Did “Captain America: Civil War” Liberate the Black Super Hero?

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If it’s not Marvel’s best movie, Captain America: Civil War sits high on the very short list of their best.   This was the Avengers movie Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been.

It’s a four star flick and I will be going to see it again and I never go see movies a second time. Marvel’s Captain America series is the first where each film improves on the previous installment.

When Sharon Carter referenced a condensed version of Cap’s most Captain America  speech, I leaned over and punched my son in the shoulder giggling, “THEY DID THE SPEECH!!!!” My inner comic book geek was tickled, but there’s a considerable amount of fan-service Easter eggs throughout the movie.

The best decision the screenwriters and directors made was to take the framework of the Civil War comic book and strip it down to the basics and rebuild it into something comprehensible for the movie. This is kind of the same thing what happened to another Mark Millar project, Wanted. By the time it got to the screen with Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy it jettisoned all the vile bile of the Millar graphic novel and pretty much kept the name and little else.

Hey, where's OUR solo movie?

Hey, where’s OUR solo movie?

Millar loves being offensive and shocking for the sake of it and while Civil War was neither, it was poorly written and executed for the most part and sent Marvel Comics into a never ending series of “Big Events” that reset their universe.   Thank God they said, “Like the idea. Hate everything else.”   It spared us the sorry sight of a Thor clone brutally murdering a fourth-rate nobody called  Black Goliath.   “Who?” you ask?  Trust me when I say this: nobody cares.

In Civil War the comic book,  Black superheroes were scenery and stiffs.   In Civil War the movie, they play an essential part in the story and they’re more than just diversity hires.

I’m saying all this not to review the movie, because there’s more than enough of those all over the web and if you need another you won’t have to look hard to find one.   What I want to point out how much I appreciate how damn COOL it is to see a superhero movie with not one, not two, but THREE Black superheroes in it.

Don Cheadle’s War Machine is back and so is Anthony Mackie as The Falcon.  No insult intended (okay, a little insult), but War Machine and the Falcon are sidekicks Iron Man and Cap.   That’s just who they are, so if you’re Cheadle and Mackie don’t hold your breath hoping for a standalone movie because you’re strictly back-up, guys.  Go ask Hawkeye how that works.

The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is nobody’s back-up and he don’t do “sidekick.”  He’s the freakin’ KING of Wakanda, the most advanced nation on Earth.

I don’t DO the “sidekick” thing.

Now that might not mean a lot to some viewers, but I bet to a young Black kid geeking out on it, it means everything.

Even if it’s only in yet another super-hero flick, I’m hyped to see Lupita Nyong’o in a live-action film instead of voice work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book. Since blowing up the spot in 12 Years A Slave and winning a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress award, she’s only been in front of the camera once. Hollywood really has no clue what to do with a Black actress.

As for who Nyong’o plays in the Black Panther movie, I’d rule out Storm completely. Though the X-Men’s favorite wind-rider married Tchalla in the comic books, it’s unlikely she’d even show up in the movie as an a X-Man character she’s the exclusive property of 20th Century Fox and considering the cold war between Fox and Disney, I wouldn’t count on Storm flying over Wakanda anytime soon. It could happen, but it probably won’t.

Ryan Coogler is directing Black Panther and since he’s done two of my favorite movies of the past five years (Fruitvale Station, Creed), I am very interested in what he will do with a super-hero movie. I can only hope Marvel overlord Kevin Feige and the rest of the execs at the Mouse House aren’t too heavy-handed in throwing in too many shout-outs to future films in the pipeline. One good sign is this from Feige about the Black Panther’s diversity, “That will be amongst the best ensembles we’ve ever had. And 90% of the cast is either African or African-American.”

It’s not as though there haven’t been Black super heroes in movies before, but not since Blade 3 in 2004 has one been featured in their own movie.  Not even an Academy Award-winning Halle Berry could get a Storm franchise out of Development Hell and into pre-production.    Maybe the Falcon or War Machine could.  If  Ant-Man can get made, why not?  And Ant-Man sucks.

There’s a lot riding on the Panthers’ vibramium-padded shoulders.   Marvel has had it’s fair share of underwhelming films (Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and both Thor entries) but even Ant-Man made money.  If it hadn’t it wouldn’t have been a fatal wound to Marvel.   Paul Rudd would just be sent back to the bench until the next Avengers entry.    Let the Black Panther tank and we’ll wait another dozen years for Hollywood to try that again.

With Michael B. Jordan looking to reunite with Coogler and possibly playing the villain (Killmonger? The White Wolf?), I’ve got reasons to be even MORE hyped. To get me outta the house, you need to show me something special and more than blowing shit up real good CGI style.  A predominantly Black cast in a film with Coogler, Nyong’o and Jordan?   Hey, that’s all you had to say, Negro!  The Black Panther is shaping up to be that something special.

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“I understand you’re looking for a sidekick much cooler than Bucky or the Falcon, Cap, but it’s not my thing. “

 

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The Oscars Grew Tired of Us.

Academy Awards to Ava DuVernay: “Love your movie. You, not so much.”

It’s not so much I’m mad about Selma and its directory Ava DuVernay being screwed over by the Academy Awards, because I haven’t seen Selma yet and I thinking I’d get around to it in my own good time but since Selma and DuVernay were snubbed now it’s a holy mission.

There’s a certain irony Martin Luther King fought a strategic battle in Selma, Alabama against racial discrimination and 50 years later along comes a woman who makes a movie about the battle ends up facing racial discrimination all over again.

Columnists, bloggers and social media blew up with a collective Now this is some bullshit when the Academy Awards nominations were announced and Selma was limited to one category it won’t win (Best Picture) and another nobody cares about (Best Song).   New York film critic David Edelstein summed up how Selma got screwed, “I tend to think that the Academy collectively thought it had discharged its duty to the African-American experience with 12 Years a Slave. How else, in a year in which black people confronted inequality with greater urgency than any time in the last 50 years, can you account for the omission? You say it wasn’t a very good movie? You’re wrong. Selma has scale and depth. Ava DuVernay was robbed.”

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Too black, too strong to be honored by the Academy

Here’s a plausible reason for the exclusion and  it’s right there in the title of an 2014 article in The Atlantic:Oscar Voters: 94% White, 76% Men, and an Average of 63 Years Old.” Blacks make up only two percent of the Academy Awards voters and to drive the point home of how White the folks are who decide who goes home with the little gold man, if they were a state, Oscar Voters would be the eighth Whitest state in America.

Well. Damn.

How embarrassing it must be for Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first Black president of the Academy of Motion Pictures to be the diversity hire thrust in the spotlight and have to represent, but represent she did.   Or at least she tried as Boone Isaacs looked to score a few brownie points,  “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members. And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories, “

The sad thing is Boone Isaacs knows what she said is a steaming load, but she has to say it anyway.  The old White guys who hired her in the first place exactly for a bit of cover provided by the a Black face in a formerly all-White place.  Let’s cut the crap.  Cultural diversity was the big hit of 2014 with all that 12 Years A Slave stuff.   Throwing an Oscar, if not jobs at Lupita Nyong’o gave all those good liberals a warm, fuzzy feeling especially when Brad Pitt showed up to free the slaves,  but there’s no time to linger on faded glories.  Hollywood is getting back to doing what it does best:  Celebrating White men making movies about White men doing White men stuff.

We gave you people a holiday. You want Oscars too?

Being blown off by withered old bastards of the Academy is nothing new for someone like Spike Lee, no stranger to Oscar snubs for both Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X had some explicit advice for DuVernay about being passed over by the bosses,  “…That doesn’t diminish the film. Nobody’s talking about motherfuckin’ Driving Miss Daisy. That film is not being taught in film schools all across the world like Do the Right Thing is. Nobody’s discussing Driving Miss Motherfuckin’ Daisy. So if I saw Ava today I’d say, ‘You know what? Fuck ’em. You made a very good film, so feel good about that and start working on the next one.”

“Anyone who thinks this year was gonna be like last year is retarded,” said Lee. “There were a lot of black folks up there with 12 Years a Slave, Steve [McQueen], Lupita [Nyong’o], Pharrell. It’s in cycles of every 10 years. Once every 10 years or so I get calls from journalists about how people are finally accepting black films. Before last year, it was the year [in 2002] with Halle Berry, Denzel [Washington], and Sidney Poitier. It’s a 10-year cycle. So I don’t start doing backflips when it happens.”

You can’t go to awards like the Oscars or the Grammys for validation. The validation is if your work still stands 25 years later.’”

Absolutely motherfuckin’ right, Spike.

It’s possible Selma marches to a Best Picture victory even with DuVernay denied a shot at Best Director and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. passed over as Best Actor, but it’s obvious the fix is in. How can a movie be nominated and win as Best Picture of the Year but the director, screenwriter and none of the actors aren’t? Does that mean the movie was great but everybody who made it sucked?

I have nothing against Boyhood,  The Imitation Game, Birdman or any of the other nominees for the Picture of the Year, but I don’t have anything for them.  Every movie is not for everyone and this movie  tells a story about people who look like me and not the Academy membership.    DuVernay probably pissed off some movers and shakers in Tinseltown when she dismissed  the film’s critics who griped she didn’t give President Lyndon Johnson enough credit by clarifying,  “I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie.”

“Oh yeah?  Then we’re not interested in giving you an Oscar, so there!”

King deserves his praise.  A lot of folks believe Selma does too, but the voters of the Academy doesn’t have anything for them either.

A man who knows something about getting spiked.

It’s Lupita’s World (Now Can She Make It In It?)

Lupita Nyong’o has a little naked gold man to carry around after winning Best Supporting Actress for her amazing performance as the long-suffering Patsey in 12 Years A Slave.  The reason I ended my decade-long moratorium of watching The Academy Awards was my rooting interest in 12 Years and my hope Lupita would walk away with yet another acting award.

The same weekend of the Oscars, Nyong’o show up in the week’s Number One movie, Non-Stop, the new Liam Neeson film, a role that requires no heavy lifting and only a few lines as Nyong’o plays a stewardess in a generic nothing part.

ABC News dubbed the Mexican-born Kenyan “Hollywood’s New ‘IT’ Girl” comparing her favorably to Jennifer Lawrence, Sandra Bullock, Hillary Swank and Julia Roberts.   That’s heavy company for Nyong’o to run with after just two films.

The expectation would be after racking up a series of accolades and awards, Nyong’o would have her pick of future films roles, yet she has no upcoming projects on her IMDB page.  Maybe she is taking her time before choosing what she does next.  The fear is she’s the latest Black actress to win Best Supporting Actress only to find Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with them as Jennifer Hudson, Octavia Spencer and Mo’nique have previously learned.

Nyong’o has the looks and the talent to have a long and successful career, but will she be given roles that offer her opportunities to build on 12 Years A Slave or will she end up in Zoe Saldana territory as the Black girlfriend of the starring White actor?  Ending up as ethnic eye-candy would be a terrible waste of Nyong’o’s potential.

While Nyong’o’s career in front of the camera remains a work-in-progress, she has quickly become a much-admired role model for overcoming her own doubts and embracing her beauty as a dark-skinned African woman.  At the 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, Nyong’o spoke from the heart.

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o (Photo credit: gdcgraphics)

I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”

My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.

And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.

And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty.

Nyongo's Facebook page featured this pic the morning after the Oscars.

Nyongo’s Facebook page featured this pic the morning after the Oscars.

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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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“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.