NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 118

116 As the film progresses, the inclusion of racial ideas also occurs when Homer, joining in the English lessons that the nuns practice, begins to identify items by color, such as the phonograph record, the stove, and, finally, his black skin. When the sisters repeat the sentence “My skin is black,” Homer corrects them, saying, “Your skin is white.” In this regard, the use of black English is developed when Homer initially recites “I stand up” in Standard English but follows it with “I stands up ya’ll.” Further on, another allusion to the “boy versus man” language occurs when Homer enters Juan’s roadside café in pursuit of a long missed substantial breakfast. Homer says to Juan, “Are you the man?” and Juan answers, “I am the man.” Juan also replies to Homer’s request for breakfast in a respectful tone, “Whatever you say.” Homer’s commanding order adds to his representation as an assertive black male, although the demands are merely about food choices. The film further suggests race by presenting Homer as a black body, as when he dresses in the morning within view of Mother Maria. The camera shot encompasses both Homer in his shorts and Mother Maria facing forward in a stern position. Another of the seemingly comic allusions to race occurs in the lines “Old mother gonna feed the slave?” said when the ubiquitous dinner bell is rung (Lilies of the Field, Drew’s). Most important, the singular racial moment in the film occurs during the visit to the Ashton Company to purchase building supplies. Here the camera shots are used to place Homer in relation to huge earth moving equipment, as when he pats the caterpillar wheel to show familiarity with the mechanized equipment, a kind of male bonding with a machine. The racial significance occurs when Ashton calls out to Homer, “Hey, boy? Are you Schmidt [nuns refer to him as Schmidt]?” causing Homer to double-take, as if he cannot believe that he is being addressed as “boy.” This moment involves Homer’s self-identification as an independent contractor, a title of status. When Ashton addresses Homer again using the pejorative term — “You understand, boy?” — Homer replies in kind, while at the same time offering his services as a heavy equipment operator: “Hey boy! You need a good man? I can give you two days a week.” This is a tense racial moment, framed by the earth-moving equipment in the background and Ashton looking stern faced and taken aback. The expected racial antagonism, as in In the Heat of the Night, where “They call me Mr. Tibbs,” is the affirmation of black masculinity, is not present here. Homer’s reply, “I can handle any earth-moving equipment you got” and “I’m gonna build me a chapel,” is a different assertion of his masculinity. These lines demonstrate Homer’s psychological rationale for involvement in the project, a proof of his ability to construct or build, to be an “independent” contractor. Later, a “plan,” “labor,” and “materials,” the three-part formula for building the chapel, is emphasized through another symbolic camera shot, with Mother Maria framed against the unfinished adobe brick structure.4 PHOTOGRAPH BY © 1963 METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER STUDIOS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. In addition, a classic American Western film score accompanies this part of the opening scene, and with a harmonica leading the instrumental version of the song “Amen,” Homer is shown as unrestricted and mobile. Wearing all white, perhaps reverse symbolism, he stops to check his radiator level and determines that he needs water. When he finds the isolated home of the sisters who view his entrance with concealed joyful surprise, he remarks, “My car’s thirsty. Can I please have some water?” The stoic demeanor of Mother Maria, who motions him to the water pump, indicates