The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Can "Tarzan" be saved?

I read recently that a major director (Stephen Sommers?) is interested in reviving a live-action "Tarzan". Frankly, I don't know if it can be done. The problem is that "Tarzan" is the ultimate statement in the "Nature" over "Nurture" argument. At the time it was written, I think 95% of the human race assumed it was all Nature. Breeding. The basic thesis: "An English gentleman, even raised by apes, is still an English gentleman."

Only in the 20th Century did this really start breaking down, and suspicions that we are far more vulnerable/susceptible to imprintation begin to creep into the mythology. So far as I can see, running back to Shakespeare, the Bible, and ancient history, the winners won because God made them better, the losers lost because they were of inferior breed.

Don't get me wrong--I loved Tarzan when I was a kid. But then, I was desperate to figure out what the hell it meant to be a "man." Not having my father, or any uncles or grandfathers around to provide role models (I did have a great-uncle, who was a fine man, but I don't remember ever having so much as a single private conversation with him) I was floundering. I wanted the respect of men and the admiration of women...and I was just a pot-bellied little nerd, a green monkey egghead growing up in what my sister refers to as "Northwest South Central Los Angeles", and fit in nowhere. I never did figure out the "male-female" or "black-white" thing, so decided to just concentrate on being a human being. That one seems to have worked out fine.

Back to the subject. I was desperate enough to ignore the rather vomitous racism in the Tarzan books, including one of the all-time most offensive comments in print: "white men have imagination, black men have little, animals have none." Thanks, ERB. I remember another bit where he said that a group of Africans were "unusually attractive...almost Caucasoid in appearance." Wow!

How about in the Jungle Tales of Tarzan, where he fell in love with an ape. Was he ever attracted to a black girl? No. Gee. What's being said here?

And still, I loved Tarzan. Still, I devoured them, so desperate was I for role models. And I retain affection for the original Tarzan films, the Ron Ely television show, and feel a bit of sympathy for people who want their cultural heros.

The problem, of course, is that that core belief system: "blood is everything. Culture is nothing." underlies every movement, every word, every frame of every Tarzan film, and trying to pretend otherwise is absurd. And it creates an apparently impossible dilimma: is it even possible to update a concept whose basic premise, even if never stated, is so antithetical to such a large chunk of the population? To, in many ways, the American dream, or the human dream of freedom itself?

Remember what I keep saying: the natural tendency of human beings is that 10% disconnect. People who say "I don't notice race" are exactly as believable as people who say "I don't notice gender." Oh, please. Liberals, I think, sometimes err on the side of wanting too much social engineering. I suspect that they are correct that Welfare caused some damage to the black family. On the other hand, Conservatives tend to be oblivious to the damage caused by States Rights policies when the states were supporting, or at the least turning a blind eye to homicidal levels of racism. And "color blind" policies simply don't take into account the fact that, if people of good will "stop noticing" race, about 10% of the population will gladly notice it for them. And if EVERYONE stopped noticing it, the unconscious tendencies would still tilt things in the direction of the majority. Note the automatic tendency to

1) deny the racism implicit in sexual images in film, until the statistics make it undeniable. At which point the fall-back position is

2) "It's Hollywood." Which makes as much sense as saying the lack of color among Senators is "Washington", the lack of color in Science Fiction or comic books is "New York" or that lack of color in Country-Western music is "Nashville". In other words, the natural human tendency to try to explain differences in human behavior on the basis of "they are different from us."

In other words, trying to isolate the problem to a "them" (Hollywood, New York, etc.) is the exact same thinking that produces a "Tarzan" (different breeds produce different results). On the other hand, it is possible to take the "programming/nurture" argument too far as well. The middle ground is the actual territory worth fighting over.

It is the unconscious assumptions: that most people want to believe that their family, their school, their religion, their country is best, that makes this stuff so difficult. We are attracted to mythologies that reinforce our world view, and the beliefs and values that support it, most of which are unconscious. I've seen at least a dozen variations on "Tarzan"--the white child raised by wild animals becoming Lord or Lady of the jungle. Isn't it curious that those animals never raised and adopted a black child? Wow. You'd think that the odd contortions that the authors and filmmakers had to go through to put a white child in such a situation would have, in at least one case, motivated them to take the simple path, and just have a little black baby taken. Unless of course, that would have violated something very very basic that they needed to say. Something that their audiences needed to hear.

So embarrassing is this stuff that when Disney made their Tarzan, they didn't have a single black man or woman in the entire film. Of course, neither did they in "Lion King", or any theatrical Disney film made in the 20th century. I know people who worked at Disney, and they've verified that it was a VERY racist environment. Apologists won't want to believe this. After all, Disney is one of the core American mythologies. Of COURSE it couldn't be racist. Such exclusion was accidental. Or...maybe they were worried about those easily offended black folks picketing, and decided not to take the chance.

Of course. It's "them." Always "them." Never "us." Right.


Back to Tarzan. Can he be saved? I mean, if America had been just as interested in seeing stories of black children raised by animals becoming great heros, or black men becoming the leaders of savage white tribes, then race wouldn't be a factor here, and instead we'd be looking at mythologies of the "outsider" and of natural nobility, or human resilience and courage and capacity. Parables of great value to our children and culture. Trust me: the reason I was attracted to Tarzan wasn't any unconscious urge to believe whites are superior to all other breeds.

Those who say: "well, gee, why don't you just write something like that, Steve?" Aren't paying attention. Such stories HAVE been written. They don't get published. And if they are, they aren't purchased by the mostly-white SF/Fantasy audience. It simply doesn't feed their deep emotional needs.

Now, in the "Lion's Blood" universe, you BET there are such stories. And when white people complain about them, you just bet that blacks are just as oblivious to the damage they cause, and the bigotry they represent.

Back to Tarzan. Will we ever see a successful Tarzan film or television series again? I suspect so, but I'm not sure quite how to do it. If the culture finally allows Will Smith to get laid without his movie tanking ("Ali," anyone?) then maybe the entire context will have changed sufficiently, and a bit of politically incorrect mythology can be viewed as just one position in a spectrum of possibilities, rather than the unconscious yearning of an entire population segment which yearns for the days that they could consider themselves enlightened when they allowed darker-skinned folks to consider themselves "equal." Gee, thanks.

I see Sommers (or whoever it is) either being oblivious to these questions, and accidentally producing a grotesque mess that alarms test audiences and gets hacked to pieces...

Or he tries some "revisionist" nonsense, trying to sandwich in a "spiritual guide" black character or "sidekick" or artificially cultured black character (like Ernie Hudson in "Congo" ) to compensate, and falling on his face.

The trouble just might go too deep to fix. Which is a shame. Like I said, I loved "Tarzan." Too bad that in the 100 years since his creation, there still hasn't been enough cultural change to allow the balancing cultural images that would make the Ape-man merely entertainment instead of a deep and damaging statement of the secret need to believe "we" are better than "they."

If Obama wins the presidency, and has a successful tenure, I'd predict that within one generation, it WOULD be possible to bring Tarzan back. Until then, I consider it roughly as likely as a successful re-make of "Gone With The Wind."


Kami said...

Oh man, did you open an emotional can of worms with this post. I devoured the Tarzan books as a jr. high school kid. I *loved* them. But even then, oblivious and in a 99.9% white environment, some of the stuff in the Tarzan books made me very uncomfortable. A couple of things made me stop in outrage. But I recognized it was written at a different time and I managed to move on.

I have to put myself in the 'this story can't be saved' camp. I look at it this way. I can flinch and move on when I hear the actress call a grown man "Boy" in Casablanca. I can forgive ERB his racist statements and his clear ignorance of things African in Tarzan. But if I picked up a book written in 2007 and it had that stuff in it? No. I wouldn't buy it.

They can remake Tarzan until the cows come home but they can never make it as it was written because audiences won't tolerate that kind of cultural ugliness. At least I hope they wouldn't. So what is their other option? Modernize it. At that point A. It's no longer Tarzan, B. what tenuous threads that still connect it to the original Tarzan will taint the movie in two directions. Direction one, all the deviations from the story will make people whine that it's not true to the original at all and might as well have been called something else, and the other direction is that it will carry decades of Tarzan baggage around with it.

I would much rather see more Jungle Book stories written and filmed. Rudyard Kipling is much more sensible about race--well ahead of his time--and honestly I find his stories more compelling than ERB. There have been quite a few movies done about the Jungle Book, but they skip around, take great liberties, and haven't approached it as seriously as it could be. I wouldn't mind seeing some of Rudyard Kipling's other work on the screen, for that matter.

Okay, now I'm just falling into my 'why does the film industry insist on making and remaking so many things that weren't that great in the first place' script. Moving on.

BTW, according to wikipedia anyway, Mowgli served as inspiration for ERB's Tarzan. No surprise there. Why not go to the source of the inspiration? Why maintain this silly white people have sex in Africa and live like kings while black people grub around with the animals? It just makes me shudder. And yes, having a magic black man would only make things worse for me. Yuck.

Of course now I had a brilliant idea about turning Tarzan on its head ...mwa ha ha. Off to write.

Steve Perry said...

ERB was writing pulp fiction in the early part of the last century, and all the science he knew he could put in his ear, with room left over for his finger.

He was as racist as R.E. Howard and the rest of the white guys writing in the teens and twenties. White man's burden at best, and usually not that kind.

Feral children, the few anybody has ever found, don't thrive as humans. They certainly don't teach themselves to read, and learn the manners appropriate to Lord Greystoke.

They tried to show how it could be done in the movie of the same name -- "Mir-ror ... Ra-zor ..." but feral children don't develop that capacity if not exposed to it at an early age, so the idea of the Belgian scientist teaching the unlettered Tarzan to read -- thus explaining Tarzan's French accent -- isn't viable.

Tarzan is an example of white man's burden, out there in the jungle taking care of all the apes and the good natives, and kicking the asses of the bad whites and darkies alike. Doesn't get bit by mosquitoes, somehow shaves every day, and is as much a fantasy as Superman.

I wrote a story once about a timber exec who gets into a car wreck in the woods, hits his head, eats some funny mushroom, and then thinks he is Tarzan. Runs around in the Olympic forest, protecting the rabbits and deer and bears and kicking the shit out of the loggers. Willie of the Jungle. When I'd read it, I'd do the yell.

I thought it would make a great movie. Bob Hoskins was who I had in mind to star ...

Gotta love the yell, and I can do a passing good imitation of it.

There will be more Tarzan movies eventually. You speak to a passing parade, and the idea of a low-tech hero nature-boy will always have appeal.

There's one I'd love to see Will Smith do.

Pagan Topologist said...

Steve, did you stop this post in the middle of a sentence, or did blogger cut off part of it?

Christian H. said...

You said the funniest thing ever.

It simply doesn't feed their deep emotional needs.

I must have missed that in my travels.

Anonymous said...

Tarzan. Ha. Even as a kid I took Johnny Weissmuller & Company (MGM) as a kind of joke. Raised by apes. A questionable relationship with a chimpanzee who he seems to have perfect communication with "Cheetah, ungawa waaba ootie pow nubba" or whatever. But can only communicate with his fellow homo sapiens in Jungleville by series of loud hollering and unintelligible shrieks. What in the world is the moral there?

Ever see Tarzan Goes To New York?! HIGH comedy that one now that I think about the basic plot.

Somehow I just can't see Tarzan 2008/2009 garnering a single review that's not tongue-in-cheek or written in scalding sarcasm and razor sharp Dorothy Parker-like wit.

Shady_Grady said...

I think "Tarzan" could be successfully redone. About a decade ago a TV series was made out of "Sheena", which was a female version of Tarzan.

I think if any explicit racism were glossed over or dealt with by having a Black spiritual guide of some sort, most people wouldn't see any deeper problems. The problems would still be there of course.

The writers could even play with the expectations of the character by having him lead local resistance against the foreign invaders (similar to the movie "Pathfinder")

I never read any ERB but I have read a lot of HP Lovecraft, REH and Robert Chambers. They wrote some of the most racist things I ever read. Their personal letters were even worse. But the movie "Reanimator" , based on a story by HPL, was really good , though it dropped all of HPL's views on Black people. So anything is possible I think.

Anonymous said...

Your comments about sci fi and the lack of published stories reminds me of one of my favorite Star Trek DS9 episodes. Where Sisko is stuck in a dream world of mid 20th century working as a writer. He writes about his real life as captain of the space station, and it can't be published because the captain is black. By the way, I love reading your blog

Kami said...

I fear that if Tarzan has a spiritual guide, that spiritual guide will die at some point. It just makes me tired all over. (To add a Steve B. observation--so that Tarzan and Jane can have sex. Ugh!)

Just about anything can be written extremely well. I just don't have a lot of faith in what might come of this. I've been burned too many times at the theater.

Now, if Steven Barnes wrote the script, I'd be all over it. :)

Bennett said...

My guess is that the best we can hope for is the Brendan Frasier "George of the Jungle" to completely sidestep the whole issue of race by embracing the sheer stupidity of the concept and turning it into a farce.

On a side note, there was an effort to make a 'modern' Tarzan on TV about four or five years ago. It tanked spectacularly. Starred some underwear model or another, which may have been as much a contributor as anything.

Tarzan really only works if you don't think there's much of a difference between monkeys and Africans. George of the Jungle, on the other hand, only works if you accept that a nearsighted gorilla and a cultured British scholar are basically fungible. See how one is stupidly offensive and the other one is just silly and amusing?

Althea said...

I think if any explicit racism were glossed over or dealt with by having a Black spiritual guide of some sort, most people wouldn't see any deeper problems. The problems would still be there of course.

Black Spiritual Guide = Magical Negro. Uh, no. Goodness, no. We've seen too many of those in American movies.

Will Smith: The Legend of Bagger Vance
Michael Clarke Duncan: The Green Mile
Morgan Freeman: Driving Miss Daisy
Gloria Foster: The Matrix
And those are only the ones I can think of right away.

I think Tarzan should be left in the early 20th Century where it belongs.

Anonymous said...

" "Tarzan" is the ultimate statement in the "Nature" over "Nurture" argument."

I don't disagree that _Tarzan_ is a racist book, but if the story was the ultimate argument of nature over nurture, why is it that Tarzan is so spectacularly more competent than other White people in the books? Why does Tarzan steal from the Black village?

I think that ERB certainly believed Whites are naturally superior to Blacks. Given the time frame, this is hardly atypical. But Tarzan is superior to others of his race (and his own family) precisely because of the environment in which he was raised.

So, I don't think that it is fair to say that _Tarzan_ is the ultimate argument of nature over nurture. It is, however, perhaps the ultimate expression that Whites are naturally superior to Blacks.

Steven Barnes said...

The argument would be that whites are superior to blacks...because of nature. Tarzan in the individual Tarzan books is certainly superior to other white men...but in context of the WORK of ERB, Tarzan is just another superior white man. He created a whole bunch of 'em.
I wouldn't agree that Gloria Foster is a Magical Negro in the classic sense...there are other black people in her universe. In fact, the "real" world of the Matrix is about as brown as the real world--while the computer generated world is pretty much all white--with a few Asians. Notice that? Very interesting, and I'm not sure what the Wachowskis were saying, but clearly they had something up their sleeve. But also notice: as soon as they made it clear, the movies fell apart. Damned if I can figure THAT out, but it's a fascinating thing to notice.
The DS9 episode was "Far Beyond the Stars" and I was honored to actually write the novelization of that one.
What would I do if someone paid me a shitload of money to write a Tarzan movie? Well, I certainly wouldn't have him lead the locals in rebellion. I am horrendously sick of watching Great White Father stories. Unless he died doing it, heh heh. Hmm. What would I do? I might play it so absolutely Victorian straight, with godawful Gollywog sambo natives played by really good actors, so that the audience would be dumbstruck. Naw, that wouldn't be fair to the people who paid me. Damn. I think I'd try to find a way to play it straight and lampoon it at the same time, sort of "Galaxy Quest" style--a certain affectionate contempt, if you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

It's late, and i'm delirious but this blog resonated in a profound way.
lol at Althea and the Magical Negro concept. THAT explains my sentiments of Weezy tonight when I SWEAR he went down on his knee(s) at the end of his performance with Kid Rock, in a frightening display of respect?? It was scary; i'll have to watch it again to see if I was imagining it.

Well, word on THe streets is that the Matrix fell apart because Sophia Stewart was officially out of the equation. . .

Tarzan should remain a vestige (at least in film) of a time that will hopefully become no more.

King Kong, 300, that B.C movie, and even Lord of the Rings, cinematic feasts ALLL ruined (for me) under the construct of White Supremacy. To be honest, there are farrr too many experiences I once found entertaining (the limbo king, Aboriginal dancers, and the fire eating African man at the beach) have become impossible for me to enjoy or appreciate in the company of Whites. My thoughts at these events consumed with reminders of sambo, black face, and racist stereotypes. I sometimes feel guilty when I attempt to suppress my racially influenced world view. Engaging in regular internal dialogue and inquiry wondering if I've misinterpreted innocuous comments and actions. In other words how much is me projecting and how much is a residual of racist attacks and denigration of Black people....

Being a fairly conscious Black person in 2008 represents W.E.B Dubois' theory on a whooole different level.

Althea said...

You picked up on what I was going to ask Steve, which was about Sophia Stewart. I read once that she won her case that she had written The Matrix and The Terminator, then I never heard anything else again. Did she really write those movies?

I know that The Matrix is an AOLTimeWarner property (full disclosure: I used to work for them), and I figured that was why the story was clamped down on pretty quick. But if she did write them, especially, The Matrix, that would explain why the last two movies were so terrible. Before the news about Stewart came out, I said to my husband that something had gone horribly wrong and I didn't think the Wachowski brothers wrote the first Matrix.

The first Matrix was the Hero's Journey from start to finish. A classic piece of cinema, in my humble opinion. And I had only put Gloria Foster in the Magical Negro category because Neo is white, and she played such a pivotal role in Neo finding the true source of his power. But you are right Steve about most of the "real world" Matrix universe being black and brown.

But the last two movies stank because the Neo's hero's journey was muddled. It became about the machines and a bunch of gobble-dee-gook that I couldn't understand.
Star Wars, on the other hand, was always about Luke's journey. (I'm talking about the first three made in the 1970s and 1980s, not the most recent three films. I'll talk about what went wrong with those at another time.)
Those movies chronicled Luke's arc from naive farmboy to conflicted student to a Jedi Master who forgives and heals his father.

The Matrix....well...I don't know what the hell happened...I still want my money back. LOL

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I think you could do the story as science fiction without the white vs. black racism-- Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown's Earthblood was a Tarzan story of sorts. It was queasily supremicist, though-- the only full-blooded earth human (white, of course, but not being white wouldn't break the story) among the slack, stupid, and violent aliens and part-alien humans.

However, a lot would be lost. There's nothing like Africa. I don't know if there's a way to tell the story without the racism. Would it work if a black baby were raised by apes? Is being popular with white audiences a crucial part of a story working?

Tarzan was about the superiority of nature over nurture in a second sense. Tarzan was superior to white people who'd grown up in civilization.

I would say the power of the story is about having something within you that isn't mediated by what you're taught by the people around you. I'm not sure if there's a sane way to really express that in fiction. As stated, being a feral child doesn't work out well.

I just reread The Spring Running, which is the last Mowgli story. I'd never noticed what a good writer Kipling was, but I'm not sure if Mowgli can deliver the pure superiority kick that Tarzan does. Mowgli is learning all the time, and being Lord of the Jungle doesn't mean you're in charge of everything. (And if you don't know what that means, go read "The Spring Running". It really is spectacular.)

Shady_Grady said...

I definitely agree that there are too many Magical Negro/Spiritual Guide roles in American movies. Lots of films with Morgan Freeman or Scatman Crothers come to mind (and the second Pirates of the Carribbean movie-which I hated).

But I do think that if there were a big budget remake of Tarzan we might see such a role added. It might be subtle and updated. It would allow the creators to vaccinate themselves from any charges of bad intent.

I don't know how successful they were but a few years back there were sequels to Gone With the Wind in book and film versions. Mel Gibson's movie "The Patriot" made an action hero out of a slaveowner by ignoring the issue and rewriting history. So that's why I think it's possible to have a Tarzan film, but I think it's quite undesirable.

I see where you are coming from with regards to the films "King Kong", "300", "10,000 B.C.". I don't quite think the LOTR movies fall into that category although I can see how some could take it that way. (Orcs with dreadlocks) Could you elaborate?

Although Tolkien was primarily drawing on the mythologies and stories of Northern and Western Europe to create his stories, I never got the feeling he did so in an exclusive mannner, if that makes any sense.

Anonymous said...

Nancy touched on the thought that I have been having of a way to do Tarzan without the overt racism. Throughout the books ERB talks about the nobility of the savage/wild, with the corollary that civilization is degrading/corrupting. The core story will always be about Tarzan, but you could play the scenes of the Black village for a condemnation of civilization by showing the Blacks society decimated by alcohol or slave raids.

Alternatively, Tarzan could become sick early after joining the apes and Kala could take him to the Black village where he is healed. After Tarzan has matured, he could discover the Black village and start his reign of terror, until he is stopped by Kala telling him that he owes his life to the village.

BSP said...


I'd have to quibble with you on a small point. Blood is in fact everything. Where hard core racists fall down is that from an analytical point of view, Australian Aborigines and Lapplanders are practically identical, blood-wise. Hell, don't human beings share something like 98-99% of their genetic material with chimpanzees?

I tend to agree with Neal Stephenson on that score. In "The Diamond Age" he says something to the effect that while there are almost no differences genetically between ethnic groups, culturally they're usually about as far apart as it's possible for them to be.

Unknown said...

I always liked Mowgli better than Tarzan, FWIW. Not sure how to remake Tarzan actually played straight.

George of the Jungle, OTOH, I loved as a child.

Anonymous said...

althea- i remember when the story first circulated years ago, somewhere on a site they had actually listed her phone number. I called and she and I spoke at length, very very convincing. The story she submitted was called "The Eye" I believe...and she even had documentation/copyright evidence. There was a rumor circulating for awhile that she won the case when in fact she'd just been granted (not sure what the word is) to go to trial. She lost that case...I hadn't thought about her in a few years, though we exchanged a few emails. Last week I received a phone message from someone who I'd introd to her, who'd kept in much better contact than I, and he said "She won...". Haven't spoken with him yet to get details... SO i'm not sure.

In terms of LOTR, just the whole people of color as the "bad guy"...LOVED the movies of course, but still disconcerting.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think that Tarzan needs to go the way of vaudeville. Vaudeville, which displayed blatant racism and racial stereotypes/caricatures died out in the early 20th Century and would never be tolerated today. Interestingly, white men in black face portrayed all of the parts and when black men entered vaudeville they had somewhat fleeting success.

As noted before, to rewrite Tarzan would be another story. Not Tarzan. So write another story but don't call it Tarzan.


Pagan Topologist said...

The way I would like to see Tarzan redone, either as films or books, is as a faux documentary. The point would be that ERB had lied because he could not bear to tell the real story, and telling how the story "really" happened, with as much change as necessary to erase the racism. There can be allusions to the original books which will appeal to those of us who have read them, but make it clear that the real Tarzan was very different, his history was different, and the black people in the narrative were just as smart as he was, or moreso. (He could have been raised by them, and ERB lied about it for example, and claimed he was raised by apes.)

Anonymous said...

Steven, just one quick thing: why do you always get so bent out of shape when there is no black man - white woman sex but the whole idea of white man - black woman never surfaces? On your review of Hancock you thought it would be great if not a white, South African woman, at least a Latina...

What is the matter with black-on-black or white-on-white sex/love scenes? Would Obama be even better if he had a white wife?

Unknown said...

As I understand it, Steve's argument is that a) there's resistance to seeing black men have sex in the movies, period, b) that's true both for black man/white woman pairings and for black man/black woman pairings, c) there's somewhat less resistance to black man/Latina pairings than either black man/white woman or black man/black woman, and d) white men get to have sex, in the movies, with women of all races.

What the reason would be for c), I can't imagine (intuitively, it seems as if at least black man/black woman pairings ought to be just as accepted as black man/Latina pairings), but Steve says it's what he's observed.

Ronald T. Jones said...

Whether or not a Tarzan remake hits the big or small screen, the theme of the white hero lording it over nonwhite masses continues to be revisited in movies. I just recently saw that theme played out in 10,000 BC. It's interesting how the light skinned warrior from the light skinned tribe was chosen to lead black tribes.

I suppose if the reverse were adopted and a black hero was chosen to lead an alliance of white tribes, 10,000 BC would not have attracted the audience the filmmakers were targeting.

I recently wrote a short story about a man, who happens to be black, who is stranded on a planet inhabited by primitive humans stuck in a late medieval stage of development. Anyway, our hero has organized the humans, introduced them to sophisticated forms of warfare, designed advanced weapons of war and led the humans in a campaign to liberate them from the clutches of a vile and murderous enemy.

It so happens that the humans he leads are white. I plan on revisiting that story in a novel length treatment. But I'm sure you would agree that what I described would make for great cinema even if I do say so myself. LOL. Of course, even if Will or Denzel were to play the lead, will filmakers go for the premise of a black guy from an advanced technological civilization presiding over a bunch of primitive whites in a leadership capacity? In this day and age when Barack Obama is a serious contender for president?

Mark Jones said...

Pagan Topologist--that book was written. By Philip Jose Farmer. His "Tarzan Alive!" is a faux biography of the "real" Lord Greystoke, with all the less than savory details (that ERB was either unwilling to include or ignorant of) added back in.

As for the Matrix--if the first movie was written by someone else, that would explain a lot. I thought they really missed the boat at the end of the second film when Neo was able to neutralize the robots in the real world. That should have been the clue that the "real world" was nothing of the kind, but just another layer of the Matrix designed to contain rebels. After all, everyone else could do "impossible" things in the Matrix, Neo was just better at it--but seeing through the illusion they all accepted with absolute certainty as reality? Now THAT's a mission for The One.

Tarzan? Either play it absolutely straight, as a faithful (film) version of a pulp story every bit as fantastical and absurd as ERB's John Carter of Mars stories--or give it up entirely.

Or...make Tarzan black, why not? You can still do the "blood will tell" schtick by making him the child of African bluebloods, somehow deprived of his parentage/culture. Maybe in an accident, like Tarzan. Maybe deliberately, like Moses set adrift on the river. Either way, he miraculously avoids becoming crocodile fodder and is rescued and raised by apes....

Kami said...

If Tarzan is black, and born from a semi-local or local tribe, then you've got Mowgli, only transplanted to Africa.

Kipling rocks. :)

I do rather like the idea of Tarzan being raised by apes but being drawn to the local tribe--they look like him, but aren't. They can even be rejecting of him if the writer wants to open that messy can of worms--with the payoff that Tarzan has to earn their trust and respect to hang with them. And when white man shows up, Tarzan has to choose. And I say, he chooses the people he knows and has learned to care about and who care about him, than people who happen to share the same skin color.

Or something along those lines.

And then Tarzan is kidnapped by the evil white people who try to make him wear clothes and stuff and act like a lord so they can get at his trust money and he can't even speak their language and he manages to escape to his beloved Africa via the aid of Jane, but he tells her to stay in Europe where she belongs.

But I love you, Tarzan!
Um, I don't think you'd last five minutes in the African jungle, but get pumped, learn how to use a knife, and I'll see you in the sequel!

(Kami runs away giggling)

Unknown said...

Oh yeah, Tarzan can be saved. If you kill him in the end...

you can't tell me that any person, black or white, will survive in the jungle.

then again, you do have indigenous people who do it very day .

but if was to remake tarzan, he would get merc'ed in the end. and the natives would say "I told you not to mess with those lions!"

Steve Perry said...

Some years ago, there was a display in a bank, in Tarzana, SoCal. Burroughs' original handwritten Tarzan ms. It was under glass in the lobby, as I recall.

"Tarzan" wasn't Lord Greystoke's name originally. You could see ERB had written something else, then scratched it out and replaced it.


Anonymous said...

Lynn, I was hoping to hear from Steven, but I still don't understand. "I am horrendously sick of watching Great White Father stories. " We all know the cliches of Hollywood studio execs> They pander anything, and it is usually debilitating.

There is resistance to seeing black men have sex in the movies, but we can see it day and night on MTV, where it sells pretty good.

Black on Black is often not one dimensional sex, but Love and Intimacy. I mean JayZ just gave Beyonce $5M ring?

And you say white men "get to have sex", in the movies, with women of all races. Here is the real issue.
But, it is mostly with white women and there is some chance for intimacy.

When the screenplay is inter-racial, will love develop? Some small chance it is tragic love... Inter-racial tension stimulates. It pulls up images of violence. Is it good for healing, love, family or intimacy?

Sorry, looks like the black man- white woman obsession is a kind of chest thumping. Usually not so good for the white woman either.

How else are we going to heal the history?

Pagan Topologist said...

Paul, can you cite a post where Steven seems to have a black man-white woman obsession? I cannot find one at all. It is not in keeping with his thesis here, as far as I can tell.

Unknown said...

paul, I was just commenting quickly to say where I thought Steve's suggestion of the black man/Latina woman pairing came from (that is, I don't think he prefers inter-racial pairings to intra-racial ones, but rather that he prefers to see black men having sex at all, and thinks that's the pairing where they'd most likely be allowed to do so, in the movies). I think I'm probably better off passing on your other questions and letting Steve speak for himself.

Myself, I think he's right that white men have more sex in the movies than black men, and you're right that inter-racial pairings are more likely to be given tragic endings than intra-racial ones. And, I'm more interested in seeing sex with love and intimacy (whatever the combination of races) than without.

Josh Jasper said...

Mark Jones - "Tarzan Alive" wasn't+ the only Farmer Tarzan novel, or short story. He also did "The Jungle Rot Kid". Farmer was very conscious of the race issue sin Tarzan in his novels. I don;t think he dealt with them in a perfect way, but he's certainly aware they exist.

Now, for a Tarzan movie, having him be effectively race blind because of his being raised by apes, then have to come to terms with Victorian Racism, his heritage that tied him into in it, and actually learn what it means to see race? That would be fascinating.

I don't think it'd be an uplifting movie, but it'd be an informative one :-)

Anonymous said...

...Topologist asks: "cite a post..."

Vulnerability. The real issue is the black hero is not getting vulnerable with anyone.

If intra-racial love scenes are not worth screening, the hero is not getting intimate with anyone, how can you get too excited about the number of inter-racials as proof of...acceptance? What?

Let's start with fuller dimensions of character development: arrogance, willfulness, pride and indifference to intimacy are rapper attributes, which is where the inter-racial images are selling anyway.

Steven says it well on ""More on Hancock: "Now, most people will probably stop with the interracial aspect, without grasping that black men don't have sex with ANYONE. It isn't just white women. And sisters, I feel you on the discomfort you felt when she appeared...

... the genetic threat of watching a black man and woman indulge in reproductive behavior."

Maybe there are not a lot of black chick flicks, down home story telling, it's all action. White rapper Marky Mark showed one view of this in the action movie "the shooter". Action movie, no sex, just a hint of intimacy. Luckily there is not a "BlokeBlack Mountain". You were talking about Sam Jackson & Shaft. SuperFly even had a cool black chick, even tho it was threadbare. I saw it just recently...

If they won't let black men "get with any women" on the movie screen why not start with something more simple and real than inter-racial coupling? Maybe Will Smith's wife doesn't want him out there with any other girl...

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