Anyone catch Will Smith’s alcoholic superhero movie Hancock over the holiday weekend? Though it received mixed reviews, it grossed a heroic $107 million since opening last Wednesday. I haven’t seen it, but as a fan of superhero movies (the first Superman with Christopher Reeve is my all-time favorite), I look forward to catching it soon. If you’ve seen it already, I’d love to hear your reviews.
I bring up Hancock because of an interesting—and somewhat cynical—review I found at the progressive site AlterNet.org. In the review, critic Eileen Jones mines the film and Will Smith’s superstardom for all their racial subtext. But at the core of the piece are parallels she surmises between the careers of Smith and presidential candidate Barack Obama, both of whom have been described as “transcending race.”
I’m sure some of you are thinking, Here we go again, imposing race on everything, and perhaps Jones is reading too much into things here. After all, it’s just another Will Smith summer action flick. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by Jones’ exploration of the “transcending race” theme, which has been such a two-edged sword for Obama. Describing the ways both Smith and Obama are perceived by some from within the African American community, Jones writes:
In succeeding so spectacularly so far, both men risk accusations of “transcending race” by selling out, flashing megawatt smiles while skating over the bitterness of the African American experience, refusing to display anger, appealing to white audiences with endless reassurance: See how smoothly we’ve succeeded, how apparently unscarred we are by experience, what solid citizens we are with our nicely tailored suits, our picture-perfect families, our upbeat attitudes. Madison Avenue couldn’t have come up with better advertisements for racial progress in America than Obama and Smith.
She goes on to invoke images of Jackie Robinson, Sidney Poitier, and other historical markers of race relations in America as she tears the film apart. It’s not a positive review, but is it helpful as social commentary? One of the most fascinating things for me about Obama’s candidacy has been this delicate dance he’s been forced to perform for the sake of getting elected. I’ve blogged about it again and again and again. It’s a dance that all politicians must do, but Obama’s race and cultural heritage have required him to bring a more complex choreography to the floor. Jones suggests that any black man seeking public acceptance by the majority culture must engage in this dance, and she zeroes in on Smith and his superhero character as further examples of this phenomenon.
My desire was to see Hancock purely for its entertainment value; I certainly wasn’t planning on wearing my racial antennae to the theater. What do you think? If you’ve seen the film, did you pick up any of these racial overtones? Or do you think this is just one more example of the media imposing race where it doesn’t belong?