05th Aug2006

Affirmative Action Gets Supernatural: The Winston Zeddemore Story

by Will

“It’s either French, or you’re speaking with clicks!”

Winston-Zeddemore_opt

So, I’m gonna go for the double-whammy this time. For me and my constituents, I present the pop culture post. For any stragglers from the Reappropriate set, I give you the racism post. All wrapped in one. The topic of today’s post? Winston Zeddemore.

Yes, Winston Zeddemore, played by Ernie Hudson (voiced by Arsenio Hall, natch!), is also known as “The Black Ghostbuster”. But to look at most of the promotional pics of the Ghostbusters movie franchise, Mr. Zeddemore is given the short shrift. Now, growing up, I was much more well-versed in the animated Ghostbusters universe than the movies. Sure, I’d seen the movies, especially Ghostbusters 2, since Channel 5 showed that piece of shit every 6 weeks. In any regard, I lived for the cartoon. There was more attention given to Slimer, Egon was an alibino, and they even explained why/how Jeanine had changed over the years (best.episode.ever).What’s not to love? But as I got older, it became harder to watch the cartoons. Even learning that they were written by J. Michael Strazcynski, of Babylon 5 fame, was not enough to keep my attention. Plainly put, I had outgrown The Real Ghostbusters.

Not willing to give up on my past so quickly, I turned to the motion picture Ghostbusters universe. A darker place, where Slimer only had cameos, The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was NOT an adorable mascot, and the black guy was just background scenery.

Now, let’s get something straight. I didn’t grow up wanting to be Winston. Nope, I wanted to be Egon, and if not him, then Peter. But I was glad that there was a Black guy. Sure, he didn’t do much, but he was there. Kinda how Indian kids must’ve felt about Haji in the Johnny Quest cartoons. His presence was enough for me. At least, in the cartoon. But the movies were a different story. As far as the movies, he was simply a precursor for Morgan Freeman. All the fool did was drive the damn car! As I’ve aged, it’s become clear that Winston Zeddemore was nothing but an affirmative-action hire.

I doubt you’d find anybody who, following a Ghostbusters viewing, would proclaim Winston as a hero to them. Nope. Nobody. Not even that crackhead on the corner. In fact, here’s a crackhead’s interpretation of Ghostbuster cool factor: “Muthafucka wit da glasses? Dat fucka was smart, son! Bitch who looked like dat dude from Groundhog Day? That playa was hilarious, son!”

I’ll bet it even extends to the supporting characters: “That bitch from Aliens? I’d hit dat. The bitch who answered the phones? I’d hit dat twice. Even that muthfucka from Honey I Shrunk The Kids was dope, yo.” (PLEASE, somebody find me a crackhead who references Honey, I Shrunk The Kids!)But ask the crackhead about Winston. “The brotha? Man, all that nigga did was drive the muthfuckin’ car.”

Face it, in the movie universe, there is no important role for Winston. I was reading the wiki entry for the movie, and they claim that Winston was supposed to be hired earlier in the film, but they waited until later because they wanted to show that the 3 guys had really fallen off their game and needed the extra help. “Extra help”?! All he did was DRIVE THE CAR. And it wasn’t even a cool car, like K.I.T.T. Don’t get me wrong, I’d go for a ride in the Ecto-1 in a heartbeat, but the thing was a repainted hearse with a siren on top. Not an ambulance, like some people believe, but a hearse. That’s some morbid shit. It gets worse and worse for poor Winston. The man is a glorified funeral director, driving around a bunch of crazy White guys who “bust” ghosts.

I think that was the most interesting aspect of Movie Winston: He didn’t even really believe in ghosts. He just needed a quick buck. The dude had been an NYC firefighter, and if ya ask me, he left that line of work not a minute too soon (OK, so it was 15 years sooner than he had to, but you get the point…). But he was of the mind of, “You crazy White dudes are gonna pay me to put on this jumpsuit as we ‘bust ghosts’?” He figured he needed to get while the gettin’ was good. Which, I guess, is still bad because it paints him as some layabout who’s out for an easy dollar. I don’t think he even realized he was strapping a nuclear reactor to his back.

But even outside of the storyline, my disdain extends to the real world aspects of the movie. Ernie Hudson gets next to no billing for that film. It’s Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Ackroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and in some cases even Annie Potts and Rick Moranis. “Ernie Hudson” is only listed when EVERYBODY is listed. He’s like right above the Gaffer. And I can’t look at him, to this day, without thinking, “Man, those dudes didn’t treat you right.” I mean, I guess he knew what he signed up for, and I’m glad he never had any of those popular delusions of “I’m opening new doors for the depiction of Blacks in film.” Hell, if he’d just been “Angry Black Guy”, a cliche we all know and love (Hi, Sam Jackson), he would’ve made more of an impact than “The black dude who drives the Ghostbusters around.”

The original script was written with Eddie Murphy in mind, but prior commitments prevented that. Now, I wonder if they would’ve shoved Eddie in the same role, or if he would’ve been “Wise-cracking, jive-talking, streetwise Black guy? Maybe he’d put a banana in an exhaust pipe, and then run off to China as they clean his royal penis. I wonder if Ernie Hudson wakes up nights, terrified by how badly he failed to fill the shoes of Eddie Murphy. It makes one wonder “what might have been”. Almost as much as the fact that “Beverly Hills Cop” was written for Sylvester Stallone, but that’s a story for another time…