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So Easy a White Man Could Do It


If you haven't heard about the controversy over ABC's new sitcom "Cavemen," perhaps you're living like one. The creators of the show, based on a series of Geico commercials created by The Martin Agency, were surprised when a roomful of critics chastised them for exploiting racial stereotypes about blacks for profit and giggles.

The cavemen in the pilot episode, which will reportedly be re-shot, have great sexual prowess and natural athletic ability, and battle with the notion that they're all criminals. These aspects of the show prompted one critic to ask, "Is this the series about black folks that ABC was too scared to make?"

After hearing the complaints, the show's producers promised future episodes that will depict a lazy caveman and another who is criticized for dating "a non-caveman woman." We can also look forward to cavemen debating whether it's proper to call each other "Cro-Magger."

"In terms of them standing in for any one ethnic group, that's not our intention," producer Josh Gordon told critics. "We're aware that the pilot seems to lean a little more in that direction."

The cavemen creators aren't breaking new ground. Hollywood has long used stand-ins for African-Americans to exploit racial fears and misconceptions that aren't as hip as they used to be:

Gremlins (1984) A town of white folk minding their own business is terrorized by these cardplaying, break-dancing creatures who threaten to lower property values with their rambunctious behavior. In her book "Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies," Patricia Turner writes that the chicken-eating gremlins "reflect negative African American stereotype." They were so cute, until they got a bit of drink in them.

Planet of the Apes (1968, 2001) The original film is viewed by critics as an allegory for the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps setting the film on a different planet would have put the point across without conjuring up the worst racial insults. Director Tim Burton revisited the flawed metaphor in 2001.

Predator (1987) What does a hyperviolent killer from another world wear? Dreadlocks.

California Raisins (1987) They were cute, docile and delicious. These anthropomorphized raisins, with their black limbs, white gloves and raspy voices, proved minstrelsy was still a viable art form in the '80s. Next time you dip into a box of Sun-Maid, see if you can find one that looks like Buddy Miles.

X-Men (2000) Stan Lee based his brooding band of mutants on the opposing philosophies of the Civil Rights Movement, with Charles Xavier standing in for Martin Luther King Jr. and Magneto playing Malcolm X. With eye beams and metal claws, they shall overcome … by any means necessary.

King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005) Book-ending Hollywood history, the symbolism of this film is recycled every so often, just to keep the monkey off Hollywood's back. Dave Rosen wrote in "King Kong: Race, Sex, and Rebellion": "It doesn't require too great an exercise of the imagination to perceive the element of race in 'King Kong.' Racist conceptions of blacks often depict them as subhuman, ape or monkey-like." A wild African king is brought to America against his will, where he attempts to claim a beautiful white woman as his own. This overgrown macaca is so uppity he climbs a building with her, where he has to be brought down in a hail of gunfire. It wasn't beauty that killed the beast, it was The Man. S

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