Night of the Living Dead; Breaking racial stereotypes.
With last week was George Romeros birthday and February being Black History Month it seems a great time to talk Night of the Living Dead. Night of the Living Dead is a horror classic in it’s own right but in addition it was one of the first films to star a black man in a leading role characterized without regard to his race.
That was not filmmaker George Romero’s intention, but when Duane Jones was cast as Ben, the male lead and the last survivor of the group the intent changed. The rewriting included brilliant social commentary on the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
While this wasn’t the first film to do that it was the first to get as much recognition as Night of the Living Dead. Jones was a well-educated man, fluent in a number of languages with a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.A. from NYU and he didn’t want the character to be as low-brow as the original script portrayed Ricci. He upgraded the dialogue to reflect how he thought Ben should portray himself.
Jones chose to play Ben as a regular guy who’s not a hero and dies in the end – heroes never died in American movies! So it was a double whammy when he died at the end and a black hero figure. It would not have been the same without Duane Jones!