Racializing Predator – The Movie

So, Predator. It’s a fun movie, thanks to the silly, over-the-top machoismo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his action-movie cohorts. But the film’s racial subtext is startling.

The Predator

The Predator howls defiance

Think about it: the eponymous villain is a technologically advanced extraterrestrial creature, sure, but also a jungle-loving savage with dreadlocks, prominent facial features, vicious and inarticulate howls, a penchant for necklaces of skulls and other bling, and labeled a predator, racialized just like so many other big black males, including the 7’2” black actor (Kevin Peter Hall) who was cast into the role. To beat this menace to society, the big white male lead, a German strongman nicknamed “Dutch” (most Aryan of nationalities), goes blackface by smearing himself with mud that conceals his body heat. The real black guys on Dutch’s team who defy the villain die quickly (so do the other whites), and apparently the Latino guerillas and villagers have failed for years to take down the predator. You gotta be an Anglo-American dude with a German accent and roided-up muscles in order to take down a Predator so blatantly modeled on the racialized nightmares of white men.

2 thoughts on “Racializing Predator – The Movie

  1. I hadn’t though of it that way before, but it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment for me. As monster movies goes, it has better than usual performances, better special effects, a much better music score, and real kinetic drive in the editing. I appreciate you giving me more subtext to think about though.

    This seems to be a case like the Starship Troopers movie. That adaptation has a strong subtext about the exhiliration created by the Nazis before WW2, unblinking allegiance to the state etc. Now Robert Heinlein the author was Libertarian, but the events in the book resonated with dutch director Verhoeven’s experience growing up under Nazi occupation.

    • Hey Mikey, thanks for your comment! I enjoy Predator too, and the Predator’s racialization was probably partially unconscious. Stan Winston, who put together the Predator’s look, also designed the monsters in the Aliens franchise. The xenomorphs are gendered — the wet maw coupled with the punching tongue conflates the male and female sexual organs — and it’s fascinating to see how Predator works in racial undertones, much as Alien works in gender undertones.

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