Who Dies?

Not to take disaster or ensemble action films too seriously, but there are cultural reasons why certain characters die in films of this sort. There’s a literal pecking order, in fact, and Poseidon — a casualty itself — shows how it works.
The bottom line (and here comes the SPOILER that I warned readers about twice last week) is that two of the four people who die among Poseidon‘s small survivor group — Freddy Rodriguez and Mia Maestro — are Hispanic, and I think their blood is what seals their fate.

Poseidon‘s Freddy Rodriguez, Mia Maestro

I could shilly-shally all over the place about unconscious racism and how Poseidon‘s screenwriter Mark Protosevich and director Wolfgang Petersen are probably more forward-minded than most of us about racial matters, but I still say that Rodriguez and Maestro die in this film not just because they’re not big-enough stars, but also because Hispanics are considered to be culturally expendable.
I forget the name of the black comic (is it Chris Rock?) who does a routine about any time there’s a black guy among a group of kids in a horror film, you can count on his getting killed fairly quickly. This routine always gets a laugh because people know that it’s true, and I think a similar attitude has come through in Poseidon about Latinos.
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Here’s how the disaster-film death system works, more or less…
The highest ranked is the self-sacrificing hero. He is always male, always played by a star, and he always buys it in the third act while trying to save others. Gene Hackman died this way in the original 1972 Poseidon, and a name-value actor dies this way in the present version.
The second death level is shared by two types — the selfish lout and the weak second-banana who can’t hack it.

Mia Maestro

Kevin Dillon is Poseidon‘s resident blowhard, and you can tell he’s a goner from the moment he takes out his hip flask and takes a sip. If Maestro was not Agentinian she would be a good death candidate anyway because she plays the weakling of the group (i.e., unable to handle being in tight places). And yet Carol Lynley played a weakling in the 1972 version and lived.
The third candidates for the Great Beyond, as noted, are culturally expendable non-whites.
Gays used to be considered expendable or disposable — you can feel this attitude in genre movies of the ’60s — but they’ve moved up in the world to the extent that screewriters don’t dare kill them off or make them dislikable or villainous.
Rodriguez’s death inside an elevator shaft is arguably Poseidon ‘s most jarring moment.
His character, a busboy, is shown to be a brave and intelligent man, but then a metal table he’s standing on inside an elevator shaft gives way and he’s forced to cling to the leg of Richard Dreyfuss, a broken-hearted gay industrialist. Dreyfuss, in turn, is being held by star Josh Lucas. Lucas isn’t strong enough to pull Dreyfuss and Rodriguez to safety so he says to Dreyfuss, “Shake him off or you’ll both die!” And Dreyfuss finaly does.

Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria

What if it had been Rodriguez shaking Dreyfuss off? That would have made for an even more startling scene. But Dreyfuss is a better-known actor than Rodriguez at this stage of the game ( Six Feet Under aside), and he probably got paid more, and he’s white…so Rodriguez had to die. But the way he’s gotten rid of is not just sadistic but disrespectful.
I was hoping that one of Poseidon‘s attractive white youths would die — Emmy Rossum, Jacinda Barret, Mike Vogel — or even the token kid, played by Jimmy Bennett. But the Death Rules state that the young must survive in order to go out in the world and procreate and propulgate the species.
A friend sold me on the culturally expendable idea a couple of weeks ago. I was initially skeptical but the more I thought about it the more convinced I became.
I ran it by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and he said, “Of course! Of course!” I also ran it by a few Hispanic media types and journalists (American Entertainment Marketing’s Yvette Rodriguez, Jorge Camara of La Opinion, the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s Alex Nogales, Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez) but we missed each other or they didn’t have much to say.
If anyone wants to chime in…