If you were to consider the most profitable genre of film in the past 15 years, what would your answer be? Chances are, you wouldn’t consider the answer a genre at all, but comic book fans everywhere would beg to differ. Superhero films would be the correct answer as the exploits of DC, Marvel and Image comic characters on the big screen have enraptured audiences across the world with their tales of heroes clad in tights, titanium armor and capes. The amount of money brought in from comic book movies is absolutely staggering, and hardly a summer goes by when two super hero films aren’t causing long lines at the local cinema. However, curiously absent throughout all of the casting choices for superheroes have been Black people. The paucity of Black faces is so notably that some films have had to turn traditional white characters into Black people, in vain attempts to placate groups advocating on Black actors and actresses behalf. Therein lays the problem, as the majority of popular comic book characters are the uniform color of white and casting a Black actor in any particular superhero role is bound to cause some uproar:
“That’s the problem, said Russell Robinson, a professor of law at the University of California – Los Angeles, who wrote a 2006 report about unfair race-based casting in Hollywood. “It’s an industry norm that the assumption is that roles go to white actors,” Robinson said. “They use people of color to flesh out the film and exemplify racial stereotypes.” Robinson’s report, “Hollywood’s Race/Ethnicity And Gender-Based Casting: Prospects For A Title VII Lawsuit,” found that the majority of roles that do not specify a race or ethnicity are played by white actors, which tends to limit black actors to stereotypical roles. “I think what bothers a lot of African-Americans is that we see the same images time and time again. … We’d like to see the full range of complexities that we see in our communities,” Robinson said.”
Thankfully, last summer’s epic blockbuster “The Dark Knight” offered us a reprieve from the monochromatic white world of superhero movies by granting us the rare view into a world populated by Black superheroes. Wait, which character are you referencing? Batman, Two-Face and the Joker were all played by run-of-the-mill white guys, you say. Correct, but this is the fictional look at Black History Month and we are doing are best to locate Black people worthy of praise and acclaim, so in “The Dark Knight” we have found such a Black person. In that film, one scene stands out from the others as potentially being implausible and garnered laughs and stares when first viewed by audiences everywhere. We are not talking about initial robbery of the bank, but the boat scene at the end of film. Wikipedia describes it this way:
“With the bridges and tunnels out of the city closed due to a warning by the Joker, authorities begin evacuating people by ferry. The Joker has explosives placed on two of the ferries—one ferry with convicts, who were evacuated in an effort to keep the Joker from freeing them, and the other with civilians—telling the passengers the only way to save themselves is to trigger the explosives on the other ferry; otherwise, he will destroy both at midnight … The Joker’s plan to destroy the ferries fails after the passengers on both decide not to destroy each other.”
Left out is the heroic individual – morally superior to all individuals riding on those two ferries and perhaps, even to the films protagonist, Batman – who also happens to double as a prisoner. Credited as “Tattooed Prisoner”, this menacing Black individual is on the prisoners ferry for reasons that can’t be properly deduced nor explained, for his pious nature is worthy of inclusion in the Justice League of America. The situation – a prisoner’s dilemma – is a boon for game theorists:
“The Joker, doing so without prior knowledge of the passengers and city officials, wired the ships with powerful explosives such that their explosion would destroy the entire ship and everyone aboard. No single individual is allowed to escape. Each ship is given a detonator for the other ferry. The use of the detonator saves the ship while killing everyone aboard the opposing ship. Thus, if any member of Ship A pushes the detonator, then Ship B is destroyed and all of Ship A is saved. Additionally, if either ship fails to use the detonator to destroy its opponent, then both ships will be destroyed by the Joker.”
The ferry of civilians has voted democratically to blow up the other ship, thus proving the Joker’s philosophy of absolute anarchy reigning in Gotham City. With precious few minutes remaining until the time the Joker has stated both ships will be destroyed if one group – either the prisoners or civilians – is incapable of killing off the other, a lone Black prisoner stands to showcase morality to civilians (and to the scores of millions who saw the film):
The Joker has rigged two ferries to explode, one filled with prison inmates, one with ordinary people, giving each ferry one detonator and telling them they have to blow up the other, or he’ll blow up both. A prisoner approaches the warden, who’s holding the detonator ]
Tattooed Prisoner: You don’t want to die, but you don’t know how to take a life. Give it to me; these men would kill you, and take it anyway. Give it to me. You can tell ’em I took it by force. Give it to me, and I’ll do what you shoulda did ten minutes ago.
[ … ]
Yes, the Tattooed Prisoner (played by the criminally underutilized Tom “Tiny” Lister) is the moral compass of the film, spoiling the Joker’s plans of anarchy and chaos. The actor who played Tattooed Prisoner is a hulking mass of humanity, weighing in at 300 and towering over most mere mortals at 6’5. And, he is a Black man. Thus, the Tattooed Prisoner is a Black superhero, even if he is in shackles from crimes committed prior to his heroic act on the boat. Some wish to debate the merits of good and evil in the film, yet we here at SBPDL just want to point out the true superhero of the film, Tattooed Prisoner, who was brilliantly portrayed by a man who once played a Black president in the film The Fifth Element . Why is Tattooed Prisoner, from The Dark Knight , a character of such epic proportions? Consider that more Black males are in jail than are in college. Consider that crime in this country has a distinct Black face, and this time, there isn’t an Al Jolson behind it. Thus, Tattooed Prisoner – nobly, he is given no name in the film, like the unnamed hero who rides a white horse and vanquishes evil – is initially installed in the movie to play on our misguided-by- hate-facts stereotypes. However, all Black criminals are as morally righteous as Tattooed Prisoner and the fine film “The Dark Knight” shows us that reality. Tattooed Prisoner is a shining example of why Stuff Black People Don’t Like found it crucial to honor those theatrical performances by Black thespians whom can be honored in our fictional Black History Month. He is a titan of virtue, who casually grabbed the detonation device from a white warden and nonchalantly dispelled it to the bottom of Gotham Bay. Tattooed Prisoner saved hundreds of lives and thwarted the Joker’s villainous plot. All Black criminals would do the same, right?
The Ferry Scene from The Dark Knight can be viewed here.