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Movie Critic Article: The Black SuperHero

"There are heroes... there are superheroes... and then there's Hancock"



Article by: Elham Abdelkhalig*





The new thing about the movie Hancok (2008) is that it presents a black superhero which is a rare event if we look back into Hollywood's history where the typical image is that of a white, wealthy, kind, lovable and superstrong superhero. But does this movie present an
ideal black superhero? That is what I am going to work on.
The three characters I will engage with are, John Hancock the superhero, Ray Embrey a public relations man, and Mary who is Ray's wife.
John Hancock (Will Smith) is a black man, who is presented in this movie as a superhero with super- strength. He is immortal. He can fly and he has a natural bullet shield yet he is a homeless alcoholic who is vulgar, filthy and unshaved. He swears and some times he harasses women. Hancock's ethnic identity as a man of color categorizes him with radicalized groups. Being homeless and with no family implies that he belongs to the low socio-economic class and so he is fit to be a member of a marginalized group. He is a young, superstrong man who is supposed to save the city and fight crime, but still one cannot see the reflections of his physical abilities on his social status.



 
The second character is Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) who is a white, middle aged male; a father of one son and a husband. He is a public relations consultant who lives in a decent house in a suburban part of the city. As it is indicated, he belongs to the dominant social group and the fact that he works in a decent job and lives in a nice house in a quiet neighbourhood shows that he is a member of the middle class.




The third character is Mary (Charlize Theron). She is a white house wife who is young and pretty. She is the stepmother of Ray's son .The movie shows that she used to be a superwoman in the distant past but chose to hide her super strength and preferred to live  a quiet life as a house wife. Mary seems to be quite happy with the gender roles that characterize the social setting. Not only this but further more she traded her life as a superwoman for a normal life of a middle class white woman. I guess she acknowledges division of labor as she seems so integrated with her role.



  
Despite the fact that Hancock is a superhero who fights crime and arrests criminals, people seldom appreciate what he does, unlike what it used to be with other heroes like Superman. Even children insult him and call him an (a.. hole).
The fact that Hancock is being presented as a homeless alcoholic assaulter and law breaker categorizes him in the outcast social entity. People are ready to appreciate the typical superhero to supposedly be white, middle class, handsome and a family man. The movie presents Hancock as indifferent towards his super power. It tries to attribute this indifference to his ignorance of his own identity because he suffers from some sort of
amnesia.



I should mention that the movie does not address racial issues at any point but the fact that Hancock is a black man makes it clear that there are ethnic issues here. This disoriented black superhero needed a white man to help educate and polish him and hence present him to the society. Ray Embrey has influence on Hancock which I could say is a representation of the white man's supremacy and domination over the black man; a representation of the power of the educated white man over the ignorant black man; of the middle class white man over the homeless black man. More over, we will discover that Mary (Ray's wife) was Hancock's wife thousands of years before and that she abandoned Hancock and chose to live a normal life next to a white man who is able to provide her a quiet and good life! Mary had decided that she did not need the superpower which she had. What she really needed was to live with a lovable, able middle class white man, in a typical family structure. This presents Mary as a woman who appreciates and commits to the social construction of gender that denies women's super power and does not recognize women outside of the assigned social roles.

Hancock's ability to make decisions on his own life is very limited if not completely absent. Most of the fateful decisions on his life are taken by Ray, the public relations consultant. When Hancock accepts Ray's offer to improve his social image, this defines him as helpless and unable to figure his way out and that strips him of his own free will. When Hancock agrees to go to jail to compensate for some of the destruction he had caused to public property during his missions, this critical decision is taken on behalf of him. Being jailed means being criminalized and hence needs to be corrected because he is not fitting into the proper social image. The movie presents Hancock as a man without will power which is symbolic of his social identification as a man of color; of low socioeconomic class and as a criminal. Hancock experiences so many barriers and obstructions to social access that make him a marginalized person.
Ray in most of the movie is the decision maker. He has full control over his life; he has a wife, a son, a house, and a good job. He is almost never in a situation that forces him to give up something, except when the logo he presented to his boss at work is rejected, which indicates that the position he occupies is lower than the position occupied by the decision makers in his job. When Ray decides that Hancock should change to fit in the superhero's social image, and succeeds to make this change, he does this because of his education and career which is dominant over Hancock's limited mental and intellectual abilities. He does not only have "agency" on his own life but also on other people's lives such as Hancock's. Ray's "agency" is also reflected by the fact that he is married to Mary who used to be Hancock's wife! This defines Ray as the privileged man who can get what he wants including..other people's wives! He is supported by culture, class and race. He is socially accepted and that is why Mary accepted him and refused Hancock.



  

On the other hand, Mary who wanted a quiet and normal life could not have it until she gave up her super powers. That means having the life she is looking for was conditioned by giving up something which is part of her nature, so she is not free in this decision. This could be connected directly to the embedded social roles of women, which has nothing to do with being a super mother with extraordinary physical powers!
Hancock is generally presented as a violent superhero who has no control over his massive physical strength. In every rescue mission he does, he causes huge destruction to the surroundings. Even when he saved Ray's life, he caused death to another man.  He is also presented as sexually violent in the sex scene where you can see a condensed violent behavior. More over, the woman he was having sex with was just a little girl which implies that he is an assaulter.  Hancock is presented as deviant from social norms and as a man with no identity (he suffers from amnesia, which makes him mad at the whole city) so he does not care what destruction he makes. Being homeless and lonely makes him ethically insensitive, irresponsible and violent towards the whole social structure.
Ray on the other hand, is far from any kind of violence. He is a quiet man who always stays away from trouble, so we see no violence connected to him except when he defends Hancock and kills the criminal who wanted to kill Hancock. Ray, as a white middle class and family man, lives a perfect life. There is nothing that can get him into trouble.
Mary who traded her super powers for an ordinary family life, needs only be violent with Hancock. This is the only moment she experiences violence. The metaphor is used here to ascertain the stereotypical assumption that white women need to face black man's sexuality with violence. Other than this Mary is happy and satisfied with her life in a stable middle class home with Ray.



Hancock is a movie that reinforces stereotypes related to different kinds of oppression. Hancock, the protagonist, is almost the only black superhero who has a tremendous amount of physical abilities like Spiderman and Superman, yet fails to win people's appreciation. The character is imprisoned in the embedded biased conception of black people by the dominant culture.
Hancock is a movie devoted to alienate otherized, profiled black people; is a promotion of stereotypes. Ray is the typical white supremacist, the source of knowledge, the man who has power on others. Mary's is the typical gender role designed by the social system for women that does not acknowledge women having any other role than being a mother and a house wife. It denies women any super power!
Hancock is a movie that cites an example of popular culture which asserts never to 'judge a book by its cover!'.  Always look for the hidden messages behind it, which could be signals and markers to the way the dominant culture views others and works, intentionally or unintentionally, to pass hegemonic conceptions on and about them.

* Elham Abdulkhalig is a post-graduate student. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Readers  of this post will be treated to an exciting 'other' side of the writer. Elham is also a singer-songwirter! There is an audeo clip for her down below the Will Smith trailer!

Movie Specifics:

Hancock (2008), 92 min

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance, Comedy. 
Cast: Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron
Music by: John Powell, Screenplay: Vincent Ngo
Director: Peter Berg
budget:  $150 million. Box office: $624,386,746
Watch The Movie Trailer:


Elham is also a talented Singer-Songwriter:

 

First Published on Oct. 22, 2012 @ 10:23 PM

Comments

  1. Whoa! I like this post all the more!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Elham, I really enjoyed your insight into the sneaky way this stuff is added into a movie that is on the surface about finding somekind of liberation.... very very insightful, and will make me think more when I see movies. As someone who is not part of a visible minority, I think it is harder to notice these subtle things you picked out.
    The analysis reminded me of some of the cool insights about movies and social power structures in Z Magazine -- in the old media section called "Gals like us" by Linda Sargent (i think that is the writer).
    Your voice and the song are beautiful... who wrote this?
    --- Mike in Canada

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Mike for your time and comment. I am glad you found the article insightful. I totally understand what you mean, it is really difficult to discover the subtle meanings and symbols that the pop. Culture is carrying. For long time people have been receiving messages that precipitate deeply in the subconscious, and shape the way we think and behave. Unlearning, relearning and learning, I believe are continuous processes. As once I shared applying an intersectional lens as a method of analysing the norms, practices (political or social) and behaviour, is my new method to understand and not to justify any form of oppression or exclusion. Thank you again and I am looking forward to read some of your writings.

      Delete

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