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Did You See The Black Serial Killer On 'Hannibal'? (And Did You Have A Problem With It?)

Television
by Sergio
May 29, 2013 11:43 AM
27 Comments
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Hannibal on NBC is one of the best (perhaps the best) and no doubt most disturbing series currently on network television. For sure it’s the most violent and grisly show that’s even been on commercial network TV proving that the success of cable series such as The Walking Dead really has the networks running scared.

Not surprisingly Hannibal is struggling in the ratings. Network TV is a “safe harbor” for viewers, especially older audiences. There’s a comfort and reassurance that what you see on NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox isn’t going to cross the line. It may come to the edge and maybe tip a toe over it, but never goes all the way. Hannibal does that in every episode. The result is that it’s driving older audiences away to the safety of The Voice or whatever else is out there.

But this is not to talk about the show itself, but actor Demore Barnes (Supernatural, The Unit) who played the role of Tobias Budge in the recent episode entitled Fromage, perhaps the most intense of all the intense episodes on the series.

Of course Lawrence Fishburne is a regular on the show playing the usual “black guy in authority” role, though Fishburne’s performance and the way the character is written is given some real depth, especially with regards to his character’s complicated relationship to his seriously ill wife played by Fishburne’s real life wife Gina Torres.

But Barnes’ character was truly fascinating. He played an extremely urbane, sophisticated music teacher, musician and composer who was also a sadistic and twisted serial killer.

In the episode he was shown disemboweling one man and using his guts to make cello strings, and later was revealed to be the killer who killed a man and then slit open his trachea to literally shove the top part of the cello down his throat to play it as an instrument in a concert hall.

Later in the same episode he brutally kills two cops and his twists his partner’s neck completely around killing him. Needless to say, Hannibal Lecter forms a real affinity for him seeing his as a kindred spirit.

Eventually, it all leads to a brutal mano-a-mano fight between Tobias and Hannibal in his office, but we can guess who won that fight.

However it’s still very rare to see a black actor playing so disturbing a character. I think any actor, regardless of race, would love to sink their teeth into playing such a villainous role. Any real actor wants to challenge himself even if it means delving into the uglier and more depraved regions of their psyche.

However, I’ve always held to the idea that many black audiences are too concerned about black actors only playing “positive” and “uplifting” roles; that playing anything less than a doctor or lawyer, a teacher or some upstanding citizen, who can walk on water, is “negative” and shows black people in a “negative” light.

But why are some of us so concerned about being accepted?

As I’ve mentioned before, it reminds me of what Viola Davis told me when I interviewed her a few years ago, and I asked her about playing a serial killer who kills an entire family on an episode of Law & Order Criminal Intent, and whether she had any qualms playing such as role especially being a black actress. (Because you know how black people are…)

Just the opposite, she told me. It was because she is a black actress that she wanted badly to play the role, since you had never seen a black actor in a role like that before. She wanted to explore that sort of twisted mentality that black actors rarely, if ever, get a chance to do. It’s all part of the human experience.

I agree. We can’t be worried about what people think about a black actor playing a role that is (how can we say...) less than flattering. Who are we trying to prove ourselves to?

What say you?

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27 Comments

  • phil_hubb | June 6, 2013 10:28 AMReply

    Race is a social construct.
    If you quit referring to it as if it were a reality, it will cease to be a reality.
    All race consciousness devolves into racism.
    The racism begins when people divide themselves according to skin pigment. Which is what every American does and therefore, every American is a racist son of a bitch. Full stop

  • BluTopaz | May 30, 2013 1:06 PMReply

    This reminds me of a Law & Order episode eons ago starring Courtney Vance as the main villain. He wasn't a killer but a highly intelligent, elitist Wall Street crook who spoke down to everyone like they weren't his equal, including the cops. Courtney's fantastic voice and diction were perfect for this role.

  • BluTopaz | June 6, 2013 10:54 AM

    That's right, i forgot it was based on a true story. According to wikipedia, Jett sounds like he's still scheming but now overseas. That's what I call progress and equality-lol

  • Sergio | May 30, 2013 1:43 PM

    Yeah I remember that episode very well too. It was based on that real life fraud case involving that black Wall Street trader Joe Jett back in the mid-1990's. It was at that time the biggest Wall Street trading fraud case in history though the Feds never charged him (Most likely because the firm he was working for knew what he was doing but didn't care as long as he was making money for them. If he went down he was taking a whole bunch with him)

    I wonder where Jett is now?

  • Afterthoth | May 30, 2013 12:41 PMReply

    Black people don't often play intelligent villains, so I don't see the issue. There's no stereotype about Black people being sophisticated serial killers.

  • Donella | May 29, 2013 10:53 PMReply

    I watched Samuel L. Jackson portray a violinist in Red Violin and then read endless reviews declaring he was miscast in the role, likely due to the sophistication in the character's desire for the violin. Who declared Jackson unfit for the role? White fanboys who don't recognize Jackson onscreen unless he's screaming and cursing in fury. It's a lovely movie.

  • Africameleon | May 29, 2013 10:11 PMReply

    First, Hannibal actually killed Tobias's partner. I watch the show every week, and I think it's stellar and hands down the best drama on TV. They are also sure to spread the goryness around and include all genders and races as victims.

    I liked Tobias's character b/c he seemed more disturbed than the others. I felt like more than the other killers on the show, Tobias was Lectors equal b/t they both surrounded themselves with fine arts. Tobias even taught music and made instruments, while Lector's a chef of sorts and enjoys a posh lifestyle. They are both snobs, and predators. I actually wished they wouldn't have killed him off so quickly. That story line would of been interesting.

  • sergio | May 29, 2013 11:30 PM

    My error. You're right. It's Hannibal who kills the Tobia's partner in his office

  • Miles Ellison | May 29, 2013 9:12 PMReply

    However, I’ve always held to the idea that many black audiences are too concerned about black actors only playing “positive” and “uplifting” roles; that playing anything less than a doctor or lawyer, a teacher or some upstanding citizen, who can walk on water, is “negative” and shows black people in a “negative” light.

    Judging from the ratings and the box office, this is not true of most black people. The commercial kiss of death is not only positivity, but also complexity and depth. I suspect that this is a big reason why this show is struggling to find an audience.

  • Rob | May 29, 2013 5:42 PMReply

    Love this show and love how far NBC allows it to go. If you see the episode the "Black Serial Killer" is writen as very sophisticated, well read, and higly intelligent. As many others that have posted it didn't even occure to me that he was a "Black Serial Killer" until your article metioned it. The amount of thought and depth that go in to the show is amasing I am not sure why the rating are soft but hopefully they move it to a cable chanel instead of cutting it loose altogether.

  • Lu | May 29, 2013 1:52 PMReply

    I didn't have a problem with it because it all depends on how the role is written. We all know villainous characters can be quite compelling so much so people end up rooting for the baddie. But the type of baddie that Black people get casted for it usually stupid, drug dealer, or brutish sloppy type with no nuance whatsoever. Never the clever, cunning and wickedly devious character that is intriguing

  • Geek Soul Brother | May 29, 2013 1:51 PMReply

    I love seeing black people in villainous roles because those parts have a special place in the hearts of the audience. Most of the time the characters are very intelligent and cunning, so even though it's a negative role, it has those positive qualities that people admire. I actually would like this to happen more in the science fiction / fantasy world. Definitely have to catch up to Hannibal. My friend mentioned this episode, but didn't mention that the character was black, so maybe color was pushed to the back this time.

  • Cynthia | May 29, 2013 1:18 PMReply

    What I want to see, and what I can say every black person wants to see, is black people playing roles that could be for anyone. To be seen as a person, not as a black person. So yes, this is good. Whether it was worth writing an article about, not really. Why wouldn't we be? It was beautifully done and wasn't stereotypical.

  • sergio | May 29, 2013 11:25 PM

    Like DUH! You're completely missing the point. The reason for the article IS the fact that he's black and would people have a problem with that or not? You rarely if ever see a black actor playing such a role which makes it unique. If it was more common then there wouldn't be the need for such a piece. You can't be that dense

  • Cynthia | May 29, 2013 1:20 PM

    When you point out Black Serial Killer, you are continuing the need for PoC to only be seen as PoC. Instead of writing black serial killer, you could have just said 'Serial Killer'. We have to stop pointing out our color as our main identity. We are more than that.

  • Skeet | May 29, 2013 1:01 PMReply

    What a pointless article

  • sergio | May 29, 2013 5:27 PM

    Well they all can't reach the heights of Dostoyevsky. We never claimed to perfect...unlike you.

  • JBB | May 29, 2013 4:39 PM

    +1

  • Some Girl | May 29, 2013 1:35 PM

    This.

  • Luce | May 29, 2013 12:41 PMReply

    Like Akimbo said, you didn't describe the usual stereotypical black character. There was no "woe is me the man is keeping me down" sentiment in that review, neither.

    I really hope they don't cancel the show. I stopped watching before the pulled episode, not because it wasn't good, it is. I'll have to get back at it. Love seeing Fishburn and Torres acting together. Band the actor play ing Hannibal is deliciously disgusting :)

  • Luce | May 29, 2013 12:48 PM

    Really sorry about this, my phone wont stop correcting wrongly after me.
    It's suppose to be "And" not Band.

  • Luce | May 29, 2013 12:44 PM

    *Ans (notre Band)

  • saadiyah | May 29, 2013 12:36 PMReply

    I agree with Akimbo. Tired of seeing Black people in the same limited, stereotypical roles whether the character is good or bad.

    I don't have a problem seeing twisted, cunning, unhinged Black characters outside of the thug role.

  • African Americans Be Like | May 29, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    It sounds great. I hadn't been watching the show at all, but reading this article makes me want to check it out on HULU. Its good to see us in good and diverse roles, especially those that we're not normally in.

  • Josh | May 29, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    The guy was great, would have made a great villian for Luther.

  • Grake | May 29, 2013 12:29 PMReply

    I'm less concerned with black actors playing positive and uplifting roles and more concerned for them to act in roles such as this. As a black person who adores the villains and the baddies I've always found this area woefully lacking. So it was refreshing to see Demore Barnes execute this role in superb fashion. Fromage happens to be my fave ep of Hannibal so far. The fight scene was riveting and I loved every minute of it.

  • Akimbo | May 29, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    No, black audiences tire of stereotypical roles. It's not like the Great Debaters and the Coach Carter type films are runaway successes in the community. There's a lot of middle ground between inspirational, noble negroes and hoodrat thugs. People want to see that spectrum.

    Doesn't sound like this character was a stereotype, so great for all involved parties.

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