The latest Jason Bourne film just opened and I have no doubt the film will be a success. It has all the requirements. A tough-as-nails lead, intrigue, drama, a few known actors, a millennial new face and lots of dead black men.
Oh, you weren’t expecting that last part, were you? You should have been. For years now I’ve watched as the images of black men in the mass media get worse and worse. Often it seems that the better the movie, the bigger the budget, the more hype there is … the worse the images of black men will be.
If you’re anything like me, you rate television shows and movies in two ways. First, how was it? Then, how bad were the images of the people of color (POC)? This, I feel, is a necessary exercise because, like it it or not, the mass media is the most significant shaper of public opinion. That said, on screen images that constantly depict black men in stereotypical ways are very damaging.
On a trip to Cairo, for example, I met a white man from the USA who, after a few drinks, confessed that he had never met a black person before. Sure, he’d seen us, and interacted with us briefly, but he’d never had the opportunity to actually hang out and get a drink with a black man. This isn’t as odd as it sounds. There are lots of white people who never need to have any significant interaction with black people. But that’s another essay. While he and I were talking, it became clear to me that 100% of his ideas about who I am had come from the mass media. I defied his unconscious stereotypes and, because of me, he had to reassess what he thought he knew about black men. All that to say, images of black men in media mater. A lot.
Deliberate or not, Hollywood’s habit of displaying images of black men being beaten, maimed and/or killed desensitizes us to real world violence against us. This, in part, explains why some people don’t react when black men are killed in the real world– because, on some level,we are all way too used to those kinds of images.
Let’s take Jason Bourne.
In the opening scene, Bourne knocks out a minority man with one punch and very little effort. Sure, it establishes that the Bourne character is still in fighting shape, but it also feeds into the oft-used movie theme of white male physical superiority.
Later, two black male CIA agents are introduced just to be killed seconds later. By another member of the CIA, mind you. Both black men had white partners who were also killed but that hardly matters when you consider that there were only three black men with significant screen time in the entire film. And two of them were killed by an agent of the law without any repercussions. Art imitates life.
This brings us to the third black man in the film. The character known as Jeffers has by far the most screen time of any other minority. I’m sure the actor (Ato Essandoh) is happy for the work and his presence in what is sure to be a huge film. And it’s nice to see a black man on the silver screen. That said, the way his character is written sets us back tremendously. Not only is Jeffers ineffective as a CIA operative, he also has no moral compass and lives only to serve and protect his corrupt white boss.
All told, the black men in this film are inept and expendable. Their on screen deaths are inconsequential and unmourned while their on screen lives are stereotypical. Nothing new here but it bears being pointed out.
Personally, I found it hard to get past these images enough to enjoy the film but there was a lot of action and gun play, I guess.
MOVIE: 4 out of 10
NEGATIVE POC IMAGERY: 9 out of 10
POSITIVE POC IMAGERY: 1 out of 10