What can you say about an actor whose blessed several generations of pop-culture afficianados–especially young Black girls–with indelible images of Black female badassery? Well, you know we at the R can wax rhapsodic and ecstatic about the folks we love…and this is Pam frickin’ Grier, so we’re gonna wax thankful–along with rhapsodic and ecstatic–for her life and legacy.
When they’ve tried to make realistic pictures about the poor and the middle classes, they get miserable attendance…People don’t want to see problems on the screen.
So says a 2001 article from Smithsonian magazine about the rise in popularity of the Indian movie industry, a.k.a. “Bollywood,” in the West during the 1990s. And this is the general assumption many in the First World like to make about Indian film: that it is an escapist genre, and that all the poor people of South Asia need to be happy is three hours of brightly colored fantasy.
Indian films have been the main source of popular culture for all of South Asia and popular in many other countries throughout the world since the 1950s. The first international hit was Raj Kapoor’s Awaara in 1951, followed by Shree 420 four years later. Although the 50s are generally considered the “Golden Age” of Indian film, the Indian film industry had been around for 40 years before that, with the studio system already thriving within 20 years. Although the West, especially America, likes to pretend that they invented the movies and every other country is merely imitating them (as is implied in the very name “Bollywood”), in fact India has been making movies in its own style since the advent of the artform.
The West didn’t suddenly make a Columbus-like discovery of Indian film in the 90s; it was a result of a calculated strategy on the part of the Indian industry. A series of political shifts in Indian government had led to weakening import/export regulations as well as the legalization of investments in the Indian film industry. Therefore, there was suddenly more money around to make these globe-hopping song- and dance-filled extravaganzas. And that money could be turned into even more money by making plots that were universal and of interest to Desis and others living in the First World. What is more universal than romance?
What shocked me most while watching Red Hook Summer was its striking similarity to the films of Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes whose work Lee has openly criticized. In fact, many reviewers have put the film right in line with Perry’s films by describing it as a church movie.Red Hook has been criticized as preachy,messy in narrative structure and development, and sensationalist. All are valid critiques. They also seem ironic in light of the ongoing beef between Perry and Lee, which was ignited when Lee referred to the films of Perry and the like as “coonery and buffoonery.” And of course, the media loves this sort of melodrama.
Spike Lee’s newest film takes place in the projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn, where Flik (Jules Brown), a teenage boy from Atlanta, goes to stay with his grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters) for the summer. Flik is a teenage Afro-Punk type: vegan, middle-class, afro-hawk, suburban speak. In contrast, Bishop Enoch is a Bible-thumping preacher and active member of his community. Amidst heavier themes of class, politics, religion, and generational difference, a budding romance between Flik and Chazz (Toni Lysaith) is also threaded through the film.
The question is, could Red Hook be Spike talking more smack, mocking the immensely popular church films of Tyler Perry and the like? I wouldn’t put it past him. When recently asked about the ongoing feud, Lee responded with a request: “No more Tyler Perry questions please” and later “peace and love, leave it at that.” And although he doesn’t speak of Perry directly, in a radio interview, Lee describes the film’s inception as a conversation between him and writer James Mc Bride. The two were discussing what they “felt was a sorry state of African American cinema.” With this film, Lee seems to have found a way to squash the beef and have the last word.
Film bloggers got a bit abuzz last week at reports that an all-female spinoff of the Expendables franchise was being developed, with “several prominent actresses affiliated with the action genre” being contacted.
This being Hollywood, of course, don’t expect too much on the diversity front–heck, even seeing Jet Li as part of the crew in Sylvester Stallone’s original ensemble and Yu Nan and Terry Crews in the sequel–is about as good as we’re probably going to get in that series.
But here at Chromatic Casting, we know we can do better. And so we’ll give it a shot under the cut.
Keeping in mind that this series basically involves anthropomorphic tropes as characters, we won’t get too deep with the descriptions, but we’ll slot folks into some archetypal roles for the protagonist team, with the villains being a bit more fluid. Read the Post Chromatic Casting: The All-Female Expendables