Ugly Realities vs. Ridiculous Fantasies

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An ugly reality will lose out…

Not that it matters, but 12 Years A Slave was awarded Best Movie of the Year at Sunday’s Golden Globes awards.   That’s nice if  you care about that sort of thing.   It was even nicer Armond White didn’t show up to drop any F-bombs and pull off his pee-pee and take a whiz in public.   Probably too busy licking his wounds over being expelled from the NY Film Critics Circle and that matters even less.

In the 18th century, William Wilberforce said of slavery, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

In 19 words Wilberforce hits on what makes 12 Years A Slave must viewing for any conscious human being who wants a realistic, unflinchingly honest and terrifying brutal two-hour trip through the American Holocaust.    You may have to watch it peeking through the fingers of your hand in front of you face, but you can never say again that you did not know.

The story of Solomon Northrup is based on fact. Django is nothing more than an Italian spaghetti western relocated to America so Quentin Tarantino can film his fetishes and fantasies about slave-fights, Black bounty hunters roaming the South killing Whites with impunity and his desire to say “nigger” as many times as he damn well pleases.

12 Years A Slave is a movie. Django Unchained is a cartoon.

...vs fantasy.

…to a ridiculous fantasy.

12 Years A Slave was the best movie of 2013. Period. End of sentence. I do not need the official stamp of awards and I don’t need the consensus of the crowd who line up like lemmings for a Tarantino masturbatory fantasy but go mental when a Black director and a Black screenwriter tell the true story of a Black man taken and held against his will by a vicious slave owner.

If others prefer cartoons like Django Unchained, fine. I ain’t mad atcha and where you spend your movie-going money doesn’t phase me in the slightest.  It’s fine by me if anyone really believes a Black bounty-hunter could wander around the antebellum South shooting and killing as many White men he wants with impunity and without punishment.   It didn’t happen and it’s a joke, but Tarantino is quite the joker.   He made his best film with Pulp Fiction  20 years ago and has floundered since trying to follow-up with a second act he doesn’t seem to have.   Say what you will about Jackie Brown, Kill Bill 1 and 2, Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained (we’ll forget Death Proof because even Q.T. wants to), but you can’t say Tarantino is challenging himself as a filmmaker or the public as an audience anymore.

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Steve McQueen, Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor may have Oscar gold in their future.

But don’t get all up in my grill telling me I don’t know my history and that I’ve been brainwashed by Whites and I’m some sort of self-hating dupe because I prefer movies that challenge me and force me to think and not simply sit there like a spastic drooling in my popcorn at the stylized and vulgar bullshit of a race pimp like Tarantino. Comparing Django to 12 Years is like comparing a Bugs Bunny cartoon to The Godfather.  It’s not a serious comparison and we can’t’ have a serious conversation about it.   Seriously.

Given a choice between a harsh reality and an amusing fantasy on slavery, I’m not at all surprised most opt for the fantasy. Just a bit disgusted.  There may be an intelligent, reasonable and rational argument to be made that Django Unchained is a superior and more honest depiction of slavery than 12 Years A Slave.   I just haven’t found an intelligent, reasonable and rational person make it yet.

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Throw Off the Chains and Shake Off the Haters.

“12 Years” director Steve McQueen is congratulated by actor and activist Harry Belafonte (photo credit: Star Pix)

Personal matters have prevented me from updating the blog as frequently as I would like.  Hey, that’s the the way of the world, y’know?

In 2013 there may be better movies than 12 Years A Slave. There are certainly far more “entertaining” movies than 12 Years A Slave.

With few exceptions such as Fruitvale Station, there are no movies in 2013 that mean something more than 12 Years A Slave.

Django Unchained is entertainment. 12 Years A Slave is edutainmentHarry Belafonte noted the historical significance of the film in his address to the New York Film Critics Circle Awards honoring director Steve McQueen’s monumental cinematic accomplishment.  Unfortunately, the news that came out of the awards was the asshole actions of Armond White, the barely professional curmudgeon, contrarian, and crank who passes himself off as a film critic.   White proved his trolling tendencies by going all the way off as soon as Belafonte finished speaking as Variety reported.

Armond White, film critic

“I am not a contrarian; everyone else is a conformist.”

As soon as McQueen took the stage, White started shouting from his table at the back of the room. “You’re an embarrassing doorman and garbage man,” White boomed. “Fuck you. Kiss my ass.”

White hated 12 Years A Slave as he hates any movie widely acclaimed by other critics.   But disagreeing is never enough for White.  He also has to prove his taste is vastly superior to yours.   This sort of bad behavior is nothing new for White who goes out of his way to be a dick.  If we all acted like Armond White we should commit mass suicide for being such raging douchebags.   There’s nothing to admire about a hack and troll who screams abuse and drops F-bombs on better men than himself. I think for myself, I decide for myself and I don’t need a damn fool like White to do either for me.

White has denied he screamed the insults, but it fits his pattern of crude behavior.    If he ever directed a movie it would be called 50 Years An Asshole. 

I’m bored talking about a troll and a hack like White. Lost in his b.s. is what Harry Belafonte, someone who has done more for Black culture by accident than White has done on purpose, said about 12 Years A Slave and Steve McQueen. The squeaky wheel shouldn’t always get the grease nor snatch all the headlines.

Belafonte said in part:

A lot’s gone on with Hollywood. A lot could be said about it. But at this moment, I think what is redeeming, what is transformative, is the fact that a genius, an artist, is of African descent, although he’s not from America, he is of America, and he is of that America which is part of his own heritage; [he] made a film called 12 Years a Slave, which is stunning in the most emperial way. So it’s a stage that enters a charge made by The Birth of a Nation, that we were not a people, we were evil, rapists, abusers, absent of intelligence, absent of soul, heart, inside. In this film, 12 Years a Slave, Steve steps in and shows us, in an overt way, that the depth and power of cinema is there for now the world to see us in another way. I was five when I saw Tarzan of the Apes, and the one thing I never wanted to be, after seeing that film, was an African. I didn’t want to be associated with anybody that could have been depicted as so useless and meaningless. And yet, life in New York led me to other horizons, other experiences. And now I can say, in my 87th year of life, that I am joyed, I am overjoyed, that I should have lived long enough to see Steve McQueen step into this space and for the first time in the history of cinema, give us a work, a film, that touches the depths of who we are as a people, touches the depths of what America is as a country, and gives us a sense of understanding more deeply what our past has been, how glorious our future will be, and could be.

I think that the Circle Award made a wise decision picking you as the director of the year. I think we look forward in anticipation to what you do in the future. But even if you never do anything else, many in your tribe, many in the world, are deeply grateful of the time and genius it took to show us a way that it should be. Forever and eternally grateful to say that we are of African descent. Thank you.

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“12 Years A Slave” and “Fruitvale Station:” Unforgivable Blackness, Unbearable Bleakness.

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Fassbender, Nyong’o, Ejiofor. Practice saying the names now. You might be hearing them Oscar night.

As a freelancer, I used to review movies for a newspaper and I belonged to a local film critics group.  Every year we would make our list of the best movies and argue among ourselves whose list was the most and least credible and I admit that sometimes I may have been influenced by the will of the majority.  After all, I didn’t want to be the one who looked like I didn’t know what was going on.

I’m not part of any critic groups anymore and I only have to see the films that interest me so while I may have missed out by not seeing Blue Is the Warmest Color, Her, Nebraska, Frozen, or whatever bit of Oscar bait Meryl Streep is in this year, I’m okay with it.

The Best Movie of 2013 is 12 Years A Slave.  But so is Fruitvale Station.  Who says there can only be one?

Fruitvale Station holds a staggering 94 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but 12 Years bests it with a 96 percent positive reviews.    They’re both great films, they both are indelibly sketched in my mind in a way most movies this years aren’t.  I slammed plenty of popcorn over Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Enter Darkness, Man of Steel and The Wolverine.  I enjoyed most of them.  I recall none of them.

12 Years is not only unforgettable, it was unspeakable.  That’s an experience I’ve never had in the dark before.

I saw the movie in November, but I didn’t write it up.  Normally I write a blog post a day or so afterward.   Not this time.  Not for this movie.   Fruitvale Station troubled me immensely and brought me to tears but I didn’t squirt a drop to 12 Years A Slave.   All I felt was a dazed numbness that was replaced by cold blooded anger.   As the credits rolled I sprang from my seat leaving my wife and son behind and strode briskly and purposefully to the lobby.  I had to get out.  I needed air and about a minute all my own to collect my troubled thoughts.

Everyone figured we had seen the evils of slavery.  We got to a point where we could snicker at the funny side of slavery via Django Unchained.    Nobody was ready for what director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley had in store with 12 Years A Slave.  It is the anti  Django Unchained.

With a gross of less than $40 million, 12 Years A Slave hasn’t dominated at the box office the way Quentin Tarantino’s cartoon did, but it has cleaned up with critics winning 75 percent of the Best Picture awards handed out by various groups including the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

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In a less crowded year Michael B. Jordan’s performance would be a lock for Best Actor nominations.

This should bode well for Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and director Steve McQueen’s likelihood of receiving well-deserved Oscar nominations.   Why Michael Fassbender is being overlooked for his unnerving performance as Edwin Epps,  the sadistic “nigger-breaker” who rapes, beats, tortures and humiliates his slaves to satisfy his depraved soul is a small mystery, but I can speculate as to the reasons why.   Fassbender doesn’t just project evil and malevolence; he inhabits it.   There’s a lot of Black folks that would love to punch out Fassbender for being so convincing.

Fruitvale Station has been lost by the acclaim showered upon 12 Years.   It’s as if only one Black-themed film can be great in year.  Two or more throws off the curve.   McQueen has created an epic compressing 12 years into two hours (with Ejiofor’s Solomon Northrup looking fairly unscathed outwardly by his harrowing experience) while Fruitvale Station takes the last day of Oscar Grant’s life and attempts to fill in the blanks of who he was before he ended up handcuffed, face-down on a subway platform and dying in a pool of his own blood on New Year’s Eve.

Northrup’s story depicts the darkest part of American history: human beings bought and sold like chattel and treated no more humanely than cattle or swine.   Grant’s story has no grand scale, no larger implications than yet another urban youth left dead after a fatal encounter with law enforcement.   Perhaps the reason Fruitvale Station is being overlooked during awards season is critics gravitate to the unusual and the unique and Grant as portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, who is also being shut out for Best Actor considerations,  is depressingly familiar to anyone who follows the news.

Both movies will be released on home video next month which is where most audiences will gain an appreciation of how great they are.   However,  my wife has already said she has no wish to ever watch 12 Years A Slave or Fruitvale Station again.  There is a list of films that are simultaneously as great as they are unwatchable and both go into the collection along with  City of God, Requiem For A Dream, United 93, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.     These are the movies I have to be in the mood to watch again and I’m rarely in the mood.

12 Years and Fruitvale are  as dazzling as they are depressing and I’m glad I saw them, but if I don’t see them again for a year or so, I’m cool with that.

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Django isn’t coming to set them free. Neither is Abe Lincoln.

Quentin Tarantino: Slave Profiteer

An exercise in good clean fun or repellent bad taste?

Yeah, I thought I was over and done with Django Unchained, but apparently Django Unchained isn’t done with me yet.

Tell me Quentin Tarantino has the right to make any movie he wants to make and I’ll agree with you (though if he decides to remake Birth of A Nation I’m gonna have a problem with it).

Tell me you agree with Q.T. when he says, “When you look at Roots, nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either. I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.”  I won’t agree with you, but I’ll concede you and Q.T. have a right to your opinion (though how the storytelling in Django Unchained “rings true” escapes me).

You can even tell me Django is a masterpiece, isn’t supposed to be historically accurate because really, nothing else is either and we should be happy to see so many  Black folks getting work and getting paid to get their asses whipped and fed to dogs.

I’ll even agree with some of that.

“Okay, so maybe slave action figures wasn’t my best idea…”

What I WON’T agree with is I was wrong about my original contention that Quentin Tarantino is a race hustler who thinks he has a ghetto pass to say and do whatever he wants in his depictions of Black people because he’s a hip White guy.   Art is supposed to be provocative, but this is simply exploitative.   Selling slaves as action figures is some SICK-ASS SHIT and you do it only for one reason.  The same reason slavery was put in place:  PROFIT.

Consider the possibilities.  Little kids can play Calvin J. Candie and make Django and Stephen “Mandingo fight” or act like they’re selling Broomhilda or strip her naked and throw her in  just call them “nigger” all day long.   Sic the dogs on that lazy slave’s ass or whip ’em into line.   The possibilities are endless!

This is not bad taste.  It’s not even poor taste. It’s exploitative junk. You’ve heard of war profiteers? This is slave profiteering.  Quentin Tarantino might not sell Black human beings into bondage, but for $54.99,  he’ll sell you a toy of one.    Everybody plays the fool sometime but only a complete fool support a race mercenary who pimps the oppression of an entire race for a buck.

Malcolm X  wasn’t a film critic but he was highly skeptical of the benevolence of well-meaning White folks when he said,  “I’ve never seen a sincere white man, not when it comes to helping black people. Usually things like this are done by white people to benefit themselves. The white man’s primary interest is not to elevate the thinking of black people, or to waken black people, or white people either. The white man is interested in the black man only to the extent that the black man is of use to him. The white man’s interest is to make money, to exploit.”

Malcolm  was wrong in lumping all Whites as being motivated by selfish self-interest and he wasn’t thinking specifically of a cheap race hustler like  Tarantino when he made those remarks.

But he could have been.

Too late for Xmas, but right on time for birthday gift-giving.

“Django” Is Solid Entertainment, But Lousy History

“Nominate me for Best Supporting Actor. Or else.”

(This post contains some spoilers.)

I know I said I wasn’t going to, but I had to face the awful truth.  People don’t take you seriously when they ask, “Have You Seen It?” and your answer is “No.”   Your argument–no matter how correct it may be–is invalidated.   “How can you  criticize something you haven’t seen?” is the next thing you hear and saying, “I’m not.   I’m critiquing what I know about the topic, not the topic itself,” is a weak comeback.

The only way for me to repair my shredded credibility is to actually break down and see Django Unchained and then nobody could throw the “You haven’t seen it, so you can’t say anything about it” card in my face any longer.

Which is why I saw Django Unchained this morning. It’s a “B-” as a film and a “D-“for historical accuracy and relevance. One viewing will be quite enough for me.
It was better than Inglorious Basterds but it’s fatally overlong.  By the time Tarantino shows up only to offer a prop for the final bloodbath, I was checking my watch and the film is not nearly as much fun as I thought it would be.

Is it Best Picture of the Year material?  Not by my standards. Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Sam Jackson were all good. Maybe award-winning good. Jamie Foxx was stoic, but not spectacular. Kerry Washington cries and cringes real good.

“Django? Now where have I heard that name before….?”

The music was awful. Jim Croce? Really? Music should enhance a scene, not distract and annoy. Tarantino needs to find a composer who can write a frigging’ score. The absence of his longtime editor Sally Menke was felt. Too many scenes go on too long. Tarantino’s appearance was totally unnecessary and served only to provide Django the means for an explosive finish.

Regarding Tarantino’s “nigger” fetish, the N-word gets dropped so often it becomes numbing.   I stopped hearing it after a certain point. I just shut it out.   All the talk about “niggers” doing this and “niggers” doing that failed to resonate.   It became like a car alarm down the street.  Vaguely annoying, but not worth focusing on.

I get it that some folks are digging’ on Django for giving them a freshened up blaxploitation flick. Fine. I’ve seen Shaft, Superfly, Coffy, A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and heathenish. I know what genres Tarantino is tapping from and he’s a better director than any of the guys that made any of those movies (with the possible exception of Sergio Leone).

Django isn’t the story of slavery.  It’s a live action cartoon and revenge fantasy of how we might wish slavery had been.    Hissable villains and bad ass brothers putting heads to bed.  The reality was a lot more terrifying, far crueler, and a lot less cinematic.

Something I did find interesting. For as much of a bad ass as Django was, he didn’t give a damn about any of his fellow slaves except his wife. He offered others no hope, no leadership and no advice. Why would anyone want to look at him as any sort of half-assed “hero” when he was only out for himself? That’s no hero.

One guy is concerned about slavery. The other just wants blood.

The only person Django cared about liberating was his woman. He couldn’t give two farts for anyone else. Nothing wrong with Looking Out for Number #One, but let’s not make Django any symbol of Black Liberation when all he liberated was his lady and the hell with everybody else.  This is not a man of the people.   He’s motivated by  pure self-interest and nothing more.  Freeing his people from their shackles or leading an uprising, is not on his agenda.   His mentor, Dr. Schultz is far more distressed by the horrors of slavery than Django ever is.     Between Schultz and Django only one of them is affected by the horrors he’s seen and it’s not the Black guy.

As pure entertainment, Django delivers the goods.   As far as kicking White folks asses and killin’ them up because they need it so bad, it doesn’t disappoint.

Just don’t tell me Django is a Nat Turner, a Gabriel Prosser, a Denmark Vesey or even a John Brown.  He’s none of those things.   He’s a brother with a gun and an attitude and that is not something in short supply, but that’s all he is and apparently to the delight of many, that’s enough.

One of these days we’re going to get an honest, unflinching and real look at what the peculiar institution of slavery in the antebellum South was like.   It wasn’t like Tarantino’s wet dreams of Mandingo fights, Black bounty hunters killing Whites with impunity and blowing shit up real good.

It’s not just the “d” in “Django” that is silent.   Tarantino has created a competent bit of popcorn entertainment which is  guilty pleasure fun, but as far as offering any meaningful new insights into The Peculiar Institution of American Slavery it has nothing new to say.

“Django” is Tarantino Unchained

Just a couple of guys looking for White folks to kill.

Nothing says Christmas like a movie depicting Blacks as slaves, being torn apart by wild dogs, beaten and whipped, fighting each other to the death,  and repeatedly being called “NIGGER.”.   Is there a better way to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birthday than seeing Django Unchained?

Sure hope so.  I’m not the guy who tells others not to watch a movie he hasn’t seen himself.   I do not want to see Django Unchained and I won’t try to criticize a movie I haven’t seen.

But I’m very familiar with how Quentin Tarantino enjoys waving around his ghetto pass and gleefully drop “N-word” bombs in his movies.   He did it in  Reservoir Dogs.  He did it in Pulp Fiction.  He did it in Jackie Brown and he’ll be doing it on steroids in Django Unchained.

I’m curious what makes you think you call me “nigger?”

Django is Tarantino mashing up spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation and other genres he was fond of when he was still a video store clerk.  There’s nothing historically accurate about a Black bounty hunter running around the South with a kindly German (!) named Dr. King (ha-ha.  Real Funny, Quentin) Schultz killing White folks.  If that were remotely historically accurate it would be called “Nat Turner Unchained” and he’d be butchering White folks with hatches.

Go back through his filmography and you’ll see Tarantino indulging his Hip White Boy status.  He casually drops N-bombs like it ain’t no thing but a chicken wing.   Why?  Because he’s a critic’s darling and they give him a pass they would never give Spike Lee or any Black director.   Spike makes Do the Right Thing and he’s accused by hacks like Joe Klein of potentially starting race riots.   Tarantino makes a movie theorizing what Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name would be like it he were a bad-ass Black man killing White folks in the South and Black folks are the first ones to line up to buy a ticket.   Whose fantasy is being indulged anyhow?

What is the least authentic moment in Pulp Fiction, the movie that put Q.T. on the map?  Not the stabbing Uma Thurman through the breastbone with a shot of adrenalin.  Not the anal rape of Marcellus Wallace whose ass is literally saved by Bruce Willis.  It’s after Vincent Vega blows Marvin’s brains out and they end up at Jules Winfield’s “friend’s house.”

The entire movie Jules is a bad-ass.  He takes shit from nobody, not even his boss, Marcellus.  Yet when he’s standing in front of his “buddy” Jimmy (played by Quentin Tarantino) he turns into a straight-up PUNK.

"It's okay if I call you "nigger" 'cause we're pals, right, Sam?"

“It’s okay if I call you “nigger” ’cause we’re pals, right, Sam?”

[Jules, Vincent and Jimmie are drinking coffee in Jimmie’s kitchen]
Jules: Mmmm! Goddamn, Jimmie! This is some serious gourmet shit! Usually, me and Vince would be happy with some freeze-dried Taster’s Choice right, but he springs this serious GOURMET shit on us! What flavor is this?
Jimmie: Knock it off, Julie.
Jules: [pause] What?
Jimmie: I don’t need you to tell me how fucking good my coffee is, okay? I’m the one who buys it. I know how good it is. When Bonnie goes shopping she buys SHIT. I buy the gourmet expensive stuff because when I drink it I want to taste it. But you know what’s on my mind right now? It AIN’T the coffee in my kitchen, it’s the dead nigger in my garage.
Jules: Oh, Jimmie, don’t even worry about that…
Jimmie: [interupting] No, No, No, No, let me ask you a question. When you came pulling in here, did you notice a sign out in front of my house that said “Dead Nigger Storage”?
Jules: Jimmie, you know I ain’t seen no…
Jimmie: [cutting him off again; getting angry] Did you notice a sign out in front of my house that said “Dead Nigger Storage”?
Jules: [pause] No. I didn’t.
Jimmie: You know WHY you didn’t see that sign?
Jules: Why?
Jimmie: ‘Cause it ain’t there, ’cause storing dead niggers ain’t my fucking business, that’s why!    

What is the point of that scene?   Besides  Tarantino trying to make Sam Jackson his bitch while he screams “nigger” repeatedly.   Is it to set up something of importance?  Is it a key plot point?  Does it provide exposition or advance the story in a way, shape or form?   Or is it simply there for shock value?

There is a difference between using “nigger” to be historically accurate or realistic (Martin Scorsese knows how to do this and not be gratuitous in the usage) and doing it because Tarantino is one of those White boys who thinks he’s so down with the chocolate he has a ghetto pass to say what he wants and charge you $10 to watch him do it.

I say he doesn’t.

“Now, in this scene, I grab your gun and call you ‘nigger.’ Ready?”

If Tarantino really wanted to do a movie about a bad-ass brutha who kills White folks, nobody’s made The Nat Turner Story, but that’s a feel-bad, not a feel-good story.   The guy whose last movie featured machine-gunning killing Hitler isn’t exactly interested in historical accuracy.

I suspect if Spike Lee were to make a movie about a Black guy and his Jewish buddy were traipsing around Europe in WWII killing Nazis in bloody, graphically violent ways and liberating concentration camp prisoners, someone would say it was in bad taste.   There will NEVER be a mainstream movie made by Hollywood that correctly,  honestly and accurately portrays slavery in all its horror.   Blacks are either bystanders waiting for the good White folk to save us (Lincoln) or Black action figures playing out someone’s revenge fantasy (Django).

Blaxplotation was based upon the fact that Black people will pay good money to see their most negative stereotypes (pimps, pushers, gangsters) glorified as urban heroes.   Tarantino is simply the latest self-styled auteur to carry on the time-honored tradition of getting Blacks to embrace fairy tales as entertainment.

I like some Tarantino flicks and hate some others.  I can’t say whether Django is any good or not, but I know I have no interest in seeing it.  I’m just not feeling this movie.  I listened to a podcast the other day where two Black critics, one Latino and one White dude all agreed Tarantino used the racial epithet excessively and gratuitously.    Do I really need to hear “NIGGER” screamed at me in Dolby Surround-Sound for two hours and 45 minutes?

It’s okay if others do, but I do not.