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Note to The Walking Dead: Aren’t There Any Black Zombies in Georgia?

Duane Jones, "Ben" in Night of the Living Dead

Duane Jones, educated at the Sorbonne, was the first black hero of a horror film in 1968's Night of the Living Dead

So I was sitting in a hotel room last night going over my notes presentation when the cable channel I was watching starting growling. Well, it was actually the television show but since the actual television was encased in one of those stupid hotel room cabinets where the doors only open so much and you can’t really see all of the television if you’re not sitting right in front of it the effect was that the television was growling because I couldn’t actually see the box because I was on the bed and could only see the open cabinet door.

I hopped up to sit on the couch so I could see what all the fuss is about. And I looked and saw what I instantly recognized was “The Walking Dead,” the new hit show on AMC. I remember seeing like one episode when the show first came out and thinking cool. But I haven’t really watched it since I don’t have cable and my television only plays DVD’s. And as Blockbuster will tell you – who has time to go to the video store these days?

Anyway, while I was doing some work I had The Walking Dead on in the background. And it occurred to me that accept for the first few episodes where there was a black couple there were no black zombies in the entire series.

Sure they had a black character “T-Dog,” a very authentic name by Hollywood standards I guess, but I’m sure that brother already lost his SAG card cause he speaks about as much as my dog used to speak when he was alive. Yeah, like not at all.

Now I’ve given up on Hollywood just writing scripts that include black people as regular characters. That just never happens. I mean Friends was set in NEW YORK, one of the blackest places around and I can count the number of times black people appeared on that show. And not to mention Seinfeld. But c’mon Frank Darabount! The Walking Dead is set in Georgia, near Atlanta, the blackest city in the world and you can’t even dress up black people as zombies…REALLY, REALLY!!!

You know it’s bad when black people aren’t even asking for main characters any more, just to be seen as extras in a zombie film. I mean the original zombie movie, the best one of them all wouldn’t have been as compelling, rich or good without Duane Jones.

Night of the Living Dead is still, hands down the best zombie movie of all time. Shot in 1968, written and directed by George Romero, this movie is a master of subtly using suspenseful movie horror to dissect the real-life horror of racism, sexism and society’s ills. It is brilliant as it is gory, profound as it is entertaining and deep as it is plain fun.

Everything “The Walking Dead,” has done, from the bewildered reluctant hero, to the scraggly group of survivors hold up in a farm house fighting zombies comes directly from Romero’s film. Well, everything except one thing – having a central black character.

I find it funny that in 1968, when racism was supposed to be at its peak, one of the most avant-garde independent films about gore and horror saw fit to place a black man in the center of the action while in today’s more ‘progressive,” times we can’t even get a black zombie in “The Walking Dead.”

Does anyone else see what’s wrong with this picture?

Educated at the Sorbonne, Jones began acting in New York City theater. Night of the Living Dead was his first movie audition and, according to George Romero, he nailed it. Romero said he gave the best performance which is why he cast him as the hero of the film. It was the first time a black man had been cast as a hero of the film when the cast wasn’t predominantly black. In an interview Romero insisted his casting of Jones had nothing to do with civil rights but I found it hysterically ironic that after escaping the horror of the zombies Jones’ character Ben doesn’t escape the realities of the white South.

I love cinema from the 50s and 60s especially. That was the golden time it seems for blacks in Hollywood. It was the time of actors like Jones, Sidney, Dandridge, Horne and others who made big screen debuts despite the deck being stacked against them.

A college classmate of mine Darwin Harris is an actor out in L.A.. For the life of me I can’t understand how this brother does it. He’s not light-skinned, or mixed or any of those other things Hollywood likes about black people. He’s just black and a wonderful actor. It must be hard as all get out for him to get roles, but more importantly for him to face an entire industry who sees him as invisible. STILL, to this day.

Ralph Ellison may have wrote “The Invisible Man,” but blacks in Hollywood are living it right now. And please, please don’t mention Tyler Perry. I’ll have to throw my laptop at you.

Anyway, at the end of Night of the Living Dead, as anyone who sees the film knows, the hero dies. Reportedly George Romero wanted an alternative ending where the hero lived. But Duane Jones talked him out of it. According to an article by Joe Kane of The Wrap, Jones said:

 “I convinced George that the black community would rather see me dead than saved, after all that had gone on, in a corny and symbolically confusing way.” Besides, said Jones, “The heroes never die in American movies. The jolt of that and the double jolt of the hero figure being black seemed like a double-barreled whammy.”

Having Duane Jones in the lead role in the year that Martin Luther King Jr., was slain and civil rights issues were front and center in the American consciousness gave a depth to Night of the Living Dead that the movie – though excellent as written – would not have attained. It elevated the script and the film, allowing it to represent more than horror, or even human desperation but the idea that when faced with an impossible situation all of us have the heroic ability to survive no matter our origin.

The Walking Dead tries so hard to get there, beyond the gore but just doesn’t. I wonder why?



3 thoughts on “Note to The Walking Dead: Aren’t There Any Black Zombies in Georgia?

  1. There are multiple African American zombies in the series. Pay closer attention to the herds. There’s also a main character in both the comic and the television series named Michonne, who happens to be black. Not to mention Tyrese.

    Posted by Some Guy | April 19, 2012, 3:47 pm
  2. Yeah that’s the point shouldn’t have to “pay close attention,” should be pretty obvious in a show set in Georgia. But no matter can’t expect greatness from a zombie series but Night of the Living Dead tops them all! Michonne won’t be introduced until next year and the comic has her pretty much a psycho but still badass!

    Posted by writingprincess | April 19, 2012, 4:01 pm
  3. I can’t really discern whether the zombies are white, black, hispanic or anything else due to the makeup and other special affects. To me they are “just zombies.” I think that’s the point though. Once someone dies and loses their humanity, they become part of the mass faceless threat of the zombie horde. There are exceptions of course when it’s relevant to the story- such as with Morgan’s wife. The viewer’s attention is focused on the “living.” Diversity can easily be found there. Night of The Living Dead was ground breaking for doing exactly what you wrote about. Obviously nothing in today’s era will be able to do what it did simply because the country is a bit more open-minded and accepting when compared to the 60s. Having African American leads in all sorts of entertainment mediums has become commonplace, and that speaks wonders about how much the country has grown. Michonne is definitely not okay in the head, but neither are any of the other characters(including Rick Grimes). It’s just a consequence of the Universe they exist in. She’s still very sympathetic and very well beloved. There’s no doubt that they’ll treat her character in the show with the same respect as in the comics.

    Posted by Some Guy | April 19, 2012, 4:46 pm

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