Mike Who? Mike Hanlon. The New Magical Negro of Derry, Maine.
Let’s get one thing right: the reboot of Stephen King’s horror classic It was done right on a technical level. Audiences who went to be scared by the killer clown of Derry got all the fright they were looking for. Andrés Muschietti updated King’s Maine with an immaculate score by composer Benjamin Wallfisch (Hidden Figures, V for Vendetta), beautiful visuals by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (The Handmaiden, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl) and on time editing by Jason Ballantine (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Great Gatsby). But, for all the things Muschietti did right he completely missed the mark on Mike Hanlon. As a black member of the audience and an avid horror fan, it was disappointing and hard to watch.
When the trailer first dropped over the summer, I was concerned Muschietti wouldn’t let Mike be great. Virtually nonexistent in the trailer it was a giant red flag for such an important character to not be out in front with the rest of the Losers. Unfortunately, I was right. Muschietti took a well developed, strong, black character in horror and magical-negroed him to the point of no return.
Other fans have pointed out the unusual space for blackness in Derry. Mike is the only black kid in the Losers’ Club because he is the only black family in the entire town. In the original film series, Mike is the historian of the group. He is the only character who knows the violent history of Derry, finds out what the monster is, and creates the call of action for the rest of the Losers to come back 27 years later to finish what they started as children. He is the most pivotal character in the group and his blackness is a key part of his importance. It is because of his black experience in a small, racist, white town that he has a connection to the history of violence in the area. This connection allows Mike the ability to translate the importance of the information to the rest of the Losers’ Club, as children and adults, who otherwise, because of their whiteness, have no connection to the violence.
In the reboot, Mike is a homeschooled only child living on the outskirts of Derry on his Grandfather’s farm. Translation: Mike is an uneducated black kid who isn’t allowed to interact with the white people unless he is delivering their meat or getting beat up by their children. He has virtually no dialogue. His role of the historian is stripped from him and given to Ben Hanscom, who already had is own plotline within the story. The most Mike speaks is when he tells the Losers’ Club about his Grandfather’s superstitious beliefs of a curse on the town and recounts his parent’s deaths. He becomes the magical negro: solidifying the white kids’ fears in spiritual beliefs and coming to their aid whenever they call.
For all the good there is in Muschietti’s It, this is one wrong that can’t be chalked up to what falls through the cracks of adaptation. Tommy Lee Wallace, who directed the original mini-series, kept true to King’s vision of Mike Hanlon. Muschietti took everything that made Mike Hanlon who he was, stripped Mike of his depth and history, and churned out a vapid, shallow portrayal of an amazing character.