Friday, January 04, 2008

My Thoughts

Beverly Hills Cop and Framing Blackness

My response to question #1 is split into two parts: one spanning a basic review of Framing Blackness (part 1) and another covering the actual ASSIGNED topic, an exploration of Beverly Hills Cop in relation to the book (part 2). Enjoy, and I look forward to comments!

Part 1:

It is difficult for me to truly understand Mr. Guerrero’s argument and point of view because he seems excessively dedicated to being offended. Consider some of his more outrageous claims, such as “the climatic moment of the sci-fi thriller The Fly (1958), when the scientist emerges from an experiment with a monstrous Sambo-like, black fly’s head, his compound eyes bulging and his erect, black phallic arm jerking as he advances toward his screaming, white-clad wife.” (41-42) Or consider this piece: “The psychic residue of slavery continues to taint subtly all black-white social relations and transactions, if for no other reason than the fact that African Americans still find white domination a persistent condition and black folk more disadvantaged and marginalized than any other group or social collectivity in the society.” (42) Granted, things may have changed since this book’s publishing in 1993, but that point is still one that may be argued by other oppressed groups, such as women and homosexuals. (Listen to this clip from the film P.C.U. (1994) for reference:

A feeling of frustration and entitlement reads from this text as well, as can be seen when Guerrero discusses the inclusion of black actors in roles originally written for white actors. “Specifically, in the case of black stars, this [packaging them as “individuals” in industrial consumer society] amounts to dominant cinema’s effective erasure of the star’s identification with a black collective consciousness and sense of politics.” (126-127) It seems Guerrero thinks the opposite should be true, and that black stars should be intensely focused on the fact that they are black and how they deal with racism and the legacy of slavery. Never mind the fact that Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy’s stand up comedy acts were often focused specifically on what it meant to be black in America. For reference, observe the previously-posted SNL skit about Eddie Murphy pretending to be white.

In short, the book offers a lot of complaints but little practical suggestions. An alternative to the “racist” portrayal of blacks could be a forced inclusion of multiple races in various settings and situations to promote “diversity.” This strategy has been employed before, mostly in cartoons such as “Captain Planet,” which included characters from North America, South America, Africa, China and Russia, and even “The Superfriends,” which made sudden puzzling additions of characters like Apache Chief (who was neither Apache nor a chief) and El Dorado (who was not a city made of gold) to their roster. (For amusing and potentially very offensive explorations of these characters, follow these links:, These strategies proved unsuccessful and often even more offensive than the exclusion of these races in the first place.

As a further note, Neal King also questions points made by Guerrero. “Manthia Diawara and Ed Guerrero support their views of 48 Hours as a white supremacist movie in part with their assessments of black and white characters. ... According to Guerrero, the black man is “an impulsive fool.” Neither author elaborates.”

“I can only observe … the methodological muddle made by attributions of such disparagement to movies. I mean, who finds this black sidekick “inconsistent” and “inauthentic”? Why do analysts not specify their roles in such derision?” (93)

Part 2 (The actual assignment):

The moments of true racism in Beverly Hills Cop are interesting, but not necessarily supportive of Guerrero’s points. In the opening scenes introducing the audience to Detroit, we see both white and black people portrayed as ugly, poor citizens. Detroit is dingy, rough and cramped, as can be seen in the cozy Detroit police station. Further, the black police chief represents the pinnacle of power in Detroit.

Guerrero talks at length about what the movie means in context of race. “The challenge of [Murphy’s] one-dimensional blackness is reduced to the confrontation of an isolated black individual utterly contained by a white environment. And while Murphy gets the upper hand in almost all situations, the ultimate result of such a challenge is integration and acceptance on white terms in the films’ resolutions.” (132) I disagree with this point. One thing I see quite clearly in Beverly Hills Cop is Axel Foley remaining Axel Foley for the entire film. As such, I don’t believe he is ever truly accepted. Consider one of the final scenes of the film, in which Axel tells the Lieutenant that he is considering opening his own Private Eye business if he cannot return to work in Detroit. The Lieutenant agrees to talk to Foley’s former boss, if only to ensure that he goes away.

I also disagree with the effects Guerrero sees from Murphy’s use of over-the-top stereotypes. “Further underscoring in the workings of dominant cinema’s mechanisms and values in Murphy’s films is the fact that much of Murphy’s humor comes at the expense of other marginalized groups. In Beverly Hills Cop I, [Murphy] dissembles as a stereotypical, overbearing gay diagnosed with “Herpes 10” (My note: actually Herpe Simplex 10) in order to penetrate the confines of a country club.” (133) First and foremost, Guerrero’s reference to the character as “a gay” reveals a lack of concern for another potentially marginalized community, raising more questions than I have room to address in this post. What I did take away from this scene is Axel Foley’s ability to understand and transcend stereotypes to gain the upper hand on society as a whole. He presents the other man in the scene with an uncomfortable situation and character, playing into stereotypes that are bizarre but apparently believable. Let’s not forget that Foley also goes on to mock white people, most notably when another black cop tells him he and his partner won’t fall for a banana in their tailpipe. Axel responds by repeating the line in a stereotypically nerdy voice, ultimately criticizing the black man for sounding white.

In short, the film is not about reaffirming racism but about recognizing how silly it is and playing with it. After all, in the climactic scene, Foley is only able to kill the villain with the sudden help of the Lieutenant. It presents an interesting picture: Foley crouched in bloody street clothes and the cavalry standing above in dramatic firing pose, wearing a well-kept suit.

Lethal Weapon and Heroes in Hard Times:

King’s exploration of Lethal Weapon is quite thorough, and includes a very interesting exploration of the concept of white male guilt. Riggs feels incredibly guilty for the death of his wife, so much so that he quite often considers killing himself both as a way out of his suffering and as a due punishment. This helps illuminate the scene in which Riggs begs a drug dealer to shoot him. Being killed in this fashion would accomplish 2 goals: 1) Riggs would finally get what he deserves for putting his wife in danger and ultimately causing her death, and 2) he would remove the suspects’ hostage and make his apprehension by the other police far easier.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that, in this story, it is the black character that has a beautiful home and loving family and is much more rational and stable. Were the roles reversed, the movie would seem overtly racist and hateful to some. This would be especially true in the climactic battle between Riggs and Joshua. During the fight, Murtaugh tells the other cops to back off, preventing them from helping Riggs. Imagine the reverse, with a stubborn, violent black man struggling against an almost-albino white man in hand-to-hand combat and refusing assistance from nearby cops. Suddenly the audience would wonder whether this fight had anything to do with race and what each combatant represented.

One moment that is especially interesting in the film is the scene immediately following this battle, in which Riggs and Murtaugh embrace as Roger takes his injured, soaked, bare-chested buddy into the protection of his coat. As Joshua rises up and steals another cop’s gun, both Martin and Roger pull their weapons and fire together. Homoeroticism abounds for those searching for it, as King may be, but the scene also represents a moment of unity and shared importance. Both men are not only helpful to one another, but necessary. They love each other, and whether that love is tinged with homosexuality is up to the viewer.

Once again, I look forward to feedback. Please let me know what you think!