Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931) is a film about a young black man who is lynched, risen from the dead, and then lynched again.

That Frankenstein’s monster was black – if not literally so, at least metaphorically so* – is widely overlooked, but it is quite clearly in the film. There are references to the American tradition of lynching in the very first scene, where Frankenstein (the scientist) recovers a body that has been hung up and abandoned in the graveyard. The brain is one that a phrenologist has determined is abnormal. Then, of course, the climax is a straight forward lynching, which would be more or less recognizable to anyone in America at the time. There was also an existing literary tradition relating the literary character of Frankenstein** with the condition of African-Americans in the early 20th century.

The filmic Frankenstein seems to be a model for Lenny from Of Mice and Men, a novel that discusses lynching of both black and white Americans. Which is reportedly used in the state of Texas as a standard as to who is fitting to face the death penalty. Which is evil.

(I saw this film at the Stanford Theater)

*Because the story takes place in Germany it seems unlikely that the brain was from an African, but the phrenological reference suggests otherwise.

**The novel Frankenstein was very different from the film.


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