Stephen King loves mystical darkies! In particular, he’s partial to the Southern, rustic, uneducated variety (see also The Green Mile). I half expected that in The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman would sprout wings or take the form of a bucket of water, but King decided to exercise “restraint” (whatever). In The Stand, Ruby Dee plays Abigail Freemantle, a 106-year-old black woman whose wizened look, fractured English and mantra spewing make for a disturbingly Yoda-like character. Seems that she’s some sort of beacon for God’s chosen ones in a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a killer virus. (We’re also briefly treated to the moderately mystical Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a homeless loony who is one of the first to notice that there’s an apocalypse about to happen.) Being in an apocalypse is bad enough, but imagine finding out that God’s chosen ones include Molly Ringwald and the guy from Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.
Dee’s longtime husband Ossie Davis is also among the select few, but the only purpose he serves is to get shot while trying to infiltrate Satan’s army. (When the “good guys” seek spies to go scope out the devil’s headquarters, they naturally send the 70-year-old black man and the mentally handicapped guy. Do unto others, people!) So not only does Ruby Dee die, but Ossie Davis gets machine gunned and the greatest scorer in the history of basketball ends up as road kill. Stephen King doesn’t care about black people!
Racial genocide aside, The Stand works better as a mini-series than as a movie watched in one sitting. If you do the latter, you realize just how much padding there is (Must we listen to an entire rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”?). As King tales are apt to do, the story builds a level of suspense and anticipation that it can’t maintain — sort of like a white, demonic Spike Lee.