The release of Jeffrey Deaver’s latest tome has got me thinking why, in principal, I like Alex Cross a lot more than Lincoln Rhyme. Let me start by saying that I’ve never read a Rhyme book. Deaver’s quadriplegic hero came across my radar when Denzel Washinton played him in The Bone Collector, opposite Angelina Jolie. Now we’re not going to get into what I think of the (not-so fair) Angelina, but you’d think any character played by the inimitable Denzel would win my favor. What killed the drool factor was Rhyme’s confinement to bed, and not in a good way. It struck me as too close a metaphor for what often happens to black men in American society–mentally competent but handicapped by a populace afraid of their physical prowess. And it really, really doesn’t help that the woman he’s forever denied, on a sexual level, at least, is white.
Although Deaver won an award for the creation of this creating this character and presenting a great role model for handicapped folks, proving they can be productive members of society. I’d guess, though, that there is a more pressing need in society for black men to be seen as cerebral, competent, active and sensual–without cutting the legs out from under them in either a literal or figurative way.
By contrast, Alex Cross is an active man who gets the girl he wants (who just happens to be black), a school teacher (or is it principal–either way she’s an educator, so I’m biased), has a family he takes care of, and is in general an honorable man. Aside from the near-tragic casting of Morgan Freeman as his movie persona, he’s pretty terrific. Or he was. I haven’t kept up with Cross as much as I would have liked to.
Truthfully, I’m all for breaking down barriers, for portraying us humans in all our infinite variety. Just sometimes there seems to be a certain awareness of what these images might imply. This isn’t limited to the way black men are portrayed, though that issue is on my mind at the moment. Don’t get me started with the pairings of old, half-dead geezers with sweet young things everywhere, as if women drop off the face of the earth once they hit thirty-five.
In my own work, I’ve written about men and women, blacks and whites, whoever–and I know what it’s like to be careful not to make the villains or the heroes too stereotypical. Frankly I applaud folks for creating characters, especially heroes, out of people unlike themselves. How about, give it a bit of thought before you create a character outside your comfort zone. That’s all I ask. And a damn good story, of course.