“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.”
― Anthony Burgess
As a child I loved the movies. For four dollars one could watch an amazing story. Nowadays this may not be significant, but as I kid I only read stories. Through reading I was co-creator of worlds of conflict, of resolution. The movies were like my seventh day of creation. I could take it easy someone else was responsible for the small details of reality. I did not notice certain recurring themes.
Whether it is ridding the world of an ancient unspeakable evil, or saving the world from an impossibly belligerent army, or even a galaxy of evil doing aliens humanity’s future is always assured in the hands of a Caucasian leader/Hero/Messiah. No where is this so clear as Conrad‘s The Heart of Darkness.
The Heart of Darkness
I should pause to mention that this whose series is inspired by and dedicated to in many ways Chinua Achebe so it is with great pleasure that comment on the heart of Darkness and his essay: “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.” In his lecture/essay Achebe advances the idea that Conrad purposefully depicts Africa “the other world” in order to look at Europe in a different light. To Achebe:
Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world,” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant beastiality. The book opens on the River Thames, tranquil, resting, peacefully “at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks.” But the actual story will take place on the River Congo, the very antithesis of the Thames. The River Congo is quite decidedly not a River Emeritus. It has rendered no service and enjoys no old-age pension. We are told that “Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world.“
Of course, getting back, the Heart of Darkness, it was written after the time of the 1884 Berlin Conference. It appeared in 1899 as a three part series in a newspaper. Eight and a half years before writing the book, Conrad had been appointed by a Belgian trading company to serve as the captain of a steamer on the Congo River. It is assumed that thought his stay brief due to sickness was he saw provided the backdrop for the story. A word about the Berlin Conference:
The Berlin Conference of 1884–85 regulated European colonization and trade in Africa during the New Imperialism period, and coincided with Germany’s sudden emergence as an imperial power. ….. its outcome, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, can be seen as the formalization of the Scramble for Africa. The conference ushered in a period of heightened colonial activity by European powers, while simultaneously eliminating most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance.
I want to be Clear
My intention isn’t to rehash a lot of debate that Achebe raised when he criticized Conrad’s canonical book. I wan’t to say that there is a precedent in movies , well movies that I have seen of course in America being an American, where the savior of mankind is always of a certain type of look.
There are many famous Westerners who follow Buddhism but there are not many movies where Asians are saving the world. This is interesting because Buddha is referred to as “The Savior of the World.” In the Green Hornet Bruce Lee is the valet of the main character. He is under the beck and call of his employer. He is told who and when to attack like a vicious pit bull. Yet in one of my favorite films Enter the Dragon, a Hong Kong action film Bruce Lee is totally depicted differently he is a hero, a bad ass he isn’t under anyone beck and call.
There are not many movies where many Hispanics are saving the world same can be said for Middle Easterners. Even Jesus himself who was born in Palestine could not get a tan for centuries if one were to look at all the old Christian art depicting him as anything but a Middle Easterner.
Can you imagine any of these heros with any other ethnicity
As a kid I love Christopher Reeves portrayal as the man of steel. I couldn’t see a black guy as wearing blue and red tights called Superman. He couldn’t save people in the neighborhoods were superman frequents. He could only work in Harlem and in the ethnic ghettos I’d imagine. Plus a muscular black dude in tights sound pornographic. While you may think I am joking please refer to the movie Mandingo or if that is too below your station read Sir Richards Burton First translation of the 1001 Nights which was published in 1850 (I’ve read it a good3-4 times in my life)
Then they all paired off, each with each: but the Queen, who was left alone, presently cried out in a loud voice, “Here to me, O my lord Saeed!” and then sprang with a drop leap from one of the trees a big slobbering blackamoor with rolling eyes which showed the whites, a truly hideous sight.He walked boldly up to her and threw his arms round her neck while she embraced him as warmly; then he bussed her and winding his legs round hers, as a button loop clasps a button, he threw her and enjoyed her. On like wise did the other slaves with the girls till all had satisfied their passions, and they ceased not from kissing and clipping, coupling and carousing till day began to wane; when the Mamelukes rose from the damsels’ bosoms and the blackamoor slave dismounted from the Queen’s breast; the men resumed their disguises and all, except the negro who swarmed up the tree, entered the palace and closed the postern door as before.
Please compare that to Joseph Conrad’s memory of meeting his first black person:
“A certain enormous buck nigger encountered in Haiti fixed my conception of blind, furious, unreasoning rage, as manifested in the human animal to the end of my days. Of the nigger I used to dream for years afterwards.”
Centuries of this kind of thinking doesn’t go away over night. It lingers for a while sometimes in seemingly innocuous places. I’m not trying to say things are as bad, or that things aren’t better than they were in the past. I’m saying that just taking the negative switching the colors of movie heroes and saviors often times can be a bridge back to the certain cultural practices and biases that still linger onwards to this day.
This was discussed in a sole superman comic issue
Muhammad X is a fictional character in the DC Comics universe. Real name unrevealed, his first (and so far sole) appearance was in Superman v2, #179 (August 2002). Muhammad X is the self-proclaimed protector of Harlem NY, using his ability to alter density and gravity to protect the community. When Superman runs into him, Muhammad browbeats him, accusing him of ignoring Harlem and, in essence, the black community. This causes the Man of Steel to question his understanding of race relations and leads to his seeking advice from his supporting cast/colleagues such as Lois Lane and Natasha Irons.
What a name how predictable but anyways still interesting. I’m not the only one thinking about this it seems.