Steven Russell: The Development of Racism Within ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Jackie Brown’. – Night of the Living Dead enables us to make conclusions on the different representation of black and white by using a multitude of white characters but just one black character and their subsequently connoted characteristics. We see the white population of the film to be stubborn (Mr. Cooper), immature (Johnny), passive (Barbara), fatally sentimental (Judy) and murderously systematic (the zombies and the zombie lynch mobs, both exclusively white). As the film begins, when we see siblings Johnny and Barbara on a trip to visit their father’s grave, he proves himself to be cynical as to the sentimental and religious aspects of visiting his own father’s grave, childlike in asking Barbara for sweets and teasing her for being scared in a graveyard. Yet Barbara herself is passive and equally childlike in her interaction with Johnny. Both are dressed in overwhelmingly light clothes, starting the cinematic theme that makes the distinction between light and dark. Johnny and Barbara are the only two characters that we see in daylight (save for Ben, emerging into daylight at the end of the film, examined more later) and both are fatally flawed; Johnny is the first zombie victim that we see and later in the narrative, as zombies over-run the house, his zombie returns to claim Barbara.
It is this action that links Barbara and Johnny with the Coopers, the white family that barricade themselves in the basement of the house and only emerge when they are sure there are no zombies in the house above. When we first meet Harry Cooper, he immediately attempts to reject Ben’s authority and his plans to survive, attempting to assume the position of dominance in their relationship. It is Harry that, opposing Ben’s plan to stay in the house, plans to return to the basement despite Ben and Tom’s insistence it will be impossible to escape from. Yet Harry returns down there, because he wants to and because Ben wants him to; we see a white character both willingly and forcibly subdued by a black character.
Night of the Living DeadDespite this, he soon re-emerges at the insistence of Tom and finds himself taking orders from Ben in an attempt to refuel the truck. Throughout the narrative, Ben is placed above Harry in terms of significance, as it is Ben that ‘possesses’ the house but Harry has the basement. This hierarchy of their relationship is also epitomised by the fact that Harry leaves Ben locked outside the house in a vain attempt to assume power inside the house. Ben breaks his way back in and reasserts his power over Harry first by beating him up and later by killing him. Ben then has to kill his zombie too, essentially robbing Harry of life twice.
Rafael Alves Azevedo: Fighting Two Wars: George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as a Critique of 1960s American Society | Sequart Organization – C. “Don’t you know what’s goin’ on out there?”: Night of the Living Dead as a comment on 1960s American society
As already mentioned, many film scholars think of Night of the Living Dead as a subversive critique of 1960s American society that deals with various aspects. Regardless of whether George A. Romero was aware of it or not, the film certainly reflects some aspects through means of film-making as well as storytelling. Night of the Living Dead broke some of the rules of the horror film genre, e.g. by not having the “good guys” win at the end. There is no cure for the infected, the zombie apocalypse cannot be stopped, and Duane Jones is even killed. This can be seen as a reflection of the shattering of 1950s optimism that had been going on since John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Romero’s pessimism shows a “society on the verge of collapse” (Deming, “Night of the Living Dead”) with the monsters becoming even more powerful and with authorities that cannot be trusted and that are too inept to deal with a threat to humanity. One of the film’s most iconic shots shows 11-year-old living dead Karen Cooper eating her father’s corpse, literally killing off the patriarchal society of the time. Furthermore, even its contemporary audience perceived it to have “an urgent coded message on the state of America” (Hervey, Night of the Living Dead 9). Publicity for Night of the Living Dead was based on the assumption that “Night found its core audience among those who were sceptical of the American mainstream, politically and culturally” (Hervey 18). When asked about his film’s reflection of these turbulent times, Romero simply stated that “it was 1968, man … Everybody had a ‘message’. The anger and attitude and all that’s there is just because it was the Sixties” (qtd. in Jones, Rough Guide 118).
Ryan Kerr : Race and Culture in Night of the Living Dead | Explaining Film – Ben’s racial status is unacknowledged by the other characters in the film. This lack of discussion on race is important, however. Had a character voiced any objection about Ben’s presence, this would have established whiteness as the “norm,” thus reinforcing social constructions and pandering to the dominant white culture. As a result, minorities would be marginalized in the subconscious of the characters. Additionally, it would have lessened Ben’s power as a protagonist.
Instead, the film’s protagonists represent a group that is diverse and integrated in a de facto way. At the time of the film, as with today, integration was a difficult thing to achieve, because many people supported segregationist policies. Romero has unintentionally created an imagined cultural utopia in which diversity exists without objection from anyone. This diversity, of course, is opposed by the zombies of the film, as it would have been by the real-life segregationists of the 1960s.
One of the biggest racially-themed moments in Night of the Living Dead is the famous ending, when Ben ironically gets killed by a police squad rather than by the zombies themselves. Here, Romero is showing that the real danger against the people of the United States lies in the country’s own backyard. In other words, people who claim to be protecting lives are just as capable of committing violent atrocities. A viewer might incorrectly assume that the zombies are the only antagonists of the film, because they represent a kind of “other” that the country is united against. Tragedy can occur as a result of the actions of the “good guys” as well. This rhetoric of “good guys vs. the others” would certainly have been employed by people advocating segregation and socioeconomic status quo. Romero’s use of lifeless still shots when depicting Ben’s death heightens the viewer’s awareness of the era’s rampant injustice.