The conceit of the futuristic dystopia in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (Miller and Ogilivie, 1985) urges viewers to heed warnings from the past, particularly nuclear war. This allegory arrives entangled with confounding lessons about another apocalypse, the destruction of Black communities across America in the 1980s. The vehicle for these complications was Tina Turner, whose appearance as “Aunty Entity” won an NAACP Image Award and boosted her career resurgence. Turner’s casting, which echoed Grace Jones’s turn in Conan the Destroyer (Fleischer, 1984), clearly looked to capitalize on her glamor, grit, and unmistakable Blackness. In effect, she is an oddity, not only for her sensational persona and delicious malevolence but also as a singular Black female leader—a powerful Black anti-hero—among a rogues’ gallery of dirty, exoticized freaks. In other words, her presence cannot help but allude to questions about race, even if unintentionally.
On one hand, Entity is a queen who revived hope in Bartertown by establishing the law of solving community conflicts via the bloodsport of Thunderdome. On the other, her (anti-) heroic model of a self-made survivor rings hollow when observed against the concurrent myth of the Black superwoman and downward conditions for Black Americans. By 1985, the discourse of bootstrapping, i.e. lifting oneself up through individual effort, provided specious cover for economic disinvestment, the withering of civil rights laws, and repressive “law-and-order” policing. In short, many Black people already lived real versions of Thunderdome.
Turner’s dual role as Entity and singer of the movie’s concluding song, “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” scrambles understandings of those portents. She belts a provocation, “Will our story shine like a light / Or end in the dark?” but as Entity she’s dismissive of such lessons. Upon meeting Mel Gibson’s Mad Max, she cackles: “Do you know who I was? Nobody. Except on the day after. I was still alive. This nobody had a chance to be somebody. So much for history. Anyway.” In a sense, Entity blithely declares that survival requires luck and persistence but no knowledge of circumstance, either past or present. That ahistorical stance is then coupled with the narrative’s resolution. Despite the song’s “we don’t need another hero” claim, it seems the real solution, i.e. the future, rests in the maddeningly familiar tale of a reluctant White male savior sacrificing himself for a raggedy band of vaguely multicultural children in a post-apocalyptic world.