Hollywood in Blackface: Black Images in Film from Night of the Living Dead to Thor comes out today (it will be available on Amazon in both book and Kindle format) and we were honored to have Gregory Hood write the foreword to the book we consider both important and timely.
We are proud to publish but a taste of this highly talented writer who offered to give his take on why the casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall (the ‘whitest of the Gods’) was but another in the long line of strange casting decisions coming out of Hollywood. We call them Black Fictional Images; he calls them something else entirely.
To read his full foreword and 300 more pages of Black Fictional Images interpreted by SBPDL, pick up a copy (or two) of Hollywood in Blackface. Better yet, go to your local Barnes and Noble store next week and request 10 copies. When they come, instead of purchasing the book go and strategically place them in sections throughout the store. You’ll be surprised who might find them and purchase a copy.
For those interested in a signed copy, make a contribution of $50 or more here (you can make the donation in the left-corner above or send me a private e-mail at SBPDL1@gmail.com and I’ll get you my PO Box information) and we’ll send you a signed copy of both SBPDL Year One and Hollywood in Blackface.
Without further delay, a portion of Gregory Hood’s brilliant foreword to Hollywood in Blackface:
Why does it matter that Heimdall is Black in Thor?
Where are those black computer programmers that we see in Die Hard and The Matrix? Why haven’t I seen a multiracial criminal gang except on TV? Does God really look like Morgan Freeman? And speaking of divinities, why is a black guy portraying the Norse God Heimdall, who was known as “the whitest god?” According to the lore, Heimdall had gold teeth, which means he may have had history’s first “grill,” but this is ridiculous.
To be an American today is to constantly experience this kind of cognitive dissonance. The world we read about in magazines and newspapers and see on our televisions and movie screens is a multiracial paradise complete with superintelligent black scientists leading us to a bright future, if only they can avoid the never ending threat of violent white racism. The world we actually live in is a largely segregated one where almost every white person, liberal or conservative, would rather commute hours to work and pay exorbitant gasoline prices rather than have to live among blacks.
It’s a world where largely white sports fans pay thousands of dollars for season tickets to cheer for largely black athletes, but take care not to send their children to an integrated school. It’s a world where standards are lowered so unqualified blacks can attend elite colleges and learn about “white privilege.” It’s a world where “flash mobs” of blacks randomly assault whites in fast food restaurants and mass transit systems, but law enforcement receives training from the Southern Poverty Law Center on how to combat white racism. Most of all, it’s a world where no one, black or white, wants to admit the truth of Black Run America – that we are a nation where nearly every institution is entirely devoted to protecting and promoting the interests of Black people above all others.
Well, one person admits the truth. Paul Kersey, and his ground breaking website Stuff Black People Don’t Like (sbpdl.com) has painstaking chronicled both the things that black people don’t like (such as #6 – tipping) and the daily absurdities and media scandals in Black Run America, from Michael Vick to Obama’s birth certificate. He’s a happy warrior – chronicling American decline in the Kali Yuga with wit, sarcasm, and a keen eye for the larger ramifications of pop culture that keep you entertained as well as educated and angry. As the left wing agitator Saul Alinsky wisely counseled, the best political weapon is mockery – and it’s the best way to keep your sanity too.
In Hollywood in Blackface, Kersey chronicles the long history of American cinema making blacks into something they are not. Blacks in Hollywood aren’t used as people, they are used as weapons. Hollywood can use blacks as “Numinous Negros” as in The Green Mile, serving as supernatural personifications of virtue, wisdom and Christian suffering that display to the white man his own moral failings. They can use blacks as symbols of sexiness and cool like Will Smith in Men in Black, who tells the 50’s style white g-man, “You know what the difference is between me and you? I make this look good.” Finally, they can use blacks as crude instruments of subversion, to bluntly tell white Americans that this is not their country anymore. This can take the form of remaking classic films such as Walking Tall or The Karate Kid with black actors, turning movie versions of television shows such as The Honeymooners into all black affairs, and most spectacularly, deliberately turning figures whose white racial identity is integral to the character into blacks, for no other reason than to push a political message.
The most extraordinary case of this is Heimdall in the 2011 production of Thor, which has black actor Idris Elba cast as the whitest of the gods. Most people are dimly aware in some vague way of the Norse gods, a supposedly thin echo of the rich mythology of the Greeks and Romans that we learned about in school (assuming schools still have time to about things other than Martin Luther King.) In fact, the gods of the Scandinavians can more accurately be called the original gods of almost all white people. Odin, the father of Thor, was known as Othinn to the Norse, Wotan to the Germans peoples, and Woden to the Anglo-Saxons, and was practically worshipped throughout the entire continent. Odin, Tyr, Heimdall, Frigg, and of course Thor represent the indigenous religious tradition of all Northern Europeans in the same way that Shinto reflects the indigenous religion of the Japanese and various Native American religions reflect the original religious expression of the various American Indian tribes. Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor, was not just a weapon in mythology, but a sacred symbol used to hollow sacred ground, bless marriages, and serve as a symbol of devotion to the gods.
The conversion of the various European peoples came slowly and gradually over the centuries but did not lead to the wholesale eradication of the ancient traditions. Instead, the new universal faith from Rome co-opted them. James Russell’s indispensable “The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity” chronicles how Christianity was gradually reinterpreted as a warrior faith, with Jesus presented as a Germanic warrior literally slaying dragons, or following in Odin’s footsteps by ritually sacrificing himself for the benefit of all mankind. Even as Christianity was reinterpreted to become more palatable to the Northern peoples, some Europeans continued to show defiance by wearing Thor’s Hammer’s, Mjolnir, around their necks in response to the crosses worn by the Christians.
Though this did not stop the conversion, even Mjolnir was incorporated into the larger cultural fabric of the emerging Christian Europe. Well into the ninth century, there were graves that incorporated both the cross and the Thor’s hammer. The faith of Christendom as expressed in the art, poetry, and warrior ethic of the Middle Ages owed much to the lore of the heathens. Even today, a small but growing group of heathens (including a Republican member of the New York City council) are reconstructing these religious practices, with many arguing that only whites can truly follow the Old Gods, in the same way that only Japanese can be Shinto. From the days of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are named after Tyr, Woden [Odin], Thor, and Frigg) to holiday traditions such as the Yule Log and mistletoe, the gods of Asgard continue to affect European peoples in ways that we aren’t even aware of.
Of course, in the modern world, such a profound source of Western tradition has been turned into a comic book character that fights the likes of Galactus and Ego, The Living Planet. However, even this, in some small way, is forgivable. After all, in a Western world mostly divided between secular humanism and serious Christian belief, comic books are one of the few outlets where gods and monsters can still leap out of the human imagination. Perhaps it’s even positive that Western youth in the midst of modern decadence can at least be introduced to the heroic figures that their ancestors used for inspiration in battle and comfort in times of struggle. It’s left to Hollywood to complete the destruction, turning a Viking War God into a sick joke. It is impossible to overestimate the power and importance of Hollywood. Rather than simply reflecting culture, it is no exaggeration to suggest that movies have the power to shape the culture itself in ways that other media simply cannot touch. Poetry could be banned without the masses even noticing, and most of us would find it difficult to think of a painting or opera that dramatically shaped our worldview. However, our speech is riddled with movie quotes and references. Most Americans take their models for such concepts as masculinity, beauty, sexiness, fashion, and heroism not from religion or tradition, but from the movies. Even in the midst of the most profound human dramas, like the destruction inflicted upon New York City on September 11, 2001, the most common description was that “it was like being in a movie.” Even having death thrust directly in front of your face can not break the Dream Machine. Far more than books, and even more than music, movies are the key tool by which the American consciousness is shaped.
It could be argued that movies ultimately must reflect what is popular and thus, they can only reflect the larger culture. The problem is that Hollywood behaves in ways not explained by the profit motive. Following the incredible financial success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Jon Stewart sarcastically congratulated Mel Gibson for having the “courage” to promote a movie about Jesus in America. Of course, the irony is that every major movie studio passed on such a project backed by such a huge star (before his drunk driving and relationship escapades) even though it was sure to be a financial success. In the years following September 11, 2001 and in the opening years of the Iraq War, Hollywood gave us Kingdom of Heaven, a history of the Crusades that praised the Muslims and condemned Europeans, and several pallid antiwar movies, all of which bombed. Even if it were stupid and jingoistic, a wave the flag war movie would have made hundreds of millions, but such a film remained unmade.
Rather than giving audiences what they want to see, Hollywood pushes a specific agenda even at the cost of profits. When successful, they push the propaganda more subtly, disguising it behind special effects. In the biggest grossing movie of all time, 2009’s Avatar, the movie’s villain (a Southern military leader voiced by the man who played Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals) growls, “How does it feel to betray your race?” As the “hero” in Avatar and innumerable other Hollywood films can tell us, apparently it feels really, really good.