Sorry to Bother You is not a Bother at All, A Black female Perspective 

Introduction

Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, an innovated theory of society as a hyper-site for ridicule and conformity is nothing short of fascinating. A product of magical realism, the film employs protagonist Cassius Green— a melanated black body who attempts to negotiate the western subject by way of capitalistic ambitions as resulting in a literal black dehumanization that turns the black body into a human/animal hybrid exploited for labor. A societal object, running towards capital, casts the black body into a fatal predictability that ultimately seizes black humanity.  stbyposterwords

The quest for visibility and purpose gradually moves from the background to the forefront throughout the film. In the film’s background is reality show “I got the Sh*t kicked knocked out of me” — a popular show where guests volunteer to various forms of public humiliation. The show is reminiscent of the show “Fear Factor,” a popular series in the early 2000s where contestants performed a myriad of acts from eating cow testicles to having rats crawl all over their bodies for two minutes. The show in its fact and fictive representations illustrates the allure of ridicule to those with a self and esteem seized by a ruthless culture that thrives on such baseness. In hindsight, the show appears a physical representation of the great lengths one will endure for their place amongst the white lights that veil the red venom of white supremacy. 

Cassius Clay or Cassius Green 

The film provides cause to question whether protagonist Cassius Green is named after the late Cassius Clay who preceded the body it was initially assigned to in death. While watching the film, I could not help but wonder whether Cassius Green was who Muhammad Ali would have been had he not experienced a cultural awakening? Nevertheless, it seems an oversimplification to render this film a cautionary tale of black assimilation. Rather, the film functions as a meditation of the fatality of the black follower. To follow whiteness as a black man or woman is to be lead off a cliff. To follow whiteness as a being of black form, is to imbue a predictability that makes you everything and everyone that you should not be. Cassius predictably though is one that leaves the reader questioning. His acquiescence to white supremacist culture, comes after he has already taken a step over a cliff. He is so far gone though, that he sees his step of a cliff as the step off the elevator that issues an allusive upward mobility. Cassuis’ stbyheadwrapdesire to win at the white man’s game by any means necessary, attracts the negative attention from his oppressors that truss in his trust in them. Cassius exudes this trust in snorting a line of coke that will ultimately transform him. Cassius invests this white powder off a plate with s horse on it, foreshadowing the transformation that is yet to come.

The film provides further contemplation that many of us have had over the years but a query that not enough have asked themselves let alone the world. What force lies behind those who have made a prodigious contribution to our collective? Why are some of our leaders killed but not others? Cassius, after climbing the ranks of predictability, is offered an opportunity to lead the inevitable  revolution of the oppressed man/animal hybrid. He is presented with an opportunity to be “A Man Amongst Horses,” an opportunity he has already accepted by walking through the door.  This depiction illustrates the “black leader” as often the prediction of the white oppressors designed to pacify the masses with illustration not liberation.

Cassius Green, A Lost Boy in a Man’s body

Viewers meet Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) as his morning thoughts reveal a common quest of trying to turn life into meaning. Green desires to make something of himself. He desires purpose—to make a mark on the world. Sorry To Bother You illustrates that attempting to make a mark on that which you do not understand, is setting the world up to brand you with its brutality.

stbylslookEssentially, Cassius Greene is the quintessential “lost” melanated body who is not on a quest for blackness, but whiteness— a quest guised as conventional success. His desire is best manifested in the starry gaze he affords the elevator that takes employees up to the “higher” level. These employees, who are essentially his co-workers, dress flashier and hold themselves with a pseudo confidence. Greene forges credentials that prove superfluous for an entry-level telemarketing job that will change his life forever. The job initially confirms his feelings of inadequacy, but once  senior employee, Langston gives him the key—Greene opens the door to opportunity, or what he eventually learns is slavery. This key is a “white voice.” Greene’s adaptation of “the white voice”  is the selling point of the movie, a point that coincides with the now cliche phrase that “anything is possible when you sound white on the phone.” The viral status of the phrase reflects the societal predilection for ideologies that articulate or maintain white as central—an ideology performed in the white voice overs that persist throughout the film.  Riley challenges the ideology of the white voice by posing query as to whether it exists at all.     stbycassuis

Through Langston, Sorry to Bother You presents whiteness as an ideology, as a wish rather than a reality. Whiteness is something that needs bodies to believe in it, to reinforce and thereby prove its existence. Every body in the film functions as a tool of whiteness, even those who seem most vested in its abolishment. All desire a piece of a white pie, they desire it in different manifestations, depicting whiteness as a pervasive disease that has affected all. Though mastering the white voice, Langston does not gain upward mobility. This lack of upward mobility is easily attributed to choice afforded by Langston’s knowledge of what lies on the other side. 

Foreshadow: The Path Less Taken 

Greene’s fate is eerily alluded to by a senior co-worker played by veteran actor Danny Glover. In a conversation about what it means to be a “power-caller,” Glover compartmentalizes the sales of these superstar employees as “holocaust,” words that should foreshadow the misfortune that awaits a lost Cassius, but escapes rather than admonishes him.

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Langston’s words are not all that escape the film. Angst as a character, despite appearing in number of scene, remains vastly under developed. Like the man that appears in the background via photograph with a variety of expressions who appears to be Cassuis Green’s father, Glover’s character appears almost phantasmal. The black man and the Cadillac, the Cadillac a symbol of the black man’s dream—the black man’s desire to culminate what was outlined for him by his oppressors. This black male figure appears in the background of the film to personify his place in the background of society, in the backdrop of the world, in the back of the minds of their sons and daughters, their lives long forgotten by a world who rendered their birth and burial with the same indifference.  Though Green finds community with his boss, a nameless black man dressed to mirror the caricature he embodies, their connection is one of sell outs. They connect as hollow shells of what could of been, but instead what was and is a white supremacy. In their quest for fictive power, they became predictable. Their predictability results in their profitable praise a profit the enslaved are paid for their subjugation.

Squeeze, the Non-Black Person of Color As Head Activist

A relationship that does carry throughout the entire movie, is the relationship between stbysqueezeCassius and his pseudo activist associate Squeeze. Cassius meets Squeeze shortly after starting his position, and is quickly recruited to the movement. At first Cassius is excited, excited to be a part of something, but when he is given a chance to move up the ranks, he does so. This process, though initially portrayed as positive, sets off the downward spiral in which Cassuis is unable to remove himself. Cassuis’ severance from the movement is depicted with a sort of implied scrutiny, a scrutiny undercut with the reality that Cassuis battle is unlike that of his non-black person of color coworker. 

 So though Squeeze both articulates and seems to act as if his struggle mirrors that of his black colleagues.  Squeeze’s struggle is a single struggle, an oversimplification he extends to his followers in his protest against his boss. As a person of color without color, Squeeze can negotiate what the black body must take. His solutions therefore, are self-serving, and a means for the black body to escape the battle only they can and must take in order to ensure liberation. 

Like Mike?

 What’s interesting about the dynamics portrayed in the film, is that Cassius Green represents the contemporary black men who possesses more freedom in his unemployment than his climb up the corporate ladder. The film depicts Green as seduced to want to be something else while those around him desire to be like him. This point speaks directly to Squeeze, the organizer for the employee strike. His request is for a means to live similarly to those for whom he works. Squeeze desires a seat at the table, and perceives his desires as commiserate to his black and white coworkers. A willing migrant, Squeeze wants to make good on the promise of the American Dream, a promise stbylslooknever made to those whose bodies afforded the commerce of western wealth. A seat at the table will not garner freedom for the black man or woman, as the very table is held up by the dismembered legs of their ancestors. Squeeze illustrates the non-black person of color as seizing black allies when convenient, and perhaps most importantly, the non-black person of color’s not so secret envy of blackness. Squeeze’s desire to be like the black man manifests in his desire for Cassuis’ romantic partner, Detroit. This desire is seen in the company who employs Detroit for her labor and Squeeze who despite seeing Detroit and Cassuis’s love for one another first hand, desires to replace Cassius. Squeeze conceals this desire from Cassius, but is quite forthcoming of his intentions with Detroit. The black female body has habitually been a form of conquest, a means for oppressors to mark their objectification of the black man.

Detroit, The Black Female Lead

Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson in her recurring role as love interest to a significantly darker skinned man, narrates what appears to be the black female experience. Detroit, intelligent and outspoke, speaks loudest in her accessories–seemingly a commentary of stbytessatompsondetriotblack female fashion as a narrative of its own. This ambiguity angers me, as my medication on Detroit appears once again to be a black woman searching for herself in a world that flourishes in this obscurity.

Though Detroit speaks of Africa’s exploitation as the muse for her her art exhibition, she does so without overt attachment. She is far more her tie-dyed hair and burnout persona, perhaps to intentionally depict the displaced African as viewed intersectionally. I personally find the racially ambiguous black woman as largely played out. In an industry with only a handful of brown skinned black men, the continual omitting of a black woman of the same hue suggests what the media perpetuates daily—the myth that blacks of a sun-kissed hue do not love one another.

Detroit, like the systemized City, is sullied by the forces of white supremacy. She appears a “free spirit” but she isn’t free at all. Her situation appears perhaps most devastating because unlike her male counterparts, she seems to understand her oppression. Her art exhibit  is anchored in the systemic rape of Africa, a mutilation she emulates in her presentation of the work. During her exhibit Detroit wears a costume that depicts hands grabbing her breasts and genitals, recites a poem, and allows the audience to toss items from batteries to sheep blood at her as she recites a monologue. As bizarre as the scenario sounds, its depiction is reminiscent to the dynamic many black female superstars offer at their concerts.  The sight is hard to watch, as a nearly nude black Woman stands on a platform reminiscent of an auction block, where she is ridiculed, stbytessathompsonmentally defiled, and utterly broken before monetarily consumed by her oppressors.

Detroit festers the bounds of her defilement in a reckless sexual encounter with Squeeze, the Asian activist who functions in the same circle as Cassius and those from her Oakland community, hours after her breakup  with Cassius. This depiction cheapens Detroit, countering what previously functioned as intellect as a devotion to diversifying the ways in which she is exploited and mutilated. The sexual merging of black and Asian bodies could also represent the Asian conquest and exploitation of African bodies and goods.

Perhaps one of the most poignant moments of the film is a horrified Cassius jumping in to save his beloved in her humiliating demonstration. Confronted with the physical manifestation of what he also does for a living, this scene is especially significant because it illustrates that it is often far easier to acknowledge the problematic behavior of others, than to acknowledge your own—which is a common side affect of post traumatic slave syndrome. 

Green with Envy or Naivety? 

It is a point of wonder whether the Greene in the protagonist’s “sir” name is representative of naivety or envy. My argument would be that his character represents a stbyheadwrapmedley of the two, a naive jealousy that cripples him in fomenting a meditation on what he does not have, rather than making due with all that he does. Greene’s quest for freedom, as something handed to him by his oppressors, is not freedom at all but what the oppressive chokehold of white supremacy needs marginalized bodies to believe is freedom to ensure the black collective is never freed. Greene, like all bodies within the black collective, was born with the tools necessary to engender his liberation. It is only in the contemporary enslavement of the black body, the labor force that tells individuals that they are nothing without a job, a 401K, an expensive car, and other worthless material items, that the marginalized body displaces the purpose of their oppressors in place of  their collective purpose.

Closing Thoughts

Though named after an apologist phrase, the film is anything but apologetic in its critique of conformity and the poisonous attributes of a society that are largely normalized. The film diverges from the usual depiction of conformity as the road to success manifested in the Ivy League, 1percent, and the countries’ most revered professions. The film suggests  that what the world projects as the light, is a darkness for dark people— a dark hole to which the melanated body loses sense of self and never emerges as human. The film is the contemplative exercise missing from contemporary pop culture, the admonishment needed to steer our kids towards self and away from the demons of conformity.  

stbybandaidPerhaps the most resonant depiction of the film is the nameless character played by Omari Hardwick. Green meets this character in his rise from entry-level to higher-level executive, a character whose voice and name is oppressed in the system to which he has sold his soul. We hear Hardwick’s actual voice moments before Green takes the substance that ultimately turns his body into what his mind has already become—an animal. Hardwick’s character represents what becomes of the assimilatory black body, it becomes dismembered, erased in a violent consummation of anti blackness where the once black body is not only not black, but completely void. Hardwick’s character is a necessary character as he embodies what so many within the black collective see far too often in those who are presumed to have made it— at the expense of exchanging self for status.

In short, the film illustrates that the essential component to freeing black bodies from capitalism is acknowledgement that the black body is in fact capital. Green was capital the minute he measured himself by the white man’s measuring tape—long before he even considered a telemarketing job. May this be a lesson to all of us, the dangers of merging our double sight into the single vision of white supremacy. 

Black Power ❤

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Black KKKlansMan, A Review

Amidst the contemporary climate of inclusionary activism emerges seasoned director Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman. Based on a book of the same title by protagonist Ron Stallworth, the book and movie entertain via depicting black entry in a white space. This activity occurs multiple times at once throughout the film, the most notable being protagonist Ron Stallworth staging his intervening of the kkk, while also infiltrating the soliders of white supremacy—the Police department. bkvariety.com

John David Washington does a brilliant job as Ron Stallworth, a man manufactured for the use by his oppressors, almost too brilliant.  It is perhaps easy to label Stallworth as a man caught between his “blackness” and assimilatory whiteness, but this is what most viewers want to believe. Stallworth is not caught between his blackness and assimilatory whiteness, assimilation is what Stallworth has been bred to believe is freedom and that is what he seeks. Stallworth’s ambitions are somewhat troubled in his encounter with a beautiful black woman who is on a journey towards blackness. His infatuation with her is similar to James Weldon Johnson’s reflection of Booker T. Washington at the end of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Both infatuations are the result of mediating on “what could have been.” Both bear a predisposition towards pro-blackness as a choice of doom, that it does not appear or function as beautiful as Patrice, the black student union president, or Booker T. Washington makes it look.  Therefore, both illustrate an alternative ending to a  fate their counterparts tried desperately to avoid.

Assimilatory Whiteness

Assimilatory whiteness speaks to alternative attributes of melanated beings developed and performed with the intention of diluting physical blackness. Assimilatory whiteness emerges from a normalized fear, and is an effort to mollify said fear by subconsciously performing as expected. Though bearing the “black is beautiful” image of the 1970s with a full natural and sideburns, Stallworth has the American superpower of a transcendent voice. His voice, dichotomous to the his physical appearance, becomes the key that opens doors to thresholds withheld from the average being of black form. Thought the film seems a meditation of moving beyond the voice, or the voice as a tool against those whom it emulates, the undercurrent of its depiction in the film, is that the white voice is a gateway to change. Specifically, that merging “white” with “black,” or the colorless to the colored is the most concrete path to change.

bkfroron The issue with this illustration is that the black body remains displaced with the burden of change. In this contemporary climate of pseudo change, the black body remains burdened with the social responsibility to change what they did not great, to fight through forgiveness, to join forces with our oppressors in hopes of being oppressed under more “gentle” circumstances. This is what I call inclusionary activism, which despite the phrasing, is not activism at all. Inclusionary activism,  is a seemingly revolutionary project that mollifies wrestling with the ugly and uncomfortable by holding hands with the ugly and uncomfortable. The film rides the fence between two sides, making it not too much of anything, and therefore baby steps forward countered by two giant steps backwards in the liberation of black thought and image. 

Black Power v. White Power: Fence Riding

Perhaps the most disturbing moment of the film is the juxtaposing of “black power” with “white power.”  Namely, the black student union of Colorado Springs and the white demonstrations of the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. The juxtaposition implies a similarity. Particularly, this juxtaposition suggests that saying “black power” is synonymous with “white power”. This could not be more untrue. Black power is rooted in a nationalism that wishes to grant blacks their own, and white power is rooted in seeking to own black people through oppression. ]

The film also features David Duke as saying that he does not “hate” blacks, but wants bkdaviddukeblacks to “be with their own.” As conveyed, this ideology suggests a similarity between the black and white power groups. Duke’s words however do not convey the truth, but rather what white supremacists tell themselves. The infiltration of Ron Stallworth into Kwame Ture’s attendance at the black student union, is an imperative depiction. On one hand, it illustrates the intention of black entry into white spaces. Black entry into white spaces has absolutely nothing to do with anti-racist ideologies, but everything to do with diversifying the ways in which racism is practiced. In recruiting blacks desperate for visibility and the white man’s commerce, comes the Step’n Fetchit’s and Clarence Thomas’s of the world, seen commonly in black officers and police chiefs used to convey racist messages or even execute racist behavior. It is also seen in schools where black bodies are employed to instruct the next generation of students to acquiesce to the subjugation designed for them. In short, black inclusion does not illustrate whites as allies in post-racial America, but blacks as allies in a wound worsened by infection veiled as infiltration. bkflipron

This depiction also illustrates what the movie appears to work against “That anything is possible with the right white man.” Stallworth states this line almost ironically when articulating his plans to infiltrate the KKK to the police chief. The irony wears off in the reality that this very scenario illustrates these very words. Stallworth’s plan ends with Stallworth being taken for the black man he is—unprotected by the fickle veil of a badge and blue clothing. This scene proves a platform for the emergence of the white savior figure, embodied by Phillip, or “flip.” This emergence illustrates that you can do right when the man beside you is white, making the initial utterance of this statement not ironic but an ideology that anchors the film.

With the ally ship of white men, Stallworth is able to have a “crooked” cop arrested and exposes the deadly ways the KKK. This depiction is central in proving the pervasive ideology of the “good” white, the “anti-trump” white person. A stance weakened by the reality that it is easy to be “good” when your gestures do nothing to negotiate your superior societal position. By this I mean that although the actions of Stallworth’s coworkers appear good, what is not so good is that the white man is still literally calling the shots. The white man is still very much still the fate-decider, he remains a manifestation of god, with the token black man as a manifestation of Jesus—the “chosen one” nailed to the cross for the good if his people. So as much as many want this film to push again the very forces that continue to oppress us as a people, Blackkklansman is the lastest product of a black man who is allowed to “win” in a white world because he is a Ron Stallworth of Hollywood. Lee is the chosen one who humanizes the white man in function and implication—allowing the white man to play god in a fate that seems to favor his “chosen” black subjugate. 

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The white savior is a persistent image throughout the film, perhaps most persistently aligned with Phillip or “Flip,” who provides a body to the white voice created by creation Ron Stallworth. Phillip’s nickname “Flip,” though seemingly synonymous with his “passing” as WASP, actualizes the fence rides that consumes the film. The film’s fence riding is perhaps best illustrated by its guest of honor, Harry Belafonte who recalls the horrifying murder and torture of Jesse Washington. Now, my critique is not of Mr. Belafonte the individual, because I acknowledge that Mr. Belafonte has done more for the black collective than I have. I will say that Belafonte embodies the fence-riding illustrated by this film. My commentary meditates on the dichotomous reality of Belafonte, a man who was walked beside the greats of black thought and action, yet dedicatedly espoused to white women for over sixty years. Belafonte’s marital selection seems eerily aligned to the other distinction between he and the other black men involved in civil rights—the fact that he saw 91 and most did not live to see past 40.

Feminism: A One-Woman Show

The =bkpatriceronWhite Woman is a singular entity, a single entity the film depicts in excess. A small man with penis envy, Felix’s plus side wife symbolizes the excess that he seeks. Felix speaks and treats his wife like a child, an action that functions deliberately to display Felix’s constructed masculinity. Connie, wife of KKK member Felix, has all the bearings of a southern mistress.  Her accent is deep, her home quintessential American middle class. She makes the home, but she also makes the deadly ambitions of her prejudice husband a reality. When Felix decides to target the black female leaders of the Black student union, it is the white woman who executes his plan. As she journeys to plant a bomb at Patrice’s home, Connie sees Patrice as not a “Woman” but as black– reflective of how the black women is seen throughout the global paradigm of white supremaycy. This depiction of white femininity as merely executing the ambitions of white male patriarchs, and inevitably anchored in race not gender, is an imperative lesson to the black viewer.

Another Sad Depiction of Black femininity

bkpatriceActress Lauren Harriet plays Patrice, her portrayal yet another embodiment of the fair-skinned love interest. This depiction is also another representation of the biracial female body as the face of the black female narrative. This reoccurring action makes this casting  neither coincidence or circumstantial, but custom. Though the paper bag test is commonly referred to as an occurrence of the past, the paper bag remains a standard for black female beauty. Specifically, as depicted in the acceptable beauty of Patrice’s thick features paired with her lighter skin, the paper bag test remains the determining force in whether full lips and African bone structure is attractive enough to warrant visibility. 

Patrice’s feature in the film bears an eerie connection to the juxtaposition of black bodies with ancient European art/depictions—common occurrences that allude to the resurrection of the enlightenment period. The enlightenment period is the perfume white nationalists, liberals, and conservatives places over the truth of the black dehumanization of that period—a dehumanization that still persists. This image functions  as aesthetical elevation in the violent shadows of the platform in which it earns visibility.

Inclusionary Activism

So is John David Washington exceptionally pleasant to look at and watch excel at a craft mastered by many who will never make the big screen? Yes. But this film, an all lives matter depiction marked as black progressive, is yet another notch on the belt of white supremacy who continues to foment new and improved ways to compromise the minds of the colored. Ironically, the film speaks of and to the power of  a Jewish media, and it is this same influence that inspires the juxtaposition of the black struggle with the Jewish struggle. The film paints the portrait that “we are all oppressed” and “racism is killing us bkrondirectorpatriceall.”  Racism however is not killing us all, those who compose the North American majority continue to benefit from racism. Even this film, that could have been blacker in content and execution remains overwhelmingly saturated in white presence. 

The good and bad guys are white. The film is three dimensional solely in its portrayal of white people, which depicts its black authorship as seemingly irretrievably vested in whiteness. There is a moment in the film where Stallworth asks his Jewish coworker why he has “not bought into this?” specifically referencing their infiltration of an organization that poses harm to them both.  The truth is Phillip does not have to buy into his otherness, because he is still white in a white supremacist nation. Phillip can “flip” (his nickname in the film) because he is white. The black body too can flip through assimilatory whiteness, but they are dismembered in the process. Particularly, blacks who adopt an assimilatory whiteness do so at the expense of owning their body, which is what viewers see in both Ron Stallworth and director Spike Lee. bkspikelee

Lee, like Stallworth, seems to believe in the process of change from the inside. There actions of infiltration or entry into spaces that remain dominated by whites, appear an attempt of nuanced activism—inclusionary activism. Inclusionary activism– a symptom of post traumatic slave disorder were the mentally enslaved convince themselves (and others) that their assimilatory actions are a means to liberate their people. Inclusionary activism, as depicted by Stallworth and Lee, always results in the oversimplification or erasure of the black struggle.   

To this many will deem my articulation as wrassling with the oppression olympics. The violent phrasing “the oppression olympics” implies the belief that blacks are the sole sufferers of the west. This is of course not true. What is true is that no other group has endured or continues to endure the level of oppression as black people. You not oppressed if ownership and nationalism are accompanied in an unadulterated perception of self. Blacks are handed self in the form of a caricature, and antagonized in their pursuit of ownership and togetherness. As illustrated in the film’s depiction of police infiltration of black events, black unity actualizes the biggest fear of this nation. The unity of other minority groups, or non-black persons of color does not pose a threat to a nation that awards them what they will deprive from blacks to ensure  a stagnant oppression to those of the black collective.

Final Thoughts

One of the most persistent ways the black body remains oppressed is through hyper-bkspikeleefistsexuality, a common theme in Spike Lee’s depictions of black bodies. To put things bluntly, Lee seems a prisoner of the caricatured male gaze in many of his projects. This project is a tad different, as the solely sexualized body is Phillip, a Jewish man who in his infiltration of the KKK, is asked to show his genitals as a means to prove his Arian lineage. It is interesting and an oversimplification of the black male experience, in a narrative that is supposed to be of a black man, that it is a Jewish man whose penis functions as “other.” Yes, in the same film where the horror story of a tortured, castrated and murdered Jesse Washington is revisited, it is Jewish genital practices that are actively bothered under the gaze of a black direction. This insulting portrayal is perhaps a warm up for the image Lee leaves readers with—the face of Heather Heyer, a white woman killed in the Charlotteville Riots last year. As a being of black form, it hurts to see this image as the final unspoken words of a film supposedly of melanin creation. The pain stems from the illustration of yet another black body as a bridge in which the white collective crosses to a fictive superiority, a fictive superiority made real through black sacrifice of self.

Though overly a page in the chapter of “black lives matter,” the film is easily an “all lives matter” film. Black Klansman is merely anti-Trump propaganda functioning to keep Donald Trump, and every other white man central in a white supremacist world. The final moments of the film exhibit “what I wish I would do,” which includes telling off whites but does not include black ownership or reconciling black twoness. Instead Stallworth seeks to continue living a split life. Viewers witness a similar action in director Spike Lee who offers viewers flashes of consciousness negated by a need to depict equity of struggle where there is none. Nevertheless, the film in execution appears an apology for the pervasiveness of black suffering, so much so, that it must be aligned with other, and lesser form of oppression.

Black Power ❤

Oceans 8, Drowning the Black Female Body

Jumping on the bandwagon of the #metoo movement is the latest installment of Oceans 8. The film features an all female cast starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, and Sarah Paulson. The film symbolically represents a so called diverse wave of feminism that includes the black woman and woman of color, a quota filled by Mindy Kaling, and Awkwafina as non-black women of color, and Rihanna as the token black female. What the women have in common is a so-called criminality, an attribute that each character supposedly exudes in vastly different scales. Sandra-Bullock-Oceans-8-trailer-screenshot

The film opens with Bullock’s rehearsed parole speech that precedes a shoplifting spee, gifting her with the luxuries afforded by the lie of white female honorability.  The audience found this display of white female privilege hilarious. It is her white female privilege that allows her to steal without suspicion, and allows her to manipulate a system designed specifically for her success. The film, much like the society that encase it, implies that people like Debbie Oceans (Sandra Bullock), don’t steal. They are stolen from.

The catalyst for the heist that anchors the film, is white female retaliation against the white man. Or as depicted in this film, a single white man. Oceans is incarcerated after the man she is seeing exchanges her freedom for his own. So she brings in an all girl team to take him down. Yes, each participant will walk away from the heist with millions of dollars, but Oceans will have the biggest victory of all. This victory is overtly revenge, but covertly the centrality imbued in this “feat”. 

sandycate.jpgThe motifs of this film correspond directly to Caitlin Flanagan’s article The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari. In this article, Flanagan speaks directly to the “danger” of white female retaliation. Ansari, Bill Cosby, Russell Simmons, amongst others, are the casualties of white female retaliation. Reeled in by white female ambition, the white woman wins at all angles. Either you fulfill her immediate desire, or become her prey. Debbie Oceans sought a benefit from her initial relationship with the man who framed her, and was able to capitalize on her setback. She, the white female is dangerous because as a master deceiver she occupies multiple positions. She is a villain who can claim victory as a victim. She is the two-headed dragon created in the fluidity of white male supremacy. 

In the film, this fluidity is largely symbolized by the jewels. Jewels, particularly diamonds, are the material focus of the heist. These jewels symbolize testicles or “balls,” depicting the white female body as abducting tokens of masculinity to appoint her own supremacy. This is an important depiction for black women, as while white women are depicting as acquiring these balls, the black female role is purely pleasure…if you get my drift. The white female body accrues this token of masculinity to screw others. Whereas the black female body is ultimately screwed.

This is most evident in the use of black bodies as props. Over the ninety minutes of the rihannaoceans8.jpgfilm, there are a number of black bodies occupying the background in a film dominated by white bodies. Rihanna’s role is supplementary, as she is merely the “eyes.” Rihanna plays “Leslie” or “Nine ball” a talented hacker. Nine ball coerces entry into spaces that fail to see her. As a hacker she sees, but is not seen—reserving a power similar to her oppressors. This positioning could very well be revolutionary,  but Nine Ball uses her positionality to aid rather than overcome these oppressive forces. 

This depiction poses a significant query to the black viewer. What if we used our talents specifically for our people? What if the high paid field-hands of the NBA trained and used their power to protect the black collective? What if their skill was used against our collective enemy and not for their continued benefit and entertainment? What if geniuses, be it creative or scholarly, used their work ethic and intellectual agility not to decorate the halls of the ivory tower with their tokenized presence, but to create hallways and entry points strictly for the elevation of their people? 

In contemplating these queries, it imperative for me to assert that I have zero interest in this film. This post is an effort to meet my black female counterpart where they are, as unfortunately too many black women are alongside white and non-black women who could not care less about them. The dynamics in Oceans 8, while fictionalized are hardly fiction. These dynamics mirror our past and predict a post #metoo future, should the black female body remain in the stupor of side-kick, and not rise to her intended level.  oceans8cast.jpg

In closing, Ocean’s Eight provides new insight to “oceans.” Oceans for Debbie Oceans and the white family symbolizes a lineage of deception and chicanery. Oceans for them are simply a means to the other side. Oceans for the black body are reminiscent of the middle passage. We cannot sail beside white women without steering over the mutilated bodies of our mothers, fathers, and children.Oceans either drowned the black body in a consummated plight to escape, or forced the black body to look up at a sky that matched the shade of our oppressor’s eyes. For if we look down, we see all that should have been up, the blood shed and bodies broken to ensure, as this film shows us, that the white woman wins in the end. 

Black Power ❤

Traffik, A Black Female Perspective

Hundreds of thousands black women go missing around the world globally, but their abductions often fail to make as much as a ripple in the water let alone the news.  “Where are our girls? a term that went viral a few years back to raise awareness for the missing girls in Nigeria, provoking an ethereal outrage that eventually became a comedic meme.  Mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins—gone without a trace, “gone missing” too generous a term for a nation that only “misses” black bodies when in need of a body to blame or maim. These women are perhaps more buried than ever in the contemporary resurrection of the hyper visible “woman,” a term that continues to ignore and underrepresent the black body.

Initially, I didn’t make anything of the film’s title. In hindsight the title Traffik presents transparency to the subject matter. The film, in a little under two hours, delineates how a woman goes from bride-to-be, to human trafficking victim. Brea (Paula Patton), and John (Omar Epps) are a young couple in love, enjoying a romantic weekend outside of Sacramento with friends, Darren (Laz Alonso) and Malia (Roselyn Sanchez). Brea is a black female journalist seeking a story after her previous efforts are sabotaged by a white man in a plot that is highly similar to Perfect Stranger (2006), where Halle Berry’s character also becomes immersed in a sinister plot offset by a white woman’s murder. Notably, Brea is a much more naive, and frustrating to watch.

The Strangeness of “Strange Fruit”

Admittedly, part of this frustration is Patton’s “blackness.” Though Patton identifies as black, she functions as racially ambiguous. Alongside Malia played by Hispanic actress Roselyn Sanchez, the films portrayal resumes a constant in displaying non-white love on camera—the darker male and significantly lighter female to portray an intimidating portrait of non-white love to white America. Both women eventually join a slew of Asian and white Women in a white operated human trafficking arrangement where women are sold to the highest bidder. The famished and heavily sedated women are revealed to the audience with Nina Simone’s rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” (1939, 1954) playing in the background—a dissonant portrayal that pained me to watch as a being of black female form.  This pain takes me back to Ta-nehesi Coates article “Nina Simone’s Face,” where he articulates why exactly Zoe Saldana’s casting in the role of Nina Simone was problematic. The most profound moment in this article is when Coates writes:

There is something deeply shameful in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic.

Similarly, the little girl bound and tossed naked on a crowded ship, or sent as a gift to white men in Europe and the Caribbean during the 16th and 17th century, remains excluded from being the face or even cast in a struggle that has been hers for centuries.

Thus, the only thing strange about the “strange fruit” featured in the film is that none of these berries dangling from the branches of white supremacy are black in color or feature. Though, all featured women are fictively blackened in the camera gaze that displays these women in the blackness of their surroundings, which symbolizes the blackness of the deed that abducted them, and ironically the blackness that created this production.

A “Black” Production

Traffik written and produced by Deon Taylor—a black man, makes this invisibility worse. The black voice as narrator seems an opportunity for the muted voice to speak. But instead of using this visual text as microphone for the mutilated bodies, buried in a forgetfulness, that birthed his being, Taylor’s film proves opportunistic of the time— and the time is intersectional.  The Woman that sings the haunting tune that uncovers the “traffik” the title speaks of, Nina Simone—-is  black as well. Yet only one of the traffiked women looked as though she could be black. In a film about the faces vanished seemingly without a trace, written and directed by a black men, the black female body remains obscured. The missing girls in Nigeria, that represent the millions of black Women throughout the Diaspora trafficked as the commerce of white supremacy—forgotten and excluded from a narrative that they were the first to tell with their bodies.

This obscurity is a deliberate casualty in the intersectional agenda of the film. Notably, the film is another page in the contemporary #metoo narrative that centers gender prejudice as a core societal evil. Conversely, the film as marketed seems to relay a black male narrative about systemic injustice.  Ironically, the two black leads—John (Omar Epps) and Darren (Laz Alonzo)—are murdered by a white man’s supplemental phallus, casualties to what the movie presents as a woman’s conflict with a sexist system. The film does layer its feminist portrayal with the female sheriff, a tall blonde who seems kind and understanding, but actualizes an alliance to the white men who taunt John at a gas station. This alliance is foreshadowed in the unrealistic care the sheriff shows Darren and Brea while chastising a group of white bikers. Though—it turns out the sheriff was just getting the information she needed to recruit more bodies as “traffik.”

The sheriff, a white Woman, betrays her affiliation when she kills her partner, has Brea prepared for trafficking and blames her partner’s death on two black men and a black Woman in her call to the precinct. This scenes’ functionality is two fold. On one hand, it illustrates the white Woman as a trusted figure, the trust enabling her ability to access evil uniquely and perhaps more violently than her male counterparts. This scene also functions to let the viewer know, that despite her appearance, Patton is portraying a black Woman. Now, Patton has said on many occasions that she sees herself as black, and I am not here to debate her blackness. I will say that functionality is very important when it comes blackness. I am not sure that Patton functions as black, and her ambiguity, combined with Roselyn Sanchez issues the world  comfort in representation and functions in action to erase the black aesthetic from the conversation of human trafficking.

Though despite this counter-narrative, the white woman remains central in her embodiment of victim. In fact, it is Brea’s concern for the battered (white)  “Woman” that proves a catalyst for black male demise and her ethereal abduction. Ultimately, Brea’s experience becomes the news story that saves her career, the film painting Brea as some form of maytr in her survival and ultimate self-appointment to narrator of the sex trafficking experience in so called first world countries. However, what Brea illustrates is the casualty race bears when placed secondary to intersectional attributes.

Color and Re Presentation

Dark skin as a feminine attribute is overtly omitted from the film, covertly suggesting in representation that blackness is inherently masculine as it is only overtly attached to male bodies. It is not until a  fair-skinned and fine featured Brea is ebonized by blood and dirt however,  that she seemingly becomes vested in survival. This portrayal seems an effort to place Brea into a Harriet Tubman-like role of the “Strong black woman,” that not only saves herself, but others. In representation dark skin equates to strength, but it is something Brea can and does whipe off, in assuming her position as narrator of this story. This is something seem quite often with black figures deemed revolutionary—they are ebonized in the conventionally grimy portions of their story, but whitened when acknowledged for their deeds in celebration. 

Closing Remarks 

Writing this review, there is a sinking feeling in my gut. Despite the overwhelming amount of black producers, writers, directors, etc, that have supposedly gained access to the plantation called Hollywood, the black narrative remains untold—illustrating that blackness is a state a mind, a destination, a journey not consummated or even attempted by everyone. As illustrated in every institution from Hollywood to the halls of the institution, the melanated body is trafficked as black in a white supremacist world that only seeks capital by any and all means. 

Black Power ❤

Black Panther, A Review

Telling It Like It is

Lets start off with facts. Black Panther was a comic created by Stan Lee, a white man. So the moments where the film felt utterly stereotypical is not accidental, and perhaps most evident when W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) rides on a rhinosorous during battle—depicting the continent as imagined in the minds of the ignorant—a land where man and beast live side-by-side.

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..Black Panther/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

What is interesting about Sam Lee and other whites like him, is that they engender projects that illustrate what they perceive as “problems” within blackness, cast the product as entertainment, yet fail to see their own authoritative illustration of a collective that is not their own, as a problem.

Lee embodies what blacks humorously call whites in the film, “colonizers.” Notably,  Lee makes a cameo in the movie, an appearance acknowledged by the audience with an applause that functioned to put the black cast in the periphery of the central white gaze. Ironically, Lee’s cameo features him collecting all the chips from a gambling table, which is exactly what he does in seizing control over the black narrative.

Lee’s presence in the movie, and as the creative architect in this supposed feature of black talent, casts him as a contemporary Otto Preminger (Carmen, 1954)—a creator of black “art” in a time of racial tension. Authoring a page in the black narrative, Stan Lee seemingly inserts blackness as shaped by him— a white man—into history, but in actuality personifies black objectification in deeming the (fictive) black narrative “his” story.

Thus, as much as many tried to depict the film a portrait of black excellence, it is a product of white privilege–exposing Black Panther as not indigenously “black,” but a canvass for the white imaginary.

_________

The Nationalist v. The Revolutionary

On the surface, Black Panther delineates a son’s battle to avenge his father’s murder, but the film allegorically represents the battle between the nationalist and the revolutionary.

The film’s fictive setting of Wakanda is clearly symbolic of Africa, the mother continent, or what it could be sans white influence.

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

Wakanda is advanced, bearing the technology to heal the wounds of those ripped from the continent’s womb centuries prior—but only accessible to those born into her majesty. Yet their interest remains not in pan-africanism, but preserving “their” own. Their nationalistic perspective prompts them to label solely those born and raised in Wakanda  as “their own.” The people of Wakanda are overtly cultural but covertly nationalistic, illustrating their status as colonized in the dissonance to which they hold their kinfolk and perfection of the English language.

Admittedly, I did not anticipate the accents that dominated the film. The accents though,

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

were not present for cosmetic reasons, but functioned as a line of demarcation between the nationalists and the revolutionaries. Erik (Michal B. Jordan), who is aligned with the white “American” characters, does not have a ‘Wakanda” accent like his kinfolk—illustrating the very exclusion his father warned him about. Wakanda, though seemingly maintaining an antithetical relationship to who they call “the colonizers,” regard their ‘black nation’  as a colony. However, their speaking of English illustrates that they too have suffered the scars of colonization.

The nationalistic perspective, is perhaps best illustrated in the act that actors the film. After King T’Chaka (John Kani), discovers his brother, N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) has “betrayed” Wakanda nationalism in providing resources to its abducted brethren, he murders N’Jobu while N’Jobu’s son Erik plays outside. Erik Killmonger, brilliantly portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, discovers his dad’s body, devotes his life seeking to fulfill his father’s mission of Pan-Africanism—or as depicted in the movie, providing Wakanda weaponry to blacks throughout the diaspora. Though perceived as a “traitor” by his nationalistic

The brother relationship between N’Jobu and T’Chaka is reminiscent of the brother relationships centralized in many of James Baldwin’s texts. Namely, Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues” features two brothers who choose very different paths but find unity in music, a common vessel used to materialize the pain of oppressed people. In Black Panther, it is not music that joins the two brothers, but an understanding that arises in Erik’s act to take what was not willfully given.

You’re not so “bad” after all

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

Though Erik is conveyed as the caricatured “angry black man” in a series of witty lines, Erik is layered, seeking to take the means to liberate oppressed people beyond Wakanda. Erik symbolically embodies the revolutionary spirit seen in Nat Turner, Malcom X, George L. Jackson, Huey Newton—black men who saw an issue and did not wait for justice, but made their own. The revolutionary is not angry, but ambitious— a deliberate mistake made far too often in the historical remembrance of our most beloved and successful leaders. Thus, Erik’s portrayal is just as he would be remembered in history—embittered and violent, portraying writer Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole as embedding the twoness articulated by late and great scholar W.E.B. Dubous in The Souls of Black Folks.

I will say that the Wakanda nationalists are villainized in the critical interpretation of the film, but I will return to this point later.

It’s a Man’s World?

I would be remiss if I did not point out the film is anchored in sexism. All women have a noticeable attachment to the male characters, allowing men to dominate the film

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

This is mirrored in conception and content, as black female representation is largely absent behind the scenes as well. Nevertheless, though the female presence is quite strong on screen, all female characters are noticeably underdeveloped. Nakia (Lupita Nyon’o), T’Challa’s love interest, is certainly a revolutionary spirit that mirrors the contributions of Assata Shakur in her independence and commitment to righting the wrongs in government regardless of the cost—but details of her past and desires beyond her love for T’Challa is largely absent, as is Ramonda (Angela Basset), T’Challa’s mother.

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

Ramonda fades into the background, as her purpose following her husband’s death has dwindled. Ramanda was the someone T’Chaka loved in live, and given her minimal screen time, it seems she ceased to be someone after he died. Similarly, Nakia exists so that T’Challa has someone to love. After Black Pather’s defeat at the hands of Erik,  Nakia takes it upon herself to separate from the system that allowed his de-throning, illustrating that masculinity continues to motivate black femininity posthumously. Even Okoyo (Danai Gurira), a supporting character that steals every scene she’s in, is largely defined by the male ruler. Viewers watched as Okoyo transitions from guarding T’Challa to guarding Erik in a blink of an eye—depicting the gorgeous amazon as a fair-weather friend, loyal to the land, not man.

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..Ayo (Florence Kasumba)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

Okoyo is also overtly masculinized, not by her role as general, but in her espousal to a phallic object. While she deems guns “primitive,” Okoyo’s spear is always by her side, acting as a supplementary phallus to a gorgeous being of black female form. To most, the spear is merely an extension of Okoyo’s strength, but to the conscious gaze, it is yet another depiction of the black female as a gender hybrid—not quite man and not quite woman.

Romanticizing Africa

The loyalty to the land is a trait common in all the Wakanda peoples not anchored in their personal affiliation to T’Challa. This portrayal offers a new perception of “romanticizing Africa” as it is not those stolen from the shores romanticizing the motherland, but those never ripped from their mother’s womb—a disturbing but contemplative read on the nationalist’s ideology.

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Shuri (Letitia Wright)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

In acknowledging difference, it is worth mentioning the difference in T’Challa and Erick’s visit with their deceased fathers. Though T’Challa is crowned king in the beginning of the movie following his father’s death, after a bloody battle with his first cousin, T’Challa is usurped and Erik is crowned king. Upon both of their crownings, both experience a psychological “passing of the torch” from their fathers through a dream.

T’Challa, the nationalist, tells his father that “he is not ready to live without him,” to which the father replied by stating that the “role of a man is to prepare his children for his death.” Upon visiting his father, Erik does not cry—as it seems that though young at the time of his father’s murder, he had been enduring loss, or at the very least, bracing himself for loss, his entire life. The revolutionary, as seen in Nat Turner and Malcolm X, acquired a literacy of loss and seemingly accepts death as the price for their courage it takes to spare their people loss via injustice.

Black Love with a Side of White Savior

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

What is a black film without a white savior?

Black Panther acquires its white savior, Everett (Martin Fraiser) in a battle against white adversaries. Everett jumps in front of Nakia in combat, nearly dying. So, though T’Challa’s love interest, it is a white man who risks his life for the black woman. This depiction paints Black Panther in the same image as Avatar, where the white man is portrayed as more deserving of the “othered” woman than the “othered” man. A subtle plug for interracial relationship–this mawkish feature paints the white man in Jack Pearson (NBC, This is Us) like fashion, suggesting the white man’s “sacrifice” yields the possibility of black love (on the series a black man raised by a white family proves a great father and husband) .

The writers could have easily omitted Everett’s role in the film altogether, as there are countless films, like Titanic where there are absolutely no black people. Or, they could have depicted T’Challa  as taking a bullet for his beloved Nakia, illustrating the black female body as an irreplaceable asset to the black individual and black collective.  So while it warmed my heart to see T’Challa and Nakia, two beautiful black people, kiss—this image of the white savior sullied what could have been a perfect portrayal of black love. A common but disappointing cost paid in attempting to depict black love on the Hollywood plantation.

Top Moments

Okoyo, a strong supporting actress has a scene where she wears a straight wig to a party.

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Okoye (Danai Gurira)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

The wig fails to frame  her perfect black features, a point she made clear when she tosses it from her head when combat calls. This was powerful moment in the film as it illustrates a black female form completely literate to the extent of her beauty. This scene combats what the hair industry has generated millions of dollars in manufacturing– a beauty mastered by the black female form.

 

 

 

 

After rising from the “death”  of temperate defeat, Black Panther ultimately defeats Erik in a second battle for the throne. Although T’Challa offers to revive Erik, he refuses and says possibly the greatest line ever uttered in a mainstream movie:

“ Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”

Powerful.

Here, Erik embodies the true soul of a revolutionary—revolutionaries live to die for what they believe in. For the true revolutionary it is not about a

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

happily every after, or acquiescing to life on their knees just to eschew death, but to die on their feet, or in Erik’s case, on the heels of an image painted by the man who shaped your life. Before his untimely death, Erik’s father N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), spoke of the Wakanda sunset as the most beautiful sight. So in addition to avenging his father’s death, Erik ends his mortal life in consummating the journey “back to Africa” with a Pan-Africanist perspective.

Erik’s actions mirror the actions of the late revolutionary Nat Turner, an enslaved man who staged an uprising and in its aftermath chose death over bondage. The irony is of course that the creation of the characters by a white man, is also a form of bondage, and death in which the black narrative becomes reduced to a paradoxical fantasy. Nevertheless, Erik’s death is predictable and necessary, as both reality and fantastical portrays of fantasy demand the revolutionary’s exclusion to maintain the stagnancy of dominant rule.

T’Challa, like his father, must now go through life with blood on his hands. But unlike his

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

father, T’Challa allows the seed planted in him through a murdered Erik to grow and birth change. Particularly, Erik inspires T’Challa to open up an outreach center in the same location that staged the murder that engendered Erik’s “rage” or what T’Challa called “a monster of their own creation.”

Erik is of course not a monster, and  his sentiments are not “created” by his estranged family, but the wrath of the colonizers. Though referenced as “Colonizers,” the film places  an undeserving emphasis on black behavior and not the reason for said behavior. While seemingly treading the line between blame and responsibility, this feature makes the film accessible to whites–as depicted in the dissonant phrase ‘black on black crime,’  whites love blaming blacks for actions induced by centuries of white tyranny. Thus, the feud that anchors the film places brothers T’Chaka and N’Jobu, and cousins T’Challa and Erik, in a “Battle Royal” (Ralph Ellison 1952) like stance, fighting with one another for white entertainment.

In Closing

So, is this film the reparations blacks have been deserving of for four hundred years? Absolutely not. The film, though similar in name, is not to be confused with the black panther movement—it is not revolutionary, or even reactionary. The celebration surrounding the film is actually a sign that most will overlook the allegory and succumb to the ethereal portrayal of black faces. Black Panther functions as 2018’s Get Out, a film with a veiled intellectual message diluted by actors who are black in color and not in mind, and audiences seeking to bask in a caricatured blackness for two hours before returning their interests pursuing a colorblind society.

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Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Director (Ryan Coogler) and Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa/Black Panther)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

The verdict?

Support a brilliant black director Ryan Coogler and the black actors and actresses, but take it for what it is— a movie, not a movement.

Black Power ❤

*The author notes that (black) nationalism, need not be mutually exclusive with  revolutionary or a pan-africanist status–a merging seen in leaders like Malcolm X. The disparate use of these terms functions to reflect the film’s depiction and not my understanding or stance on the concepts themselves.

Thank you for reading.

Proud Mary, A Review: The Strong Black Woman as Superhero/ Assassin Medley

Proud Mary (2018) is a tale of emancipation well carried by Taraji P. Henson (Mary), Billy Brown (Tom), and Danny Glover (Benny), but poorly written and developed by the non-black males behind the scenes. Mary (Taraji P. Henson) a long time affiliate of Benny (Danny Glover), works to free herself from the chains of a life she no longer desires— at least on the surface. Named for the famed Ike and Turner song, Proud Mary reflects a fetishizing of the black female form reminiscent of pm-featurethe blaxploitation era.

Released in 1969, Tina Turner’s performance of Proud Mary resurrected the animalistic prototype of the black female form displaced onto Saartje Bartmaan during the 1700s. In performance, the song proud Mary depicts what viewers see in blaxploitation films like Coffy and Foxy Brown (Pam Grier), where f22722652adddadd20058a0346adf28a--tina-turner-beautiful-black-womenthe black female form displays a heightened sexuality intertwined with an underscored masculinity mirroring the perception of the enslaved black Woman.

Though not revealing her body, Henson’s resurrection of the proud Mary form resumes the paradoxical displacement of a masculine hyper-sexuality onto the black female form.

A Fetishized Form

Before I go on any further in my review, please allow me to state that my qualms are not
with any of the black actors, at least in terms of their performance. My issue is with the seemingly complimentary image that purports very damaging behavior.

My comparison between Proud Mary and the black female superhero of the 1970s is easily disputed by claims that Mary is not hyper-sexualized— and overtly she is not. There is no sex scene, no shower scene or even a kiss. In fact, the biggest romance in the film is the maternal bond between Mary and Danny. Though refreshing, I can not help but wonder if this omitted  love scene stems from an anxiety in depicting black love in a contemporary climate inundated with interracial love, or a desire to somehow a-sexualize a black female who spends most the movie with a phallus in hand.Foxy-Brown-film-images-c022e211-a537-47ff-bad2-f6b6fcf6a94

Nevertheless, Mary’s espousal to a big black gun, simultaneously masculinizes and sexualizes the black female form.
Particularly, the immaculate gun-slinging displayed by Mary in this film proves eerily similar to Idris Elba’s performance in The Dark Tower, where his coital relationship with his gun bring about change. Mary’s gun-slinging overtly sexualizes Henson simultaneously masculinizing her. Particularly, the precise phallic handling that dominates the film paints the black female form as not a lady with a gun but a female with a supplemental phallus. Thus, the film’s depiction of the strong black woman, seemingly occurs at the expense of blurring the gender line between the black male and female form, prompting viewers to question whether the black female form is less than a man but more than a woman–or vice versa.

 Emasculation +Elimination= Strength

The strong black woman image is a pervasive image throughout both the film and proudmarythroughout the global perception of the black female form. Proud Mary, the strong black woman that anchors the film, is literally a super woman. Yet, true to the treatment of the black female form, she is underestimated.  Proud Mary as an underestimated entity is depicted in Benny’s inability to conceive Mary as going against his commands. Her loyalty is also taken for granted—illustrated in Benny and Tom’s assumption that there is nothing Mary would rather do with her life than fulfill their personal and professionals needs. The black female form as an underestimated being whose loyalty is taken for granted, gives way for a central component of Proud Mary’s embodiment of the strong black woman caricature–the elimination and/or emasculation of the black man.

In accordance with the strong black woman caricature, the film depicts Mary as not needing a man, but being needed by men. 62022762.cms

This film illustrates the necessity of the black female to the black familial unit, and to the mission of the black man. This essentiality of the black female form to the black family and the black mission is not false or negative. The depiction however is quite negative.The portrayal in a film directed and produced by non-black males, illustrates the black man—Benny (Danny Glover) and Tom (Billy Brown)— as desiring to possess the black female form— a sentiment that mirrors the oppositional perception and use of of black bodies against one another.

Viewers see Mary emasculate Tom in refusing his desire to make their romantic past present— a refusal that ultimately results in Tom’s elimination. In the film’s final scene, Mary has murdered her surrogate father Benny, and their entire team. Tom has taken Danny hostage, and Mary has come to collect her surrogate son. She attempts to do so without harming Tom. But once Mary walks away without looking back, a distressed Tom shoots at Mary. She of course shoots back, but wounding Tom is not enough. She walks a few feet over to an ailing Tom and shoots Tom at point blank range. In a movie full of murder, I found this image to be the most hurtful. The hurt lies in the implication that liberation for the strong black woman comes solely in murdering the black man.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that although I use the term “black” to describe the characters—their is no mention of race. There is also a noticeable dearth of white

Taraji P Henson
Mary (Taraji P. Henson) stalks her prey in the kitchen of the Kozlov mansion in Screen Gems’ PROUD MARY.

women— aside from a single white female sales clerk in a high-end department store.

Both occurrences are hardly coincidental and work together to depict a central component of the film. Despite Taraji’s starring role in the film and embodiment of the strong black woman caricature—her function is to embody “woman—“ the black actors employed to capitalize on the black consumer. Just as Pequita Burgess–a black woman– was the face of Bill O’Reilly’s “downfall” Taraji is the face of the oppositional gaze’s attempt of modernity in depicting a black “feminist” figure as a step away from the overt racism that pollutes our contemporary climate. The conscious gaze knows that it is racism that purports strong images of black women either in close proximity to whiteness, or at the expense of the emasculated (via absence or action) black male. Moreover, it appears that Mary exists as a “woman” figure that must break away from blackness, blackness as embodied through black males Benny and Tom, in order to consummate her journey to woman. Mary- a woman who ran away from the bad, only to be found by the worse, seeks to free herself from “blackness” via her supplementary phallus to emerge as woman.

Mother Mary or Virgin Mary

The love affair that carries the film is the love between Mary and Danny. After tailing486829_m1513852624 Danny and taking him in after he collapses on a Boston street, the two organically fall into a mother and son role. It is this maternal role that seemingly is the cherry on Mary’s attempt to emerge as woman, simultaneously evoking the central maternal image in the Christian Bible. Specifically, the name Mary evokes the biblical mother of Christ who conceives the savior of humanity immaculately. Mary, (Henson) performs a similar function in emerging as mother to a child she did not conventionally conceive. The placement of “proud” in front of “mary” functions to depict the black mother Mary as possessing one of the seven sins–pride. This evokes a similar image to eve and the apple, the black woman depicted as possessing the pride that sullies humanity with her sin and thwarts her journey to “woman.”

Stop. Don’t Shoot.

Screen-Shot-2017-07-20-at-11.20.37-AMBefore I conclude this piece, I wish to share that this film had me at the edge of my seat for an unlikely reason. I spent the bulk of the film hoping that Danny (Jahi Di’allo Winston) did not get shot. Danny is easily comparable to Trayvon Martin, or even a Tamir Rice who were murdered at or around Danny’s age in the film—their transitions induced by gunshot wounds. Though “saved” by black mother Mary, Danny’s spared life almost suckers viewers into enjoying a mediocre movie more because although inundated with death–the movie spares the child.  The spared black male child is especially resonant given the inhumane amount of young black bodies the black collective has had to bury over the last four hundred years. This bothered me as it seems a ploy of the non-black writer and directors to exploit the contemporary gaze fixated on the fiction that racism is an isolated ideology–whereas if there was no racism this movie and the caricatures that cloud it, would not exist.  Furthermore, the spared black child makes viewers more inclined to develop an underserving predilection for the non-black movie producers and writers for not disrupting a route to escapism with reality–unveiling the film as a means of escapism, not a means to exhale. Proud-Mary-8

 

Honorable Mentions

  • The film depicts Danny as submissive and respectful with whites, but more comfortable and even disrespectful to blacks. Given that the film is written and produced by non-blacks, this portrayal illustrates that what may seem like a casual means to interact between kinfolk are very much studied behaviors by groups wishing to oppress us.
  • Also, the film depicts whites as callous and emotionless regarding their wrongdoing, but depict blacks as possessing more feeling. Though some may argue that Benny becomes indignant towards Mary’s pending departure because he is hurt, his actions mirror what becomes of blacks who seek to encompass whiteness—they essentially become the white man. Tom, in the emotion he wears on his face for Mary, has not consummated the level of white mimicry as his father—he is still able to love and feel. This display is in accordance with Dr. Bobby Wright’s “The Racial Psychopath Essays” where he delineates whites as innate racial psychopaths.

Concluding Thoughtsmaxresdefault

Conclusively, Proud Mary starring Hollywood veteran Taraji P. Henson, does for film what Scandal’s Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) did for television—place the black female body in a role typically reserved for white men.

Though surfacely filling a void in Black female representation on the big screen, Proud Mary reinforces negative controlling images that continue to surround and drown the black female body in perspectives that function to substantiate black female disenfranchisement.

So while seemingly an ode to black female physical and mental strength, Proud Mary subversively sexualizes the black female form, proving that objectivity from the oppositional gaze is simply not feasible in a world to which her subjugation remains a necessity.

Black Power ❤

 

Roman J. Israel, Esq, A Review

Roman Israel —-the character and the film, illustrate a harsh reality of heartbreak, humility, and the attempt at humanity by one who has been dehumanized. roman_01

Like many of the great black ancestors, film protagonist Roman Israel (Denzel Washington) spent decades fighting for change—reaching for the impossible to the mental exhaustion imbued by his physical efforts. After his purpose partner dies following complications from a sudden heart attack, Israel finds himself mirroring the societal crippling of the clients he spent his life defending. After some effort to find work, Israel finds himself taking an offer from his late partner’s protege George (Colin Farrell), transforming his life from the modesty of pro bono to the prestige of a law firm in a high rise building. Israel is the oddball at the office full of coworkers obsessed with money and material- not materializing justice for their clients. A modest man of purpose, Israel seemingly snaps after a young client, of whom he tried to help, is murdered. This in the addition to his partner’s illness and ultimate death, his loss of income and purpose, offsets Israel into a dangerous path to which he will not be granted the ability to recover.

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington stars in Columbia Pictures’ ROMAN J. ISRAEL ESQ.

In short, Israel illustrates how costly it is to have a lapse in judgment as a black person, and the detriment of black male emasculation. During his life of prose, fiction, and playwriting, the late James Baldwin spoke and wrote extensively about the plight of black men to materialize and actualize masculinity in the conventional sense. Prior to his lapse in judgement, Israel sought masculinity through fighting for the underdog as a societal underdog. His talent and dedication is palpable and inspirational—present both inside and outside of the courtroom. The film shows Israel calling to report construction taking place during unlawful hours multiple times to no response. He does not outwardly display frustration, but viewers are granted a sense of the the many ways in which Israel’s spirit was challenged, a challenge that unveiled the justice sought as that which would never come at request. Israel’s dilemma illustrates what we have seen both inside and outside the Diaspora, the continual request for justice by blacks.  Abolition regimes, Brown versus Board of Education, affirmative action, or land reparations as seen in Brazil, illustrate the gift of re-manefested oppression as awarded to those who request rather than resist, a request only acknowledge when the interests of the oppressed mirror that of the oppressor.  Derrick Bell introduces the term interest convergence,  in essay “Brown v Board of Education and the Interest Convergence Dilemma” written in response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, asserting what many perceive as small victories as only overtly benefitting blacks when reflecting the interests of whites.

So when Israel realizes that he’s been requesting justice from “the wrong court” he decides to “take.” But his “taking” is not what is seen in cases of Nat Turner, or even Micah Johnson or Gavin Long. No, his taking is an exact replica of white behavior, in which Israel gains capital from inducing someone’s loss. Nat Turner took what money couldn’t and wouldn’t buy— what would never be readily given. Israel, emasculated by the consequences that followed his nearly four decade plight towards what he perceived as justice, takes a chance at the capitalistic existence nurtured by western culture. Israel used the confidential information to lessen the sentence of a teenaged boy’s pending trial, ultimately causing his murder, to incarcerate another young black man—an action that awarded him one-hundred thousand dollars.

The money allows Israel the means to acquire the western exteriority uniform to his new cooperate job, but in the short time it took for him to report this young man, viewers see Israel’s soul leave his body.

roman-j-israel-esq-3History has shown the conscious gaze this behavior before—the black body at an illusive crossroads where they are indirectly presented with the decision of cowardice or courage, enslavement or freedom, silence or sound, leader or follower, life, and death. We saw this James Baldwin’s “Sonny Blues,” where Sonny chooses music and his brother chooses education as a mode of escaping the inescapable. Despite their varied paths, they meet in the middle bruised by the same burdens and cruelty, pushed to the same edge viewers watch Israel dangle from. Whether compartmentalized by the phrase “dangling from the edge” or “snapping” the climax of black masculinity is a recurring theme of the black male narrative that either produces what functions as a hyper-masculinity or an emasculation.

Every black body that has ever occupied an extreme position of courage or cowardice in the systemic abjection of black people, has experienced this moment. This moment is crucial, as it signals a moment where an individual must decide his or her collective purpose. Nat Turner experienced this moment, and sought to overthrow his earthly master. Malcolm X had this moment and became a guiding force to unlock an esteem many blacks did not know was missing. Denzel Washington, the actor who portrays Israel, also has this moment. Extended a platform in his visibility, Washington emerges as a coward in using this platform to fester the wound of inferiority ingrained into the black psyche by way of white supremacy. Israel too had this moment. But his adversity did not mold a fearlessness, but a stifling fear manifested in Israel’s espousal of materialism. Specifically, Israel uses privileged information to collect one hundred grand after turning in the black man responsible for the crime in which his deceased client was charged. Rather than attack the forces that incite the oppressed’s desire for franchisment, Israel joins forces with those whom he spent his entire life challenging.  In short, Israel seeks to be on the other side of systemic adversity, a decision that would prove fatal.

A Stubborn Spirit

Ironically, prior to his cowardly conversion, a bulldog statue accompanies Israel nearly everywhere. A recurring image throughout the film, the bull dog symbolically depicts a stubborn nature or strong connection to one’s convictions. The bull dog represents Israel, a stubborn man anchored in his commitment to justice. In the moments before his death, Israel gifts the bulldog statue he carries from his old firm to his new high rise office, to Maya, a beautiful woman drawn to Israel in their shared conviction to justice. For Maya, Israel is what she aspires to be, but by the end of the film, Maya acquires the courage and purpose Israel relinquishes.

What’s in a Name?

The name Israel, is unique and seemly discordant with Denzel Washington the actor and roman_01the man. Particularly, the name “Roman Israel” represents colorblind casting, or color being implementing into the film as an attempt to seem more relevant than it actually was during conception. Casting a black man as the film’s protagonist both exposes the racist perception of the producers writers and directors, and aids the white supremacist agenda of implementing white supremacy any and everywhere possible. Namely, the film is a different take of the controlling image where the black male emasculation is evident in his donning of female clothing, appropriating femininity not as an act of resistance or nuanced approach to personhood, but as an effort to dissolve masculinity as it relates to the black male body. Although not assuming an overt femininity, Roman too distances himself from a black masculinity when his “aha” moment breeds an “oh no” reaction. In what should have been a moment of strength, Israel emerges as weak— a depiction that is not accidental in a white supremacist culture. Ironically, named for the land given to a people subject to the inhumane cruelty of a Holocaust, the allusion evoked in Israel’s name symbolizes the danger in waiting for what is given. Israel of course came to the Jewish community as the bow on a gift—a token or acknowledgment of wrongdoing gifted to those no longer in a state of abjection— a tokenizing of a powerlessness transformed into privilege. Israel a seeks an Israel- like token, but as a black man, his desires simply do not manifest.

Instead, Israel surfaces to depict the black male body as damned if he does, and damned if he does not. Israel was damned to a dead-end road as a criminal justice attorney fighting the real criminals to free the fictive criminals from a caricatured existence. In the film’s final moments, the film depicts the black man as paying with his life for doing what whites have done for centuries. Israel, like so many black men before and after him, loses his life on the hard concrete ground, the blood sinking into the same ground composed of the marrow of his ancestors. His spilled blood and premature ending, also like so many black men before him, becomes a stage for the white savior.

The White Savior

tumblr_oyy7exdDRG1vmfib2o2_400Despite initially shutting the door on Israel’s fight for the underdog, once these interests of the oppressed converge with his interests as a white man, George (Colin Farrell) expresses interest in Israel’s life work. By then it is too late. Israel had hung up his cape, a cape that proved a carpet to George’s assuming of Israel’s work after his death. Up until the shift that would cost him his life, Israel was building a case to expose the justice system as unjust. To an extent, every black body builds a case throughout his or her lifetime—some cases acknowledged far more than others. Far too often, these cases become the legacy of whites, who tie the ribbon on an already created black contribution. For example, prior to his death, Ralph Ellison wrote over one-thousand pages in an attempt to rewrite a novel destroyed in a house fire. After his death, a white man assembled these pages into the novel Juneteenth. This is similar to Georges Cuvier placing Saartje Baartman in jar, using the black body, or extensions of this body, as a means to exteriorize the interiority of the black collective–or, to put it simply, a means for whites to assume a legacy through black life.  .

This is of course anything but unusual.

20171121142511!Roman_J._Israel,_Esq.Furthermore, the film functions as a means to emasculate the black male body in showcasing both courage and cowardice as leading to fatality. It is worth mentioning that the featured image of the film’s poster, mirrors the perspective of Israel’s murderer and George, the film’s white savior. This angle prompts me to think of Malcolm X’s vow in his autobiography not to have his back to the door, after being rudely awakened to its positional vulverability. Here, Israel seemingly places his back to the world and is ejected from it, by someone, who in the faceless representation, shares the same hue as Israel– a depiction that also alludes to the orchestrated assassination of the late and great Malcolm X.

Rather than providing food for thought, the film not so subtly implies the impossibility of black male navigation in a white supremacist society as reason for their erasure. In the film’s final moments, Roman lay shot on a Los Angeles street. There is no face connected to his murder, or discussion of the fatal shot that delivered his body to the state of his soul. Like Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, amongst countless others, Israel is dead but apparently no one did it. This depiction, in short, screams “I wish you were never born” from the pits of white supremacy in depicting the fatality and ultimate idea abduction that awaits any black body foolish enough to think they can change the world.

Suburbicon, A Review

I had never heard of Suburbicon prior to being invited to attend a pre-screening event.  As a black woman interested in explicating blackness, seeing the movie was initially of little interest to me. But as a plus-one, the endeavor became a low stakes opportunity to meta a white film targeting an audience of white liberals. MV5BMTA3MjA1NDkxMTReQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDU2Njg3NDMy._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

The irony in the phrase white liberal is seemingly not entirely lost on director and writer George Clooney, who uses Suburbicon to assert his own white liberalism. Suburbican-set  in a suburban town, depict what many Americans would consider a utopia. The lawns are perfectly manicured and the white families are as firmly planted in their fictive superiority as their prime real estate is in stolen American soil.  This utopia setting becomes a state for dystopia—the film succeeding in depicting the drastic lengths whites will go through to satiate greed and italy-venice-film-festivalmaintain an image of pseudo perfection.

In a little under two hours, Clooney contemplates what it means to be white. A query the film seemingly answers in a disturbing portrayal of greed, sex, and a ruthless exercise of white privilege from multiple angles. This privilege is not simply skipping lines or obtaining a high-paying job with sub-par credentials, but far more grim.

In short, white middle-class suburban dad and husband Gardner (Matt Damon) hires other white men of lower social stature to murder his handicap wife so that he can pursue a romantic relationship with her sister. Rose (Gardner’s wife) and Margaret (Rose’s sister), are both played by actress Julianne Moore, a duplicity that while many things is not accidental. The dual role suggests an SUBURBICONinterchangeability between white women. Given Margaret’s murderous rage when she learns she will not obtain the funds to start her new life, the film implies that if placed in a similar position, a deceased Rose would behave like her sister—or possibly did so to secure her temperate place in Suburb-icon.

Suburbicon’s characters are allegorical and represent a specific facet of white privilege. Gardner (Matt Damon) exercises his privilege in inducing white female interchangeability and access to capital. Margaret (Julianne Moore) seeks to exercise the privilege of white female beauty and white female supremacy in aiding her employer torment her black female neighbor in a local supermarket. The insurance man, who easily uncovers Gardner and Margaret’s evil plan, does not seek to extinguish their cruel intentions, but exploit their actions for his own gain.

tdtNicky, Garner’s pre-adolescent son, is easily the film’s protagonist and hero, that as seen in The Dark Tower, Suburbicon implies that white youth, in their willingness to befriend black males, are the hope for an anti-racist future. This suggestion is as narcissistic and laughable as it is self-serving to the white savior image pervasive throughout every avenue of American life. Like The Dark Tower, Suburbicon implements a black male body to fictively diversify an otherwise all white case. Suburbicon, slightly advances the pursuit of pseudo diversity in casting a black family who integrates a white middle class neighborhood as figures in a utopian backdrop. As seen in countless instances prior, the black body becomes the canvass to which all whites  cast their sins. After Rose, a well-to-do white woman is murdered in her own home, the Mayers, a respectable black family, incurs the blame. When neighbors seek to disrupt the sanctity of this family by building a fence, singing loudly on their lawn, vandalizing their car, and breaking their front window to drape the confederate flag— the black family endures blame for the animalistic actions of whites.  FILM-SUBURBICON-REVIEW

I feel compelled to state that I do not support integrative efforts, namely blacks who seek to live amongst whites. But I will say that the depiction of the grave efforts implemented by white bodies to maintain a space established in black exclusion was disturbingly accurate.

If the film did nothing else well, it captured the desperation and sheer ugliness of white greed and the need for whites to have someone to blame and otherwise look down upon. The cost in delivering said images, comes in casting black people along the backdrop in the film. The black family, although portrayed by able and attractive actors, are essentially faceless and one- dimensional. The black family surfaces to denounce the idea of a white utopia. Ironically, the film, as stated by some of its characters, implies that it is the presence of a black family that unveils white utopia as a dystopia–by offsetting a series of unfortunate events with the black family’s move into surburbicon. But despite this dystoia, Suburbicon predictably concludes by emphasizing the motif of white liberalism–that there is potential for a non-racist white subject.

Film-Review-Suburbicon-2The film ends with Nicky—the son of the murderous father and husband who left a trail of blood in his desperate attempt for sex and money, playing with his black friend Andy (Tony Espinosa). The two boys toss a ball to one another over a fence that separates them. While noticeably more peaceful than any other scene in the film, the image suggests an ability of black and whites to harmoniously co-exist  via an informal segregation. While I do not disagree with blacks and whites having designated spaces were interaction is optional not mandatory, this implicit idea also implies that this informal segregation is what allows for utopia–subtly suggesting that the black family’s failure to exercise this ideology proves a catalyst for the dystopia depicted in the film. An implication that acquiesces rather than challenges notions of white supremacy.

Suburbicon also implies that Nicky, although pursuing normal day with a house full of dead bodies, is “better” than his murderous and adulterous father, who although the epitome of evil warns him against “playing with that colored boy.” Incidentally, by playing with “that colored boy,” Nicky allegorical represents the “good” that can come from evil. Andy, Nicky’s black friend, functions to humanize a child who will grow up to possess the same racial psychopathy as his father. Except maybe, given the film’s recycling of the outcasted white who finds camaraderie in a black person (or people), (i.e. Skeeter from The Help) Nicky may grow up to have a black wife, or at the very least, a black friend.

The film, while not the worst film made in the last five years, fails to deviate from a suburbiconwhite supremacist agenda because of its obvious attempt to demonize and humanize whites in the same chord.

The verdict?

Social Commentary about whites by white people will only go so far. “Radical” white social commentary or criticism will go out on a limb and depict the white man and woman as both the devil and the angel—performing the very psychopathy it seems to combat.

With regards to psychopathy, the film accurately displays its white characters, with the exception of young Nicky, as callous and cavalier.

While the images presented in the film seem exaggerated, they are a watered-down version of what a global historical trajectory reveals to be true. Yet, despite this truth, many blacks will be shocked at the footage, and as reflected in many white authored reviews pertaining to the movie, many whites will be outraged. They of course won’t admit to being indignant regarding the exposure of white incivility, so instead express dissatisfaction regarding technicalities–proving that action need not be revolutionary to rock the effete boat of white esteem.

Although certainly possessing brief moments of contemplation or  truth, the film fails to hold white feet to the fire, or at the very least, their eyes to the truth. Furthermore, Suburbicon proves a means for whites to once again eschew reality for a fantastical version of their collective selves.

So while Clooney appears to entertain the query of what it means it means to be white, he renders a morose answer in both production and product, implicitly asserting that to be white is to pursue a fictive self-portrait in front of and behind the camera. `

The cycle continues.

❤ Black Power

 

 

OWN’s Black Love Docu-Series, A Review of Episode One

If you watch Maury, black love is dysfunctional, careless, and rooted in lust. The same can be said for many other “reality” television shows from court series to VH1 shows that anchor themselves in portraying the black man and black woman as hyper-sexual entities incapable of functioning in their shared state of incivility.tenor

The black woman is often depicted is mentally unstable, hyper-sexual, and evil— a force that emasculates the black man and prompts his desire to crawl back into the womb via sexual promiscuity. The white media consistently portrays the black woman and man as two pieces of a puzzle that just cannot fit together.

Enter producers, and black power couple, Tommy and Codie Oliver and their docu-series Black Love. This OWN documentary does not function to extinguish the stereotypes of black love, but to prove its possibility and vitality–deeming the documentary a well-executed pro-black initiative.

The documentary surfaces at an interesting time time–a time where injustice is blatant and inevitably hard to ignore—prompting many to get involved in protests, organizations and other means to confront cultural conflict. As a result, the revolution is often over-simplified as focusing on a single issue and overlooking the power of who you choose to love.

black-love-matters-sportswear-trucker-capBlack love is an understated revolutionary act dismissed in the contemporary world’s colorblind initiative guised as the antidote to contemporary conflict. This initiative not only inevitably imbues black erasure, but reflects the mental bludgeoning of the black mind that proves a platform for systemic abuse of the black body.

In merging the black body together romantically, the black collective incurs dual conflict—but in turn becomes stronger as a unit.

To say yes to black love is to don the strongest armor in confronting racism. To embark on black love is to ignore all the self-hatred embedded in society and choose to love yourself. It is to see the best in blackness when every aspect of western culture prompts blacks to see the worst in themselves. To choose black love is to refuse to enter the white man’s house through the back door—to build your own house that is large enough to walk through the front door with your head held high.  black-love

Black love is an understated revolutionary act and for this reason the Codie’s documentary is not only greatly appreciated, but a cultural necessity.

The docu-series features multiple black couples—most of which have been together for at least a decade. This fact alone is a testament to the ability of black love to function despite the racial climate of North America.

The couples that proved the most resonant to me were Cory and Tia Hardrict, Viola Davis and Julius Tennon, and Meagan Good and Devon Franklin. Here’s why:

3151D80800000578-3451486-image-a-192_1455744900505

Viola and Julius, like Tia and Cory illustrate the non-glamorous facet of black love. Viola’s recollection of informing her soon to be husband of her bad credit was comical but also very honest. Whether its “bad” credit, a “bad” romantic past, “bad” finances,  or a “bad” familial structure— the black body commonly has a severed relationship with conventionality—so “bad” is a given. It is often this “bad” that drives a wedge between blacks—due to an inability to conceptualize how American culture is designed to deteriorate both the black individual or the black collective with concepts like “bad.”

I similarly enjoyed how Tia and Cory shared their humble beginnings. Specifically, Cory shared that he did not have a lot of money when he and Tia got married or when they began dating. The black woman out-earning the black man is a cruel truth and strategic means to implement black female success to emasculate the black male. Therefore, Tia and Cory depict the ability of black love to unit despite circumstances the exist to divide them.

mgdftmchAlthough conventionally successful at the time of their initial meeting, Meagan Good and Devon Franklin illustrate the significance of stepping outside of your comfort zone as both had sworn off attributes that defined their future spouse.

Also, Meagan Good— as a black woman extolled for her beauty—illustrates that external beauty is not necessarily a gateway to finding love. Rather, love blossoms when an individual is valued for their inner beauty.

Good’s husband, Devon Franklin delivered the docu-series most resounding line with the following:

“As a single man I was good, but as a married man I’m great.”

devonmeganwed_23271dde43c7b3b3ac894006654bd890.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000.pngHe also goes on to say that many men feel as though they must conquer the world prior to marriage, but dispels this idea by saying that men can conquer the world with the right woman. For black men this “right” woman is a black woman.

Furthermore, black love not only improves the individual, but elevates the black collective. Together we encompass the necessary strength to conquer the world.

For this reason, the black woman in an interracial relationship was the low of this docu-series, as it depicts weakness in an otherwise distinctive portrait of black strength.

Two other points of criticism, are colorism and the absence of the intersectional existence. Colorism is an obvious component in the series, in that a good portion of the couples feature a racially ambiguous woman, or a woman whose complexion is the binary opposite to her partner’s hue. This is a portrayal commonly seen on sitcoms, and films depicting black people—which embeds the ideology that lighter skin makes women more desirable. This colorism facet is perhaps most prevalent because the couples are products of Hollywood, where the paper bag test is alive and well–especially for black woman.  test-baf

Featuring Hollywood couples, or a facet of a Hollywood subgroup like producer, writer, etc functions to humanize couples that we as a collective have grown to love over the years. However, I do think the docu-series’ motif is perhaps best implemented by “every-day” couples of various professions and circumstances, as black hollywood couples, while bearing resonant and uplifting anecdotes, caricature blackness in a bubble of entertainment in a way that non-Hollywood couples do not.

It is also very important to note that while black on the outside, these Hollywood couples do not live a life common to the average black person, and may not even consider themselves black aside from going for roles designated for black people. Thus, this depiction, although surely well-intentioned, makes the docu-series depiction of actual black couples mannequin-like and less palpable.

The docu-series also omits same-sex black couples, disabled blacks, black couples crippled by poverty, and elderly couples—to name a few identity intersections absent from this portrait of black love.  Because blackness is all-encompassing, it is imperative that we include as much from our faction as possible to ensure that other subgroups do not seize those of our collective for their own selfish gain. Knowledge is also an essential component of black esteem. Cognizance of the many folds of blackness functions to enlighten the black collective to all that they are—it is said knowledge that thwarts the western idea that blacks have and are nothing.

6bfb6ac4f758512be8fb8115c9b08d22--african-american-art-african-artNevertheless, the docu-series elevates black love from obscurity to a seat at the the table of contemporary conversation, educating an eager audience to the value of black love. The series also prompts a discourse for determining what exactly black love is.

Defining black love is subject to interpretation, but it is of great significance that we as a collective understand that black love is far more than two black people in love.

Two melanated people in love merely breeds an assimilatory lifestyle in which blackness is a happenstance not a beloved marker of those destined to fulfill a higher purpose. Black love ensures that we as a collective not only physicaly survive, but mentally thrive.

Black love a beautiful struggle, a purposeful endeavor, an undervalued union.

How would you describe black love? And, do you have a black love story?

Black Power ❤

 

 

 

 

Crown Heights, A Review

The film Crown Heights debuted to a lauded reception at the Sundance Film Festival, for its dramatization of the injustice that befell an eighteen-year old Colin Warner–a young black man blamed for the shooting death of  Mario Hamilton. Crown Heights, uses Colin Warner as a vessel to depict the maxresdefaultdetriment of wrongful incarceration, ignoring the troubling reality that incarcerations as imposed onto the black collective are inherently wrong. White male writer and director Matt Ruskin, takes a slither of the black experience and attempts to pass a skinny slice off as the entire pie. The result is of course an insult, with a few moments of redeeming footage.

The film succeeds in depicting a strong portrait of brotherly love between Carl King and Nnamdi-Asomugha-Lakeith-crown-heightsColin Warner. Their relationship and familial bond illustrates that humans need not share blood to be family.  In fact, Warner receives the most support from non-familial members of his community, one of which eventually becomes his wife. Moreover, while failing to issue depth to these portrayals,, the film does display multiple facets of black love despite omitting the word “black”–but we will get to this later.  Thus, the resounding image displayed in the film is that it takes a village to free a black man, but Crown-Heightsnot even this village is enough to free blacks from the imprisonment of the white gaze.

Specifically, he black experience as narrated by whites is cognitively dissonant as the white director and writer attempts to paint himself as anti racist, but in seizing a black narrative as his own, performs the very racism their project supposedly confronts.

The white perception of blacks is also inherently reduced in a racist gaze. Let us recall Otto Preminger’s Carmen (1954), as an example. Despite the beauty of the actors and actresses, each character exists without a back story or depth. The black character, as a manifestation of white perception, exists as one-dimensional. This lack of development is merely a single void consistent in black narratives told by whites. Other components missing from white conjured portrayals of blacks are:

  • Context: The white gaze fails to encompass the black body in a de-niggerized state. This is perhaps best illustrated in  the story’s failure to encompass any of Colin’s life prior to Mario’s murder. The same is said for every other black character. This depiction mirrors the general perception of blackness. Namely the implication that black life began and ended with slavery.

This single dimension functions to place white conquest at the center of black identity, a self-serving and narcissistic perception common of the racial psychopath.  The depiction of Colin was also quite underwhelming. Namely, the line

“Most of these people deep down know they put themselves in here. I don’t have that comfort.”

This line stayed with me long after it was stated because it suggests that in general the Black “criminal” deserves his or her sentence. Are there blacks, that believe this? Yes, the film depicts the ugly truth that Colin’s mother too questioned his innocence.  v1.bjsxNjc1NTc2O2o7MTc0Nzk7MTIwMDs0NzUzOzM1NjU

However, what would have elevated the film from good to great is the depiction of other wrongfully convicted blacks. Instead the film solely focuses on Colin. The singularity of said depiction functions to suggest that Colin’s atrocity is an anomaly not a commonality–deeming this depiction an oversimplification of the complexities of blackness.

  • An Inability to Confront White Evil in its Totality: It is nothing short of fascinating to see whites display members of their collective as mean, curt, or even gauche, and think that this is enough to encompass the totality of white evil that started centuries ago and continues to bleed into the present.  18crown2-master675

Due to the empathetic deficit of the racial psychopath, displaying the true extent of white evil is simply impossible to a collective who cannot feel the true impact of their ancestors. To this, many will counter by declaring the time gap as casting an understandable dissonance between whites existing in this contemporary space and their ancestors. The same space and time exists between blacks and their Abducted ancestors, yet we remember and reflect their struggles each and every day we live above a ground they toiled and to which they eventually became. No, this memory and reflection is not a conscious part of every black person’s life, but whether implicit or explicit–the black body exists in the image of those who have come before them.

  • Omitting the Black: It’s also an insult that race is entirely omitted from the film. The word “black” is never mentioned in the film. Rather the film’s way of addressing blackness is through ethnicity. However, even the migrant experience is dwarfed by the white man’s portrayal. By dwarfed I mean that life in Trinidad is limited to stills that attempt to be poignant, but are empty instead. In examining the migrant experience, it is essential that iv1.bjsxNjc1NTc2O2o7MTc0Nzk7MTIwMDs0NzUzOzM1NjUt is imperative that films depicting the migrant journey encompass the fantasy the prompts their migration to a land they believed could transform them into a millionaire or at least a thousand-aire, but instead only wished to transform them into a nigger in the same manner they did the abducted Africans centuries prior. Thus, the enslavement does not begin in a judicial conviction, but the conviction that leads blacks beyond America to believe that life as a black person is “better” here. It is the systemic coercion that urges migrant blacks to flee towards what they conceive to be change, rather than foment change where they are–this too is an indirect5 facet of oppression rarely acknowledged or even considered in the discussion of migrant blacks.
  • Lacking Inspiration: The racial psychopath may tell an abridged version of the black narrative for profit, but is simply unable to provide images, dialogue, or scenery to prompt the black collective to unlock let alone acknowledge the mental chains clasped on the black cerebellum as a means to puppeteer the black body. These films are intended for a white audience who will use the enclosed information to cultivate a convincing performance of liberalism without attacking the totality of whiteness. Films like Crown Heights, The Help, Detroit, and other white attempts to narrate the black experience, function to inform the white collective of black injustice while emphasizing that said injustice results from a few bad apples. These films function to suggest that whites are inherently good, and that the white audiences are good just by watching the film.
  • Unable to Omit the White Savior Figure: Although failed by disinterested and incompetent white lawyers who treated a black man’s life with the same disregard as the penitentiary system, a white couple at a start-up practice redeems the white collective and aids Carl King in the twenty year plight to free his childhood friend. This depiction keithimplies that every black dream needs white wings to fly.

 

 

In closing, the film hurt me. It hurt me to see yet another a deceased black youth fizzle into the background of the white male gaze, and to witness the oversimplification of the wrongfully criminalized black man by a white man seeking to culminate his career.

Films like Crown Heights do nothing for the black collective aside from soliciting the black body to illustrate the contents of a white man’s mind. Aside from a means to analyze white perception of black injustice, the film is most prevalent in providing a visual discourse that not only implicitly highlights white evil, but exposes the black narrative  lost in the silence of non-black authorship.