Monster’s Ball (2001 USA)

This is a typical male erotic fantasy, the hesitant white man dutifully tending to the jungle goddess because she’s damaged and begging to be repaired. What the film really wants to do is titillate its audience with the prospect of hot black- on- white sex. Whilst the entire film is shot with economy, using very little coverage, its famous sex scene is shot from every possible angle (and more if you buy the director’s cut). The director wants us to leer at Halle Berry’ chocolate flesh- the film treating the audience to delightful little snippets of Berry’s berries and pert little cheeks. End result: white audience gets a slice of jungle fever, whilst passing it off as grief coping. As for me, my White Guilt O Metre could only reach as high as 4 out of 10.

(Btw, if you actually meet anyone who claims to suffer from white guilt, know that you are being confronted by a narcissist who needs to re-locate to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe) Moving back to this piece of creative art…most films about “racism” actually perpetuate racial stereotypes (“The Defiant Ones”, “Sayonara”, ” The Colour Purple”, “Crash”, “The Blind Side”, “Precious”, “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” “In The Heat Of The Night”), and “Monster’s Ball” is no different. Here we have the typical Hollywood belief that racism is caused by a few misguided, cantankerous people. In this case, the cantankerous person is actor Peter Boyle, Hollywood’s poster boy for racism ever since his iconic performance in the 1970 film “Joe”.

Boyle plays a character who spews the word nigger like its a KKK water fountain. He also plays the father of Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), who at first shares his father’s racist convictions. But after the death of his own son he grows in sensitivity, renouncing racism and resigning from his prison job. Why does the son’s death affect Billy Bob? Because Billy’s son embodies a kind of caring, progressive attitude, which is a sharp contrast to his mean-spirited father and grandfather. Before he dies, the son admits that he loved his dad, despite his father’s abusive nature. The kid’s death thus “teaches” Billy a kind of “unconditional love”.

From here on, Billy Bob magically transforms from a prison worker (caging black men) to a friend of the black community (he befriends black actor Mos Def etc). What’s more, he turns from the executioner of a black man called Lawrence, to the lover of this same black man’s wife. Seeing the grieving Halle Berry, Billy Bob immediately wants to comfort her. On the literal level, he realises that by sending her husband to the electric chair he caused her anguish. But the film’s larger, quite condescending point, is that Billy Bob has seen the effects of prejudice and so wants to “make up” for this by giving Halle some finger lickin’ white lovin’. The middle portion involves Billy Bob going to the café at which Halle Berry works.

He orders “black coffee” and “chocolate ice-cream” whilst he sizes up the sultry ghetto waitress. You can tell by his hungry eyes that he’d love to sink his redneck teeth into Halle Berry’s juicy chocolate cupcakes. His chocolate cravings, his salivating jungle fever, should be played as comedy but director Marc Forster instead plays things with ridiculous solemnity. This lends the film a tone which feels ignorant and borderline offensive, Forster quietly baiting his audience into wanting to see some hot, interracial, taboo busting sex.

This is probably what impressed the Oscar judges so much.

The character’s themselves are oddly written. Billy Bob is a redneck Polish American with the surname Grotowski (see “Australia”, where all racism is transplanted to similar Polish caricatures) and Halle Berry’s character is written like some weird parody of blackness (eg- she tells her morbidly obese son that she’ll “slap the blackness out of him!”), spewing silly jive dialogue and goofy black mannerisms. She’s the typical bi-racial “tragic mulatto” stereotype, who is assumed to be sad and suicidal because she fails to assimilate into either the white or black world. A real, fully black character would scare white audiences, so we get instead a mixed race Beyonce/Obama hybrid: lighter skinned, fine nosed and frail enough to not threaten the film’s white audience, but black enough to instigate a guilt trip. A good mix.

Berry’s character herself seems confused about race. Spew racist words to a black woman in rural Georgia and she’ll give you a piece of her mind, whereas Berry is a meek, docile creature. Racism in this film isn’t anything more than a personal defect. A psychological problem. A personality quirk which must be overcome by the commingling of white and black flesh, (see “Dances With Wolves”, “Sayonara”, “Lone Star”, “Man Called Horse”, “Heaven and Earth”, “The Searchers”, “Passage To India”, “Avatar” etc, where sex becomes a clunky metaphor for the soothing of racial tensions). In other words, this is sex as racial therapy. The broken black woman can only be made whole again if the white man takes care of her in a benevolent, paternalistic way, her wounds healed by some white on black clitoral stimulation.

As the film progresses, the camera, the white male gaze, systematically reduces Berry to an object of suffering and tragedy. Watch how she literally loses everything she has in the film and becomes an objectified victim. A symbol of failure, unable to support herself, having lost her son and husband, she then begs her white slave master to hump her in as violent a way as possible so that she can “feel good”. Billy Bob acts hesitant. Acts like he’s somewhat reluctant…but we know he’s simply being polite. That he’s leaving enough space for disavowal. In truth, he can’t resist her. How often does a redneck get to bang a hot black woman (not too black, of course. Berry is bi-racial) without asking for permission?



  1. Wow! Powerful post. Just once in these cinematic sex scenes I’d like to see the man’s body fully exposed in the shot while the woman’s is discreetly hidden behind the furniture.

    Liked by 2 people

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