Hoodoo Economics: White Men's Work and Black Men's Magic in Contemporary American Film
Heather J. Hicks
Camera Obscura, 53 (Volume 18, Number 2), 2003, pp. 27-55 (Article)
Published by Duke University Press
For additional information about this article
Access provided by Southern Methodist University (25 Aug 2013 12:30 GMT)
Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in Unbreakable (dir. M. Night Shyamalan, US, 2000)
Hoodoo Economics: White Men’s Work and Black Men’s Magic in Contemporary American Film
Heather J. Hicks
In a November 2000 editorial in Time entitled “That Old Black Magic,” columnist Christopher John Farley notes that a spate of recent US ﬁlms, including The Legend of Bagger Vance (dir. Robert Redford, 2000), What Dreams May Come (dir. Vincent Ward, 1998), Family Man (dir. Brett Ratner, 2000), and The Green Mile (dir. Frank Darabont, 1999), have portrayed African Americans as magical ﬁgures. Nicknaming such ﬁgures Magical African American Friends (MAAFs), he reasons that blacks are represented in these terms out of a fundamental ignorance of African American life and culture. “MAAFs exist,” he suggests, “because most Hollywood screenwriters don’t know much about black people other than what they hear on records by white hip-hop star Eminem. So instead of getting life histories or love interests, black characters get magical powers.”1 In this essay I would like to think further about the association of blackness with magic in contemporary mainstream ﬁlms — a phenomenon which, as Farley’s article suggests, has been pronounced enough to receive attention in the popular press. Speciﬁcally, I’d like to explore how black men are associated with supernatural forces and to suggest that this phe-
Copyright © 2003 by Camera Obscura Camera Obscura 53, Volume 18, Number 2 Published by Duke University Press 27
outside crime movies.2 An important similarity among most of the ﬁlms of what we can call the MAAF genre is that the black males are not simply magical but that their magic is ostensibly directed toward helping and enlightening a white male character. any signiﬁcant impact on public consciousness. for white audiences. Or. somewhere in the Saint’s background a theodicy that draws on the Christian notion that suffering is ennobling? So that the black person who represents undeserved suffering in the American imagination can also. from Danny Glover’s Simon in Grand Canyon (dir.
. US. afraid that black people are angry at them.”3 Appiah offers several possible explanations for why saintly black ﬁgures. the remainder of his essay focuses on whether ﬁlms have. represent moral nobility? Does the Saint exist to address the guilt of white audiences. characters who can win the NAACP’s “image awards”? (83)
Appiah raises important questions here. 1991) to the powerful psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost (dir. perhaps “the Saint draw[s] on the tradition of the superior virtue of the oppressed”:
Is there. but he defers answers. after decades of lobbying by the NAACP’s Hollywood chapter that. a saintly black character is the moral equivalent of a “normal” white character. That is. seeking a black person who is not only admirable and lovable. US. he speculates further.”4 He suggests that perhaps black characters must be assigned saintlike goodness to counteract the racism white audiences automatically direct toward a black character on screen. wanting to be forgiven. 1990). While not concerning himself with gender issues. Anthony Appiah has begun to explore such screen depictions of black beneﬁcence toward whites in his analysis of “the Saint as a black movie type. in fact. Jerry Zucker. choosing instead to explore whether the questions themselves matter. are conceived by what he self-consciously terms “ ‘white’ Hollywood. in fact. therefore. blacks had better project good images. Lawrence Kasdan.28
nomenon cannot be separated from certain contemporary crises surrounding white masculinity. but who loves white people back? Or is it simply that Hollywood has decided.
The Green Mile. I would like to think about how these ﬁlms reﬂect contemporary upheavals at the nexus of masculinity and economics. Night Shyamalan. Speciﬁcally. that makes their audiences racist. such ﬁlms are racist or not. seen less as workers than as servers. suggesting that in each ﬁlm economics and magic are intimately linked. out of place. exploited as a reserve labor force. whether performed by men or women. 2000). in turn. subjected to time arrangements on and off the paid job that make a mockery of a limited work day. one of the “realistic” elements of the ﬁlms incorporating black magical men is their attention to the work lives of their white male characters. What neither Farley nor Appiah address is the degree to which many of the ﬁlms made in the last decade and a half featuring magical black men speciﬁcally concern white men whose lives as workers in some way require revision. These work lives are represented — sometimes directly. To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable. the black men’s magical powers become the means of recalibrating the relation between their white counterparts’ gendered identities and work roles. leading an existence that always borders on being obscene. and whether. ultimately. and reducible to sex.5
It is within this context that I would like to explore the black male characters’ magic.Hoodoo Economics
Rather than focusing on whether. sometimes symbolically — as diminished by trends within a service economy that critic Donna Haraway has characterized as the “feminization of work”:
Work is being redeﬁned as both literally female and feminized. Viewing the ﬁlms through this lens in turn suggests that the superﬁcial understanding of the black men as “friends” to their white coun-
. US. reassembled. Indeed. Each of the three ﬁlms that I will explore—Unbreakable (dir. able to be disassembled. and Family Man — express this economic weakness through the black men’s reinscription as children. M. Yet the ﬁlms’ recurrent focus on the status of white men also underscores the central irony attached to the concept of magic in the ﬁlms: the magical “power” of black men in the ﬁlms actually serves as an expression of their economic vulnerability.
Aligned as he is with Elijah in reimagining his father. Joseph becomes Elijah’s double. the main character in the ﬁlm. and economics. Elijah Price (Samuel L. In the ﬁrst scene. The mother’s joy and relief quickly turn to horror as the doctor inspects the infant with an expression of shock and disbelief. however. the ﬁlm ultimately creates a narrative about the relation of both white women and black men to white men’s perceived economic disempowerment. This preliminary image of a boy broken by having been contained in a woman’s body is perhaps the most graphic motif of a recurrent theme within the ﬁlm:
. who reasserts David’s difference from his wife in order to conﬁrm a connection between himself and David. it is easy to miss its preoccupation with the role of white men in a contemporary economy characterized by lowpaying service jobs that bear little resemblance to the forms of public work that once served as the foundation of modern masculinity. Equally important to the logic of the ﬁlm is the role of David’s young son. we see a black woman who has just completed literal labor. and then by the mysterious black man. played by Bruce Willis. Night Shyamalan’s second major ﬁlm. labor. is deﬁned economically ﬁrst by his wife. He demands to know whether the baby was dropped. Indeed. who requires that he abandon his career in order to act in accord with her values. Jackson).6
To Know Your Place
Given the otherworldly feel of M. The two opening scenes in the ﬁlm immediately communicate its preoccupation with gender.30
terparts must be rethought. instead. Unbreakable. David Dunn. set in 1961. In dramatizing the efforts of a mystical black man to help a depressed and alienated white man ﬁnd his place in the world. As the mother recovers from the delivery under the gaze of anxious store employees. the relations between white and black men emerge as far more complex and equivocal. but in a department store. having given birth not in a hospital. Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). a doctor arrives. signaling the implicit status of Elijah himself as a child. then announces that the infant boy’s arms and legs are broken.
who. again foregrounds the relationship of gender to power. In the ﬁrst minutes of the scene. her intention to manage the young athlete’s career preﬁgures the way that David’s own life was managed. The extent of that derailment becomes evident in subsequent scenes. David struggles with a nameless sense of unhappiness that has left his marriage on the brink of ruin. would only agree to marry him if he cast aside his dreams of being a professional football player. set in the present day. sleeping in a separate room from his wife. We learn that Audrey is a physical therapist and that she
. Audrey (Robin Wright). As subsequent scenes will reveal. The woman’s youth underscores her extraordinary success in what was once a male-dominated profession.7 The staging of this second scene establishes the economic and gender dynamics that have left David a hollow and profoundly depressed man. David’s simultaneously mechanical and desperate affect during this failed seduction provides our ﬁrst window into his melancholy psyche. David is displaced even within his own home. who threaten to “break” them.Hoodoo Economics
men must struggle free of the inﬂuence of women. at least tacitly. Yet more telling is the brief conversation David has with the woman. He quickly hides his wedding ring and attempts to arrange a liaison with her once they arrive in Philadelphia. a young. by his wife. The apparent disarray of their personal relationship signals the nostalgic and conservative gender politics of the ﬁlm. David sits aboard a train from New York to Philadelphia after an unsuccessful job search. we later learn. just as David himself has been derailed from the course his life should have taken. The accident that concludes this opening scene proves especially telling: the train derails. who proves to be a sports agent en route to meet a football star at Temple University. attractive woman selects a seat next to David. from whom he has grown increasingly estranged. David has long worked at a college football stadium as a security guard — one of the most notoriously feminized positions in the service economy. Moreover. A young girl who watches the scene with visible dismay from a nearby seat enforces the audience’s sense of David’s moral bankruptcy. The next scene. this time in more overtly economic terms.
he does in fact possess superhuman strength. he is quickly contacted by Elijah. who directs him to “go to where people are. who introduces him to a theory he has developed from his dedicated reading of comic books. osteogensis imperfecta. That larger narrative.” As Susan Faludi’s recent study Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man reminds us. as she explains. Elijah believes he is such a person. the central one of the ﬁlm. As the narrative unfolds. David wanders through the Philadelphia train
. leaving his bones so fragile that he has suffered scores of fractures. then there must be those who are.” We soon learn that it was Elijah’s birth that we witnessed in the ﬁlm’s opening scene and that he suffers from a rare disease. Audrey is in her proper place as a caretaker. as he puts it.”9 As a consequence of David’s miraculous survival.” Attired in his hooded “Security” rain slicker. He reasons that if someone can be as fragile as he.32
deterred David from pursuing a career in football because it is. but David’s role as a man and a protector has been stymied by her insistence that he be like her. When David ﬁnally fully concedes his abilities. as well as psychic ability. Elijah believes that comic books communicate profound truths: namely the presence of both exceptional weakness and exceptional strength in the world. which sufﬁces as his superhero costume. “the opposite of me. After David walks away from the deadly train wreck unscathed.8 In the ﬁlm’s schematic treatment of the places that those of different races and genders should occupy. as David remarks late in the ﬁlm. he consults with Elijah. this apparent disability begins to take on a supernatural cast because of the larger narrative with which it becomes associated. it is the black male character in the ﬁlm who becomes committed to restoring David’s life to its proper course. Although Elijah Price diverges from the proﬁle slightly in that he is not precisely magical. At this point the economic discourse of the ﬁlm again resurfaces. True to the current trend in Hollywood screenwriting. is David’s discovery that he possesses superhuman strength. he is. “the opposite of what I do. football has long been considered a quintessential expression of American masculinity. “kind of a miracle. Although David at ﬁrst resists Elijah’s theory. like his biblical namesake. at the other end [of the spectrum]. he gradually discovers that.
In presenting this event. In its staging as a violent usurpation. such a redistribution of wealth is clearly condemned within the ﬁlm’s narrative. The next morning. the ﬁlm embraces a fantasy in which the downtrodden and dispirited worker discovers a magical capacity that will compensate for his poor wages and unfulﬁlled life without changing his work situation in the least: security
. the service worker.Hoodoo Economics
station. After registering the crimes of several bypassers. and it is David’s ﬁrst “heroic” act to kill him for transgressing his place. Rather than conceiving of a solution to his alienated condition in materialist terms. Indeed. and when we next see him. and proceeds to kill the man and abduct his family. David then follows the custodian to a house where he has indeed killed a man and woman and is terrorizing their children. In it. the custodian. the newspaper before him on his kitchen table touts the bravery of an unknown “hero” who performed a selﬂess rescue. men such as David himself. instead of the direct demand for more wealth and status of which the custodian’s home invasion is a grotesque parody. the scene depicts a man consigned to the lowest rung of the economic ladder who steps out of his place literally to occupy the place enjoyed by a man at the opposite socioeconomic extreme. also a service worker. rising up to become a protector of “the rest of us. David kills the home invader and rescues the children. announces to the business executive who answers the door that he likes his house. a custodian at the station. The custodian is represented as purely sinister. rings the doorbell. he is carrying his own wife to bed superhero style. David encounters a man who he senses has committed a particularly violent crime. is a leap into the imaginary. That is. I would suggest that this image of David. the ﬁlm concretizes the issue of place with which it is centrally concerned. David sees the man invading an afﬂuent home. approaches the house. must be understood in relation to David’s disturbing vision of the crime.10 In his psychic vision of this man. his sense of masculinity restored. what the ﬁlm embraces as an answer for men who ﬁnd themselves in a place of disempowerment and vulnerability within the service economy. experiencing clairvoyant responses to those with whom he comes into contact.” to use Elijah’s phrase.
I believe that Elijah’s association with the medium of the comic book provides our best way of understanding his complex relation to David in the ﬁlm. In celebrating David’s transformation while disavowing the custodian’s. drives a distinguished car.”11 Yet.34
guard by day. and he is not wearing “a slender plastic tag clipped to [his] shirt with [his] name printed on it”— an allusion to the standardized attire of service workers in retail chain stores. David asks his supervisor how many sick days he has taken while working for the university. superhero by night. The “price” (to reference his surname) or value he assigns things (and people) is highly unconventional. His escape from the lower reaches of the service economy to which so many black men are consigned is made explicit early in the ﬁlm when he points out to a potential buyer of one of his expensive illustrations that they are not in a toy store. Cynthia J. and wears expensive clothing. The degree to which his new status as a superman will not prove especially remunerative is emphasized when. Certainly. He runs an elegant gallery specializing in collectible comic book art. It is in these terms that we must read Elijah’s role in the ﬁlm as the architect of David’s dubious transformation. the ﬁlm privileges the placebo of childish fantasy over the sort of material transformation the custodian’s actions. Elijah does not sell the print to the prospective buyer
. Fuchs has described how the interracial buddy ﬁlm has emerged as a visual space for the assertion of “ ‘hypermasculinity. in his function of freeing David from the control of his wife. then. On the one hand. early in his process of self-discovery. Elijah’s role can be thought of in terms of the “buddy ﬁlm” tradition. In this scene. Elijah is apparently the most thriving ﬁgure in the economic organization of the ﬁlm. Misinterpreting this query as a tacit request for a raise. for instance. his supervisor concedes that he has never called in sick and offers him an extra forty dollars per week. hardly a life-changing sum. Yet Elijah’s very need to defend his merchandise against this sort of misunderstanding also signals his strangely marginalized relation to the adult world of economics. ultimately. symbolize. while extreme.’ a reaction against perceived incursions of the feminine. from whom David keeps his superhero identity secret.
including the train wreck. the ramiﬁcations of this plot twist are quite disturbing. Elijah’s “place” is to do evil. is “to not know your place in this world. as well as their relation to the imaginary. the black man needs a white man to be a hero so he has someone against whom to perpetrate evil. Glass. is to usher David into a similar zone of the imaginary.” he explains to David. and he needs David to regain his unequivocal status as a (super)pow-
. in order to discover a person with David’s abilities. Elijah explains that he needed to ﬁnd his place in the world. Through the course of the ﬁlm. Yet the parallel between man and boy becomes most apparent when. Elijah’s function as a child. Joseph immediately embraces Elijah’s theory that David is a superhero. In the movie’s ﬁnal moments. Shyamalan crosscuts from a scene in which Elijah throws a tantrum in a comic book store to a scene in which Joseph sulks while playing with two superhero ﬁgures. without a superhero antagonist against whom to scheme. a ﬁgure detached from the demands of adult economic logic. In scene after scene. are explicitly equated.Hoodoo Economics
because he determines that the customer does not fully appreciate the comic book as an art form. at a point at which David brieﬂy rejects Elijah’s theory. his own boyish love for comics is more compelling than the adult economic imperative to make the sale. Elijah’s actions increasingly align him with the world of childhood rather than an adult economy. wanting desperately for David to be the great man Elijah describes. “The scariest thing. then. The ﬁlm.” as he styles himself. This infantilization of Elijah becomes particularly evident in his implicit afﬁnity with Joseph. In the ﬁlm’s “surprise ending.” Elijah cannot be the archvillain “Mr. presents a twist on the sort of buddy dynamic Fuchs has described. the two characters’ levels of emotional maturity. It suggests that. to be sure that he wasn’t a mistake.” Elijah reveals to David that he has perpetrated several acts of sabotage. Joseph attempts to conﬁrm his father’s superhuman status. At this point. as a permanently “broken” being. Yet the economic discourse of the ﬁlm ultimately proves even more conservative. In abstract racial terms. we learn that Elijah’s relation to David is far from one of loyalty or love. David’s young son.
Elijah has in fact enjoyed considerable economic prosperity and freedom. and he keeps his new status as hero a secret from his wife. Yet the ﬁnal sequence of the ﬁlm reveals that as a result of the crimes he committed in his quest for David. Many
. Moreover. Speciﬁcally. too. or even invisibly.
Death Row As Dream Job
Of all of the recent Hollywood ﬁlms that feature the magical black man. Elijah is committed to an institution for the criminally insane. certainly the most commercially successful and controversial was the 1999 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Green Mile. David pays a very high emotional price for the discovery of this new power. He sacriﬁces his own economic and social position to ﬁnd his place. The ﬁlm tells the story of the interactions between a collection of death row prison guards and a black inmate who possesses supernatural powers of healing and clairvoyance. suggesting that his reassertion of power can only happen furtively. David is left with the horriﬁc discovery that his superhuman strength was only disclosed to him at the expense of countless lives — lives for whom he must now assume a permanent burden of guilt. Yet the ﬁlm cannot imagine such a transformation in real terms. Unbreakable imagines a set of revisions to the social order. one in which white men are always already heroes who have merely misplaced their capes. Ultimately. in which white men feminized by the service economy regain power from the women and blacks who have implicitly seized it. In economic and material terms. a place of exile from the superior material status he had been enjoying.36
erful white man so that his own raison d’être is not left in doubt. David has no more economic power as a superhero than he did before. At the conclusion. there are repercussions: up until the ﬁnal moments of the ﬁlm. the ﬁlm invites the fantasy that black men exist in a childlike relation to economic matters and would gladly cede their own rare material gains in order to be in a more certain — and nostalgic — set of social relations. as Elijah’s last name foretells. temporarily forgotten their innate power.
by setting its action in the Great Depression. then. It is only after the white male protagonist Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) destroys John Coffey that he ﬁnds that the very power Coffey has enabled him to achieve is a curse burdening and haunting him. counter to its title. played by Michael Clarke Duncan. the ﬁlm implicitly pro-
. While Unbreakable. John Coffey. Given the obvious dramatic potential contained in the ﬁnal days of a death row inmate’s life. On the one hand. In my own reading of the ﬁlm. it also dramatizes these men’s negotiation of their gendered identity through their work lives. Through much of the ﬁlm. one might anticipate that the ﬁlm would concentrate most of its attention on its prisoners and their responses to their predicament. and hypersexualized — a latter-day Uncle Tom/Christ eager to pay with his life for the sins of others.Hoodoo Economics
viewers understandably found the movie deeply disturbing because its portrait of the black protagonist. Yet on every level this ﬁlm prioritizes the guards’ lives as workers over the inmates’ experiences. like the other ﬁlms I discuss here. The eponymous Green Mile is represented less as a horrifying holding pen for doomed men. is an amalgam of racist stereotypes: he is simultaneously represented as profoundly ignorant. than as a pleasant. an encroachment against which they rebel. As in Unbreakable. even fun-ﬁlled workplace for those who guard them. represents David as a man who has been broken by his wife’s inﬂuence and who thus must be repaired by Elijah. I would like to explore its racial thematics while focusing on it speciﬁcally as a drama of the workplace. again suggesting a complex and ambivalent relation and relay of power between these black and white “friends. Not only does the ﬁlm explore the daily existence of white working men but.” Part of the ﬁlm’s complex negotiation of issues of work and gender involves its historical setting. childlike. John Coffey serves less as a catalyst for change than as a conservative presence who helps to obstruct this encroachment of the feminine. the white male workers of The Green Mile experience femininity as an encroachment on their identities. The Green Mile imagines the white workers on death row as much more fully in command of their masculinity.
vides a rationale for the men’s choice of work. That is. In the ﬁrst execution scene of the ﬁlm. would at ﬁrst seem to disqualify it from consideration as a meditation on postindustrial economic trends. their rationalized approach to the process underscores the degree to which Paul and the others think of their activities as a job in order to avoid confronting the moral issues those activities raise. we see the men carefully rehearsing the steps to the prisoner’s annihilation. While it is true that by maintaining their proﬁciency in the protocols of the death chamber Paul and his team help to ensure the most humane death possible for the inmates. Indeed. In general. one of the most unsettling aspects of the ﬁlm is the highly businesslike attitude Paul and his coworkers take to their specialty — putting men to death in the electric chair. Even more crucial to the ﬁlm’s exploration of work and white masculinity. Paul must be viewed as its protagonist. is its depiction of Paul Edgecomb. its very preoccupation with the endangered status of white men’s work signals its afﬁnity with the other ﬁlms I am discussing. Yet the historical context of the Great Depression also defamiliarizes the very notion of work in the text. however. its recurrent visual and verbal allusions to the scarcity of jobs provide an excuse for the guards’ enthusiastic relationship to such seemingly morally questionable and dispiriting work. In this sense. Certainly. Work is no longer a thing of relative certainty for these men.
. here and elsewhere both Paul’s persona as a highly competent manager and the elaborate work protocols within the prison overshadow the prisoners’ experiences as the central preoccupations of the ﬁlm. The Green Mile’s focus on a collection of prison guards can also be read as a nostalgic treatment of an era when working as a guard — the very sort of work that creates so much despair for David Dunn in the contemporary service economy portrayed in Unbreakable — still provided white men with prestige and a decent wage. While its focus on the 1930s. Because the ﬁlm is organized as a recollection of events in his life. masterfully supervising a team of other guards. then. Paul is constructed as the consummate manager. despite the ﬁlm’s ostensible interest in the ﬁgure of John Coffey. and so its meanings and signiﬁcance to their identity are foregrounded.
for example. in effect giving him a “time-out” for his bad behavior. Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison). only brief appearances by the wives of Paul and the prison warden ( James Cromwell). Later in the ﬁlm. in turn. expresses fear of the dark. On other occasions. a comparison that is ﬁrst made evident when parallels are suggested between the nursing home in which a now elderly Paul dwells in the opening scenes and the Green Mile of his memory. Percy retorts that they’re not running a “cradle school. a black male orderly chastens Paul for his periodic absences from the facility. a prisoner who is about to be executed. punish him by placing him in solitary conﬁnement. the ﬁlm organizes its meditation on the workplace in deeply gendered terms. that the prisoners should not be frightened. In these scenes. Mr. Percy Wet-
. Jingles.Hoodoo Economics
There are virtually no female characters in The Green Mile. however. set in the present. And most important of all. This conversation foregrounds the degree to which the male guards play a domestic role in relation to their infantilized prisoners. Despite — or perhaps because of — this apparent merging of public and private notions of work. In an early scene. however. The prison is a sort of home. in some sense the ﬁlm imagines death row as a merging of the public and private spheres. Paul lectures a fellow guard. the Green Mile is a place where the inmates are both cared for and disciplined like children. Interestingly. Paul and a coworker attempt to comfort Del (Michael Jeter).” although Paul and the others often behave as though they are. Most central to the meditation on work and gender that the ﬁlm generates is the “sissy” guard. the guards consistently treat John Coffey with care as he cries. clearly inverting the dynamic between Paul and John Coffey the ﬁlm later explores. Like this other sort of home. Once again. by telling him a fairy tale about the fate of his pet mouse. They. moreover. the guards are victimized by a prisoner who plays a number of childish pranks on them. Paul is now on his own death row: the nursing home is the last stop for the aged. the ﬁlm suggests that certain threatening aspects of femininity must be purged from the Green Mile. and generally comports himself in the manner of a very young child.
Percy is rendered vegetative and committed to a mental institution. a botched execution of which Percy is in charge. is the feminized other in this world of white male control and order. Percy represents the chaos that results when the feminine is given power. for the warden. Within the context of this male world of work. From his ﬁrst introduction. Percy is conspicuously smaller and weaker than his counterparts. it is John Coffey who renders him an imbecile. John Coffey’s very treatment of the warden’s wife has already established his role in preserving associations of public. Coffey’s role in removing Percy from the masculine domain of work the ﬁlm imagines suggests that. a black man with supernatural powers is assigned the role of negotiating the social relations of white men to gender and work. Indeed. Percy. paid work with masculinity and the domestic sphere with femininity.40
more. and incompetent because omitting the step leads to a macabre spectacle that creates unexpected chaos among the execution’s audience. Percy is presented in the scene as both savagely cruel and incompetent — cruel because he intentionally fails to take a crucial step that will make the prisoner’s death in the electric chair less painful. Importantly. when he enters the prison at the side of John Coffey. Percy is sadistically cruel from his ﬁrst moment on the screen. a world where work is “life or death” in ways few contemporary jobs are. an appropriate form of containment for the ﬁgure of female hysteria in the ﬁlm. This cruelty culminates in the hideous centerpiece of the ﬁlm. Jingles. who notes that Percy is “soft like a girl” and threatens to rape him. Percy is later singled out by the unruly prisoner. taunting John Coffey and attempting to kill the prisoners’ beloved Mr. Signiﬁcantly. inﬂicting him with the brain cancer he has exorcized from the warden’s wife (Patricia Clarkson). If these associations with the feminine were not enough. whose name sounds like “Pussy” when uttered by his Southern coworkers.12 By the end of the ﬁlm. it is quickly revealed that Percy is only working on the Green Mile because he is the nephew of the governor’s wife. Wild Bill (Sam Rockwell). While the other men earned their positions on the staff of the prison. once again. the most disturbing element
of his wife’s illness is her tendency to use vulgar language during episodes of madness. Early in the ﬁlm. and restoring him to optimal health does not increase Coffey’s chances for freedom. Coffey should have somewhat adversarial feelings toward Paul.” he remarks. As Paul lies on the ﬂoor clutching his genitals. Tania Modleski has pointed out that John Coffey conveys a hypersexuality to Paul through this touch. It is at this moment that John Coffey’s ability to work miracles is ﬁrst communicated. “I didn’t know she’d ever heard words like that. prisoners refer to their guards as “Boss. reaches through the bars. Such an act raises the question of John Coffey’s relation to his jailers.
. Paul is suffering from a severe bladder infection. implying that her life within the private sphere should have shielded her from this masculine. we see a vast army of prisoners working on chain gangs around the facility. which manifestly compromises his ability to perform his job when an unruly prisoner resists being put in a cell. He calls Paul to his cell. helpless to take command of the situation. a clear correlation between masculine potency and functioning in the workplace is suggested. Nor are these the only moments when Coffey serves to mediate the relation between identity and the separate spheres.13 Yet it is also important to note that this virility is correlated directly with his vigorous job performance in subsequent scenes. On death row itself. and grasps Paul’s crotch. Indeed. His emphasis on the disjunction between the expletives she uses and her “sweet voice” further suggests the way he perceives her femininity to be compromised by this more typically masculine language. the ﬁlm suggests the degree to which Coffey serves to restore the relation between the domestic and the feminine. In her analysis of this section of the ﬁlm. as Paul goes home that evening and has sex with his wife four times in the course of the night.” implying that they are even workers in the job of their own deaths. Paul’s bladder infection is healed. in the scene in which the prison is ﬁrst introduced. Yet on the Green Mile even the prisoners are part of the work culture the ﬁlm imagines. And. public discourse. By staging John Coffey’s healing of the wife within the home of the warden (it is one of the few scenes not shot within the prison setting). As a result of this act.
Yet whether good or evil. 1999)
most important. While Unbreakable ultimately associates Elijah himself with evil. the guards of the Green Mile are often represented as astonishingly gentle and kind. Like Elijah Price. John Coffey reduces the world to simple. Yet the guards can be gentle or stern as they like because they are in total control of their world. There are good men and evil men. he understands himself to serve Paul’s interests in his actions. Equally crucial in understanding John Coffey’s relation to the white male workers who surround him. is his childlike quality. the functions of Elijah and John Coffey prove similar in that they both reify a construction of the white male worker as a heroic protector. Coffey himself constantly refers to Paul as “Boss. Frank Darabont. On the most fundamental level. John Coffey. superﬁcially at least. as his initials suggest.
Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile (dir. US.” suggesting that. Despite their businesslike treatment of executions. a fact foregrounded by the actions of the soft-spoken guard named “Brutal”: his very lack of brutality is made conspicuous by his unusual name. constitutes a Christlike martyr in the ﬁlm. The Green Mile can be seen as a nostalgic celebration of an era when white men made the rules. and good versus evil is a very clear-cut matter. Manichaean terms. however. The uniforms they wear only underscore the power granted by their gender and race.
then. Yet as in the previous ﬁlm. In this sense. While David’s status as superhuman leaves him consigned to the economic no-man’s-land where he started. “I gots to give you a little bit of myself. Yet at the conclusion we learn that the real transformation Paul has undergone is a physical one. and that he needed to ﬁnd another line of work (indeed. who has been revealed as entirely innocent of the ghastly crime for which he was convicted. the ﬁlm ultimately uses a black man’s magic to imbue a white man with superhuman power.” Later it is revealed that this physical contact with John Coffey has imbued Paul with an unprecedented longevity. one might say that Paul learned from his encounter with John Coffey that the work to which he had committed himself was wrong. “a gift of what’s inside of me. Once again. He wishes to die and cannot. he left the Green Mile and went to work at a juvenile delinquent shelter so that he could help to stop criminality before it took root). we are told in Paul’s voice-over that after John Coffey’s execution. in which a geriatric Paul bursts into tears at the memory of the events surrounding John Coffey’s life and death. this “empowerment” is highly ambiguous. The very structure of the ﬁlm itself. leaves him unwilling to continue to work on death row. invites us to see the arrival of John Coffey on Paul’s cellblock as a transforming event in Paul’s life. then. underscores the lasting impact Coffey has had on Paul. Consequently. John Coffey’s relation to Paul and the other white male guards seems to involve preserving the status quo rather than producing radical transformations. a fate that leaves
For the most part. and it appears he will live indeﬁnitely. The ﬁlm’s opening scene. desperate to share some of the suffering he has absorbed from those around him. Paul experiences the power he has gained from his contact with John Coffey as a curse. In fact. so you can see for yourself. however.” he says to Paul. Near the end of the ﬁlm. Paul’s participation in the execution of John Coffey. John Coffey grasps Paul’s hand. Paul has clearly become “unbreakable” in ways not dissimilar to David Dunn. that it threatened innocent lives. We learn at the end of the ﬁlm that he is well over one hundred years old.
although it is packaged as a sentimental ﬁlm privileging love within the nuclear family over a life of consumerism. that is. What is perhaps most interesting about Family Man. That is. the MAAF in Family Man is equated with a young child who facilitates the white protagonist’s transformation. the transformation. empowered to the point where he wishes to disown the responsibilities that come with his role as white manager/ protector.
“I Choose Us”
Compared to Unbreakable and The Green Mile. Yet we cannot overlook John Coffey’s agency in instilling this power-which-is-not-power in his white counterpart. unin-
him simply to wait out his longevity and watch all whom he loves leave him behind. from its own apparent agenda. That is. Given the ﬁlm’s preoccupation with the guards as caretakers of the childlike Coffey. or at least wavers. As in Unbreakable. is the inverse of that staged in Unbreakable.” Paul. the ﬁlm overtly explores the tensions for contemporary white men between their selfconception as public workers and as private husbands/fathers — tensions that exist only as subtext in the former ﬁlms. however. In this case. is the degree to which it diverges. Such a “surprise” at the end of the ﬁlm clearly complicates the “friendship” between Paul and John Coffey. it so skews its own relation to these two modes of existence that it can readily be understood to debunk the construct of the “family man” it purports to celebrate. as a ﬁlm that transports an autonomous businessman into an alternative life which enmeshes him in domesticity. Jack Campbell (Nicholas Cage) is changed from an autonomous icon of masculine power to a domesticated. instead offering an ominous portrait of the feminization of work. this ﬁnal development seems a grotesque ampliﬁcation of retrograde notions of the “white man’s burden. however. Family Man appears to wear its economic narrative on its sleeve. superﬁcially at least.14 I want to argue here that the magical black man who serves as the conduit between public and private identities must be read in relation to this ambivalence. ﬁnds himself too empowered by his contact with the hapless John Coffey.
By not “choosing us. Jack Campbell. We quickly discover that Kate’s dire predictions at the airport were correct.Hoodoo Economics
dividuated. and in the intervening years.” Jack has achieved a remarkable degree of economic autonomy and social prestige. her relationship with Jack did not survive their absence from one another. and is president of a Wall Street investment ﬁrm. When Jack counters that they must stick to their plan. and economically disempowered ﬁgure. he appears to be a fulﬁlled and happy man. Suddenly. the black magical man becomes a harbinger for. He lives in a spectacular penthouse apartment. the marginalization and disempowerment the white man is fated to suffer in a feminizing service economy. however. Jack has become a wildly powerful and rich businessman. Kate passionately asserts. “I choose us. the young couple are poised to bid farewell to one another at an airport terminal. that’s what makes us great. She then declares. Yet ﬁnally the gender and racial dynamics within all three ﬁlms are quite similar: rather than a guardian angel. and facilitator of. “The plan doesn’t make us great. The premise of Family Man is that a successful businessman. the ﬁlm ﬂashes ahead thirteen years to Christmas Eve.” Following this opening. Jack. a tension that pits a model of masculine power associated with autonomy and economic prosperity against a vision of the feminine and the domestic associated with collectivity and economic disempowerment. thirteen years earlier. drives a Ferrari. Kate changes her mind and makes a plea that Jack not go to London to do a prestigious banking internship as they had agreed. is afforded the opportunity through the magical intervention of a supernatural black man to see what his life would have been like if he had settled down with his girlfriend.
. Kate (Téa Leoni). In the opening scene. Constantly singing and smiling. and its ambivalence regarding white men’s relation to gendered identity and work begins to emerge.” a statement determining the fundamental tension that will organize the remainder of the narrative. Nor is he unkind or ungenerous: he is depicted ﬂirting playfully with an older tenant of his apartment building and giving stock advice to the doorman. what we have together.
as an updating of the character Clarence. He is rescued by Clarence (Henry Travers). In that well-known ﬁlm. when Jack learns that Kate has called him after so many years. En route home this same Christmas Eve. Openly ﬂaunting his indifference to the familial traditions surrounding Christmas Eve. more complex than it ﬁrst appears.
.” Taking his boss’s advice. at the point when he is almost certainly ruined emotionally and ﬁnancially by his various responsibilities. Cash. played by Don Cheadle. If we understand him as performing Clarence’s function. a stranger clad in gangsta attire. and when the Asian cashier doubts its authenticity on racist grounds. Family Man is a loose adaptation of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (US.46
Yet the ﬁlm simultaneously insists on Jack’s spiritual impoverishment. Released at Christmastime. and they leave the store together. He insists that his team of ﬁnanciers work late on a major merger. Jack approaches and offers to buy the ticket in order to defuse the situation. a childlike and bumbling angel. he nonchalantly decides to ignore her request that he contact her. is a young man who is ambitious to leave his small hometown but is stopped by the local demands of love and family. who proudly describes himself as “a heartless bastard who only cares about money. Years later. must be understood as intervening in Jack’s ongoing spiritual suicide. Cash. in staging the confrontation at the convenience store. he chides one of his employees for his wish to leave the ofﬁce and be with his family. On the surface. suggesting that the only sort of holiday “giving” that he cares about is “giving everything I’ve got to this deal. Cash has a winning lottery ticket. get in an altercation with the shop owner. Cash. who casts him into an alternative universe where he was never born at all. Jack enters a convenience store only to witness Cash. Cash accepts the deal.” He openly emulates the owner of his company. is the ﬁlm’s answer to Jack’s spiritual emptiness. so that George can understand the contributions he has made to the lives of those around him. played by James Stewart. protagonist George Bailey. he pulls a gun. It is this ambivalent portrait of Jack’s identity as a worker that makes the role of the magical black male character. 1946). he attempts suicide.
Kate polices his tendency to act autonomously. he immedi-
. to his sexual claim on beautiful women. “I got everything I need. “a glimpse” of the life he could have had. “Just remember that you did this. public work. Jack and Cash part company. Cash scorns Jack’s implication that he needs to “be saved. From the moment he awakens in his new life. asks Jack what he needs. for instance. “I’m going to really enjoy this. he chides. Jack has earned the comforts of masculinity through his paid. to his elevated view. speciﬁcally. it has underscored that his work provides him with the privileges of white masculine power. Jack returns home. he remarks. it seems equally credible to read Jack’s experience as punishment for his arrogance and economic privilege. When he ﬁrst discovers that he is in the suburbs. Superﬁcially.” Cash laughs. to his tailored suits.” During this glimpse into his alternative life. the ﬁlm attempts to romanticize family life in the suburbs.” As he prepares to launch Jack into his alternative life. Yet Family Man has already depicted Jack as ebulliently fulﬁlled by his exciting and challenging work. and ominously remarks. Explaining his decision to prioritize his career over his relationship years earlier.” and. indeed. and he wakes up in an alternative universe where he stayed with Kate and had two kids. you brought this on yourself. And. From his powerful car. Yet while Clarence is depicted as sweetly incompetent but well intentioned. Indeed. In their conversation outside the convenience store. while this “glimpse” into the life that Jack could have had is ostensibly meant to awaken him from his spiritual oblivion.Hoodoo Economics
And. it could as easily be understood as a painful subjection to all he had heretofore escaped. “I took the road less traveled. Jack attempts to counsel Cash on how he might rehabilitate his apparently violent and wayward life. Jack. the sense of individualism and agency he enjoyed through his powerful position is replaced by the mass consciousness and conformity that characterize suburban life. Cash is represented as menacing and punitive in his dealings with Jack. His comments about his split with Kate convey his sense of autonomy. after a brief conversation. When Jack asserts.” While Cash later explains that Jack is being given a rare opportunity. turning the tables.
When he returns. who has taken on the role of teacher after deducing that Jack ﬁnds himself in an altered state. Annie has become the “angel” who facilitates Jack’s domestication. Yet here the child’s female gender helps to foreground the ostensible difference in the black man’s role. the magical black man functions interchangeably with a young white child. anonymous corporation. At this point. then. Cash will appear. from bowling shirts to his standardized work attire. this erasure of his individuality is indeed striking and becomes particularly evident in his clothing. Once Jack actually experiences marriage. to the house he shares with her. Jack sees an opportunity to return to the role of tycoon he had occupied before being pro-
. Yet on the ﬁrst occasion that Jack attempts to summon Cash with the bell.48
ately drives back to Manhattan to attempt to reclaim his old life. While in his new suburban life Jack actually works for a small business rather than a giant. As in Unbreakable and The Green Mile. when reﬂecting on his past with Kate. During their second encounter. Early in the ﬁlm. Importantly. As the ﬁlm progresses. despondent. both because its only reward for Jack is the ﬁnancial support it provides for the family and because he is working for Kate’s father. the ﬁlm’s structure implies that Annie and Cash are doubles. Jack is trained in this new life by his young daughter. he is debunking rather than reinforcing fantasies of autonomous masculine heroics. Annie (Makenzie Vega). F. As the narrative unfolds.” a formulation that links marriage with becoming a generic part of a massive corporation. On the surface at least. Kate chastens him for leaving without explaining where he was going. his life is merged with hers: he shares household responsibilities from diaper changing to walking the children’s dog. and his distinctively tailored designer suits are replaced by a set of uniforms. he is still slotted into a low-level service position. Even his job becomes an extension of their relationship. Jack remarks that he was “almost married and almost a broker at E. Near the conclusion of the ﬁlm. Hutton. Cash offers Jack a small bell and explains that when Jack rings the bell. it is not Cash but Annie who materializes before him. which underscore the conformity that now deﬁnes his existence.
and self-sufﬁcient as he had long prided himself in being. Like Jack at the beginning of the ﬁlm. tearing apart the order of the space she has apparently long inhabited. the “real” Kate. Jack feels deeply despondent that he is “completely and utterly alone. Kate appears very excited and pleased with her current life. she is preparing to leave for Paris to head up her law ﬁrm’s ofﬁces there. emphasizes that this Kate. He interviews for a job in his old ﬁrm and. powerful. While she ultimately and grudgingly concedes the possibility that they might be able to achieve the compromise Jack proposes. Kate resists passionately. the ambivalence that haunts the ﬁlm again emerges. When he arrives at her home.Hoodoo Economics
pelled into this feminized existence. again rebelling against Jack’s wish to act autonomously (“Don’t go get a new career without even telling me about it!” she exclaims). however. rather.” he says at the conclusion of a speech in which he lays out a vision of the domestic life they could share together. Kate then shares with him her domestic vision that they grow old together in their current house. her emphasis on their home suggests the degree to which Jack’s autonomy has been subsumed within a new domesticated and collective identity. Ultimately. Interestingly. Once his glimpse is over. Jack seeks out Kate. then. just as she had begged him to stay thirteen years earlier. “I choose us. after receiving an offer. Thus the ﬁlm suggests that Jack does embrace this new mode of collectivity into which Kate has indoctrinated him. She has foregone marriage and children for the new economic power available to
. The very act of moving. attempts to merge his old life with his new one. hoping to resume the relationship that he had sacriﬁced to his ambition so many years earlier. Jack is in the position of advocating a more feminized existence for both of them. he discovers that she is not the domestic ﬁgure he was married to in the alternative universe. she is as ambitious. has none of the domestic sentimentality of her counterpart in the life Jack has been visiting. when he ﬁnds Kate. At this point. The ﬁnal scene of the ﬁlm inverts the ﬁrst: Jack rushes to the airport to implore Kate not to go to Europe. and he is returned to his life as an urban executive.” To remedy this sense of loneliness and isolation.
more integrated social role for male workers. in Family Man they constitute the sort of diminishment of power and freedom that black men have long suffered.
In each of the ﬁlms that I have explored here. In Family Man. though real. in The Green Mile the threat is more remote. While in Unbreakable damage has been done that must be undone by the magical ﬁgure of Elijah. the glimpse to which Cash subjects Jack requires that Jack acquiesce to forms of economic disempowerment and feminization with which black men have long been associated in the service economy. instead. Cash’s name. like Elijah Price’s. threatens to suck white masculine subjects — be they men or women — into a mass existence that effaces their distinction. Those relations are in turn illuminated by his desperate attempt to cash in a lottery ticket at the outset of the ﬁlm and his later manifestation as a convenience store clerk. but what she will lose. Certainly. it also makes available a reading in which conventional notions of white masculinity are threatened by a collective ideology associated with femininity and blackness: an ideology that. the ﬁlm fails to provide a predictably sentimental ending in which Kate falls into Jack’s arms and agrees to join him in suburbia. Importantly. The punitive attitude with which Cash offers Jack his glimpse of another life suggests that while collective social relations can certainly be rendered in positive terms. white men’s sense of masculinity is invested in work compromised or threatened by a feminizing presence. leaving her response to his proposal unresolved. While Ratner’s ﬁlm superﬁcially celebrates a new. the process of feminization is much more radical. and as Jack implores her to settle down in the suburbs. forms with which Cash himself is associated throughout the ﬁlm. and the black “angel” can be
. it concludes only with Kate conceding to postpone her ﬂight to talk to Jack. what is most evident is not what she stands to gain.50
her. draws attention to the economic relations in which he is embedded. meanwhile. by celebrating family and disavowing materialism. and is eradicated by John Coffey.
and. First of all. Cash punishes Jack Campbell for his conﬁdent pleasure in his own socioeconomic power. In The Green Mile.”15 And indeed the relations between these
. “magical” not only. they are provocateurs. in Family Man. Yet it was also this history of economic marginalization that inspired the African American tradition of the trickster. What powers them must be magic. because their daily lives are a mystery. the ﬁlms imply. “a cultural cognitive model which enabled Afro-Americans to reﬂect on the moral dilemmas imposed upon them under conditions of servitude and economic bondage. Finally. In Unbreakable. The ﬁlms themselves drip with nostalgia: nostalgia for the era of superman. the black characters’ removal from the realm of the economic is signiﬁed by their association with childhood in each of these ﬁlms. as such. but because their very means of existence are a mystery. when Capra’s George Bailey could be sure he had made the right decision in foregoing his own dreams for his family and community. as Farley suggests. At this point. Yet along with this nostalgia comes the haunting presence of other lingering histories: black men systematically excluded from public. Nor are they saints. because it cannot be the simple dollars and cents that keeps the rest of America moving. forcing latent troubles into the light of day. or. Paul Edgecomb is cursed with the excesses of life he unintentionally siphoned from John Coffey. So in these ﬁlms they emerge as if from another dimension. by the conclusion of that text. the lesson is that one can have too much power. for the “simpler” times when white men’s authority was less assailable. As I have suggested throughout this essay. we must come full circle and return to Farley and Appiah’s speculations regarding these Magical African American Friends. They are ghosts. they clearly are not friends. tips of a historical iceberg jutting into the present. Elijah indoctrinates David into an epistemology of place that is an economic dead end. at least. paid work because of the threat to white male hegemony they might pose if they had economic power. And. Yet in no case is the function of the black “friend” unequivocally positive.Hoodoo Economics
understood to inﬂict the feminization rather than standing in its way.
respectively. but to fulﬁll their own needs. Although these ﬁlms initially seem to foreground conﬂicts around gender while suggesting harmonious and cooperative race relations. perhaps the very yearning for miracles these ﬁlms express must serve as a measure of how dire the condition of both constructs is. Like older versions of the trickster. to share one’s burden of suffering. 2. or simply to give a powerful white man his comeuppance. or even exclusively blacks. “That Old Black Magic. a closer consideration reveals that the ﬁlms present white masculinity as beset from both fronts. 27 November 2000. of course. 14. and here I want to focus on the particular implications of this alignment of black masculinity with magic. that it is exclusively black men. Whether that need is to conﬁrm one’s own (wicked) identity. This is not to suggest. it is a white woman and man. while in the ﬁlms The Gift (dir. US. Finally.
My thanks to Michael Berthold for his careful reading of an early version of this article. Wachowski Brothers. 1999). US. might itself be equally tenuous. whiteness. 1996). Nora Ephron. these black men are “power broker[s]” (159) who interact with their white counterparts not for selﬂess reasons. Sam Raimi. The trend nonetheless seems most prevalent in the casting of black men. 2000) and Michael (dir. black women have been assigned powers of clairvoyance and prophecy. US. who possess supernatural or angelic powers. Christopher John Farley. who are represented as magical helpers in ﬁlms of the past ﬁfteen years. each of the transactions between black and white men that these ﬁlms imagine is the sort of “exchange of value” that typiﬁes a trickster encounter (160).
. 1. and in that regard the ascendancy of the MAAF may indeed be good mojo. In ﬁlms such as Ghost and The Matrix (dir.52
black and white men perhaps come closest to the relation of trickster to dupe.” Time. The fantasy of a black man stepping in magically to bolster the crumbling ﬁction of autonomous masculinity only temporarily defers the deeper fears the works reﬂect: that the other construction.
Other ﬁlms from the past ﬁfteen years. 1991).
5. See my “Postindustrial Striptease: The Full Monty and the Feminization of Work. and the ﬁlms’ thematic concerns with Christianity and the afterlife overshadow their representations of material conditions in American society. 166. 156 – 57.
Anthony Appiah. 1998). The Legend of Bagger Vance. 1997). Brad Silberling. seems best understood in terms of Appiah’s notion of the “black Saint. Marjorie Garber. and Rebecca L. white/black. in the complex way we construct the authors of movies. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science.” in Simians. and Legend of Bagger Vance also feature some variation on the theme of black men as magical. 81. Walkowitz (New York: Routledge. and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. strong/weak. as authored by whites” (79).
8. ed. Donna Haraway. the ﬁlm clearly signals its trajectory toward reinstalling white masculinity in its “place” in a set of unambiguous binaries: man/woman.” since Bagger Vance (Will Smith) restores his white counterpart (Matt Damon) to both professional success and a sense of masculine strength without exacting any signiﬁcant penalty from him. Elsewhere I have discussed how the “feminized” nature of security guard work — speciﬁcally its boredom and low pay — has been dramatized in another recent ﬁlm obsessed with postindustrial work. “ ‘No Bad Nigger’: Blacks As the Ethical Principle in the Movies. Susan Faludi.
6. Cyborgs. City of Angels (dir. Appiah deﬁnes white Hollywood movies as those that “we understand. 1993). meanwhile. US. In the ﬁrst two ﬁlms.
4. Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty (UK. Jann Matlock. 9.Hoodoo Economics
3. the MAAFs are literally angels. and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (New York: HarperPerennial.” in Media Spectacles.” Colby Quarterly 36 (2000): 48 – 59. Technology. including What Dreams May Come. By explicitly stating that David has the unfulﬁlled potential to be the opposite of both his wife and Elijah. 1999).
In a review entitled “Here for the Holidays.” in Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema. again becomes evident in the scene that follows this grisly episode. Paul becomes the consummate middle manager. 13. shouting. Christy Lemire. Kate is “more killjoy than dream girl” (22 December 2000). Patricia Mellencamp (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. As he brushes against an anonymous white man in the train station. remarks that Jack’s new life “seems pretty boring” and that once she becomes his wife. ed. Tania Modleski offered this analysis in a talk entitled “Hollywood Men” at Bryn Mawr College on 21 February 2000. As Paul grills the other guards about what went wrong.
. 12. Paul’s own superior arrives to demand similar answers. writing for the Associated Press. 156 – 72. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (London: Routledge. David experiences a psychic vision of the stranger randomly striking a member of a black family with a bottle. “Critical and Textual Hypermasculinity. observes that Ratner “can’t decide whether to condemn suburbia for its domestic banality. Interestingly. for example. At this point. or celebrate it for its comfort and reliability” (18 December 2000). ed. 11. “The Buddy Politic. “Go back to Africa!” Once again the issue of staying in or returning to one’s “place” is foregrounded. Fuchs borrows her deﬁnition of hypermasculinity from Lynne Joyrich. The degree to which The Green Mile is about work and gender. and David’s choice to forego pursuing this man subtly but disturbingly downplays the severity of this act. more than about the moral issues that attend capital punishment.” Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times. one of the violent acts that David perceives but chooses to overlook is a race crime. if superﬁcial. existence he enjoyed in New York. 1990). 201. if it does not actually afﬁrm its appropriateness.” in Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural Criticism.54
10. A number of critics who reviewed the ﬁlm on its release. 14. for instance. The horror of the death is subsumed by the discourse of the prison as a workplace and inﬂicting death as a job well done. felt that the life Jack is meant to embrace in suburban New Jersey appears considerably less desirable than the glamorous. generating spin control in which he emphasizes that the job was done properly because the prisoner is now dead. Fuchs. Cynthia J. 1993).
Nicholas Cage and Don Cheadle in Family Man (dir. Brett Ratner.
Heather J. where she teaches courses on postmodern ﬁction. US.Hoodoo Economics
15. “Structural Analysis of the Afro-American Trickster Tale. She is currently writing a book on how American authors and ﬁlmmakers have depicted transformations in the meaning of public.” Black American Literature Forum 15 (1981): 160. contemporary narratives of race and ethnicity. and feminist theory. paid work since World War II. Jay Edwards. Hicks is associate professor of English at Villanova