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Pet Sins September 2001

The Art of War

This 2000 film from Warner Brothers casts Wesley Snipes as UN operative Neil Shaw. When Shaw is framed for the murder of a Chinese diplomat, he enlists the help of UN Chinese interpreter Fang (Marie Matiko), who saw someone other than Shaw at the crime scene. With Fang in tow, Shaw runs from the FBI, Chinese triads, and shady forces from within his own organization while trying to clear his name.

It was said that Snipe's role was originally intended for Jet Li. Li was then occupied with the filming of Romeo Must Die, so the key role in Art of War was offered to Snipes (an accomplished martial artist himself) instead. Because of this change of plans, The Art of War features the kind of couple so seldom seen on the big screen - black man/yellow woman. There has not been a black man/Asian woman couple in a mainstream movie theatre release since "One Night Stand"(1997). (correct me if I am wrong)The character of Shaw differs from the average "secret agent type" in significant ways:

1) Unlike Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, or the various actors who played James Bond, Snipes does not appear in any sex scenes. Sex scenes are not necessary for a good movie, but it is worth noting that in all other "secret agent" films, it is mandatory for the hero to have sex with at least one woman.

The black man does not get to express his sexuality in what is traditionally a sex-symbol role. This, I believe, reflects America's discomfort with black male sensuality. However, a black woman I discussed this with sees yet another hidden layer of bias in this exception to the Hollywood secret-agent formula. She believes that the lack of sensual scenes between the leading man and leading lady has to do with the black man/Asian woman combination. She notes that Hollywood is never averse to showing white man/Asian woman sex scenes, and black man/white woman sex scenes, though not as prevalent as the former, are hardly taboo. She attributes the avoidance of certain kinds of onscreen interracial sex as a part of mainstream media "brainwashing" which maintains the status quo by discouraging certain kinds of interracial unions deemed unappealing to the white male.

Picking up where she leaves off, I propose this idea: "the white man sees the yellow woman as his exclusive toy, and he does not want to share this fantasy toy with other men, not even yellow men, and certainly not black men."

This harks back to the old days when African American romantic leading ladies who played opposite white men had to "die" on screen so that white audiences in the South would not be offended by an interracial happy ending. Although the racial dynamics have changed somewhat since then, there is still a pattern of avoiding "the consummation of interracial romance" for those specific couplings which offend the "target audience".

2) One likeable aspect of Shaw is that he helps people he doesn't want to have sex with. Have you ever seen James Bond rescue anybody whom he does not end up in bed with? James Bond movies are exercises in shooting men and bedding women. Shaw, on the other hand, rescues a male biker from being run over by a truck while he was running for his own life. The portrayal of Shaw's consideration for innocent passers-by even when his own safety is at stake lifts Shaw above the superficial 2-dimensional testosterone-driven James Bond types.

The film also takes the time to give us an idea of what goes on inside Shaw's head. This kind of introspection is something other Bond-type secret agent characters never go through. Flashback sequences hint at Shaw's emotional attachment to the other operatives he worked with. Though Shaw is always professional and in control, you get the feeling that he cares about the well-being of the people he works with, and takes their deaths and injuries on a somewhat personal level. This is something you never get from James Bond clones, whose only significant attachment to other human beings is motivated by sex.