**** This review contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen this film and wish to maintain the integrity of surprise STOP reading. *****
With culture icon Will Smith and the Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie as its stars, Focus places yet another penny in the pot of interracial couples that have come to haunt contemporary television and movies alike. Focus surfaces as the latest performance in interracial coupling amidst not so subtle racial complexities.
Theft, or put more broadly,crime is the foundation of Focus. Nicky (Will Smith) is a successful thief who starts small but works his way to the height of petty crime. Clad in a clearly expensive suit with the articulation of a MBA grad, Nicky seems more of a consultant than a criminal. At the height of his “field” Nicky meets Jess, a young naive blonde woman who wants in on his lifestyle. It is obvious that Jess woods Nicky through her charm, and it seems feasible that both find completion for their brokenness in one another.
Jess- a dyslexic orphan and Nicky, a fatherless criminal seem like a likely match, yet there racial politics complicate an already complicated dynamic. Although admittedly from a troubled background, Jess appears irreversibly sullied by her introduction to criminality by the black male. Moreso, Nicky and Jess’s union embodies the trash and treasure dynamic that has become synonymous with black male-white female dynamic. Jess even says “ I’m surprised I’m not a whore by now” in her plea for Nicky to rescue one form of criminality with another. This declaration is in unison with the trash to treasure dynamic aligned with many interracial depictions. This phrase conceptualizes the treasure that black males make of the white females they intermingle with. Despite Jess’s light locks, slim physique and symmetrical features, her mental handicap and affiliation with a low socioeconomic group, make her a more probable match for a black man than white man. Thus, when Nicky invites Jess into his line of work, and makes her the object of his affection, she is instantly elevated from white “trash” to a black man’s treasure.
While black and white relations anchor the movie, Nicky’s biracial identity furthers the complex dynamics of black and white movie portrayals. Upon first learning of Nicky’s absentee father, most instantly attached these attributes to blackness. Hence, this revelation silently challenges viewers to consider the source of their shock. All the while, the revelation of a black man’s absent and criminal father and grandfather to be white men, mirror the common oversight of just who were the first deadbeat fathers.
Driven by the coldness and corruption demanded of criminality, Nicky’s dad was forced to leave his son behind. This mirrors the paternal dynamics of the plantation where slave masters disowned and abandoned their own children in loyalty to the criminal demands of slavery.
Black and White Franchisement
Perhaps most importantly in the revelation of Smith’s paternity lie the juxtaposition of black and white franchisement.
This depiction of black and white franchisement is depicted in the vastly different endings issued to Nicky and his white father (Bucky, played by Gerald McRaney). The film ends with Nicky’s father leaving with the cash that Nicky has schemingly acquired, and Nicky getting the girl. This depiction suggests the vastly different “happily ever afters” for the black and white male.
In seizing the cash the Bucky seeks franchise in the traditional way- money. For black men, franchise is not only in wealth but the visibility of wealth. This visibility is issued in material such as nice clothes, jewelry and such but also in the acquisition of a trophy spouse. Thus, while his father gets the riches, Nicky gets what has become the black males depiction of wealth: a white woman.
Bucky’s ability to enjoy the fruits of a payoff he failed to work for, reflects the ability of white men to benefit from the work and brilliance of blacks. From Vivien Thomas’ contribution to science during the 1930’s, to contemporary music executives and sports team owners who benefit from the talent and labor or blacks. So despite the comical portrayal of Bucky’s seizure of the funds, this depiction is no laughing matter. Rather, this portayal paints the racial embodie of franchisement as the focal point of Focus.
The issue that Focus and other movies of its kind, is that the union of black and white bodies are a performance in the circular complexities of blackness. While these images of black and white love present the illusion of moving forward, they distract from a stagnant reality.
From Taboo to Typical
I find it suspicious that few question how the taboo perception of interracial relations seemingly shifted overnight. Now, I know that interracial relationships are nothing new, its glamour is new feature of modern culture. This taboo labeling shed overnight when it became clear that subliminal racial messages could be intertwined with interracial relationships.
It seems actual change is optional in contemporary society. While hope is certainly invaluable, it remains an empty promise to black Americans. Hope filled the hearts of slaves who looked at the moon and wished for freedom. Hope filled the gnawed legs of civil rights leaders as their integrity withstood the ignorance that surrounded them. Hope filled the bodies of the black community during the Obama campaign. And hope remains within us as we embody the contemporary “crow” world veiled in multicultural unions to distract from the damnation that is upon us.
In the consistency of hope, many have become complacent. As hope transfers yesterday’s concern onto the promise of tomorrow, but tomorrow has come and gone. So while the movie itself is not an effort in advancement, the title is. It is time it is time we reconfigure the query of hope to the certainty of a response, and the only way to do so is through focus.
The film depicts the lack of focus as the catalyst for theft, and who is more familiar with this dynamic than those of black descent? For it was a lack of focus that resulted in cultural appropriation and the continued deviation from the root of the problem that continues to shackle us. As stated in the movie “Gage their focus and take anything you want.” This simple phrasing captures the essence of black identity in America. So may the assertion of this formula be the first step in realigning our focus, reconfiguring our mental and physical franchise to claim what is rightfully ours.