"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

The Last Black Man in San Francisco: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A unique and original film that is beautifully shot, dramatically compelling and painfully insightful.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, based on a story by Jimmie Fails and written and directed by Joe Talbot, is the story of Jimmie, a black man trying to reclaim his childhood house, a beautiful Victorian built by his grandfather in the 1940’s, that sits in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood. The film stars Jimmie Fails as Jimmie, with supporting turns from Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover and Mike Epps.

Thus far, 2019 has been a pretty dismal year in terms of American film. Of the four lonely films I have recommended so far this year, all of them are foreign. Thankfully, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is like a tall, cool glass of cinematic water in the parched desert of American movies in 2019. The film, which is based upon a story created by its lead actor Jimmie Fails (who is black) and its director Joe Talbot (who is white), pulsates with a life, artistic vibrancy and intelligence that is an utter joy to behold.

On the surface the film examines gentrification in San Francisco and the consequences of it. What I really loved about the movie though is that it does not take the easy, emotionalist route in exploring this complicated issue. Although it is often lumped in as simply a racism issue, the changing face of a neighborhood is a result of a much more nuanced set of elements. For instance my white family (and extended family) were part of the white flight from Brooklyn in the 1970’s because the neighborhood was rapidly changing from Irish, Italian and Jewish to Haitian and Jamaican. It is easy to chalk this up as simply racism, but the reality is, regardless of race or ethnicity, people like to be around people who not only look like them, but have the same culture and relatively same belief system. This is why immigration is such a huge issue, it isn’t a function of racism but rather a function of cultural comfort. The same is true here in Los Angeles where black neighborhoods get really angry when white people move in because they feel the “essence” of the neighborhood is changing. That isn’t racism…it is human nature.

To the movie’s great credit it does not take the easy road in addressing this polarizing issue, but instead embraces the complexity and subtlety of it. Besides the maze that is gentrification, the film also dances through the minefield that is toxic black masculinity, black violence, myth and identity, the cancer of capitalism, self-deception, self-delusion and most especially…the importance of Truth.

Jimmie yearns to return to the house of his childhood, which has no doubt been sanitized in his own mind. His dream of a return is fueled by his tumultuous life since leaving the house and the myth that gives meaning to the structure, namely that his grandfather built the house from the ground up in a Japanese neighborhood. Unlike the greedy white people taking over San Francisco now and pushing out minorities, Jimmie’s black grandfather didn’t steal anyone’s house, he defied racial stereotypes and oppression and created one from scratch.

Jimmie’s journey is a fascinating one, and while the actor Jimmie Fails (playing a character with the same name) is not the greatest actor in the world, he is certainly likable and does Yoeman’s work as the protagonist. Fails succeeds at being a worthy host for his two-hour narrative journey.

The performance that I did find remarkable though was that of Jonathan Majors as Montgomery Allen, Jimmie’s best friend. Majors brings such a beautiful and delicate sense of humanity to Montgomery that it is mesmerizing. Montgomery is the consummate artist as he is a writer, director, actor, sketch artist, wardrobe…you name it, and because he is an artist he is motivated by only one thing…the Truth. Majors fills Allen with an off-beat but very specific and detailed intentionality that gives him an understated but undeniable charisma and power.

Danny Glover and Mike Epps have small roles in the film but do quality work in them and bring a certain level of professionalism to the cast. In general, the other supporting actors feel a little rough around the edges, but that aesthetic works well for the movie.

Director Talbot does a tremendous job of bringing what could have been a maudlin and middling story to life with a dazzling emotional and dramatic vitality. The movie is beautifully shot as Talbot and cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra do an outstanding job framing their shots and even throw in some delicious 70’s, throw-back, long shot zooms. I loved those shots as they not only gave the film a distinct look and feel but were also imbued with a much deeper, archetypal meaning.

Talbot’s direction reminded me a little bit, just a little, of Spike Lee, in that he masterfully uses music, particularly jazz and/or classical, to build both dramatic and narrative momentum. Also like Lee, he populates his story with eccentrics who never fall into stereotype or caricature, no easy feat. Unlike Lee, and to his credit, Talbot wholeheartedly embraces a narrative complexity and subtlety that forces introspection rather than accusation, and is not afraid to tell the Truth even when the Truth hurts.

Even though the director Joe Talbot is white, the story is told exclusively from a black man’s perspective. What I found intriguing about this is that Talbot establishes this fact from the opening shot and makes clear that white people are aliens…literally…as they look like astronauts walking on a distant planet. What is so refreshing about Talbot’s approach is that he keeps white people as “alien” throughout…they are, ultimately, truly unknowable to black people. Of course the reverse is true as well, but in this movie we only see the black perspective and it was refreshing because it forced all of the issues and responsibilities back onto black characters. There are no one dimensional, white villains to blame or scapegoat (unlike, for instance, in some of Spike Lee’s films, or in last year’s If Beale Street Could Talk).

In conclusion, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a gorgeous film that never takes any short cuts and never fails to challenge, captivate and illuminate. This is a smart, original, unique and extremely well made film that I highly recommend you take the time and effort to go see in the theatre.

©2019

If Beale Street Could Talk: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A Beautiful mess of a movie that is gorgeous to look at but story wise is derivative and dull, making it difficult to sit through.

If Beale Street Could Talk, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is an adaptation of the James Baldwin story of the same name that follows the travails of two African-Americans, Tish and Fonny, as they navigate the perils of young love in a racist New York City of the 1970’s. The film stars Kiki Layne as Tish and Stephon James as Fonny with supporting turns from Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry .

If Beale Street Could Talk, director Barry Jenkin’s much anticipated follow up to his 2016 Best Picture winning Moonlight, is another in a long line of disappointments on the very bumpy ride of cinema in 2018.

Based on the James Baldwin story of the same name (which I have not read), If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful mess of a movie. It is at once visually stunning yet also narratively pedestrian and culturally juvenile.

Let’s start with the good news. Cinematographer James Laxton delivers an impeccably lush and cinematically vibrant aesthetic to the film. Laxton’s camera engages in an exquisite dance with his subjects while painting the world of the film with a delicate and ethereal palate that is not only gorgeous to behold but narratively profound. Laxton’s work on Moonlight was equally sublime and dramatically insightful, and with If Beale Street Could Talk, Laxton has shown himself to be not only a master craftsman but a powerful artist.

Sadly, Barry Jenkins script never lives up to Laxton’s stirring cinematography. Jenkins inability to write efficient and effective dialogue and build a coherent and compelling narrative make If Beale Street Could Talk a frustratingly uneven and ultimately unsatisfying film to watch.

When Jenkins (and Laxton) flashes back and focuses on the blossoming first love of Tish and Fonny, the film crackles with life. The chemistry between actors Kiki Layne (Tish) and Stephon James (Fonny) in these flashback scenes is palpable, and Laxton superbly bathes them in gorgeous light, shadow and color as he lets the viewer see the characters as they see each other, through the prism of unabashed love.

It is when the film shifts to the present moment and its drama of “legal peril”, which is decidedly stale and stultifying with cringe worthy dialogue to match, when the wheels come of the cinematic wagon. An example of which is that there is a scene between Tish and Fonny’s families that is so poorly written, poorly directed and poorly acted that it was like watching kids put on a play…a very bad play…in their basement.

The “legal peril” storyline is so trite, hackneyed and derivative it seems like it was lifted from an episode of Law and Order or some equally awful television show. Anytime the focus of the film shifts to the legal story and its adjacent narratives, it serves as little more than an irritating distraction.

The film is equally abysmal when it tries to convey a political or socially conscious message. When Jenkins tries to use the movie as a statement on race in America, it reveals itself to be, at best, painfully adolescent in its cosmology.

Ironically, in its social themes, If Beale Street Could Talk is as much an unnuanced distorted Black view of America as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry is a unnuanced distorted view of America through the White perspective. Both film’s are little more than wish fulfillment and fantasies driven by archetypes deeply embedded in the American psyche. In the case of Dirty Harry, it is the archetypal Righteous Gun Slinging Vigilante, who is part of the system but operates outside of it to protect Whites from those lawless “others”, most notably Blacks (think of the “you feel lucky” scene, where Dirty Harry points his .44 Magnum in the face of a “Black criminal”).


In If Beale Street Could Talk, the thematic archetype is one of the Righteous Victim (think of Fonny as the young Black criminal with Dirty Harry’s .44 in his face), who is oppressed by the system and must operate outside of it in order to survive it. In this way, If Beale Street Could Talk is social justice/victimhood porn and propaganda, which on its surface claims to be about speaking the truth of the Black perspective in America, but in reality is about reinforcing and strengthening the victim archetype and narrative.

What is striking to me about this aspect of the film, is that it also reinforces the racist tropes that fueled the Dirty Harry era to begin with and which eventually led to Clinton’s infamous crime bill in the 90’s which further criminalized Black men. For instance, the lead character Fonny which, along with Tish, is whom the viewer is supposed to identify with, and yet when we first learn about Fonny, he commits a crime, theft. Fonny’s lawlessness is not even given a second thought, but in the narrative structure of the film it subconsciously undermines the audiences connection to him to a devastating degree. This is not some personal revelation from me, this is just Cinema 101: Basic Storytelling and Character Development.

The same is true of the other Black men in the movie, all of whom are equally lawless and all of whom commit crimes. Fonny’s father steals from the docks, and his pseudo father in law not only steals but beats the hell out of his wife…and yet these men are supposed to represent “regular Black men”.

Add to that Fonny’s friend Daniel who is fresh out of prison, and just like Fonny claims he is entirely innocent of the charges against him. Apparently Fonny and Daniel are the two guys who really didn’t do it…even though we’ve already seen Fonny commit a crime and Daniel’s sketchy reputation precedes him.

While all of the Black men in the film are criminals, none of them take responsibility for their criminality. The crimes they commit are all the fault of the system that is screwing them, thus demeaning these men even further as they are deprived of any and all agency. This is the Victim archetype in full bloom, where no matter what the character does it is never their fault. This is an extremely unsatisfying quality in a cinematic Hero, as it simply castrates the Hero and asks the audience to pity them rather than relate or project on to them. It also does not allow for any catharsis on the part of the character, and that in turn doesn’t allow for any catharsis on the part of the viewer, which results in a psychologically frustrating movie-going experience.

Consider other Hero stories where the Hero is brought down by a corrupt system…movies like Braveheart, where William Wallace ultimately loses, but he goes down swinging, screaming “Freedom” at the top of his lungs as he is torn to shreds. Or think of a parallel for the Fonny character to maybe the best known Hero story of them all…Jesus Christ. Jesus is persecuted, just like Fonny, but the key to the Jesus story is that he has agency and chooses to be crucified….thus becoming Christ. Jesus is the empowered form of the Victim archetype…which is the martyr, who is victim by choice. The choice here is the important thing as it means the Hero may suffer a terrible defeat but he still maintains his agency. In contrast, the perpetually disempowered Fonny is just laundry being tossed and turned in a washing machine, who never chooses but always loses.

In terms of the criminality of the characters in the film, there are other contrasting examples, think of The Godfather or Goodfellas. The mobsters in those movies do awful things to people and yet audiences relate to them and embrace them as “Heroes” of the story, why is that? The reason for that is because those characters, from Michael Corleone to Henry Hill, embrace their criminality. They maintain their agency and don’t claim to be victims of the system, instead they are gaming the system.

These details in the DNA of If Beale Street Could Talk may seem minute to the less sophisticated viewer, but it is these specific elements that can make or break a film and its narrative in the unconscious of the audience. In the case of If Beale Street Could Talk, these subtle archetypal issues deter viewers from fully accepting and embracing the characters, story and film.

It isn’t just the Black men who fair poorly in If Beale Street Could Talk, as White men are portrayed as truly devils in this movie. White men are sexual predators (again, the inverse of the Dirty Harry movie where Black men are predators) and are inherently evil, from a lecherous perfume shopper to a cop who is so consumed with racial hatred he comes across as more than a little insane. For the White characters in this movie, just like Black characters in Dirty Harry, they are entirely devoid of nuance and are absurd caricatures. Even White characters we never see are predators, as there is one who impregnates a poor Latina women and then leaves her with nothing, and then maybe even returns to rape her.

It is for these reasons that If Beale Street Could Talk is just as insidious and insipid as the blatantly racist Dirty Harry movies.

As for the acting, Stephon James and Kiki Layne are glorious in their falling in love sequences. Laxton’s camera holds on their loving gazes for extended periods and their love for one another is tangible in these shots. But when they are asked to do more than just look longingly and lovingly at one another, the two stars lose much of their power.

James is a charismatic screen presence, but he seems rather limited when it comes to the more static shots. James is unable to compress his magnetism and dynamism when he is contained in such a confining space and he loses his power because of it.

Kiki Layne is quite engaging during the dreamy love sequences as well, but she too falls well short when things get much more complicated. Layne’s strong suit is her ability to seem to be overcome by her wonder for the world, but when the world stops being wondrous, she stops being interesting and starts being wooden.

Regina King does solid work as Tish’s mom, but she is hamstrung by being stuck in the intolerably mundane legal drama portion of the story, and while she is a compelling actress, none of her scenes are particularly noteworthy.

If Beale Street Could Talk, which may be the second most mis-leading title in the history of cinema right behind The Never Ending Story because Beale Street is never seen in the movie and all the action takes place in New York (I am kidding, the title is explained in the opening, but still…I found it funny), is another in a long line of films that underwhelmed in 2018. Barry Jenkins (and his cinematographer James Laxton) has a distinct and luscious visual flair to his work, but his storytelling and character development need serious work. Therefore I can only recommend this film to the most committed of cinephiles who would want to see the cinematography on the big screen. For everyone else, there is no reason to see this in the theatre, but if you stumble upon it on cable one night or on Netflix, feel free to check it out if you like, and tell me if I am wrong or not.

In conclusion, if Beale Street could talk, I’d tell it to shut up because while it talks a lot and does so in a beautifully melodious and mellifluous visual voice, it actually doesn’t say a whole hell of a lot, and what little it does have to say is so vapid and vacuous that it has no value whatsoever.

©2018

Green Book: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A finely crafted, classic Hollywood, feel good tale that is worth seeing either in the theatre or on Netflix or cable.

Green Book, written by Nick Vallelonga, Bryan Curry and Peter Farrelly and directed by Farrelly, is the true story of the relationship between African-American Jazz pianist Dr. Don Shirley and his Italian-American driver/bodyguard Tony Vallelonga during a concert tour of the deep south in 1962. The film stars Mahershala Ali as Dr. Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as Tony.

If I am being honest, I have to admit that I had little interest in Green Book prior to going to see it. The film looked like a slight twist on the stale Driving Miss Daisy idea and seemed a bit too mainstream and, dare I say it, simple and saccharine, for my tastes. Even after I heard from a few people that it was good, I was still hesitant. But, since I have MoviePass, I figured what the hell, so I rolled the dice and went to the theatre with low expectations.

As is often the case in life, my low expectations were greatly exceeded. To be clear, Green Book is not a great or original film, but it is a good one, mostly because it is well crafted, which as a film critic, I can tell you is a rare thing nowadays.

Green Book is a traditional Hollywood film in its structure and genre. It is at once a road picture, a relationship/friendship comedy and a Christmas movie all at once, that touches upon a deeper social issue…in this case, racism. If Green Book came out ten or twenty years ago, it would be pure Oscar-bait, and would no doubt win a handful of prizes and maybe even the big prize, Best Picture, because of its classical structure, “social consciousness” and optimism. But those days where nice movies about coming together across racial lines can bring home Oscar gold are long gone. Green Book will not win any Oscars in 2018, in fact, as our politics and racial politics have become more and more tribal, even liking Green Book somehow leaves you open to charges of being racist.

In our current age where “Diversity and Inclusivity” are the most holy of religions, and racism the most common and scurrilous of charges, Green Book makes for an easy target. The biggest issue some people have with the film is that it is a story about American racism told through the eyes of a “White” man (White is in quotes because depending on the severity of your racism, some folks do not consider Italians to be White. Personally, not only do I not consider Italians to be White, I don’t even consider them to be human…of course, I’m kidding…sort of). White men are currently atop the Most Unwanted list among the cultural elite at the moment, and when the topic of racism is involved, then White Men’s perspectives are most definitely anathema. To some people, telling a story about racism from a White man’s perspective in this day and age is akin to making Schindler’s List from Amon Goth’s (Ralph Fiennes Nazi character) point of view.

Green Book, to its credit, doesn’t shamelessly pander on issues of prejudice and race as some of the most interesting scenes in the film are when Tony argues that Dr. Shirley is just as bad as he is because Dr. Shirley holds the same prejudices against Italians (or other Whites) as Tony does against Blacks. These scenes are pretty uncomfortable on one level because Tony is saying aloud what you aren’t allowed to say anymore, and also because they are logically and rationally right on the money and cut through the subjective experience/ victimhood identity that so skews and soils the politics and racial politics of today.

What makes the film interesting to me though are not the racial dynamics, which have been examined ad nauseum in other films over the years, but rather the class dynamics. To me, Dr. Shirley is less a symbol of the Black man than he is the rich, effete intellectual while Tony is less a symbol of the White man than the poor/working class brute. As the film shows, the two men have a much easier time overcoming their racial differences than their class differences, and that to me, makes Green Book an interesting film.

Regardless of how you feel about the politics of the film, Peter Farrelly does a solid job of walking the line between comedy and drama. Farrelly wisely goes the Odd Couple route and makes Tony the slovenly fool and Dr. Shirley the prim and proper, tight-assed snob. This contrast works for laughs and also helps to build a genuine relationship between the two men.

Farrely’s greatest achievement is in the pacing as he keeps the film tight, and there are no wasted scenes just for comedic effect. The narrative drives efficiently through the entire story, and while it is all pretty predictable, it is never done predictably.

Mahershala Ali does simply stellar work as Dr. Don Shirley, the uptight musical genius in need of protection from the more nefarious elements of White America in the South. There is a speech Dr. Shirley gives early in the film where he speaks on the need to always maintain dignity, and that speech very clearly elucidates Dr. Shirley’s cosmology and character and his survival mechanism in a hostile world.

Ali masterfully inhabits Dr. Shirley, most notably with his commitment to the character’s distinct physicality. Ali’s Shirley maintains his dignity and decorum under all circumstances and it is reflected in his impeccable posture. It is when Dr. Shirley starts to lose his grip though, where Ali really shines, letting the turmoil that boils just beneath the veneer of controlled perfection break through the surface to reveal the conflicted and tormented storm raging inside him.

Viggo Mortensen deftly brings the Tony character to life with a combination of grounded humanity and comedic aplomb. Mortensen does a lot of heavy lifting with this role and he runs the great risk of falling into empty caricature (the big-hearted, Italian lug), but he uses his craft and skill wisely to avoid that trap by making Tony both earnest and wily, and rigid yet flexible. While Tony is certainly a simple character on one level, Mortensen never fails to make him morally and ethically complex and compelling.

Maybe I liked the film because Tony, the Italian meathead from the Bronx, reminded me of my Irish working class uncles from Brooklyn. My uncles all had the same prejudices and all threw around the same casual racism as Tony, but they too were still decent human beings….not perfect by any stretch…but very decent. My uncles, and Tony, are, like all people of all races and ethnicities, complicated in that way.

Linda Cardellini plays Tony’s wife Dolores, and she reminded me of some of my Irish uncle’s wonderful Italian wives (I know…the scandal!!…an Irishman marrying an Italian!! Talk about a mixed marriage!!) from Brooklyn. Cardellini turns what could have been a throwaway role into a real gem, giving Dolores multiple dimensions and palpable intentions that enhance the film a great deal.

In conclusion, Green Book is a classic, traditional, mainstream Hollywood film that in an earlier age, rightly or wrongly, would be much more highly regarded than it is now. The film boasts two winning performances from its leads and a terrific supporting performance from Cardellini, and is at times genuinely funny and profoundly moving. Green Book is not the greatest piece of cinema you’ll ever see, but even a cynical cinephile like me found it thoroughly entertaining and at times even insightful, and that is why I recommend you check it out, either in the theatre or on Netflix/cable when available.

If in our current tumultuous and contentious age, you find yourself feeling nostalgic, not for the early 1960’s when Black people were invisible and discrimination was rampant and violent, but rather for a time when finding common humanity wasn’t seen as weakness or betrayal of your tribe but rather as a sign of enlightened evolution, then Green Book is definitely for you…and you and I have a lot in common.

©2018

BlacKkKlansman: A Review

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!****

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A flawed but insightful, incisive and compelling film that speaks to the struggles of our time.

BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee and written by Lee and a coterie of others (based on the book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth), is the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black cop in Colorado Springs who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. The film stars John David Washington as Stallworth, with supporting turns from Adam Driver, Laura Harrier and Topher Grace.

At one time, in the late 1980's and early 1990's, Spike Lee was one of the most important filmmakers in cinema. His breakthrough film, 1989's Do the Right Thing, which featured Lee's signature aesthetic of humor, drama and cultural commentary was an explosive piece of cinema that catapulted Lee into the spotlight and into the hearts of cinephiles everywhere.

Lee followed up Do the Right Thing with two films that weren't quite as ground breaking but were noteworthy films nonetheless, Mo' Better Blues (1990) and Jungle Fever (1991). Following those two critical and commercial successes Lee then made his masterpiece, the phenomenal Malcolm X (1992), which is a staggering cinematic achievement.

After reaching the summit with Malcolm X, the cinematic world seemed his for the taking, but then something strange happened to Spike Lee...he lost his fastball. I am not sure why it happened, whether it was a case of the muse abandoning him, his mojo shrinking, his spirit being broken or his just not giving a shit anymore, but I know it most certainly did happened. To be clear, he didn't lose it all at once...but there was a noticeable and precipitous decline in the quality and artistry of his work in the wake of Malcolm X.

The middling movies Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game and Summer of Sam are all painfully lackluster efforts, especially in the shadow of the murderers row of Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever and the Babe Ruth of the canon Malcolm X. The precipitous decline in Lee's filmmaking ability was equaled by his fall from cinematic relevance.

Lee wasn't just losing his artistic and critical fastball, the box office had left him as well as none of those films even made back their production budgets, making this unfortunate streak a near death blow to Lee's career. Directors can churn out average and below average films for decades...but only if they make their investors money or at the very least do not lose their investors money...a perfect example is Ron Howard.

The last Spike Lee film I saw in the theatre was also the first Spike Lee film to make any money since Malcom X, and that was 2002's 25th Hour. Three things stood out about this movie in regards to Lee's other films, the first is that it is a story about a White protagonist and stars a White cast. Secondly, it made more profit than all of the previous seven second tier Lee films (post Malcolm X) combined, and actually made more in net profit than even Malcolm X. And third, even though I thoroughly enjoyed 25th Hour, it was not a "Spike Lee film" as his signature aesthetic was noticeably absent. While I hoped 25th Hour signaled a new phase in Lee's career and began his long climb back into relevance...it didn't. Lee's descent into cinematic irrelevance only seemed to quicken its pace.

In 2006, Lee had a financial hit on his hands with the film Inside Man (which was originally supposed to be directed by...ironically, Ron Howard), but while the box office was stellar, the biggest of his career, Lee's artistry was lacking, and the movie was little more than a Denzel Washington star vehicle rather than a Spike Lee joint, and again, could have been directed by anyone. After Inside Man the wheels came off the cinematic wagon for Lee as he churned out a string of films, one more awful and irrelevant than the next.

Which brings us to BlacKKKlansman. With BlacKKKlansman Spike Lee has done something extraordinary...he got his fastball back. Now, it isn't all the way back, not by a long shot. If Lee was throwing 98 MPH heat in his early 90's heyday, and in his post-Malcolm X phase dropped to an anemic 90 MPH, and in the last decade has been hurling up grotesque 84 MPH meatballs, with BlacKKKlansman he hits a solid and very respectable 92 to 94 MPH on the radar gun.

The story of BlacKKKlansman is the right story at the right time with the right filmmaker. BlacKkKlansman is right in Spike Lee's wheelhouse and shows him to be artistically and cinematically invigorated by the material because it allows him to highlight his best quality...namely his flair for mixing of humor, politics and cultural commentary. Though not as sharply crafted as his sterling early works, this movie is easily Lee's best effort in the last 25 years, hands down. It is vibrantly relevant, pulsatingly alive and at times gloriously infectious.

Lee's direction is energetic as he unfurls an insightful and incisive story that lays bare the perilously combustible nature of our time. Lee's politics, particularly his racial politics, have always been overt in his films, but in BlacKKKlansman he is not only able to get a blunt and brazen message across out in the open, but also covertly weaves a subtler, yet ultimately more nuanced, mature and impactful political message just beneath the emotionally furious surface of the film.

As much as some may take this film as an anti-White and pro-Black screed, they would be missing the deeper messages embedded in the movie. If you can leave your preconceived notions at the door and watch the film looking for Lee's masterful weaving together of the dynamics at play in the Black and White power struggle, you will be surprised, if not downright shocked, as to what the film is telling/teaching you. In my reading of the film Lee's vision is not so starkly black and white (pardon the pun) but he appears to be trying to find allies where he once saw enemies, and is trying to solve problems rather than exacerbate them.

The film's star, John David Washington, gives a charismatic and magnetic performance as Ron Stallworth. Unbeknownst to me prior to seeing the movie, John David is Denzel Washington's son, and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. John David is certainly not the skillful actor and master craftsman his father is...but that is an unfair bar to set...rather John David is his own actor, and to his benefit he isn't a look-alike of his father either. John David does have his father's undeniable charisma and charm though and he carries this film from start to finish with aplomb and ease. Funny, likeable and genuine, John David Washington's confidence never crosses the river into arrogance, and that is a quality that will serve him well in the future, which will hopefully be very bright.

Adam Driver is an actor I generally do not understand. I do no think he is very good and cannot for the life of me understand why other people do. That said, he does solid work in BlacKKKlansman and is an asset to the movie. Driver's character is a bit underwritten, but he makes the most of what he is given.

The luminous Laura Harrier plays Patrice, the love interest of Ron, and she is excellent. Harrier is able to imbue Patrice with not only a determined strength, but a nagging fragility that is compelling to behold. Harrier makes Patrice a complex character where a lesser actress would've made her a two-dimensional bore.

Topher Grace is spectacular as Klan leader David Duke (yes, THAT David Duke). Topher's performance is so understated and comedically genius as to be sublime. Of course, Topher is aided by the fact that David Duke is such a repulsive and captivating character as to be amazing, but to Topher's credit, he does not make Duke a caricature but rather a very real and genuine human being. Topher's ability to seamlessly and subtly make the Duke character's emotional transitions elevates the film considerably.

It is also worth noting that two actors give terrific performances in very small parts. Alec Baldwin has a cameo as Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard, and he crushes his minimal screen time, which was a treat since the last time I saw him he was embarrassing himself with his hackneyed performance in Mission Impossible. And Corey Hawkins has a small supporting role as Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) that is electric. The scene where Ture gives a speech is one of the best in the film and Hawkins' performance (and Lee's direction) is dynamic.

As much as I liked BlacKKKlansman, it isn't a perfect film. I thought the Klansman characters were very poorly written, or underwritten as the case may be. The caricature of all Klansman as stupid and redneck is a cheap and easy way to make fun of them, but a bad way to make the case that racism is a prevalent and predominant evil in our society. The Klansmen in the movie lack a genuine desperation and fear which would make them much more complicated (and believable) characters instead of being the cartoon cutouts that are only motivated by sheer lack of I.Q. combined with in-bred hate that the movie makes them out to be.

Lee may have some of his fastball back, but certainly not all of it. The final 1/3 or 1/4 of the film shows the cracks in Lee's skill level. As the story accelerates towards its climax Lee's direction gets messy if not downright sloppy. Lee's cinematic incoherence is matched by some dubious writing and plot twists that make for a muddled and mundane finale to an otherwise pretty riveting narrative.

Lee then adds a coda to the film that is completely extraneous, indulgent, logically absurd and frankly embarrassingly idiotic, that in many ways scuttles the exquisite cinematic experience of the movie. This coda is so amateurish and dreadfully awful it is truly amazing, so much so that I felt myself and my opinion of the movie deflating as the scene wore on. This scene feels like it is from a bad high school morality play rather than a quality piece of cinema. But then...Lee redeems himself with a second coda that ends the movie...which I will not spoil...only to say that it is dramatic and emotional dynamite and is extremely well-done and poignant.

In conclusion, BlacKKKlansman is easily Spike Lee's best film of the last 25 years. It is a relevant piece of cinema that speaks to the troubles of our time by equating it with the troubles in our past. Buoyed by a strong lead performance from John David Washington, BlacKKKlansman is a smart, often subtle and insightful film that packs a wallop, and is well-worth your time and money to go see in the theatre.

©2018

The Whitewashing Controversy

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 18 seconds

HELLBOY IN HELL

Last week, Ed Skrein, an up and coming actor best known for his work as the villain in Deadpool, dropped out of the role for which he was cast in the remake of Hellboy, after charges of "whitewashing" were made against the producers of the film on social media. You may be asking yourself…what is whitewashing? Well, whitewashing is when White actors are cast in traditionally non-White character roles. In the case of Hellboy, Ed Skrein is a White actor and his character Ben Daimio is Japanese-American in the original comic book source material. 

Once the Hellboy whitewashing uproar gained some steam on social networks, Skrein dropped out of the role stating, “I accepted the role unaware that the character in the original comics was of mixed Asian heritage. There has been intense conversation and understandable upset since that announcement, and I must do what I feel is right.”

Skrein continued, “Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed heritage family,” he said (Skrein is of Austrian-Jewish and English descent). “It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and give voice to inclusivity.”

From a public relations standpoint, this is a masterstroke by Skrein. He turned a story that was potentially damaging to his career into one that makes him out to be the hero. As for the repercussions of Skrein's decision on the wider world in general, and Hollywood in particular, I am skeptical that his kowtowing to the anti-whitewashing mob is a positive maneuver. 

THE WITCHES OF WHITEWASHING AND MICKEY ROONEY SUCKS

Whitewashing has been a hot topic in Hollywood of late, as a string of high profile White women have been cast in Asian roles or that had Asian women in the source material. The three most notable were when Scarlett Johannsen was cast as the lead in Ghost in the Shell to play a character that was Asian in the source material, Tilda Siwnton was cast in a role that in the comic book was a male Asian guru in Dr. Strange, and Emma Stone was cast as a woman who was 1/4 Hawaiin and 1/4 Chinese in Cameron Crowe's Aloha.

Whitewashing is not to be confused with "yellow face", which is when a White actor plays an Asian character and wears make up to simulate Asian characteristics. Yellowface is to Asians as Blackface is to Blacks, it is a highly offensive and aggressive way to demean and diminish a minority through caricature and stereotype. The most famous instance of yellow face is Mickey Rooney's cringe-worthy performance in Breakfast at Tiffanys, but other famous actors, including Marlon Brando and Katherine Hepburn, have done it as well. And it wasn't just back in the 50's and 60's either, as recently as 1992 Jonathon Pryce starred on the London stage wearing yellow face in Miss Saigon.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND STATISTICAL REALITY

In terms of whitewashing, the theory behind people's resistance to it is entirely understandable. As long as Hollywood has been in existence, the majority of roles have been for White actors, and for a good portion of that time minority actors were systematically discriminated against, so casting Whites in potentially minority roles doesn't sit very well with some people. That historical context is important to keep in mind when addressing the whitewashing issue, and it easily explains the perception that White actors are still cast at disproportionately high rates compared to minority actors. That being said, while the conventional wisdom is that there is an imbalance towards Whites in casting, the statistical reality does not match up with that perception.

Whites are certainly cast in the overwhelming majority of roles, but that isn't due to racism, but more likely because Whites make up the overwhelming majority of the U.S. (and English speaking world's) population. Some statistics jump out at me in regards to casting and population in terms of race and ethnicity. For instance, an Annenberg study found that Asians are cast in 5.1% of roles in film and television, which doesn't seem like much, but, according to the American Community Survey in the 2010 U.S. Census, Asians make up 5.1% of the U.S. general population. This shows that Asians are not under represented in casting, but in fact, are perfectly represented. The same is also true of Black actors, who are cast in 12.2% of roles and make up 12.4% of the U.S. population. These statistics show that contrary to popular opinion, Asian and Black actors are not under represented. 

In addition, a further look at the Annenberg study shows that White actors are not over represented according to their population percentage, but slightly under represented. According to the Annenberg study, Whites are cast in 71.7 % of roles and the census tells us that Whites account for 73% of the population. This seems counter intuitive to many people, but it is accurate, at least according to the Annenberg study and the census.

REVERSE RACISM? SO WHAT!

The question remains though, do any of these statistics matter in regard to the whitewashing controversy? The casting pendulum, so long on the White side of things, has swung away from White dominance in the last few decades, and now casts people (at least Asian, Black and White people) at relatively the same rate as their population percentage. This is a positive thing, but the fact that some people still perceive an imbalance towards Whites creates an atmosphere where whitewashing accusations resonate. 

The problem with claims of whitewashing, is that they push the pendulum beyond the center sweet spot of equality, with its embrace of a meritocracy, to a position of identity/inclusivity, where an actors ethnicity or race trump questions of talent and skill. This identity/inclusivity approach is just as unfair as a White dominated approach, and is ultimately cancerous in the wider culture as it brings with it a backlash in the form of White resentment and in some cases, even White supremacy. 

Many people would say, "so what?" to charges that identity/inclusivity angers White people because it is a form of reverse racism. Some people I have spoken to on the subject tell me that White people are racists or have an inherit privilege, so they deserve to be shortchanged for once. I get the sentiment, I do, it is entirely understandable in historical context, but the problem with that kind of thinking is it is entirely emotionally driven and not rational. Shortchanging White actors because they are White may be emotionally rewarding in the moment, but in the long run it is not only unfair to White actors, but undermines talented minority artists and diminishes artistic quality across the board.

IS WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE WHITE GOOSE, GOOD FOR THE MINORITY GANDER?

An example of this can be found in the Skrein case where, according to the producer, he was cast not because he was White, but because he gave the best audition. Merit is why he was chosen, not race, and replacing him with an ethnically "appropriate" actor who was not as good, will reduce the quality of the film. But for those crying "whitewashing", merit has no appeal in casting decisions, only identity/inclusivity matters. Again, this approach may feel emotionally gratifying at the moment, but it is intellectually incoherent, and ultimately counter productive for minority actors when taken to its logical conclusion. For instance, if, as those crying whitewashing wish, we base casting decisions solely on the identity of the character in the source material, then no minority actor would ever be able to do classical theatre like Shakespeare (with Othello being the notable exception), Chekhov or Ibsen and Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams would be off the table as well.

Identity casting is much like identity politics, it is a double edged sword. When democrats make politics about identity, then not only will minorities respond to that siren's call, but White people will embrace their identity as well, and like it or not, White people are the overwhelming majority of America. In casting, this slavish embrace of identity can, and most likely will, come back to haunt those who celebrate it. An example of this was seen when Edward Albee's estate refused to let a theatre company do a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? with a Black cast member. People were outraged by this decision and charges of racism soon followed, but Albee's argument (through his esate, Albee died in 2016) was that the play is about White people, and a Black actor would distort the meaning of the play. This is the flip side of the same argument that the whitewashing crowd uses against Scarlett Johannsen playing the lead in Ghost in the Shell

The reality is that many minority actors have gotten jobs not despite of their ethnicity, but because of it. Many theatre companies are compelled to use diverse casts in order to get grants and funding and it is in their best interest in some cases to eschew a more talented White actor in favor of a less talented minority actor, in order to get that funding. The same is true of tv shows and films, because contrary to what "whitewashing" critics think, networks, studios and producers desperately want diverse casts. This leads to minority actors actually having a slight advantage in the casting process, not a disadvantage, due to their non-White identity.  

The bigger problem, beyond claims of whitewashing, is the mania and hysteria brought on by our current addiction to identity, be it in casting or politics. This hysteria showed its face with the vapid #OscarsSoWhite campaign over the alleged racism of the Academy Awards. Just like claims of whitewashing, claims of Oscar racism are emotionally driven as well, and are proven false by statistical analysis. (see that statistical reality here).

CRY RACISM, AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR

Another story from last week that highlights the corrosive effect our current identity/inclusivity mania and hysteria has on Hollywood and our culture, was when actress Chloe Bennet, best known for her role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., played the role of victim when she said that Hollywood is racist. Bennet, whose real last name is Wang, is of Taiwanese descent, and when someone questioned her for changing her Taiwanese last name, her defense was that she changed her name because "Hollywood is racist." This episode is a wonderful study in how identity politics and casting will devour those that cling to them. 

To start with, Ms. Bennet was smart enough to sense that she was going to be the victim of the same mob that attacked Hellboy and Ed Skrein when asked about her name change. The left is great at eating their own, and Ms. Bennet knew to throw them some red meat or she would be the next meal. In order to avoid the consequences/shame of her name change, Bennet took the cheap and cynical way out by crying racism, which seems to be the only way many liberals can argue these days, and claimed she never got cast in anything until she changed her name. Of course, the charge is vacuous at best, and insidious at worst.

Are there racists in Hollywood? Sure, there are racists in all walks of life. But did Ms. Bennet not get cast prior to her name change because of racism? To think that anyone would care if an actress had the last name of Wang as opposed to Bennet is the height of absurdity. Casting people don't give a rat's ass about your last name, usually only your fame, talent and your attractiveness. Ms. Bennet did not become more or less attractive or talented with a different last name. Ms. Bennet basically admitted her reasoning was circumspect when she said, "Changing my last name doesn’t change the fact that my blood is half-Chinese, that I lived in China, speak Mandarin, or that I was culturally raised both American and Chinese". Yes, her name is different but she still looks exotic and not pasty White, so if Hollywood was racist they would discriminate against her for how she looked, not her last name. 

Ms. Bennet's cries of racism, besides being self-serving, were counter productive, not only in Hollywood, but in America. It is statistical fact that Asians are cast at exactly the same rate that they make up the population, so there is no casting bias against them. Yet by crying racism, Ms. Bennet diminishes the power of that charge, and undermines and belittles the struggles of people who are truly suffering under the torment of racism and injustice in the real world. 

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. STRANGE

An example of the intellectual inconsistencies of the anti-whitewashing crowd was also on display when Tilda Swinton was cast in Dr. Strange. Swinton's character, the Ancient One, is a Tibetan man in the comic books, and the reason the producers cast a White, middle-aged woman in the role was because they explicitly wanted to avoid any racial stereotypes, such as the Fu Manchu - Asian man, stereotype. The anti-whitewashing crowd got up in arms about it anyway. Apparently Asian men are higher on the victim scale than White woman, which will come as a terrible shock to many of the White women I know in Hollywood who proudly wear the hat of victimhood like a crown. 

Further making the Dr. Strange case intellectually incoherent, was the fact that in order to have a more diverse cast, the producers cast Chiwetel Ejiofor, a Black actor, in a role that was a White character in the original source material. Apparently, slavish adherence to source material only matters when White actors are cast in minority roles and not vice versa.

BREAKING NEWS: THE BRITISH ARE PASTY WHITE

The identity/inclusivity mania and hysteria was even on full display this summer regarding the film Dunkirk. The film, set in 1942, tells the story of the British army and their emergency evacuation from Dunkirk, France in world war two. The cast of the film is almost entirely White, which is completely in keeping with the historical facts of the story, yet controversy swirled around the film for not having a diverse cast. USA Today's reviewer, Brian Truitt, commented about the film's lack of minorities in his review by writing, “the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way". Not surprisingly, right wing writers had a field day at Truitt's expense, turning what some thought was a molehill of a comment into a mountain of political correctness. 

In response to the right-wing backlash against Truitt's review, Jason Wilson, a writer at the Guardian, wrote a piece decrying the right wing outrage as being manufactured nonsense because no person in their right mind would be bothered by Dunkirk's racial make up. Wilson's piece makes pains to point out that the right wing is itching for a culture war over Dunkirk, but none exists. Then a week later, Sunny Singh, a writer at the Guardian, wrote a piece directly in contrast to her compatriot Wilson by decrying Dunkirk's unabashed whitewashing and lack of Black faces. The cherry on top of the unintentional comedy of Singh's article is that Dunkirk actually does have some Black faces in it, the same ones she longs for in her piece. 

The whole Dunkirk episode, and most of the cries of whitewashing or racism, are exhausting because they are so bloated with the wine (or is it whine?) of emotion, and are thirsting for even a drop of the rational. But sadly, in this emotionalist age in which we live, this is the nonsense that captures our imaginations. 

LIBERTE, EGALITE, FRATERNITE

In a perfect world, we would live under the rule of equality, where meritocracy reigns supreme, and as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, people would be judged by the content of their character, or in this case, their ability, talent and skill, instead of their ethnic or racial identity. I certainly hope that we get there one day, but I am not nearly as optimistic as Dr. King. If history and human nature is any guide, with our current pendulum swing beyond the center where equality lives, into the deeper realm where cries of whitewashing and imaginary racism are not only accepted but encouraged, then the inevitable swing back away from that will go into even darker and more perilous waters than I care to consider. 

In our current age of emotionalism, people of all races and ethnicities do not value merit, or talent, or content of character, as much as they care about identity and instant gratification. This rise of this Church of Identity brings with it dangers, and one of those dangers now resides in the White House. If we are going to make things about identity, then we can expect to feel the wrath of the majority identity in America…White people. The resurgence of White identity, and White supremacy, is a direct result of the emotionally-driven, factually unsubstantiated claims made by those decrying White privilege where no privilege exists. As the Annenberg study and the census proves, this is the case in regards to the casting of television and film. 

When viewed within the troubling historical context of White domination in casting and the vicious arrogance and repulsive racism of yellow face, it is understandable that some, if not most, Asian actors and their supporters, would find the story of a White actor, like Ed Skrein, losing a job simply because he is White, emotionally satisfying, but that doesn't mean it is logical, rational, fair or right. Sadly, the whitewashing controversy is just another sign of our troubled and troubling times.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying Hollywood is a wonderful place filled with rainbows and puppy dogs where people are treated kindly and fairly…it isn't and they aren't. Make no mistake, Hollywood is an absolutely awful place where people are routinely and systematically dehumanized, diminished, exploited and victimized. That said, it is apparent to me that  Hollywood, with its unquenchable hunger for money and power, treats everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, equally like shit.

 

©2017

 

Oscars Aftermath : Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

Estimated Reading Time : 3 minutes 58 seconds

SOME RANDOM,  ENTIRELY INCOHERENT THOUGHTS ON THE OSCARS

Dear gentle reader…the unthinkable has happened. I was wrong about the Oscars. Unlike being wrong about the election or the war, being wrong about the Oscars is no trivial matter. My record for Oscar predictions is unimpeachable…until now. This year I took a major thrashing on my Oscar picks. I have brought great shame upon this esteemed website. 

Due to my egregious errors in Oscar picks, I have decided the only honorable thing to do is to step away from Oscar predictions in order to "spend more time with my family". My downfall and Oscar exile is a tragedy for a myriad of reasons, the most glaring being that the family I am "going to spend more time with" absolutely detest me. I feel for them.

Oscar night was a catastrophe for me…but the great question remains...did I win my Oscar pool? Let's not get ridiculous, of course I won my Oscar pool. I was horrendously wrong on many of my Oscar picks this year, but I still was better than the clueless fools I was competing against. So I am sort of like the tallest midget in my Oscar pool. 

As for the rest of Sunday night, it was a strange evening. I thought La La Land would go on a big run, but it just never happened. Hacksaw Ridge and Suicide Squad, which were, by a long shot, the two worst movies I saw this year, won Oscars. 

As I said in my Oscar post, this year was going to be tough to predict because of the new Academy members…this is not an excuse for my failure, only an explanation. I got Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Picture wrong. Calibrating these new members is going to be tough as they had no discernible pattern to their choices. It is too bad I will never predict the Oscars again because I am itching to try and figure these folks out. Alas, it is not meant to be.

AND THE WINNER IS.

And then there was the Best Picture announcement. The whole episode was bizarre, but what I was most alarmed by was not the error in awarding La La Land the award, but in Faye Dunaway's face. What the hell is going on there? Dunaway was once a great beauty, it bums me out that she feels the need to do…whatever she has done to her face…in order to "stay beautiful". I find it so disheartening when people cannot age gracefully. I realize that I am throwing stones from my glass mansion right now, as anyone who knows me knows that I have had numerous plastic surgeries. I've had my nose, cheeks, eyes, chin, calfs, thighs, buttocks, penis and scrotum done. I look like Frankenstein's taut, beautiful teenage son. Enough of my medical history though, what concerned me was what happened to Faye Dunaway's face. Disappointing. 

Another odd thing was Warren Beatty. Beatty is one of the all-time greats and is a real Hollywood icon. I admire Beatty as an actor a great deal. But Warren Beatty is turning 80 this month. As my friend Jiminy McCricket III reminded me, Warren Beatty's career started during the Eisenhower administration. I think it is time for Warren Beatty to find something else to do with his time. 

ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT AND IDENTITY

Many liberals are ecstatic over Moonlight's win because it is a "gay - Black" film and what that means in the broader context of the culture…but I would caution them to temper their excitement. Moonlight is, in one sense, the upstart, anti-establishment choice. La La Land was the old guard, the establishment choice. Moonlight winning Best Picture is a signal that the establishment is in some very deep shit.

This victory for Moonlight is like the groundhog seeing his shadow…we've got six more weeks (years), at least, of winter for the establishment. And like it or not, even though Trump is president, he is still the symbol of the anti-establishment. The media and Washington elite better understand very quickly what is happening in the collective unconscious. The anti-establishment wave is alive and well in the US, and the world, and will be for some time. It will be useful to keep an eye on the upcoming Dutch election and Geert Wilders, and the French election and Marine Le Pen as well. The Isaiah Wave Theory "Level 4 Rebellion Wave" looks like it isn't reducing to Level 3, but might be swelling to Level 5, and that is bad news for the status quo…just ask La La Land…and my Oscar picks.

In addition, Moonlight is also a symbol of what the left is celebrating at the moment…and also what it isn't. Moonlight is identified as a "Black - gay" film…symbolic of even more of the identity politics that got the democrats into the political wilderness they are currently aimlessly wandering. Moonlight's victory reveals where liberal loyalties lie at this time.

If the Academy (and its new members) wanted to reward a great film based on merit alone and not identity politics, they could have…the best film in the best picture category wasn't La La Land or Moonlight, it was Hell or High Water…and it wasn't even close. And Hell or High Water is a very political and anti-establishment film to boot, just that its politics are of class and not race. It looks like Hollywood liberals are under the same spell as the democrats were in the election, choosing identity over class…a very big error as race divides and class unites. 

When seen in combination with the election of Tom Perez to head the DNC, and Nancy Pelosi in the House and the excruciatingly repugnant Chuck Schumer in the Senate…and you have the democrats embracing the establishment and status quo with all their might, and simply put,  this is not the time of the establishment. It just isn't. If it were the time of the establishment…La La Land would be Best Picture…and Hillary Clinton the president.

RACE AND THE OSCAR RACE

The new Academy members did what they were supposed to do…nominate and vote for Black actors, artists and films. The Academy brought these folks in, and jettisoned the old (White) guard, in order to counter the ludicrous #OscarsSoWhite nonsense that has no grounding in fact, only feeling

The problem with making nomination snubs or losing about race, is that when you win, it also becomes about race. The thought that many believe but no one will utter aloud is that Moonlight won because it is a Black film, not because it is the best film. That sucks…for cinema and for Moonlight, which deserves a considerably better fate. The same is true of Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis. Which isn't fair to them either as they are two fine actors, but that is the reality of what is being whispered about in private here in Hollywood.

Was Viola Davis better than Michelle Williams? In my opinion…no. Davis did have substantially more screen time than Williams, so that works to her benefit. But then the question becomes, was Mahershala Ali better than Jeff Bridges? Again, no…and by a mile. And in this scenario, Jeff Bridges had considerably more screen time than Ali, which undermines the case for Ali. So did Davis and Ali win because they were Black and Black actors needed to win this year? There is compelling evidence the answer is yes…which sucks for everyone involved, especially both Ali and Davis, who are unquestionably Oscar caliber actors. 

By crying racism when Black actors weren't nominated over the previous two years (who was supposed to be nominated those years? Will Smith? When Will Smith is your counter argument, I have bad news…you have lost the argument…badly), the Academy caved to pressure and put in members whose sole purpose was to vote for Black artists. By doing this, the awards then become watered down and less worthy, especially for the Black actors who were chosen this year. By crying foul in previous years when no foul was committed, the game got rigged and now nobody wins. It is a shitty thing, but it is what it is. 

WHEN YOU'RE A HAMMER, THE WHOLE WORLD LOOKS LIKE A NAIL

When you're a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail, and so it is with the cries of racism at the Academy Awards (or Grammys for that matter). Even when Moonlight won, it wasn't good enough. The Guardian had an article about how the Best Picture fiasco was a slap in the face to Moonlight, that was on par with having Hattie McDaniel sit in the back of the auditorium when she won for Gone with the Wind. Really? So even when Black artists or films win, it is still a sign of racism. A great example of this was a Washington Post article the day after the Grammy's, where the writer laments the racism of the Grammys. In the piece the writer says that Chance the Rapper, a Black artist, won the Best New Artist award, but even that was a sign of racism because the Recording Academy only voted for him because he put a charm offensive on the members. What the fuck? So no matter what, everything is racist. Hammer…meet nail.

THE NEVER ENDING SHRIEKS OF THE OUTRAGE MACHINE

Another thing to happen since the Oscars is the outcry from the usual suspects about Casey Affleck beating Denzel Washington for Best Actor. There have been many claims of racism and that Denzel was robbed. This is a joke. Denzel is one of the all-time greats…as evidenced by the two Oscars he has already won…but his work in Fences was not nearly as good as Affleck's. It just wasn't. And to claim racism is why Denzel lost is the absolute most asinine thing imaginable. If you are someone who thinks this…you are an imbecile. 

People are also horrified that Affleck, who they claim is a sexual predator, won the award. The virtue signaling has been turned up to 11. The same people decrying Affleck's win are the same people who were so stupid to believe that Marlon Brando actually anally raped Maria Shneider on film, during the shooting of Last Tango in Paris. Do these people believe anything? Yes, they do. 

This Affleck kerfluffle, just like the Brando uproar, is nothing more than people aching to be outraged, so they search far and wide for reasons. Brando didn't anally rape anyone on film, but logic and reason are the first casualties when the Outrage Machine gets fired up. And so it is with Affleck. Affleck was accused…not convicted…of sexually harassing two women. Not raping them, or assaulting them…harassing. And since he was accused…that makes it so. Maybe it did happen, I don't know, I wasn't there…but when you look at the facts of the case, it is….questionable. 

Race rears its head in regards to the Affleck harassment story as well. People claim that Affleck can get away with anything, where a Black actor can't , and they use Nate Parker, star and director of this years Birth of a Nation, as proof. Parker was charged with rape while he was in college. He was acquitted of the charge. So the Outrage Contingent says Parker was screwed over by the Academy because he is Black, and Affleck gets the nomination and win because he is White. The idiocy never ends. 

Affleck and Parker's cases are very different, as harassment and rape are two very different things. Affleck has always denied he harassed anyone, while Parker admitted to having sex with the woman, along with his roommate, but said it was consensual. Add to that the fact that the young woman in question in Parker's case committed suicide, and you can see how much more serious the Parker situation was. Also…and this is the biggest difference…Nate Parker is not a good actor. His performance in Birth of a Nation was not anywhere close to Oscar worthy. Also…Nate Parker was an asshole when asked about his personal history doing press for his film. He handled the entire thing horrendously from a public relations stand point. Now…Casey Affleck may very well be a gigantic, sexually harassing asshole…but he can act…considerably better than Nate Parker…and he has proven it over many years of superb work, which include an Oscar nomination years ago. 

But none of that matters to the Outrage Gang. All they see is racism and misogyny lurking behind every corner. The Outrage Machine is exhausting, and it is never ending. These dipshits, who believe every single thing and every single accusation, are the worst of the worst. They should be ignored and shunned at every opportunity. Eventually they will cannibalize their own, and the world will be a better place when they vanish from it. 

Who am I to rant? I am such an idiot I got three of my Oscar picks wrong. I am not worthy of an opinion, so I should shut my racist, misogynist mouth. The Outrage Machine will be happy to see me go. The public square is all theirs now.

I will now exit the stage and spend the rest of my days with my most unfortunate family. God help them.

 

 

©2017