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Did Somebody Say Negger?

By Alicia Danforth
September 29, 2003
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When my little brother took his first G.I. Joe out of the box, he realized he'd made a mistake. Choosing his words carefully, he muttered, "I didn't think he'd look like...that." This G.I. Joe was a Negro, and he was never a hero. He became the hostage, the sacrifice and the torture victim. He was the sidekick who accidentally tripped the booby-trap wire, the total incompetent who put the mission in jeopardy. He always needed to be rescued, but he never rescued anyone.

From 1970 to 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies taught our children about what it means to be a hero and what it means to be nonwhite in America. To be black in the future. The closest thing we've got to a living G.I. Joe is the governor of California now, but he spent over 30 years creating slicker versions of the images that turned my brother and me against Negro Joe.

Something didn't sit right with me back in 1987 when Apollo Creed showed up as the double-crosser Dillon in Predator. In the back of my mind, I waited for a black hero to show up for the rest of the 1980s. Then, I started scribbling cryptic little notes on every African-American character I noticed in a Schwarzenegger movie. Entire movies would go by, and all I'd written were little phrases such as "janitor sweeps in background," "first thug to get killed," or "no African-Americans in Chicago?" But, in many cases, what I noted for the record was that no black heroes ever turned up.

My search spans all 33 years of Arnold's film career. What follows are the main lessons I would have learned about men with dark skin if Schwarzenegger movies were my only reference during my formative years in South Central, Orange County.

For starters, they are liars and backstabbers. The Ubermensch's ubermessage is that if you ever trust a black male character, you're in trouble. Take Predator. As the film opens, we learn that Schwarzenegger's character, Dutch, and his team have been recruited to rescue hostages from guerillas in a Central American jungle. His friend Dillon (Carl Weathers) turns out to be a CIA operative who has lied about the mission. As things start to go awry, Dillon continues lying to Dutch until the squad comes upon the remains of another six-man team skinned and strung up in the trees. Dutch loses it and forces Dillon to admit that the real reason they are there is to wipe out a Soviet-backed guerilla camp. Dutch wants to end the mission, but his team gets caught up in a skirmish that destroys the camp. The carnage attracts an invisible alien predator who begins stalking and picking off Dutch's team one by one as they attempt to escape from the jungle. Lesson No. 1: Don't trust the black guy if you want to survive.

Even if he's got a badge or a Ph.D., the odds are good that a black man is a buffoon, cheater, weakling, coward or incompetent. When they're trying to be heroic, these guys can be as dangerous as the low-down, dirty liars. In The Terminator, Lieutenant Traxler (Paul Winfield) tries to protect heroine Sarah Connor from a cyborg that's been sent back in time to kill her. After several women with the same name are murdered, the lieutenant gives Connor a string of bad advice. First, he tells her to "stay in public," which nearly gets her killed at a club when the Terminator storms in. "Come with me," says the white guy hero Reese, "if you want to live." Reese is a gun-toting nutcase who rambles on about machines that look like men sent back from the future to kill her. She's torn between her two would-be rescuers, but Reese is the safer bet even if he appears insane because he's right and he's white. Later, when she ends up at the police station, the lieutenant assures her, "You'll be perfectly safe; we've got 30 cops in the building." He instructs her to, "stay here," when the Terminator starts killing everyone, including Traxler, moments later. Connor narrowly escapes with Reese.

The sequel drives home the point that knowledge and authority are dangerous in the hands of a black man because he won't know how to wield them. In Teminator Two: Judgment Day, a brilliant yet incompetent black scientist destroys civilization and nearly kills off the human race. Dr. Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton) accidentally launches a nuclear war to destroy all humans. The only way this well-intentioned, yet lethal, scientist can claim redemption is to blow himself up and destroy the complex housing his life's work. Lesson No. 2: Don't put a black man in charge of anything important if you want Homo sapiens to survive.

It's also safe to assume in Schwarzenegger films that black men, despite initial appearances, are frequently monsters, mutants and demons. When we first meet Thusla Doom (James Earl Jones) in Conan the Barbarian, he raids Conan's village and kills his parents. Implying that he's going to spare his mother, he instead decapitates her as she stands defiantly holding little Conan's hand. Doom only gets worse from this point on. This guy enslaves Conan, forces him to compete in death matches, crucifies him, hosts orgies, has his henchmen sacrifice virgins in the temple of his evil cult, and even metamorphosizes into a giant serpent to escape capture. Drawing a flaccid little snake through his fingers to create a poison arrow, Doom mortally wounds Conan's one true love. What fate could be worse than having your Aryan soul mate pierced by a black man's erect snake? Lesson No. 3: Black men are evil. We'd be better off if they didn't exist.

It's not that black men aren't in Arnold Schwarzenegger films. It's just that when they are, they're incompetent, inconsequential, insincere, inebriated, ineffective, insane, in disguise, inarticulate, in cahoots, in danger, invisible, in league with the devil, incapable and in the background.

Over the years, people have reminded me countless times that Vanessa Williams co-stars with Arnold in Eraser. It seems to be a knee-jerk reaction as well as the only example most people can cite off the top of their heads that seems to refute my theories. To which I respond: Brown men and women of any color are a whole other story.

And before you conclude that the action-adventure genre is to blame, consider that a feature in the August 18, 2003, Newsweek notes that Schwarzenegger chooses his own scripts, cuts his own deals with producers, and spends "days in business meetings, personally approving every hat and lunchbox that goes on the market in connection with one of his movies." He worked with numerous writers, directors and producers in more than three decades of filmmaking. Therefore, I've stopped thinking of him as the Terminator, the Governator, Mexicanator or any of the other monikers I've seen in the press recently. To me, he'll always be the common Denominator.

[NOTE from Lorenzo: Below is a YouTube.com video of the Governor of California defending the state from an invasion by sea.]

 

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