general public is packed with raging racists, but with any sort of mass forum free from the filter of individual responsibility, general preconceptions — fueled by generations of racial misunderstanding — tend to emerge. If Snakes on a Plane starts a trend, and the general public — or God forbid, the Internet public — continues to vote on what they want to see onscreen, scripts might start to resemble Mad Libs:

TYRONE steps out of his [late-model luxury sport utility vehicle], then stops abruptly.


Oh [expletive]! That [expletive]-ing [derogatory term for woman] stole my [slang for jewelry rhyming with “fling”]! Where’s my [high-caliber handgun]?

And who’s to say that someone with an agenda wouldn’t try to exploit the system to propagate new stereotypes? Before you know it, you could be brainwashed into believing that Native Americans always leave the toilet seat up.

Granted, Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t shown any signs of Chappelle Syndrome, but given the film’s box office take failed to live up to the hype, you never know if similar disappointment may lead to disillusionment and introspection. “I’ve had it with these mother(bleep)ing snakes on this mother(bleep)ing plane!” might become his albatross, his own version of Chappelle’s “I’m Rick James, bitch!” And that would be a mother(bleep)ing shame.