Category Archives: movies

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Quoted: The Nation On The César Chávez Hollywood Didn’t Show Us

America Ferrera (right) and Michael Peña as Helen and Cesar Chavez. Image via Philly.com

Cesar could be a brilliant strategist, a skill observable in agile, imaginative interaction with determined opponents, turning apparent weakness into sources of strength. But the film depicts him largely as a creature of impulse, committed to be sure, but not the brainy strategist who took special joy, as he put it, in “killing two birds with one stone…and keeping the stone.” He was a learner, a deeply curious autodidact who thrived on constantly probing diverse sources of information: books, people and experiences. When I met him in 1965, he was reading Churchill’s The Gathering Storm because, as a student of Gandhi, he wanted to learn how his opponent thought. The commitment to nonviolence was based both on his appreciation of Gandhi’s methods and the way in which the civil rights movement, and reaction to it, had been unfolding every day. But oddly, although a commitment to nonviolence was a condition for undertaking the strike in the first place, shaping the way it unfolded, the film portrays nonviolence as a reaction to events in the strike.

Events depicted as spontaneous in the film, such at the 1966 “perigrinación” from Delano to Sacramento, were, to the contrary, a result of sustained, careful planning. The “kick-off” was timed to take advantage of national media in town to cover Senator Robert Kennedy’s participation in hearings held in Delano, orchestrated by the labor movement. This “march” strategically linked efforts to promote the UFW’s first boycott, to deter farm workers from returning to Delano in the spring, to pressure then Governor “Pat” Brown to intervene on the UFW”s behalf and to rekindle the faith, hopes and solidarity of the 100 to 200 people at the core of the movement and their supporters. Cesar did not hear of RFK’s death while driving somewhere in his car—we had been in LA doing the “get out the vote” that won him the primary, and some of us were with him in the ballroom when he was shot, on his way to thank the farm workers for their help. Similarly, the “fast” was not a reaction to a few unruly farm workers, but a strategic tactic, backed with a team of organizers, of which I was one, undertaken at a key time in response to court actions alleging violent tactics, renewing commitment several years into the fight and drawing attention to the grape boycott in time for the new season. The creativity, organizational discipline and courage that produced the events depicted in the film is lost entirely in the incoherent jumble of what the film makers must have judged to be “dramatic moments,” which presented out of time, place or sequence are robbed of their real drama.

– From “Not the Cesar Chavez I Knew,” by Marshall Ganz

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Open Thread: What Makes A Black Film a Black Film?

By Kendra James

Every so often it pays to check in on the current “Black Film” rubric– ie, What makes a Black Film a Black Film? It’s a question I found myself struggling with as I wrote about Dear White People last week and realised that I couldn’t bring myself (and director Justin Simien didn’t want his audience) to stick it in the same category of Madea’s kooky and poorly directed adventures. But why is that?

Like a lot of popular movies that fall into the Black Film category Dear White People has a majority black cast, a black director, and deals with subject matter meant to resonate with a Black audience. Yet even beyond being an Indie, it’s clearly a different beast than 2014′s well performing Ride Along which seems to more easily fall into the traditional Black Film category. Making comparison and thinking about other movies that also seem to fall without question into that category -let’s consider movies like The Best Man series, the Barbershop series, and romcoms in the vein of Think Like a Man or Why Did I Get Married- I started to wonder if maybe it becomes a question of quality.

To include quality on the rubric is clearly problematic, leaning towards the implication that to be placed in the Black Film means to be a bad film. But do we place 12 Years A Slave in that same Black Film category? What about The Butler? They fall under the drama genre, but so do movies like Stomp The Yard, ATL, Coach Carter, or The Inkwell; a group of enjoyable, if otherwise unnotable films, with black directors and casts found under the “Urban Drama” category on Amazon . (Urban Drama being another way of saying “a drama with Black people in it.”)

Does it really come down to a question of quality with, perhaps, a side of pedigree- films nominated for multiple awards in various categories? It’s a tricky qualifier. Stomp The Yard with white protagonists is called Bring It On and it’s a comedy or a teen movie, not a “white film”. Coach Carter is called Hoosiers or Miracle and again it’s not a white film, it’s a sports drama. The Inkwell becomes a drama/romantic comedy directed by Nancy Meyers, starring Meryl Streep, and… well, you can see the trend. There’s no real need to recategorise any of these films as “Black” or “Urban”, but for some reason we do.

But what if beyond the merits of the cast, director, subject matter, and relative quality, it’s a simple matter of character relateability? White viewers are conditioned with the societal requirement that it’s necessary to at least pretend to empathise with the Solomon Northups of the world. The Kenya McQueens? Not so much. With that we’re left with a qualifier almost more insulting than the question of quality. While Black audiences are expected to relate and empathize with white characters in films regularly, the moment we ask them to do the same for us suddenly it’s a Black Film. In that case, the categorization is almost left up to the white viewer alone.

So is it cast/director, subject matter, quality, or a question of white audiences being unable to empathise with characters who look nothing like them? What actually makes a Black Film? Thoughts?

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Breaking Down That New Annie Trailer — And The Worst Reactions To It

By Arturo R. García

So after watching the trailer a couple of times Wednesday night, I came away feeling not totally worried about the forthcoming Annie remake. Quvenzhané Wallis looks like she’ll inhabit the title role more than capably — showing her ask “What’s the hustle?” was a nice touch to include this early — and Jamie Foxx (as Michael Bloomberg stand-in Benjamin Stacks) and Rose Byrne (as his girl Friday, uh, Grace) came off well in this trailer.

Cameron Diaz’s take on Miss Hannigan, here reimagined as a foster mother for Annie and her friends, looks less steady, shading further toward Carrie Bradshaw than Carol Burnett. The film’s IMDB page also reveals another potential setback for the character: there’s no listing for Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan, depriving Diaz’s Hannigan — at least thus far — of someone with whom to banter beyond Annie and Stacks. The music and choreography, from the brief glimpses we get in this trailer, don’t look bad.

The story also looks like a simplified version of the original, which you can either take or leave, considering that the 1982 vehicle featured “Bolsheviks,” assassination attempts, bodyguards named “Punjab” and “The Asp,” and Daddy Warbucks hanging around with Franklin D. Roosevelt. And while sites like ScreenRant and Jezebel also liked the trailer, it’s a long jump from a good two-minute clipshow to a coherent final product. (Remember, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen had a pretty well-liked trailer, and … well.)

In other words, there’s plenty of good discussion to be had about this movie; for starters, you might be surprised to see Emma Thompson — yes, that Emma Thompson — is one of the three writers. (In truth, it’s her 13th writing effort.)

But as you might imagine, some Internet Racists just couldn’t stop themselves from catching feelings. So, for anybody wondering why our comments policy is tight, we picked some real “winners” to show you under the cut.
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Open Thread: The 2014 Academy Awards

By Arturo R. García

Best Supporting Actress Winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years A Slave”)

Well, that was a lot to take in. Some of the highlights:

  • Maybe the night’s sentimental favorite, Lupita Nyong’o, won the Best Supporting Actress award for her work on 12 Years A Slave, which went on to win Best Picture.
  • John Ridley also won Best Adapted Script for his work on 12 Years, though … was it us, or was there some shade going between him and director Steve McQueen?
  • Robert Lopez, a Filipino-American, won Best Original Song along with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez for “Let It Go,” from Frozen.
  • Mexican-born Alfonso Cuarón, who some felt was snubbed for the Best Director award after Children of Men, made good Sunday and won for Gravity. 
  • Cis-hetero actor Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor for playing a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club, and seemed to omit mentioning the trans community during his far-flung acceptance speech. As Autostraddle notes, it’s not like he can claim ignorance of his actions at this point.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments and check out the full storify below, but under the cut, some video, and some more observations from the evening.

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Future On!: Michael B. Jordan And The New Human Torch’s World

By Arturo R. García

The Human Torch (left) and Michael B. Jordan. Image via ScreenCrave.

After months of speculation, Thursday night brought confirmation: Michael B. Jordan will play Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in 20th Century Fox’s newest attempt to build a Fantastic Four film franchise. And while some geeks reacted as badly as you might expect, this iteration of Marvel’s First Family is worth keeping an eye on for far more interesting reasons.
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Stories that Ally vs Stories that Appropriate: a Yardstick [The Throwback]

In this February 2010 piece, Thea Lim examines how “Avatar” exemplifies a disturbing type of faux-progressive filmmaking.

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

How do you know when a story is allying, versus appropriating?

In other words, if someone of privilege writes a story about the political oppression of a group they do not belong to, what is the difference between:

a) a story that brings marginalised voices to a wider platform and advocates for their rights, versus
b) a story that simply appropriates a political conflict for a writer’s own end, taking advantage of the fact that communities who experience marginalisation are rarely ever allowed to speak for themselves?

Apart from the fact that a story that appropriates usually winds up grossly misrepresenting a marginalised group, this is my yardstick for telling friends from foes:  one of the central purposes of a story that acts as ally, is to use one’s own privilege to tell another’s story, in the hopes of ameliorating the others’ situation.  Meanwhile, a story that appropriates just wants to spin a good yarn, get some adulation, and uses another’s story in order to do so.  An ally story is giving, an appropriating story is taking.

Quit jabbering Thea, you may say.  It’s easy to tell the difference between stories that appropriate, and stories that ally! We don’t need a yardstick!

Not true.  At least within mainstream opinion, it is startling and depressing how many stories that appropriate get passed off as political progressive, as allies.  Like Not Without My Daughter.  Or the documentary Born into Brothels, which purported to tell the story of the children of sex workers in Calcutta, but really just seemed more interested in showcasing the magnanimity of the American photographer who worked with the children.* Or another documentary, Paris is Burning, about the black trans/gay vogueing community of New York City, which brought immense praise on the white outsider director, but painted the community as tragic and hopeless, while bringing little benefit to them. I’m sure you can think of loads more films like this.

Including…(drumroll)…Avatar. Which I finally saw last week, in all its headsplitting 3D glory. And it fulfilled all the negative press I had read over countless months, from anti-racist and anti-ableist camps among many others. But seeing how my esteemed peers did a lot of the deconstructing work for me, I was left to ponder another question. If Cameron is as leftist as claimed, why didn’t he tell the story of an actual conflict between big business (or colonialists) and an indigenous group? Why use blue allegory?

Hollywood films have a generally untapped power to sway how people think about political events. Packaging a political story within the rhetoric of emotion (and also I guess, within face-blasting special effects) is often the best way to get people to swallow arguments they would otherwise reject.  Hence a movie that – at least at face value – is very anti-war, anti-military and anti-capitalist is demolishing box office records with hardly a peep from conservative viewers.

Can you imagine the impact that a movie like Avatar could have, if Cameron had used all the CGI to recreate (for example) any area of the Americas the way it looked before first contact with the Europeans, and instead told the real story of an indigenous group struggling to protect themselves from genocide?  Imagine the kind of support it could create for indigenous rights.

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Searching for Our Decolonized Image: Nicki Minaj Puts the Other in The Other Woman

By Guest Contributor Rajul Punjabi

The trailer for The Other Woman, a flick about the unlikely blossoming friendship of three women (Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and Kate Upton) while they conspire against their mutually shared cheating man (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), was released last week. Nicki Minaj is in it too, and a plethora of entertainment outlets are ablaze with blurbs about her non-animated silver screen debut.

One of my favorite headlines reads, “Nicki Minaj Stars in The Other Woman.“ Fun, right Barbz? Finally, her formal theatrical training and the scintillating possibilities of Minaj channeling one of her alter egos on the silver screen. But, as the preview reveals, she’s hardly the star of the movie. She plays a “sassy, outspoken, legal assistant” to Cameron Diaz’s power lawyer. She’s not even the side chick. She is the side chick’s sidekick.
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Can Gareth Edwards Build A Global Godzilla?

By Arturo R. García

The release of the trailer for the latest Godzilla release spawned a pretty good discussion over at The Mary Sue Wednesday, including this critique from a fan:

It’s too early to tell just how “global” this new Godzilla is, but it would be really nice if it acknowledged that the death of human beings is universal and is no more or less tragic by virtue of location, nationality or ethnic background. I don’t see that happening for the promotional campaign, because the people who make trailers and commercials are frequently different from the actual filmmakers, and tend to be somewhat problematic at the best of times – so I don’t see them doing anything different from the norm.

Because the sad fact is that lots of people are going to look on the deaths of non-Western non-white people in films, even outright disasters, as they do for real life: as sad or upsetting, but not *quite* as upsetting as if it happened to “their” people – even if it takes place in a western city with an ethnic majority. It isn’t cinema’s job to challenge those preconceptions, but cinema is in a strong position to make a difference. Would it really be such a problem for a film to make the “bold” statement that the death of thousands of non-Westerners is just as tragic as the death of thousands of Westerners? Would that really constitute “reverse”-racism? Is that infringing on white people’s representation in the media?

The first trailer doesn’t give us a lot to go on on that score. And even if the film’s IMDB cast list counts at least six people of color involved, what we see here is mostly focused on white characters (starting with the nameless white soldier who jumps into near-certain doom at the beginning). But the only POC featured, Ken Watanabe, will likely be playing a key character in Godzilla canon — Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, the man behind the invention that killed the original Godzilla in the monster’s 1954 eponymous debut.

But a piece of the synopsis has me, at least, hopeful that this film won’t just aspire to be a “reimagined version” of the character’s first appearance, and will show better judgment in picking which parts of Godzilla canon to explore.

SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT
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