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Richard Pryor

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Pryor, Richard. "Uncle Sam Wants You Dead, Nigger." In Paul Krassner (ed.). Best of the Realist. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 1984. P. 186-188.

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(OPENING SHOT — Stock footage of jet plane landing at an airport in America. CUT TO stock footage of a casket being carried off a plane by soldiers.)

PREACHER — (Voice Over)

He tried to serve his country
(Congregation answers with him:) um hm um
And Johnny was a good boy, yes
um hm um
(The casket is being loaded into a hearse.)


I remember Johnny well, um hm um
I can remember Johnny when he used to
walk around the streets, yes lord
He had no destination, um hm um
Had no place to, um hm um
I remember quite well
(The Ghetto — LONG SHOT from rooftop of JOHNNY walking the streets where he was raised. The only sounds we hear are the natural sounds of the ghetto streets. Johnny continues to walk past the storefront and houses in the ghetto. He hears the voices of his parents.)

FATHER (Off Screen)

Boy, I want you to get a job.
You just laying around the house,
been in trouble, getting arrested
all the time. I'm tired of getting
you out of jail. It's just a heartache
to me and your momma.


That's right, I don't know what I'm
gonna do with you... I just don't know
I try, we try, we work hard to send you
to school, and you didn't even stay in
school; just got outta school.
Why don't you do something with your life?


You ain't never gonna be nothing, boy.
You ought to do something with your life.
Look at all your friends,
they doing something. Terry got a job
down at the factory, he working. Why don't
you get one down there?


Dad, the people when I went down there,
they told me they didn't have no more openings.


Yeah, that's what you always say when
you looking for a job, 'they ain't got no openings.' They ain't
never got no
openings when you try to get work.
(TRACKING SHOT: JOHNNY continues his walk, stopping in front of an Army recruiting poster that says "Uncle Sam Wants You." CLOSE UP of poster.)


Uncle Sam wants you.
Uncle Sam wants you.
Uncle Sam wants you.
That's right nigger,
Uncle Sam Wants you.
(POSTER'S Point of View — ANGLE UP toward JOHNNY — MEDIUM SHOT. A black man in a dashiki draws up beside Johnny, stands there and just looks at him looking at the poster.)


Yeah, nigger, Uncle Sam wants you dead.
Man, you don't want to join the Army,
what you want is to join our army.
We need you now.
(JOHNNY starts to walk away, and hears his father's voice again.)


That's right, hang out in the street
with them Panthers. That's what you
been doin, you been down there with
them Panthers. Down there with all them
Black groups. They won't get you no money.
They ain't gonna help you out.
You better get something. I know the white
man ain't good, but some of em all right.
You got to try to do something about that, boy.
(DASHIKI follows JOHNNY as he continues his walk, crossing the street and turning a corner.)


Man, ain't none of em all right.
(He says this with the look on his face.)
Ain't none of 'em, that's what we been
trying to tell you. Ain't none of em
all right. Ain't nothing right with that man.
The brothers and sisters down here, we need
you here, man. You want to join an army, man,
join our army.
(JOHNNY turns into a storefront, which we see is the Army recruiting office. He hears his father's voice.)


That's good that you gonna get in the Army, man.
Look at Harvey, he was in the Army,
got medals and everything.
Went into the Army, became somebody.
(CUT TO stock footage of recruits being shaven and otherwise processed, getting off buses at training camp.)


This is my chance now.
If I make this, I go back home and
Janet's father won't be so mad.
He see me in the Army, trying to do
something, maybe I can go over to her house.
I really dig that chick, man.
And Dad, I can send them some of the allotment money.
(TRAINING FIELD, DAY — LONG SHOT — JOHNNY is in the field doing drill exercises; but he is all alone. However, we hear the sounds of a whole company drilling, and he marches as if he were in the middle of them.)


Hut, two, three, four
Hut, two, three, four
To the left, march!


Today we are learning to kill, HAAH!


Now you have completed basic training.
(FIELD — MEDIUM SHOT — JOHNNY is dressed in his fatigues, with boots and all.)


You special band of special forces
will be assigned to Fort McPherson
for additional training, and then to
duty in Vietnam.
(WATERFRONT: The railing of a troop ship — JOHNNY leans on the ship's railing, looking out at the ocean, thinking about his destination — Vietnam.)


Damn, can't wait to get to 'Nam.
I'm gonna be good; I can take it.
I know I ain't gonna die.
I'm gonna get me some of them gooks, too, Jack.
That's right, get me some medals,
so when I go home, I'll be a hero.
(DASHIKI appears next to JOHNNY again and stares at him.)


Why you gonna be killing some Vietnamese, man?
What kinda nerve you got to be callin them
gooks, nigger? You crazy or something?
What's wrong with you?


Why don't you leave me alone, man?
You do it your way, I'm doing it mine.
I don't want no trouble, man.
I'm trying to be somebody,
and you trying to mess that up.
(CUT TO stock footage — troops landing in Vietnam, B-52 bombing raids, search and destroy missions, etc. Along with the stock footage, there is a musical soundtrack composed of a mixture of Shirley Temple singing "On the Good Ship Lollipop" and Stepin Fetchit-type voices saying all the old hack phrases from racist movies, "Well, time to eat dinner, heah, heah, heah!")

(VIETNAM — TRACKING SHOT: Half-track driving along road. JOHNNY is riding through the country, in the half-truck with a 50-caliber machine gun on top. The truck approaches a field with some farmers in the distance, plowing. The farmers see the truck, and wave at it. We hear the voices of two officers in the truck, but we never see them.)


Hold that truck up! Hold up the column.
LIEUTENANT (O.S.; definite white cracker voice)

What's the matter, Captain Grisby?


Those people in the field seem to be
signaling those men over there on that hill.
I have an idea there are some mortars
on that hill, and those people seem to be

JOHNNY (V.O., to himself)

They're not signaling, they're just waving.


It seems they are signaling to someone
over the hill.

GRISBY (to Johnny)

Stop waving, soldier, what you trying to do?
Cut them people down out there, boy.


What, sir?


You heard the order.
Shoot them — kill them people out there.
They're gonna call a mortar in on us, boy.
We could be wiped out at any second.

JOHNNY (V.O., to himself)

I can't do that, man.


If you can't do it, I'll get a white boy
to do it (To lieutenant)
I know them niggers can't take it in combat,
you know what I mean?
It's just something about them; they just
don't have... the stuff.
(MEDIUM SHOT — JOHNNY shoots the people down. We hear the gunfire.)


Good job, soldier. (CUT TO stock footage of New Year's Eve in Times Square, or cadets tossing hats in the air at Annapolis graduation. We hear the crowd cheering. ZOOM IN to a CLOSE UP on JOHNNY'S face. The horror of what he has done is shown on Johnny's face.)

JOHNNY (V.O., to himself)

Don't crack, don't crack...
You did it, man, you made it.
You gonna be somebody — you are somebody.
Look at them looking at you now, yeah,
look at em.


You did all right, soldier.
Can you get those ears for a count?


Beg your pardon, sir?


We gotta have those ears for our count.

JOHNNY (V.O., to himself)

Ears for a count. (To Grisby) Yes, sir.
(FARMER'S FIELD — TRACKING SHOT: JOHNNY goes out in the field to get the ears of the people he has just shot. He gets to the bodies, and looks down. ANGLE UP at JOHNNY from behind the bodies. He looks down at the bodies and a sudden look of horror comes over his face; he almost goes into shock. JOHNNY'S P.O.V. — Looking at the bodies. Instead of the Vietnamese he shot, he sees the bodies of his family lying there, dead.)


Get them ears!
(JOHNNY looks again, and the bodies are those of the Vietnamese he has killed. He cuts off the ears, and hears the Captain's voice as he walks to the truck.)


That's good for at least one medal.
Heroism beyond the call of duty.
You can get four medals for this.
Plus a three day pass.
Soldier, you really going to be
something when you get home.
(BUSHES AT EDGE OF FIELD — MEDIUM LONG SHOT ZOOMS IN on rifle barrel. A gun points out of the bushes at JOHNNY in the distance. It fires, and the sound is amplified very loud. JOHNNY begins to fall, in very slow motion. As he falls, we hear the preacher again.)


And he lived a good life, um hm
And he was a good boy, yes he was.
And he never done no harm to nobody, um hm um
And he tried to do the best he could, yes, he did.
(As the preacher ends, the body is still falling. CUT TO tracking shot of hearse approaching graveyard. GRAVEYARD GATE — MEDIUM LONG SHOT — ZOOM IN on guard.)

GUARD (V.O. white cracker)

I don't care what kind of hero he is,
we don't bury no niggers in this graveyard.
(As he speaks, the frame freezes on the black folks looking into the gates of the graveyard.)

GUARD (V.O., echoing)

We don't bury no niggers in this graveyard.
We don't bury no niggers in this graveyard.
We don't bury no niggers in this graveyard.
(CUT BACK to JOHNNY, still falling.)

DASHIKI (O.S., echoing, fading out)

Uncle Sam wants you dead, nigger
Uncle Sam wants you dead, nigger
Uncle Sam wants you dead, nigger...
(As the last words fade out, JOHNNY'S body hits the ground. FREEZE ON BODY. FADE OUT.)

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