Being Black in Hazzard County

Something remarkable happens in the trailer for the summer comedy The Dukes of Hazzard. Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) offers a bunch of white inmates in a deep south lockup (including protagonists Bo and Luke) a crisp $100 bill to “knock out” the sole black inmate, they do it instantly, and we’re expected to laugh. Seriously.

Sure, plenty of context is missing — it is a trailer after all. But, that’s also the point: this is a snippet of the film that the creators think audiences will find funny by itself. That’s unfortunate because, regardless of intentions, the scene conjures an awful history.

It would be bad enough to see such an attack in your random stupid summer comedy, but in a film from a TV series steeped in racially charged imagery — where, for instance, the confederate flag is featured so prominently as a symbol of the good guys (on the roof of the venerable General Lee) — this scene has particularly disturbing resonance. They should have known better.

Rumor has it that the confederate flag’s appearance in the movie was the subject of significant debate among the film’s creators and its presence will prompt a fair bit of mockery of those who sport it. That’s probably better than removing it from the film and pretending it was never in the original show. It would be nice, though, if the appearance of this kind of troubling imagery in popular culture were met with something a bit deeper than laughter.

For more, watch Dukes of Hazzard trailer and see John Sims’ work attempting to understand and neutralize the confederate flag’s impact.

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