Category Archives: movies

Menace II Society (Allen and Albert Hughes, 1993)

by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown

Sixteen years after its release, its easy to look back and pick apart Menace II Society, even easier to accept it nostalgically as the dope film we all thought it was back then. But the feeling of being in your early teens watching this flick, surrounded by folks who bang (pause) or did knucklehead shit remains, and it’ll always be a classic to me. Moreso these days for being a historical document than a dope film.

There are plenty of memorable scenes in the film affectionately known as Menace. But today, on the 17th anniversary of the 1992 LA uprsising/Sa-I-Gu, I’ll dwell on one in particular: the opening scene. For those not familiar: two young Black men, Caine and O-Dog, stop for some 40s at the cornerstore run by a Korean couple in South Central L.A. The lady spies em and utters the first of the films countless immortal quotables, “Hurry up and buy.” After a tense exchange at the counter, the Korean dude makes a fatal mistake, uttering the second quotable under his breath, “I feel sorry for your mother.” O-Dog turns around and asks “what you say about my momma?” before murdering them and robbing the joint as Caine watches in exasperation. O-Dog grabs the surveillance tape as a souvenir he’d later show to the homies.

A powerful, graphic scene (except for the fact that you can see the filming crew in the mirrors: FAIL). But what did the Hughes brothers intend to say with this? That Koreans are racists who deserve this cinematic execution, perhaps a fantasy retribution for Latasha Harlins? Or to jar and shock the viewer into feeling sympathy for the Korean couple who are merely trying to get by in the same fucked up conditions that the Black community lives in? Does it advocate or justify violence, or does it condemn it? Whatever their intent, this is the effect on others I saw: no sympathy for the Koreans, fanning the flames of Black/Asian tension (to this day: look at the comments on the YouTube clip) and convincing everybody that Larenz Tate is actually a G.

This scene reminds speaks volumes about how much those tensions still remained after April 29, 1992. In retrospect, mainstream media did everything to fuel this tension, which was a very real thing. And still is, even though it’s no longer evening news material. Too much of it bought into that myth that Koreans (and all Asians) and Black folk are just natural enemies like that. I refuse to think so, and though I question the Hughes brothers’ intent with this scene, I still find it telling and deserving of revisiting, to ask ourselves: how far have we really come?

Quoted: Producer Will Packer on ‘Obsessed’ and overcoming Hollywood bias

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

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In the wake of that disturbing article in Fade In magazine, there’s at least one black producer out there with a film opening this weekend, and some of the objections Will Packer says he faced early in his career parallel those we heard about in the Fade In piece: that films featuring African-Americans were “niche films” for “a niche audience.”

“It’s tough to get any film made – black, brown, it doesn’t matter. It’s definitely still tough as African-American film makers because they (traditional Hollywood studios) don’t make as many african-american themed films as they do other films, so you’ve got smaller windows of opportunity. But it’s certainly different than it was 20 years ago.”

obsessed2Packer’s latest film, Obsessed, features a relative host of “niche” story points: Not only are two of the three leads – Idris Elba and a non-singing Beyonce Knowles – POCs, but there’s an interracial aspect to the Fatal Attraction-ish scenario presented, involving Elba’s character and a temp played by Ali Larter. Packer says there was always an interracial factor in the story, but only as a backdrop.

“I think that audiences are a lot more sophisticated now,” Packer says. “You certainly can portray inter-racial relationships but you have to do it in a realistic way. In our film, it’s not about race – it’s interesting that the husband happens to be black, but it’s nothing that we feel the need to make any more provocative or to otherwise single out that fact.”

Packer says his successful film, 2007’s Stomp The Yard, also had to fight the “niche” argument.“Nobody saw Stomp The Yard coming,” Packer says. “But we tapped into an audience that was a cross-section of dance-movie fans and African-American audiences who knew about college life, and we managed not only to open No. 1 at the box office, but to hold the No. 1 spot for another week. Suddenly people in Hollywood were trying to call us, and asking, ‘What do you mean, they don’t have agents?’.”

The film went on to gross $75 million worldwide.Packer says the “nobody saw us coming” thing started as soon as he and director Rob Hardy founded Rainforest Productions and made their first film, Trois, in 2000.“We didn’t have a film school. We didn’t have money. We didn’t have connections. We didn’t have long-standing Hollywood relationships,” Packer says.

“I wanted to start a film production company. My partner wanted to be the next Spike Lee. We moved to Atlanta because we felt that was a market where we could be a big fish in a small pond. We made Trois, and nobody in Hollywood cared. We literally drove city-to-city and handed out flyers, shook hands, kissed babies and we convinced 19 theatre owners to run our movie for one weekend. Then we went out and hustled, got the word out. That film made over $1 million dollars.”

Despite the success he’s enjoyed in producing films geared toward audiences of color, Packer says things are still very difficult. “People don’t have any single viable studio catering to that audience,” he says. And how far off is that studio?

“Distribution is still kind of the final frontier, and that’s still very difficult,” Packer says. “If African-American audiences and mainstream audiences respond to that kind of material, then it’ll happen.”

Quoted: Reggie Rock Bythewood on Writing Notorious

Excerpted by Latoya Peterson


I was not enthused about the project. There seemed to be little humanity in Christopher Wallace. He sold drugs, used the “N” word as a noun, verb, and adjective, then became a famous rapper. My initial thought, “So what?” Instinctively, though, I knew if I could find a way to connect to him, the film would be entertaining. I liked some of his music. I also knew a film about this icon could be a platform to challenge some of the “cancers” plaguing the inner city. There’s an expression: “You have to enter somebody’s world before you lead them out.” That’s what I would try to do. […]

I interviewed the important players in Biggie’s life – Faith Evans, Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Cease, Wayne Barrow. Even P. Diddy came to the crib. The peripheral characters began to take shape. However, I still had not uncovered Biggie. I had to go “method acting” on this bad boy. Instead of looking outside of myself for the main character, I looked inside. I never sold drugs, but as a teenager growing up in the hood, money was important to me. I got a gig acting on a soap opera when I was 16. I wasn’t making Donald Trump loot but I was making as much paper as the drug dealers. I defined my manhood in in a materialistic, superficial way. As I reflected on all this, it struck me. This movie is not about a rapper. It is not about a drug dealer. It is about someone navigating his way to manhood. Continue reading

Lionsgate – An African American Studio?

by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, originally published at Women and Hollywood

Nzingha StewartLionsgate Studios, which has been in the very lucrative Tyler Perry business for several years now, is clearly on track to take up more of the slack in producing and distributing entertainment for the underserved African American market. They bought Push (now renamed Precious) out of Sundance with Perry and Oprah, and now has acquired the film rights for Ntozake Shange’s play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

The play was supposed to have been revived recently on Broadway with India.Arie but financing fell through. The play initially opened off Broadway in 1974, then moved to Broadway and was nominated for a best play Tony in 1977. A TV movie was made of the play in 1982.

Lionsgate “touted its ‘leadership role in producing and distributing a diverse roster of motion pictures about black characters.’” when announcing the film.

Interesting.

From what I can tell this is all about Tyler exerting some power. For Colored Girls will be directed by music video director Nzingha Stewart who adapted the screenplay. She has an affiliation with Perry having directed The Marriage Counselor which is a part of the “Tyler Perry Collection.”

It’s pretty interesting that the last indie studio is being this formal, deliberate and public about it’s strategy. Will it be a success? And can it maybe influence someone to think about women this way?

Lionsgate acquires ‘Suicide’ (Variety)

If A Transwoman Can Play A Transwoman In Indian Movies, How About In Hollywood?

by Guest Contributor Monica Roberts, originally posted at TransGriot.

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I found it interesting last year that a young Indian transwoman has gone somewhere that transpeople in the States haven’t. But what else is new for us here?

Last year Karpaga made history in India as she became the first transwoman to be cast in a lead role in a commercial film. She was cast as the lead in a Tamil language film called Paal, which means gender in the Tamil language.

While Indian transpeople are justifiably proud of this cultural step up since they have been dissed for far too long in movies like their American cousins, at least they actually have transwomen playing transwomen in their films.

And based on the plot synopsis for this one, Paal looks pretty interesting. She’s playing an intellectual filmmaker who falls in love and faces the ‘do I tell’ dilemma.

What we’ve gotten here in the States, be it the silver screen or television is cisgender actresses scooping up those role. The recent announcement that Nicole Kidman is set to play pioneer transwoman Lili Elbe in the indie film The Danish Girl only heightens our annoyance about this.

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It’s not like we don’t have transgender actresses in Hollywood. Candis Cayne, Calpernia Addams, Aleshia Brevard, Jazzmun and Alexandra Billings are some of the ones that come to mind. Candis recently had her groundbreaking role in the now cancelled Dirty Sexy Money that ended predictably in her death, but that’s another post.

It would be nice if Hollywood would actually put a transwoman in a transgender role, but they still can’t get it right with cisgender women of color either.

What’s going to have to happen is that transwomen are going to have to write, produce and direct their own stories, and one of those indie films is going to have to make enough money and garner enough awards to get the peeps in Hollywood’s attention.

As for Paal, here’s hoping it’s an artistic and commercial success in India and beyond, and it leads to a nice career for Karpaga and other Indian transwomen who follow in her pumps.

So Bobby Jindal is the Slumdog Governor?

by Latoya Peterson

Oh, this is so fucking cute. Daniel Larison writing for Eunomia (a blog hosted on the American Conservative site) sheds the spotlight on some very racist comments:

What on earth is this? Well, it is an interview between Michael Steele and ABC Radio’s Curtis Sliwa, but beyond that I don’t know how else to describe it:

    SLIWA: Now, using a little bit of that street terminology, are you giving him [Jindal] any Slum love, Michael?

    STEELE: (laughter)

    SLIWA: Because he is — when guys look at him and young women look at him — they say oh, that’s the slumdog millionaire, governor. So, give me some slum love.

    STEELE: I love it. (inaudible) … some slum love out to my buddy. Gov. Bobby Jindal is doing a friggin’ awesome job in his state. He’s really turned around on some core principles — like hey, government ought not be corrupt. The good stuff … the easy stuff.

Oh wait, and here’s Ann Coulter:

Wasn’t Bobby great in “Slumdog Millionaire”?

Look.

I know Bobby Jindal isn’t going to trip over this. He’s still finding his feet as a rising GOPer and he probably won’t make his new friends uncomfortable by calling out their dumb jokes. But that shit is ridiculous. Cracking jokes that begin and end with someone’s ethnicity isn’t funny, it’s callous. Especially with the reputation this crew has for racist behavior.

Oh, and Steele? Remember the Oreo incident? That mess wasn’t funny. Neither was this. Don’t forget that when laugh off racism towards others, you could be the next target.

Update: Kuriusjurge writes in the comments that the Oreo incident was probably fabricated. Even still, Steele should know better!

(Hat Tip to Ta-Nehisi)

Frank Miller’s “300” and the Persistence of Accepted Racism

by Guest Contributor Jehanzeb Dar, originally published at Broken Mystic

When Frank Miller’s “300″ film was released, I was absolutely outraged by the racist content of the film and more so at the insensitivity of movie-goers who simply argued “it’s just a movie.” Later on, I would hear these same individuals say, “The movie makes you want to slice up some Persians.” I wrote an article about the film almost immediately after it was released, and now that I’m still noticing people quoting the movie or listing it as their “favorite movies,” I’ve decided to update my original post and discuss some points that will hopefully shed some new light.

“300” not only represents the ever-growing trend of accepted racism towards Middle-Easterners in mainstream media and society, but also the reinforcement of Samuel P. Huntington’s overly clichéd, yet persisting, theory of “The Clash of Civilizations,” which proposes that cultural and religious differences are the primary sources for war and conflict rather than political, ideological, and/or economic differences. The fact that “300” grossed nearly $500 million worldwide in the box office may not be enough to suggest that movie-goers share the film’s racist and jingoistic views, but it is enough to indicate how successful such a film can be without many people noticing its relentless racist content. As Osagie K. Obasogie wrote in a brilliant critique of the film, “300” is “arguably the most racially charged film since D. W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’” – the latter being a 1915 silent film that celebrated the Ku Klux Klan’s rise to defend the South against liberated African-Americans. Oddly enough, both films were immensely successful despite protests and charges of racism.

Media imagery is very important to study. Without analyzing and critiquing images in pop culture, especially controversial and reoccurring images, we are ignoring the most powerful medium in which people receive their information from. A novel, for example, may appeal to a large demographic, but a film appeals to a much wider audience not only because of recent video-sharing websites and other internet advancements, but also because the information is so much easier to process and absorb.

According to the Cultivation Theory, a social theory developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross, television is the most powerful storyteller in culture – it repeats the myths, ideologies, and facts and patterns of standardized roles and behaviors that define social order. Music videos, for example, cultivate a pattern of images that establish socialized norms about gender. In a typical western music video, you may see female singers like Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyonce wearing the scantiest of clothing and dancing in erotic and provocative ways that merely cater to their heterosexual male audiences. These images of women appear so frequently and repetitively that they develop an expectation for women in the music industry, i.e. in order to be successful, a woman needs to have a certain body type, fit society’s ideal for beauty, and dance half-nakedly. Stereotypical images of men in music videos, on the other hand, include violent-related imagery, “pimping” with multiple women, and showing off luxury. Such images make violence and promiscuous sexual behavior “cool” and more acceptable for males. As we can see from two studies by Greeson & Williams (1986) and Kalof (1999), exposure to stereotypical images of gender and sexual content in music videos increase older adolescents’ acceptance of non-marital sexual behavior and interpersonal violence.

Cognitive Social Learning Theory is another social theory which posits, in respect to media, that television presents us with attractive and relatable models for us to shape our experiences from. In other words, a person may learn particular behaviors and knowledge through observing the images displayed on television. A person may also emulate the behavior of a particular character in a film or television show, especially if a close-identification is established between the viewer and the character. Both theories – Cultivation Theory and Cognitive Social Learning Theory – apply in my following analysis of “300.”

In order to deconstruct “300,” I will start by (1) discussing its distortion of history, then (2) contrast the film’s representation of Persians and Spartans, (3) correlate Frank Miller’s Islamophobic remarks on NPR with the messages conveyed in “300,” and (4) conclude with the importance of confronting stereotypical images in mainstream media and acknowledging the contributions of all societies and civilizations. Continue reading

Stuff white people do: think that racism is ok if you’re being ironic about it

by Guest Contributor Macon Dee, originally published at Stuff White People Do

Do you remember Pauly Shore? I don’t find him especially worth remembering, but I think his new project, a movie called Adopted, deserves attention. Critical attention.

It seems to me that in the trailer below, Shore enacts a common white tendency: acting racist in a way that’s supposed to signal that you know you’re acting racist. And thinking as you do so that because you’re being ironic, you don’t really mean to be racist, so the racism you’re enacting is okay. And kinda cool and funny too.

The film’s official site describes it the following way, with, presumably, a heavy dose of irony. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, as people used to say:

For hundreds of years, Africa has existed in a state of despair. Famine, civil wars and rampant disease have left the continent without hope, but for the efforts of Western do-gooders. At first, they arrived with food, bibles and the magic of penicillin; more recently they have hosted rock concerts and sent plane loads of grain. And in the last decade of the 20th century they arrived and took babies home with them. First there was Angelina, then Madonna, and now…Pauly Shore!

Continue reading