Home > Uncategorized > King of the Zombies (1941)

King of the Zombies (1941)

                If anybody ever needs to remind themselves of how much racial progress had been made in this country during the last century, they only need watch “King of the Zombies.”  On top of being holistically boneheaded, the movie operates on the constant assumption the scared, jittery Negro needs only to be comforted on a constant basis by whitey.  This kind of analysis could be instantly dismissed as misplaced presentism. Somebody could read my article and say, “of course the black guy is a walking stereotype; the movie came out in ’41.”  The ironic thing about this assumption is that the ridiculously stereotypical black guy in this movie is the one with the most sense.

            Before “Night of the Living Dead” completely burned the voodoo zombie bible, the walking dead could be dismissed as a Caribbean thing and “King of the Zombies” is no exception.  Two navy sailors piloting a bad model plane crash on a tropical island in the Gulf of Mexico while looking for a missing admiral.  For some reason, these pilots have a black manservant accompanying them on the trip.  Jefferson, as he is called, is responsible for 99.99% of every second of entertainment in this zombie flick.  The three stumble across an eerie old house inhabited by a creepy ‘European Agent’ (the guy is a Nazi, even though the movie never comes out and says it).  The Nazi’s house is infested with zombies that only come out at night and blah, blah, blah, back to Jefferson.  Delivering lines written by a white guy trying to sound like a black guy, Jefferson jumps at shadows, pulls the covers over his head, and generally reacts to everything with the same terrified expression on his face.  Thank god for him, there are white people there to calm him down and tell him that everything will be alright.  Poor, logical white people.

            I know what you’re thinking.  The black guy is just being depicted as a coward by the filmmakers, while the white pilots are brave for investigating the zombie nuisance.  This could be true; until you consider that the pilots wouldn’t have even known or cared about the zombies unless Jefferson said something.  Jefferson is the accidental hero of this film through sheer ‘Spider Sense.’  Every effort by the filmmakers to make him look like a codependent coward only highlights how much he calls everybody’s attention to the zombie problem.  The movie fails because it wants you laugh at Jefferson while taking the stoic white cast seriously.  The fact of the matter is that the entire cast would have been killed off without Jefferson.  Other than being utterly laborious and not scary at all, “King of the Zombies” refuses to settle for the fact that the black guy is the hero, and that is a fatal flaw.        

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