The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Am Legend (2007)

The third film version of Richard Matheson’s seminal novel is entertaining but hollow, two-thirds of a potentially great movie undercut by CGI video-game refugees and an unsatisfyingly frantic ending. Will Smith’s portrayal of the last man on earth, left behind after a pandemic that wiped out 99% of the population and converted 90% of the survivers into cannibal zombies, is probably as good as any actor has ever been in a genre film. The Fresh Prince has grown all the way up. And the images of a deserted New York are genuinely heartbreaking. But there’s something missing, and it was a little too obvious what it was. Give it a C+, for the first Will Smith movie I’ve been disappointed by in a long time.


Glaringly obvious. The need to keep survivor Robert Neville from being sexually attracted to the surviving female (Alice Braga) means that they have to keep him dour, and then end the film within hours of their meeting. This artificial pressure on the story destroys the possibility of true character reveleation (as in, say “The Outlaw Josie Wales”) where a burned-out warrior is brought back to humanity through love and familial connections. The need to prevent a black actor from having sex in their multi-million dollar movie, lest white audiences reject it, made a hole in the middle of the movie that can’t be filled by special effects. Last man on Earth, perfect physical condition, doesn’t react to the last female? Anyone out there believe that that would have happened if Keanu Reeves had played the role? Or Tom Hanks? The most transparent neutering since “Shaft” or the first “Bad Boys.” You can just FEEL the filmmakers bottom-dealing the cards to keep a queen from coming up.

And for reminders (‘cause someone always says it) NO, I don’t think “it’s Hollywood.” It’s Hollywood’s conscious and unconscious awareness that 80% of their white audience—desperately needed to make their money on a movie this expensive—has a mild aversion to black people. Someone like Will Smith has a personality so huge it outshadows his ethnicity. But even with Smith, just about his only film to lose money (“Ali”) had the ill-judgment to present him as a sexual being. No one has ever been able to overcome that and create a block-buster. And the drive to avoid that lethal error creates the artificial character arc, devoid of the central driving force in human nature. Nothing except survival itself is as strong as the urge to mate.

So, at the end of the film, Smith dies to save mankind, and doesn’t even get laid. His genetic line is dead. Gone. But white people endure, because of his brave sacrifice (brings a tear to your eye, don’t it?) Charlton Heston sure got laid in Omega Man—with a black woman (Rosalind Cash)—before he died in Cruciform position.

And people wonder why the “Could Barak Obama be elected” debate is still a live issue. This makes me absolutely sick. As a black man, I give “I am Legend” a D+, for the same old shit, warmed over for a different century.


Anonymous said...

Makes me wonder why you even associate with those Hollywood low lifes considering how they marginalize blacks or how you can defend the crap movies they produce.

That said, as a cracker if I want sex in movies I'll watch porn, at least there the women don't look like skinny ass heroin addicts the way most of the Hollywood leading ladies do.

Personally I see sex in most movies as a draw for the 15-25 sex crazed males. Just like the inclusion of fast cars and big guns. Formulaic crap by a industry bereft of imagination.


Anonymous said...

...And I had high hopes for this one, too.

If indeed mainstream white audiences are uncomfortable with the notion of watching a black man engaging in such normal human activities as sex (and as much as I am loathe to admit it, they probably are, and that just plain bothers me), and films in which the creator makes a serious attempt to portray black males as fully-developed (read "sexual") human beings fail as a result, what is the solution? Take risks and possibly lose money at the box office or continue to give the people what they supposedly "want"?

I guess the only solution is to hope that the white audience's character and tolerance evolve and to educate them wherever one can, but that's likely to be a very slow, very frustrating process. You've wrestled with this dilemma a hell of a lot longer than I... Any ideas?

Anthony Pryor

Steven Barnes said...

Note how, always, the first thing people do is try to say "it's Hollywood"? Yeah. And New York, and Memphis, and Chicago. And while you're at it, London and Berlin and Hong Kong. But the desperate human need is to isolate the evil men do in others, place it "over there": in another region of the country, another country, another religion, another gender, another era. Anywhere but in the mirror. That's one of the things that makes it fun to keep bringing this up: the predictability of the "it's Hollywood!" response. I've been all over the country, and trust me, white folks in Hollywood aren't one whit more racist than the Average American. In fact, they're a little LESS. Chew on the implications of THAT if you will.
And why do I bother? If I let that stop me, I wouldn't be able to read books, watch television, read newspapers, or walk down most streets. Once you see it, its everywhere. Not acute any more, but definitely chronic, and pervasive.

Steven Barnes said...

What's the answer? More high-end successes creeping closer to the line. More small successes slowly de-conditioning the instinctive response. American getting browner. And more old white people, especially men, dying off. The programming is pretty well set by the time puberty sets in. But I think that children are still malleable.'s a waiting game. Nothing personal, guys. Just business.

Anonymous said...

The fact that Neville wouldn't want to fuck after meeting the 'last' girl on earth is just plain stupid writing--Star Trek TNG 1st season stupid. And I am sure, as you observed, the stupidity was quite intentional. What grinds me more is the fact that the filmmakers missed the point of Matheson's book: Neville was no martyr, he was a monster who spent his days murdering the 'vampires' who were now the 'normal' members of society. At the end of the book, the vampires at least had the humanity to give Neville pain killers before they executed him--a comfort that he never afforded his victims. The whole martyr/cure for the plague plot is pure Omega Man/Hollywood bullshit. Someday a filmmaker who gets Matheson will make _I am Legend_, and it will be a very good film (and maybe it will avoid the early 21st Century racism of the current version). Until then, I will comfort myself by re-watching _Night Watch_ and waiting another 25 years.

Anonymous said...


Although "Liberal Hollywood" talks a good game, talk is cheap. They can fool you, and themselves into believing they are personally beyond beyond racial considerations, but must make economic choices for their movies, but not me.

I note there are no less than three anti war movies out that they know won't even make back production costs, and two more planned for next year. All three have big stars in them and full production values. They know full well that 60% of Americans fully support the military and probably won't go to these movies.

It seems to Me that "Hollywood" does not mind losing money when it's something they really believe in. I see lots of talk and no walk.

In the Army there was a saying, "If you think you don't have a race problem, you've definitely got one".

John M

Steven Barnes said...

"In the Army there was a saying, "If you think you don't have a race problem, you've definitely got one"."
I never said they didn't. What I said was that they don't have a worse one than members of their racial, gender, and economic classes nationwide. And that isn't based on what Hollywood thinks about itself. It's based on what I've seen and experienced working here for 30 years, and living in America for 55.

Of COURSE Hollywood thinks its shit doesn't stink. That's the universal human opinion. But most of AMERICA thinks that our racial problems are history. Don't think there's MORE of it in Hollywood, that's all I'm saying. If you don't like what you see on the screen, like it or not that's a pretty decent representation of racial attitudes across the country. If "Hollywood" leans liberal, and you REALLY think there is less racism on the Right, we've been living in very different worlds indeed.

Josh Jasper said...

Why equate being against the war with being anti-military, John?

Anonymous said...

I happen to agree, Steve
that it's white men who are more the problem
than, say, white women
all in all I think women are less
xenophobic then men
I'd be interested in your thoughts
as to why that would be
if you in fact


Steven Barnes said...

I would definitely agree that men are more xenophobic. My take starts with sociobioloby: two men can't share reproductive space in one female, while multiple females actually CAN share the resources of a single male. So males fight for status more on that level. Makes them more hierarchical. Call the black male sex/movie thing the racial/cultural equivilent of a major-league cock-block.
At any rate, survival in the male world definitely means teams, tribes, armies. Differentiating between "our" team and "theirs" is critical. Uniforms, call signs, modes of dress...and skin color. Skin color probably faster than anything else. Individual survival combined with genetic survival (me and mine against the world) and tribal survival is a hell of a set of basic wiring. Traditionally, if a village was attacked, best guess might be kill the men, and carry off the women. A woman who yielded could live as second or third wife, her genetics go on. Completely different set of survival strategies. Males are also more visually oriented than females in some critical ways (sexual stimulation, for instance) and I wouldn't be surprised if that visual tendency maps over to aversions and anger/fear triggers as well.

Steven Barnes said... guess is that women might be 10-20% less reactive/racist overall, judging by gender of racist comments on the internet, personal experience, slave narratives...women can be just as racist as men, but I think that they don't generally tend to be quite as virulent about it.

Anonymous said...


all I'm saying is that if "liberal Hollywood" wanted to make a movie with those themes that appeal to a smaller part of the population, they would do it despite economic

I would point out that we don't really have a proper statistical sampling of movies of this type to do an accurate analysis. It may be true, but right now it is an assumption. "Hollywood" has not given it a chance because they assume america will be repelled, but they may be wrong. I think Will Smith could pull it off (assuming the movie was good otherwise).


I said 60% support the military and would'nt see the movies. I believe over 80% of Americans support the military.

I have no problem with people who don't like "War", as long as they are honest. There are no "good" wars.

John M

Mark Jones said...

I saw another review of I Am Legend today that also described it as two thirds of a great movie, but hated the ending. He didn't mention the Sambo Alert issue, but having read your blog I wondered. His objection was to the way they changed the ending away from the book's ending to something much suckier. He doesn't demand slavish adherence to the book, but if you're gonna monkey with the story, it should at least be a GOOD change. I suspect that the changes he decried were connected to the need to keep Will Smith celibate.

Anonymous said...

I suspect I'm weird, but my reaction was always "What's wrong with those people? Why aren't some of them pursuing a niche market?" rather than "It's Hollywood".

There's some effort to make movies for black people, if the semi-segregation of trailers I've noticed is any indication.

I think I understand that your explanation is that the production and distribution system is so white-dominated that the black niche market isn't served very well. Contrary to most people, I *don't* think companies are generally efficient profit seekers, and prejudice can trump the desire for money.

I don't think you've covered the extent to which black men do or don't get sex scenes in movies that aren't blockbusters--are there such movies that do well as niche movies?

Here's another angle on the same thing. The argument is that blacks are generally not shown holding guns in the media in positive (police, military, hunting) situations. I'm certainly don't follow the media enough to say whether that's true, but what have you seen?

Josh Jasper said...

So John, 60% of America supports the military, *and* won't see the movies, so presumably the movies are not just anti-war, but anti-military? I can see that. Hollywood can marginalize just about everyone without trying, so why expect them to get the military right?

Anonymous said...

two men can't share reproductive space in one female, while multiple females actually CAN share the resources

actually it happens all the time
that men share reproductive space
with females
many women have children who have different fathers

I think you rely much too heavily
on the evolutionary psychology
or reproductive explanation
for the differences between male and female thinking and perceptions

reproductive sex is not
the Be All
End All
of human behavior

I think the differences
coming now to the fore
from neurology
and thanks to f MRI's
the differences in male and female brains
and how they work
has more to do with it. . .


Unknown said...

It’s Hollywood’s conscious and unconscious awareness that 80% of their white audience—desperately needed to make their money on a movie this expensive—has a mild aversion to black people.

I actually think a good sex scene with Will Smith would be appealing even to some of that 80%. (How that would stack against the segment of that 80% that would be put off by it, I have no idea, though.)

Personally I see sex in most movies as a draw for the 15-25 sex crazed males.

Only because sex in the movies is written to appeal to 15-25 year old men. Women are just as willing to get crushes on sexy actors as men are on sexy actresses, but movie sex is way more written toward men's sexual fantasies than women's. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I'd rather watch an actor like Will Smith get laid with one of the character who looks like me than watch the character who looks like a prettier version of me keep falling for the ugly schlub, or become part of some other guy's whole harem.

Contrary to most people, I *don't* think companies are generally efficient profit seekers, and prejudice can trump the desire for money.

That and a conservative tendency to go with what has worked before. Why do the makers of comics and movies act as if women, who are half the population, are a smaller niche market? I don't think it's because you inherently can't sell as many movies (or even comics, which still more heavily aim for men more than women) to women.

FWIW, the movie reviewer in the LA Times thought it unrealistic that Will Smith wasn't attracted to the last woman on earth.

Steven Barnes said...

Hollywood DOES make niche films. Neer said it didn't! All I'm saying is that you can measure the degree to which they don't "cross over" to a majority audience by the lack of blockbusters, measured against the percentage of blockbusters with white stars that DO have sex. That's all I'm measuring: apples for apples, oranges for oranges. Bcause Hollywood DOES make those movies, and they never rise above 100 million, while movies where black men are celebate DO rise above, I know it isn't "Hollywood" as much as it is the audience. Whole point.

Steven Barnes said...

Suzanne{ two men can't share reproductive space AT THE SAME TIME. What are they going, alternating years? It's like saying two men can't share one chair. Sure, if one gets up the other can sit down. Except under extraordinary circumstances, males don't share like that. Especially Alphas. Ten females can literally all be pregnant by the same man at the same time, and if he's rich, all their children can be safe. There is no comparable situation for women, at all. I never said reproductive sex is the be-all. Just that it is a single, VASTLY important indicator: keep a species from having reproductive sex and it DIES in one generation. And relationships change strangely as soon as reproductive, vaginal sex comes into the picture. In my experience, you can go down on each other for years, but the first time genital sex happens, everything shifts. That is an incredibly powerful threshold, and you may be underestimating it.

Unknown said...

One other thing on sex in the movies: Artistically, sometimes it can be a good choice to have a sexual relationship not be explicitly shown. Or happen slowly rather than having the characters hop right into bed. Or not get fully consummated in the course of the movie. So, some versions of "black guy doesn't get laid" can be just as intrinsically artistically justifiable choices as the "white guy DOES get laid" ones; the difference would be an indicator of prejudice, but neither movie, taken by itself, would leap out as obviously wrong unless you're looking for the pattern.

But it's rarely an artistically good choice to have your main character be inexplicably celibate. So, if you write your movie to avoid having him show any sex drive at all, you're generally going to wind up sacrificing some character and story plausibility.

Just my feeling on how far movies should be showing sex at all. Whether or not they're explicit, they should be portraying characters with a believable level of interest in sex.

And relationships change strangely as soon as reproductive, vaginal sex comes into the picture.

For me, this was highly correlated with at some point meeting at least one other member of the guy's family. But it almost seems like a weird coincidence that that happened, since the two events wouldn't necessarily happen at anywhere near the same time.

Anonymous said...

not to be too much
of a pain in the ass, Steve
but there have been cases
of fraternal twins
with two different fathers
rare but not
unheard of

and yes I get it
that without reproduction
a species or group
can die

think Shakers
for example

I just can't get my unruly mind
around the idea
that reproduction
is the wellspring for as much
human behavior as you give
it credit for

take the Catholics
for example
for whom official policy
is sex only for procreation
as expounded by the celebate leaders who proscribe contraceptions

whereas the majority of non-celebate Catholics
in all countries
practice conctroception
understaning that having children you cannot afford
to house and feed
or having so many the child-bearing mothers die young
or wear out early
is totally irrational

since the advent of close to perfect
birth control
the playing field has changed . . .


Steven Barnes said...

not in any way do I think reproduction is the only important factor. But in sex, it is certainly the SINGLE most important thing. Take that single thing out, break that single thread, and the entire group collapses in a single generation (unless they recruit from the outside)
and Nancy--absolutely its the "artistic choice" thing. That's why you have to go with statistics rather than individual films. Otherwise, in every single case, people would merely say:
1)maybe that sub-100 film was just poor.
2) that 100million plus film without sex was an individual, artistic choice.
You can't argue with either of these... in individual cases. But over hundreds of films? Ah, then the invisible hand of the marketplace emerges quite clearly, thank you.

Kenneth said...

I just watched I am Legend and, while I agree with you (Steve), about the "black men can't have sex in a successful movie" thing, being a black man and avid moviegoer myself, I don't think it would have made sense for Neville to have had sex with Anna. There are three reasons why I say this:

1) Neville was not over the death of his family,
2) he had just buried his best and only friend in the world, his dog, and
3) he also had an understandable sort of monomania going on regarding the virus.

Not to mention that it must have been one hell of a shock to see not one person, but two. Sex just wouldn't have made sense at the time.

BUT, you're totally right that they conveniently martyred him before he had a chance to heal emotionally/psychologically and get to know Anna a little better... biblically ;-)

Steven Barnes said...

You missed it.
1) They manipulated his emtional healing so that he "wasn't over his family" yet. That was part of the way they keep you from noticing.
2) Just buried his dog. Again, manipulated the time line.
3) In shock from seeing them. Same trick.
There is nothing that would have prevented him from being PERFECTLY poised emotionally--other than they didn't want to go that way. You can almost see them sitting around in a room saying: "how can we justify this?" and then coming up with the reasons as listed. The writer is God in his universe, and none of these reasons would have stopped a white actor. They just would have extended the last act. Transparent script manipulation.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, well, I won't be going to see it. Soon as I saw the dog in the promos on the tube, I knew he was gonna get killed.

I don't like movies where the dog dies to save the human.

Steven Barnes said...

Actually, the dog doesn't quite die protecting Will Smith. They're surviving together, and the dog kinda makes a mistake. It's still pretty sad.

Anonymous said...

I am Legend 's goal is to be among the top ten box office champs of all time, says Will Smith.

I don't buy your argument that the reason there is no intercourse in I am Legend is because Will Smith is African American. Of the top ten box office champs, only in Titanic does the hero and heroine have sex; and Leonardo Di Caprio looked more like a girl than a man in that film.All-Time USA Box office
Rank Title USA Box Office
1. Titanic (1997) $600,779,824
2. Star Wars (1977) $460,935,665
3. Shrek 2 (2004) $436,471,036
4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) $434,949,459
5. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) $431,065,444
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) $423,032,628
7. Spider-Man (2002) $403,706,375
8. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) $380,262,555
9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) $377,019,252
10. Spider-Man 2 (2004) $373,377,893
11. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Steven Barnes said...


I didn't say anything about the top 10. I said movies above 100 million. I've got a sample of about 300 films to chose from. And even in YOUR tiny sample, 10% of them have sex. About 22% of those above 100 million. And your explanation for why only white males have sex in those movies is...what? Love to hear an answer that has some predictive capacity, which mine has for over thirty years. Please. Be my guest.

Steven Barnes said...

Oh...and Smith's complete comment was that the top ten movies have special effects, monsters...and romance. Noticed that one of those three has been under-represented in his films? I wonder which one it is...

Anonymous said...

The top ten box office champs , 90% avoid sex. The top 10 Box Office films have special effects, monsters and most have no intercourse. That is the formula for success in the American Film Market.

You said, "Last man on Earth, perfect physical condition, doesn’t react to the last female? Anyone out there believe that that would have happened if Keanu Reeves had played the role? Or Tom Hanks? The most transparent neutering since “Shaft” or the first “Bad Boys.” You can just FEEL the filmmakers bottom-dealing the cards to keep a queen from coming up."

YOur comments are that Will Smith does not have sex in I am Legend because he is African American. I say your theory does not make any sense in the context of the film I am Legend, if the film makers wanted to use the formula of special effects, monsters and perhaps a little romance. There is a girl, by definition, there is romance. As for Keanu Reeves, when he made matrix, he did not have sex in the first film . Will Smith has had a romance in the film Hitch. Films with caucasian actors like Harrison Ford in Star Wars, did not include sex in any of the first three star wars films. Now romance is not sex.

I would guess movies have to avoid have sex in the film if they want to appeal to the largest group of 15-25 year old men. Look at the list of the top ten. Intercourse occurs only once ; all of the other top ten box office films avoid intercourse. Now is Harrison Ford a Caucasian? Why of course, he's Irish and ethnically jewish. If Harrison Ford had had intercourse in Star Wars fewer people would have paid money to see the movie. What about ET the extra terrestrial, no sex there either. Shrek is a cartoon. The Passion of the Christ is about torture and humiliation of an innocent man by Roman Empire. And of course it makes money. Because the Roman Empire soldiers are the monsters.

And we can go down the list of top 300 films: very few have either romance or intercourse . Chick flics and other romantic films rarely attract a big box office for modern audiences. Look at P.S. I love you, a romance, no intercourse and horrible box office. Will Smith's Hitch was a chick flick and it grossed more than $100,000,000. He can do romances and Sci Fi and bring in the audience- white women, black women, white men, black men, hispanic women and hispanic men, orientals too in the USA. The global box office will be huge for I am Legend.

Anonymous said...

And I have to say one more thing about the chivalry of Will Smith in I am Legend, a sci fi, monster and romance flick: what is more romantic than a man who protects a beautiful woman from rabid beasties out to tear her limb from limb.

Did you expect him to rape her as soon as he out of his coma?

Anonymous said...

Ok I am legend was a horrible film!

What is up with people making such a racist film.

Will Smith is trying to get his groove on with a White Doll in a video store yet does not make an attempt at a sexy French fry girl?

What, did he cut his balls off?

They just didn't want a strong black man having a sex scene with a French lady liberty girl on screen.

Who the hell is the small white boy? is that suppose to be white America? innocent, young?

I did not like the fact he killed himself to save the white women and boy, thats so dumb.

She believes in God, Will Smith does not! fook off!

I hated the Mountain message on the plexi glass, its like Moses coming down the mountain,.

I hate the French white girl Statue of Liberty connection, French freemasonry connection, I hate the church bells when the open the gates at the end and there all white people there.

The Future is not black it seems.

I hated the Ground zero comments, 9/11 was an inside job.

It was such a bad film only carried by Will Smiths charisma.

Fucking racist Hollywood.

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