Okay, so we’re only two episodes in to Fear the Walking Dead, the prequel to The Walking Dead, and I’m already done with this show. There are plenty of reasons to skip this show, but at the end of the day, in two episodes they’ve managed to introduce three black characters, and kill all of ‘em off. Even The Walking Dead, which has killed it’s fair share of black folks, didn’t start off this fast and furious. I could give the show points for introducing some brown folks, and not killing them just yet, but the show still sucks on so many other levels that there’s no point in defending it.
As it is so far, Fear the Walking Dead has introduced a black guy who turned out to be a drug dealer, another black guy who was a recycled character from Lean on Me, and then there was the poor sap having the relationship with that girl that may or may not be bi-racial (but clearly he was being punished for having a relationship with someone who was not black). Hey, at least he got the opportunity to die off-screen (you think we’ll see him again as a zombie?). I get it…in a show about the zombie apocalypse, a lot of motherfuckers are gonna have to get offed. The problem is that we as black folks have been getting killed as a means of advancing the story for far too long. Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead are guilty of confusing diversity with disposability.
I’ve written about this subject at great length in my essay “Why’s the Brotha Gotta Die?“—which is part of my book Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture. Here’s an excerpt from the essay:
Planet of the Apes served as my introduction to the Disposable Brotha when I was five years-old. By the time I was in high school, I had seen some of the most traumatic on-screen deaths of Black characters ever witnessed. I was emotionally devastated when Duane Jones was shot to death in Night of the Living Dead. I was dumbstruck when Jim Kelly was beaten to death in Enter the Dragon. Paul Winfield being eaten by deadly cockroaches in Damnation Alley and Yaphet Kotto getting torn apart in Alien both left me sick to my stomach. The culmination of these on-screen deaths, as well as all the others I witnessed, was a bitter cynicism that continued to grow, giving way to mantra I found myself repeating over and over again—“Why’s the brotha gotta die?” It has taken me decades of watching and studying film, immersing myself in the art of storytelling, and simply living life as a light-skinned Black man in America, to fully understand the cause, effect, and meaning of all the deaths of Black actors (and occasionally actresses) that have been portrayed in motion pictures. And now I am prepared to answer the question—Why’s the brotha gotta die?
Ultimately, the answer to this question is tied to the ideological constructs of racial identification. To that end, this particular question—seemingly posed with tongue firmly planted in cheek—is not unlike so many other questions asked about race. And to be sure, this is a question about race. After all, as an audience we are asking specifically why the African American character seems to die so often. So, whether we want to or not, we must discuss race, and understand that the answer to this particular question requires a working understanding of both the history of the United States, as well as the American film industry. The understanding of these two subjects brings us to two of the fundamental truths of the Black experience in America. The first of these truths is the forced enslavement of Africans and their descendants, which is the key defining factor in the formation of ideological constructs that serves as racial identification in America. The second fundamental truth are the racial ideologies that emerged from slavery, filtered through biased perceptions of history and mass media, to create a mythology of racial inferiority and superiority.
You can read the entire essay in my book, Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification and Popular Culture, available from Amazon.