Currently, there is a deep, unmistakable panic surrounding the dangers of right-wing racial ideology. Needless to say, these concerns aren’t new. And while the entertainment industry has long had its own issues with representation, it has also given those who support anti-discrimination some much needed catharsis over the years.
World War II serves as the clearest and most obvious example of this. The Hollywood propaganda machine during the war effort was not shy about turning the tables on Nazism by creating fictional heroes who pushed back. But the notion that superheroes and action stars could be used to promote the smiting of racism didn’t end with the war.
Here are 10 of my favorite moments where pop culture took the fight to the bigoted oppressors and won!
Let’s start with something fairly recent. When Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained initially hit theaters, Minister Louis Farrakhan called the film “preparation for race war.” That’s a bold statement from a man known for making bold statements. But it’s also a testament to how visceral a work of fiction can be when it isn’t neutered by a studio but allowed to ruminate — unfiltered — inside the collective consciousness.
9. Bad Boys II
Michael Bay received a lot of flack for his admittedly goofy use of voice actors in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But let’s not forget that this is the same director that cold-opened Bad Boys II with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence shrugging off an assault by the KKK. A version of the above clip was used as the hook in Bad Boys II’s marketing strategy. It sure as hell worked too. The movie went on to gross $273 million worldwide. Apparently, a lot of us really enjoy seeing racists getting shot in slow-motion.
8. The Nation of Domination
From a period in time that the WWE seems to want to forget. Of course, I’m talking about “The Attitude Era”. That extremely popular chunk between 1996 and the early 2000s when the WWF/E brand was everywhere. However, there was that slightly awkward point where Vince McMahon’s wrestling organization was transitioning into what he would inevitably call “crash TV”. Part of that stumbling block was The Nation of Domination, a black “militant” wrestling stable featuring powerhouse Farooq, Olympian Mark Henry, D-Lo Brown, the man that would later be popularized as “The Godfather”, and…The Rock. Yes, currently the biggest superstar in the world, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson got roped into a weekly race conversation on national television. One where the exceptionally popular Degeneration X gave them push back. It was awkward, it was often inappropriate, but it also could be pinpointed as the moment Johnson found some trajectory as a showman. The Nation of Domination was an understandably short-lived experiment, but it gave birth to the smack talking, animated persona that would catapult The Rock’s career in the world of wrestling.
7. Black Panther vs. Red Skull
In an early 2000s arc written by acclaimed comic book writer Geoff Johns, The Red Skull discovered that his greatest enemy isn’t Captain America…but two brown fists. In Avengers: Red Zone, Nazi madman Red Skull attempts to frame the African Nation of Wakanda for a terrorist attack on Mt. Rushmore. However, Skull soon finds out that advanced African monarchies don’t like being used as pawns. Wakanda’s king, Black Panther, promises to break Skull’s jaw when it’s all said and done. And that’s exactly what he did.
Director Robert Rodriguez called it “Mexploitation”, but his 2010 film Machete feels less and less sensational as the years go by. Especially, when you consider the fact that Danny Trejo (as the title character) is going up against a white politician obsessed with protecting U.S. jobs from immigrants, border security, and supplanting Obama-led “change” at all cost. Played by Robert de Niro, Senator McLaughlin wasn’t intended to be a Trump surrogate, but the rallies, the double-speak, and the nonsensical catch-phrasing are straight out of the MAGA playbook.
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
While Indiana Jones may occasionally battle Thugee cults and Russian clairvoyants, he’s known primarily for punching and shooting Nazis while en route to his next archeological find. However, Jones’ best put down of fascism goes to his father (played by Sean Connery) in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. More professor than an action hero, Henry Jones, Sr. makes it a point throughout the film to rely on what is written as opposed to fighting it out. It serves him well in a particular encounter where he reminds a Nazi general that goose-stepping morons “should try reading books instead of burning them.” And, truth be told, isn’t knowledge the greatest enemy of ignorance?
4. Batman vs. Bruno
Admittedly, Bruno, Frank Miller’s Neo-Nazi/Bridgette Nielsen lookalike is probably as much a not so subtle dig at angry feminist as it is a jab at right-wing extremism. But we’re going to focus on the latter half and not as much the previous. Originally introduced in Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Returns comic series, Bruno is a machine gun-wielding mad woman who runs interference on behalf of The Joker. But, c’mon…she’s going up against Batman. A character that’s been around long enough to have taken down not just neo-Nazis but regular old World War II Nazis as well. Bruno never stood a chance.
3. Lethal Weapon 2
’80s action movies are often accused of upholding Reagan-era values over progressive ones. However, for every John Rambo film where Sly Stallone guns down foreigners, there is a film like Lethal Weapon 2 where the main protagonists go up against racial oppression. Mind you, in the most absurd, slickly produced way possible. Lethal Weapon 2 sees LA cops Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) once again biting off more they can chew when they encounter some unsavory business involving South African diplomats. As a way of sending a warning sign to the two Sergeants, these Apartheid-loving, Afrikaans-speaking asshats storm Murtaugh’s house, tie up his Cosby-like family and drop a few racial slurs on their way out. But that’s okay. As you can see in the above video, Glover gets his revenge in the end.
2. Boss Nigger
Yep. That’s the title. And, of course, it came from the wild days of the Blaxploitation era. Starring football star-turned-filmmaker Fred Williamson, Boss Nigger is considered to be an even greater influence on Django Unchained than the Django spaghetti western series. Williamson and D’Urville Martin (the director of Dolemite) play a pair of bounty hunters who shoot their way to becoming the law enforcers of a small town lousy with racist white people. Mowing down and/or outsmarting all opposition, Williamson and Martin aggressively enforce”Black Man’s Law”, issuing fines for anyone who drops an n-bomb in their presence. Equally ludicrous and cathartic, Boss Nigger remains a controversial film but is totally worth hunting down to experience.
1. Captain America #1
Captain America #1 was an immediate smash hit when it hit stands in 1941. Largely because of its eye-catching cover featuring the very fictional title character slugging the very real Adolf Hitler in the jaw. Written and drawn by Jewish creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the comic was released at the height of the war effort and is quite possibly one of the most imitated images in comics.
While it sure is cathartic to see the good guys put boot to racists, it is important to understand why these narratives had to exist. Be sure to take note of the impact made by the very real men, women, and children who have actually risked their lives to guarantee us all equal rights. Remember that fiction can collide with history…but history should never collide with fiction.
Ah. What the hell? Here is a bonus round from the first-person shooter Wolfenstein! Keep fighting the good fight, kids.
Okay. One more. From 1980’s Blue Brothers.