The Tragic Negro in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1990 Total Recall

Mel_Johnson_Jr_Mouth_OpenMy seventeen year old and I sat down to watch Total Recall on the Sci Fi channel recently. I’d already filled his head up with how wonderful this retro movie was and about how it was considered to have pushed the envelope with special effects and visual interests.  As we munched down on popcorn, I relived watching the movie in  the theatre. The excitement and anticipation was high until I got to the part with the tragic Negro. Does anybody remember him? I wanted to claw my eyes out.

We all remember Benny, the tragic Negro, who had “five kids to feed.” My blood started to boil. I remembered Benny being cool. I remember Benny being smooth. I remember being enamored with Benny. But, in my old age Benny was a complete turn off. Could Benny remove his gold tooth so he’d have money to pay for his kids? Sorry, that was uncalled for. It wasn’t Benny’s fault. He kept saying it over and over and over. Sheesh! Couldn’t Hollywood give him another line?

I’m thinking in the 90s, I was so starved to see any person of color in a large SciFi movie thatMel_Johnson_Jr I was willing to settle for anything especially Benny.  Mel Johnson Jr. is actually a terrific actor and has gone on to do great things. I’m proud of his accomplishments.  Unfortunately, it was his role as Benny that gave rise to his career. Back then, there were only a few roles for African-Americans and thug (even a mutant thug) was one of them. As I think about Benny, I’m reminded of both how far we’ve come and how far we’ve still have to go.

[the traitorous Benny shoots George/Kuato]
Melina: How can you do this? You’re a mutant. 
Benny: [shrugs] I got four kids to feed.
Douglas Quaid: So what happened to number five? 
Benny: [beat tone] Aw, shit, man! You got me. I’m not even married. Now, put your fuckin’ hands in the air!

Mel_Johnson_Jr_YellingWell, at least Benny’s one line ended being sort of cool in the end.  So, does anybody else remember Benny?  Did you think he was cool then? Looking for people to weigh-in. “Man, I got five kids to feed!”  LOL!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *