Obviously, there's something oxymoronic about that phrase, but Batman Begins is reasonably refreshing for a summer blockbuster. It puts a lot of effort into explaining where Bruce Wayne gets all his Bat Gear (the Batmobile and the rest are high tech military prototypes invented by Wayne Enterprises' top scientist, played by Morgan Freeman), and into detailing why he becomes an avenging angel of the night: when he was a lad, his saintly parents were gunned down in front of him by a mugger.
Gotham City looks evocatively like Chicago, where some of the movie was filmed.
But, as an old Chicagoan, I can assure you that one aspect of Batman Begins is standard-issue Hollywood hokum: the murderous mugger is blond.
Blond bad guys are a lot more common in movies and television than in real life.
For example, in Batman Begins, you can tell that Mr. Earle, the executive in charge of Wayne Enterprises, is up to no good because he is played by Rutger Hauer—the blond Dutchman who made his American debut in 1981's Nighthawks as a terrorist chased by heroic NYPD cops Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams. Hauer was subsequently cast as Albert Speer in the TV movie Inside the Third Reich, and eventually received his best-known role as a homicidal android in Blade Runner.
No typecasting there!
And speaking of blond terrorists being chased by NYPD cops, who can forget Alan Rickman in Bruce Willis's Die Hard? No wonder President Bush cracked down on ethnic profiling of Arabs by airport security in the months before 9/11: all the terrorists in movies are either Germans or English aristocrats!
This prejudice against blond men would seem to be on a collision course with the tendency of movie moguls, such as Steven Spielberg, to marry blonde women, such as Kate Capshaw. This means the industry's hereditary elite will tend to become blonder over the generations. No doubt it will cause no end of father-son conflicts, keeping Beverly Hills psychiatrists prosperous for the rest of the century.
A more general question is why in movies and television, murderers are far more likely to be white (whether blond or brunette) than African-American—even though, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics: "Blacks were 7 times more likely than whites to commit homicide in 2002."
One of my readers recently pointed out that with non-Hispanic whites accounting for only about ten percent of the violent crime in New York City, the three Law & Order television shows were likely to feature more fictional white New York murderers in 2005 than there will be actual white murderers in real life!
Another reader pointed out:
"In the first 24 episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent there's only one black murderer, and she is a corrupt police officer. Make of that what you will…"
Racial activist organizations like the NAACP constantly complain that minority actors have a hard time getting roles. For some reason, though, the NAACP never brings up the most obvious ways to increase the casting of blacks and Hispanics—by making the ethnic make-up of screen criminals more realistic.
There are unintended consequences to all these good intentions. Villains provide excellent roles that actors can sink their teeth into. But minorities seldom get those great Hannibal the Cannibal-type parts.
Unfortunately, African-American actors have long been held back by what's known as Ben Stein's Law. The mordant law professor, economist, screenwriter and game show host made an in-depth study in 1979 that revealed that in any Hollywood whodunit, the whitest, richest and most respectable character usually turns out to be the bad guy.
In Rush Hour 2, Chris Tucker updated Ben Stein's Law with his "Law of Criminal Investigation: Always follow the rich white man."
It appeared that the ice was breaking when Denzel Washington won the Oscar for playing the heavy in 2001's Training Day, a role based on Rafael Perez, the affirmative action-hire rogue cop whose criminality set off the LAPD's Rampart Scandal.
But little progress has been made since. Morgan Freeman, for example, first broke through to public notice playing a vicious pimp in 1987's Street Smart. However, he continues to get cast as the embodiment of saintliness, what Richard Brookhiser calls the "Numinous Negro"—as in Freeman's Oscar-winning but embarrassing role as the holy janitor in Million Dollar Baby.
In Batman Begins, Freeman portrays an inventor—another weird Hollywood racial cliché. Just as judges are so often played by black women, Hollywood has decided that technogeeks must be portrayed by black men, the more improbable the better, as in burly Ving Rhames being the computer nerd in the "Mission Impossible" movies.
Clearly, political correctness damages black actors' careers. Because it would be "racist" for movies to show blacks as killers, since that would support the "stereotype" that blacks commit more homicides than whites, they are denied the good roles as bad guys.
From a career standpoint, that's a disastrous trade-off for any actor.
And from a political and cultural standpoint, Hollywood's blond-bashing isn't that great either.