The Brother Always Dies First: on sex, death, and cinematic depictions of race is an excellent essay by author Steven Barnes, exploring two propositions regarding race in American cinema:
Proposed: Black men cannot have sex in movies without it hurting the box office.
Evidence: No non-white male is able to have sex in a movie and have that film cross $100 million at the domestic box office.
Exception: After thirty years of observation, there are now actually THREE movies that contradict this! Huzzah! (Do you know what they are? Answers at the end.)
Proposition #2: It is NOT true that “the black guy always dies first.” This is easily proven as far back as Night of the Living Dead. The reality is rather more difficult to wrap minds around. It is this: there are countless films in which ALL the black characters die, or all the black males die. And there are NO American films in which all the white characters die, if anyone else at all survives. Not one.
I have compiled a list of over ONE HUNDRED such films, which appears at the end of this article.
Explanation: A “character” is someone with at least one line of dialogue.
Exception: On January 17, 2020, I finally saw a movie that contradicts this, the very first American film I’ve ever seen or heard of where black people survive while all the white people die. Not a bad movie, either. The name is in the footnotes.
Some of this I was semi-conscious of, at least in the “the black guy always dies first” sense. But I certainly hadn’t taken as deep a dive into it as Steven has (and, gee, I wonder why, as I look at my nearly-translucent white skin…).