on NBC is one of the best (perhaps the best) and no doubt
most disturbing series currently on network television. For sure it’s the most
violent and grisly show that’s even been on commercial network TV proving that
the success of cable series such as The
Walking Dead really has the networks running scared.
Not surprisingly Hannibal is struggling in the
ratings. Network TV is a “safe harbor” for viewers, especially older audiences. There’s a comfort and reassurance that what you see on NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox isn’t
going to cross the line. It may come to the edge and maybe tip a toe over it,
but never goes all the way. Hannibal does that in every episode. The result is
that it’s driving older audiences away
to the safety of The Voice or
whatever else is out there.
But this is not to talk about the show itself, but actor Demore Barnes (Supernatural, The Unit)
who played the role of Tobias Budge in
the recent episode entitled Fromage, perhaps
the most intense of all the intense episodes on the series.
Of course Lawrence
Fishburne is a regular on the show playing the usual “black guy in authority”
role, though Fishburne’s performance and the way the character is written is given
some real depth, especially with regards to his character’s complicated relationship
to his seriously ill wife played by Fishburne’s real life wife Gina Torres.
But Barnes’ character was truly fascinating. He played an
extremely urbane, sophisticated music teacher, musician and composer who was
also a sadistic and twisted serial killer.
In the episode he was shown disemboweling one man and
using his guts to make cello strings, and later was revealed to be the killer
who killed a man and then slit open his trachea to literally shove the top part
of the cello down his throat to play it as an instrument in a concert hall.
Later in the same episode he brutally kills two cops and
his twists his partner’s neck completely around killing him. Needless to say, Hannibal
Lecter forms a real affinity for him seeing his as a kindred spirit.
Eventually, it all leads to a brutal mano-a-mano fight between
Tobias and Hannibal in his office, but we can guess who won that fight.
However it’s still very rare to see a black actor playing
so disturbing a character. I think any actor, regardless of race, would love to
sink their teeth into playing such a villainous role. Any real actor wants to challenge
himself even if it means delving into the uglier and more depraved regions of
However, I’ve always held to the idea that many black audiences
are too concerned about black actors only playing “positive” and “uplifting”
roles; that playing anything less than a doctor or lawyer, a teacher or some
upstanding citizen, who can walk on water, is “negative” and shows black people
in a “negative” light.
But why are some of us so concerned about being accepted?
As I’ve mentioned before, it reminds me of what Viola Davis told me when I interviewed her
a few years ago, and I asked her about playing a serial killer who kills an
entire family on an episode of Law &
Order Criminal Intent, and whether
she had any qualms playing such as role especially being a black actress. (Because you know how black people are…)
Just the opposite, she told me. It was because she is a
black actress that she wanted badly to play the role, since you had never seen a
black actor in a role like that before. She wanted to explore that sort of
twisted mentality that black actors rarely, if ever, get a chance to do. It’s all
part of the human experience.
I agree. We can’t be worried about what people think
about a black actor playing a role that is (how can we say...) less than flattering. Who
are we trying to prove ourselves to?
What say you?