Tuesday, February 28, 2012
First let's start with the trailer:
Now the very first time I saw this trailer I was excited. The SF geek in me was jumping around with glee. It looked like some director in hollywood finally understood the superhero genre and was willing to explore it from a very basic level point of view. It is not unlike M. Night Shyamalan's excellent film "Unbreakable", also about the genesis of a person that develops extra-normal powers, albeit "Chronicle" is on a slightly grander scale. But there was something in the back of my mind that was strongly whispering, "I hope they don't... I hope they don't..." while I watched the trailer.
That voice persisted as I watched the movie and about 20-25 minutes in the thing I was hoping against happened. The Black character, Steve, gets killed. It never fails. Don't get me wrong, I know exactly why Steve had to be eliminated from the story, however, did they have to go with the standard hollywood cliche of, kill the Black character? In a movie that takes great pains to bring the superhero story form to realistic perspective they have the one Black character be the stereotypical hollywood "Super Duper Magical Negro": He's good, tries his best to help his white friend, and dies/gets killed for his efforts. After a lifetime of seeing and reading this in films/movies and stories, it has become more of an annoyance than something to truly become angered by. But by the end of the film I found myself becoming angry. I wanted to like this film. I do like this film. BUT I have a huge problem with it simply for this one reason.
It is obvious that the director and screenwriter(s) for this film completely get film and the history of superhero stories. They even get the ridiculousness of ethnic stereotypes, and you can see that in the trailer when Steve uses his power to move the lady's car, and when she comes out looking for it he says, "Yes, it was the Black guy this time." That very scene brings up and shows the movies creators are completely aware of the negative stereotypes used against Black people, and they are making fun of it, as Steve is a popular, honor student in High School and not a criminal out to hurt white people. And yet in making fun of this very well known and harmful stereotype, they default to using the most well known hollywood film/movie stereotype, and kill this great character Steve, who just happens to be Black. Again, I know why he had to go but did they have to kill him? For a film that takes such effort to show an old story type, the superhero, in a new way, it is highly disappointing to see them fall back on such a classic and offensive trope, no matter how justified it is by story: Kill the Black Guy.
As a Sci-Fi geek this movie gets two thumbs up. As a man that is Black, I'm severely disappointed and offended.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
1. Soul Train
2. The Cosby Show
3. Highlander: The Series
4. New York Undercover
5. Shaka Zulu
Soul Train is on this list because it is my first memory of television. It's not an episodic story driven show. It was a music/dance show that featured Black musical artists who could not get spots to perform on equivalent shows like American Bandstand. It was started and run by Don Cornelius, who recently passed away. Soul Train stands as the perfect example of 'if they won't let us in with them then we'll do our own thing without them'. Every Saturday morning in my earliest years I sat in front of the television and watched proud and beautiful people that looked like my family and the people in my life dancing and having fun to wonderfully beautiful music. I've always attributed my strong sense of self to learning the history of Black people in america at a very young age but this very simple yet highly important show was the genesis of instilling that in me. It also introduced me to my favorite song and music video of all time, The Jacksons' "Can You Feel It".
The Cosby Show is THE best sitcom ever produced for television. Here you have the wonderful Huxtable family: Father and husband Heathcliff is a doctor, Mother and wife Clair is a lawyer, eldest child Sondra is away at college, and Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy all live at home and are in school. The brainchild of the brilliant comedian and actor, Bill Cosby, this family show ran for 8 seasons, 1984-1992. It was the #1 television program for 5 consecutive seasons, '85-'90. What was most significant about the show at the time it first aired, was many people had never seen an affluent, professional and well adjusted Black family on television before. Many people thought is was the most ridiculous fiction ever conceived, though there were many families across the country that identified with this fictional family and the life they portrayed. Claire and Cliff Huxtable became america's Mom and Dad and made television history doing it.
Highlander: The Series is my favorite TV show. It is a spin-off from the 1986 film "Highlander", one of my favorite movies. The storyline of the show is about the life of Duncan MacLeod, an almost 400 year old man, who is essentially immortal and must keep this knowledge secret. The only way he can die is if he is decapitated. There are other immortals as well, and they battle one-on-one until, ultimately, only one is left. Yes I like the sword fights but that is not the reason the show is my favorite and so good. The character Duncan MacLeod, portrayed excellently by Adrian Paul, is one of the most fully fleshed out characters ever on television. With nearly 400 years of living among normal humans, there are ample opportunities to explore the human condition. This show in it's 6 seasons have explored the gamut of human emotions and motivations. Friendship, love, honor, hatred, anger, promises, loss, and all other emotions you can think of were explored in the experience of Duncan MacLeod.
New York Undercover was one of my favorite shows because it was one of the first times I saw a show based in New York, my home, that showed New York as I saw it everyday, with people who looked like myself and people I knew. It was truly the only multi-ethnic and multi-cultural show at the time of its run, from 1994-1998. I could completely identify with Detectives J. C. Williams and Eddie Torres, played wonderfully by Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo respectively. I wasn't just watching a show when I sat down to watch New York Undercover, I was watching my life as it could possibly be. Nothing on televsion has existed like New York Undercover before it or since it went off the air, with the exception of The Wire.
Shaka Zulu is my favorite made for TV epic mini-series. I remember being captivated by the story of Shaka Zulu as it played out on the screen when I was 10 years old. The fictionalized biography of this great Zulu king was mesmerizing to my young mind. It chronicled his life from before he was born until his death over 10 50 minute episodes. You fully got to see Shaka's motivation to power, how he changed the way in which war was fought, and how he built the mighty Zulu Empire.
I love good stories and great characters and all of these shows have that in abundance, with the exception of Soul Train, which was great as a music and dance show and one of a kind.
Monday, February 13, 2012
I know exactly why hollywood would not support Mr. Lucas in making this film but was still baffled at the decision. The reason given for not backing Lucas on "Red Tails" was that they didn't know how to market it. I find this a completely unacceptable excuse. How hard is it to market a WWII fighter pilot action movie? That's easy. I could do that and I'm not in the movie or advertising business! So, what was the real reason. Well, it just so happened that the fighter pilots the story is about happened to be Black men. In particular the famous Tuskegee Airman, the first Black fighter pilots in the U.S. military. Their story is known the world over, and has been told in film form before but never on the scale that Mr. Lucas wanted to tell it. The color of the main characters is the only factor the decision was based on, not business or possible demographics for marketing. There are scores of war films out there, particularly about WWII, and the only obvious difference between all of them and "Red Tails" is the color of the main characters.
It's sad really that in 2012, with so many proven bankable Black actors and an African American U.S. president in office, that hollywood is still so obviously racist. I know hollywood is a huge movie making business machine and that business is mostly what drives decisions there, but in this instance it is obvious money/business wasn't the motivation for basically blacklisting George Lucas in making this film. And to add insult to injury, once the film had a successful opening it seems hollywood ran a campaign to have all of the "professional critics" slam the film. I cannot prove this of course but that's how it seems to me because they all had the same exact negative criticisms, ie.: "The dialogue was simplisitic," "The fight sequences were too cluttered with effects," "The story was too simple," etc.
Personally I think the movie was great. I saw it opening weekend and couldn't wait to see it again. Here is a quote from an excellent NY Times article about George and his journey in making "Red Tails":
Last October, Lucas slipped incognito into the first “Red Tails” test screening in Atlanta. He and McCallum huddled together nervously among throngs of teenage boys. When the lights went down, Lucas muttered, “Let the games begin. . . .”
Lucas got one report from the early “Red Tails” test screenings that struck him. Three or four white kids had been spotted yelling, “I’m Easy!” “No, I’m Easy. You’re Lightning!” They’d become “Red Tails” heroes: Easy and Lightning, Malcolm and Martin. “The ultimate line was to have a bunch of 10-year-old white boys say, ‘I want to be like those guys,’ ” Lucas says. “Which is what you get with sports. Which is what you get with music. I wanted to do it just with being an American citizen. Again, that’s corny.”
Lucas was ecstatic. He had minted a new collection of heroes. “It plays,” he excitedly told his friends. “It plays.”
Now don't you want to go see that?!
Monday, February 6, 2012
Sunday, February 5, 2012
In Beverly Hills Cop Eddie Murphy is Axel Foley, a street smart
detective in Detroit. A violent attack leaves him unconscious and
a friend dead. Deciding to unofficially investigate his friend's
murder, Foley lands himself in the estranged foreign culture of
Beverly Hills, CA. Despite the assistance of local police Axel is
unquestionably the sole driver of the investigation.
The brief synopsis reads nothing like a comedy because it is not a
true comedy. It is an action police drama infused with the
comedic brilliance of Eddie Murphy, a comedian at the pinnacle of
his career at that time. Given the racial, ethnic and cultural issues
in america, for marketing purposes, this action film is clothed in
comedy. What really stands out about the film is that much of it
makes fun of and exposes the ridiculousness of racial, ethnic and
cultural issues in america. A Black cop from Detroit stirring up
trouble in predominately white Beverly Hills in 1984 was a grand
and risky undertaking. It turned out to be a worthwhile risk as the
movie catapulted Eddie Murphy into hollywood stardom. The
success of Beverley Hill's Cop was the onset of today's Will
Smiths, Denzels, and Sam Jacksons. The film single-handedly
proved that a black actor as the lead could produce a
commercially successful big budget hollywood film.
While the audience is easily indulged in the on screen aplomb of
comedic genius Eddie Murphy, and the adrenaline rush of a story
filled with action and drama, there is still more being
communicated to the viewer. Several aspects of this film were
socially relevant at the time of its release in 1984; Friendship and
loyalty, intelligence, honor, strength, tenacity and redemption.
These are the traits we find in main characters in varying genres
of film. None are remarkable in and of themselves, but they were
the traits that had never been all combined in a black character in
a film produced and promoted by hollywood. Eddie Murphy
portrayed a fully developed human being on screen which is
something that had not been done before, with a Black actor in
hollywood, except by Eddie himself in 48 Hours and Trading
Places. The difference with Beverly Hills Cop and those two films
is Eddie was the lead of the film, not the co-lead.
I ask you to imagine being a child that loves movies who never
sees someone who looks like you as the hero and someone that
looks like you as only the servant, helper, buffoon or criminal.
Then one day, on the big screen appears a hero. And he/she looks
like you! How do you think you would feel? It isn't that a person,
child or adult, cannot identify with others that don't physically
resemble themselves, but it becomes harder and harder to identify
with a person that does not look like you when they are always
identified as the hero and you are always the supporter or nemesis
of the hero. To a generation of young Black people, and everyone else,
Beverly Hills Cop was the first big hollywood movie that portrayed a
Black male as the hero without a grand suspension of belief.