Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.
I’ve just finished watching The World, The Flesh and The Devil, a 1959 science fiction doomsday film starring non-white actor, Harry Belafonte. Here is the Wikipedia entry for the film, suitably annotated for purposes of Counter-Racist analysis:
African-American [=black/non-white] coal mine inspector Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) becomes trapped underground in a cave-in while inspecting a mine in Pennsylvania. He can hear rescuers digging towards him, but after a few days they slow down and then stop completely. Alarmed, he digs his own way out. Reaching the surface, he finds a deserted world. (No bodies are seen at any time in the film.) Some discarded newspapers provide an explanation: one proclaims “UN Retaliates For Use Of Atomic Poison”, another that “Millions Flee From Cities! End Of The World”. Ralph later plays tapes at a radio station that indicate that a dust of radioactive isotopes that became harmless after five days was used as a weapon.
Travelling to New York City in search of other survivors, he finds the city vacant. Ralph busies himself restoring power to a building where he takes up residence. Just as the loneliness starts to become intolerable, he encounters a second survivor: Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), a Caucasian-American[=white] woman in her twenties.
The two become fast friends, but Ralph grows distant when it becomes clear that Sarah is developing stronger feelings for him. Despite living in a post-apocalyptic world, he cannot overcome the inhibitions instilled in him in a racist American society [=Racism/White Supremacy]. Ralph regularly broadcasts on the radio, hoping to contact other people.
One day, he receives a signal from Europe.
Things become vastly more complicated when an ill, white Benson Thacker (Mel Ferrer) arrives by boat. Ralph and Sarah nurse him back to health, but once he recovers, Ben sets his sights on Sarah and sees Ralph as a rival. Ralph is torn by conflicting emotions. He avoids Sarah as much as possible, to give Ben every opportunity to win her affections, but cannot quite bring himself to leave the city.
Ben finally grows tired of the whole situation, realizing he stands little chance with Sarah as long as Ralph remains nearby. He warns Ralph that the next time he sees him, he will try to kill him. The two armed men hunt each other through the empty streets. Finally, Ralph passes by the United Nations headquarters, climbs the steps in Ralph Bunche Park, and reads the inscription “They shall beat their swords into plowshares. And their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more”, from the Book of Isaiah 2:4. He throws down his rifle and goes unarmed to confront Ben, who in turn finds himself unable to shoot his foe. Defeated, he starts walking away. Sarah appears. When Ralph starts to turn away from her, she makes him take her hand; then she calls to Ben and gives him her other hand. Together, the three walk down the street to build a new future together. The film ends not with “The End” but with “The Beginning”.
Here is the trailer on YouTube:
The title of the film comes from a phrase in the (Anglican) Book of Common Prayer: “From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, spare us, good Lord.” From a Counter-Racist perspective, reference to ‘deceit’ is particularly interesting in connection with the film, which explores power-relations involving a black male, white male and white female, since according to seminal Counter-Racist analyst Neely Fuller, Jr., deceit is one of the primary means by which Racist (White Supremacists) practice violence against non-white people. (Incidentally, The World, The Flesh and The Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul(1929) is the title of a book by the white British scientist and Marxist, J D Bernal, exploring radical changes to human bodies and intelligence, and the impact of these on society.)
Before proceeding to make a few observations on the film from a Counter-Racist perspective, it is interesting to note the following review of the film appearing on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB):
26 January 2001 | by Geoffrey Charles (Baltimore, MD)
This movie will grab your interest and exercise your moral fiber. Race, prejudice and pride are but minor subplots in this excellent film. A fair minded humanitarian man discovers the true nature of life and friendship. Asheltered woman finds the friendship of a man that is everything she loves in a person, but nothing at all like her indoctrination would suggest. Suddenly her psychological paradise is shattered, when a third person comes along that threatens to bring back all the old ways of thinking that separated people and cultures throughout generations. Black and white has never been so colorful [emphases added].
Contrary to Geoffrey Charles – is he a white person? – I consider race, prejudice and pride to be fundamental to this film.
Here are some Counter-Racist observations on the film which is possibly the FIRST science fiction doomsday film with a non-white [=black] person as principal protagonist*:
1. During the film, the white female (WF) asks the non-white male (N-WM) about whether she can share an apartment with him. He refuses an she asks why. He responds by saying that “people will talk” which is a CODIFIED version of the statement “white people – especially those practicing Racism (White Supremacy) – will NOT accept such an arrangement, i.e. a non-white male co-habiting with a white female.” (Clearly, this refers to a situation in which more CRUDE / OVERT Racism (White Supremacy), rather than more LIBERAL / REFINED WS/R, is in operation.) Here we have one of the first indications that the N-WM has INTERNALISED the power-relations asymmetry that is fundamental to the SYSTEMIC PRACTICE of White Supremacy (Racism).
2. The WF responds with increasingly frustrated behaviour and eventually the N-WM asks her why. She replies by saying the following: “I’m free, white and 21, and I’m going to do what I please!” This is interesting since in her exchanges with the N-WM up to this point, she APPEARS to be oblivious to the RACIAL DIFFERENCE between them. Even when asserting her “whiteness”, she APPEARS to be oblivious to its IMPLICATIONS in terms of power-relations. Or is the WF practicing “deceit”, i.e. is she FEIGNING ignorance / obliviousness? Under conditions of Racism (White Supremacy), every white person must be treated as a Racial Suspect, that is, as a white person who may be practicing WS/R insofar as they are capable of doing so.
3. The N-WM has been spending his time in CONSTRUCTIVE ACTION – fixing the electrical generator in order to provide both himself and the WF with electricity and lighting, rigging up a telephone system, establishing a radio station to broadcast an announcement of their presence, and collecting books from a nearby library that is threatened with becoming waterlogged.
4. The WF, by contrast, has, as she states, been getting ‘rusty’, indicating her need for ‘romantic’ [=SEXUAL] relations, presumably with the N-WM. Do we have a potential BELLY WARMING scenario here? Interestingly, the N-WM tells the WF that he will find her someone – a WHITE person – to marry. He then goes on to state that he is a COLOURED person, a NEGRO, a NIGGER. The WF responds that she can only see a MAN. Is the WF practicing DECEIT? Does Racism (White Supremacy) continue to FUNCTION in this doomsday scenario or is it merely a ‘residual effect’ lingering on in the (FALSIFIED) CONSCIOUSNESS of the N-WM? (The N-WM points out to the WF that she would not even (AC)KNOW(LEDGE) him in the ‘old world’.)
5. The N-WM is CONFUSED as to his feelings / relationship with the WF, whereas the white male (WM) is not; the latter wishes to engage in sexual relations with her and make this clear to both the N-WM and WF.
6. In the final scene, the three protagonists, N-WM, WF and WM walk into the distance, hand-in-hand, with the WF “bridging the gap” between the N-WM and WM. This is interesting since according to Charles Mills, in the hierarchy of power-relations, white females / women occupy the ‘space’ between white males /men and non-white males / ‘men’. (On this point, see the previous blog post: C.W.Mills on Racial (White-Supremacist) Patriarchy).
In closing, I strongly recommend Counter-Racists to watch this film.
* I am Legend (2007) starring non-white actor Will Smith in the lead role came almost 50 years later and is a remake of The Omega Man (1971) featuring Charlton Heston.