In the 1914 book “Tarzan of the Apes,” the character introduces himself to Jane by declaring, "This is the house of Tarzan, the killer of beasts and many black men.” In the black-and-white films anchored from 1932 to 1948 by former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, black African characters were routinely depicted as background bumblers who needed Tarzan to solve their problems. More recently in Disney’s 1999 animated “Tarzan” movie, the filmmakers dealt with their hero’s cringe-worthy history by focusing narrowly on Tarzan and the animals, somehow managing to make a movie set in Africa without showing a single black person.
“When I was 8 or 10, I was watching this Tarzan character on TV and in the background all the people looked like me. I asked my dad, ‘Is that where you come from?’” said Warner, whose father had moved to England from the Caribbean country of St. Lucia. “As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to be African. From what I could see on TV, there was nothing good about being black. There was nothing to aspire to or identify with.”