The sirens are getting louder and louder.

White Dog (Samuel Fuller, 1982)

Those who like happy endings or believe in the power of human reason to effect positive change even in the most benighted among us will be very disappointed by White Dog, one of Samuel Fuller’s last films. The racist in the movie is a German shepard. It was trained to attack black people by its white owner. One night, it gets into an accident with a white woman. She soon learns there is something strange about the animal. She has it examined by two dog trainers. The truth about the beast is soon discovered. One of the dog trainers, who is white, Carruthers (Burl Ives), thinks it’s best to just kill the damn thing. The other, who is black, Keys (Paul Winfield), decides to deprogram it. Sadly, Keys’s optimism and hard work is not rewarded. Racists cannot be changed. They go to the grave with all of that hate. CHARLES MUDEDE

White God (Kornel Mundruczo, 2014)

The title of this brilliant film makes a lot of sense in the light of Fuller’s White Dog. (In an interview on Collider, Kornel Mundruczo explains that he heard about White Dog only after he finished shooting his film, but he was very pleased about the coincidence: “When I watched it and recognized that there were many connections between the two movies, I was very proud.”) But here is the important difference between Fuller’s dog and Mundruczo’s (named Hagen): The former is a purebred that loves white people, and the latter is a mongrel that turns on them. The big white dog in this film, Hagen, is a symbol of the immigrants in Europe who are oppressed by fascists, racist cops, and a xenophobic society. Hagen instigates and leads an uprising. Hundreds of mongrel dogs break from the pound and pour into the streets. They are not fucking around. They have had enough of this shit. If they see you, they will kill you. CHARLES MUDEDE

Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

Because this film is so vibrant and vital all these years later, it’s tempting to say it hasn’t aged at all, but that’s complete bullshit. From the graffiti (“Tawana told the truth!”) to the Brooklyn gentrification that was still only warming up when Larry Bird guy stepped on Buggin’ Out’s brand-new Air Jordans, the world of 2015 is very different from that of 1989, the number, another summer. Until the cops put Radio Raheem in that choke hold, and of course instantly nothing has changed at all. They were killing Eleanor Bumpurs and Michael Stewart then, and they’re still killing Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and countless more besides. And countless more before and between. At the time, Mookie throwing that trash can through the window of Sal’s Famous generated more controversy than any other element in the film—as though the previously ambivalent character’s act of essentially symbolic violence (against property) was somehow more deplorable than the sickening murder that incited it. That part hasn’t changed, either. SEAN NELSON

La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)

After watching Do the Right Thing, you must rent its French remix, La Haine. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz (famous for his role in Amélie), the film follows three young men—a Jew, an Arab, and a black African—around the banlieues (housing projects) of Paris. Hiphop blasts from windows, helicopters patrol the skies, the people are struggling in the streets to make ends meet, and the oppression by the white police is relentless. The last two minutes of this film begin a countdown to an Armageddon of whites against the rest. CHARLES MUDEDE

The Brother from Another Planet (John Sayles, 1984)

As if slavery on Earth wasn’t bad enough, we learn in this classic of Afrofuturist cinema that it is also happening in outer space. The economic exploitation of black people appears to be built into the structure of the universe. Being black here is as bad as being black on the planets that orbit the stars we see at night. This film, which is set in Harlem, made John Sayles, the director, and Joe Morton, the star, famous. CHARLES MUDEDE

 

 

The Intruder (Roger Corman, 1962)

Racism has never been seedier and more grotesque than in Roger Corman’s masterpiece. A pre–Star Trek William Shatner plays Cramer, a man who comes from nowhere, walks off a bus in a southern town, gets a room in a hotel, and begins to set his evil mind to work. He soon learns that the town is dealing with the desegregation of the local high school. The whites folks don’t like it one bit, but there is nothing they can do about it. Cramer delivers racist speeches in the park, publishes racist editorials, and works the town into a racist mania. He also seduces young and old women. The southern heat, the violence against blacks, and Cramer’s feverish philandering drive the whole town completely bonkers. Racism in this film is clearly seen as a primal and destructive force. CHARLES MUDEDE

48 Hrs. (Walter Hill, 1982)

The film that made Eddie Murphy a star might also be the last example of the convention of a black-white buddy movie in which the white buddy calls the black buddy names like “watermelon,” “spear chucker,” and “nigger” and is given a pass not only by the black buddy but the film itself. It’s not just that the epithets are played for laughs, or to establish a racist character, it’s that they’re woven into the Nick Nolte character’s toughness and heroism, which even Murphy’s character is forced to admire. It’s a complete bummer to see. SEAN NELSON

The Young One (Luis Buñuel, 1960)

This unknown film by the great Luis Buñuel opens with a black man running for his life. He has been accused of raping a white woman. This is the South; he is going to be lynched if he is caught. The sirens are getting louder and louder. He sees a boat. He jumps on to it and escapes to a strange island. The rest of the film is less racially tense, as it involves a middle-aged white male who is trying to have sex with an underage girl, whose father recently died. While the black man is hiding from a phony charge of rape, a white man is busy trying to rape a white child on the island. Buñuel knew that racism is a cover for the sins of the racists. The suspect of the Charleston shooting, Dylann Roof, is said to have accused the people he killed of raping white women. CHARLES MUDEDE

Hi, Mom! (Brian De Palma, 1970)

This 1970 exploitation experiment contains the most audacious sequence De Palma ever directed. For nearly 20 riveting, excruciating minutes, Hi, Mom! gives way to Be Black, Baby, a hybrid of radical performance and cinema vérité in which a small, square white downtown audience volunteers to take a first-person tour of the black experience. This begins with them being invited to touch the actors’ Afros (“We all know being black means being loose”), being fed soul food, surrendering their possessions, and having their skin smeared with shoe polish. It soon becomes terrifying as the black theater troupe (in white face) begins to harangue, then assault, and in one case rape the white-as-black audience members. A white cop (a young Robert De Niro) intervenes, but takes the side of the black-as-white troupe, subjecting the patrons to further insult and harassment. Moments later, the bedraggled, blackface-smeared audience is delivered back onto the pavement and lovingly told to “Be black, baby,” by the now-friendly, smiling actors. Order restored, the whites resume their right-on aesthete poses, telling the camera, “Magnificent experience. I’m tickled I came!” The sexual politics are impossible to defend (having the apparent rape victim join the chorus praising the show afterward is a loathsome joke), but the critique of cultural tourism and the illusions that attach to it stands. SEAN NELSON

Odds Against Tomorrow (Robert Wise, 1959)

The creepiest racist scene in all of cinema is found at the opening of Robert Wise’s noir Odds Against Tomorrow. It happens like this: Earl (Robert Ryan), a white ex-con, is walking down a city street. Birds are in the air, and children are playing on the sidewalk. One of the kids, a black girl, accidentally bumps into Earl. He picks her up and says to her small and confused face: “Hey, you little pickaninny, you are going to kill yourself flying like that.” The girl smiles weakly, he smiles wickedly, he puts her back down and walks into the seedy Hotel Juno. What makes the scene so creepy is not so much that he calls the girl a pickaninny but that he talks to her in the way one usually does to a dog or a cat. Earl can’t see the human in the black girl, but only a lower and dim animal. This unsettling scene sets us up for the bad news Earl is to receive from the planner of a bank heist: He has to work with a black man, Johnny (Harry Belafonte). Earl hates black people. He wants nothing to do with them. But he needs the money, and the heist will not work without the decoy of a black man. The ending of this film is a full-blown race apocalypse. CHARLES MUDEDE recommended

Copyright THE STRANGER, Seattle