The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hancock (2008)

WARNING: SAMBO ALERT

I'm sorry. I'm not going to sugar coat this, or beat around the bush. This is the most egregious example of what I've been trying to say, the most blantant Sambo movie since "Driving Miss Daisy"--no, it's worse. Will Smith is not Morgan Freeman. Will Smith can do any film he wants, and what he wants is to make successful films. Well, take a look at the critical reviews, and you'll see that he's probably blown it there. He'll have a huge weekend. And then boxoffice will drop like a frozen butterfly. I admire Will greatly, and don't blame him for this--he's just working the system, folks.

In my opinion, not one of the reviewers has put their finger on what went wrong. It's all "it was great for 40 minutes, and then it fell apart..."

No one knows? Really? No one lets themselves know. The truth is too painful, and everyone wants to believe that human beings aren't what they are. And this particular disaster comes out of that. Let me get to the meat of this, and then go on to say why this was one of the most painful, insulting movie-going experiences of my life. Tananarive was crying--THAT'S how bad it was.

##

Hancock is about a superhero (Will Smith) who is an alcoholic bum. A P.R. guy (Jason Bateman) has his life saved, and decides to rehabilitate Hancock's image. Bateman's Wife, (Charlize Theron) doesn't much like the idea.

(SPOILERS GALORE. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK)

Hancock is revealed to be a god-like being, the last of his kind in the world...he thinks. The point at which the movie goes to shit is where Hancock is alone with Therone in the kitchen, and is powerfully attracted to her...and she throws him through a wall. You see, she is also a god, and in fact was his wife eighty years ago (they don't age). When they are near each other, they lose powers.

The fact is, that this is a brilliant set-up for a send-up of the superhero genre, and the first 30-40 minutes ROCKED. Then they ran into a problem we've discussed many, many times:

1) Statistics show that movies in which black men have sex underperform at the box office--badly.

2) Because this smacks of racism, no one will admit it's true...often, even to themselves.

This means that the natural erotic tension between these characters cannot be allowed to develop. It is glaringly, painfully obvious that there were extensive re-shoots and last-minute edits in this film. Smith and Therone refer to a kiss that we never see--which must have been clumsily excised at the last moment.

They also refer to Hancock being beaten eighty years ago in Florida (the South) while walking hand-in-hand with his wife. To raise the specter of the racism that horribly scarred my parent's generation while bowing to it's present-day manifestation is simply vile. So Hancock is doomed to live alone, forever...while Theron can have a husband and child. And we are treated to several tender kissing scenes between her and her husband. So touching.

The fact that she is a blond South African is some kind of sick joke. They cut the kiss from the kitchen, launch into an incoherant action scene, and the movie never, ever recovers. What's missing? The natural rhythm of boy-meets girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets girl.

Know what? There would have been many ways to write this so that they didn't end up together, really. But I doubt that for an instant anyone in the gaggle of writers who must have worked on this EVER looked honestly at the producers and said: "this is our problem. We can't have them end up together. We can't show them making love, or kissing. We can't even play with the erotic tension, because the audience isn't leaning forward in pleasurable anticipation...they're leaning BACK, away from the screen, hoping like hell we won' t show them Will's bare ass pounding away at a blond. What do we do?"

If they were honest, they might have cast, say, a Latina, which would have diminished the color shock, and allowed the relationship to progress more naturally. Then, if they couldn't be together, you have a tragedy. And I could have bought that! Really, I wasn't looking for "Happily Ever After." Just an acknowledgment that I am a god damned human being. Will Smith has to know EXACTLY what's going on. But when Denzel tried to comment on this phenomenon years ago, he was accused of being a bigot. He now shuts up and takes the money. As does Will. And Eddie. And Sam. And everyone else.

Damn it, did she HAVE to be South African? Could they have found a less insulting metaphor? That he needs sacrifice so that the white man can fuck his white wife and have white babies, Hallalujah, Hallalujah?

Can any of you grasp how it feels to have spent my entire LIFE watching this, while people remain asleep and pretend it isn't happening?

For God's sake, please no one hide behind the "It's Hollywood." Yeah, and New York Publishing. And Washington politics. And everywhere else. It's the heartland. Memphis. Florida. It's the whole world of people who can't look at their flaws and shortcomings, the fears that plague us all and the way we try to hide in groups and demonize the "other"--or at the very least believe they are less human than us. It is the human tribal instinct, in all it's ugly glory, alive and well in 2008.

And people wonder why I get pissed when they say that it was to Obama's advantage to be black.

Will Smith is the first star in history to have six 100-million movies in a row. Oh, Hancock will probably be his seventh. But it will be a real disappointment. Read the reviews. All of them will notice that "something" happened. Not one of them will know why. None of them will LET themselves know. Whites don't want to know because it triggers guilt and shame.

And it is, frankly, to their advantage. Want to know one of the advantags of being white? You can be Seth Rogen and be thought sexier than Denzel Washington. Hell, if I was white, I'd pretend not to notice, too. When you're winning, you don't ask if the deck is stacked.

Many blacks don't even have conscious awareness--it triggers fear to feel so alone, outnumbered and outgunned by people who smile in your face, tell you they like you (and mean it) and apparently don't give a living shit that they are entertained my images that emasculate and dehumanize you. And don't for a second think that the psychology that allows a "Hancock" is disconnected from the psychology that allows eight cops to pump a hundred bullets into an unarmed black man. Oops!

As I work in this industry, I've been warned dozens of times not to talk about this publicly--usually by friends who genuinely care, and are worried I'll hurt my career.

But I have a four year old son. I don't want him wishing he had blond hair and blue eyes so he can get the girl. And when he notices that that's the way it is, I want to be able to look him straight in the face and say that I didn't lie, I didn't go to sleep, I did my part to create images of power, and to scream and rave and try to awaken the sleeping crowd. If you wake up, if you notice it, you have to either do something, or admit you don't give a shit. I think most people would care, if they were forced to notice.

This was just one of the worst movie-going experiences of my life. I thought we were further along than this.

If Will Smith can't get laid, Obama can't get elected.

John McCain should take heart. While I doubt he WANTS the world to be this way, I'm sure he'd be happy to reap the benefits in November.

My rating?

For sleeping white people, a "C+." For anyone awake, an "F."

134 comments:

Quentin said...

With a tear in my eye I applaud your courage.

Pagan Topologist said...

Thank you for the warning, Steve. I do not think I am asleep, so I will skip this one, much as I like Will Smith generally.

Pagan Topologist said...

This was posted on Susan de Guardiola's blog. It is worse than I would have guessed.

http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/this-is-going-to-be-most-awesome.html

Kami said...

I think Will Smith's work is brilliant. I'm going to miss seeing him on the big screen. Drat.

I'm not just skipping this one out of protest, either. As a writer I would be embarrassed to view blatant contortions replace the fine art of storytelling because the writers were scared and people knew it would hurt the bottom line. Where's the frickin' backbone, risk-taking and respect of humanity through art I expect from professional artists? Yes, many many films that could have been good have been chopped up to serve commercialism. But I don't want to see those films. I'll spend the little time I budget (I think I see maybe three movies a year) on something with a heart and soul, or if not that, at least some guts.

Steven Barnes said...

There is actually some heart and soul--that's what made the first 30 minutes seem more than promising. But no guts. Damn it, they could have avoided this by the simple expedient of being honest with themselves, and making valid story modifications. By fearing to speak the truth, they crippled themselves, and Smith produced his worst film since "Wild Wild West"--if not ever.

grey-bard said...

I was deeply suspicious of this movie from the first trailer.

"Let's have a black superhero film. I know! He'll be a nutty incompetent drunk who only goes straight with the help of white people!"

I'm so very sorry to see my worst suspicions confirmed and exceeded.

Lester Spence said...

Your instincts on race in film are pretty good.

Why did you go, when you were suspicious at the outset?

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Rats. I didn't think he was going to get laid, but I was hoping for more of a Spanglish-style not-getting-laid, you know, where the couple fall for each other, share one passionate kiss, and then nobly set aside their passion for the sake of the married one's fidelity.

I'll skip this one.

Steven Barnes said...

I would have been happy for a tragic romance...especially if they had opened the possibility of him finding someone later. After all, if she could get married, why not him?
#
Why do I keep going? Well, hope springs eternal. It WILL happen one day, and I want to be there. Also, unless I do, I can't comment. And since I seem to be the only person in the world talking about this, that's not a position I can abdicate. I'm fighting for my son's future.

mjholt said...

Thanks for the warning. I like Grey-bard's comment, which deeply struck a cord, but I couldn't identify it until I saw the trailer. Yuck!

Frankly, I'd like to see a well-done movie where 90% of the characters are black. I like Spike Lee movies, but I usually watch "On Demand" and they never have Spike Lee movies. I am going to check out the local video rental store.

I remember being taken to see "Brother from Another Planet" and being embarrassed by the movie. Everyone (all white) I was with loved it. Before that I remember that none of my friends would see Shaft (black exploitation) but when I saw it, I thought "I didn't know there were that many black actors." I have too little context for my thoughts, but my instincts tell me to listen very carefully to what you are telling us. It is important.

Rachid said...

Steve thank you so much for posting this. I, like you and many others, am all too aware of the black man white woman taboo on screen. I have groaned though movies where black man white woman sexual tension is very delicately hinted at but never fully explored. We've seen it with Will in previous movies like I, Robot. I liked the movie to a point - the unexplored sexual tension with Bridget Moynihan's character frustrated the shit out of me. In Hancock, when Smith and Theron referred to that kiss that never happened, my first thought was the owners of the drive-in where I saw the movie cut the scene themselves because because they didn't want to show a black man kissing a white blond woman to their predominently white audience. I was pissed and ready to raise hell - I was going to put out a CNN I-Report and email every news publication I know and demanding an apology to patrons (or an all day screening of the movie 100 Rifles where Jim Brown got his interracial love on with Raquel Welch. This morning I was researching to see if anyone else was commenting on a cut kissing scene before I loaded up outlook express and I happened upon your blog which pretty much sums up the frustration I feel when watching movies with the black man/white woman love issue. The fact that the cut was made by the film-makers and not the local drive-in is so worse in many ways (not to mention sloppy).

I don't know that I agree with you about it playing a big role in the movie turning south in the last 50 minutes. Though Hancock was Mary's husband first, Hancock was just starting to turn the "asshole" leaf and become a better person and to see him breaking up the Embery's happy home, especially after Bateman's characted did so much for Hancock would left me a little disappointed in the character. I think there were much bigger problems in my opinion. The movie was too short - I would have liked to see more development on the villian's character and yeah, a flash back to the surely racial driven head smashing 80 years ago would have been nice instead of just explaining it.

Anyway thanks for putting this discussion out there. You aren't alone in your frustrations.

Billy said...

Wow. Brilliant post. As a southern-born white American with mixed race relatives who does dissertation research in a remote tribal area of southern Africa, I'm somewhat astounded that we as a country have yet to have serious discussions on race.

Until we start that discussion, we will all be trapped by institutionalized and socially coded forms of racism. Even the "winners" lose when that happens.

It's frustrating, because someone like Will Smith should be able to make it happen. It speaks volumes that one of Hollywood's top leading actors can't be seen kissing a top leading actress.

As you suggest, step one is confronting that prejudice head on rather than pretending it doesn't exist. Surely the screenwriters could have come up with a few funny scenes where they push the taboo, wink at the camera and say, Just messing with you.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I'm sorry you and Tananarive went through that.

I wasn't planning to see the movie because the trailer looked hopelessly stupid. Is clumsiness really that funny?

I still have hopes that Obama will win because Bush and crew are simply the worst administration in a very long time, and probably the worst administration in American history. They've angered a lot of people for a huge number of reasons. On the other hand, there are southern states that ruined their public school systems sooner than allow real integration, so you can't count on people to be remotely practical.

It's weird to me that Obama can be such a serious candidate while the visceral sexual malice against black men is still so strong. How can both be happening in the same country at the same time? I'm still hoping that the movie makers are running on out-of-date reflexes.

Pagan topologist, the story of that button's a little worse than you may have heard-- all merchandise had to be pre-approved by the convention. On the other hand, I haven't heard anything about whether many people bought it, and I consider both what's offered for sale and what's bought to be important measures of what's going on, and what's bought is the more important.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Hancock reportedly went through three submissions to the MPAA, getting R the first two times and having to cut significantly to get to PG-13 (http://www.virtualaftershock.com/?q=node/444). The LA Times review says that the language and one prison scene are still pretty R-rated, though, and surely they wouldn't haave to cut an interracial kiss for that? themoviespoiler.com says there was a very brief kiss before Mary threw Hancock through a wall, which then gets alluded to later. So doesn't sound sexual enough that the rating board should be involved in that one.

Lester Spence said...

thanks for the response, steve. i understand why you continue to go in general. in the end it sounds clichéd but someone really does have to do it and document it. i know you've got a lot on your plate already, but this would be a powerful book project. there's a book by linda williams that deals with this but i don't think she pays as much attention to this dynamic as the subject deserves.

Michelle said...

Sigh...I figured the movie went this way...the Rotten Tomatoes reviews are pretty bad.

But I do want to say something about the negativity.

If Obama can get elected black men will get laid on screen.

I hope that one day this becomes nothing more than a chicken or the egg discussion.

As for Hancock...why do they have to be stupid about this? This isn't that hard.

But I have to wonder sometimes...Save the Last Dance managed it well...Sean Patrick was likable and cute. Though the movie dwelled to much on "that white girl is taken our men" I think.

Perhaps Will Smith is not the person to hang these hopes on?

Steven Barnes said...

I hang hopes on Will Smith because he COULD break through--but perhaps his commercial instincts are so deep and strong (no insult implied) that when he approaches something risky, he freezes.
#
The taboo isn't against interracial sex. It's against ANY sex for a non-white male. The kiss would have set up sexual tension that popped a big proportion of the audience out of "suspension of disbelief." My guess? It was in an earlier version, and audiences groaned. I've seen it happen.
#
Remember that prejudice isn't just about white people. It's about being human. White people, having the upper hand in America, are the ones whose prejudice makes a difference. Black people can be prejudiced against whites all day long, but without numbers to back it up, there is no statistical difference in the lives of whites.
Ironically, we mustn't make this a racial issue...Hah!

Steven Barnes said...

Remember Spiderman quote: any worthwhile story is about love, at the core. Remove the audience's hunger to see the two human beings connect, and you are left with empty story flailing. Without being honest about their problem, there was no way to leverage their intelligence and talent into finding a clever, sensitive, creative story line. They had to vamp with SFX and "comedy" to avoid the only story line that would have actually made sense in this context: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and PERHAPS boy finds new girl. You can't stitch scenes together and make a story, any more than you can stitch body parts together and make a baby.

Steve Perry said...

Well. Lose some ... lose some more ...

All the reviews I've seen say the same thing -- great set-up, no pay-off.

What a shame. .

Marty S said...

Steve: I'm not a real movie fan, but superhero flicks seem to me to be mostly PG-13 which eliminates any heavy duty action. As for kisses, I don't remember many if any in the spiderman, batman or superman movies, which had white superheroes. So one could charitably ascribe the lack of sexual action in this movie to the genre.

Josh Jasper said...

Marty - there were kisses in all of those movies. No sex, but kissing? Sure. Hell, the first Spiderman movie was noted for the interesting upside down kiss scene.

You need to care enough to train yourself to see what Steve is seeing.

Will Smith could break through, but does he actually think it's important enough that he does so? I hate to raise the question, but how much of his success has been because he really hasn't made a big deal of things you're pointing out.

Seven Pounds is coming out with Will Smith, and allegedly, it has a love interest for him.

Keep hoping, Steve.

Kukulkan said...

Marty:

You need to re-watch the Spiderman, Superman, and Batman films. Sexual tension is prevalent throughout. Superman has the flying in the sky scene. Superman II has Superman giving up his powers to be with Lois Lane. Superman Returns, indicates that Lois Lane's son is Superman's son.

Batman, Bruce Wayne has a relationship with Vickie Vale. The next Batman, involves a romance between Batman and Catwoman. Batman Begins has tension between Bruce Wayne and the Katie Holmes character (no kiss that I can remember).

Spiderman has the upside down kiss. Spiderman II explores Peter Parker's belief that he can't be with Mary Jane in order to protect her. But it ends with Mary Jane abandoning her fiance at the altar to go be with Peter. We see them kissing at the end until Peter hears a siren and leaves.

Hulk has a relationship. Ironman has a relationship with Pepper Potts (no kiss, but real tension). X-Men, intertwined relationships with Rogue, Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Gray, and Bobby Drake (lots of kisses).

So, yeah, Steve is definitely right that many movies (including superhero movies) focus on romantic/sexual tension. The old adage is true, literature is about sex and death. You don't need to have a payoff (i.e., kissing, sex), but you do need to treat the tension authentically. Based on Steve's comments, Hancock does not address the tension authentically.

Steve:
You know how conservative and risk-averse Hollywood is. Your description of Hancock has all the markers of studio interference. I would not blame Will Smith for this. I expect he took the project thinking that it would be a way for him to push the boundaries. Unfortunately, it looks like he did not have sufficient creative control.

I think that your mantra that Sen. Obama cannot be elected if Will Smith can't get laid is wrong. The studios are risk-averse -- we've never had much success where the Black guy gets some, so why risk it (instead they created muddle of a film that will break $100 million, but which won't be a big hit). I think the corollary to your mantra is: if Sen. Obama can get elected, Will Smith can get some on screen. Come on, Brokeback Mountain made big bucks and its got a scene of a man rubbing spit on his male lover's anus so that they can have anal sex. If you think that this isn't repellant to a large segment of the audience, you'd be dead wrong. In order to break the curse, you need two things: (1) a good story; and (2) a studio with balls. I think that the studios will grow bigger balls on this issue after Sen. Obama is elected as the next President of the United States (and I have a $100 bet he will be the next President despite the fact that I will not be voting for him).

patrick said...

Hancock looks like interesting spin on the latest superhero movie craze... if nothing else at least Will Smith tends to be pretty funny

Ethiopian Infidel said...

Marty,

As I recall, Superman wed and fucked Lois Lane in Superman II.

eric said...

Even Hellboy has a girlfriend. So a demon from hell can have a relationship, but not a black man?

Shady_Grady said...

Thanks for the heads up Steve.

I probably wasn't planning to see the movie anyway. I am not surprised by the somersaults the movie has to take to avoid showing a romantic life for a Black man. It's almost like the horror movie cliche where the Black man is the first to die.

I remember being REALLY upset with the EarthSea television adaptation where they made the character white. Growing up, Ged was one of the few fantasy characters I could identify with.

This is 2008 and this is still happening. I don't think it's going to change in "mainstream" art anytime soon.. Isn't the only solution for Black writers, actors, directors etc to create their own art?

dwesley said...

I haven't seen the movie and probably won't now. I applaud your efforts to get white people to at least recognize there's a problem. I recently watched "XXX:State of the Union" on TV and let your insights filter my viewing. I think the movie had it's fair share of run-of-the-mill problems, but I noticed the following:

When the hero escapes from the prison he's been held in for several years, the first thing he wants to do is that thing he's been denied for so long ... a sandwhich. No, he hasn't missed being with women, the only thing he feels a great urge for is the taste of fresh bread, or maybe it was the condiments. In my mind I was hearing "Yassuh, I needs to get me some vittles."

And then later, the hero has a scene with a very sexy lady that leads to a kiss. Aha, I thought! Well, at least he gets the girl eventually! But unfortunately, they were interrupted by the super smart white guy who had just spent all of five minutes hacking into secure government computers to get the crucial information needed to carry on. They never let the two get close like that again and focussed instead on how pretty the hardware was. It would have been better (for the story) to remove the love interest altogether than to play it at a distance the way they did.

But here's the honest unfiltered white guy reaction: I felt uncomfortable when they were kissing and felt at least some small bit of relief when the smart white guy prevented the strong black man from consummating his encounter. I would not have noticed that reaction except for you calling me (and everyone like me)out on it. Bringing this unconscious reaction to the light of conscious reason allows me to deal with it so that maybe in the future I won't have that type of reaction.

Lady J said...

*sighs*

I was hoping Hancock was not going to be crap but after reading your review, I'll save my money for The Dark Knight.

But I feel you in the rest of your post. I remember what Denzel said and how people jumped all over him for it and I was boggled because I had read The Pelican Brief and I sat in the theatre thinking, "Um, they were kinda into each other in the book." Silly me.

This puts me in mind of Eriq LaSalle as Dr. Peter Benton on ER. His relationships with Black women crashed and burned (Jeanie Boulet and Carla Reese) and yet his interracial one with Dr. Corday was much more positive. And yet he went public and on record about it -

"We have to take care of the message that we're sending as African-Americans or any other group of minorities, that we have the exact same type of exchanges with our mates that we get to see our White counterparts have."

I cried when I heard him say it because even though I'm in an interracial relationship, I still want to see folks who look like me in love with each other. I want the brothers on screen to look like they could love sisters like me, or other women of different shapes, sizes and color (and heck, other brothers too) and to do so whole heartedly.

I know Hollywood won't let it happen but a girl can dream.

Thanks for speaking your mind.

Althea said...

Man, your posts are always good, but damn if you didn't top yourself today. Reading about "Hancock" I had to mention "Up, Up and Away" a Disney TV movie. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0211174/

I saw this movie a year ago on the Disney channel and I'm still hot about it. In short, the movie was about a young boy born into a family of black superheroes. He was the only one without powers. (The rest is spoilers.)

He never got his powers. That alone made me mad. The rest was worse. In the end, he saves his family and friends lives but because of the evil computerized brain machine that took their memories NOBODY remembered his heroic act. And he did not get the girl, who was white. I have mixed feelings about his love interest being white, but my larger issue was:
-no powers
-no getting the girl
-no reward
-no nothing

I guess the message was supposed to be "gosh, golly, young black boy, you saved lives without being a superhero," but bump that. The movie completely fell flat. It ignored the completion of the hero's journey without success.

On the other hand, in "Sky High" another Disney TV movie, the main character, a white kid, son of superheroes, also has no powers. Halfway through the film he gets them. And guess what? He saves the "Sky High" High School and he gets:
-the girl
-the respect of his parents
-the respect of his peers
In other words, he gets the hero's rewards.

I don't curse much, but that is some fracklenackle &^%%$#! Can black men only get some lovin' in novels? So back to mine.

Next time, I'm going to talk about Fillmore, another Disney/ABC property. I know I'm referring to kids/teens shows, but the whole "a brother can't get any love" is rampant even in that genre.

salina said...

Bittersweet your blog is for me, glad to know I wasn't alone in my absolute disdain, but saddened that it's even worse than I THOUGHT. I axually went to a midnight show...and took 3 young Black teenage boys. The shame I felt when periodically I saw my son shooting furtive glances my way. A mixture of embarrassment, shock, and also concern about how I , his race conscious mother, reacted. I agree with your 40 minutes, the bottom out was so glaring and disappointing I wanted to walk out. I had to have a debrief with the boys after the film: Blacks in Hollywood, the Black loveless male at the end : to which my nephew said sarcastically: "Well he did have a bird...". The final scene brought an overwhelming desire to sob and vomit... -salina

Ronald T. Jones said...

I actually liked the movie. It was an interesting installment in the superhero genre. Hancock treaded familiar territory with its depiction of a superhero despised by the public. Spiderman experienced similar opprobrium. There were some eye opening twists and turns and the comedy aspect ranged from dry humor to raunch. The special effects were high quality, which is to be expected in a big budget, Will Smith driven sci fi spectacle, and the action was dynamic and well sequenced. As far as the interracial male-female interaction, bottom line, it would have been nice to see Will get laid. It didn't make sense for him to be paired with a super powered woman and he not engage in a little super powered action. Of course it would have been nessacary to remove the public relations character in order to free up Will and Cherize for a full fledge romance. But I didn't get bent out of shape about the missed romantic opportunity in the movie, because Hollywood caters to a certain audience. Hollywood execs, the powers that create and dessiminate the images that pour off the movie screen and into our hearts and minds are white. The majority of the people who absorb those images are white. Hollywood caters to the tastes and sensibilities of the majority. Blacks in the industry, particularly highly placed ones like Will Smith must do more from their end to put out material that will present black characters in a much more rounded light than was conferred on a largely two-dimensional Hancock. For those of us who are writers and whose characters do experience romance and do get laid, we must work hard to elevate our work to the big screen. I'm looking forward to the day when a big budget production, starring an A list black actor, will be created and distributed by black talent and authority. Only then will the Hancock syndrome be avoided.

Ken Graham said...

This was a great post, Steve. Sad that it needed writing.

I read an article saying that Will Smith jumped a the chance to play Hancock when the script came to him. I guess he really, really wanted to play a superhero and was willing to ignore that this movie is a poignant example of the "black man can't get laid in a movie" phenomenon. There was nothing better that came to him? I mean, could it be any worse? Hancock can't be with Mary unless he's willing to die. Damn. There are worse reasons to succumb to the drink.

I haven't seen the movie and had been debating whether to see it. I'd be great to support Will, but this one may be asking a bit too much of me.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Of course it would have been nessacary to remove the public relations character in order to free up Will and Cherize for a full fledge romance.

Or made Bateman and Theron colleagues? Isn't "public relations character cleans up superhero's image" a major part of the whole premise?

Ronald T. Jones said...

Ok, keep the public relations character and make him and Theron colleagues. I'm glad I thought of that.

Christian M. Howell said...

Wow, I feel bad. I went to see it yesterday and I actually liked it. Hollywood needs to remove sex from movies. I HATE IT.

I loved the fact that Iron Man had a similar scene with Tony and Pepper, except Pepper didn't react the same as Mary. She was just his assistant afterward.

As far as exploring it further, I felt like she was married, so it would be the wrong signal no matter the race.

I can honestly say that I don't think the pinnacle for me is to sex a white woman - onscreen or off.

But as I said, I hate sex in a movie, it's too confusing. Do I become aroused? Do I become offended?

I can say though that the opening song took me aback.

Mark Jones said...

Just saw Hancock. Quite aside from the story problems, we left with my wife just this far from tossing her cookies. Whoever thought using a shaky-cam for the whole goddamn movie ought be beaten with a baseball bat.

In good news, a quote from a review of the movie I found:

"...until the publicist's knockout-blonde wife (charlize theron, in a MAJOR SPOILER ALERT-style role) falls for Hancock -- turns out they have a history, and it's all bound up in the origins of his special abilities. He's got amnesia, blah blah blah. But for various ill-defined reasons, blonde knockout and black superstar can't be together! Oh no! Turns out his superstardom is also his cage. The "mainstream" audience relaxes: That was a close one!

At least someone out there gets it too.

Marty S said...

If black men can't have sex in the movies because the audience won't accept it, then why is it acceptable on TV soaps. It just doesn't make sense to me. I always thought TV more conservative then the movies.

Pagan Topologist said...

Marty, I think the answer to that is that the audience for soaps is mostly female. I think women are not the stumbling block here with respect to black men having sex in movies.

salina said...

well, for me it's less about the sex and more about "Super Whitey" x2 saves the hapless hopeless negro from himself and invariably his death in this movie. Once again we have the degenerate, uncivilized Black dude. I mean come on even as a SUPERHERO he has to display some of the common stereotypes the media and society in general perpetuates?! And as in I am Legend, Black guy sacrifices so the white people can live happily ever after. One of my biggest beefs with White Supremacy (lol) it ruins EVERYTHING cause it engenders this constant VIGILANce which makes it nearly impossible to ever just ENJOY. This especially in films, 300, Lord of the Rings, even FAME which I watched last night. Watching it as an adult a MUCH different experience than watching it as a CHILD. Reminded me how absolutely brainwashed and clueless I was; had no idea about the notion of stereotypes in media. I just know I always wanted to be white because they were always smart, beautiful, popular, and had the power...NOt much has changed in the minds of Black youth today, same negative media messages traversing the airwaves. As my students recently asked me: "Ms. G, why aren't there ever Black movies like Narnia and Harry Potter?" and others chimed in "Yeah! How come all the good movies are "white" movies...?" Nuff said. My hatred of Hancock is based on socio-political responsibility, NONE of which Will Smith demonstrated in his decision to make this movie. (Or to open up a fancy private/charter school that most youth of color in this country could dare afford...)

Marty S said...

I think Salina's point about Narnia and Harry Potter are more telling and more concerning than the black man can't have sex. If the hope is each generation should be more colorblind than the last then roles in children's movie need to be colorblind.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Marty, I don't think the roles need to be colorblind. What we need are good stories with protagonists of all colors. It's fine if they have ordinary historically rooted races and ethnicities.

In fact, that would be better than doing colorblind casting into mostly white (and northern European at that) parts.

Sidetrack on race: A white friend of mine told me she passed as black in Harlem. She looks white. She may have been kidding herself, but what she said was that all it took was not being frightened of black people.

Steven Barnes said...

Marty S: are you kidding?
"but superhero flicks seem to me to be mostly PG-13 which eliminates any heavy duty action. As for kisses, I don't remember many if any in the spiderman, batman or superman movies,"

Spiderman's upside-down kiss in the rain? Superman sacrificing his super powers to make love with Lois in Superman II? Who said "heavy duty" action. Did you see Tony Stark in bed with the reporter in "Iron Man"? Bruce Banner in bed (although it was coitus interruptus) in "The Hulk"? Which movies were YOU watching?

Steven Barnes said...

I'll say again: I only use the sexual measure because it is the clearest, measurable, statistically provable instance. You can't deny it or talk around it. An;ything else can be brushed off: "you're exaggerating" "you're too sensitive" etc. There is an entire range of stuff I notice that is harder to "prove." People tend to delete or ignore the information contrary to their world view. For instance: how many times have I said that it's not about "interracial"? And yet critics and readers keep bringing that up, not noticing black men don't have much sex with ANYONE.
#
And I'd bet that it DOES have a negative effect on television ratings when black men have sex. But just as there are films with black male sexuality--they just tank at the box office--soap operas can't have thousands of episodes a year, drenched in sex, without their black characters having some. Trust me: they fought against it for years, and probably take a hit in the Neilsons when they do it. I just don't have the data to be sure.

salina said...

I do agree with you Steve, but because my work includes the youth, I tend to contemplate the immediate effects media has on them. In fact in my initial blog written on the movie I said something about how problematic it is that Black men are displayed as either "hyper- or completely assexual". The former usually when Black women (who are completely objectified and reduced to a big butt and a smile in 80% of popular culture) are in the movie, and the latter when, as in Hancock, the leading lady is a non-Black woman. In no way am i attempting to undermine the importance of this issue; one of the most prevalent stereotypes about Black men and women was this notion of our sexual proclivities... I so love Dar Kush!

Steven Barnes said...

it is interesting to notice the distortions of the "other" in media. The ways Japanese film show Chinese or Europeans, the way Christians represent Muslems (and probably the other way around), the way men represent women and the other way around. And of course, black people representing whites and vice versa. The nature of those representations is probably telling as hell on a psychological level. Black women are overrepresented as fat mammies, that's for damned sure. But other than 'Sweet Sweetback" black males haven't really been shown as any more sexual than typical white heroes. I've never bought the "super-stud" label. I think that black men having ANY kind of sex hits a real nerve,and white people overreact. The number of times people misinterpret what I'm saying as meaning "bare-assed, gyrating, XXX fuck scene" is disturbing to me. Every James Bond movie has love scenes, and many of them were PG. It's a psychological oddity, that's for sure. Black or Asian women are definitely defined as sexually available to white men. I'd love to see a blog where someone quantifies the percentage of Asian female newscasters nationwide. That REALLY bugs me: hardly any Asian men, and an Asian woman in every market in the country. What the hell is up with THAT?

salina said...

good question. But at least here, there are a good 3 or 4 local Asian TV stations, 24 hours of Asian programming, 7 days a week... AND there is A kOrea town, a china town. SO the lack of mainstream (abc, nbc, fox...) images of Asians SEEEMS to have a much different effects on their cultural, social, or psychological image of themselves. In relation to Black folks, they thrive. Of course there are other factors at work...ie the notion of having a CLEAR homeland, and forced vs. voluntary immigration... (lol, i SIncerely apologize for the ellipses (?) and parentheticals. I don't enjoy writing and thus can be lazy!)

karmakaze said...

Oh, I am so relieved. I thought I was the only one who picked up on the weird subtext. (I suppose I may have been the only one at my screening.) I also had a hard time with the idea that not only can he not have a relationship with a white women, but even approaching her is punished by the loss of his powers...

I also had a bit of an issue with the gender roles. The world needs a hero, so Hancock must clean up his act. But the pretty girl with equal or greater powers can only aspire to be a housewife and raise a child. Because it's not as though the world could use two superheroes... that's man's work!

Steven Barnes said...

Karmakazi--

You're right! The gender thing really is an interesting subtext. We never saw her in the old days, in her power, so the visual symbolism really does have a limiting aspect. And have we yet had a Superhero movie with a female lead? Other than a couple of "team" movies (Fantastic Four, X-Men), my mind is blanking on that one. I'd be pissed off, if I were you...

Pagan Topologist said...

There was a Supergirl movie back in the 1980's.

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rave! said...

My contrarian take is that HANCOCK is an afro-centric fable about why dysfunctions exist in the black community. Hancock does not know who he is. Hancock does not know where he comes from. Hancock has been
dispossessed and, in his depression and dispossession, he cannot
achieve his greatness. I rate the movie a must see.

rave! said...

Intelligent men can disagree. It is interesting that you are issuing a "SAMBO Alert" as the book "Little Black Sambo" incited Hancockian comment in its day.

Little Black Sambo has a controversial history. Although Bannerman's story is set in India , the illustrations in the original edition use darky iconography (see golliwog), portraying Sambo with black skin, wildly curly hair, and bright red lips.

The story may have contributed to the use of the word "sambo" as a racial slur. The book's success led to many pirated, inexpensive, widely available versions that incorporated popular stereotypes of "black" people, especially African Americans. In 1932 Langston Hughes criticized Little Black Sambo as a typical "pickaninny" storybook which was hurtful to black children, and gradually the book disappeared from lists of recommended stories for children.

In 1996, noted illustrator Fred Marcellino observed that the story itself contained no racist overtones and produced a re-illustrated version, The Story of Little Babaji, which changes the characters' names but otherwise leaves the text unmodified. This version was a best-seller.

Julius Lester, in his Sam and the Tigers, also published in 1996, recast "Sam" as a hero of the mythical Sam-sam-sa-mara, where all the characters were named "Sam."

A modern printing with the original title, in 2003, substituted more racially sensitive illustrations by Christopher Bing, in which, for example, Sambo is no longer so inky black. It was chosen for the Kirkus 2003 Editor's Choice list. Some critics were still unsatisfied. Dr Alvin F. Poussaint said of the 2003 publication:

"I don’t see how I can get past the title and what it means. It would be like . . . trying to do 'Little Black Darky' and saying, 'As long as I fix up the character so he doesn't look like a darky on the plantation, it's OK.'"

rave! said...

Perhaps afro-centric fable/allegory is a better term because HANCOCK
goes a little like this: A highly evolved being wakes up in a
strange new world stripped of his name, his family and his history.
Scorned and yearning but unloved (and, on several levels superior to
his "masters"), he devolves into dysfunction - which includes
alcoholism and criminal activity. When his heritage is restored to
him, he achieves his rightful glory.

"Are Blacks the only people who are drunks and dysfunctional?"

The answer is no. HANCOCK does not indict all black people and in
fact, the movie is chocked full of responsible black people (many of
them law enforcement officers). In fact, the main primary criminals
in the movie are Asian and Caucasian. I don't believe that was by accident.

As someone on another listserv noted, HANCOCK is a modern version
of the Osiris/Isis myth. Check it out: Isis is a goddess in Ancient
Egyptian mythology and is celebrated as the ideal mother and wife, patron of nature and magic; friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, the downtrodden, as well as listening to the prayers of the wealthy, the maiden, the aristocrat and emperor. In union with her HUSBAND and BROTHER Osiris she conceived Horus. Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by Seth. The goddess Isis
was the first daughter of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, the goddess
of the Overarching Sky, and was born on the fourth intercalary day.

She is also known as the goddess of simplicity, from whom all
Beginnings arose, and as the Lady of bread, of beer and of green
fields. Ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile flooded every year
because of her tears of sorrow for her dead husband, Osiris.

Sound familiar?

dalani said...

Wait a minute here; I don't what neighborhood Mr.Barnes lives in; But like many here, if I
could get a dollar for every black man and white woman couple I've seen in the real world, I'd be a millionaire. With all all due respect Mr. Barnes I think what you are rightfully denouncing is the complete disjunction and disconnect between commercially published/film fiction and the real world.

Although I agree portrayal of interracial love scenes and story lines are rare, it may well be
that occams razor may apply here. Occams razor is a principal of reasoning that states the
simplest explanations are the best. Please bear with me here: consider if a movie is made whose main story-line is a love interest boy meets girl etc..., the hollywood writer does not do casting, and casting black actors interchangeably in these films may be natural in an ideal world (mine) but risky for the gutless producer who doesn't want to
confuse/risk (read:underestimates) his audience with what the story is about. The simplest explanation is that Producers to this day don't want to risk a complex story-line by mixing casting. Gutless for sure but a sad fact of the practice of movie making.

I think Mr.Barnes, with all due respect, brings a important point but it is maybe Hollywood (and publishers) who are asleep not the audience.

dalani said...

Mr.Barnes I must have mis-understood. I just re-read your post very carefully. It's very specific: it's about the total absense of any movie scenes showing blackmen having sex with any woman. period.
I'm drawing a blank here because I have difficulty disproving your claim or proving it conclusively.

Eddy Murphy :Rocsoes Family Reunion
Romantic interests: what about Will Smith in Men in Black 2..or in i Robot with that shower scene. not serious enough? What about the massive sex orgy in the Matrix2 featuring the illustrious Sir Laurence Fishburn?

I mean Mr.Barnes what is the problem? The lack of XXX movies with visceral scenes of sex. or simply romantic comedies with soft porn sex scenes?

My appreciation for the work done by Samuel l Jackson and Will Smith is in no way diminished because I never got to seem them having hot sex on screen. As a black man I don't miss seeing that .or .maybe it is that some women feel they miss something. It just seems so trivial.. Sex scenes are just not the markers of importance by which I judge a movie.

From what you say, the Hancock story line flirted with a potential love sub-plot and left the viewer disappointed with an unresolved thread. So what. Considering the careers of many actors in flop after flop and one hit wonders, Will Smith by comparison has had more box office hits than any of them. It's not one badly written plot that will take away anything from him or from me.

dorknation said...

As someone on another listserv noted, HANCOCK is a modern version
of the Osiris/Isis myth.


OH please. Someone needs to see more movies. This was a SHANE remake, which, not for Will Smith, would have been sexed up for the kids. Whether it was Smith's aversion to making less than a Jillion dollars on a movie or studio heads freaking out, someone did NOT want an interracial love story/superhero played out on screen.

Of course it's cowardice, but OTOH, suppose Smith DID kiss Theron's character. "Why is it every time there is a successful brotha on the movie screens he gotta be with a WHITE WOMAN??!?!" (despite the fact that "he" is almost never with a White woman).

Then again, if you're going to take heat either way, you might as well go for it.

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