Sunday, February 5, 2012

Why The Black Man Dies



 

So I write: "CHRONICLE continues to prove the average lifespan of a black man in a genre film is about 30 minutes." And then Twitter gets angry for this spoiler, which wouldn't be a spoiler if that high school had more than one black guy in it.

So, yeah, if you haven't seen CHRONICLE...spoilers ahead. Fuck off.

But let’s be clear.

Who are these people who think a black man dying in a genre film is actually a spoiler anyway? Oh yeah…white people.

Because the rest of us who are not white immediately see that black guy step on a plane full of white people in THE GREY and go…he’s fucked. Yeah, spoiler, duh, shut up. And sure, everyone basically dies in that movie, but the one person we definitely knew was toast from the beginning was the black guy.


Except for the white audience. Who were sitting in their seats going, “I hope Jesus spares the black guy.” Then he freezes to death. A tear is shed, a latte is sipped.

What does this mean?

It means there’s the way white people view movies, and then there’s everyone else.

White people take it for granted that the average white guy’s life span in a movie is two hours. White people see every movie and get shocked when the minority gets killed in the eternal struggle of the survival of the white movie star. The rest of us watch the ethnic supporting cast get assembled and subconsciously prepare ourselves for a bloodbath. White people in return think we’re exaggerating and overreacting. That’s because lots of caucasians simply have no conception what this is like when there is literally a different cinematic universe that conspires to kill you whenever it gets bored of you.


This universe stems from the fact that aside from a few outliers, the vast majority of Hollywood movies are fronted by white movie stars, and by extention of that, these are white worlds. When people of color enter the picture, they may increasingly have more prominent supporting roles and indeed incredible Oscar worthy supporting roles, but they are not the main character. This is The Morgan Freeman Effect.

 

Thus, genre pictures that deal in life or death are particularly unkind to minorities. People must die in these movies, and the resulting survival list is a sociological study of race relations. The lead character generally survives, followed sometimes by his or her love interest. Since the main actor is white, the surviving love interest is 99% of the time white as well. Occasionally a hot Chinese import gets to be the love interest, but her accent is so terrible she’s packed back into a shipping container after the movie bombs.

That leaves the supporting cast where the rest of the races get stuffed into. If you’re going to shoot a gun at the cast, but pull out your two white leads, chances are you’re gonna kill a minority. Or Richard Brake.

 

Which brings me back to CHRONICLE. This film is a case study in the mechanics of why the black guy dies.

The film advertises itself in the trailer with three young unknown highschool kids discovering they have superpowers and getting into general mischief. I often confuse this teen found footage trailer with another teen found footage trailer, PROJECT X, except CHRONICLE actually looks like it has a black guy in it and the other one has a white guy who kind of looks black - Jimmy Kimmel. Anyway, the CHRONICLE black guy actually makes a black guy joke by stealing a car and saying “This time the black guy really did it.”


So now the Rest of Us™ know there is a black guy in this fucking movie, and his superpower is the ability to steal cars and joke about how people accusing him of stealing cars is racist. Ironically, minorities actually love stealing cars, so we flock to see this movie.

What the trailer then ultimately promises is that the nerdy white dude is going to go bad and shit will happen. Obviously, the other two superpowered teens must fight him and some dying will happen. The trick is the third teen is a good looking muscular white dude whose superpower is infinite movie exposition. So much time is spent on this guy singing Jessie J songs in his car the movie could be called The Chronicle of White Guy Sings Jessie J Songs: What Fucking White Guy Sings Jessie J Songs?


There is simply no way a white guy with this much post modern masculinity is going to die. It’s like killing Seth Meyers during Weekend Update. Which leaves our noble black guy to die and supply Seth Meyers with his Morgan Freeman Effect. It doesn’t matter that our black guy is a good looking, popular jock who unoffensively dates the only black girl in the pacific northwest. The filmmakers only wrote three characters, so by simple deduction, he’s Tupac in a sweater combo.

 

I truly believe that the moment he dies comes as a shock to the white audience. Having apparently no memory of every movie they’ve ever seen, this casualty of search for the next white action hero is just another gospel funeral lesson. How many more blacks, asians, hispanics, arabs, and talking animals must die to advance the careers of Chris Hemsworth, Garrett Hedlund, Channing Tatum, Taylor Kitsch? I admire the selflessness of minorities in these movies because it’s obvious if you’re buddies with one of these muscular white dudes, you’re gonna corpse up real fast.

In the final analysis, why does the black guy die? The final answer is this: he’s not the lead. He’s just a supporting character. And in the cinematic chasm that seperates the perspective of white people and everyone else, this is why it’s a spoiler to the former and a given to the latter.

Hollywood is a giant ship. The black guy dies because after the Titanic sank, there was only room for one person on that piece of wood.

And that person was Leonardo DiCaprio.

 

36 comments:

  1. interesting blog. now following.

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  2. SPOILER

    The white guy also died. Where's his blog post?

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    1. They made a whole movie about him. He's spoken for.

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  3. Also important to note, there were no references to race in the script. Steve's character wasn't a race specific role, none of the those guys' were.

    Seems like if they had cast a white actor in the role of Steve, this wouldn't have been an issue. Cast a black actor in the role and now it's a big deal what the character's fate is, which existed on paper before Michael B. Jordan ever got cast.

    Once he did get cast in the role, it would've been a bad move for the film if they had rewritten the character's fate just to accommodate political correct sensitivities. But again, they're non-race specific roles. The actors seemed good at what they did, each one could've played the other two roles.

    You might have a better case if you were asking why Michael B. Jordan wasn't cast in the role of Andrew or Matt.

    I think some people consider his character's death a spoiler because his death was a plot point in the film. It separated Act 2 from 3. And it also set up Andrew's character for doing what he ended up doing. And it's also a spoiler for people that are just going to a movie to watch 3 teens have fun with their superpowers which is how the film is being sold.

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    1. I did essentially ask why Michael B. Jordan wasn't cast as Andre or Matt. It's really the main point of the whole blog. You're just not putting the pieces together.

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    2. Then both Andrew and Matt would have been black, which would have a black character be the villain and die anyways and you'd still whine about it.

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    3. Just saw movie. Awesome. However Steves character is very race specific. Hes the charasmatic pop charasmatic black best friend who is used to bring out the roles of the two main characters. Was his role well developed. Yes. Prob more so than the third guy but hes still.the first to go. Can we atleast admit to a pattern like that we know in a
      horror flick that the slut the black guy the funny
      guy and the selfishly evil guy will all die pretty quick. As several have replied there are parts of this movie that are qliche and thats one of the
      rather quickly. The movie is played for its demo. Upper mid class young white men who have or would lve to have a fun black huy as their besty bbthan his m

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    4. The issue is really is the back of peoples minds. Really what it is is that even though it may not be a race specific role, when they cast the leading part they are seeing a certain type of person play the part. Seems like they only visualize black guys playing the part of the guy that dies. good or bad actors alike

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  4. Awesome analysis! Allow me to point out that the black guy typically is also more motivated to flee from danger the very instant he suspects it. It's his survival instinct that ironically gets him killed. Agreed, these films are usually produced by whites in a white world featuring a white cast with white people problem solving skills... None of which speak to the black guy character because as any minority knows, in real life, the black guy is always the first to get the fuck outta Dodge, no questions asked. No need to investigate, check if the coast is clear... None of that! This is because the black guy has seen enough horror movies to know that if he hesitates just a second too long, it could mean his ass. No way he's risking that for ANY of his white friends!

    Simply put, the black guy character never makes it the whole way through because he's never written the way an actual black guy thinks. The actual black guy is way too smart to challenge impending doom while the black guy character is always an unfortunate first casualty.

    Example:

    Actual black guy amongst white friends in peril: "Fuck this! I'm out!" Clear, rational survival instinct... This is what keeps him alive.


    Black guy character amongst white friends in peril: "Aww FUCK!"

    In the last second of the black guy character's life flashing before him, he's thinking: "SHOULD HAVE STAYED MY ASS HOME!"

    Mr. Kahn is right. The cinematic death clock always starts with the black guy character.

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    1. Jane, L-O-FUCKING-L. I wish I wrote that. So awesome.

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    2. Steve wasn't a token black guy character though. He didn't subscribe to the stereotypes described above but beyond that, all three kids felt they were invincible in a way, which explains why Andrew flew up into the lightning storm and Steve joined him trying to talk him down.

      If Steve actually behaved based on the stereotypes above, I could only imagine what Joseph would tweet about it.

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    3. Mike. How many other non-white characters were there and what part did they play in the film?

      Steve is a device (like the pink haired girl) to establish Andrew's state of mind.

      If Andrew can do A then B is possible.

      Like the kid whose teeth he rips out. Non-white. Revenge.

      The neighbourhood douches. White. Necessity.

      Ask me why Christopher Nolan troubles me?

      It doesn't make sense to you because you aren't the disposable minority.

      You wouldn't be scratching your head when a trailer shows Zac Efron punching the ONLY black kid in a sailing club. A world that doesn't have black people in it.

      Just how things are.

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    4. OrphanPixels, Steve may be considered a device but no less a device that many of the other characters, like Andrew and Matt who were devices like the protagonist/antagonist.

      The mother character's also a device to create sympathy and the father character's a device too, many of the characters are. The point is, device or not, Steve is one of the three guys and people are going to see the film to see those 3 guys have fun with their new found superpowers, then Joseph ruined some of that for his followers on twitter.

      I wouldn't say Steve is like the pink haired girl character. He has a much bigger role and her character was pretty one dimensional while his had some sort of an arc. Remember, he's the cool kid, doesn't usually hang out with people like Andrew, but befriends him they all get their powers. He then starts spending more time with them and less with his girlfriend and eventually becomes Andrew's best friend as he tells him that trying to make him come down from the lighting storm. Steve had a full on character and even an arc, a far cry from the red haired girl who was one dimensional, as she should be. If she had any more dimension, we'd feel less sympathy for Andrew at the party but because she's just one note cruel, we sympathize with Andrew a bit more as he plummets down his hole.

      Steve had a far greater role that she did.

      Those neighborhood douches, yeah, they were white but that's being written off as a necessity? What? If they were non-white, would that be racist? SInce they're white, it's a necessity? Is that fair? Is the simple act of casting any character in the film with a white or non-white actor an act of racism?

      And those guys weren't race specific in the script, neither was the school bully, an archetype that usually gets cast with a white actor.

      All the characters were race neutral. But to make the movie, they needed to be cast and it seems like if you cast a white actor or a non-white actor, you're pretty much screwed. People are oversensitive. Maybe they just should've projected pages of the script and have had audience members imagine what the characters looked like themselves.

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    5. It all cool and all, but think about this how many roles in films that has a young Black lead character? The reason why black people are sensitive because they don't see themselves in movies. The always seen as a beast friend or a token.

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  5. Hi dear Joseph,im your fan and i love your amazing works.happy to find that blog.may i ask you why using Parviz mosharaf's picture for your profile?! this is so strange for me! wish you the best,the great director.

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  6. I just saw it and was so pissed off because, Steve was so nice and a good character, I was just disappointed as f**k to say the least.

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  7. I am so glad that you wrote this, I just came back from seeing Chronicle and I'M PISSED. I'm so pissed, in fact, that I left the movie after Steve died but let me explain why.

    First, in the interests of fairness I much divulge that I am.... wait for it... a black male. With that said, this movie and the way they killed Steve pisses me off, and what pisses me off more is that people like "Mike" are quick to point out that there is an anti-racial way of viewing this yet even the post apologist cannot fail to admit that this type of thing happens all the time. To prove it, I'm going to literally name 5 movies off the top of my head where this sort of thing happened.

    1. Jamie Foxx in Stealth.
    2. Jazz the "black" transformer in Transformer (Oh yeah, I went there).
    3. X-Men First Class
    4. Skyline (apparently I'm a sucker for this genre).
    5. Alien vs. Predator Requiem


    However, my problem is not just with the way that Steve dies, its how his death is treated in the film. I've done quite a bit of searching about the end of the movie and here is what I grasped happened after I left (when Steve died). Apparently, Matt had and inkling that something bad had happened to Steve and at the funeral he approaches Andrew and demands answers... Andrew doesn't give him anything to work with so after being distraught about the death of his close friend Steve what does Matt do... NOTHING.

    Absolutely nothing, worse in fact, I've read that the end of the movie Matt confesses his love to Andrew and his sorrow about what's happened and even travels to Tibet in Andrew's honor... Um... is it just me or is fucked up to take a trick to Tibet in celebration of a mass murderer but Steve only gets a SINGLE line dedicated to Matt's remorse after his death, and does Matt go to Maui (where Steven wanted to go after they discovered they had the ability to fly) and make a dedication to him, NOPE. Matt doesn't do anything for Steve (who, may I add could have helped Steve if he'd just answered his cell phone instead of playing kissy-face with his voyeur-obsessed BLONDE-HAIRED, BLUE-EYED, love interest.

    GIVE ME A BREAK.

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    1. You're a fucking idiot. It's like you are just looking for ways that made this movie racist, and you're not looking deep enough into the story. The reason Matt at the end declares his love for Andrew is because they are cousins, and if Matt had just been ther for Andrew before all the super-power business and not chosen popularity over family, then not only would Andrew not go as crazy as he did, but also it would have prevented Steve's death. That is why Matt apologizes and goes to Tibet for him because he feels partially guilty for what happened. And for the whole not going to Maui for Steve, for all we know Matt could have done that aswell, the only reason we see him do this to Andrew is because throughout the movie Andrew is the one who films everything, so as he is dead Matt uses Andrews camera as a representation of Andrew.

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    2. No Junior, you're a n idiot. Only an idiot would presuppose that Matt went to Maui for Steve after seeing the movie and clearly seeing that it didn't happen. And you apparently didn't even contemplate the core of Matt's character because as is discussed several times ON SCREEN MATT IS NOT, N-O-T, POPULAR. He, himself, explains that he choose to separate himself from the high-school dynamic of trying to be popular, why do you think she was so surprised to see him at the talent show (here's a hint, its because she wasn't used to him being in any way involved in the high school scene). It shouldn't be surprising that a guy named Junior had trouble following that subtle plot device but none-the-less your point still fails on several levels.

      First, as you yourself noted, Matt wasn't there for Andrew as they grew up. You know who Matt was friends with during that time, Steve, in fact it was Matt who sent Steve to recover Andrew and bring him down to the weird-glowing-fortress of solitude-looking crystal thing in the beginning. Second, you would think Matt would feel even more guilty about Steve's death because it was Steve who came to Andrew's aid when he was hurting, and because he wasn't tough enough to make a hardline stance against Andrew sooner. He literally like dozens of people get hurt or killed all while yelling "Andrew, don't make do this" over and over again.

      I'm really not at all sure why the producers choose to end the movie with a dedication to Andrew. Haven't they learned that American's do not care how "sick" or bothered the depraved-heart killer is. Do you think they're going to make a movie about Columbine and at the end dedicate an emotionally touching scene to the shooters who we've all heard were criticized and lamented? No, because at the end of the day they're still mass-murdering pricks.

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    3. I agree with you on many of your points, but what you should understand is that Andrew was the main character of this movie, and th director and screen writer wanted his character to be the kid you feel sorry for but know can be dangerous when he loses control. As I said I agree with most of what you said and Steve was a major character and deserved more sympathy then what little amount he got, but my main point is Matt was closer to Andrew then he was to Steve and as I said earlier he feels really guilty for let alone killing him but also for not being there for him when he really needed it and only coming in to save the day last minute. Also, with the whole Maui thing I never said I thought it would actually happen, my main point was that the only reason we saw Andrews declaration of love is because The camera was represented as Andrew. But I do agree they should've shown more love towards Steve as he was probably the better of the three.

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  8. I could send you the script, if you like. Steve dies in there too and none of the characters are described by race.

    It just sucks that to avoid this whole thing, they should've just rewritten the movie after casting the actor.

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    1. What really sucks is that just like the earlier reply about bullying we tend to think that if its not our experience than it doesnt happen or its not that bad . And what sucks even more is that this established acceptance of this obvious pattern keeps even the most well intentioned white people in this blissfull stupor and we all the while looking uncivilized and even paranoid cause we grind our teeth oat this established traetment. Do not change the station there is nothing wrong with frequency. U are getting a small piece of a true experience for a group of people and I understand that u dont see it. I just ask that u look. and there would have to be some planning in the race of this character even if it is not stated its part of the dynamic of this dynamic pic! The script im sure does not establish the race of the other two either. So should I asume that they could have just as easily been black or hispanic or pakistani. No. I cant. Wake up. Only by choosing to wake up can we have a new day. God bless

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  9. So exactly what did the movie do wrong? Kill off the Steve character in the script? Cast that actor in the Steve role? Not rewrite the Steve character to survive?

    I mean, once they cast him, should they have rewritten the part so he would live? Or were they wrong to cast him in the role of Steve?

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    1. I think this is already answered in the article. The movie would have been much better had it stuck to what the credits made you believe it was going to be. Matt and Steve teaming up to stop Andrew, but no we can only let the white-hero do that (intentional cynicism with that last remark).

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    2. How did the credits make you think that? Are you talking about the marketing? So the movie should be changed to accommodate the marketing? More like the other way around, no?

      And the marketing seemed to keep Andrew's turn to villainy hidden. The marketing would lead you to believe that it's about 3 kids just hanging out with Superpowers, not that one of 'em turns.

      Also, if it wasn't for Steve's death, Andrew wouldn't have turned. His turn towards being a villain was a slow escalation of all that happened in the film, INCLUDING Steve's death which also lead to Matt blaming him for it.

      His mom would've still died but that wouldn't have been enough to push Andrew over if all the bad crap that happened to him before wouldn't have happened in that order.

      Anyway

      http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lz9w41bpVJ1qets8fo1_500.gif

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    3. I'm sorry, you're correct I was referring to the marketing. However, as the author of this article noted (did you even read this article) the marketing does make you think that its going to end up being Steve and Matt against Andrew. I don't think you're being honest with yourself if you're making an argument otherwise. In fact, the trailer specifically has Andrew saying "I'm stronger than both of you."

      That would lead me to imply that he's going to turn evil and that Steve and Andrew would team up to kick his ass. You're either 1) just being a strong devil's advocate or 2) not being honest with yourself about this movie, and and this point I'm sure you didn't even read this blog because you keep asking questions about it that have been answered.

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  11. Yes, it's always a man (usually white, but occasionally black) but never or rarely a woman who is left standing at the end of the day.

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  12. Wonderful post. Some people just aren't willing to put in the effort to understand.

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  13. Great post. I spent the whole movie riding a rollercoaster of discomfort, unsure how much the filmmakers were playing to the ugly strain of racism prevalent in Nerd Culture (yuck).
    - Everything up to the party: Uh-oh, looks like it's another story of How Tough It Is To Be A White Nerd. Guy's got it rough! Black jock class president-to-be's face plastered everywhere, black cheerleader yelling at him, ridiculously cruel guy smacking him around (also not white). Oh, the neighbourhood thugs are white! Their dress and speech sure are coded black, though.
    - At The Hole: Black jock class president-to-be's an actual character? Okay, he seems cool even. Let's see how this goes...
    - Later: Andrew's getting creepier, doesn't seem like a Peter Parker story - maybe we'll get a deliberate subversion of the Persecuted White Nerd bullshit...
    - Later still: Hmm, leaning on the "Steve's a horndog" bit a little hard, could do without that.
    - "I can only do things using raw power! Nothing that requires... finesse": ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!
    - Steve dead: ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
    - Matt's Eulogy: Give me a fucking break.

    So, the answer to my worried question was: quite a bit!

    @BeSkates: Even though you didn't see it, you nailed the closing video diary: gross, gross, gross. "Haven't they learned that [audiences] do not care how "sick" or bothered the depraved-heart killer is" precisely so: I also spent the movie wondering/worrying about how much we were supposed to feel bad for Andrew (I didn't, mostly, because - outside of his dad? - his persecution rang so false). Again, the answer turned out to be "quite a bit", and again it was to the movie's detriment.

    (The eulogy's also bad just on a filmmaking level - guy's stood talking against snowy, mountainous backdrop, and then acts like it's a surprise when he turns the camera to reveal: Crappy CG monasteries! Holy shit he's in Tibet! Duh-doy.)

    @Mike: There's not much to add to what OrphanPixels and others have put to you already, but: you're very attached to the sanctity of the script - were you pissed off by Steve's reference to his own race, as covered in Joseph's blog post? Clearly this would have to have been added after the actor was cast, which you seem to be opposed to in principle. It's fairly standard for the casting of characters to affects the contents of a script, for any number of reasons. Even if dubious, stereotypical characterisations predate a person of colour's casting, we can only respond to the finished movie - the filmmakers are responsible for what ends up onscreen; it's too easy to just shrug your shoulders and say "but that's how it was written".

    @Alison Richards: Yeah, this movie was Strictly Dudes. The barely-glimpsed women are either objects of lust/frustration, or sources of sadness/inspiration, with a little Damsel in Distress thrown in for good measure. Topic for another blog-post, I guess.

    Anyway, sorry for the wall of text, all. I guess I just wanted to say "good post", and that this film would have been significantly improved by switching Matt and Steve's final fates. Still a long way from perfect, but improved nonetheless.

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  14. Oh, I did some googling and found the following exchange from this interview with Michael B. Jordan*. Thought it was fairly germane to the discussion here (emphasis at the end is mine):

    Insider: Were you surprised that critics have looked at Chronicle through a racial lens, saying that it feeds into stereotypes because your character dies?
    Michael: I know [screenwriters] Josh [Trank] and Max [Landis] have been getting a lot of flack about it being racist, but truth be told, my character was originally named Steve Kazinski in the script. He was Jewish – so regardless of race, Steve was gonna go. It just so happens that I took over the role, we changed the name and the black guy died [laughs].
    Insider: Did any part of you try to get them to alter that fact so you could, at least, be part of that epic final battle?
    Michael: Oh definitely! [laughs] When I was reading the script, I was always being the one conspiring -- trying to think of new ways to stay alive. But at the end of the day, certain characters are tools throughout the film – they're used to push other characters forward.

    *What's up with the interrobang'd title? Is anyone surprised by sequel talk after Matt's "I'll find out what happened to us" line?

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  15. It's not just that the black guy dies but the black guy usually dies first! I knew it was coming! So sad that this was the smart self proclaimed future politician (young Obama) that died first. And he didn't steal the car in the movie he just moved the car. Bottom line when you watch a movie you look for characters to identify with and naturally we identify with those that look like us. So finally when there is a character that looks like us we root for them and when they die so soon it lets us down! It's like our main character has died!

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  16. What about the movie "The Thing"? The original one. Childs and Macready survive til' the end.

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  17. @DrDarkAngel
    "So finally when there is a character that looks like us we root for them and when they die so soon it lets us down! It's like our main character has died!"

    Oh I so agree! Whites tend go to the movies to see themselves on the big screen. Look at the uproar a Black Rue caused in the Hunger Games. It's just assumed that every character will look (white) like you. Especially the heroic ones.

    Most blacks could have told you before the lights even went down in the theater who was going to die first. You didn't have to sit though the entire first half to deduce this. Problem is a lot of whites have the Privilege of never having to think about race. Most don't even see themselves as white; they're just normal guys. They're not defined by their race, where on the other hand we minorities are. So its hard to look at a movie like this and view it from a non-white's perspective. Whites never have to, because Privilege keeps the blinders on. Just wanted to speak my peace.

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  18. Basically, anyone who disagrees with this blog is either jaded or in denial when it comes to history of Hollywood. It's 2012 and even tho the black character did not have a stereotypical role, the fact that the black guy gets killed is nothing new...and very basic in movies and tv. Maybe you can't relate, because you have had more than your share of white alpha male characters who make it thru the whole movie. this subconscious racism is what white America needs. just look at the reaction to the hunger games.

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  19. Anyone who disagrees with this blog is one of the 3-D's (delusional, dense or a dodger).

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