I can’t remember when I first saw Blade (1998). I can’t remember if I saw it in theaters or rented it, first. I can’t even remember who I watched it. I know that I saw it around the time of its release and that I loved it. I still do, perhaps even more. And the second iteration, Blade 2 (2002) is arguably better. I knew Blade, the character, from the 1990’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series. He appeared in a couple of episodes during the Michael Morbius saga assisting Spider-Man in his foray into the vampire world. As a young black nerd, I LOVED that a hero like Blade exists. As a young multiracial nerd, I LOVED that Blade occupies a tortured space between the Vampire and Human races. All of this brings me to what I DO remember, the term Day-Walker. This is how vampires, full vampires, denote Blade’s half-caste status among them. It was also an occasional nickname my friends had for me in high school. It never felt derogatory, it actually made sense: my dad is black, mom is white. And the few multiracial dudes I knew, used the term the most. Blade was the first time I was able to connect this part of myself to the world of comics.
The concept of inter-species children isn’t unique to Blade. There are dark derivatives like the Underworld franchise, but also more futuristic takes like Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy, who discovers that he half-human, half-celestial. Since Blade’s release, I’ve been hyper aware of the hybrid trope in movies and I’d like to discuss three examples which I keep coming back to over the years. The first being, Blade, then Vampire Hunter D, and finally Spock of the Star Trek franchise. All three of the characters are not only defined by their half-status, they are constantly driven in the search of answers as to what that status means. They straddle a gulf between two worlds that they, and seemingly only they, can see, while being pushed and pulled for allegiance to both side. This is the perfect metaphor for my experience being multiracial. So, let’s dive into it.
“I have spent my whole life lookin’ for that thing that killed my mother, and made me what I am. And every time I take one of those monsters out, I get a little piece of that life back. So don’t you tell me about forgetting.” -Blade (1998)
By the time Wesley Snipes got his hands on the character in the mid-90s, much of Blade’s Blaxploitation aesthetic was stripped away in favor of something darker, more tactical, almost cyber-punk. The first Blade film arguably set the stage for future action flicks like The Matrix, Underworld, and Resident Evil. What I’m trying to say is, Blade was cool as fuck.
The vampire hunter originally jumped onto the pages in Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula #10 in 1973. Created by writer Marv Wolfman and penciller Gene Colan, two white guys, he quickly found himself on the pages of the Amazing Spider-Man, and eventually the Marvel world as a whole, interacting with favorites like Ghost Rider, The Punisher, and recently Iron Heart (Riri Williams).
For this post, I’d like to focus on the most well known version of Blade, his appearance on the big screen. So, what do we know about Blade from the films:
- He was conceived of two human parents but near the moment of his birth, his mother was bitten by a vampire, and in the process Blade’s biological make-up was forever changed.
- He is on a lifelong mission to avenge his mother’s killer, which has spilled out into a vehement hatred for ALL vampires.
- He is a biological anomaly. As far as we know, there is no one else like Blade. He can survive exposure to direct sunlight, garlic and silver have no effect on him, and he possesses superhuman strength and agility. He does, however, maintain a thirst for human blood, which he is constantly searching for synthetic alternatives to.
While Blade does have a human father, he is never mentioned and never seen. We are constantly pushed to view Blade, not as someone infected, but rather the perfect union of vampire and human, thus the child of both. He is feared, despised, and envied by the vampires for his hybrid status. Humans, those for whom Blade tirelessly defends, know nothing of his existence. He seeks neither recognition, nor praise from humans, choosing rather to conduct business in the shadows.
“The goal, of course, is to be like you – the Daywalker! You got the best of both worlds, don’t you? All our strengths… none of our weaknesses.”
-Deacon Frost, Blade (1998)
Blade is a massive threat to vampire elite, not to mention, literally any vampire in New York City. There is usually a plot in the works to take him down while also extracting the secrets of his DNA, so it can be replicated.
Now is where it gets messy. Because this story plays fast and loose with ‘race’ and ‘race-mixing,’ at times it feels strictly superficial, while at others chooses to directly inject race politics from our world.
“Oh, so it’s back to pretending we’re human again? C’mon… spare me the Uncle Tom routine, okay? You can’t keep denying what you are, man. You think the humans will ever accept a half-breed like you? They can’t. They’re afraid of you. And they should be. You’re an animal, you’re a fuckin’ maniac! Look at ’em. They’re cattle; pieces of meat. What difference does it make how their world ends? Plague… war… famine. Morality doesn’t even enter into it. We’re just a function of natural selection, man. The new race.”
-Deacon Frost, Blade (1998)
Wow! Okay, so no beating around the bush. Does this mean we are to view humans as Caucasian and vampires as black? Not entirely, I believe. Frost’s comment strikes me more as a jab meant to throw Blade off his game. But yeah, it can’t be denied the familiarity of Blade’s alienation. He fits in nowhere. He is half-caste, he is alone, and though he doesn’t like to talk about it, he is tormented by this state of being.
In her August 2013 article ‘So, What Are You Anyway?‘ in the American Psychological Association, Mahogany L. Swanson states, “This process of identification and de-identification is often dictated by the constraints or opportunities in the social milieu. Although viewed by some as opportunistic, an often-hostile environment may compel the need for racial fluidity in many self-identified biracial and multiracial individuals; however, the consequences of race switching can be deleterious for these individuals.”
Large facets of Blade’s experience resonate with my multiracial experience, though I can say mine hasn’t been quite as dark. I have frequently felt as though I don’t belong in any space. I’ve wondered over and over am I “Acting too white? Not black enough?” As someone of light-skin, I have received praise for my tan complexion. While I still experience racism on regular, it could be strongly argued that my light complexion shields me from the harsher consequences faced by my dark skin brothers and sisters (see Colorism). Both my parents are alive, though I’ve never known or lived with my father, either. Growing up, I was raised by a white mother and white step-father in all white neighborhoods, and attended overwhelmingly white schools. Basically, I was raised in a white world with little to no knowledge of a black one, and because of this I always felt like something was missing. Even into my thirties, I continue to grapple with feels of inadequacy and alienation.
“Blade: I’m not human.
Dr. Karen Jenson: You look human to me.
Blade: Humans don’t drink blood.
Dr. Karen Jenson: That was a long time ago. Maybe you should let that go?
Blade: I have spent my whole life lookin’ for that thing that killed my mother, and made me what I am. And every time I take one of those monsters out, I get a little piece of that life back. So don’t you tell me about forgetting.”
I find it interesting that it is solely the romantic figures in his life, who push Blade toward some form of self-acceptance. In the first film it’s Dr. Karan Jenson, a human woman, while in the second, it’s Nyssa Damaskinos, an unapologetic, natural-born vampire. Both women attempt to get Blade to relinquish the fear that keeps him from tapping into his more vampiric nature. Though both women receive push back, both inevitably, if only for a short moment, strip Blade of the barriers he so cautiously holds onto. It is also, worth mentioning that Blade is at his strongest when he succumbs to his nature. In both Blade and Blade 2, he overcomes the various antagonists only after he has drank blood directly from a human body.
Vampire Hunter D
Now, for an even more tortured soul. D, Vampire Hunter D! That’s his letter, his alias. We know that the D is a reference to his legendary father, Dracula. Beginning as a manga series in 1983, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano. His adventures span 26 manga volumes and two major length films, Vampire Hunter D (1985) and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000).
“The distant future… vampires rule the night, but their numbers are dwindling. With huge bounties on their heads, a class of hunters has emerged: Bounty Hunters. One hunter is unlike the rest. He is a dunpeal: a half-human half-vampire. At war with himself, feared by all, tortured and alone, he is… Vampire Hunter D.”
-Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (title card)
Like Blade, D is the ‘perfect’ union of vampire and human DNA. And like Blade, D has made it his life’s mission to eradicate ALL vampires from the face of the Earth. Unlike the Blade, D’s qualities were conceived through sex and not a bite. We know that Dracula shared a romance with a human woman. And just as Blade is referred to as a ‘Day Walker’ for his half-caste status, D is referred to as a Dunpeal (or dhampyr, depending on translation). TVTropes.org states,
“A “dhampyr” is a child born of a vampire and a human. Half as strong but only uncomfortable in sunlight. A stake to the heart is still lethal. Dhampyrs are often vampire hunters and hunters of their own kind.
It is more common for the father to be the vampire in this mating, since according to folklore, vampire men had far higher sex drives than their female counterparts and were often rapists who targeted human women because they were easy prey. In fiction writing, that is sometimes the case, and other times female vampires are infertile, depending on their degree of deadness. Sometimes avoided altogether by just having a vampire (male or female) bite and turn a pregnant woman.”
We follow D into the year 12,090 AD on his hunt. This is a world that sprung from our own. Nuclear war ravaged the planet centuries before and out of the ashes grew vampire empires grew. Society returned to a feudal state with vampires lords and rulers. The nuclear fallout produced legions of mutants and violent creatures. In the subsequent millennia, human kind struggles just to keep its light from being extinguished.
*Charlotte, human, and Meier Link, vampire.
D seems content to stalk the Earth, brooding for millennia. He regards his vampiric side as useful only in how easily it allows him to cut down his vampire brethren. There is no conflict, he is merely cursed by way of birth. Unlike Blade, no one wants D’s DNA. Humans are terrified of him and vampires loath his very existence.
In her 2017 article ‘Confronting Complex Multiracial Realities’, Dr. Saera Khan addresses the pressures family and loved ones present to multiracial children, “Another source of stigma may come from extended family members; parents of mixed race children may have married under disapproval from their families. Dissatisfaction or ambivalence over the marriage sometimes extends towards the offspring of these unions. As a result, children may develop a sense of double consciousness or an internal conflict as they see themselves through the eyes of prejudiced close others. These conflicted feelings can produce shame over their identity and further disconnection from their racial and ethnic heritages.”
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust demonstrates this friction perfectly when D is paid to hunt Count Meier Link and return the woman he ‘kidnapped.’ In reality, Link, a vampire, and Charlotte, a human, are in love and simply want to run away with each other. Despite he stoic, ice cold demeanor, D is bothered by this union and why wouldn’t he be? D can even come to terms with what he is, much less the potential of another like him. This plays out vivid during a back and forth between D and the parasite face on his hand (yes, you read that right. It’s a whole thing and we don’t have time in this already lengthy post).
“Hand: But you don’t care about that, do you? But I bet I know what really gets to you, dunpeal. What REALLY gets to you – the thought of those two lovebirds having another dunpeal, huh? That’s it. You see, I know you. I know how you think, I know how you feel, I know every move you make. You can’t…”
D reminds me of a point in my life when I hated being mixed. It wasn’t something that I could consciously admit to myself, the feels expressed themselves in a quiet shame. I idolized white men and their accomplishments and secretly wanted to be a white man myself. I loathed the feelings of inadequacy. Eventually, I swung the opposite direction. When I was twenty, I grew out my afro, I started wearing the Pan African colors, I read about the Huey Newton. I would entertain fantasies of moving to Chicago or Atlanta, somewhere overwhelmingly black, because I figured that would be the only space that would truly accept me. And eventually, after years, I’ve found myself a comfortable space I can call my own… but in this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the battle still rages.
“Spock: I am as conflicted as I once was as a child.
Sarek: You will always be a child of two worlds. I am grateful for this, and for you.”
-Star Trek (2009)
I saved Spock for the end because of all the examples, he is represented as having the highest level of self-acceptance when it comes to race. Spock, though he continues to struggle and search for meaning, wears his half-caste status with pride. It doesn’t hold him back, rather it opens doors.
Created by Gene Roddenberry for the 1996 premier of Star Trek: The Original Series. Originally portrayed by Leonard Nimoy, and later Zachary Quinto, along with handful of others along the way. Spock is the child of a Vulcan mother and a human mother. As Vulcan are very humanoid, Spock’s features are human-like with the exception of pointed ears. His personality is the collision of two distinct cultures. Being raised in the extremely logical society of the Vulcans, his entry into Star Fleet, and more importantly his contact with human, known for their fiery emotions, is marked with several trials. Spock is frequently at odds with his Star Fleet commander James T. Kirk.
Since as far back as the ’60s, Spock has been a multiracial icon. Nothing illustrates this better than a 1968 issue of the teen magazine FaVE! which features a letter from a biracial girl to Mr. Spock. The young girl named F.C. expresses grief at not feeling accepted. “I know that you are half Vulcan and half human and you have suffered because of this,” the girl named F.C. wrote. “My mother is Negro and my father is white and I am told this makes me a half-breed. … I guess I’ll never have any friends.”
Leonard Nimoy was so moved, he personally responded. Take a look below.
I must admit, I’m not as familiar with the Star Trek television as I am with the recent movies. I really enjoyed the 2009 JJ Abrams reboot and found several moments to be very touching.
“Vulcan Council President: You have surpassed the expectations of your instructors. Your final record is flawless, with one exception: I see that you have applied to Starfleet as well.
Spock: It was logical to cultivate multiple options.
Vulcan Council President: Logical, but unnecessary. You are hereby accepted to the Vulcan Science Academy. It is truly remarkable, Spock, that you have achieved so much despite your disadvantage. All rise.
Spock: If you would clarify, Minister: to what disadvantage are you referring?
Vulcan Council President: Your human mother.
Spock: Council… Ministers, I must decline.
Vulcan Council President: No Vulcan has ever declined admission to this academy!
Spock: Then, as I am half-human, your record remains untarnished.
Sarek: Spock, you have made a commitment to honor the Vulcan way.
Vulcan Council President: Why did you come before this council today? Was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel?
Spock: The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude. Thank you, Ministers, for your consideration. Live long and prosper.”
In conclusion, as the multiracial demographics continue to rise, it’s imperative that our media continue to produce stories that explore what it means to come from two or more distinct cultures or races. It’s important that we acknowledge the unique difficulties that come along with being multiracial, and how to navigate them. Blade left such an impact on me that I’m writing about it 20 years later (and I’m thinking about watching it yet again). I have no doubt there are multiracial analogies in current pop-culture that have reached out and grabbed young girls and boys. Let’s keep talking about what it means to be multiracial. If not, us mixed folk will end up like D, alone, brooding, and with no place to call our own.