Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spiderman and Roachman: On Being a Blackman in Amerikkka

Remember Jar Jar Binks?

He was the Stepin Fetchit alien birthed by George Lucas in his Star Wars saga, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The outrage over this racist and stereotypical depiction of Blackfolk forced Lucas to silence him in the last two prequels, after denying that Binks was a conflation of a foot-shufflin’, buck-dancin’ Rastafarian.

You would think that Hollyweird would have listened to the outcries of those who saw Binks as a racist stereotype, but apparently he’s been reincarnated as the new Spiderman 3.

Two nights ago, I went to its midnight premiere in Baltimore. I had never gone to a film so late in my life and expected to be one of only twenty or so insomniacs having absolutely nothing to do on Thursday night. Not. There is apparently a cult of people who frequent such films, since when I got to the 17-screen multiplex four of the auditoriums showing Spidey were sold out! Arming myself with a large bottle of water, a bag of popcorn and angry because I had left my chewing gum in the car that never fails to keep me awake when I have to do an all-nighter, I entered one of the crowded auditoriums and took a seat about ten rows from the giant screen.

I wanted to see the film, because the early trailers showed Spidey being clothed in a skin-tight black costume, like Elvis Presley in his famous Black leather costumes. As an observer of race and its symbolic manifestations in this racist world, I wanted to see how Alvin Sargent and Ivan Raimi (the writers) would treat the conversion of our arachnid super-hero from red, white and blue to black. I’ve learned that American films are often bursting with racial symbols that are occasionally overt, e.g., Jar Jar Binks, but often symbolic, e.g., Men in Black.

I wasn’t disappointed by the racial symbolism of Spiderman 3.

A mysterious, jet black, creepy crawly substance oozes from a crashed meteorite and transforms the nerdish Peter Parker, played by Tobey Maguire. It hitches a ride on Peter’s motorcycle after he and his girlfriend, M.J., spoon under a full-moon in an oversized spider web hammock spun by Parker. There’s never any explanation given for the substance, but in a very parasitic way it attaches itself to the host’s nervous system and enhances his powers of cognition, speed, dexterity and dancing ability.

This last point is important since essentially, Spiderman becomes a white racist fantasy of a Blackman in America --- Roachman, if you please. He humiliates and beats down MJ (they’re violent), he buys an all Black wardrobe (you know they like flashy clothes), he cool poses after he buys the outfit, and starts eyeing all the women that come his way. Essentially, his new found “blackness” is a double burden --- it makes him “cool”, but it also makes him mean, violent and a misogynistic. The sexually insecure, white, Peter Parker is transformed into a hypersexualized Roachman and sends a symbolic message to the mostly white audience that while being a Blackman can be “cool”, it also carries a terrible price that you should avoid at the expense of your whiteness. It sends a message to the Blackpeople in the audience, that Blackmen though “enhanced” in their melanin-based abilities to sing, dance, and fuck, we are also unable to “carry the burden” of it all and use them recklessly. Like Roachman, Blackmen are always on the edge of being violent and must be controlled, especially when it comes to their sexual responsibility. It is similar to the symbolism portrayed by Will Smith’s character in Men in Black, where his partner, the dour Tommy Lee Jones initially gives Will a smaller ray gun, because he can’t handle the “big gun” (penis) he wants so desperately.

In the end, Roachman regains his whiteness with the red, white and blue Amerikkkan flag waving in the background. Though boring, the storytellers let us know that it’s hard out there for a pimp and white supremacy provides controlled sexuality, gentleness with the opposite sex, understanding, tolerance and non-violence --- the exact opposite of what it actually does in the real world.

As I left the theater, yawning at 2:30 in the morning, I mused on how white supremacy is enhanced and refined by films such as Spiderman 3. I also thought about making a film entitled Roachman: The Adventures of a Blackman in Amerikkka, in which in one of the sequels, my superhero would meet Spiderman and kick his ass…


  1. Anonymous2:36 PM

    I'd pay to see Roachman!

    Very interesting analysis of Spiderman 3. I have yet to see it...nonetheless, for some reason I have always been a fan of the venom character (since I was a small child)...he always seemed to be what Parker was missing in his life (of course without the hypersexualized and violent behavior)... now I must acknowledge the truth...venom is a NIGGER!

    Venom is the projected stereotype of African American men. He represents what Europeans have done to non-white individuals globally (violence)and what they have consistently projected onto the!

    Is it possible that Parker represents White America? Is his interaction with venom what happens if they continue to socialize with Africans, glorify hip hop, and God forbid, chase their women...your blog has definitly got me thinking about this movie...glad I read this prior to seeing it!

    Forward Ever...

    Jay Menz.

  2. Anonymous4:22 PM

    Great critique.

    In addition to what you've already noted, Parker's black-suited body seems to actually bigger and more muscular. I'm sure you also noted the outcry of the public (through the media of the newspaper headings in teh film) which denotes the public's new disdain for and fear of the black-swathed spiderman as well, despite the fact that he had not done anything, at that point, to warrant the public's distrust (if I recall correctly). It's so blatantly egregious!

    Bring on Roachman! I know of some black folk that are interested in making a black oriented sci-fi/fantasy film. Maybe we can make it happen!


  3. Brothers Jeff and JL,

    I wrote about Roachman as a metaphor, but have you noticed that *no* film with a Black super-hero has ever been brought to screen, though there are many of them e.g., Blackjack, Freedom Seed, etc.

    I think you're right Jeff that Spiderman, like Superman *does* epitomize Amerikkka, and this film makes no bones about that. A red and blue costume with a white boy in it seems more than a coincidence.

    EL, you get the money and I'd be *more* than happy to serve as a script writer :-)

    ---Ray Winbush