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The Twilight Zone (Episode #146): “I Am The Night – Color Me Black” (airdate 3/27/64)
The Plot: A whole lotta racism goin’ on.
The Goods: On the morning that a man called Jagger is to be hung for murder, the darkness of night never turns into day. As if to weigh in on the wrongful judgment by a bigoted town, the universe has kept the light out of their city limits. But why? What’s at the center of it all?
As it turns out, it’s John F. Kennedy.
This story was Rod Serling’s artistic response to the assassination of JFK which had taken place 4 months before. It affected him deeply, and I Am The Night – Color Me Black is robust with the kinds of messages, symbols and emotional outcries of a writer trying to make sense of the nonsensical. It’s not exactly subtle.
At its core is the self-defense killing of a racist by Jagger – who is innocent save for saving himself, but has to pay the price of living in a town filled with hatred. Kill one of their sons by being different, and you’re ripe for a neck stretching.
On either side of the issue are the cracker-ass law enforcement team (featuring George Lindsey – the man who would go on to fame as Goober Pyle in The Andy Griffith Show) and the benign colored man of the cloth, played with brimstone by Ivan Dixon. The latter predicts that the sky has gone dark because the town is filled with hate, and this prediction arguably becomes true when they learn that it isn’t just their sleepy hamlet that’s been infected by a natural power outage.
On the list of affected places: Vietnam, The Berlin Wall, Chicago, Birmingham, and a street in Dallas. Although it’s a footnote, that street is the reason for all of this.
Oddly enough, the force of the heavy hand is here is what makes the story tolerable. It’s probably not the favorite episode of the KKK, but it’s definitely a story worth telling, featuring flattened characters and allegory hanging from its earlobes. There’s the savage law enforcement versus the peaceful religion of acceptance; nature being perverted (physically) by humans angry at other humans; the elemental crux of a black man being killed by an entire town; the imagery of the lynch mob; and, of course, the title itself.
Again, it’s anything but subtle. However, that works in its favor because sometimes the message you want to get across is so vital that you have to hammer in the morning and hammer in the evening all over this land. This is Serling’s most severe protest story. It’s sweaty, and mean, and harsh, and difficult to understand because it’s a response to something in life that is all those things.
What do you think?
The Trivia: The story is similar to one the show bought called Many Many Monkeys which featured people having their eyelids close gruesomely because of their hatred.
On the Next Episode: A man that really, really loves loud noises gets exactly what’s coming to him.
Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.