Verónica A. Gutiérrez Camacho 23 Feb 2018
The Subversion of African American Characters in Western Films in Blazing Saddles
A film full of racial and homophobic slurs, Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles would not
make it past a draft of a script if it were created today. However, this is part of Brooks’s attempt
to immerse the audience into an environment of discomfort. We are forced to think of the ways
in which the American people have censored injustice to the point of believing they are living in
a post-racial era. Previous westerns with black characters usually presented them in a racist light,
making them out to be happy slaves or individuals who depended on the care of white people.
What this satirical western does instead is place a black man at the center of the film as the
sheriff of the town of Rock Ridge, subverting many of the racial stereotypes presented in past
western genre films. In the scene I will analyze, Sheriff Bart, as played by Cleavon Little, enters
Rock Ridge for the first time, and the completely white town becomes astonished at the sight of
him, highlighting the racial tensions between Bart and the townspeople.
The scene starts with a long shot showing the townspeople spread about, with flags all
around, and a band ready, prepared for a celebration to welcome the new sheriff. The camera
then zooms into a full shot, emphasizing the most influential members of the community atop a
stage, such as the pastor and the chairman of the committee who has prepared a speech for Bart.
The scene then cuts to Gabby Johnson, the town’s raver, who is looking through a telescope, on
the lookout for the sheriff’s arrival. The frame here simulates looking through the viewfinder of
the telescope, where we see an extreme long shot of Bart on his horse, riding towards the town.
Up until this point, the town believes that the sheriff is white, due to the clear absence of people
of color in Rock Ridge. Here the film is already subverting stereotypes by giving the black
character the role of the self-assured cowboy that white men have played for the beginning of
American cinema, introducing him to the town using the standard extreme long shot of the
cowboy riding in the wilderness. The celebration then begins as Gabby looks through his
viewfinder once again, the camera using a medium shot on Bart so that Gabby now sees that the
sheriff is black, and tries to warn the town with no avail.
We then cut back to the townspeople cheering and playing music while the camera cuts
to a point of view (POV) shot of the town watching Bart entering. They start off hooraying, but
the music and the cheers come to a stop as they notice the color of his skin The camera cuts back
to Bart in a medium close shot, and then to a panning POV bust shot of Bart looking at the
shocked townspeople on the sides of the road. Without missing a beat, Bart politely greets them
with a tip of his hat. The chairman begins his prepared speech as the camera cuts back to ...