Black Snake Moan has been one of the more interesting and entertaining films that I have rented from Netflix in this past month. The story is not unknown, in fact – if not, a little tired, to savvy movie watchers: Two troubled individuals cross one another’s pass. Both need each other as much as they need help. Both are somewhat healed/recuperated/changed or somehow learn to better manage their problems in the end.
However often we see these stories portrayed, we rarely see these types of stories occur across age lines, between classes, and between the sexes. Frequently, we see this type of story in the more affluent privileged classes who seemed to be “burdened” by their luxurious “unfulfilling” lives. But, Black Snake Moan is not trite. The emotional core of is not patronizing nor is it trying to be expository. On the other hand, more often than not these types of stories reveal how “the other half” lives. It is far from the story about “the cheery poor” teaching “the sad rich” how to be “happy.” It shows us the New South. As much as northeners and west coasters like to think of the deep southern US as backwards, the very antithesis to the idea of being progressive, there are a lot of things the south must deal with on a daily basis. These people live shoulder to shoulder with each other every day. The race question is not skirted upon because it is across the street, next to you in school, and at work. Although, as a fact, liberals who populate the west and north like to think of themselves as the sophisticated affluent types, how often do these privileged peoples have to deal with the race question? Not often, because self-segregation is a fact of life in the west and the north. Not to mention, immigration is a huge factor in the demographics of these areas which complicates the question with its own issues. The southern US has lived with this question in more isolation and immersion, relative to the rest of the country, creating an environment, that may in fact be more integrated than other parts of the nation during those telltale day to day interactions.
Other than the rare backdrop of the new South making this an interesting film, the role of of teacher and student is resolved rather differently. Not only are the races living together more seamlessly than many would assume, the black characters are far more civilized than the white characters. How rare is that? The characters with the questionable morals are the white characters. The repuation of Christina Ricci’s character’s precedes her. Many of the men in the town abuse her, insisting she has a sexual disease, requiring that she needs to be “satisfied” several times of day. Not before long (I would say a week), Lazarus is able to detox the woman and her “disease” disappears. I hope any reasonable viewer would think that perhaps the town’s residents created a disease to justify the treatment she receives from the male residents on a daily basis. But, the characters who subscribe to this unjust conviction constantly re-affirm this judgement of her character. Not one of them challenges the status quo. In contrast, the black characters are portrayed with dignity, as self-respecting and competent individuals, well ceptin’ Lazarus’s brother and ex-wife. It is rare to see Black people portrayed possessing the moral high ground, especially over their white counterparts.