Tag Archives: film

The Life of Films: Black People Watched “Traitor”! Sophisticated Urbanites Heart “Milk”!

By Guest Contributor AJ Christian, originally published at Televisual

The New York Times has an interesting interactive feature out that maps the top 50 rentals for 2009 based on the Netflix queues from a dozen US cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Milwaukee, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Altanta, Seattle and Denver. The list is a bit skewed because these are all fairly cosmopolitan areas — Benjamin Button and Changeling are at the top of the list — though that probably reflects what I assume is Netflix’s popularity in urban and suburban communities to begin with.

The list reminds us films have long lives. The press focuses almost solely on opening weekend box office returns and forgets films go to the rental market, DVD sales, pay-cable and OnDemand. Often these venues are great for films that couldn’t get people in theaters but are nevertheless intriguing or enjoyable. Movies by and about minorities sometimes can find audiences unwilling to shell out $6-$12+ for ticket (the gay film market has operated for years on this assumption).

I was surprised to see Traitor on the list — in the middle, but still before many popular Hollywood films. Traitor, a Don Cheadle-starrer about an alleged terrorist who may or may not secretly be working for the United States, made a paltry $27 million in theaters, just $23M in the U.S. Don Cheadle doesn’t have the Box Office pull of a Will Smith or Denzel Washington, despite his role in the Ocean’s Eleven films. Yet in the rental market, it seems black communities have taken a small liking to the film. The New York Times‘ map has it markedly popular in Atlanta — with a strong presence in the middle class/Morehouse area inside the perimeter — in D.C. and in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy in New York.

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Quoted: Annalee Newitz on Race Fantasies in Sci-Fi

Whether Avatar is racist is a matter for debate. Regardless of where you come down on that question, it’s undeniable that the film – like alien apartheid flick District 9, released earlier this year – is emphatically a fantasy about race. Specifically, it’s a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people. Avatar and scifi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity? [...]

These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color – their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It’s not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it’s not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It’s a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.

Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it’s like to be a Na’vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode. Interestingly, Wikus in District 9 learns a very different lesson. He’s becoming alien and he can’t go back. He has no other choice but to live in the slums and eat catfood. And guess what? He really hates it. He helps his alien buddy to escape Earth solely because he’s hoping the guy will come back in a few years with a “cure” for his alienness. When whites fantasize about becoming other races, it’s only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and nobody will let you be a leader of anything.

—From “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?” Annalee Newitz, io9.

Read the whole piece at io9.com

Scattered Thoughts on Tyler Perry

by Latoya Peterson

Bringing up Tyler Perry tends to complicate conversations.  He is a polarizing figure, represented by his work, an entrepreneur who provides work for black actors often passed over by the Hollywood machine, yet who trades in what some would call limiting representations of blackness and/or stereotypes.  He is often touted as proof that blacks can achieve success outside of the mainstream, and yet speaking with those who have worked for him in below the line positions casts doubt that Perry is dedicated to anything outside of making (and keeping) money.

Still, as Tyler Perry keeps making headlines, we continue to wade through these conversations, which involve his work but are really conversations about race, class, and gender.

A couple of weeks ago, while guesting over at Jezebel, I was asked to write a piece on Tyler Perry being tapped to write, direct, and produce a film based on Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf.”

I was immediately skeptical.

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Based on a True Story…Again?

By Guest Contributor slb, originally published at PostBourgie

mlkWe’ve made no secret of our belief that Hollywood is producing just a few too many paint-by-numbers Black biopics, and this week’s announcement of a whopping four black-themed biopics was just a case in point. According to Rotten Tomatoes’ Weekly Ketchup, all systems are go for an “official” biographical drama on Martin Luther King Jr., with Steven Spielberg at the helm; Will and Jada’s Overbrook Entertainment (in concert with Sony Pictures) has acquired the rights to John Keller’s life story (an ex-Marine who oversaw the rescue of 244 fellow Katrina victims); and Denzel is mulling his third directorial project, a little pet project called Brother in Arms, about “the only tank unit in the European theater of World War II that was manned by all African Americans”–based on a book co-authored by Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

We should note that the latter project has no shooting date–and the Weekly Ketchup writers slyly suggest that, perhaps, this is because there’s already a black WWII flick in the works—a Tuskegee Airmen project, currently filming in Europe.

Here’s the thing: we love heralding Black accomplishments as much as the next guy–and far be it from us to stand in the way of Our Own Stories Being Told. But aren’t most of these films rather indistinguishable from one another? If you’ve seen Remember the Titans, you’ve seen Glory Road. If you’ve seen Ray, you seen Cadillac Records (or parts of it, anyway). If you’ve seen The Rosa Parks story, you’ve seen Boycott. If you’ve seen Ali, you’ve seen… Will Smith in one too many of these vanity projects.***

It isn’t that we don’t endorse Black films being greenlighted; we do. It isn’t that we don’t love our history; we do. It’s that biopics, as a genre, are largely rote oversimplifications of incredibly complex lives. And no matter how nuanced an actor’s performance (or, as in the case of Denzel as Melvin Tolson, how phoned in), the formulaic storytelling impedes any real understanding of the person’s struggles and, more importantly, the accomplishment(s) that warranted a film in the first place. They all sort of bleed together untill you’re like, “You remember that flick where Cuba Gooding’s in the submarine and he’s a cook who manned a gatling gun?”

The best way to know your history is to research it for yourself. All the swelling music and single-teared male stars in the world aren’t going to provide you comprehensive—or even accurate—knowledge of actual events. So these “First Black ___ to Do _____” biopics work best when you go into them with your facts about the film’s subject straight. That way, you’re just watching for entertainment value and voluntary emotional manipulation.

All that said, we have to admit, we’re more than a little bit amped about Josh Brolin’s genius plan to both produce and star in a John Brown biopic. You can never have enough films about bloody, if ill-fated slave revolts.

Kinatay

by Guest Contributor Tanglad, originally published at Tanglad

Let me get this out of the way first. This is not a movie review. It is a review of movie reviews about Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay. Spoilers follow, though the title pretty much tells you what you’re gonna get.

Last weekend, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza won the best director award at the Cannes Festival for the movie Kinatay (”Slaughtered“). Mendoza’s win was a surprise, considering how Kinatay is probably, as Prometheus Brown puts it, the most hated film at Cannes.

Exerpts from Maggie Lee’s synopsis and review at The Hollywood Reporter:

Newly married Peping, who attends the police academy, receives an offer via text message to make a fast buck with a shady friend. By nightfall, he is in a van with a group of vicious gangsters who have kidnapped a bar hostess to demand a loan repayment under orders from an elusive general…

The real time pacing, feels like being stuck in a traffic jam, but the dramatic thrust is relentless as one hears through the muffled darkness, the woman being gagged and beaten mercilessly. The horror escalates to rape, murder and dismemberment. None of this is left to the imagination, with the men’s verbal sexism being equally distasteful.

That was a positive review. (See here to view Kinatay excerpts, and here for a round-up of reviews and more background on the film.)

Roger Ebert’s review, charmingly titled “What were they thinking of?”, is typical of how critics who hated Kinatay approached the movie. There is hardly any discussion of the merits of the movie itself, and instead a whole lot of indignation over the unpleasantness that viewers were subjected to:

It is Mendoza’s conceit that it his Idea will make a statement, or evoke a sensation, or demonstrate something–if only he makes the rest of the film as unpleasant to the eyes, the ears, the mind and the story itself as possible…

No drama is developed. No story purpose is revealed…

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The Fall of the I-Hotel (Curtis Choy, 1983)

by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown

A little over a decade ago, this documentary changed my life.

It was the first time I had seen or heard about Manong Al Robles, longtime community organizer, activist, writer — a pillar in the Fil-Am and API community in San Francisco. He not only narrates this documentary, but is featured in it. He is shown interacting with the elderly Filipino tenants who face eviction from the only home they know: the International Hotel in what was then Manilatown, SF. He is the glue that holds director Curtis Choy’s amazing footage together, in one scene doing a voice-over with his own poetry, in the next scene he’s marching in protest alongside organizers, confronting city officials, blockading police from entering the building on eviction day. Even as the story unfolds toward the inevitable tragedy of the building’s demolition, Manong Al’s presence gave one an impression of hope. Not that idealistic hope that, perhaps, the fight against the city’s “development” plans might somehow prevail.

No, this hope was and still is something greater. Some fights that aren’t won are still victories — as evidenced by the outpouring of community support and internationalist solidarity for the I-Hotel. Though the building was lost, Manong Al and them laid the groundwork for all of us who continue their tireless work to stand up for our communities. The Fall of the I-Hotel, more than a story about a building, more than a story about its tenants or even the fight to save, is a rally cry still heard loud and clear nearly 30 years later.

News that Manong Al had passed away reached me last night as we sat in anticipation for the Pacquiao/Hatton fight to begin. Suddenly, I had realized that, in all my trips to San Francisco, even performing once at Kearny Street Workshop where he was a resident poet, I never got a chance to meet Manong Al, which made the subsequent celebration bittersweet. But as I looked around a room full of cheering Filipinos, I thought of his poetry in his book Rappin’ With Ten Thousand Carabao in the Dark, where he described nights of kickin it, drinkin, celebrating with the Manongs. I thought about the Manongs who were evicted from the I-Hotel, whose sad faces, captured on film, I can never shake. And I thought about how, no matter what bullshit comes our way, or perhaps because of all the bullshit that comes our way, we live for nights like these.

Rest in Power, Manong Al Robles!

Online Tributes to Al Robles:

Hyphen Magazine: R.I.P. Al Robles
Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.: Al Robles, RIP

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

Losing My Religion

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. A longer version of this article appears on altmuslimah.

I finally got around to watching AmericanEast this weekend. Full disclosure: I had originally read Tariq Nelson’s review, which was a pretty good rundown.

AmericanEast is an attempt at mainstreaming American Muslims and attempts to portray the struggles Muslims face in the United States. In my opinion, they overdid it and never established a coherent plot. And on top of that, I found that the characters had no depth and some were cartoonish caricatures.

The movie centers on Mustafa, an Egyptian immigrant who owns a café in a heavily Middle Eastern part of Los Angeles. His life, and the lives of several close to him, is one problem or tragedy after another: at one point during the movie, I asked myself whether anything good was ever going to happen to anyone.

Mustafa has a sister, Salwah. Tariq outlines her character:

Salwah Marzouke, Mustafa’s sister, was a nurse that styled hair in the back of her brother’s restaurant and was arranged to marry her cousin Sabir. However she did not like him and they did not get married. But the cousin was never informed (at least not on camera) and the story was dropped. Salwah was also interested in a doctor at her hospital who was not Muslim.

The movie stresses over and over that marrying Salwah off is Mustafa’s duty (or so he believes). Sabir comes from Egypt to marry Salwah and take him back home with her, although she is less than excited (that’s an understatement) about this arrangement. Even though she often fights with her brother, she gives off major submissive, dutiful vibes that plague many female Muslim characters in the form of wide-eyed, helpless stares contrasted with humbly averted eyes and lowered chin. Continue reading