Slavery, Freedom, and African American Apotheosis
in Candyman, The Matrix, and The Green Mile
By KIM D. HESTER-WILLIAMS
What became transparent were the self-evident ways that Americans
choose to talk about themselves through and within a sometimes
allegorical, sometimes metaphorical, but always choked representation
of an Africanist presence.
-Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary
You are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage.
-Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix
 The turn of the twenty-first century ushered in a multitude
of films reminiscent of past blackface performances, "in which
white men caricatured blacks for sport and profit" (Lott, 3).
The newer manifestations of blackface have left the greasepaint
and burnt cork, however they have maintained their obsession with
black expressive culture and with possessing—that is, controlling
and containing—the black body. By assessing this inclination
trend in romanticizing "blackness," this essay will show
that, in many aspects, these films represent a desire to appropriate
racially coded "difference" in order to reconcile the
longing for an American subjectivity that finds itself in a constant
state of becoming rather than of being. That is, the promise of
America, a promise fixed on the dream of freedom, remains a work
in progress. Existing alongside the American dream of freedom, as
Toni Morrison and other such notable writers have observed, has
always been the concomitant nightmare of slavery. Particularly instructive
are the representations of racial oppression and slavery that are
prominent within the genre of American science fiction and horror
films. It is these preternatural narratives that provide an ideal
stage for portraying the struggle between freedom and the nightmare
of being in bondage—enslaved by some "thing," some
"body," some "matrix" as it were, or even more
distressingly, by one’s inescapable connection to the racialized
Farewell to His-Story
 An overt example of the troping of slavery appears in the
1993 horror film, Candyman. Based on Clive Barker’s short
story, "The Forbidden," Candyman features a black
ghost, Candyman, who haunts anyone who dares to say his name five
times and refuses to "believe in him." Candyman is not
merely interested in being accepted as a real presence; he seeks
vengeance for crimes perpetrated against him in the past, more
specifically in America’s post-bellum slave past. Candyman was
the son of a former slave and was tortured and killed because
he dared to love, and be loved by, a white woman. One major point
to be made about Barker’s short story versus the Candyman
film adaptation is that there is absolutely no mention of slaves,
slavery, or race in Barker’s original story which is located in
an urban British setting. Yet the American film adaptation of
Barker’s story, Candyman, is overtly about the recurrent
nightmare of slavery within the American imagination. Hence, slavery
is America’s "forbidden."
 Viewers discover this forbidden history of Candyman, figured
in the film as urban legend, when the protagonist Helen Lyle,
who is a white graduate student at the University of Illinois,
is told by a professor that "The legend first appeared in
1890" and that "Candyman was the son of a slave."
After entering into a romantic relationship with "a wealthy
[white] landowner’s daughter," Candyman, whose real name
(we learn in the sequel) is Daniel Robitaille, is chased through
the town and his hand is sawed off with a rusted blade. He is
then stripped naked, smeared with honey, and taken to an apiary
where there are "dozens of hives filled with hungry bees."
Daniel Robitaille is stung to death after which accomplices to
the crime "burned his body on a giant pyre and then scattered
his ashes over Cabrini Green." The professor who delivers
the tale, which he categorizes as modern urban folklore, emphasizes
the fact that "No one came to his aid" and, as a result,
Candyman is said to haunt the present Cabrini Green, a Chicago
housing project where the majority of residents are African American.
In this fantastical story, slavery, although filtered through
urban legend, is all too real. Or is it?
 Helen becomes ensnared by both an indirect and direct identification
with the white landowner’s daughter (from the legend) and the
horror of nineteenth-century American slavery, symbolized by the
mutilated black body of Candyman. In fact, Helen is herself transformed
into the Candyman in the end, carrying on the haunting of all
those who would refuse to (re)member him—that is, to (re)member
the slave past. The film makes an explicit correlation with the
slavery of the American past and the enduring (in its perception)
"absence of freedom" for European Americans, especially
those living in large cities, themselves surrounded by what Thomas
Jefferson called, "the stain" or "blot" of
blackness. Placing urban Chicago as the setting for the film directs
viewers to correlate the perceived freedom and potential "progress"
of the city of Chicago with the psychological malaise precipitated
by urban life in general, and represented most vividly by the
housing projects. Helen, in fact, discovers (after learning about
the Candyman urban legend) that her very own high rise apartment
building was, in fact, originally built as a housing project.
When removing the mirror in her bathroom, Helen finds the physical
remnants of her building’s link to the past (and present) oppression
of African Americans. As she tells her African American friend
and research partner, Bernadette, "the city couldn’t find
a way to make a barrier between the project and the rest of the
city so they disguised the building and sold them off as condos."
Helen now knows that her apartment represents an orchestrated
attempt to disguise the past in order to deny it.
 Indeed, this theme of denial persists throughout in the film.
Trailers for Candyman hauntingly implore, "What’s
behind the mirror?" and insist that, "You don’t have
to believe, just beware" which begs the question, beware
of what? Because the monster in the film is a black man—and,
again the son of a former slave—it seems clear that we are
to beware of all that Candyman signifies. And what he most powerfully
signifies is the memory of American slavery. Candyman’s early
refrain is "Believe in me. Be my victim," which is directed,
for the most part, to Helen, who viewers most likely identify
with and who does become both victim and apprentice to Candyman.
To believe in Candyman’s urban legend and accept the reality of
his existence is to be victimized by this knowledge. Helen’s attachment
to Candyman disallows her own sense of freedom and privilege and
thus causes her great anxiety throughout the film. Her freedom
is literally restricted when she is arrested and committed to
a mental ward after being accused of engaging in the same brutal
acts of mutilation that Candyman suffered upon his death and that
he perpetuates on his victims. Yet, what are Helen and viewers
to make of Candyman’s (dis)member(ment) under the cruel and racially
oppressive yoke of slavery? Is this truly a story not to tell?
Must we not say his name?
 In the 1995 sequel to Candyman, Candyman 2: Farewell
to the Flesh, the idea that slavery is a memory to expel is
made even more explicit and forceful. Farewell to the Flesh
is a story of passing and secrets. As the film narrative unfolds,
the viewer learns that the protagonist, Annie, who is a teacher,
is the descendant of Candyman. Her maternal ancestor, Caroline,
was the white woman that loved and was loved by Daniel Robitaille
(Candyman). They had a child, Isabel, whom Caroline raised as
white ("no one suspected") after Daniel’s murder. When
Annie discovers her genetic link to Candyman, she confronts her
mother, Octavia. At one point in the exchange, Annie yells, "he’s
part of our family, part of our blood." Octavia continues
to deny Candyman and her own history screaming through tears that,
"there is no Candyman. He does not exist." This denial
resurrects Candyman and he appears behind Octavia with bloody
hook positioned at Octavia’s neck in anticipation of retribution.
It bears noting that Octavia has not repeated Candyman’s name
five times. Instead, she unwittingly summons him by her denial
of his existence. Given that this is one of the bloodiest and
gruesome murders in the film, viewers begin to see that the brutality
suffered by Candyman is not the problem.
 Rather, it is the unrelenting memory of slavery, and Candyman’s
insistence on memory, that is the real source of terror in the
film. Candyman, with saddened eyes tells Octavia, "...you
doubted me...your own flesh and blood." Candyman proceeds
to disembowel her in front of her daughter, Annie, to whom Octavia’s
last words are: "I’m so sorry." This apology is left
for the viewer to interpret. We do not know exactly what Octavia
is sorry about. What is certain, however, is that she has become
slavery’s victim—the victim, in fact, of the monster that
slavery’s memory has become. This is verified when Candyman requests
that Annie join him, explaining to her, "you cannot resist
what is in your blood, our blood, your baby’s blood...you can’t
fight what is meant to be. The choice is yours Annie." Annie’s
choice is unambiguous. She will not join Candyman. Instead, she
must destroy him. And she does so with the help of one of her
students, a young black male child named Matthew who serves as
the opposing force to Candyman’s haunting. Matthew’s function
is critical here because he represents, as a child, presumed innocence.
In addition, he functions as an ally to Annie. She has provided
Matthew with guidance (as his teacher) and the film even suggest
"maternal" nurturing (in scenes where they begin to
bond) so that his fear of Candyman validates her own and thus
the memories that Candyman awakens can be seen as an aberration.
 Matthew’s waking and dream life are besieged by violent images
of Candyman and the racial past he represents. Matthew renders these
images in drawings and on one level, they can be read as reminders
to Annie of her connection to the past. Unfortunately, and again,
the film undercuts this idea and instead focuses on the horror of
Candyman and his inevitable destruction. Candyman’s story is one
that can no longer be told. In the end, it is Matthew who not only
saves Annie from Candyman, but also provides her with the means
(the mirror) to destroy him. We are left at the end of the film
with Annie’s quiet reflection as she shows a picture of Candyman
she has placed in her family album to her own daughter. Lest we
believe that the film will end with this image of recognition and
resolution, we are reminded that the horror and haunting of slavery’s
past simply will not go away. The film ends with Annie’s daughter
who, as the camera pans closer to her, begins the forbidden chant
of Candyman’s name. Annie rushes in and covers her mouth and all
seems well. However, the film resorts to a classic horror film device
where the return of the "monster" is pertinacious: there
is a brief moment of relief soon after which Annie’s daughter resumes
her chant. This time Annie does not come in to stop her and viewers
are only to assume (correctly so since there is a third Candyman
film) that Candyman—and slavery—will appear again and
carry on the haunting.
 In a 1995 interview, the director of Candyman2: Farewell
to the Flesh, Bill Condon, said of the racial politics expressed
in the film that, "Even though violence can be justified
by certain people as a response to the violence that was inflicted
upon them, there’s got to be another way. The relationship between
the teacher and the boy illustrates a kind of healing process.
And it had to be the boy who saves her and forgives the white
people, and finally comes to see that though he had always identified
so strongly with not Candyman the killer, but Candyman the victim"
(Bernstein). But what of Robert Robitaille’s (Candyman’s) healing?
The idea that Matthew could forgive "white people,"
presumably on behalf of all African Americans, and together with
the teacher expunge the ghost of slavery is pretty remarkable.
Even Tony Todd, who played Candyman, claims that, "If I can
get them [the audience] to recognise [sic] my existence, then
I can rest, my soul will evaporate. It’s almost like I want to
create my own suicide" (Bernstein). This is an extraordinary
admission on Todd’s part, and may help to explain the title "Farewell
to the Flesh." Still, there is no recognition of Matthew’s
earlier identification with "Candyman the victim." Perhaps
Matthew suffers from a similar recurrent nightmare, shared by
Candyman, of racial oppression. Nevertheless, there is no discussion
at all of slavery and the horror suffered by Candyman or the tenuous
existence that Matthew endures in the housing projects of Cabrini
Green. Conversely, the film concentrates on the horror of slavery
as (dis)memory. As Candyman "create(s) his own suicide,"
we are free to see slavery fixed in the past and imagine a reconciled
and harmonious future. Candyman would kill us all if we let him,
so it is he—and his-story of slavery—that must perish.
 In one of the critically informative moments from the
1999 film, The Matrix, the character Morpheus (played by
Laurence Fishburne) tells Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) that "...you
are a slave Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage."
I want to suggest some ways of thinking about the significance of
this cinematic moment—a moment like and unlike other instances
in American film where, particularly in the horror and science fiction
genres, slavery is used as the central theme of the narrative. One
only needs to recall the popularity and cultural force of Planet
of the Apes and its many sequels and reincarnations, (including
the television series) where there was little question that the
narratives worked to recall slavery in America but to do so by inversion,
consequently showing European Americans subjugated and oppressed
by a darker Other, the apes. In a similar, and even more sophisticated
inversion, The Matrix portrays all humans as enslaved by
machines and as such all humans as equally victimized by slavery.
To accomplish this reversal of history, The Matrix relies
on a deliberate multiculturalism and appeal to human-unity. In order
to triumph over their computer-machine captors, humans must form
a coalition across differences. However, the more generic philosophical
narrative of slavery and freedom within the film obfuscates the
notion of cultural and racial differences—there is absolutely
no discussion in the film about race. Yet and still, the subtext
of The Matrix implicitly relies on racial codes.
 For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to primarily
restrict my focus to the "original narrative" in the first
film, The Matrix, and then relate my observations to an analysis
of the prequel, AniMatrix, which attempts to set up the original
story. To begin, the casting of Keanu Reeves as Neo, who serves
as the film’s protagonist and superhero, can be read as a deliberate
move. Keanu Reeves is himself mixed race and the idea that he is
the key to the future fate of humanity implies that race will not
matter in the future. In Lisa Nakamura’s book Cybertypes,
she discusses Hollywood’s "play" on Keanu Reeves’s ethnic
and racial identity in the film. Given the complicated construction
of identity in The Matrix, one could easily read the casting
of Keanu Reeves as a ploy—a way to buttress anticipated complaints
that the "savior" is white. However, since there is no
discussion of "race" or racial identity in the film, the
filmmakers clearly rely on the identification of "race"
by phenotype—that is, Neo "looks" white so, without
the knowledge of his racial history, he must be read as "white."
Or more to the point, he can escape the question of "race"
all together since he does not visibly wear its "mark."
Notwithstanding this device, the film also engages a decided Orientalism
where martial arts, "ancient" weapons, and Zen philosophy
propel the action sequences of the film as well as the superhero
feats of the racially ambiguous superhero, Neo. In addition to these
embedded racial codes, it is clear that Neo can save the world only
if he heeds the ongoing guidance and training that he receives from
those who seem to possess a profound knowledge of human subjugation.
These perceptive leaders are, for the most part, African Americans,
and do visibly wear the "mark" of race. African Americans
make up a decided majority of the rebel leaders and revolutionaries
in The Matrix. In fact, many critics have noted that the
sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions
feature a majority of African Americans in leadership roles, including
the casting of African American scholar, Cornel West, as a member
of the governing counsel of the last human controlled city, Zion.
 So what does it mean for Morpheus—an African American
character, to tell Neo—a mixed race yet popularly coded
white character that he is, in fact, and has been, in fact, a
slave? This seems to me an extraordinary move especially given
the Wachowski brothers’ evasion around issues of race and refusal
to publicly acknowledge that their Matrix films are replete with
racial meaning. One wonders if the scene would play in the same
way with Val Kilmer, who was the original casting choice for the
character Morpheus, telling Neo that he is a slave. Would this
scene and the entire film carry the same overtones, signifiers,
and ultimate appeal that we get in the much-lauded final cut?
Is it possible that viewers, especially American viewers, could
disassociate the slave ship Nebuchadnezzar and its rebel African
American captain, Morpheus, from people of African descent enslaved
during the colonial and early national period of American history?
 In further interrogating the role of Morpheus, played by Laurence
Fishburne, it is important to understand that he is a character
who deeply understands the predicament that humans are faced with
in this age of "new slavery." Similar to his role in Boyz
in the Hood, Fishburne portrays a griot; he understands oppression
on a level beyond many of the other characters in the film and it
is because of this that he is positioned explicitly as the "Father"
within the holy trinity that leads the rebels. Although he too is
a "slave," his persona resonates with that of Frederick
Douglass within the African American slave narrative tradition.
That is, Morpheus has learned to transcend slavery through the power
of the mind and of course, through physical resistance when necessary.
It is this—Morpheus’s critical and intuitive insight—which
directs the narrative of the film.
 In this regard, The Matrix is more generally structured
as a neo-slave narrative and as such relies on direct parallels
between the suffering of the protagonist, Neo, and the past (and
present) suffering of African Americans who serve simultaneously
as symbols of oppression and as the conduits to freedom. There
is no denying the centrality of black characterization in the
film. From slave ships, rebel leaders, and griots to reminiscent
Black Panther black leather jackets and "right to bear arms"
artillery, to the Rodney King beating reenactment, and the black
matriarchal figure who is both mammy and "the Oracle,"
The Matrix invites its viewers to enter into an intricate
associative relationship with oppression through the codes of
black historical and cultural figuration. As Ed Guerrero has argued,
science fiction and horror films, as do films in general, express
"manifest content as well as potent latent meanings,"
especially with regard to questions of race (Guerrero, 6). Given
the presence of black bodies and black codes that appear in The
Matrix, the film’s discourse of slavery cannot be disavowed
from the larger historical context of American slavery.
 Toni Morrison has used the term African Americanism to describe,
"the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples
have come to signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions,
readings, and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning
about these people" (Morrison, 6-7). I use the term "new
minstrelsy" to correlate with and expand upon Morrison’s
concept of African Americanism and as a way to interrogate contemporary
popular uses of African American expressive forms within American
popular culture. In addition, I am in conversation with Guerrero’s
concept of neo-minstrelsy which he uses to explain how films of
the 1980’s, such as The Blues Brothers, employ "the
premise that blackness subverts and comically disrupts the rigid,
neurotic order of white society [and] allude to commonly held
reductive notions of a binary opposition between essential white
qualities that have long resided in the literary and popular imagination..."
(Guerrero, 123). Related, yet distinct from this phenomenon
in American literature and film, are performances of black subjectivity
that represent the translation of an underlying fear and overwhelming
anxiety concerning America’s racially oppressive past into a displacement
of the suffering (past and present) of African Americans onto
white bodies. In particular, audiences are exposed to the latent
(and sometimes blatant) correlation of the black body with the
struggle to reconcile slavery’s imaginative grip on freedom—that
is, the absence of freedom and its representation through the
appropriation of codes of blackness where white (or coded white)
characters don the new minstrel "cloak of racial persecution."
In this sense, The Matrix, and other films that utilize
these particular codes, are engaged in (and not simply on a sub-thematic
level) some decided ideological work regarding race and to be
more precise, the problem of blackness.
 To wit, there are three black men in The Matrix who
clearly make up the racial "majority" of the rebels. The
most prominent black character, Morpheus, is no doubt a "problem"
for the enemy aliens and their elaborate and largely successful
design to enslave and dominate the entire human population. As viewers,
we are drawn in by the persuasive and forceful rhetoric of Morpheus
as he explains the imperative nature of the struggle for freedom
and the search for "truth." When we first encounter Morpheus
he is sitting in a large chair with his back toward the camera,
his form appearing as a silhouette. When he swings around to face
Neo and the viewer, his hands are clasped with fingers positioned
below his chin and he appears strikingly similar to images of Malcolm
X or Huey Newton: a black intellectual revolutionary poised to deliver
a lecture to the people. After providing Neo with a choice to "believe
whatever you want to believe" or to see "how deep the
rabbit hole goes" Morpheus soon tells Neo that, "Remember
all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more." This "truth"
proves to be a shock to Neo’s system, both figuratively and literally,
as he learns that humans have been enslaved by machines and are
living illusionary lives. They are trapped in a computer constructed
virtual reality that is the matrix. These lives are comforting,
designed so by the machines, but they are also false so that freedom
necessitates the knowledge of the system’s grip on reality and the
decision to break free from that grip. Morpheus must literally "awaken"
Neo, whom Morpheus believes is the future salvation of the human
race, to the fact of human oppression. The major function of Fishburne’s
character then, is to be a constant reminder of this human oppression.
Morpheus works diligently throughout the film to help Neo overcome
his resistance to the "truth" and embrace his role as
the "One" who will save humanity.
 Yet, it is clear that Neo will not be able to realize his
"calling" without the knowledge endowed to him by Morpheus
and later by the foretelling of the Oracle, a black woman who,
when Neo first meets her, is located in the kitchen, willfully
baking cookies, and smoking a cigarette. She is staged in this
scene to provide Neo with more "truth" in the form of
spiritual substance (her wisdom goes unquestioned until the Reloaded
sequel), but also with the more literal sustenance of her "comfort"
food. In this way, as scholars Lisa Nakamura and others have observed,
the Oracle is both wise, folk foreteller and mother, or rather
mammy, figure. She is positioned as "mammy" by virtue
of her body (she is not of a slim build) and the verbal quips
she begins to deliver to Neo, not to mention her symbolic act
of baking cookies, all of which reinforce her racialized domestic
function. She haughtily explains to Neo that, "I hate to
give good folk bad news." This initial introduction to the
black Oracle places the viewer and Neo squarely within the signifying
tradition of black expressive culture where meaning works by
indirection, humor, irony, metaphor, and "the semantically
or logically unexpected" (see Geneva Smitherman and Henry
Louis Gates, Jr.). Consequently, the Oracle’s "advice"
is enigmatic and does not provide direct answers to Neo’s questions.
Furthermore, she refuses to tell Neo what he must do and insists
that he "will know" when the time comes. She even misdirects
him by implying that he is not the savior that Morpheus believes
him to be and so Neo leaves the Oracle’s kitchen (a space that
she occupies for the entirety of the film) more confused than
when he arrives. The angst of living on the margins, unsure of
who or what you really are, has now been solidified by his contact
with the black female Oracle who has insisted that he may be more
(or less), both (or neither) slave and savior.
 Nonetheless, Neo struggles to accept and take on the dual
role of "slave" and "savior" and as such becomes
faced with a kind of double consciousness, a struggle between
two "warring souls." The film’s central narrative of
freedom depends on W.E.B. Dubois’s rendering of "double consciousness"
as a distinctly masculine problem as well as the image of internal
racialized struggle which Dubois described as, "this sense
of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others...One
ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two
souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals
in one dark body..." (Dubois, 45, my emphasis). The film
shifts back and forth from the collective struggle of freedom
in the face of human oppression to the individual angst that occupies
Neo as he accepts that he, "like everyone else, was born
into bondage." Thus, the film gains its greatest force in
moments where Neo and the viewer are confronted with the associative
codes of racial oppression that are communicated explicitly through
the black characters, black figuration, and black expressive devices,
such as signifying, that permeate the story.
 The Matrix’s "use" of the discourse of
slavery itself markedly helps to sustain the film’s liberal individualist
agenda and to ultimately legitimate that agenda. A historical
and critically grounded reading of how the African American presence
functions in The Matrix reveals that African Americans
are constructed as the embodiment of the simultaneous promise
and failure of American democracy and postmodern society. The
contradictions inherent in performing and appropriating this kind
of black subjectivity can be traced to liberalism’s over-determined
reliance on individualism. As delineated by David Theo Goldberg,
"Liberalism is committed to individualism for it takes as
basic the moral, political, and legal claims of the individual
over and against those of the collective. ...Liberalism seeks
to transcend particular historical, social, and cultural differences:
It is concerned with broad identities which divide politically,
culturally, geographically, or temporally" (Goldberg, 5).
It is this tendency toward "transcending history" and
privileging individual desire that make the appropriation of black
subjectivity, particularly black male subjectivity, both appealing
and problematic. Images of black men on screen tend toward depicting
the presupposed power gained from existing and even thriving,
often in renegade form, within the margins and in spite of any
particularized cultural histories or community.
 Returning to the film, The Matrix, it is instructive
to note that Neo receives relatively limited punishment in his
physical battles with the machines. However, in a scene undoubtedly
intended to reference the Rodney King beating, Morpheus is severely
beaten by the police (who are controlled by the machine agents).
In this scene, Morpheus lies with his hands and arms up in futile
defense while the batons of the police officers deliver stroke
after stroke of abuse. The camera angles emphasize the besieged
black figure, as he literally disappears under the barrage of
helmeted and armed police. The viewer later sees Morpheus’s bruised
and bloody face as he is chained to a chair in an office that
is located in a high rise building where the machine "agents"
interrogate him and explain how "disgusting" the human
race is while gloating over the capture of their most tenacious
revolutionary. It seems that although Neo is a slave too, he will
not be subjected to such torture. Although other non-black characters
are killed or injured in the struggle for human freedom, the audience,
through the positioning of camera shots, is most strongly confronted
with black suffering and encouraged to identify this suffering
empathetically as their very own.
 Further evidence of this troping can be seen in the DVD
prequel to The Matrix, AniMatrix, where more inversion
and identification with historical black figuration occurs. In
episode two of AniMatrix, "The Second Renaissance:
Part One," we discover that the machines, built initially
as robots, were actually designed by decadent humans for the purposes
of subservience—that in fact, the machines were once the
slaves of humans. The narrator introduces the viewer to one such
robot named B166ER, "a name" we are told "that
will never be forgotten, for he was the first of his kind to rise
up against his masters." Upon closer examination, it is also
a "name," that is strikingly reminiscent of Richard
Wright’s black protagonist, "Bigger" Thomas, who also
"rises" up against his oppressors only to be further
subjugated and brutalized in the end. After this introduction,
we witness B166ER’s televised murder trial where a tape of B166ER
murdering its master is being played before a jury and the television
audience—both the audiences located in the film and the
DVD viewer. Most noteworthy is the news reporter’s voiceover describing
the trial and playing prosecution arguments against the notion
of "robot rights." We hear the prosecution state, "that
instrument [the constitution] provides for and secures to the
citizens of the United States...on the contrary, they [robots]
were at that time, considered as a subordinate and inferior class."
This legal argument echoes arguments against affording any legal
or civil rights to African Americans during slavery.
 In fact, when we compare the rhetoric of the film to the
legal decisions of nineteenth-century American jurisprudence,
we can identify striking similarities. One such decision, rendered
in 1853 by the infamous Judge Lumpkin of Georgia, stated that:
We maintain that the status of the African in Georgia,
whether bond or free, is such that he has no civil, social or
political rights or capacity, whatever, except such as are bestowed
on him by the Statute...That the act of manumission...does not
and cannot confer citizenship; that the social and civil degradation,
resulting from the taint of blood, adheres to the descendants
of Ham in this country...(Bryan v. Walton, Georgia, 1853).
In "The Second Renaissance: Part One" episode from
AniMatrix, it is the robots that carry the "taint
of blood" refigured in the film as the taint of difference.
They are not human and thus "naturally" cannot be afforded
the rights that humans enjoy and believe are innate to their species.
The viewer is encouraged to regard such judgements, however, as
a kind of discrimination that is unjust and unfounded, even given
the violent acts of B166ER. A contemporary audience understands
that subjugation, even the subjugation of machines, is an oppressive
act and also one that fans of The Matrix are fully aware
will turn against them in the end. The somber tone of the narration
works to play on this fear of reversal, a fear consistent throughout
the various narratives of The Matrix. Viewers are always
made aware of the precarious relationship between their own freedom
and the loss of freedom experienced by the film’s characters.
 If there is any doubt that The Matrix and the prequel
AniMatrix, rely on the audience’s association of slavery
and human oppression with the history of African Americans in
America, past and present, we need look no further than the scenes
post B166ER’s murder trial, after the rebel robot is ordered to
be destroyed. Washington D.C., a location already identified with
the permeation of black culture and black people, breaks into
rioting as another news reporter describing the chaotic scenes
tell television (and DVD) viewers how "androids and liberal
sympathizers flooded the streets of the nation’s capital today
under a protest...." The camera pans scenes where female
robots are stripped and brutally beaten; one female robot is shot
in the head at point blank range. As these scenes play, another
news reporter’s voiceover comes in and this time describes the
deterioration of order in a most illuminating manner by stating
that, "human sympathizers have continued their demonstration
in front of the Albany district courthouse in what has now been
dubbed the Million Machine March." It is at this point that
the viewer is fully engaged in a complicated yet decided identification
with oppression through black codes and cultural figuration. There
can be no denying here that we are meant to associate the acts
of the rioters, on both sides, but more importantly the robots’
struggle for recognition and rights, with past and present struggles
initiated by African Americans. Particularly, we are encouraged
to see the struggle to claim "human" rights through
the frame of specific moments of black masculine rhetoric such
as Louis Farrahkhan’s 1995 "Million Man March" in which
he aspired to gather "a million sober, disciplined, committed,
dedicated, inspired black men to meet in Washington on a Day of
Atonement." Much like the mixture of racism, radicalism,
and misogyny explored in Wright’s Native Son, the politicized
rendering of the oppression and subsequent revolt of the machines,
combined with the events surrounding the capture, trial, and execution
of B166ER (Bigger), encourages AniMatrix spectators to
participate in analogous new minstrel performances of black subjectivity.
"Wandering in the Dark"
 Another fantastical film that participates in new minstrel
acts, is The Green Mile, adapted from Stephen King’s serialized
novel of the same name. The Green Mile, also released in
1999, depicts life and death in a Depression-era state penitentiary
named Cold Mountain. It is instructive to discuss both the film
and the novel from which the film is based because both texts
work together to produce a singularly powerful racial narrative.
In fact, King has stated that Frank Darabont’s script for The
Green Mile is "the best film adaptation that I’ve ever
read, hands down." With this kind of endorsement from its
creator, any comprehensive discussion of The Green Mile
must take into account the inter-textuality of the literary and
 At the apex of King’s story an innocent man is executed.
John Coffey had been placed on death row after being falsely accused
of the atrocious rape and murder of two white girls. Yet Coffey
is no ordinary man. He is, as King describes more than once in
the novel, "a black giant who hardly seemed to know he was
in his own body" (King, 172). As readers and film viewers
also learn, he is a supernatural being who has the ability to
absorb the suffering of others and in turn heal them of physical
ailments and disease. However, Coffey is not able to free himself
from the racial oppression that is aimed at destroying his life.
In fact, while Coffey uses his power to "free" the main
protagonist and head prison guard, Paul Edgecomb, of a painful
urinary tract infection and to also heal the character Melinda,
the prison warden’s ailing wife, Coffey’s power of healing and
clairvoyance does not allow him to free himself from the undeserved
and cruel fate of state execution. Instead, he not only suffers
physically, but is also burdened with the knowledge that humans
are hopelessly flawed and will continue to endure and inflict
pain and misery in the world. But King’s narrative does not end
 Clearly, as I shall continue to argue, it is not the fate
of the oppressed and racially marginalized subject, represented
most vividly by the character John Coffey, with which the narrative
is concerned. In both the novel and the adapted film, our attention
is consistently drawn away from Coffey and the gaze is placed back
onto Paul Edgecomb, played in the film by the mild-mannered and
"decent" Tom Hanks. Indeed, several reviews, including
one by Cynthia Fuchs, describe Paul Edgecomb’s character as "decent."
There are obvious parallels between the character and the actor
Tom Hanks who is well known for his typecasting as the upstanding,
moralistic, and unsuspecting hero. Hanks is famous in this regard
for is his academy-winning role as Forest Gump. It is Hanks playing
Edgecomb, the respectable and morally tormented protagonist, on
which the film narrative converges. In this sense, the audience
is redirected not only to concentrate on Edgecomb’s moral struggles
but in fact to become identified with his looming angst and despair.
 This design is most evident at the conclusion of The
Green Mile where we learn that Edgecomb harbors a secret.
It turns out that in the process of his intimate contact with
John Coffey—the homoerotic grasping of hands, arms, and
genitalia which I will discuss in a moment—Coffey has managed
to pass on to Edgecomb a "gift": the mysterious gift
of long-lasting life and, in the novel, physical invulnerability.
This last aspect of the tale, included in the novel and not the
film, reverses the superhero trope somewhat by representing the
"power" bestowed to Edgecomb by Coffey as a curse that,
ironically, disempowers him. He can only watch helplessly as loved
ones pass on consequently leaving him forlorn. Although The
Green Mile is generally characterized as a drama and King
himself has claimed that this is not a horror story, the very
idea that Coffey possesses supernatural powers as well as the
effects his powers have on those that he "touches" places
both texts squarely within the realm of science fiction and horror.
As well, the supernatural twist of fate experienced by Edgecomb
is portrayed in both texts as a "horrible" burden and,
in his estimation, a punishment for his inaction and thus culpability
in the state sanctioned murder of the "miracle" John
Coffey. The film, in fact, underscores the "curse" inflicted
by Coffey. In the final shots, we see the aged Edgecomb staring
out of the window and hear the voiceover lament, "It’s my
torment you see. It’s my punishment for letting John Coffey ride
the lightning, for killin’ a miracle of God." This revelation
in both the novel and film characterize Edgecomb’s enduring torment
and the enigmatic transference of power and pathos from Coffey
to Edgecomb as paranormal.
 Further, the narrative of The Green Mile should be
categorized within the genre of science fiction and/or horror
because it invokes images of fear, helplessness, and most importantly
for the purposes of this essay, the deleterious results that ensue
when one encounters the "dark." To emphasize this effect,
Michael Clarke Duncan, whom filmmaker Frank Darabont found was
the "perfect" casting choice given Duncan’s 6 foot,
5 inch tall muscular frame which towered over the rest of the
cast, plays John Coffey. Duncan’s unique physical characteristics
help to draw attention to his "difference" in the narrative.
In what turns out to be one of many references in this regard,
this marked physical difference (not to mention Duncan’s baritonesque
voice) combine to exaggerate his racial difference which in turn
works to drive the mystical events of the narrative. Accordingly,
Coffey himself is "afraid of the dark" as he tells Edgecomb
at their first encounter and later, in the film, requests at his
execution that the traditional "black" hood used to
shield the spectators from the horrific results of death by electrocution
not be placed on his head. In yet another instance, Coffey weeps
as he informs Edgecomb that, "I’m afraid of what I am."
In this truly remarkable reversal, the racial Other, the dark,
mysterious, and metaphorical "brother from another planet,"
cannot tolerate his own presence. And like the narratives offered
up by nineteenth-century writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Herman
Melville, who prolifically portrayed America’s consternation around
issues of race, identity, and individualism, the black Other invariably
functions as a reminder of the torment and inextricability of
the human condition, especially when confronted by the exigencies
of a shared yet contested community.
 John Coffey’s detachment from community, especially in the
film, may be the most evident and vexatious transgression in this
regard. In fact, there is a stark absence of community in The
Green Mile. And although there are relationships formed between
the guards, they are often contentious, especially given the volatility
of their forced fellowship. In addition, Coffey and the other prisoners
are not visited by anyone on "the outside" and thus the
panoptic space of the prison becomes symbolic of the isolation and
alienation precipitated when one is disconnected from a larger,
integrated community. The film portrays Coffey as eminently unattached
to any community. No family comes to visit him and we do not know
of any family ties or connections that he has. Even more striking,
the viewer does not see any community supporting John Coffey or
demanding his release particularly given his false imprisonment.
Even though he has been sentenced to death, the viewer has no sense
that a community will come to Coffey’s aid. There are no scenes
where other African Americans, or any member of the community outside
of Cold Mountain, even discuss the incidence of Coffey’s predicament.
There is simply no presence of community associated with John Coffey
at all. The only scene where we at least see other African
Americans is at the beginning of the film when the camera pans on
a chain gang, comprised mostly of black men, working in front of
the Penitentiary. Trailing off we hear the prisoners singing a work
song. The film never comes back to this image or to these prisoners,
but instead shows only the lonesome and miraculous John Coffey whose
attention must necessarily be aimed at the salvation of Paul Edgecomb.
 In addition to the scarcity of community in The Green
Mile, the narrative portrays the dream of liberal individualism
as transformed into a nightmare: Edgecomb’s crisis of consciousness
continues to disallow his ability to experience true freedom—that
is, the freedom to live without regard to the problems of Others.
Edgecomb’s memory of the injustice inflicted upon Coffey and so
many others at Cold Mountain haunts Edgecomb from the very beginning
of King’s narrative. No matter how hard he tries, and he does
try very hard, he cannot expunge the effects of his encounter
with the dark. King increases this effect by using both the spaces
of the prison and black figuration as symbolic of the marginalization
suffered, and in fact transferred onto, Edgecomb. From the beginning,
John Coffey’s (and Michael Clarke Duncan’s) "condemned"
body is laden with racial meaning and "code[d] [by the]‘lack
of power’" with which those subjected to punishment are marked"
(Foucault, 29). When Coffey introduces himself to Edgecomb, who
asks him to verify that his name is indeed John Coffey, Coffey
explains that the spelling of his name is "just like the
drink...." This simile reinforces, especially in the novel
where the reader must do the work of constructing an image of
Coffey, an association of the character Coffey with the color
of coffee—that is, with blackness and the additional attendant
association of blackness with potential danger. Aside from a convenient
metaphor, there is a correlation here with the image of a "hot,
black liquid" to be consumed but approached with caution—he
is after all, a convicted murderer. Of course, the decided result
of this contact with the "dark Other" is undesirable
as evidenced by Edgecomb’s constant expressed grief about the
prolonged and tortured existence that Coffey has somehow instilled
 To be sure, the associative relationships with black figuration
and the transference of black suffering through contact with the
racial body carries throughout the narrative. In the novel, for
instance, King uses explicit homoerotic images to convey the healing
of Edgecomb’s urinary tract infection. Coffey in fact entreats
Edgecomb to come into the cell to which he reluctantly
complies. Once in the cell, Coffey pats the bed motioning Edgecomb
to come and sit beside him. King writes, "He patted the mattress
beside him, his eyes never once leaving mine. I sat down there
next to him, and he put his arm around my shoulders, as if we
were at the movies and I was his girl" (King, 183). King’s
portrayal of this homoerotic encounter between Edgecomb and Coffey
emphasizes the forbidden nature of the bond between these two
men—forbidden at once because Edgecomb has transgressed
the "rules" of the prison by entering Coffey’s cell
without another guard as backup and further because the intimacy
experienced between these two racially marked bodies is hardly
sanctioned in Depression-era America.
 In the film’s representation of this pivotal scene, the homoerotic
bonding between the dark figure John Coffey and the white prison
guard Paul Edgecomb is further signified as Edgecomb leans into
the prison bars and asks, "What do you want John Coffey?"
Coffey grabs him (through the bars) and reaches for Edgecomb’s genitals.
Soon afterward, the camera pans from Coffey’s grip on Edgecomb’s
crotch to the ceiling lights as they suddenly become very brightly
illuminated. In a jumpcut, we see Edgecomb’s face as he trembles.
After just a few moments the lights shatter (they apparently cannot
stand up to the intensity of this moment) and Paul delivers an orgasmic
scream. Coffey then lets go of Edgecomb’s pants and walks back to
his cell bed after which Edgecomb falls to the ground. He then witnesses
Coffey lift his head toward the shattered lights, open his mouth,
and release a mass of tiny particles into the air. The camera follows
these particles as they gradually dissipate. In the novel, King
describes them as "a cloud of tiny black insects that looked
like gnats or noseeums. They swirled furiously between his [Coffey’s]
knees, turned white, and disappeared" (184). In the film version,
Paul, who is clearly stunned, asks John, "What did you just
do to me?" Coffey replies, "I helped it. Didn’t I help
it? I just took it back is all. Awful tired now, boss, dog tired."
Coffey then lies down on his cell bed, turns toward the wall, and
falls asleep. It is in the process of this forbidden intimacy that
the curse of longevity and physical invulnerability suffered by
the unsuspecting Edgecomb is initiated. He has been impregnated
 In yet another undeniably sexualized scene that relies on
the racialized associations of Coffey’s body, Coffey places his
mouth over Melinda’s, the prison warden’s wife, as he transfers
to his own body the brain tumor that is draining away her life.
Again, the narrative plays on the juxtaposition of her petite,
white, and pale body with his enormous, "hulking," black
She lay back against her pillows, propped up but not quite sitting
up, looking at him. He sat beside her, looking back, and the light
from the lamp circled them like they were actors on a stage—the
hulking black man in the prison overall and the small dying white
These moments before the "kiss," invoke images that
recall both the stereotype of the "black man accused of rape"
and, paradoxically, Coffey as a Christ-like Savior (Anthony Appiah,
Linda Williams, and other scholars such as Krin Gabbard have discussed
the "saint" typecasting in the portrayal of black characters
in film). In addition, this scene suggests a powerful troping
of the massive rapes of black women by white masters where unequal
power dynamics facilitate and work to validate racial oppression.
The above scene plays on this historical (dis)memory by at once
reversing and at the same time reinforcing this unequal power
relationship; the incongruity of Coffey’s awesome physical stature
yet childlike demeanor is represented against Melinda’s frail
and diminutive frame yet her venerated social and racial position.
 After Coffey "heals" Melinda (who had, prior to
Coffey’s cure, also resorted to violent fits of verbal cursing
and behavior unbecoming a "woman"), she returns to her
renewed and virtuous self. At this point, the narrative sustains
a romanticizing of their racialized exchange as King writes, "
‘I dreamed of you,’ she said in a soft, wondering voice. ‘I dreamed
you were wandering in the dark, and so was I. We found
each other...We found each other in the dark’ " (413,
my emphasis). Yet, while the narrative continues to offer these
"choked" representations of Coffey, it simultaneously
de-emphasizes the suffering that he endures. In the scene referenced
above, for example, he does not expel the disease that he has
transferred into his own body, as he had done when he heals Edgecomb.
Instead, he coughs violently and begins a steady physical and
psychological deterioration. Still, and yet again, we are not
to be concerned with the effects of this "healing" on
John Coffey. Like Edgecomb and the other prison guards who serve
as witnesses to this "miracle," we are to revel in the
redemption and restoration of health and virtue to Melinda.
 Both King and the filmmaker, Frank Darabont, consistently
romanticize Coffey’s suffering by offering up a story where readers
and viewers are directed to concentrate on the mysteriousness
and alterity of Coffey and not the racial oppression that he suffers.
Subsequently, Edgecomb and the other well-meaning prison guards
are "let off the hook" because of their good intentions
and their presupposed "helplessness" within this larger
system of racial and economic oppression. Edgecomb is, after all,
at least willing to acknowledge Coffey’s innocence as it is validated,
not only by the truth that he did not commit any crime, but also,
and more significantly, by the "evidence" of the saintly
miracles that he performs. In her book, Playing the Race Card,
Linda Williams asserts that Coffey’s characterization represents,
"The suffering of the black man [that] thus becomes necessary
to the vision of his humanity" (Williams, 308). I would argue,
however, that the film instead persists in establishing and stressing
the humanity of the white protagonist, Paul Edgecomb, a humanity
that is transferred to him through the suffering of Coffey. Like
Edgecomb, spectators in this regard are to worship these pious
acts and to see Coffey’s apotheosis and subsequent "sacrifice"
as not only necessary in such a disordered and unjust world but,
more importantly, inevitable.
 Additionally, elevating Coffey to the divine status of Savior
allows the spectator to dismiss his suffering, especially since
he suffers for the "good" of others; he saves those who
can be saved. They are not, presumably, as he is, economically
or socially dispensable. This knowledge returns our attention to
the existential problems of the white, male protagonist who, through
this figurative representation of African Americans, has experienced
the transference of their pathos. Consequently, as Edgecomb continues
life indefinitely, he is perpetually haunted by the "dark mark"
of consciousness that Coffey has left and the recognition that,
like Coffey, he will never be free and "will have wished for
death long before death finds [him]." In the end, they are
as intimately connected to one another as they had been sitting
on Coffey’s prison bed grasping one another: the memory of Coffey’s
suffering has now translated into the indefinite sorrow that manifestly
 Magnifying this haunting and giving it special force is
always the black presence that King portrays throughout the novel.
The novel begins, in fact, with Edgecomb recalling a female inmate
named Beverly McCall, who is described in the novel as, "black
as the ace of spades." Edgecomb remembers that:
Two nights before she was due to sit in Old Sparky, she
called me to her cell and said she had been visited by her African
spirit-father in a dream. He told her to discard her slave-name
and to die under her free name, Matuomi. That was her request, that
her death-warrant should be read under the name of Beverly Matuomi.
I guess her spirit-father didn’t give her any first name, or one
she could make out, anyhow. I said yes, okay, fine (5).
King uses Beverly’s African spirit-father’s visitation as the
initial haunting of his prison tale of horror. The novel begins
with the memory and spirit of slavery and has its apex at the
point in which the black Christ-like figure, John Coffey, a figure
that we cannot help but to relate to that other famous black Christ-like
figure, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s title character, Uncle Tom, is
sacrificed. And just like nineteenth-century American readers
who are relentlessly reminded of (and also haunted by) their
doomed fate under the peculiar institution of nineteenth-century
American slavery, Edgecomb will use the memory of his time at
Cold Mountain and the untimely demise of John Coffey to reflect
upon his own mortality. It is Edgecomb who is suffering and will
continue to suffer; it is his psychological imprisonment
and the "reversal of fortunes" he is subjected to, that
concludes King’s story.
 In her essay, "Hoodoo Economics: White Men’s Work and
Black Men’s Magic in Contemporary American Film," Heather
Hicks argues that, "this final development seems a grotesque
amplification of retrograde notions of the ‘white man’s burden.’
Paul [Edgecomb], that is, finds himself too empowered by his contact
with the hapless John Coffey, empowered to the point where he
wishes to disown the responsibilities that come with his role
as white manager/protector" (Hicks, 44). While I agree with
this cogent reading of the film, it is important to note that
both the film and the novel—the novel more extraordinarily
than the film—represent the double-edged sword of guilt
and threat that African Americans have consistently symbolized
in American popular culture. The Green Mile’s use of the
black character John Coffey not only communicates deeply embedded
anxiety about white male masculinity and the crises of identity
white men experience in the labor market of the twenty-first century.
Edgecomb’s labor, which produces death and vengeance on behalf
of the state, implicates him in the unjust and disproportionate
murder of men and women who are poor or black, and in most cases
both. King writes, "John Coffey was black, like most of the
men who came to stay for awhile in E Block before dying in Old
Sparky’s [the electric chair’s] lap...(King, 10).
 Nevertheless, we are not to focus on this obvious injustice.
In fact, and especially in the film, most of the prisoners (and
characters) portrayed in the story are white so that Coffey comes
to stand even more as anomaly, especially given his physical difference
and the supernatural powers that he possesses. As such, we are
not to spend our time asking why Coffey must die for a crime he
did not commit or investigating why and how it is that all of
the men and women at Cold Mountain who have been sentenced to
death by the state are disproportionately disenfranchised by racial
and economic systems of oppression. No. Instead, both the novel
and the film shift attention away from these largely looming social
issues to the psychological and moral crises of a single individual—Paul
Edgecomb—and his battle to somehow be free of these painful
memories, to somehow be redeemed.
 It is in these extraordinary inversions that American literary
and film narratives continue to revisit and "choke"
the history of the oppression of African Americans and to obfuscate
the larger issues of human oppression that have marked the lives
of so many Americans. Hicks insist that racial representations
such as those in The Green Mile "preserve the status
quo rather than produc[e] radical transformations" (43).
I would argue that the work of narratives such as The Green
Mile is, in fact, to do just that, to produce radical transformation.
The transformation, however, is not aimed at oppressive societies
or systems or on behalf of oppressed communities. Rather, it is
an individualistic transformation aimed at redeeming white society
and white men in particular. Furthermore, it is not, in this sense,
merely a spiritual redemption. It is a political transformation
that seeks to redeem liberal individualism—that is, the
right to choose one’s destiny and to have control over one’s life
(even when so many others do not), despite history, circumstance,
and further, in direct contradiction to the notion of community.
 In this quest for individual freedom, African American expressive
culture has long been simultaneously disparaged and romanticized.
For example, in discussing the popular reception of blues legend
Robert Johnson, George Lipsitz argues that, "With African
Americans relegated to primitive, natural, and mystical domains,
the consumption of black culture salves the alienations and identity
problems of European Americans" (Lipsitz, 119). Indeed African
Americans have provided a primary political and cultural site
for exploring notions of subjectivity. What it means to be human
or, more pointedly, to have ones humanity assaulted and threatened,
is vividly represented within the history of America’s slave past,
especially given the concomitant construction of American identity
in the early national era. As Toni Morrison has poignantly stated:
There is no romance free of what Herman Melville called "the
power of blackness," especially not in a country in which
there was a resident population, already black, upon which the
imagination could play; through which historical, moral, metaphysical,
and social fears, problems, and dichotomies could be articulated.
The slave population, it could be and was assumed, offered itself
up as surrogate selves for meditation on problems of human freedom,
its lure and its elusiveness... In other words, this slave population
was understood to have offered itself up for reflections on human
freedom in terms other than the abstractions of human potential
and the rights of man (Morrison, 37).
The contemporary evidence of such representations of race and
of the romanticized yet denied past, seem explicitly evident in
these science fiction and horror films where profuse representations
of Otherness, racial subjugation, and the struggle to ultimately
triumph over the existential limitations of independence and individualism
have continued to propagate.
 A corresponding contemporary socio-political issue, the debate
concerning reparations for African Americans, is useful here. Many
white Americans respond to debates about reparations for American
slavery as themselves victims; they are being falsely accused of
a crime they did not commit. The most common refrain is that they
did not directly and as "individuals" participate in the
events of America’s slave past. So why should they or their progeny
be "punished?" Rather than think about how present resources,
power, and opportunity often hinge upon racialized hierarchies and
the residual effects of racialized inequality, many white Americans
prefer to cling to romanticized ideas of race relations. Likewise,
popular narratives of race tend to highlight themes of forgiveness
and triumph or, as in the films discussed in this essay, the complete
submission of individual will under the horrifying and subjugating
burden of the "memory" of slavery and of past and current
 Popular literary and film narratives have persisted in reinforcing
this refusal to acknowledge the broader history of slavery and
racial oppression, as well as, its aftermath in the United States.
Fundamentally, these mythical stories of triumph and/or demise
through identification with the racial Other provide ahistorical,
as well as, disturbing depictions of human relations. Returning
to the film Candyman, we can read Helen’s transformation
into the symbolic "black" murderer/monster as a "sign"
that white Americans remain haunted by the history and memory
of slavery and are thus the real victims of racial oppression.
Accordingly, what all of these films suggest is that American
popular culture continues to perpetuate the cultural myth that
we are, all of us, just like John Coffey in The Green Mile,
"afraid of the dark" and that we are all slaves.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: My thanks to LeiLani Nishime, Roderick Ferguson,
and Roderick Ferguson for reading earlier drafts of this essay and
providing incisive observations and suggestions.
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KIM D. HESTER-WILLIAMS is an Assistant Professor
of English at Sonoma State University. She is author of, “The
reification of race in cyberspace: African American expressive culture,
FUBU and a search for 'beloved community' on the Net,” published
in the English and French online journal, Mots Pluriels. She is
currently working on a book about the appropriation of African American
aesthetics in American popular culture.