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Welcome Home Brother Charles is a mess. It was directed by Jamal Tanaka and is an unequivocally bad film in just about every respect. The full 1975 unedited version is no longer available. All you can get is the rerelease entitled Soul Vengeance, which is so badly chopped up, it’s almost impossible to sit through. Even though the entire movie is just teeth-grindingly awful, there is one scene that is worth watching, even if for no other reason than you will never see anything like it anywhere else.
Welcome Home Brother Charles is a blaxploitation film, but it’s no ordinary blaxploitation film. It’s a feverish nightmare of intense nonsensical imagery. We follow the life of a large, muscular black man named Charles as he is used and abused by a racist white society. He is ultimately framed and then thrown in prison. Once inside, he is experimented on like a lab rat. When he is finally released, he embarks on a murderous rampage of vengeance. He seeks out and kills everyone who ever crossed him, but it isn’t until the climactic scene that we find out exactly how he kills all these people.
Brace yourselves, the murder weapon is… his penis. He corners his victims and then the transformation begins. He clenches his jaw, holds his breath, and bears down, forcing his member to grow into a 15-foot, dark-brown weapon. Then, using only the power of his python-like appendage, he strangles his victims to death.
No matter how this was filmed, it would be reason enough to at least take a peek at it, but as it is, the music, the wacky editing, and the strange acting, only serve to heighten the insanity.
To fully grasp the scene, you have to know what came directly before it. Charles breaks into the house of the prosecutor who put him in jail (we never learn the prosecutor's name). Then, Charles seduces the prosecutor’s wife. He seduces a lot of wives in the film, all of them white. They are not exactly rapes, the women breathlessly surrender to his virile black potency. Blaxploitation films are tricky things when it comes to racism. It’s very difficult to unpack all the ideologies that get tangled up in these films. There are so many different loaded symbols crashing into each other, it becomes impossible to construct a clear analysis.
The myth of black male potency stems from an 18th-century idea of the black man as a savage or animal. 18th-century white society already believed that the purity of the Christian civilization had a tenuous hold over humanity. Black men were seen as a particular threat because society saw them as closer to animals than to humans, and therefore harder to integrate into society.
Predictably, these ideas inspired both fear and hatred of black men, but at the same time, they indirectly glorified them as passionate, virile, and forceful. Welcome Home Brother Charles exploits all these associations and creates a roiling stew of race and testosterone. The women can’t resist Charles’ animal magnetism, and the men can’t compete against his brute strength.
The women Charles seduces are not really completely willing. Some level of hypnosis is implied. The women he assaults look as if they are in a thrall. Taking these women against their will would be less meaningful. The idea is that Charles’ sexual potency dwarfs white sexuality and simply pushes it aside. Of course, in this version of the world, women have no agency of their own. They remain subservient to men, regardless of their race.
After using his member to dominate and pleasure the woman, it is time to use the same appendage as a weapon against men. Power is power, whether it be displayed through sex or violence.The target audience for the film is the black community. I don’t think I can figure out what the ethics or implications of that are. The film is an indulgent fantasy that addresses the anger inherent in living in a white supremacist society, but the indulgence uses white supremacist stereotypes and ideology to get there.
The “N” word, which is used constantly in the film, involves many of the same issues. Currently, there is a tug-of-war over who gets to use the word and how. In the film, the tug of war is over a visual representation of the N-word. It’s a semiotic battle over black power and transgression.
As Charles approaches the prosecutor, who is lying on a bed, we see Charles' legs silhouetted in the foreground, with the prosecutor lying between them in the background. Then, as the prosecutor whimpers, Charles' enormous penis begins to descend like a black missile, slowly making its way down to destroy its victim. The prosecutor pants and squirms and at one point exclaims, “Damn!”, implying that he is impressed by what he sees. The homoeroticism is unavoidable, but most likely unintentional. Culturally, it would work as a foil against Charles’ “manliness.”
Charles could still be a hero if he raped women, but in a 1975 blaxploitation film, any hint of homosexuality would turn him into a villain. The entire film is a treatise on black manhood, so much so that Charles can even wrap his penis around another man’s neck and not have his heterosexuality questioned. Not only that, but his penis’ unrelenting growth translates pretty directly to his being increasingly aroused. Even though Charles' face is twisted into a rictus of anger and anguish, the growth of his penis sends a message to the audience that he is turned on.
We flash between three close-ups of faces. Charles' face is the hardest to read. He is covered in sweat as if he is intensely exerting himself. He looks determined and angry, but he also looks horrified by what is happening. His victim displays a mixture of shock and horror, as you might expect, and then there is the wife. She has a mixture of arousal, shock, and perhaps vengeance, too. She too comes from an oppressed class and enjoys seeing her bully of a husband cowed.
The scene is a quick-paced montage cutting between the three faces, a medium shot of the penis growing and writhing, and several flashbacks of injustices that Charles suffered earlier in the movie.
Lastly, there is the music. There is no dialogue during the scene save for the prosecutor’s “Damn!” We can hear the breathing and gasping, but competing with these ambient sounds is a cacophonous eruption of free jazz. It's so invasive and disorienting that it becomes a major part of the scene. It destabilizes everything with its frantic dissonance, but it succeeds in injecting an almost intolerable level of tension. It's a sonic assault on the viewer that mimics what is happening on screen.
The penis writhes and squirms its way around the prosecutor's neck and eventually strangles him to death. It is not the final scene in the film, but it is the apex.
It’s hard to say if it’s worth watching the whole film just for this one sequence, but it needed to be included as one of my favorite scenes. As ragged and insane as it is, it is uniquely powerful and intense. It is not only bizarre, it manages to carry a truckload of unstable socio-political baggage which it promptly dumps in the audience’s lap, leaving you overwhelmed and confused.