The Dark Tower seemingly solicits a “dark” viewership in casting esteemed black actor Idris Elba (The Wire, Takers, Luther). The placement of a black body in a role authored for a white person is a common act of the contemporary world. This act, while a pseudo act to diversify a still predominately white industry, never fails to betray the racial context that dominates the world.
A Story About Sex
The Dark Tower is no exception. The film predictably portrays its black protagonist as a being caricatured by a white gaze. As Roland, the film compartmentalizes Elba as a “gunslinger,” a portrayal that dismembers the black male body to a phallic object that bears an inadvertent reference to the stereotypically oversized black male sexual organ. Roland– the “black” man, a sexual beast in the eyes of his oppressor, is masterful in the craft of swinging his phallic instrument around for all to see. Thus “gun-slinging” or phallic mastery is not talent but a testament to the presumed beastality of blacks.
The bestial black controlling image is also developed in Roland’s ethereal strength. Roland’s strength is not magical like a Superman or Batman, but a natural ability to withstand pain and fatally penetrate the bodies of his enemies in the adept release of his phallic instrument. Let’s analyze both representations.
- A gunslinger’s natural ability to withstand pain corresponds to the racist perception of Africans abducted from the coast of Africa by white settlers centuries ago. This fictive ideology rationalized abducted Africans as sources for scientific experimentation. So the part of the film where modern doctors diagnose Roland with multiple ailments and marvel at his ability to carry on as he has, is not funny, but a portrayal of blacks as non-humans whose enslavement and murders were necessary to maintain a fictive civility.
- The ability of the gunslinger to tune into nature and fire his weapon is a metaphorical representation of black male ejaculation. This is once again a depiction of masterful phallic handling. Namely, this depiction suggests that the black man is more than able to handle an oversized phallus with ease, and cast his seed not with his hand but “with his mind.” So in the repeated phrase:
I do not shoot, aim or kill with my hand
I shoot with mind
I aim with my eye
I aill with my heart
the film illustrates an animalistic black sexuality that operates internally and in tune with the jungle and not with a fabricated comity.
The Innocent White Child
Jake, the central character of the film functions to depict the innocence of whiteness. Namely, The Dark Tower illustrates white innocence as the gateway to eliminating white supremacy or what the film depicts as sorcery. Despite the film’s effort to depict Jake as anti-racist, the white child is not innocent but a product of said sorcery. This dynamic becomes overt as Jake becomes interested in the plight that has dominated Roland’s life only after experiencing personal tragedy. Roland’s plight is lead by loss and the desire to gain by destroying the source of global destruction. Although hurt by personal loss, Roland uses his individual hurt to perform a collective good seen in saving multiple lives, including Jake’s, throughout the film.
Jake on the other hand tokenizers Roland the gunslinger as a form of escapism from his own troubles. Roland’s pain is not real to Jake. What is real to Jake, and worthy of marvel, is the size of Roland’s gun. Jake’s fascination and subtle fetishizing of Roland’s phallic instrument functions to capture white objectification of black sexuality. It is only when he feels othered by a single instance of loss, does Roland become somewhat of a person to Jake. This slight evolution prompts Jake to become more than a spectator to Roland’s journey. Jake’s involvement, while seemingly beneficial to Roland, is actually a selfish act used to avenge Jake’s personal tragedy. This dynamic illustrates a global truth–that nothing has been done for blacks that has not benefited whites. Furthermore, even the implied innocence of the film’s child protagonist is unable to escape the pervasiveness of a white supremacist ideology.
The White Supremacist Sorcerer
White supremacy in The Dark Tower is depicted in Matthew McConaughey’s character “The Man In Black” or “Walter.” The name “Walter” interestingly made me think of Walt Disney, a racist whose supremacist gaze foments anti blackness in the films that dominate so many childhoods throughout the world. It is the white supremacist sorcery that offsets Roland’s plight, and ultimately prompts the union between the outcasted white child and the black man–an indirect act of sorcery where a white individual rejected from a system designed to work for them, finds sustenance and purpose in accompanying an “othered” individual or faction on their journey to confront a common enemy. Viewers have seen this depiction countless times in the past, and given the trajectory of global film and television, viewers will surely see this dynamic for years to come.
In summary, The Dark Tower‘s implementation of a dark lead, illustrates yet another white attempt to not only narrate the black story but appoint a white hero. It is worth mentioning that this particular road to a white savior does not intertwine the black female body. This omission could be due to a conceptualizing of black people as gender-less, much like how blacks were regarded in their coerced journey over the Atlantic. The omission could also be a desire to appease a silent demand to choose whether to focus on the black man or black female, to avoid depicting blacks as three-dimensional.
Either way, The Dark Tower is unoriginal, and authors yet another page in performing the very racism a black actor or actress is hired to conceal.
The Dark Tower or Ivory Tower?
The most interesting portion of the film for me was the moment at the end where Roland informs Jake that he has to “go back.” This part in the film was quite instrumental in illustrating how past black suffering is essential in creating contemporary white privilege. The white youth however, can exist in either realm–his privilege a timeless constant.
Yet despite afforded a timeless privilege, this privilege does not correspond to piety. Namely, the ivory tower alluded to by the film’s dark tower aligns whiteness with an impertinent and evil darkness rather than an illusive purity. The movie prompts the inquisitive gaze to see that although the gunslinger is physically dark and sullied by the sexual portrayal of an oppressive gaze– he is altruistic, whereas white characters “Walter” or the “Man in Black,” and “Jake” are stained by the true darkness of self-serving deeds that compose the context of the film and the world.
Furthermore, despite actor Idris Elba being a marvelous portrait of blackness, The Dark Tower is far from a conventional success. The film however succeeds in exposing the construct of darkness as reflecting the incantation of imperialism, not the melanated hue of African people– ultimately, proving that constructs do not reflect the creation, but the architect.
Black Power ❤