April 2001
One Shots : The Green Mile
by Sˇkou
People are going to love The Green Mile. It's got all the stuff they want: comedy, suspense, someone to hate, and a mush-mouthed black man who happens to be capable of miracles. I like fantasy, miracles, special powers and whatnot so this flick got a couple points from me off the bat. Especially since, once I saw the name Stephen King, I half-expected to be hiding behind my seat the whole time. But it wasn't that kind of a scary movie-- it was a different kind of scary. The kind of scary that makes you wonder why in the year 2000 we still have to endure the same kinds of images of African Americans on film. Let me be clear, it was a beautiful movie. Well shot, well directed, well acted, and fraught with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, but I found myself wondering why it was so central to the story that it be set in 30's and, more importantly, why the miracle worker had to be both black and simple-minded. I don't see what purpose it served for John Coffey to have been played by a brother. It added nothing to the story, except to play on the obvious racial tension that would have surrounded a black man accused of murdering any white person in the 1930's. But couldn't a white actor playing the same character have tugged on the viewer's heart strings just as effectively (who can't empathize with the murder of a man's two youngest daughters) without playing into another one of many black simpleton stereotypes? Or, why make Coffey a simpleton at all? Why not let him be more fully aware of who he is and why he does what he does? Is the answer that an intelligent, African American, miracle worker might have been too jarring an image for mainstream America to handle? Kinda like the shunned images that depict Jesus Christ as a black man? I'm just asking questions. I've got no answers, but I know that the image of Coffey as a big, black and burly but obsequious, step-n-fetch-it miracle worker is just the type of role for a brother that mainstream America will feel comfortable with. I assume that, just like Cuba Gooding in Jerry MacGuire (another well acted, but somehow racially unsatisfying role), Duncan will get an Oscar nod for his performance. But won't it be a blessing when we can get critical acclaim for roles that are both well performed and represent us well at the same time?