Category Archives: film

Gran Torino [Counterpoint]

by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown

Three reasons that Gran Torino is more than just another movie about some white person “saving” people of color:

1. It rejects the idea of a “post-racial” society.

While Hollywood tripe like Finding Forrester, Freedom Writers and the like either minimize, or try to resolve, racial tension, Gran Torino confronts them head-on. Those who tout political “correctness” over honesty (however brash) might decry Walt Kowalski’s (Eastwood) blatant racism. The last white person in his run-down midwestern neighborhood, he bitterly throws out every slur imaginable, and I can’t front – it was unsettling to hear. However, an interesting juxtaposition is made between Walt and his supposedly more “liberal” son, who protests his father’s bigotry but lives a decidedly more sheltered, suburban existence in contrast to his father’s working-class life as a Korean War veteran. Without excusing Walt’s distasteful views on race, Eastwood explores where such bitterness may have come from, exposing it as something that is bigger than just him (unlike Mike Douglas in Fallling Down). With a class consciousness absent from similiar film templates, Gran Torino asks the question: who is the real racist – the working-class white dude who tosses slurs around but actually interacts – sometimes friendly, sometimes bitterly – with these communities? Or the bourgeois white dude who has learned not to use these words but never has into interact with communities of color? Perhaps both are racist, but at least one is honest about it.

Continue reading

Classic Film Review: Imitation of Life

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

*Warning: Spoiler Alert*

If there’s a classic film on race that gives “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” a run for its money, it’s 1959’s “Imitation of Life.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film, which stars Lana Turner and Juanita Moore. There’s no denying that this film is chock full of stereotypes and relegates its black characters to the sidelines—even on the DVD cover. So, why today is this Douglas Sirk film still regarded as ab fab? A few reasons come to mind—both shallow and serious.

For starters, Lana Turner’s wardrobe is to die for. Mahalia Jackson sings her ass off, and the acting in this melodrama reaped Academy Award nominations. To boot, the movie’s emphasis on mother-daughter relationships gives it mass appeal. Mix in a couple of failed romances and an untimely death, and you have all the ingredients needed for a tearjerker.

“Imitation of Life” inspired a 2001 R.E.M. song of the same name and the 2002 film “Far from Heaven.” Also, in ’02, a scene from the film was featured in Eminem’s star-making vehicle, “8 Mile.” Its enduring popularity made it no surprise when the film debuted on DVD in 2003.

The Lana Turner version of “Imitation of Life” is a remake of the 1934 film of the same name starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers, based on the book Imitation of Life by Fannie Hurst. (Both films were released together in a DVD set in 2008.) In the first film, white actress Colbert and black actress Beavers hawk a pancake recipe together. In the 1959 version, the focus here, Lana Turner (Lora Meredith) runs into Juanita Moore (Annie Johnson) on Coney Island after their daughters become playmates.

At first, Lora has no idea that Annie is the mother of little Sarah Jane. “How long have you taken care of her?” she asks Annie. Annie is brown-skinned, and Sarah Jane is “light, bright, damn near white,” as the saying goes.

Lora looks like she’s going to crap her pants when she learns that Annie isn’t SJ’s mammy, prompting Annie to tell her that Sarah Jane’s dad is “practically white.” This explanation is good enough for Lora, who likely would’ve needed smelling salts had SJ’s dad been actually white instead of practically so. Still, there’s no way for us to know his race for sure because he took off before Sarah Jane was born, leaving Annie to fend for herself and young daughter alone. Continue reading

A Footnote on Australia

by Latoya Peterson

Last week, I picked up the new issue of Script Magazine looking for some information on script reviewers . However, what I found was Baz Luhrmann talking about the planning and writing of Australia.

The lengthy article describes the thought process involved in creating a script of epic scope, and reveals that Luhrmann wanted to write a film encompassing the history of Australia. Script explains:

There were a number of issues that Luhrmann knew he wanted to explore, including those related to the continent’s Aboriginal peoples as well as those related to Australia’s to achieve self-determination and self-governance.

After spending six months immersed in research and historical documents, Luhrmann decided to set the film near the beginning of World War II, due to “the transitional period” that it represented in Australia’s history. Also of note:

Another reason Luhrmann chose this time period because it allowed him to shine a light on what he describes as “probably the most heinous and difficult part of our history” – a period that marked a low point in the relationship between Australia’s white majority and the indigenous peoples with whom they share their land. In the time between the two World Wars, so many white Australian cattle stockmen were having relationships with Aboriginal women that the population of mixed-race children was causing a dilemma for those concerned about the country’s racial purity. A government policy was instituted in which mixed race children were taken from their parents, placed in Christian monasteries, and, in Luhrmann’s words, “basically trained to be white. This decimated large sections of the indigenous population – you can imagine the spiritual decimation and the pain. So, it was an extremely dramatic problem that has haunted this nation for a very, very long time and it really began in that period.”

Luhrmann wanted to deal with this issues in his film, not as its primary focus, but woven into the fabric of the piece in much the same way that slavery – while certainly not the main subject of the movie – was an indelible part of the texture of Gone With the Wind.

I find the journalist’s recounting of historical events extremely interesting. Continue reading

Ballad of the Magical Half-Negro (by Baz Luhrmann)

by Guest Contributor SLB, originally published at PostBougie

I could never be a real militant. Because there’s no way a real militant would’ve sat through Baz Luhrmann’s latest epic, Australia, which clocks in at a superfluous 3+ hours, and dug it as much as I did. It’s a film rife with knee-jerk infuriation potential. It’s got everything to rankle the revolutionary: racial slurs, a brother taking bullets for Hugh Jackman, an abusive white-on-black relationship, the phrase “I’m as good as Black to those people out there,” and even a little blackface for good measure. But I’ve yet to mention the race-baiting facet that receives the brightest spotlight: the magical Negro (and Half-Negro, as it were) archetype.

From the first frame, a puerile, adorably accented voice works overtime to endear you to what will inevitably be another racist tale of White colonists winning the day. But even so, the charms of that voice are hard to resist–especially when you see the chocolate-drop face it belongs to. Nullah (Brandon Walters) is a biracial pre-adolescent (maybe ten? eleven?), happily living on rundown property called Faraway Downs with his aboriginal mother, a few other servants, and a villainous White rancher named Neil Fletcher. Aboriginal mom, villainous White rancher… you probably already see where this is going.

Enter Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. All you need to know about them is that, by the second hour of the film, Nullah is in their custody and by the third hour of the film they’ve lost him to the desolate Catholic mission camp where all mixed-raced Aboriginal children in a priest’s or policeman’s plain sight were herded, after being stolen from their secure, healthy Aboriginal households. Will the stubbornly feuding, but madly in love Kidman-and-Jackman reunite to reclaim their “creamy” boy, Nullah, by the film’s
bombastic ending?

This is a Baz Luhrmann flick. Come on, fam. Continue reading

Cadillac Records

by Guest Contributor SLB, originally posted at Postbougie

I think if we’re all quite honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that the methods to approaching big-screen biopics are finite—especially biopics about musicians. In order for people’s lives to warrant the silver screen treatment in the first place, those lives have to possess extremes—a series of extenuating events that can be exploited for the highest dramatic impact the actors can generate. And face it: biopics are only as good as their actors. Sure, the writing has to be passable. If you’re lucky, the writing makes the actors’ jobs easy, but to our main point: the lives themselves provide the pathos. The writers need only heighten it. Yes, there are glaring historical omissions. Yes, there are all kinds of melodramatic liberties taken—especially in the film’s second to last scene of this film. But that, too, comes with the predictable territory of biopics, and good actors mine that melodrama for all its worth. That’s what makes a decent biopic so watchable.

Everyone involved in Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records understands the pecking order of the biopic genre—which is precisely why this one works so well. Fortunately, the casting directors brought their A-game, tapping Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, the Jewish-Polish immigrant who founded the most successful Blues and R&B label in Chicago history, Chess Records, and the incomparable Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Chess’s flagship artist.

With Brody and Wright anchoring the film, the substantial supporting cast had no choice but to tow the Oscar-caliber line and, with very few exceptions, they did. Granted, Cedric the Entertainer was probably miscast as songwriter Willie Dixon. He always sounds like he’s faking an accent, rather than playing a role. It’s as though his acting ability doesn’t extend beyond varying the tenor of his voice. But since he was only in a few scenes, total (even his role as the narrator didn’t yield him that many lines), he wasn’t distracting at all. Continue reading

Gran Torino and Hmong Gangs in the Midwest

by Guest Contributor Joanna Eng

In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood plays a bitter old man who’s basically the only white person left in a run-down neighborhood somewhere in the Midwest. He (reluctantly, at first) gets to know his Hmong neighbors, and ends up getting intricately involved in their lives, as they deal with issues caused by a local Hmong gang that some of their relatives are a part of.

There are plenty of things about the movie that might make for great posts on Racialicious:

1. Like most Hollywood movies that are about a community of people of color, Gran Torino features a white protagonist who not only saves the day, but also has the most layers of complexity to his personality.

2. As the first major Hollywood film about Hmong Americans, how did it do at depicting this community? Does the exposure of Hmong culture and the opportunity for Hmong actors outweigh the possible inaccuracies and negative representations? (See some of the commentary about this on AsianWeek.)

3. Clint Eastwood’s character’s constant racist remarks serve as a running joke in the movie. Just because he uses outdated and blatantly un-P.C. language with an “equal-opportunity discrimination” approach, is it OK to use this deeply offensive language as comic relief?

But I don’t really want to write about those things. I want to write about another reaction I had. Continue reading

You’re The Man Now, Dog!: The Racialicious Review of Slumdog Millionaire

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García, also posted at The Instant Callback

You could say Slumdog Millionaire is too cute by half. But you can’t say it doesn’t do cute very well.

Adapted from the novel Q and A, Slumdog follows “uneducated” street kid Jamal (Dev Patel) through a Dickensian collision of money, love, poverty and hope against all odds. It’s the kind of fairy tale Hollywood can’t do without tripping over its’ own commercialism anymore. But the relentless pace set by Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay and the direction of Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan sacrifices schmaltz (and practically everything else) in the name of the quest of this most improbable (implausible?) hero.

We meet Jamal, a perpetually wide-eyed call-center drone, as he’s being “questioned” by Mumbai police. The kid has been doing well as a contestant on Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? — too well for comfort, in fact. How could this urchin, this upstart, people are asking, be on the verge of winning the grand prize of 20 million Rupees when doctors and lawyers have fallen short? Continue reading

Is there a Bechdel test for race?

by Latoya Peterson

Today, I talked a bit about Vicky Cristina Barcelona and introduced the concept of the Bedchel Test. Here’s the original comic the test came from:

So, after rejoicing over how brilliant the test is in its simplicity, I started wondering – could we adapt the Bechdel test for race? And if so, what would the end result be?

I am interested in your thoughts on this.

(Image Credit: “The Rule,” originally published in Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel)