The film, Richardson writes, shifts the novel’s “emphasis on black female identity and rape to a foregrounding of lynching and black masculinity” (14).
Why does the film feature this thematic shift, she asks, and how does this shift affect the ethical standpoint of the film?
This discourse suggests that because he is an African American male, Henry shouldn’t aspire to be manly, or attractive, or anything other than servile.
Additionally, by comparing Henry to a “belle of a court circle,” this discourse uses sexuality to foreshadow the impotent submission into which he will be forced by his later injury.
However, as a black hired man, he had washed wagons, and indeed was not a gentleman of position, wealth, and other necessary achievements.
The narrator’s fierce irony merely hints at the gravity of Henry’s transgression, thereby foreshadowing a sense of impending doom.
By focusing on the ways in which black masculinity is degraded through the lynching and castration of the character Henry, the film The Klansman counters a damaging stereotype that became embedded in the American South during the Reconstruction era: the myth of the black rapist, which refers to the notion that white women must be protected from the sexual abuse of black men, who were considered to be sexual predators by nature (19).
The popular 1915 film Birth of a Nation, for instance, “features the brutish Gus, one of many characters rendered in blackface, in pursuit of Little Sister [a white woman] with the implicit intention of raping her” (19).
While the Henry in The Klansman undergoes an overt emasculation through lynching and castration, the Henry in “The Monster” undergoes a more carefully coded one; he sacrifices his body by running into a burning house to save his white employer’s child, losing his face in the process and experiencing social ostracism as a result.
But an allegorical commentary centering on race politics is nonetheless recognizable.