The Trevor Noah segment above partly inspired me to write this rather long article about violence in film. I’m not a scholar, researcher, hell…I’m not even a journalist, but I am endlessly fascinated by connections, human perception and habits we have and the assumptions we make as a society.
While there are extremes in rap, a continuum that extends from Grandmaster Flash and Vanilla ice on one end all the way to 2 Live Crew and NWA on the other. But in the extreme UltraViolet in recent years, we have Drill Rap. There is little argument it is dangerous, because it doesn’t take much imagination to see ho it’s deep dark beats and specific beefs might influence a young or impressionable person to behave violently. But Drill Rap isn’t the only source of violence, so it shouldn’t be the scapegoat for others who seek to deflect from their own violent tendencies. Those who profit handsomely from violence in its myriad forms.
A Common Threat Through All Violence in Entertainment
But beyond that, there is a common thread between violent art and media on both sides of the racial chasm, and that’s the normalization and glorification of violence. But it seems to Brego, that within the American Psyche there seems to be two very distinct kinds of violence in the world, the violence perpetrated by white men and in less frequency, white women, and the violence committed by all others, and nowhere is this more apparent than in American film an television, white male violence in film is often seen as justified and harmless, while violence in rap music is seen as gratuitous and dangerous, and extending beyond, “just art”. But one wonders if it’s true what New Age thinkers believe, words really do become things.
People are Studying Violence in Film and Television
A 2017 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children are exposed to an average of 4,000 incidents of gun violence on television each year. (And that’s not including video games) If one figures six years of teenage life, that equals 24,000 exposures of gun violence. There is a quote often misattributed to French writer Alexis de Tocqueville that says, “Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it” and I’m of the mind that there could be some grain of truth to that saying.
White Violence Rationalized
In film, white male violence is often seen as response to a threat, while violence in rap music is often seen as gratuitous. Additionally, white male violence is often seen as heroic, while violence in rap music is often seen as criminal. Finally, white male violence is often seen as
a necessary evil, while violence in rap music is often seen as a sign of a lack of respect for human life. But where did these deeply engrained presumptions come from?
Unfair Policing and Abuses of Power
Most people are more likely to be victims of a crime than perpetrators, yet it seems like our policing is set up to give white criminals every benefit of the doubt, while too often giving Black and brown people, even those who have committed no crimes the presumption of guilt and the worst detriment of the doubt. This is widespread and endemic and was evident in the Walmart shooting in El Paso, the Dylan Roof shooting within a South Carolina Church, and the Buffalo supermarket mass shooting which was racially motivated, and the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. In all of these cases, the white shooter was arrested without incident, while in other recent incidents, unarmed Black people have been killed by police, and the police never faced serious consequences for failing to protect and serve. This is unacceptable and I believe that it’s past time for the Federal government to enact laws to protect Black and brown bodies from police violence.
A Nation of Two Types of News Coverage, The Media is Complicit
Whites who commit violent acts are often portrayed by the media as being mentally ill while blacks who commit violent acts are perceived as inherently violent. It makes one wonder what kind of effect these narratives, spun from the imaginings of Fox News, have on the minds of impressionable youths. But why is it that police officers feel so “under threat” from people of color, yet they can and do arrest violent and heavily armed white suspects without the use of lethal force on a fairly regular basis? It seems police, generally speaking are too often incapable of even interacting with black and brown populations without escalating to violence and blatant disregard for the rights of these Americans for whom they swore an oath, and have the public trust to protect and serve. Increasingly, It seems that our policing is based on a racial hierarchy and this needs to change.
A Creative Detour Into a Contributing Influence.
But the Actor and Director in me reflects on all of the images of film that I was exposed to in my teenage years in the 1980’s. I remember as a child, (Indiana Jones is still my favorate action film of all time) Feeling uneasy, even as a child at how Arabs where killed wholesale, often without their faces shown, alongside Nazis. I would think to myself, even as a child…that seems odd. I was also a big James Bond fan since I could remember, but recently I started to think about 007, and how society gives him a pass on some rather abhorrent behavior.
Film is Chock Full of Violence, Usually and Disproportionately Against People of Color
In the 1980s, I loved action movies. My favorite was Indiana Jones. But as I grew up, I started to wonder why Arabs were always killed in these movies without their faces being shown. It seemed odd to me.
James Bond: Suave Secret Spy or Violent Womanizing Man-Slut?
I was also a big fan of James Bond, but recently I started to think about how he treated women. In the James Bond movies, James sleeps with 58 women and we just call them “James Bond Girls.” Talk about objectification. James seemingly never used a condom, and he never told the women he slept with about the other women he’d slept with who met their unfortunate demise in the prime of their lives. I mean, if nearly half of the women you sleep with die within days of intercourse, one would think you would pass that information on to interested parties.
James Bond’s Irresponsible Behavior
At any point he could have said to Pussy Galore or Jinx, “You know, more than half of the women I smash with, suddenly and inexplicably die,” but he didn’t. James Bond never apologized, he never cared, and we loved him for it. Never stopping to question anything he did because he’s doing it all for the greater good, and…he’s suave, rich, and very white.
Yes, some may say: “Black cinema has it’s occasional Shafts and Djangos,” but they are more the exception than the rule and are usually more antihero than hero.
Why Nobody Ever Questioned James’s Behavior?
We give a wink and a nod to this walking Double OSTD, never seeing his sexuality in a negative light, quite the opposite, as he sleep with, (arguably, ran through) 58 women in his 25 or so films. 19 of those women died after interacting with Mr. Bond. 9 died before having sex with him and the other 10 died after having sex with this…hell, let’s call him a monster. All of Bond’s conquests beautiful, some smart even, but their looks and smarts couldn’t save them from their doom. Typically another man’s sex life is none of my affair, but I think this is an interesting window into the soul of the white hero. He is never questioned or analyzed, he never apologizes, after all…he’s licensed to kill. He is given the ultimate Pass-Go card. A brilliant writing device fast becoming a thing in the real world.
Mr. Bond’s mental illness made him act violently, not just through his irresponsible bedroom antics. He’s by every measure, not a very good role model. A whole grown man, obsessed with gadgets. He killed 272 people in his films, some arguably for no good reason. If a woman did this, she would be called a Black Widow or Double O-Ho. If he were
Black, the Queen herself would have stripped him of his license to kill a long time
ago. And at no point in all these decades has anybody ever criticizes the writer, the ticket buyers, the actors, the producers or the people consuming this violence laced with
misogyny. Instead it’s met with “Oh, that’s just James being James.” We look at our society
and its unwillingness to check white male violence (even to the point of treason) and one wonders why. The formula works, every time, and this could help explain why we have
yet to see a Black James Bond.
“OK, Brego, you are Buggin’ What about all the other Good White Saviors
of Ciematic History? Where they Irresponsible too?”
Yes, and they are arguably even more indiscriminate in their violence, especially
violence against people of color. Let’s look at some of the numbers. Math is not my strong suit, so take my analysis with a grain of salt, and research them further on your own. Here are some macro trends over the years in cinema.
- John Wayne – In a recent study, it was found that in John Wayne’s films, 34% of the people he killed were people of color or Non-European. In addition, 8% of major characters in his films were people of color. This study highlights the lack of diversity in John Wayne’s films, and the disproportionate amount of violence against people of color. (Source: Dr. Stacy L. Smith and her team at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative)
- Clint Eastwood – According to the website Diversity in Hollywood, about 61% of the people killed by Clint Eastwood in his films were people of color or Non-European.
- Harrison Ford – Harrison Ford killed a total of six people of color in the Indiana Jones series. This includes two Arabs, two Africans, and two Asians. In contrast, he killed a total of nine white characters. (Six of which were Nazis, One, Dr. Elsa Schneide a Nazi Collaborator, and Sallah his friend who betrayed him to the Nazis, he was ordered to be put to death but apparently escaped his fate.
- Mel Gibson – However, according to one estimate, Gibson killed 42 people of color and 37 white people in his films as of 2016. (One must adjust for the fact most of those deaths were from the Mad Max franchise and that was an Australian film, There were no people of color in the original Mad Maxx film series starring Mel Gibson.)
- Arnold Schwarzenegger – Though he killed onscreen people of color and white characters at the same percentage, only 18% of the characters in his film were POC…so, another hazard of being a POC.
- John Rambo- 100% Rambo kills approximately twice as many people of color as he does whites. 2. Indiana Jones- 100% a rough estimate would be that Jones kills around twice as many people of color as he does whites.
- The Expendables – In the first Expendables movie, there were a total of six people of color killed, compared to nineteen white people killed. In the second Expendables movie, there were a total of five people of color killed, compared to fifteen white people killed. In the third Expendables movie, there were a total of eight people of color killed, compared to twenty-four white people killed. (A change gonna come)
- The Dirty Dozen – Hard to tell but However, based on the visual evidence in the film, it appears that more people of color die than white people.
Why are things this way?
It’s not really clear why this happens, but one possible explanation is that in stories, white men are usually portrayed as the heroes, while women and people of color are often shown as helpless or villains. So when a white man is violent in a story, people see it as him taking charge and being a hero. But when a woman or person of color is violent, people see it as them being a threat. Another explanation is that in our society, white men have usually been seen as the ones in charge, while women and people of color have been oppressed. So when a white man is violent in a story, people see it as him taking charge and being a hero. But when a woman or person of color is violent, people see it as them being a threat.
It’s clear that violence in films and media influences our society. White violence in film is seen as more innocuous and justified, but given the numbers, it’s dangerous people of color to even be an extra in a typical Hollywood film when compared to white cohorts. And sadly, too often, life imitates art.
Major Hollywood Stars and their Onscreen Kills, Notice in Recent Years the Top 3 Spots are now occupied by POC and a Woman. Is this progress? Ardentgrowth.com
- Samuel L. Jackson (1,734)
- Milla Jovovich (1299)
- Jet Li (1076)
- Dolph Lundgren (940)
- Arnold Schwarzenegger (842)
- Steven Seagal (822)
- Sylvester Stallone (794)
- Jason Statham (718)
- Kevin Costner (670)
- Wesley Snipes (593)
- Nicolas Cage (588)
- Chuck Norris (485)
- Keanu Reeves (387)
- Jean-Claude Van Damme (480)
- Gerard Butler (425)
- Clint Eastwood (382)
- Dwayne Johnson (368)
- Tom Cruise (363)
- Daniel Craig (348)
- Sean Bean (344)
Sources and Further Reading
One study that looked at the portrayal of minorities in film is “On the
Screen, But Not in the Story: Minorities and Imagery in Mainstream Film”
by Nancy Wang Yuen. This study found that minorities were more likely to
be killed by white heroes in film than by any other group.
Another study that looked at the portrayal of minorities in film is
“Hollywood’s Reel Racism: A Look at the Portrayal of Minorities in
Movies” by Nancy Wang Yuen. This study found that minorities were more
likely to be portrayed as villains in film than as heroes.