Sunday, October 4, 2015

Brandon Jay McLaren, Token Black Guys, and Dead Before Dawn (2012)

Brandon Jay McLaren became semi-famous the same way as most actors.  He starred in a season of Power Rangers, and moved up from there.  More specifically, McLaren portrayed Jack Landors, the red ranger in Power Rangers S.P.D.  It was the beginning of a fruitful career for a guy who would later end up in things such as Harper’s Island, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and Dead Before Dawn.  However, there’s one thing that all three of these horror tinged projects have in common.  Each of these make Brandon Jay McLaren into the token black guy among a group of white friends.

The token black guy is a trope that has existed for decades at this point.  The whole idea is that to get some sort of diversity into a cast of white people, one actor or actress of a different race would be hired to fill out the cast.  It was a way to check off a box of having one non-white person on screen during the movie.  This actor usually doesn’t get too much to say when they are present, other than loud exclamations that exaggerate what white people think black people act like.  The character ends up being superfluous to the story.

At least, that’s how the token black character started.  And as soon as the people behind the movie were satisfied with their diversity, they would kill off the black character.  The white characters were the ones being written with any form of substance, so they were going to be the more interesting people to watch.  This led to the trope in which the black guy dies first.  Usually, the character who was the least formed was the first to be killed in the main storyline.  This doesn’t include opening scenes in which a movie attempts to scare the viewers right off the bat.  The token character would be the first to die because they were the least formed.  They were the shell of a minority.

At some point in the late eighties, the token black character evolved.  No longer were they the character that simply said things like “Damn son!” or “Whack!”  The characters evolved into actual characters, though hardly ever the main character.  Especially in horror and teen movies, the black character was relegated to friend of the main character.  This is something that is still true for the most part.  It was most prominent in the 1990s though, with movies like Dazed & Confused, or Halloween H20, where the one black person in the movie is the security guard for the school, who is absent for the majority of the Michael Myers stalking people story.

Soon after the teen movie boom of the late nineties, where the black friend character (usually one, sometimes two people) was present, a movie came out spoofing those kinds of movies.  That movie was called Not Another Teen Movie.  I’ve said movie a lot in this paragraph and I’m going to say it a few more times.  Not Another Teen Movie was a spoof of the popular teen movies.  It took the majority of its storyline from She’s All That, a Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook romantic comedy.  But it did more than just spoof that movie.  Not Another Teen Movie also pointed out the trope of the token black guy.  One black guy goes to a party, sees another one, and respectfully asks him to leave because he’s supposed to be the only black guy at the party full of white people.  Then they both say “That’s whack.”  It’s pointing out the trope in the perfect way.
In more recent years, I have noticed Brandon Jay McLaren popping up in the token black character role.  The first time was when I watched Harper’s Island back in 2009.  The television show followed a wedding party on an island who were being picked off one by one in a slasher film like scenario.  It aired on CBS for one season.  The entire cast was white except for McLaren.  His character was the college friend of the groom.  Basically, he was the only black character and he was delegated to the buddy.  He didn’t suffer the same fate as most token black guys, however, as he made it far into the series, being one of the final characters to die.

Then we come to Tucker and Dale vs. Evil which takes the stereotypical horror tropes and flips them to the perspective of the “bad guys” who are actually decent people accidentally involved in the deaths of a group of friends.  Of course the movie was going to hit on the token black guy, and McLaren stepped in as the character.  Again, he isn’t the first to die, which shows that the trope has evolved at least that much in the years since the “black guy dies first” stigma was huge.  It’s still strange that he’s the only non-white actor in the movie, after LOST was such a huge success with its diverse cast.

Finally, we come to Dead Before Dawn, another horror movie in which Brandon Jay McLaren is the only black character of note.  He plays the best friend of the lead character.  The most that his character gets for his own storyline is that he’s a football player and he plays a game.  Other than that, he’s just the best friend who is tagging along with the main character on his journey through a zemonic Hell.  (Zemons being zombie demons, the evil force throughout the movie.)  He’s enjoyable in the role, but there’s a lack of depth to the character that seems obvious when watching the movie.  Even the lesser friends in the movie get more to their characters than him.

With diversity being one of the major topics in the modern cinematic landscape, it’s strange to see so many movies in which there is still only one character that isn’t white.  Hopefully the rise of shows like Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat, and Empire will lead to more diversity in the casting of movies.  The population of movies does not need to be 95% white people for the movies to be enjoyable.  Skin colour doesn’t make a main character any more or less captivating.  Give some non-white people a shot.  Give them more to do than say ethnically stereotypical things.  The token black character trope needs to come to an end.  Brandon Jay McLaren deserves better.  Black people deserve better.  Audiences deserve better.
I have some notes to finish out this week’s post:

  • Dead Before Dawn was suggested by @erincandy, who has previously suggested Glitter, Ghost Storm, and Zombeavers.
  • Christopher Lloyd was in this movie.  He could also be seen in The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, and Baby Geniuses.  His voice could be heard in Foodfight!
  • Have you seen Dead Before Dawn? What did you think? What do you think of Brandon Jay McLaren? The token black guy trope? Use the comments for any of this stuff.
  • If you have a movie you want to suggest for me to watch for a future Sunday “Bad” Movies installment, you can suggest it in the comments or on my Twitter timeline.
  • Next week, I will be covering the Sleepaway Camp movies.  Not just the first three that most people know if they know the series.  I’m also going to be watching Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor, and Return to Sleepaway Camp.  That’s five movies that I’m watching for next week’s post.  Get ready.  I’ll see you then.

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