The purpose of Sam Miller’s No Good Deed is consumption. The home invasion thriller where an exhausted mother Terri (Taraji P. Henson) battles escaped convict Colin Evans (Idris Elba) stretches into 90 minutes of unearned retribution. Dialogue delivers the entirety of the exposition. Cheering audiences comprise the film’s only entertainment value. The evaluation of its merits can be contained within one paragraph, but I wanted the opportunity to examine this film as a case study in perpetuating traditional gender and racial stereotypes. As audiences cheer the triumph of Colin’s defeat, they inadvertently accept these conservative qualities– even in our self-proclaimed “post-racial” world.
The film’s politicized message reveals itself with the title No Good Deed. Audiences are meant to complete the title as “goes unpunished,” which begs the question of what the film considers good deeds and how these deeds are rewarded. Female representation, in part, bluntly answers this question. In addition to Terri, the film has two additional female characters: Terri’s best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb), and Colin’s former fiancé, Alexis (Kate Del Castillo). The film paints both women as the whore for Terri’s Madonna. Meg openly admits to having casual sex with multiple men, and Alexis destroys the sanctity of her future marriage by having an affair while Colin is in prison.
These characters wear predominantly red clothing, making them a seductively sinful contrast to Terri, often clothed in white. The film allows Colin, suspected of murdering five young women, to judge Alexis and Meg for their sexual promiscuity, for which he obliges with his hands and a shovel, respectively.
And while Terri becomes tempted with the sight of a shirtless Idris Elba, she remembers her place as mother and wife and does not give into that temptation. The film then rewards her with the clever cunning needed to escape Colin’s clutches. Her choice to abandon her career as defense attorney—her career being another ‘temptation’—for a domestic lifestyle is also justified by the film. Instead of acknowledging the nuanced lives of women, the film sought for the easier message by cramming women into the same binaries in existence for centuries.
Though the film targets African American audiences with a nearly all-black cast, No Good Deed revives disturbing racial stereotypes. To start, the film repeats the image of the black man as a brute preying on white women. Meg and Alexis, the two people murdered by Colin, are both white women. In the case of Alexis, Colin savagely chokes her for a few minutes in on painful scene. The lasting shot portrays Colin, towering over and clutching Alexis in one grip, his crunched figure removing humanity from a character the film tries to manufacture sympathy for, but ultimately fails.
The other stereotype involves the literal whitewashing of Terri and her family. Everything from setting to clothing seems to be drowned in white, implying an assimilation theme for the lighter skinned African American community. Because of their ability to adapt, Terri’s family presents itself as the ‘safer’ option, thus supposedly making them more relatable for both white and black audiences. This offensive implication should be enough rationale to storm out the theater and demand money back. And yet, when covered in the thrill of revenge, all we hear is exactly what the movie wants: cheering.
A film with the disposable nature of a Bic razor often neglects social responsibility in terms of race and gender representation. The best we can do as viewers is to actively resist and analyze the events on screen. Beyond the cheering and the sex symbols, we can find the message of even those films destined for consumption.