Recently, I was working on a project concerning the Cold War, and cultural themes throughout the period. I mentioned in my report that popular culture often took part in shaping the conflict during the Cold War, whether it be media coverage of the Fischer v. Spassky chess match or the Rocky films.

In the Rocky series (written by Slyvester Stallone and starring him) however, my professor pointed out something of interest. There is an interesting racial theme in the movie Rocky IV: both Apollo and Rocky fight Ivan Drago in the movie, but Apollo is sacrificial lamb that sets up the eventual Rocky vs. Ivan showdown. My professor wondered aloud whether there was any potential commentary on race in this, when you consider the contrasting images of Apollo (the black boxer) taking a beating at the hands of the Soviet machine, while Rocky defeats him.

To what extent is this just a movie plot choice (Rocky using the death of his former rival/friend to motivate him in his fight), and to what extent do you think this could be a commentary on race during the time period?

NOTE: I am new to the History Stack Exchange so please let me know if I can improve the question/title/where I post so I can use that for the future. THANKS!

  • 4
    This can only be a matter of opinion and it's questionable if, as written, this is actually a question about history. Jun 29, 2018 at 17:22
  • 3
    I'm glad you want to participate, but this isn't on topic. However, there is a Movies and TV SE where you might find an answer.
    – Spencer
    Jun 29, 2018 at 17:32
  • 4
    Drat! I came here thinking you were asking about Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons...
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 29, 2018 at 17:52
  • My bad! Thank you for the advice, I'll try to be more accurate with my posting next time.
    – user366608
    Jun 29, 2018 at 19:54

1 Answer 1


What your instructor I think was trying to point you to is the old Hollywood troupe of Black Dude Dies First.

Films would take a Scary Black Man, turn him into The Big Guy, and kill him off to show how strong the monster is. In action or horror films, The Hero (typically a White Male Lead) might have a Black Best Friend Lancer that gets killed off or do a Heroic Sacrifice to show that this is no laughing matter. 80s horror shows were good at this, and film makers had growing backlash against all the exploitation films. Instead of the Token Minority being unimportant Cannon Fodder, they instead became the most important supporting character so their deaths would have most dramatic impact on the plot.

It was honestly only the last decade or so that I've started seeing movies that didn't do this to their black cast members. The only older movie I know of that bucked this was Night of the Living Dead, and that was a controversial decision.

What he seemingly didn't mention was the racial subtext of Rocky I. Yes, it was about a boxer, but was also about an average shmoe white boxer who ends up nearly beating the best professional boxer in the world, who was black just like most champion boxers of that day were.

This is a sport with a long tawdry history of black-white racial themes, and in particular white boxers being over-promoted based on their race and racist hopes of having a non-black title holder. A good read through the life story of champion Jack Johnson should give you an idea of how bad it can get.

The movie didn't try to overtly play up to that, but it was certainly cast that way. So its not really reasonable to view Rocky without keeping the racial history of boxing in mind. Rocky IV can be seen as kind of a way of transferring that familiar racial animosity to the US/Soviet tensions of the era.

  • Wow! Thank you for the links, the Black Dude Dies First was definitely an interesting read! I think in the context of the class (it was a class on American Enemies, and primarily analyzed the concept of an enemy in American history from WWII to the Cold War), it makes sense my professor didn't make these connections. However, I appreciate the input!
    – user366608
    Jun 29, 2018 at 19:57
  • 1
    I hate it when you write a good answer to a terrible question. ;-) Jun 30, 2018 at 0:13
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    @PieterGeerkens - IMHO I get to field far too few questions about the history of two of my favorite subjects in particular: Movies and Rock & Roll. Don't think I'm not going to jump on ones that come up with both feet. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 30, 2018 at 2:26

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