The Force Awakens Another Black-White Buddy Film

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh film in the George Lucas-conceived franchise that went into hyperdrive in 1977 and still has people wishing the force upon one another, already has grossed $1.3 billion worldwide, according to That’s about the dollar amount it would take to rebuild one of the worlds the Jedis, Stormtroopers, Darths, and their minions destroy from one film to the next.

While all of the “Star Wars” films deal with science fiction/fantasy themes of good versus evil, dystopian futures, and family dynamics, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” also joins the continuing spate of black-white buddy films coming out of Hollywood.

(possible spoilers ahead)

In the J.J. Abrams-directed, Disney-owned production of “The Force Awakens,”  older viewers are treated to early “Star Wars” stalwarts Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess (now General) Leia, and Luke Skywalker. However, the stars of Episode VII are clearly Finn, Rey, and Poe.

Finn (played by John Boyega), who is black, is thrust into a life-or-death situation as the gunner for Poe (Oscar Isaac), who is white. Later, Finn comes across Rey (Daisy Ridley), also white, and a similar situation arises.

The Walt Disney Company, which bought the “Star Wars” franchise in 2012, has a successful formula for its films. The main character becomes separated or orphaned from family and then reunites with or reestablishes family. In “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Disney sticks with its primary formula with Han Solo and Rey. With Finn, however, Disney resorts to the formula often reserved for black/white buddy films.

All around Finn are ruthless bad guys and the courageous warriors. But Finn begins as a frightened stormtrooper who deserts the First Order and wishes only to save his own hide. Sure, he eventually becomes a Resistance fighter, but not because he is strong or well trained — though he was a stormtrooper — but because he’s compelled to fight by the much stronger, smarter woman he loves.

Watching the film recently reminded me of a long-ago conversation, as well as a bit of research I once did on creation of the black-white film genre.

You’re OK for one of them

Rick graduated from an all-white high school in an all-white town in Texas before joining the Army. He claimed not to like (derogatory term removed*). Yet he called the African Americans he lived with and served beside “brothers.”

Rick’s story is not a parable. This real person confessed his bigotry to my then-husband and I over a leisurely dinner one night in 1989, the same year “Lethal Weapon II” and “Die Hard” appeared on big screen.

Why the disparity? As Rick explained it, acceptance and even friendship with soldiers of other races is necessary when your life is threatened and you must depend on them as your shield and defense in combat.

“Racial attitudes are improved and stereotypes are broken when diverse groups come together under circumstances that promote meaningful cross-group interaction, such as in the military,” wrote Mary J. Fischer, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, who co-authored a 2015 study with Jacob S. Rugh, an assistant professor of sociology at Brigham Young University.

It started with a fight

Prior to the Vietnam War (1959-1975), African-Americans actors were mise-en-scene — background for affect, servants to demonstrate a character’s status (or lack of), the fall guy, and the fool.

During the war and almost concurrent Civil Rights Movement (around 1955-1965), African Americans became more visible than ever in American history.They appeared in American households by means of television news, emerging for the first time en masse in combat beside white soldiers with whom some created unexpected alliances.

The criminal element

The newly integrated battlefield and the Civil Rights Movement allowed Hollywood to create films with black actors in starring roles. There were provisos though. They had to star alongside a white actor to give the film legitimacy and to attract spending spectators, white audiences.

While these films opened doors for African-American actors, they also fabricated other constraints. Black actors, in addition to being cast only as criminals, police officers, and military grunts, portrayed the blessed primitive to white actors’ ruined sophisticate characters or the comic/minstrel to the serious actor.

The groundbreaking, Academy-Award winning “The Defiant Ones” (1958), starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, is an early example of a film with a black-white, criminal-character scenario.

But there was nearly a ten-year gap before the next black-white buddy film emerged on big screens. It was then that roles for African-American film actors regressed with the rise of Blaxploitation films. Pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, excessive violence, and a “gotta get mine” ghetto mentality that still seeps into film-making typified this genre.

Everyone can’t be tough

“Firefox” (1981) and “First Blood” (1982) were among some of the first post Vietnam white male buddy films, but it wasn’t until the 1987 release of “Lethal Weapon (“Off Limits” follows a year later) that African-American characters without a criminal background joined the party. Still, the black character had a bit of a coward in him.

While both stars, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, portray veterans and police sergeants, filmmakers emasculate Glover’s Roger Murtaugh while portraying Gibson’s Riggs as a super-tough (though ruined) hero. The film opens with Murtaugh’s family celebrating his 50th birthday; other officers are commenting (with feminine flair) on how he looks without his beard, and when he suspects that Martin Riggs (Gibson) is a criminal and proceeds to detain him, he is thrown to the grown; then he says, “I’m too old for this.” Throughout the original and its sequels, as Riggs performs dangerous feats, Murtaugh screams like a child not like the trained officer he is.

Primitives, sophisticates, minstrels, and actors

Will Ferrell, bottom, and Kevin Hart in "Get Hard." Photo by Patti Perret - Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Will Ferrell, bottom, and Kevin Hart in “Get Hard.” Photo by Patti Perret – Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

It was in the ’70s, just after the official end of the Vietnam War, when the black-white buddy film zipped to the forefront of film culture. Unfortunately, it came with familiar racist undertones.

Kicking off the bi-racial genre were “Silver Streak” (1976) and “Stir Crazy” (1980), starring Gene Wilder (the ruined sophisticate) and Richard Pryor (the blessed primitive and minstrel). Pryor plays the fool who uses streetwise smarts to teach Wilder’s innocent straight men how to survive. Pryor isn’t the only African-American actor known for playing the fool and the blessed primitive.

Kevin Hart recently joined the scene playing the fool. This year, he starred alongside Will Ferrell in “Get Hard,” a film with a similar relationship premise to the Wilder/Pryor films where Ferrell assumes Hart’s character understands prison and can teach him how to survive.

Here, though, Ferrell plays a far greater fool. But Ferrell’s James is an educated, white-collar executive, while Hart’s Darnell is a cash-strapped car wash attendant desperate enough to play the minstrel despite his ignorance of street smarts or prison.

Eddie Murphy alone starred in at least 11 black-white buddy films, where you can often find him singing or scamming. Thankfully, Disney — so far in its takeover of “Star Wars” — hasn’t taken up that part of the playbook. May we never see a singing, dancing, shucking, or jiving Jedi.

So what?

That said, I have to make my own confession: I have been the first in line at some of these prescribed black-white buddy movies whether violent or comedic. Some, like “Get Hard,” are annoyingly funny. And if I dig through my old VHS tapes, I can probably find a few copies of “Lethal Weapon.”

Yet, that doesn’t change my disappointment when yet another formulaic film hits theaters, makes a bundle, and keeps black actors spinning in the same suffocating quagmire.  It says a lot about our interests when we spend $1.3 million on quick laughs and mind-twirling special effects when there’s only a little story fit into a big template.



*This essay originally used the actual derogatory term for a black person because I chose reality over politics. I’ve never known a bigot to spew, “N-WORD!” However, there are those who have had the word flung at them more times than they can count and don’t need to see it in my blog post.


©Leslie and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2016]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Moving People: Capturing Humanity on Film

Image of guest blogger Maureen Batty

By Maureen Batty

Part of what appeals about movies is watching someone else grasp the human experience. Two films quickly came to mind when I first considered the idea for this piece.

In the Oscar-winning film “As Good as it Gets” (1997), Melvin Udall (played by Jack Nicholson) — who struggles with what seems to be a form of high-functioning autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder — returns to his psychiatrist’s waiting room and says to those sitting there, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

I love how Nicholson’s character has that moment of clarity many of us have — when we realize that as much work as we do on ourselves, we will probably never best all of our flaws and will be forced to accept what our lives might look like in light of that revelation.

In the Adam-Sandler-does-serious vehicle “Spanglish,” mother-in-law Cloris Leachman matter-of-factly tells her daughter (played by Tea Leoni), “Lately, your low self-esteem is just good common sense.”

The 2004 movie wonderfully deflates the assumption that self-esteem is a right no matter how badly we behave or treat others. Tea Leoni’s surprised “I’m the problem when I expected to be comforted?” reaction is awesome. That line reminds me of “I’m the bad guy?” — when Michael Douglas’s that’s-the-last-straw-of-life’s-inconveniences, rampage-going character in “Falling Down” (1993) realizes he’s the problem.

For our continuing series on the collision of arts and human nature, I asked three very different people to tell me about a movie scene or quote that struck them as brilliantly placing its “finger” on the pulse of human nature. Two of our sources went for the nature of love, one for the nature of morality; all of them moved me to put their movies in our family’s Netflix queue.

Here’s what they had to say:

Rebecca Thomas, Miami

Rebecca Thomas art

“You don’t know about real loss, ‘cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself.”

– Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) in “Good Will Hunting”

Robin Williams and Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting

Robin Williams and Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” © Miramax Films

It’s hard to beat Robin Williams when it comes to delivering memorable and poignant lines that encapsulate human nature, whether it was William’s portrayal of John Keating in “Dead Poets Society,” the genie in “Aladdin” or the title character in “Patch Adams.” Over the course of his career, Williams’ characters provided such an overwhelming amount of unforgettable lines and sentiments that it’s nearly impossible to choose just one.

And, yet, the line above from “Good Will Hunting” has stuck with me for reasons I didn’t realize would be applicable to my life at the time I heard it spoken in 1997, at the mere age of 25.

The concept of basic humanity and how love factors into our own individual human experience are essentially, well, conceptual in our younger years. As children and developing adults, our definition of love is overwhelmingly unrealistic and egocentric: We love to get something in return, or to accomplish a goal set forth in our minds, or because we expect to be loved. However, as we grow and experience love in all of its various forms — religious, romantic, familial, platonic, et al. — the concept becomes much more realistic and tends to be shaped more by how we love, whom we love and what our capacity is to continue loving, despite the losses we may experience as a result of having loved other, imperfect humans.

The ability to carry on despite the losses and learn to love in new and different ways, in my opinion, is the very nature of what it means to be human.

Rebecca Thomas by day is a marketing manager for a commercial real estate company in Miami, Fla. By night, she does flat-fee web and graphic design for Backpocket Marketing Group.  The yoga, reading, movie, wine, music, and fantastic food enthusiast cares deeply about autism awareness.

Tracy Cox, San Francisco


Tracy Cox artOne recent film that I loved not only as one of the best genre films of the last decade but as one of the best films period in that time frame is Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008). The premise of the film itself is a study in human nature.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne struggles with trying to do the right thing as a crime fighter while dealing with the huge ripple effects he has created as a vigilante. Regular civilians, inspired by his actions, imitate him, and get killed for it. He breaks laws he wants upheld. He creates his own surveillance state, convincing himself the ends justify the means. And of course, Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance as The Joker is the psychopathic antithesis to Batman.

Two of the film’s scenes that put their finger on the pulse of human nature have always stuck in my head:

Christian Bale and Michael Caine in "The Dark Knight" © Warner Bros.

Christian Bale and Michael Caine in “The Dark Knight” © Warner Bros.

In the first, Bruce Wayne is trying to understand the motives of The Joker. Michael Caine (as Bruce Wayne’s butler) explains that not everyone has a logical thought process. He tells the story of a jewel thief who couldn’t be caught for months. Eventually, they found he had been throwing the jewels away. He says:

“Some men can’t be reasoned, bought or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

In the second, the Joker has outfitted two boats with huge amounts of explosives — one boat is filled with convicts, the other with normal citizens. Each has the detonator for the other boat. The scenes shifts back and forth between the boats as time counts down. On the boat filled with convicts, one of the toughest grabs the detonator and refuses to use it. On the citizen boat, a business-type guy takes the detonator, wants to use it, but can’t do it. So there are the most violent in society ­— understanding exactly what that violence is and will do, refusing to take part. And then there are the citizens; they really want to save themselves by doing something horrible, but they just can’t cross the line.

Tracy Cox is a graphic designer ( and artist ( who loves movies and basketball and is addicted to “The Twilight Zone” and “The Simpsons.” He also likes to create music on his laptop ( and practice martial arts. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and “one cool cat named Neo.”

Ken Barnes, Washington, D.C.

Ken Barnes Art

(Spoiler alert:  If you’ve never seen “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the Oscar-winning 2008 Brad Pitt movie based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, you should seriously consider watching the film, viewing the trailer, or reading the book before reading further.)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

A scene near the end — if there is an “end” — of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” includes this voice-over narration of Benjamin’s letter to his daughter, who never knew him:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

This is a movie full of impactful scenes, and this one in particular is heart-wrenching because it invokes that “stranger in a strange world” feeling that we all feel time to time (or all the time, if one thinks too much).

The scene with the voice-over also ties together many affecting aspects of the movie:  the shock of learning long-concealed secrets; the life-altering impact of happenstance (Daisy getting hit by a taxi after a chain of small circumstances are traced, Daisy being too busy and self-centered to connect with Benjamin until they are closer in age); the heartbreaking helplessness of dementia (in reverse, as Benjamin grows very young); and the redemptive power of selfless devotion (Queenie, the woman whose doorstep Benjamin’s father leaves him on, caring for the “old” helpless Benjamin at the beginning of his life, even though she doesn’t know him; Daisy caring for the “young” helpless Benjamin, who can’t remember her, at the end of his life).

It’s a surreal fantasy story, but underneath the dramatic plot beats the pulse of humanity: we all want what’s best for our children after we’re gone.

Ken Barnes is an aerospace engineer in suburban Washington, D.C.  He has a beautiful wife and daughter (both of whom are happily aging in the proper direction) and enjoys music, playing chess and tennis with his daughter and watching movies with his wife.


Maureen Batty is a Detroit-based freelance writer, editor and lover of how human nature and the arts collide.

Check out the first story in the series.


©Maureen Batty and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Maureen Batty and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Summer 1975 – Part 3: Leeches, Love and Swim Lessons

 “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
Maya Angelou

The lights already were dimmed, the cartoon was over, and the seats were scarce when we arrived. My dad took up position in the front of the theater, my brother went off somewhere to my left. I settled into position with a bucket of popcorn and a white cardigan to keep me warm. It was my first time sitting alone in a theater. I was excited, nervous, and then “Jaws” began.

Chrissie runs naked into the ocean with a boy in the distance. She gracefully kicks her legs, enjoying the freedom of the sea, as the music becomes more ominous. Then her body jerks. Something is very wrong; and then, well, it only gets worse.

“Jaws” ruined any chance I would learn to swim that summer but that was OK. Running through sprinklers with friends from school, riding my bike, hanging out with family, and seeing movie after movie at the Fox and Mercury theaters made everything all right with me, for a while.

Freckles, big smiles, and that he lived in far away Connecticut with his new family pretty much sums up what I knew about my grandfather. When my parents announced we would get to fly on an airplane without them and there would be kids our own ages, I was all for a short summer adventure to see him. How exciting it was when the stewardess stuck the American Airlines pin to my shirt and I watched as the city became ever smaller.

What I most remember about the drive up the road to Grandpa Joe’s ramshackle house was the smell of asphalt, the way it burned my nostrils and turned my stomach, as workers paved the road for the first time. Waiting for us outside the house were a few of Grandpa’s children; at first stoic and cautious, they soon became eager to show us where we would sleep and play. The very next morning, the trip became less than an exciting reunion.

“I can’t do anything with this,” she said. Despite my protests, she grabbed the shears and cut off my long braids. Tears fell as I watched clumps of my hair fall to the wood floor.

The offending barber went by Twinkie, though her name was Sarah. Only a few years my senior, Twinkie was the middle of five of Grandpa’s “other” children. Darryl and I were the same age, Lisa a year older. Grandpa and his wife, Betty, had three older children as well. One strung out on drugs, who sat in the living room staring at the floorboards and two others who no longer came around. They also fostered two teenagers, George, who was a little slow, and Joseph.

“It’s a funny color anyway,” Lisa said of my hair. As if given permission, Twinkie kept on cutting.

More than anything, Grandpa seemed to prize his guns, his hogs, and his hounds. Perhaps his sons, those that were his blood, were valued somewhere on his list; yet I imagine they ranked fairly low. At night, Grandpa took the boys hunting for raccoon, bear, and whatever else he could scare up. By day his wife — for some reason we called her Aunt Betty — beat Joseph and George with switches for whatever offense she could dream up and hollered at us kids to serve her in some manner.

A city girl whose food came from the grocery store or outdoor market, I wanderBlack-and-Tan-Coonhound-2ed the potato fields trying to fathom how they grew, befriended the many dogs and cats that roamed the property and climbed the fence each day to say good morning to the two large hogs penned up just out of sight of the house. I learned a lot while I was there, like pop is called soda in most of the country. I learned how folks kill snapping turtles; and how, when you cut off their heads, their eyes scan the area looking for their still-wandering bodies. I learned to make blueberry milk with real blueberries stolen from a neighbor’s bush and that pickle juice was the closest I would get to my mother’s fresh-squeezed lemonade. And I learned I could not eat the bacon and chops from the freshly killed hog I had petted and named.

Despite Grandpa’s attempts, though, I did not learn to swim. His first attempt was at a community swimming pool. I don’t recall the ride there or the ride home, only that I was content to sit on the edge with my legs dangling coolly in the clear waters while everyone else splashed about.

“What do you mean you can’t swim?” Grandpa hollered. Someone had replaced the smiling man with a large, blustering red-faced man with a booming voice. “You’re going to learn this summer,” he declared, and then he pushed me in.

Slowly, I sank to the bottom as bubbles like cheap green crystal rose to the surface. There I sat, watching Grandpa’s boots motionless at the edge above me. I dared not move, lest he push me in again. Then there was a churning and a parting of the waters and I was being pulled out of the pool. It was Joseph. Later that afternoon, I heard Joseph’s cries as Aunt Betty beat him with a stick.

My parents called sometime after that, asking if I were having a good time. Twinkie pressed her ear to the other receiver to hear my response. Whether it was there or not, I saw the threat in her eyes and said, “yes.” My parents extended the visit another two weeks.

Grandpa’s second attempt at getting me to swim was at a local swimming pond. We kids poured out of the pick-up like trash being dumped. Most ran straight for the water but Joseph picked me up and hid me behind a blueberry bush near the edge of the woods. Soon, kids came running from the water screeching for help. Leeches were stuck to their arms, legs, and backs.

“It’s good for you,” Grandpa declared, hushing their cries before he burning off the bloodsuckers.

Later, when the deed was doniStock_000014855214_Smalle and everyone piled back in the truck, Joseph came back, kissed me on the forehead, and called me, “Sister.” Whether Aunt Betty beat him for helping me or for being in her presence I will never know, only that Joseph knew it would happen and he protected me anyway.

Joseph and I wrote letters for a while; but after a few months, his stopped coming. My mom said he ran away and joined the army. Now, when someone talks of love and courage, I think of Joseph.

“That’s what love does — it pursues blindly, unflinchingly, and without end. When you go after something you love, you’ll do anything it takes to get it, even if it costs everything.”
Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World

Missed the first two stories in this series? Read Summer 1975 – Part 1 and Summer 1975 – Part 2

© Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Interview with a Vampire Candidate



When the Wall Street Journal reported that giving the blood of young mice to old mice has a rejuvenating effect. The old mice, according to a study from Stanford University and the University of California, improved memory and the ability to learn. Similarly, a Harvard University study reports giving old mice certain proteins improved brain and exercise capabilities and reversed “the effects of aging on the heart.”

Since it seems unlikely researchers are out to improve the lives of geriatric rodents, one must conclude, and WSJ briefly touches on this, scientists hope one day to test this theory on humans.

A close friend sent this news report around via email. One respondent asked, if you could be a vampire, would you? Unsurprisingly, my friend said he has thought about this before. His answer: “A definite maybe.”

That got us talking about what it takes to be a vampire. My concern was the bloody mess of killing people—that and the whole morality of the matter. Yet my friend maintains his particular undeadness would not involve murder—fraud maybe, but not murder. Unlike those discipline-challenged creatures of the night seeking weak and unwitting victims, usually women, he theorizes he would be very much an Anne Rice-like incarnation. In other words, he would BK_Interviewmaintain his human character traits, those of a non-murderous misanthrope who would go about collecting remarkable antiques and, knowing him, make wise investments. His wealth, he speculates, would sustain his ability to buy donated blood. Awkwardly at 213 years old, he would also have trouble getting a passport to travel the world to gather these fabulous treasures, hence the fraud.

Well, we know how these sorts of things just brew all kinds of questions in my mind. For instance, if the traits that would change for my friend in his Anne Rice-created state of immortality were his lack of ability to die, thirst for erythrocytes, lack of reflection and shadow, intolerance to sunlight, shape-shifting abilities, increased strength, and his inability to eat at the Bucharest Grill (read: he must avoid garlic), then what character-traits might change if an old woman received blood transfusions or targeted protein injections from the young in an effort to reverse the effects of aging? Would she be the same old gal who loves French cuisine and British literature? Or would she garner a taste for something younger, racier?

If you lost mobility and suffered from increasing bouts of memory loss and suddenly found yourself able to run a few laps without coughing up a lung or relocated the wallet you misplaced two years ago, then you certainly are not going to be the same person. You are going to change. Markedly? Good question. For the better? Let’s hope so.


Have you read the “Twenty Thirty: The Real Story of What Happens to America” by Albert Brooks (the actor starred in “Broadcast News,” my favorite “Defending Your Life,” and most recently “Drive”)? The novel is a frightening tale of a time in the not-so-distant future when the young hate the old and show it in increasingly caustic, cruel ways. Why? Because the old, they argue, bleed the world’s resources dry by not dying. The novel becomes more fear provoking as science proves itself a formidable storyteller.

Am I suggesting researchers sit in their labs and find out how to make scratch-and-sniff television a reality rather than looking for cures to the great mind suck Alzheimer’s disease or the blood-curdling numbers of cancers and autoimmune diseases? Not at all, I’m just saying “Wow.”

© Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014].

Cracking that hard shell

Credit Marvel Studios

Credit Marvel Studios

“Raise shields!”

I’m not sure there is an episode of “Star Trek” where Captain Kirk doesn’t over-dramatize those words, a man under his command doesn’t strongly suggest likewise, or Scotty doesn’t declare that getting the Enterprise’s shields up and running just is not possible.

Nearly 50 years after the debut of the iconic sci-fi series, students from the University of Leicester in England have published a paper in the student Journal of Special Physics Topics reporting they have discovered the key to building real-life deflector shields. Shields are everywhere. There’s the pizza joint, Shields Up is the second mission in the video game Borderlands 2, and the Bible tells us in Ephesians 6:16 to put on the whole armor of God: “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”

So let’s talk about shields.

I began pondering the subject, word origins, societal definitions, and whatnot of shields this weekend while watching the flick “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Something about the way Steve Rogers, aka superhero Captain America, stored his shield on his back like a turtle made me wonder about the deeper meaning of the word and the action. Then, of course, there is the bigger picture with him working for the agency S.H.I.E.L.D.

Let me say a couple of things before I go further: First, I realize the movie is (ultimately) a work of fiction; second, and most important to some, there are SPOILERS here so stop reading if you have yet to see the film and may be interested; and third, we need to get a few definitions out of the way:

“SHIELD,” an Old English word of “prehistoric” German origin, is derived from the words “divide,” “split,” and “separate.” Those words, in turn, evolved from “scale,” “shell,” and “shelter.”1

Etymologists suspect the word “TURTLE” has French origins. But there is little else found regarding the reptile with the hard-protective shell1. At the same time, considerable symbolism surrounds the creature. For instance, for some it represents quiet strength and the possibility of refuge from an attack. According to Chinese cosmology, turtles cart the world on their backs. On the flip side, turtles to some cultures represent a lack of morality as they are thought to reproduce only by mating with snakes.2 This latter part is particularly curious considering the word’s possible evolution from “scale” to “shield.”

Turtle from the Belle Isle Nature Zoo in Detroit. Credit Leslie Green

Turtle from the Belle Isle Nature Zoo in Detroit. Credit Leslie Green

Fascinating how something that protects can also divide. Captain America’s strength and shield set him apart from other men. With his shield, he not only did battle but he also kept himself from harm—from suffering irreparable damage from attacks that would kill an ordinary man—not once, but time and time again. He also works for S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), an organization that claims to protect and serve when really the “anti-terrorism” group turns out to be in bed with snakes bent on destroying all who get in their way.

Consider the deflector shields theory. Overly simplified, reports, it works like this: “Essentially, if you can wall yourself off with plasma, it can be used to deflect electromagnetic radiation, like a directed energy weapon (a laser or something similar). … However, the shield works equally well in both directions, so you can’t return fire either. In fact, since the plasma blocks all frequencies at or below the threshold dictated by its density, you probably won’t even be able to see past your own deflector shield.”

Let us look deeper. What are the implications of sealing off whole populations of people? What about one person? Would someone feel the need to test the shield? You know: If your bully big brother knows you have a bruise, isn’t it likely he will press on it to see if it still hurts? Does this sound like a snake-skin turtle to anyone else?

The more I think about this, the more questions I have, like: Who is The Enemy? Perhaps it depends on which media outlet you listen to or your definition of “treaty” (an entirely different discussion) if you are talking about the Cliven Bundy story. Too, what are the implications of failing to protect ourselves from The Enemy? What if we neglect to take up the shield of faith? What happens then? In the case of Steve Rogers, I suspect “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” would have been an awfully short film had he not jumped from the elevator without his trusty shield.


  1. Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto
  2. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons & the Meanings Behind Them by Hans Biedermann, translated by James Hulbert

© Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.