Archive for the Entertainment Category

Django Unchained

Posted in Entertainment, Race and race related entries on January 3, 2013 by admin

Deconstructing Django Unchained reveals several layers. On one level, it is satisfying to see the Black man as the action hero who rides off into the moonlight with the beautiful Black woman at his side. Too many movies have little or no heroism from African American leads. In this movie the Black man rises from the lowest social status, chattel slave, to one of the highest, including a license to kill. Case in point, I just watched a movie called Brothers in Arms, a western with black cowboys. By the end of the movie two of the three Black brothers were dead. In Django Unchained, the hero,  Jaime Foxx’s character Django , survived without deformities or injuries along with his woman. To a certain degree, it is satisfying to see the triumph of Django. It is definitely refreshing change from the narrative of the beat-down, submissive Black person who must constantly choke down their anger at the constant abuse, indignities and inhumanities forced upon Blacks by whites in power and position. It is a true testament to the strength of this imagery that there has been such an outcry from conservatives regarding the movie. The fear of images of strong Black leading men also is the reason behind the difficulty Blacks have to tell our own stories. They want little or no one to know that strong Black men and women fought and died in the war against slavery.  Movies are unacceptable to the white power structure when they don’t involve images that reinforce the comforting stereotypes that many whites want to believe about Black people.

Spike Lee has made very clear his disdain for this movie. I can completely understand his position. First of all, there too many instances that had that cheesy ‘spaghetti western” feel. It was really a bit much to hear the thematic music that was also the exact music in one of my 1980’s martial arts films. The font of the opening credits looked cheesy (I thought of the high school Photoshop student) and it was cheesy to end the movie with audio clips form the original western Django. Also, the mix of levity juxtaposition with severe scenes such as the Black man eaten alive by the dog pack is really inappropriate. Yet the fact remains that Quentin Tarantino is a cheesy filmmaker. His movies are entertaining, and contain quality performances by various actors and actresses, but that makes no difference. The common thread throughout all the films I have seen is that he makes cheesy movies. They all have a pulp fiction feel to them, right down to the music he chooses. It’s no wondering that although the movie was about a period of American history that the mainstream continually seeks to deny (remember Chris Rocks 4th of July tweet), Tarantino couldn’t help but give it a certain amount of cheesiness. The issue is why can’t a less cheesy filmmaker who would like to do an entertaining yet insightful movie about the Black experience using a strong successful Black lead be made.

On another level, there was the lesson that not all white people are bad, and not all Black people are good. The role played by Sam Jackson was typical of so many sell outs whom go beyond the point of working against their own self interests. They manifest significant self hatred in the dogged prosecution of their own. Jackson’s character reminded me of the recordings of Malcolm X when he talked about the house Negroes who loved the master more than the master loved himself. The character, Stephen, was very well portrayed by Jackson (I wonder if he will get an award nomination for being the white man’s lap dog). These boot-licking sellouts where the reason a great many slave revolts were not successful yesterday, and why so many Blacks are being held back today.

Likewise, there are those white people who, like Christoph Waltz’s character, abhor injustices like slavery. Much like the need to deny the existence of strong Black leaders, there is the need to deny and denigrate those who would actively work against anti-Black racism. Never the less, white men such as John Brown, Joseph Wood, Green Herdon and many other white people gave their lives in armed conflict against the forces of white slavery and inhumanity. Although these men and women have been called ‘nigger lovers’, love of Black people is not as important as the love of justice and truth. It was not a love of the character D’Artagnan that motivated the murder of the character Calvin Candie; the love of justice, decency and humanity motivated the actions of the character Dr. King Shultz.

The liberal use of the word nigger in Tarantino movies has not made me a great fan of his work. I agree with Spike Lee that white guys, film makers or not, should not feel they have license to call Blacks niggers. Most, if not all of the time, it is used to degrade and disrespect Black people, regardless of who is using the term. However, in the context of this movie, I can see that it was appropriate to use the word nigger. In the antebellum and post Civil War south white people used the word nigger like it was every Black person’s first name. Along with the neck irons and the other torture devices, it may have brought to the conscious awareness of modern society some of the barbarism of the whites of the antebellum south. One can hope that with the creation of more movies that tell stories of the pre and post Civil War south, and reveal the graphic nature of the horrors that where enacted upon African Americans, a more honest dialogue about race in America can begin. Hopefully people, young and old will see why terms like nigger are so repulsive and should be abandoned.

One overall benefit of this movie is the role it plays in creating dialogue about issues of race in America. Movies, if they told Black stories from Black perspectives, and not from the perspectives of others, would be a good starting point for such dialogue. There must be effort, however, to combat those who seek to prevent such a discussion. Conservative whites refuse to even consider the issue, practicing the policy of admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter accusations. They can never tolerate seeing a strong Black man who can defeat white antagonists. They must always have images of whites in positions that are superior to Blacks, a total opposite to the successful Black man. Why is it other than racism that allows these guys to watch a white man like Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger kill white man after white man yet when a Black man kills a white man it is tantamount to the first shot in the coming race war? Why is it other than racism that keeps these same white men quiet when whites like Steven Segal or ‘fill-in-the-blank’ white actor kills scores of Blacks, yet causes them to create an uproar when the races are switched? Why isn’t it racism that the Black woman can be paired in movies with various races of men but the Black man can’t be paired with a woman of any race, including his own? Why isn’t it racist that a Black woman can’t be a kick-ass action heroine? America will never improve as a society as long as there are factions high in the paradigm of racism that benefit from divisions such as those surrounding the legacies of slavery and racism. These things are done to maintain a hierarchy of racism and classism that keeps the now infamous ‘one percent’ on the top of the socio-economic pyramid.

Denzel, Flight, Hollywood and Black

Posted in Entertainment, Race and race related entries on November 27, 2012 by admin

While Denzel Washington’s new movie Flight, may receive critical acclaim, it was a colossal disappointment to me. It began with my expectations that while he would have drinking problems, he would save the day and come out a winner. These expectations went awry once he was rolled up and packaged in a bundle of unwritten rules for using a Black Man in the movies.

First of all, he was the drug fueled Black Man, doing cocaine and sleeping with a Nadine Velazquez, a Latina that looked like a white woman. This is the first problem, the stereotype that a Black man on cocaine becomes unstoppable and a sexual predator. Fortified with alcohol and cocaine, Denzel was able to embark on a three day binge of sex and drugs. I wonder how many people know that the Black man on cocaine was a reason given for increasing the caliber of police weapons

Pertaining to the young Latina, I knew she was doomed right away, because a long standing unwritten rule of Hollywood is that the Black Man who is the love interest of a non-Black woman dies. Since it was Denzel’s movie, she drew the short straw. Sure enough, she died, and while saving a little blonde boy, to boot. Can someone, perhaps the screenwriter, tell me why all these people are hanging upside down and all of a sudden, the little boy drops out of a seat? I know, I know, ‘his belt was fastened properly’; ‘he panicked and got out’; ‘boys will be boys’, ‘he (fill in the blank)’. In reality, it was nothing more than a contrived reason to kill off the woman. First unwritten rule of Black men in Hollywood, check.

The next thing that brought disappointment was his interest in the skank, heroin addict-looking anal porn queen, played by Kelly Reilly. The next unwritten rule is that any non-Black woman that has the potential but never actually becomes the love interest of the Black man is flawed or imperfect. The white guys in movies get women like Kerry Washington and Thandie Newton while Denzel gets her. I still see no relevant value for her character in the movie. She neither added nor subtracted from the plot.  Her entire role could have been left on the cutting room floor. The only point that could be made is that she served to show how bad he was by comparison. The point being, even a skank, heroin addict-looking anal porn queen can realize enough is enough and try to get her life together, while he can’t. Denzel chides her for going to two AA meetings a day while proudly proclaiming that he has lost his wife and kid because he chose to drink. In the end, a Black Man isn’t good enough for a credible relationship, even with a reforming skank, heroin addict-looking anal porn queen. Second unwritten rule of Black men in Hollywood, check.

Another unwritten rule is that the Black man must come to the aid of the non-Blacks in a movie. Although Denzel meets the skank, heroin addict-looking anal porn queen in a hospital stairwell, and knows nothing about her, when he sees her in trouble he swoops in like Capitan Save A Hoe. He saves her from a sleazy landlord by force and a payoff, and whisks away to live at his farmhouse.  Furthermore, at the end of the movie, instead of lying about the two found bottles of vodka as being used by the Latina, he said he drank them. He threw away his freedom, his career and his license to preserve the memory of the Latina who appeared to be little more than his binge friend with benefits. He was so overwhelmed by conscience that he could not sacrifice her reputation for the sake of his life.  Third unwritten rule of Black men in Hollywood, check.

Another disappointment is how it is virtually impossible to find a Hollywood movie that shows a Black couple in a positive, stable relationship. A Black Man is always in some sort of conflict with the Black woman. The roles of Black women in this movie are extremely limited. The first is with the Black flight attendant that he ultimately asks to lie to the plane crash investigators at the NTSB. The second is when he visits his ex-wife where he immediately gets into a loud confrontation that prompts her to call the police. It’s somewhat difficult to say a lot about this aspect because the sum amount of time Denzel spent relating to Black women was less than five minutes, as opposed to the hours and days he spent with the non-black women. Yet those five minutes were chock full of conflict and improper requests. Fourth unwritten rule of Black men in Hollywood, check.

Denzel Washington is a pre-eminent actor. The special effect of showing the plane flying upside down was engaging. The issue of drug abuse is a very serious issue that needs further treatment. Most certainly, if Denzel’s character was allowed to continue on his current path, some innocent person or persons would surely have been killed or at least maimed. He certainly represented the millions of people who are self-destructive spirals that they helpless to escape. In that respect, this becomes a cautionary tale. Hopefully, this would encourage individuals with problems and their loved ones to push to get people the help and interventions they need. However, while many people end up in jail before they get help, many don’t. Even the most promising part of the movie, the son trying to reconnect with his estranged father, had to take place in prison. Why couldn’t it have occurred in a rehab center? For all his flaws, Denzel was still a hero, a life saver. Many companies and unions routinely send their employees and members to rehab. Like all the other unwritten rules, the screenwriter and director typically are the ones who choose these outcomes. Just like Denzel’s conscience forced him to break down and confessed all before the Federal Inquiry, it could have forced him to go to rehab.

Hollywood is not a friend of Black people, never has been, never will be. As long as there are Blacks who are willing to create stereotypical images because they feel that will make money, there will be racism. As long as there people who will fund movies that seek to tell stories involving Blacks from non-Black perspectives there will be racism. The last point is relevant because even while a non-Black may seek to portray Blacks in a positive light, the racism they have assimilated will usually become evident. The manifestation will be in them intimating what is good enough for Blacks. It is never from the perspective of what is good for me would be good for Blacks; it usually is from the perspective of what they think a Black should expect or be happy with. Take for example Denzel ending up in prison where he becomes sober and begins to develop a relationship with his son. While some would say this was a positive ending, being in prison is never positive. A positive ending would have had Denzel in Malibu overlooking the ocean from a country club style rehab center. Oh wait, they have unwritten rules in Malibu, too.