Why I’ll Never Watch “The Green Mile” Again

Steven Barnes
2 min readMay 16

I was asked why “The Green Mile” is a beloved movie I’ll never watch again. OK, I’ll go there.

There are two tropes that King uses: the “magical” and “sacrificial” Negro images: a solitary black character who gives his life to ennoble (and sexualize) a white character. But in the book, the title represents life itself, a “Green Mile” that none of us survive. Fine. I rolled with that. But there is a major difference between book and film.

In the book, Tom Hanks’ guard SUSPECTS that John Coffey might be innocent, and tries very hard to get someone to listen: the warden, the governor, etc. He fails.

In the movie, he KNOWS Coffey is innocent, but does NOTHING to try to save him. Oh, yes, Coffey says he’s tired of living. Sob sob. Who wouldn’t? In my opinion, this is where, if the film-makers had valued his life, Hanks gives an inspirational speech that inspires Coffey to live. Or breaks him out of prison (as they broke him out to heal Hanks’ wife) and get him across the state line, where he sees a beautiful dawn for the first time in years, and cries with joy. If this had been a “Lassie” movie, and the pooch had been accused of biting Timmy, and she was about to be put down, the last act would have been Timmy waking up from his coma, telling them that Lassie had been protecting him from a wolf, and we’d have had a mad chase cross-town to save her.

They didn’t’ value his life at all. He existed as a symbol, not as a human being. They had ten minutes of stupid mouse tricks, but not sixty seconds of Hanks trying to get the governor on the phone?

No. The white directors and writers and producers executed an innocent black man, the only one in the movie, so that white audiences could cry and feel enlightened about the injustice of it all, while Tom Hanks celebrates his new balls and bangs his freshly-healed wife.

We do not exist to ennoble, enlighten, or entertain you. And I won’t pretend we are.

No. Sorry. Not amused, not thrilled. And not happy with the fact that white audiences LOVE this trope. Luxuriate in it. And in my opinion, it is that unconscious devaluing that is congruent with BLM concerns. In high infant mortality rates, lower life expectancies, and a crushing burden of stress. I’m not interested in convincing anyone, just in explaining my position and then seeing who the allies are. The rest of you are welcome to believe, and enjoy what you like.

But watch the squealing at any fingernail fragment of such treatment in reverse…say, casting a black actress as a white mermaid. Just wait.

And don’t complain to me when the shoe is on the other foot.




Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.