The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Blade: Trinity (2004) afterword

I'd written a pre-viewing commentary which seems to have been lost.  So I'll make this a postscript.  There are a few basic principles I'd like to lay down:
1) Human beings most easily empathize within their "ego circle"--those they feel look, feel, act, or think like them.
2) Males are highly competitive, especially for breeding space.
3) Film viewing involves alpha-state, relaxed input, and therefore ticket purchase patterns indicate deeply held, private, and sometimes embarrassing attitudes in broad population segments.
4) Hollywood responds to these patterns.  It has few real political or moral attitudes of its own.  After all, "Hollywood" doesn't exist as a discrete entity.  It is a collective term referring to a dozen studios, and hundreds of individual production companies.
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That being said, I'll reiterate something I've said many times: brown-skinned men can't have sex in movies.  If they do, it trashes the box office.  It is NOT, as readers keep trying to suggest, that Hollywood doesn't want to do it.  They'll do anything that will make money.  It's that they have learned what the audience wants, and been trained as thoroughly as any orca at Seaworld.  Don't believe me?  Go to the Internet Movie Data Base.  Look up the twenty top films with white male leads.  Then the twenty top films with nonwhite male leads.  Compare the sexual content.  White guys get laid in about 80% of their movies.  Nonwhites in about 10% or less.  This represents not what studios make, but what audiences--predominantly white audiences-- will vote with their tickets to see.
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Remember that classic line from the original "Spider-Man"?  "This story, like any worthwhile story, is about a girl."  And there it is.  Boy meets girl.  Boy loses girl.  Boy gets girl.  It is the primary human story, right along with the Hero's Journey.  In fact, the most consistent motivation for  the hero t take the journey has to do with sex.  Take the feminine away from the masculine, and you get an emotionally closed hyper-male with little relationship to humanity.  In fact, you get Wesley Snipes' film image.
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People point to Vin Diesel and the Rock as evidence that things are changing,.  They are right, but they are also ignorant of another implication: that the humanity of a brown man is in direct proportion to his percentage of white blood.  Men as dark as Wesley need not apply.  It is a pretty solid rumor that David Goyer promised Snipes he would have a romantic relationship in Blades 2 and 3--and then reneged.  If you look at almost every Oscar-caliber performance, a sexual/romantic relationship was involved.  Our heart humanizes us, people!  When the natural human tendency (note: not a "white" tendency, a "human" tendency) to only fully extend empathy to those "like us" is multiplied out across a culture where African-Americans are outnumbered 10 to one, the results are a world in which little white boys see vastly more images of healthy, powerful, sexual young men and the path that takes them to being fully mature.  Males, being competitive, feel uncomfortable watching males of other groups engaged in breeding behavior.  Is that blunt enough? And young white males have enough purchasing power to their tickets to affect the box office powerfully.
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Why do I care?  Well, aside from this affecting my own pocketbook, or my own personal wish to see the kinds of images white boys get to see 24/7, I think that it reveals a deep psychological pattern that ultimately results in police officer reflexive shooting of unarmed black men.  In the 1/10 of a second that a cop has to make a decision before firing, a gigantic number of factors flash through the mind, and are sorted by the subconscious.  Both danger and the value of the target are taken into account.  Excuse me, but I just don't see enough instances of black cops beating and shooting unarmed white kids for me to think it's merely an alpha-male "outgroup" phenomenon. We've been taught for 400 years that browned-skin men are just not as valuable.  Further, that they are "the other" and are tolerable only as long as they are not sexual competition: for white OR brown women.  For at a time when white males can be seen in movies boffing Brown and Asian females left and right, African-American and Asian men are virtually neutered.  This is the internal fantasy world of the young male.  He, and those like him, are all that matter in the world, all that have true humanity. 
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It is undeniable that this has changed for the better.  It just hurts to see the distance we still have to travel.  I LOVE this country, and what we have achieved.  It just hurts, that's all.
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So over the years, Wesley Snipes, one of our most charismatic and virile actors, has become a cipher, unable to express his humanity in the same manner as his contemporaries.  As a result, his performances have become more and more emotionally shielded, his rage and fear and loneliness kept deep inside.  Unable to share his love, unwilling to share his pain, he has become an automaton, just going through the motions for money.  Whatever they're paying him, it's not enough.
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And writer/director David Goyer?  Well, he's writing the new Batman.  what do you want to be there's a love interest in it?  And if  they spin off the "Nightstalkers" from Blade, what do you want to bet it will crackled with sexual energy?   Just a coincidence, you know.  It has nothing to do with social, biological and perceptual factors.  Nothing to do with what the audience wants to see.  Nothing to do with a pattern that can be observed with a little simple statistical analysis.
Nothing to do with our wounded hearts at all.

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