NYT Essay Explores the Fear of the Black Penis in Film and TV

Image via Showtime
Image via Showtime

While white dicks have been growing in abundance on film and television, clearly having a moment, you may have noticed the deficit of black penises and sexuality being shown in such mainstream spaces. This trend is tightly explored in a new piece in The New York Times Magazine.

Past essays have covered the proliferation of white dicks trending in mainstream pop culture (Vulture noticed it last year). But in a piece published today, titled “Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality,” NYT critic Wesley Morris effectively lays out the flip side of that trend, which is the lack of black male sexuality being visualized on film and TV, whether in the form of physical penises or romantic narratives.


To emphasize how much Hollywood remains largely fearful of the idea of the black male body, specifically the stereotypically “hung” black man, Morris’ piece cites recent instances of white male frontal nudity in shows like The Affair, Girls and films like Get Hard, The Overnight and A Bigger Splash:

As commonplace as it has recently become to see black men on television and at the heart of films, and as normal as it’s becoming to see male nudity in general, it has been a lot more difficult to see those two changes expressed in the same body. A black penis, even the idea of one, is still too disturbingly bound up in how America sees — or refuses to see — itself. I enjoyed HBO’s summer crime thriller, “The Night Of,” but it offered some odd food for thought: The most lovingly photographed black penis I’ve ever seen on TV belonged to a corpse in the show’s morgue. Meanwhile, the series’s most sexual black character was a rapist inmate.

The piece, which gives tons of historical context (the tragedy of Emmett Till; D.W. Griffith’s infamously gross depiction of black men as rapists in The Birth of a Nation), further points out how the subject of the black penis and its meaning is approached when it does get airspace. When filmmakers decide to go there, it’s typically “imagined more than it’s seen,” Morris writes, or tackled in ways that cater to the complicated American tradition of black bodies being fetishized.

Morris specifically calls attention to a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight that involves Samuel L. Jackson’s character’s recollection of a white man sucking his penis:

In the world of this film, Tarantino is playing with the truth. He’s playing with math (I at least found more than eight hateful people). But most important, he’s playing with fire. His movie runs along the third rail of race in America: that black dingus. Who knows if Warren made this story up. Courtesy of Tarantino, he knows that nothing turns a white man red faster than a black penis. The story’s probable falseness only makes it more devastating, because falseness is what the story messes with: the fear of black male sexuality; how it’s chasing your white wives, mothers and daughters; that the black penis can be a vengeful weapon. Opening up the threat to sons laughs at the ludicrousness of it all. That dingus is coming for everybody.


Movies and television have a strange way of reflecting American psyche, and the essay contextualizes that fear, surmising: “The white dick means nothing, while, whether out of revulsion or lust, the black dick means too much.” Even more broadly:

The underrepresentation of the black penis bespeaks a larger discomfort with depicting black male sexuality with the same range of seriousness, cheek and romance that’s afforded white sexuality. The history of American popular culture is an immersion in, if not loving white people, then knowing that white people can love. There’s been no comparably robust black equivalent. But there is a recent history of black people daring to create one.


Morris notes: “There’s nothing inherently wrong with black men’s sexuality — only the ways it has been distorted, demonized and denied.”

Read the full piece, which also references Barry Jenkins’ brilliant new film Moonlight, here.

Culture Editor, Jezebel

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It really can’t be understated how much American racism involves discomfort and obsession with black penises. From their being a constant target in lynchings (castrated and kept as keepsakes) to the protection of white women as potential targets of black men to white men’s discomfort with engaging in relationships with women that have experience with black penises (ask a woman of any color what happens when a white male potential partner finds out she’s had romantic dealings with a black man). It’s a thing.