Night of the Living Dead takes place in 1968 in a town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The movie begins with what the audience would typically expect from a film of the time. A brother and sister dressed in 1960s clothing and driving a 1960s car pull up to a graveyard to place flowers on their deceased father’s grave. The horror element of the film quickly appears as a strange man attacks the sister, Barbra forcing her brother, Johnny, to wrestle with him to save her. During the struggle Johnny gets knocked out and Barbra first attempts to get away in the car before scurrying to a nearby house. Here, she meets Ben, a strong African-American man who quickly takes charge and devises a plan to keep them safe (Romero). At the time of the film’s release, the Civil Rights Movement was in full-swing, and while African-Americans had played major roles in movies before, there were very few if any that had played the role of a hero. In movies such as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) which was based off the book by Harper Lee, African-Americans had played an at worst, villainous, and at best, victimized roles in films. Night of the Living Dead took a different route instead portraying Ben as a strong,...
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...on race of the time. Night of the Living Dead was released when the lynching and murder of African Americans was blatant due to the Civil Rights movement. Similar to this treatment, Ben is killed after he seemed to handle the worst of what life could throw at him. There is a certain kind of cruel irony in Ben’s death and how it relates to race relations of the time.
Romero knew exactly how to push boundaries to make a revolutionary film. He took the audience out of their comfort zone by creating a movie with a strong, intelligent African-American character who almost survives the whole movie. Ben is killed just when it seemed victory was within reach. Romero’s vision provides a specific commentary on race for those paying attention and because of it, produced a classic film that people will always look back on as a truly ground-breaking movie in the genre of horror.
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