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M. THOMAS INGE Randolph-Macon College Black Snake Moan as Postsouthern Fable BEFORE THE FILM BLACK SNAKE MOAN WAS RELEASED IN MARCH OF 2007, it set off a firestorm of criticism among commentators mainly because of the advance promotional poster showing a scantily clad young white woman bound in chains and kneeling before an older virile black male, both parts portrayed by recognizable actors, Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson. Given that the film released previously by the director, Craig Brewer, had been the provocative Hustle and Flow in 2005, with its Academy Award winning song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” some saw the film as another exploitation of old and new Southern/racial tensions (Johnson). The critic for the New York Times noted, “A white woman, a black man and a chain; it’s hard to think of an image more likely to inflame the demons of the American id” (Scott), and a reviewer for a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper obliged by letting his id loose: “Black Snake Moan is strictly for perverts. . . . It’s one of those exploitation films that make Southerners resentful of the Northerners who make them,” films that “preyed on Northern fears that all Southerners were racist, lust-crazed, subhuman and ignorant” (Neman). The poster itself was clearly designed to both provoke and reflect on a variety of ideas and attitudes. The legend, “Everything is hotter down South,” only contributes to the notion that the film is a typical exploitation of the Mandingo tradition of unbound lust on the Southern plantation, the 1975 film by Richard Fleischer that gave new meaning to Confederate degeneracy and forbidden interracial sex. It is with the same frame of mind that the poster is designed to emulate the cover of a comic book, for many the lowest possible cultural denominator. The title is emblazoned at the top in bright red and yellow against a black background in the top quarter, the area reserved for comic book titles. To the left is an indicia which on the comic book is devoted to the date, the issue number, and the publisher, as on DC and Marvel publications. However, this information has been replaced by a symbolic heart wrapped in chains, the meaning of which becomes clear in the film to suggest that stability and security may be more important than freedom 566 M. Thomas Inge in affairs of the heart. Some viewers will also recall, no doubt, the country song recorded by Hank Williams and released after his death in 1953, “Take these chains from my heart and set me free.” To the right at the top of the cover the seal of approval of the Comics Code Authority would normally appear, but a comic book cover with such an image would never pass muster, so it is missing. The edges of this faux comic book cover are frayed, discolored, and torn, to suggest that it has had many readers and has been passed around among the young males in the fashion of one of the pornographic comic books, called Tijuana Bibles, although they were usually smaller in size. In other words, everything suggests poor taste, salacious trash, and adolescent immaturity, which does little service to the actual nature of the film. But then such posters were meant to attract audiences, not to inform them. In another way, however, the main image does challenge a good many conventional traditions. Any portrayal of an older black man and a younger blonde white girl automatically triggers memories of Uncle Tom and Little Eva in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic tale of interracial dependency Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). It is clear in this case, however, that we do not have a fawning, submissive, and worshipful Tom or an angelic, innocent, and chaste Little Eva. Rather the roles have been radically altered with a threatening, angry black man who has subdued and chained a lusty white girl. Of course, the chains invoke the entire history of slavery in the South and the subjugation of the African American, but once again, things are different. This time the enslaved is the white woman, that vessel of purity and virtue who, according to social tradition...


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pp. 565-572
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