Now that yet another film version of King Kong is imminent, NPR is lecturing that the giant ape is a racist creation, an anthropoidal primate version of black men who want to sleep with white women.
In a segment on NPR that attempted to prove that King Kong was a commentary on black people, Robin Means Coleman, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Michigan who specializes in studying King Kong, pontificated, “This is, again, a big, black man - right? - a big, black ape who is absolutely obsessed with whiteness and particularly white women. That has to be cut down."
Lakshmi Singh, the host, opened the show by intoning,"King Kong has been around almost as long as Hollywood itself. The first 'Kong' movie was in 1933, and from its inception, it's always been loaded with some ugly, racial subtext, ridiculous caricatures of natives, white men protecting a white woman from the savages and a giant, dangerous, black creature from the jungle."
Coleman and Singh are not the first people to claim that King Kong was a racist creation; a Canadian writer, Ross Langager, reached the nadir in blowhard rhetoric discussing King Kong in popmatters.com in 2011:
The most prevalent metaphorical dynamic in the film is quite clearly the racial one. Kong is often conceived of as the monstrous embodiment of the African-American experience, a powerful “primitive” being forcibly taken from the tropical realm where his hegemony is absolute and displayed in bondage as a figure of exotic amusement (though not, curiously, as a beast of burden, as were the historical African slaves). He escapes and asserts not only his physical prowess but also, potentially, his sexual prowess by abducting Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow, the blond, virtuous personification of white American womanhood (Wray herself was naturally dark-haired and born in Canada, a nice double-shot of irony).
Clutching the object of his forbidden, impossible desire, Kong is chased to the pinnacle of the inescapably phallic Empire State Building (a freshly-built structure in 1933 whose appearance in an iconic piece of cinema helped allay scepticism about it from both potential tenants and from the wider public). There, his savage defiance of the democratic capitalist order (and of firmly-defended racial taboos) sees him executed summarily by biplanes. Gazing upon Kong’s corpse, director, adventurer, and showman Carl Denham, the man who wrought this terrible end, quips, “It was Beauty that killed the Beast”, but we know better.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see echoes of American’s fraught historical discourse on race in such a tale. It evokes colonialism, the slave trade, Reconstruction, minstrel shows, Jim Crow, white supremacy, Lost Cause mythologizing, miscegenation and urbanization, to say nothing of the contemporaneous rape hysteria in the South that fed into systematic lynchings and institutional segregation. That King Kong is “about” these sort of things is not really in dispute in the cinephile community . . .
As Ed Straker notes in The American Thinker:
In the original Planet of the Apes movie, the main chimpanzee was played by Roddy McDowall, whose voice was obviously very white-sounding (and more than a little gay). No one said the Planet of the Apes movies were about black people. In Star Wars, the character of Chewbacca is obviously monkey-related. But no one says Chewbacca is a slur on black people. Is Disney's Jungle Book racist for having a monkey in it? Is Tarzan racist as well? And what about computer games like "Donkey Kong"? Is "Donkey Kong" a game made by racists who want to give white people the ability to make black people jump in the air repeatedly?
For the record, the creator of King Kong, filmmaker Merian C. Cooper, was intrigued by gorillas from the age of six, as he was given a book from his uncle in 1899 called Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa. The book chronicled the adventures of Paul Du Chaillu in Africa; Du Chaillu described one gorilla known for its "extraordinary size” that the natives described as "invincible" and the "King of the African Forest.” That gave rise to Cooper’s imagination and the ultimate creation of King Kong.
Cooper also served in the United States Air Force and Polish Air Force; he founded the volunteer American flight squadron called the Kosciuszko Squadron during the Polish-Soviet war after World War I and was taken as a Soviet prisoner of war, later escaping from the prisoner-of-war camp. He later served in World War II; by the end of the war, he was promoted to brigadier general, and was present on aboard the USS Missouri when Japan surrendered.