Houston, Texas. Late ’80s. I was visiting the state with my friend Rodney, who dragged me along to meet his new girlfriend, Sharon. He had met her the previous summer and wanted to make the trip to see if life in the Lone Star State appealed to him. Things were going well, but on this particular night we were bored out of our heads. “The dollar theatre is showing ‘Die Hard’,” Sharon informed us without enthusiasm.
I had seen “Die Hard” twice already … and loved it. I still think it’s a superior action movie with an excellent cast, and it’s also one of the few films that has made me gasp. I immediately expressed a desire to see the film a third time and talked it up enough to convince the lovers that it would be a good idea to attend the seven o’clock showing.
The theatre looked like an old strip club and was located in a section of town that had seen better days. That’s the case with most cheap theatres. There’s a certain allure to that, however, especially if you are seeing a horror film. This was “Die Hard,” though, and I think the neighborhood made Rodney, a rocker at heart, a tad uneasy.
We had arrived at the theatre early and grabbed some stale popcorn and flat sodas before planting ourselves smack in the middle of the seats. I noticed the place had the smell of beer and sweat, but I didn’t mind. It was “Die Hard.”
A few people trickled in behind us before the movie started. By the time the film began, however, the theatre was still fairly empty. I didn’t care. I was enjoying the show. Rodney kept glancing behind him like a nervous puppy, though. I didn’t know what was making him so jumpy, though I could tell by the noise level that the theatre was starting to fill with people. Nobody was blocking my view, so I paid these latecomers no attention.
The action on the screen was picking up. Bruce Willis was kicking some serious ass. Bullets were flying, and blood was flowing.
“Kill that white motherfucker!” someone in the audience screamed.
That caught my attention.
“Kill the honkey!”
I turned around and saw what had upset Rodney. We were the only white people in the audience. The other people were, from what I could tell, all black women in their late twenties. They were pissed. Not at us, as Rodney had feared, but at the people on the screen. Every time Willis encountered a criminal, they shouted words of encouragement like, “Plug his white ass, motherfucker!”
I thought it was incredibly amusing. When I saw this film the first two times, it was with primarily white audiences. White people don’t shout at the screen. I guess we think it’s socially unacceptable. These women in Houston, however, were having a ball. It was awesome. I was laughing and clapping right along with them.
“Don’t draw attention to us,” Sharon whispered to me nervously.
“Why not?” I asked.
I’ll admit to being uncomfortable when I was being stared at as we exited the theatre. I don’t think they were staring at me because I was white, though. I had long hair, ripped jeans and a Dead Kennedys t-shirt that read, “Too Drunk to Fuck.” That wasn’t exactly a common sight in Houston at the time.
My friends were a bit more shaken up than myself. They felt totally out of place, and Sharon insisted she had never been there with a completely black audience. “It just felt weird,” she kept saying. She was acting like she had been abducted by aliens.
I loved the experience. It was the first time I had ever seen a movie with so much audience participation that wasn’t “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” — a movie loved only by morons who think they are “different.” The audience was interacting with the film in a way white people were afraid to do for fear of being labeled socially retarded. (Cell phones — okay. Screaming at the screen? Hell no!) This audience was having fun, and it was showing its appreciation by becoming so involved with the film that they stood up and screamed at the screen. How cool is that? If I were a director, I’d love an audience to react like that.
That evening in a desolate Houston theatre taught me quite a few lessons about race relations. Namely, even “progressive” white people will revert to stereotypes (all blacks hate whites) when made a minority. I also learned that black women in their late twenties really knew how to enjoy a Bruce Willis flick. They weren’t angry at The Man, like Rodney probably thought. They were angry at the villains on the screen. But I like to think it might have been something else, too.
I realized that they were merely showing their appreciation for the film by getting so involved in it, but a little part of me wishes they were putting on a show for the three white kids in the middle row. I can’t help but think we were spotted (probably when Rodney was looking around like an effeminate eighteen-year-old who just entered the state pen) and the word went out. “Let’s freak out the white people.” And then they started shouting shit just to scare us. Man, that would’ve been so awesome.
Me? I’m just thankful that my last viewing of “Die Hard” on the big screen was such an incredible sensory experience. I just hope a new audience is seeing films in that hole of a theatre (if it hasn’t been torn down for a Wal-Mart), and that they are screaming things at the screen. And I hope some naive white folks are sitting in their seats, hunched down so as not to draw attention to themselves as a black lady commands Johnny Depp to “put a cap in that white pirate’s ass.”
Remember, folks, whitey will pay.
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