He's tough, he's macho, he falls apart when he hears soul music. He's the flawed black movie hero, whose most recent incarnation is in "Iron Eagle," starring Louis Gossett Jr.
He -- and the movie -- are also the berated subjects of a critical analysis in the spring issue of Black Film Review, the only magazine devoted to examining the images of blacks in film and the efforts of black, Third World and other minority filmmakers.
The Review casts a decidedly cynical eye on blacks' roles in Hollywood-made feature films, frequently the object of thorough, elaborate, and often damning analyses in the magazine, whose publisher, David Nicholson, produces it from the basement office of his Northwest home.
"Iron Eagle," about a black Air Force colonel assigned to a daring rescue mission, is the latest example of racism in the movies, says Nicholson, who describes one scene in which Gossett's character, Col. Chappie Sinclair, wiggles to a James Brown song even as he plans the operation.
"Does Rambo do that? Does Arnold Schwarzenegger do that when he plays a hero?" asks Nicholson. "I think the wholeness of white film heroes is not breached in the same way.
"Eddie Murphy's integrity is breached in 'Beverly Hills Cop' in that he doesn't get a love interest," he says. "You rarely see black characters being loving to each other. We haven't seen a 'Sounder' since the early 1970s."
It was the characterizations of blacks in "Places in the Heart," "2010," and "Dune" that so upset Nicholson in 1984 that he typed his thoughts on a sheet of plain white paper, which he then photocopied and sent to 50 friends.
From that, the Black Film Review slowly expanded, and in December last year the University of the District of Columbia's Black Film Institute adopted the publication, financing the printing of a redesigned, 8 1/2-by-11-inch glossy-page format.
A quarterly with an annual subscription price of $10, a circulation of 1,500 and an estimated readership of about 4,500, Black Film Review just finished its 32-page spring issue, the biggest to date.
Tony Gittens, director of the Black Film Institute, hopes to attract more advertising to the magazine and to reach a mass black readership. Nicholson, a former reporter and now a part-time professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, shares those long-range ambitions but also says wistfully, "I'd like to get a salary."
He is the Review's mastermind and its muscle. He solicits articles, edits, lays out and pastes up the pages, stuffs, seals and mails envelopes.
The magazine is filled with movie reviews by free-lance writers from around the country, interviews with directors and news about lesser-known film festivals, such as those in Havana and Rotterdam. The spring issue devoted several articles to four critics' viewpoints on "The Color Purple," as well as an essay about reactions to the film by Nicholson.
The reviews frequently target recycled racial stereotypes. "You could isolate 10 or 15 black stereotypes from American literature," says Nicholson, who calls "Iron Eagle's" theme of teamwork between a seasoned black officer and a white teen-age boy a cinematic revival of "Huckleberry Finn."
Nicholson wants Black Film Review to reflect a variety of minority perspectives. The next issue will include an interview with Donna Deitch, independent filmmaker whose movie "Desert Hearts," about a lesbian love affair, has gained a popular audience.
By reviewing minority filmmakers' efforts, he hopes to create an awareness of alternatives to Hollywood.
"Where I see the rules rewritten is in black independent films," Nicholson says, citing "She's Gotta Have It" by Spike Lee as an example of breaking away from stereotypical depictions. He says the film appeals to blacks through authentic culture and language, while presenting a universal theme, a woman choosing among her suitors.
"My sense is whites see black films without seeing the universality. There are some black filmmakers who don't see the universality, but 'She's Gotta Have It' could be about whites," Nicholson says.