I was watching an old movie on TV last week and couldn't help but think of an episode of the sitcom “Sanford and Son.” Redd Foxx's character, Fred Sanford, was arguing in court, on his own behalf, about a traffic ticket he'd gotten. He was one of many in the room, all Black, cited for a violation by the same white police officer.
Foxx was a master of edgy, biting material. But there was another layer to his comedy. He had an ability to infuse social activism into his act, which was more palatable (than fist-pounding rallies) to the close-minded culture that existed back then. (And, probably/sadly, still does today.) He was a warrior, a rebel with a cause.
Under the guise of humor, he cursed — within the boundaries of network TV — about the injustices that people of color were forced to endure. By softening his audience with jokes, he used a Trojan horse approach to gain admission and try to make people aware of the oppression and pain that he and all Black people felt. Sadly, many people didn't penetrate the surface of the bit. It went over their heads. But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water ….
It was obvious that Fred Sanford's indignation was authentic. And as a matter of note: Sanford was Foxx's real name. And Fred was the actual name of both his dad and brother. “Interesting,” so said Freud. (Well, actually, it was Bob Halpin-Freud, a friend of mine who said that. I'm not so sure that Sigmund caught any of the shows. He died in 1939.)
Back to the courtroom scene: With permission from the judge, Fred is allowed to ask the arresting officer some questions. Strutting over to the seated policeman in his trademark, penguin-like, back-and-forth wobble, Sanford blurted out “What have you got against Black drivers?” The gallery of Black people awaiting their turns erupted into cheers.
“Why don't you arrest some white drivers?”
The rattled cop says, “I do.”
“You do?” Fred barks back. “Where are they?”
Sanford continues, “Look at all these (n-word) in here. Look around. There's enough (n-word, again) here to make a Tarzan movie!”
It was brilliant. Foxx's shocking diatribe alerted the viewers to pay attention and his sniper-like sarcasm made a direct hit on the deplorable, human scourge known as racism. And, again, I'd assume most bigots in his cross-hairs didn't even realize they'd been targeted.
With that said, back to the movie I watched that made me think of Fred Sanford. You guessed right: It was a Tarzan film. “Tarzan the Ape Man,” 1932.
It was the beginning of the movie and Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) had yet to appear. A couple of ivory hunters (white, of course) and one of their daughters (Tarzan's eventual Jane) are shown traipsing through the thick jungle. They were accompanied by a handful or two of scantily clad, native Black men to carry their gear – God forbid these white folk could ever lower themselves to carry their own stuff when a subordinate culture of humans was right there to do it for them. Gee willikers, get real.
OK, let me gather myself. The hunting party came to a point where they had to cross a crocodile- and hippo-infested river on a raft. The natives, portrayed as primitive cowards, balked at the prospect; they knew it was far too dangerous. One of the hunters tells the other one to “use what we brought for such an occasion.”
So unbelievably, the guy got out a whip and started whipping the indigenous tribe members like he was riding Secretariat to the finish line at the Kentucky Derby. The natives relent and are pushed onto the raft to pole the privileged three to the other side. And of course, along the way, the hunters shoot every non-threatening creature in sight — about four or five 4 hippos and half a dozen crocs — just to be on the safe side. Such brave, heroic men!
Now here's where my imagination took over as I fantasized about Redd Foxx's ability to satirize. If he were to remake this movie, he could have the three disembark on the other side with Jane taking a couple of items out of her purse and handing them to her father and the other guy. She could then take a couple of pictures to capture the moment for the newspapers back home. One of the self-centered hunters, who did the whipping, could be holding up a book in praise of Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I have a dream” speech. And the other guy could be holding up a brochure about the virtuous work associated with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Anyhow, the sound track could be cool, too. Maybe a loon tweeting in the background, oblivious to the action being played out. Whatever.
Just a thought. No?!
And that's the way it looks from the Valley.