Since his emergence during the 1980s and 1990s as a master of horror and suspense, author Stephen King has enjoyed popularity among a racially diverse reading audience. His popularity among African Africans likely ticked up a notch when his novel The Green Mile was made into a movie in 1999 and the late Michael Clarke Duncan brilliantly brought King’s character, John Coffey, to awe-inspiring life.
Duncan, who died September 3, 2012, at the age of 54 from complications following a heart attack suffered in July, received an Academy Award nomination for the role. Moreover, he actually won the Saturn Award, Black Reel Award, Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics’ Choice Award, and Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for his performance.
The accolades that rained upon Duncan and the fact that he earned himself a spot among Hollywood A-listers did not prevent some critics from accusing the Chicago-born actor of promoting a negative racial stereotype with the role. Instead of the morally superior close-to-angelic being that King created and Duncan represented so impeccably, they saw a witless aberration with slave-like speech and mannerisms, someone too unaware of his sociopolitical status to hate the white people who so clearly hated him.
Big Black Man Within a Nonsociopolicohistorical Context
In an interview with PopMatters film editor Cynthia Fuchs, Duncan, who in real life stood 6’5” and weighed in at 300-plus pounds, shared the following: “The film is about this: you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s the main thing that people do with John Coffey. And me too.”
In many ways, whether considered negative or positive, the more dominant images of African-African men in mainstream media and parallel outlets are manufactured utilizing some form of guerrilla decontextualization. The millionaire entertainers, superstar athletes, demonized criminals, and hyper-sexualized players often have little other than color in common with the average striving student, husband, son, brother, incarcerated loved one, or friend who considers himself African American.
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