Unforgettable, A Review

Unforgettable is a contemporary thriller that uses a traditional formula to stealthily depict societal anxieties around othered assimilation into traditionally white spaces.
The film opens with Julia’s (Rosario Dawson), job departure. Following her engagement to financier turned entrepreneur David (Geoff Stults), she moves into the San Francisco Bay Area where she feels outcasted among the small, racially homogeneous  San Francisco suburb.

Tessa (Katherine Heigl) is David’s heartbroken ex and the mother of their young daughter Lily. Tessa is western society perfection—she is Ivy League educated, tall, blonde, and buxom. Cast from her previous life due to her infidelity, Tessa stages a ruthless and abusive way back into David’s life,

While this may be the plot—this is hardly what the film is about.

Julie, embodies the racially ambiguous other, yet her race or ethnicity is never mentioned in the film. Julie, the film’s “other,” is beaten and bruised from a previous lover. This depiction illustrates the conflict othered bodies face when finding love in a world where their bodies are canvasses for western world induced frustrations and conventional shortcomings.

The film’s failure (or refusal) to address Julie’s status as other is a purposeful portrayal meant to illustrate the depicted society as a post-racial. Yet this omission somehow functions to make Julie’s othering more obvious and perhaps more realistic.

Ironically, in her final fight scene with Tessa, Julie states that “it was never about him,” a prevalent yet paradoxical line because, of course their contention is about David.

Both Julie and Tessa, the majority and marginal woman, solicit validation from a white man. Julie’s pending nuptials serve as the film’s destination or the contractual objective that consummates Julie’s journey to whiteness. Moreover, Julie spends the entire film chasing whiteness in the form of a wedding gown.

Tessa, on the other hand has already acquired said whiteness. This status makes itself visibly obvious in the clothing Tessa wears throughout the film. Tessa wears a variation of white dresses throughout the film to paint the white female body as the portrait of femininity, slender, educated, long-haired, blonde and white–a status Julie seeks.

So Julie yelling “It was never about him” in her fight with Tessa proves paradoxical because of course their feud is about David. David in an allegorical sense that is.

Unforgettable, has all the bearings of a fairy tale with Julie as the unassuming princess, Tessa as the privileged, antagonistic conventional beauty, David as the wealthy and dashing prince, all the way down to the white horse Tessa rides for leisure.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that the film ends with Julie obtaining her prince after a violent altercation with his previous princess. This altercation proves reminiscent of the heavily anticipated fight between Beyonce (Sharon) and Ali Later (Lisa) in Obsessed (2009). Both Obsessed and Unforgettable depict the embittered white female body draped in an oversized tee-shirt, bare foot and bare-legged. In Unforgettable, Julie seizes the knife from a white tee-shirt clad Tessa, seemingly regaining control of the situation, until Tessa sees her face stained with blood and steps into the prodigious blade which ultimately ends her life.

Covertly, the picturesque white woman sees her porcelain face stained with color and willingly surrenders her svelte figure to the fatally phallic blade. This death by penetration seems foreshadowed by previous images of Julie riding the big white horse and riding a tall white stranger in a bar parking lot. She performs both acts with a rigid stiffness, that thwarts the fleeting thought that renders these acts sexual. This is in grave contrast to Julie, who viewers see performing fellatio in a public restroom and engaging in numerous sex scenes with her soon-to-be husband. Despite their active sex life, Julie does not inform David of her abusive past. While this dynamic was most likely placed in the film to illustrate the depth of Julie’s trauma, it functions to depict the white man’s relationship with the racially ambiguous other as shallow and solely sexual.

This juxtaposition between white and “othered” sexuality illustrates both female bodies as seeking pleasure, but for vastly different motives. The white female body seeks pleasure through control and the racially ambiguous body seeks pleasure through concubine status, an ideology that proves a gateway for traditional ideologies in a contemporary setting.
Tessa, finds pleasure in physically dominating her subject, or in occupying a physically elevated position. Julie—the racially ambiguous concubine— occupies a more submissive and giving position, a placement that allows the other to heighten the masculinity of the desired white male.

Tessa’s tragic end illustrates the white female body as preferring death than to be usurped by an “other,” or become one herself.

Prior to commiting suicide, viewers watch Tessa perform a series of actions to criminalize Julie’s othered body. From suggesting Julie pushed her down the stairs, to telling Lily it was because of Julie’s negligence that she’s has to chop her long locks, to diligently working to paint Julie as unfaithful to David–Tessa “others” Julie as a desperate attempt to salvage her own superiority and sanity. After staging her fall down the stairs, Tessa rides away with David and Lily in the car as Julie stands in the doorway alone and outcasted, a personification of Julie’s alienation from the white family dynamic and lifestyle when labeled a criminal. This depiction is in direct accordance to how the western world adamantly depicts the othered female body as the “other woman,” criminal, unfit or welfare mother, gauche, uneducated and a series of other unflattering attributes that consistently surface to substantiate white female superiority.
Films like Unforgettable function to illustrate the white female as unraveled in losing white male validation to the racially ambiguous or othered female body.

So, although these images are as forgettable as they are predictable, they depict an unforgettable contention between white and colored female bodies. Whether racially ambiguous or indigenously African, the white woman is an adversary not ally to the “othered” female body.

Despite experiencing a series of “unforgettable” experiences in her plight for assimilation, Julie “forgets” said perils, renders them an isolated incident and marries her prince. Julie believes to have jumped over the hurdles of white female wrath until her former adversary’s mother shows up at a doorstep wearing a tailored white suit. Julie, although living amongst white walls, sleeping in white sheets with white people is still not wearing white. Instead,  Julie wears colored patterns throughout the film, to reflect a hue intractable despite a diligent plight towards whiteness.

To many this film is a weekend pastime or sexy thriller. But Unforgettable is a reminder of how easy it is to forget reality when your sole objective is to gain access to an elusive whiteness. The wealth of white supremacy stains Julie’s first few months in her new home, yet she erases this memory until Tessa’s mom shows up on her porch. Tessa’s mom embodies the wrath of western femininity. A wrath that is always overdressed, overpaid, overprivileged and sometimes overly friendly to twist the wound of systemic disenfranchisement even when an othered body believes they’ve  married out of its range. Furthermore, while otherwise unremarkable and arguably unoriginal, the film successfully unveils the wrath of  white female supremacy as simply unforgettable.

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The Beauty of the Beast

Beauty and the Beast starring Hogwarts alumni Emma Watson proves an allegorical commentary on race. The age old story of an arrogant prince humbled by an unassuming sorceress seemingly illustrates the power of true love, but covertly depicts blackness as birthed from unfortunate circumstances and cured by the “beauty” of white femininity.

At best, the film is a feminist work that depicts white femininity as the sole cure to bestiality. At worse, the film is a white supremacist piece that demonizes the black male white omitting his actual presence from the film.

The film attempts to deflect from black male omission, by intertwining a few black female bodies in the background. To the conscious gaze, this depiction only functions to make black male absence more noticeable. This omission most likely occurs to avoid a cinematic juxtaposition of a black male body and the film’s beast, a juxtaposition that would unveil the racist undertones of this “classic” film.

The film centers on a young prince who incurs a curse from an elderly and homely woman. This curse proves eerily reminiscent of the “curse of ham” which functions to mythologically conceptualize blackness as produced by sin. This sin functions to explain the negative attributes that compose a caricatured blackness. Namely, following his transition, the former prince is angry, cold and withdrawn. He is also depicted as vastly uncivilized, messily drinking his soup instead of employing the silver spoons that lavishly adorn his elaborate residence. It is also interesting that his unappealing aesthetics yield a brown beastly image. His curse could have easily transformed him into a white wolf that shared his light eyes, but his “ugliness” appears contingent to a darkening of his skin and widening of his features—traits commonly aligned with blackness.

It is also worth mentioning that in “beastly form” the former prince has facial hair, an overt contrast to his clean-shaven natural state. While the black body is often instantly criminalized on the basis of color , the black body often becomes even more demonized when possessing facial hair. To substantiate this claim, consider the white collar black employee commonly faced with the not- so- silent demand to keep his facial hair “trimmed” and hair “low” to “lessen the blow” of his blackness.

The film accurately depicts the intimidation and isolation acquired in attempting to evade the fear blackness provokes. This American “classic” portrays the blackened prince as restricted to his tower because his brown and bestial state labels him a fearful presence. When  villagers finally cast their eyes on the beast, they shriek in horror–reflecting the reaction many black men encounter when out in public, whether in a suit or in a hoodie. As a result of viewing this “frightening” image, the villagers endure a plight to torture and kill the beast, behavior in direct correspondence with the murder and torture of black bodies in both traditional and contemporary American culture.

The film accurately depicts the outcasted white woman as freeing the blackened prince from his burdened appearance. Belle (Emma Watson) falls in love with the “beast” when she nurses him back to health, following a violent spat to save her life. This union between the beauty and beast, like unions between blacks and white or non-black mates, is commonly illustrated as oppositional. This is a false portrayal, perpetuated to substantiate black inferiority by overlooking white attributes and traits deemed inferior by a system designed to enforce white superiority. Namely, while possessing conventional beauty, Belle’s behavior casts her as peculiar to those of her town. So while aesthetically privileged, Belle, like the beast, is an outcast. Thus, while the Belle’s of traditional and contemporary societies often incur praise for their ability to love the “unlovable,” these unions commonly join two outcasts “othered” by the various modes of western society.

In loving the conventionally unlovable, Belle becomes acquainted with the kind, gentle, nature of the former prince. Belle’s acquired affection for the beast occurs because Belle acquires a colorless gaze. In short, Belle, as many in the contemporary world claim, “does not see color.” It is this same gaze that permits Belle to overlook her own mothering, allowing not only the beast to acquire beauty, but herself as well. Similarly, the outcasted white or non-black who opts to “love” a black body, often implements this “colorless” gaze to not only see the beauty of their partner, but to see past their own conventional flaws.

Thus, while the magic of Disney depicts the Beauty and the Beast’s love as strong enough to break the spell and return the prince back to his normal state, it is arguably Belle’s ability to not see color that transforms the bestial black body into a white man. Thus, the transformation at the end of the film illustrates the objective of all interracial unions—to consummate whiteness.

Furthermore, the “beauty” of the beast dwells in the white man that lies beneath. So whether a descendant of Ham, or serving a temperate curse, salvation solely lies in whiteness.

Thus, the magic of Disney, isn’t the fantastical, but the fantasy and mythic presence of white supremacy.

Get Out, A Review (Spoilers)

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out proves a fascinating engagement with the racial truths of the contemporary world. The film centers on interracial couple Chris and Rose who are traveling to meet Rose’s parents in a New York City Suburb.

Prior to their visit, Chris asks Rose if she told her parents that he is black. Rose makes a mockery of this query, a query that encompasses the film’s many acts of foreshadow and dramatic irony. Get Out proceeds to illustrate that it is Chris’ blackness that makes him Rose’s prey. The couple’s visit to meet Rose’s parents proves a sick and calculated effort to abduct black bodies and re-appropriate them as a means to enhance the lives of a white counterpart. In short, the film’s resonance lies not in the images themselves but what lies beneath.

1.White Liberal

One of the most demonstrative illustrations in the film is its portrayal of the “white liberal.” Rose, Chris’s girlfriend not only dates a black man but defends him in the face of overt discrimination. Chris is racially profiled by a police officer on the way to meet Rose’s parents. The policeman asks Chris for his identification, to which they receive Rose’s wrath. After the incident, she states that she won’t let anyone “F%ck with her man.” But little does Chris know, Rose is merely protecting Chris the object and not Chris the person. This objectification becomes clear in the silent auction that takes place in Rose’s parent’s garden. What they disguise as “Bingo” is an auction where interested white buyers place bids for the black body Rose brings home. So questions like “Is it better?” referencing black male sexual performance, is the query of a prospective buyer desiring a worthy investment.

Rose portrays a physical embodiment to the phrase “every shut eye ain’t sleep and every goodbye ain’t gone.” An assumed ally can very well bear oppressive feelings towards a marginalized body. Assumed allies often veil self-interest in seemingly supportive gestures. Namely, Rose does not verbalize her prejudices yet is not any different or better than her parents or their “garden party” guests.

2. The Poisonous Apple

Get Out depicts Chris, a black man,  as an Eve-like figure and Rose, a white woman, as the poisonous apple that exploits his vulnerabilities and renders a series of irreversible consequences. The film intertwines physical hypnosis to induce black acquiescence to a  new identity. Rose acts as a form of hypnosis in her pursuit and pseudo-love for the black male. In seeking to consummate white acceptance and assimilation in his romantic relations with white women,  the black male body enters a vulnerable state exploited by his “prize.” Thus, Rose uses her external appeal to sink her thorns deep into the black male psyche. Just as their love seems to bloom, it is not Rose who dies, but her black lover–illustrating the measure of a rose’s beauty is the ability to distract admirers from its thorns sinking into their flesh.

3. Science and black experimentation

The Armitage family abducts blacks, hypnotizes them, and uses the black body to improve white quality of life. The procedure leaves a small portion of the black brain but replaces the majority with a white brain. Thus, the black person becomes “a passenger” in his own body. This procedure seems synonymous to the abduction of African bodies and displacing them onto indigenous soil. This displacement renders the black body a passenger in the western experience as each generation proves more distant relationship to their African origins. While the African brain may not be physically extracted, it becomes westernized so that descendants of abducted Africans feel more American than African–making the black body a commuter in their own oppression.

Interestingly, upon first meeting, Chris and Rose disclose that they hit a deer on their way up. In response, Rose’s father remarks that they “did a service” by hitting and ultimately killing the deer. It is this same ideology that prompts the white conservative to seek out black bodies to dismember for their own personal benefit. In their minds, the Armitage family does a service to blacks abducted for their procedure, as their procedure affords the black body a purpose believed to not exist outside of serving whites. Prior to preparing Chris for the procedure, Mr. Armitage asks him “What is your purpose, Chris?” To pose this question prior to their intended procedure suggests that their use of his body incites a purpose otherwise non-existent.

It is this same ideology that prompted white doctors and scientists to use black bodies to test out medical procedures. Henrietta Lacks’ doctor felt entitled to the contents of her vagina, so much so that he did not even consult her next of kin prior to abducting her cells. The pearl-like substances that killed her would acquire purpose in the lives Lacks would come to save following her death. Thus, just as the Armitage family deems the black body purposeful in servicing whites,  Henrietta Lacks’ story similarly illustrates the black body as purposeful solely when appropriated for western motives.

Slavery and the contemporary world implement a similar ideology as the most celebrated black figures: athletes, entertainers, and actresses all serve whites. Thus, the television, radio and even the education system all act as an informal hypnosis implemented as a means to control black bodies and place them on a dead end path to white servitude.

4. The unassumed intellect

Get Out channels Charles Chestnut’s “The Goophered Grapevine” and “Dave’s Neckliss” in illustrating the unassumed intellect in Chris’ TSA friend, Rod Williams. For those unfamiliar with Chestnut or these stories, a prevalent style of Chestnut is to implement a character who due to their vernacular speech prompts most to assume that he is intellectually deficient. The unassumed intellect uses these preconceived notions to his advantage and deceives his “intelligent” counterparts by the story’s conclusion.

Similarly, Williams provides comedic relief to audiences in his delivery. Yet the dramatic irony evokes laughter from some and frustration from others as audiences know that Williams is the sole party in the film that knows the truth. This depiction functions positively, as it evokes a caricatured black image as a means to exploit presumed western conceptualizing of black intellect. In a perfect world, caricatured imaging of blacks would disappear completely. However, it is an act of advancement to include stereotypes in a way that prompts contemplation, or that performs in a way to challenge western predilection for the compartmentalized black body.

The Final Verdict

The most resounding part of the film for me is when the black male body reappropriated as the Artimage grandfather, snaps out of his hypnosis and not only shoots Rose but shoots himself. This depiction illustrates black detachment from a controlled identity as a necessary component to disabling mental enslavement. Furthermore,  blacks not only have to rid themselves from physical obstacles but the part of ourselves that encompasses these harmful ideologies.

My least favorite component of the film was the means in which the hypnotized black body reverts black to semi-consciousness. Although the black body is held hostage by a white brain, it a flash or white light that snaps them back into consciousness. Thus, although it is a black man who physically saves himself from his pending imprisonment–it is a stroke of white light that enables his escape.

Thus, while seemingly a cautionary tale to interracial dating, or to the black body trusting whites in any capacity–the film evokes a white savior in representation rather than form. At surface level, the film seems to evoke the separatist ideology implemented by civil rights leaders like the late Malcolm X. However, the authorship of said movie makes this close reading impossible to take seriously. For this reason, Get Out reminds me a lot of Birth of Nation.

After viewing both Birth of a Nation and Get Out, I left the theater somewhat content. These feelings faded almost instantaneously as I realized that these movies while depicting the complexities of the historical and contemporary black experience can only resonate but so deeply. Namely, both Peele and Parker write and produce movies that should be revolutionary, but are not.

Jordan Peele and Nate Parker both conclude their films in the same manner. Specifically,   Birth of a Nation and Get Out end with all central white characters are murdered by blacks. While fatalities at the hands of blacks substantiate black bestiality, it also functions to depict white bodies as factors that must be eliminated to free blacks from an oppressive state. Like Birth of a Nation, Get Out is authored and directed by a black male married to a white woman. This dynamic casts said black authors as significantly less harmful and least likely to actually eliminate the white demographic because to do so would be to not only murder their wives but the mother of their children. Furthermore, with their interracial unions, the black male writer and director assumes a non-threatening stance in which the murder of fictive white characters seems an artistic choice rather than a means to uplift the black collective.

While the western world attaches a taboo labeling to interracial unions, these unions function favorably to foment white supremacy. The strongest black leaders are strong not because of what they say but because of what they do. Thus, these films are noteworthy, not revolutionary, as it is not enough to implement images that suggest an ideology disconnected from the thought and action of the author.

Writer and producer Jordan Peele also complicates the ability to take Get Out seriously with his comedic background. Thus, his depiction of a white family who abducts blacks and uses their bodies for their own benefit—becomes a well-executed joke rather than reflective of a past and present horror not limited to a New York City suburb.

Why Moonlight Won Best Picture…

Even prior to receiving the highest honor of Sunday evening’s ceremony, Moonlight acquired abundant acclaim. The film, while praised for its narrative of a black gay male, encompasses a duality that warrants its acceptance by the The Academy.

On the surface, Moonlight tells the story of “Little” a young black man born into less than favorable circumstances in Miami. He’s small and not as brute as the boys his age. His mother, Paula, is young and addicted to drugs. Her priorities are in disarray and not capable of giving her child the love and nurture he needs to be a confident member of the harsh world that encompasses him. While dodging a beating one afternoon, Little meets Juan, a local drug dealer. Juan, played by the masterful Mahershala Ali, becomes a father figure for Juan. He teaches him pride and encompasses the diasporic African. Thus, Juan not only makes Little’s world bigger but widens the black diaspora, silently ensuring Little that there is a place for him in the world. Juan’s girlfriend Teresa, (Janelle Monae) becomes a maternal figure for Little throughout his life—affording him shelter, money and the overt love missing from the relationship with his mother. By the middle of the movie, the silent and scared black child that stole our hearts in the beginning of the film blossoms to a man not afraid to stand up for himself. His new found courage awards him a place in the juvenile delinquent center and ultimately “Little” becomes “Black”—a drug dealer in a town outside of Atlanta.

Thus, while acclaimed for affording the black gay collective a voice, in actuality, the film depicts the evolution of a drug dealer. The same sex romance  is therefore a backdrop, or prop in a larger, more familiar narrative of black men. The same sex romance romanticizes systemic oppression, depicting same sex attraction as a side effect of black discordance. In attaching labels like “woman,” “gay,” “immigrant,” “educated,” etc, to the black body the western world attains the necessary positioning to divide and conquer the black psyche and ultimately black portrayal. With regard to Moonlight, the same sex romance becomes the “different” factor needed to veil Hollywood’s telling of the same old story.

Nevertheless, the film succeeds in depicting multiple sides to black love. The bond Juan and Little share, the bond Little develops with Teresa, the secret love Little and Kevin share, and even the complex love Little shares with his mom. The cinematography is great. The acting is great. The writing is great. However none of these factors function to warrant Moonlight’s praise. It is the unflattering portrait of blacks that affords Moonlight the pseudo honor of Best Picture by the Oscar Academy.

In processing this truth, it becomes hard to believe that I once enjoyed the Oscars.  However, I only liked it because I did not understand it. The Oscar’s, named after a white woman’s uncle, exists to award images that aid in affording white supremacy its stagnancy. Thus, The Academy does not exist to award “greatness.” The Academy exists to  define greatness to the western world. To achieve this greatness, as a black writer, producer, actor or director in America is to aid in denigrating the black collective.

Moonlight, carries this torch, depicting cyclical disenfranchisement as an inevitable and impenetrable fate for black males. Is cyclical disenfranchisement a black truth? Yes. However, this image remains attached to the black collective and black communities. Thus, to depict this common image in a way that does not warrant contemplation, does nothing to advance black presence on the big screen. The film does function to humanize the black drug dealer. However, a black drug dealer is already humanized as “drug dealer” is only one role this individual plays in the black community. Drug dealers are sons, fathers, uncles, friends, classmates, and in Moonlight’s case—mentors. The effort to humanize the drug dealer, becomes complicated in the film’s revelation that Juan sells drugs to Little’s mother Paula. This complicated dynamic illustrates drug dealers as tools of white supremacy in their implementation of poison into the black communities. Drug sales induce a disfunctionality that deems black bodies crabs attempting to emerge from a closed jar.

Mahershala Ali’s victory for his role as Juan in Moonlight, functions similar to Denzel’s 2002 victory for Training Day. Both awards go to deserving actors but undeserving roles. Namely, both Ali and Washington’s talent becomes reduced by roles designed to resurrect caricatured images of black men. Interestingly, Denzel was nominated this year for his brilliant portrayal of Troy in the film adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences. While raunchy and unfaithful, Troy’s characters exists as a means to unravel the thoughts and actions of the black male. Viewers see Troy doing and saying a number of questionable things, but Wilson’s brilliance depicts Troy as both an entertaining and enlightening character.  Washington did not win for this role, because it challenges how the westwen world compartmentalizes black men. If Washington did win, the western world might be tempted to understand, rather than judge and label the black man’s plight.

While Moonlight, garnered the majority of cinematic veneration in 2016, it was hardly the sole or most remarkable black film of 2016. The most prominent films of 2016 were Birth of a Nation,  13th, and I Am Not Your Negro. Despite 13th and I am Not Your Negro being documentaries, all these films succeed in bringing black truth to the forefront of western culture. Birth of a Nation tells the story of Nat Turner’s rebellion, challenging the common stereotype of the docile slave and the cowardly black male. 13th unveils the truth of the western prison system and black “criminality.” Finally, I Am Not Your Negro resurrects writer James Baldwin from his grave to render past words as present truths. Commonly these films depict the black collective as intellectual, insightful and innovative. Birth of a Nation, 13th and I Am Not Your Negro undo the caricatured imaging of black bodies and replace these images with a factual depiction of white evil. Furthermore, 2016 was a great year for black film. Yet, none of this greatness garnered Oscar recognition. This is not a bad thing, but proves demonstrative to the fact that black greatness exists outside white recognition.

Hattie McDaniel’s award-winning portrayal as Mammy in Gone With the Wind in (1939) betrayed The Academy as designed to reduce blacks to caricatured images. Ever since then, the Academy has remained committed to awarding black bodies who prove western fiction as fact.

Thus, I do not fault The Academy for not awarding the black excellence that presented itself in 2016. Said behavior is a predictable means to ensure that white supremacy survives. Films like Moonlight exist to entertain whites with a melodic portrayal of “black problems.” Even the film’s absence of white people, affords its white audience a level of comfort in their disassociation to the problems presented in the film. Thus, Little’s poverty becomes result of his mother’s lack of ambition and not the systemic oppression that stifles black economics. Even Juan’s drug dealing appears a selected hustle and not a means to escape the very dynamic that plagues Little.

Furthermore, while the Academy and most of the western world chooses to focus on Moonlight, I’ll focus on the black sky in the background. For it is this black sky that allows the moon and stars to shine—not the other way around…

 

 

I Am Not Your Negro, A Review

James Baldwin’s “I am Not Your Negro” succeeds in bridging past and present racial truths earning them a much deserved place in contemporary conversation. One of the most troubling ideologies of contemporary culture is the belief that the turmoil afforded to black life, is isolated, or new. The films succeeds in drawing the necessary connection between current culture and a not so distant past of lynchings, beatings, poverty and murders.

The film takes the reader through time, engaging multiple perspectives and images that will surely engrave themselves into the viewer’s memory indefinitely. Although I have seen pictures of a dying Malcolm X on the stretcher countless times, something about seeing this photo last night caused a hot tear to run down my cheek. We all know that Malcolm is dead, the reminder somehow just seems as cruel as it is necessary. The film issues similar views of Dr. King, and Medgar Evans in their caskets, frozen in time– their words as poignant as their faces. The film also juxtaposes lynched young bodies alongside boys in handcuffs. Both images prove painful to the eye as their subtle juxtaposition illustrated an unfortunate fate issued to far too many black males.

In addition to powerful images like these, the film stays true to Baldwin’s genius. Namely, the film issues a number of resounding phrases from Baldwin that make it hard to believe that three decades have past since his last breath. Baldwin’s words prove eerily insightful if not clairvoyant. His words cause the reader to question whether  America is in fact predictable. Or, have we, as a collective, been too seduced by the idea of change to actually demand it.

Baldwin contemplates these questions, in addition to a number of historical occurrences and dynamics in the following cluster of quotes extracted from the documentary.

“Malcolm was one of those who he saw at the Mountaintop”

A central theme of the documentary is love, a sentiment Baldwin extends to black revolutionaries Medgar Evans, Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Slightly older that all three men, Baldwin revisits knowing and losing men he both admired and cherished. History showed us what happens to blacks who uplift their collective. However, Baldwin takes us into the affect these losses yielded to those who loved them in life and were gutted by their murders.

The love Baldwin had for Evers, X and King mirrored the affections they all had for one another. While adapting various approaches, all men possessed a genuine love for their people, and a pride in their culture. All men depicted a kind of valor that seemingly died with them. This valor issued them a form of fearlessness that prompted them to fear oppressive stagnancy more than death. Baldwin referenced King’s final speech in a manner that spoke to this unity. Baldwin wrote “Malcolm was one of those who he saw at the Mountaintop,” seemingly referencing the mountaintop as a destination consummated in the predictable and untimely murders of black revolutionaries.

Watching the film, I could not help but wonder that as I sat in the Lincoln Center theatre listening to his words, if Baldwin listened too from this mountaintop. It seemed that Evers, King and X afforded him alternative perspectives to America, perspectives that transformed him from a figure of comfort to a force to be reckoned with. He mentions being older than Evers, King and X, yet outliving them all– a fact he conveys with a tone of regret, suggesting to viewers that each year granted to him and not to them, murdered the part of him that believed in America in a way that he no longer could.

“One of us should have been there with her.”

Baldwin issues this line in reference to Dorothy Counts’ integrative act. The film showed images of Dorothy Counts-a stunning beauty– walking proudly. Although it seemed that she was just walking to school, she literally and figuratively crossed the segregated line. An act that earned her jeers and threats from white onlookers. Her beauty dominates the picture, but one’s peripheral is bound to capture he contemptuous looks that encompass the background. Baldwin’s sentiments mirror the guilt and responsibility some of the black collective felt after hearing about the murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Kalief Browder (yes, from my perspective the system murdered Kalief).

“A Meaningless Moral Gesture”

Baldwin recounts a meeting that he and Lorraine Hansberry had with Bobby Kennedy. During this meeting, they requested that he escort a little girl integrating a school, an act he deemed a “meaningless moral gesture.” This was a sonorous moment of this film, as it provided the necessary truth to suggest that the separatist strategy is not one of hate but one of necessity. Whites are not allies to blacks, simply because the very acts that hurt us helps them—therefore they cannot be trusted to cut off their arm to help us barter our freedom.

“Weakening the ability to deal with the world as it is.”

Perhaps one of the most resonant portion of the film was Baldwin’s engagement with western depictions of blackness on the big and small screen. From Sidney Portier in his”Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” role where Baldwin states blacks deemed him as a  working against black interest, to degrading images like Steppin’ Fechit that rendered no truth to what he saw or knew—Baldwin confronts television as an oppressive tool. He resonantly states that television presents “What we’d like to be versus what we actually are.” On television the white man is a celebrated hero, and the blacks and native Americans are savages and simple fools in need of western civility. These images project the internal contents of western imagination yet function as fact. Baldwin referenced a “grotesque innocence” with regard to popular white images, a combative interpretation of images aggressively placed at the forefront of western culture to imply white superiority. These images operate in sheer contrast to American truth. For whites to depict themselves as embodying innocence when they robbed an entire continent of human being s they appropriated for western gain, is nothing short of bizarre.

“Never had to look at me but I had to look at you.”

The film showed audiences pictures of men and women handing limply from trees, as Baldwin commented on how these horrific acts affected the oppressor. Baldwin states “You Never had to look at me but I had to look at you” to reference the oppressive dynamic. The oppressor never has to admit to the severity of their deeds. There are no moments of remorse, regret, or reflection. Just moments of gloating in a stolen superiority. Baldwin then addresses how white supremacy affects the white supremacist with the following: “ You cannot lynch me and put me in the ghetto without becoming monstrous.” Despite working overtime to imply their superiority, all that whites have done to dehumanize blacks has not actually made blacks inferior but it has made whiteness a monstrous entity. Furthermore, it is not black bodies that have become dehumanized, but the white conscious, or lack theirof, that epitomizes the very humanity they tried to cast onto blacks.

“Nothing can be changed unless it is faced”

Much of Baldwins writing focuses on a journey back from Europe to the United States. The distance between himself and the black collective that birthed him presents him with a since of nostalgia This nostalgia does not discount the oppression that he knows awaits him on the other side of the ocean. But it does cause him to miss the beauty of blackness often overshadowed by white ugliness. He references black style, black cooking and just being near those who birthed and nurtured him as a void unfilled elsewhere. Facing the perils that still face the black in America, is like looking into a mirror that grants instant access to your past and present self. There simply is no escaping the past, or present as an African in America as your African blood not only runs through your fails but in the soil and concrete that dominates the North America.

Through the words he writes, it seems that Baldwin views his journey to Europe as a form of escapism. A form of escapism that proves counter productive as the African in American experience, once encountered is not subject to erasure.

“Bad Nigger”

I particular enjoyed Baldwin’s rhetoric on hue and heroism. Notably that black heroes correspond to an undeserved demonization, whereas their white counterparts correspond to an underserved celebration. A particularly resonant moment in the film is when he speaks of John Wayne. He speaks of John Wayne being a white hero both black and white audiences cheered on, but this cheering halted upon realizing that Wayne murdered Indians, and as an oppressed groups Blacks were the Indians. Furthermore, the western world designs a world where blacks root for their own oppression and whites are praised for their oppressive action. However, when revolutionaries like Malcom X, Medgar Evans and Dr. King work to raise their people from the perils of white supremacy they are treated like national terrors. Namely, their murders symbolize how black bodies that the bear the audacity of pride and self-awareness become examples that must be publicly and brutally eliminated.

“The Story of the Negro in America, is the story of America.”

The displaced African body is not an African in America, they are America. From stripping Africans of their language and culture, to beatings, lynchings, mutilations and murders, the African body is the American land, stolen, raped and reasserted. America is the home of white supremacy, a land that speaks of a freedom created on the backs of the abducted African.

Furthermore, the most poignant point of the film is Baldwin’s assertion of the “nigger” as an American creation. The African, abducted to compose the European settler’s binary opposite, personifies the American error. Thus, he and we are not the American negro, simply because the negro never truly existed.

We are not the figment of American imagination afforded to us as a form of pseudo identity. We are African, and we are human. We are a cluster of attributes, but we are not and never were your negro.

Thank you James Baldwin for your brilliance. I would say that I wish I could have met you, but I feel as though I already have.

May you rest in the peace you afford us all through your writing.

 

The Hidden Message of the Hidden Figures Film and Others Like It

It seems most fitting to begin this piece by stating that mathematician Katherine Johnson is a genius. Thus, a movie celebrating black brilliance sounds progressive, however the actual portrayal renders Johnson a “hidden figure” in a supposed commemoration of her legacy.

The film briefly shows audiences a young Katherine, whose academic ability foments opportunity despite the obvious oppression of the early 20th century. The film attempts to inspire audiences though depicting Johnson’s contribution to launching the first American body into space. However, in actuality Hidden Figures illustrates that black brilliance yields white advancement.

Audiences watch Johnson put in long hours, travel forty minutes to use the bathroom and endure a segregated coffee machine. Subversively, the film suggests that the only place for  a black intellect is in a white world. This conflict is not exclusive to this film, but extended to all encompassed by the phrase “the first black (fill in the blank)” While this phrasing appears complimentary, it shifts the focus away from the individual of African descent to the white vessel who “accepts” them.

In Hidden Figures, this white vessel is Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy scenes is Costner breaking down the segregated restroom signs. The scene received zealous plaudits from a stadium sized theatre. This applause undoubtedly erupted due to the mostly white audience’s attempt to overtly align themselves with Harrison’s seemingly integrative initiative. For me, this scene provoked an adverse reaction.

Watching this scene brought me back to a Dr. Carr lecture I attended almost a decade ago. During this lecture, Dr. Carr said that “nothing has been done for blacks that did not benefit others.” Namely, these segregated signs existed at NASA although there were no no black individuals worked in this particular wing. Thus, the signs served no direct purpose but to remind those who cleaned the facilities that they were good enough to scrub toilets but not sit on them. Thus, Harrison’s acts are not commendable—they’re selfish. This very deed exposes the fault in integration. The segregated bathroom only becomes an issue when it deterred white initiative. Namely, only when segregation proved an obstacle to his advancement and reputation was it taken down. It is this selfishness, not ideas of equality or unity, that continues to fuel black inclusion in traditionally white spaces.

Before concluding this article, I would like to state that my criticism is not to take away from Mrs. Katherine Johnson’s legacy. This article does function to state that this film is not an accurate depiction of this legacy. I would love to have learned more about her life pre-Nasa, the parents who raised her, her experience at school, how she balanced motherhood and work, and the strength it took to raise three young kids as a young widow. Hidden Figures abbreviates Mrs. Johnson’s life, making her a largely enigmatic figure in a film that is seemingly about her. Johnson’s hidden figure status in her own film suggests that all black excellence yields hidden figure status in a white supremacist society. In veiling sentiments of deprived visibility, the film highlights how imperative it is that we as black tell “our story” and not his-story. For the moral of the story is not Johnson’s greatness, but what history continually tells in in films like 42, The Blind Side and The Help, which is simply that blacks can do anything if whites think they are special.

Fences, A Review

August Wilson is easily one of the most resonant writers of all time. His greatness lies in his ability to encompass the totality of the black psyche in a series of characters that resemble those you know and perhaps even  portions of your own behavior or actions. Fences exhibits the height of Wilson’s talent—depicting the beauty and burden endured in the black familial environment. The play focuses on Troy, the Maxon family patriarch, who loves as vehemently as he struggles to keep his ahead above the tides of racism. Denzel Washington, produces and stars in a cinematic feature of this August Wilson classic. Washington maintains the creative and political integrity of the play—displaying the timeless nature of Wilson’s talent to a contemporary audience.

The film, like the play, illustrates black life as complicated and black love as a facet of this complication. The main characters each symbolically represent a prominent black perspective—all nurtured by the western world.

Rose, Troy’s wife, illustrates black optimism or disillusionment. For example, when Troy and Rose express opposing views on their son’s athletic ambitions, Rose’s perspective overlooks patterns that overtly refute her perspective. Namely, Rose states that there “are more black players” now than in her youth. While this may be true, the increase does little to overturn the overall lack of representation blacks face in the competitive industries. Her perspective also omits the clear fact that black pl90ayers often make less, experience less playing time and perhaps most importantly, do not accurately reflect the height of black ability. Rose symbolically illustrates those of the black community that seek change so desperately that they incite said change in their forgetfulness. Rose represents blacks who buy into symbolism and thereby remain controlled systemically in the same manner that audiences concede to the allusions of magicians to escape the harsh realities that await them at home. These individuals fuel capitalism in their quest to fabricate change. Form the church, to artists that glamorize the perils of black life, Rose symbolizes the countless members of the black community who invent a false reality to dissolves racism simply by choosing to look past it.

Conversely, Troy symbolizes those of the black diaspora who learn racism through experience. Hardened by the numerous doors closed in his face,Troy vehemently tries to shield his son from the disappointment that awaits him as a black man. Thus, while the casual observer may see the father/son relationship between Troy and Cory as love-less, it is perhaps Troy who loves strongest of all. This love does not render the love produced by other character insignificant. However, it is Troy’s grasp on reality that affords his sentiments a depth absent from other perspectives rooted in fantasy and half-truths. Rose, presented as the rock of the Maxo95.jpgn family surely loves her family deeply. Her love however plants itself in a series of fantasies, fantasies necessary to maintain the integrity of her emotions.To support this claim, let’s observe the following monologue Rose
delivers to Troy:

I been standing with you! I been right here with you, Troy. I got a life too. I have eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot with you. Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me. Don’t you think it ever crossed my mind to want to know other men? That I wanted to lay up somewhere and forget about my responsibilities? That I wanted someone to make me laugh so I could feel good? You not the only one who’s got wants and needs. But I held on to you, Troy. I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams… and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted my self inside you and waited to bloom. And it didn’t take me no eighteen years to find out the soil was hard and rocky and it wasn’t never gonna bloom.

But I held on to you, Troy. I held you tighter. You was my husband. I owed you everything I had. Every part of me I could find to give you. And upstairs in that room…with the dark ness falling in on me…I gave everything I had to try and erase the doubt that you wasn’t the finest man in the world. And wherever you was going…I wanted to be there with you. Cause you was my husband. Cause that’s the only way I was gonna survive as your wife. (Wilson 71)

Brilliantly rendered to the audience by a skillful Viola Davis, Rose’s words unveil her disposition as a strategy implemented so that she could not only marry Troy but stay married. These half-truths and fantasies that foment her marriage and commitment do not thwart the genuine affinity she has for Troy, but demonstrates black love as afforded a texture impenetrable to the ingredients of traditional love. Thus, in order to make it work as a black couple, you must deter from tradition because it is literally you and your significant other against the world. You must have hope, and you must look past what conventions deem shortcomings to maintain a belief in your spouse and ultimately yourself. However, the candid admission unveiled in this monologue reveals that Rose is quite similar to Troy beneath the surface. Thus Rose’s hopefulness and optimism not only anchors her family but composes a platform for the familial unit to exist. It is hope that allows Rose to love Troy for all he isn’t, yet Troy on the other hand, loves Rose for all fenthat she is. Perhaps most significantly, Troy needs Rose in a manner that thwarts his ability to fulfill this necessity through fantasy. Thus, Wilson brilliantly depicts the black love dynamic in Rose and Troy—unconventional, counterintuitive yet functional.

Perhaps the true talent of Wilson’s writing is the empathy allotted to his characters. This empathy not only humanizes his characters but presents the necessary platform to comprehend the black male psyche. Yes, Troy proves unfaithful to his devoted wife. But, in hearing Troy’s reasoning, it become obvious that Troy loves his wife more than the western world will allow him to love himself. Consider the following monologue:

Rose, I done tried all my life to live decent…to live a clean…hard…useful life. I tried to be a good husband to you. In every way I knew how. Maybe I came into the world back wards, I don’t know. But…you were born with two strikes on you before you come to the plate. You got to guard it closely…always looking for the curve ball on the inside corner. You can’t afford to let none get past you. You can’t afford a call strike. If you going down…you going down swinging. Everything lined up against you. What you gonna do. I fooled them. Rose. When I found you and Cory and a halfway decent job…I was safe. Couldn’t nothing touch me. I wasn’t gonna strike out no more. I wasn’t going back to the penitentiary. I wasn’t gonna lay in the streets with a bottle of wine. I was safe. I had me a family. A job. I wasn’t gonna get that last strike. I was on first looking for one of them boys to knock me in. To get me home. Then when I saw that gal… she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried…I just might me able to steal second. Do you understand after eighteen years I wanted to steal second. (Wilson 69)

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The analogy of running bases conveyed by Wilson through protagonist Troy, illustrates how racism allows white men to freely run bases where black men either strike out, are bench-ridden, or stuck on first. Fences depicts a cyclical pattern of black men employing women as means to ease their internal struggle. Thus, this behavior is not hyper sexual but systemic.

As a woman it troubles me to articulate the argument I just made, simply because it overtly seems like an excuse. On the other hand, coming to this revelation unveils black love as a complicated dynamic plagued by system not not by one another. Opting to be with a black male or female, comes with a series of challenges that does not reflect individual disfunction but the discordance nurtured by a society contingent on black disenfranchisement. Dr. Amos Wilson once said that “Black inferiority is a social necessity.” Presenting blacks as romantically incompatible to one another assumes a subversive role in proving black inferiority. Furthermore, Fences indirectly addresses those who opt to find love outside of the African diaspora. Namely, Fences covertly depicts love outside of the African as fence to avoid the adversity that hovers over those of African descent who choose to find love in one another.

True to its title, Fences in written and cinematic form depicts fences diversely and abundantly. Troy erects a fence between himself and a racist society. The depth of his struggle thwarts Troy’s ability to affectively channel and articulate his emotions. Thus, fences manifest in the relationships with those closest to him. Troy erects a fence between himself and his sons—chastising any decisions that seems able to render a fate similar to himself. So instead he ends up pushing most away—incidentally proving that love is far more significant than like. Similarly, Troy erects a fence between himself and Rose due to an internal battle he fights to feel worthy. The Troy and Rose dynamic also reflects the like and love concept, as even when Troy performs deeds that render him unlikeable, Rose still loves him. For instance, Troy fathers a daughter from his extramarital relations. After Troy’s mistress dies, Rose raises Troy’s daughter as her own. Now, there are a number of reasons why Rose could have done what she did. However, her decision to build.a family where she could have built a fence epitomizes not only the strength of the black woman, but the intensity of unconditional love. For it is solely unconditional love supersedes like. As Troy says “ Don’t you try and go through life worrying if somebody like you or not. You best be making sure they doing right by you” (Wilson 38). While Wilson displays unconditional love through individuals Troy and Rose, perhaps this dynamic is best executed as a means to uplift the black collective. Specifically, perhaps the best way to do right by one another as members of the black diaspora is to disregard like and love unconditionally.

Despite symbolically representing unconditional love, Rose erects a physical fence to shield her family from external forces. This action overlooks the internal affects yielded by eternal factors—making a physical fence as combative as a knife at a battle of firearms. Late scholar W. E. B. Dubious called these “fences” a veil. History does not call it anything, but our story calls it racism. Regardless of title, Fences reveals it is not the fences we see that poses the most detriment but the ones we cannot see that foments cyclical behavior and thoughts. These invisible fences are perhaps best illustrated through the fate allotted to the young black male characters in the play. By the end of the play, Troy is dead, Cory joins the marines, and Lyons, Troy’s older son, is incarcerated. To put it bluntly, by the end of the play, the characters who represent the “next generation” are systemized. This depiction illustrated fences that disguise themselves as opportunity. Furthermore, the fate issued to Cory and Lyons brilliantly illustrates that the only thing that changes with systemic racism is how it manifests. Cory and Lyons face the same battles the Troy faced, in the same way that Troy faced the same burdens of his father. Thus, perhaps the play’s most resounding message is that time, love, opportunity and change function as a means to convince us as the black collective that the highest and most impenetrable fences compose our past and not our present.

Collateral Beauty, A Review

  Collateral Beauty stars well-known actor Will Smith in a silent effort to present diversity in a still rather homogenous industry. Collateral Beauty focuses on Howard, a middle-aged advertising executive who is at the apex of the business world when his daughter prematurely dies from a rare form of brain cancer. Heartbroken by his loss, Howard staggers through life a fraction of the prodigious mogul he once was. Determined not be additional victims in Howard’s personal tragedy, his three colleagues hire three actors to personify the abstractions to which Howard writes. The actors/actresses prove successful in prompting a desolate Howard to confront his fears, yet by the end of the movie, the audience must decipher reality from fantasy. The film’s dynamics easily seem both touching and contemplative yet covertly reflect aspects of western culture nurtured as normal. Nevertheless, Smith as a black male and the film’s lead affords the film a depth not achieved in his absence.
Time, love and death compose the movie’s core elements while simultaneously summarizing key elements of all human existence. Howard’s ability to enjoy these elements favorably mark his consummation of an allusive whiteness. This allusion fizzles into a striking reality that follows Howard’s tragedy a tragedy the film presents as personal. However, his personal loss achieves political connotation as his grief illustrates the catalyst for every action in the movie. Collateral Beauty’s depiction of a black parent distressed over the untimely death of their child, comes at a time where an influx of young black bodies lay cold beneath the ground. This grief not only engulfs the lives of individual families who had to bury their children too soon but the black collective who watches from the sidelines as murdered black bodies receive the same injustice after death that they received on earth. The film depicts the collective majority as unable to understand or empathize with black grief. Howard’s colleagues illustrate an inability of the western world to barely empathize with the level of post-traumatic stress affecting the many layers of the black psyche. Simply put, to revel or merely acknowledge the depth of black suffering or the inequity afforded to the daily experience of living while black, foments the collective majority to reevaluate themselves personally and politically— a process too tedious for those nurtured to benefit from the same system that systemically disenfranchises others.

The film illustrates this dynamic in a conversation between Howard’s friends where they remark that it’s “been two years” since his daughter’s death—implying that the necessary time has passed for his wound to heal. This dynamic fuels the efforts of the three supporting characters to expedite Howard’s professional erasure to maintain personal wealth. Black grief as a focal point of the movie unveils the white supporting actors and actresses as unwilling to share the sufferings of blacks beyond a certain point. While holocaust descendants and 9/11 survivors remain encouraged to remember their tragedy, blacks remain seduced into a collective amnesia. Collective amnesia is an under-discussed, covert facet of black inferiority which fuels a journey to an allusive whiteness and the white savior ideology. At the top of his game, Howard achieved an “Oprah-effect” where blacks achieving conventional success denotes an acquisition of allusive whiteness. This acquisition advances the black body as a pedestal for his or her white counterpart to stand.  Just as The Oprah Winfrey Show served as a platform for the now esteemed shows and presence of Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, Howard’s fomented conventional successful for his three colleagues, all of whom share his desire for an allusive whiteness but none of whom share his ancestry. Thus, it is not grief that distances him from his friends— he was always distant. This distance just proved less significant when his black body was a tool for their climb towards success.

Furthermore, the collateral beauty referenced in the film does indeed lie in tragedy. For misfortune reveals what happiness hides—truth. Tragedy revealed that Howard’s grief was merely a nuisance to those who benefited from his constructed happiness. Similarly, western society holds awareness collateral to achieve “beauty” in the form of conventional attributes. However, tragedy exposes this beauty as solely the blissful ignorance that exists solely to veil the intricacies of systemic oppression.

When the Bough Is Black: A“When The Bough Breaks” Review

Black Hollywood Veterans Regina Hall and Morris Chestnut appeal to the black audience  lost in the abundant white faces that continue to dominate the big screen. Thus, despite the familiar plot, reminiscent of Fatal Attraction or Obsessed, the film becomes attractive in the still aberrant presence embodied by black actors. Unfortunately, the presumed “black” actors, betray a melanated presence that conveniently presents physical diversity despite portraying a privilege and hue antithetical to their own. The whiteness of the physically black cast surfaces in assigning Hall and Chestnut Anglo names. Regina Hall and Morris Chestnut become John and Laura Taylor, and their surrogate Jaz Sinclair becomes Anna Walsh. Thus, while it is certainly pleasing to see a black couple love one another, this love exists in the face of acquired whiteness that makes their hue a suggestion rather than a defining attribute. Through illustrating whiteness through black bodies, When the Bough Breaks embodies racial subtleties that strategically shifts culture and cultural accountability.

Laura Taylor, the skilled and conventionally successful culinary professional presumably has everything. She has beauty, style, an equally alluring residence, and an admiring husband. However, despite their love for one another, John and Laura cannot conceive a child. It is though her implemented barren state, that Laura Taylor, the black woman, swaps places with her European counterpart. This is not to suggest that black women do not struggle with fertility, but it is to state that it is not a moment issue plaguing our personhood. In fact, this portrayal counters the consistent portrayal of black women as hyper-fertile, an image that perpetuates black women as bearing multiple children even launching the 2011 Soho billboard that asserted the black female womb as the most dangerous place for a black child. More significantly, this perpetuation, when viewed allegorically, depicts Africa as barren and childless, a truth inconsistent with a history that conceals the repeated rape and seizure of people and natural resources from the fruitful land on earth–Affica. Thus, the black woman gains central placement at the expense of sacrificing her frutitful history to one that mirrors one of her oppressor. As a barren woman whose last chance for motherhood lies in a crazed woman, Taylor sacrifices her conjugal sanctity for her child. By the end of the film, it is Laura who shoots the fatal bullet into the body that birthed her legacy. In casting the fatal shot, Laura literally chops the tree that bears her fruit. Here, the black body does what Scandal viewers subconsciously absorb on Thursdays, a black body that exudes behavior historically aligned with whites. Scandal’s Rowan Pope (Joe Morton), is easily the most fascinating character on the series who simultaneously elicit hate and awe . Pope, as “Command” epitomizes power, as no system or individual seems capable to deplete his dominance. Pope breaks men down only to build them up in his image, or discards those unable to live up to his standards. By depicting a black man as powerful, but evil and perniciously dominating, racism takes on an equality as real as the characters themselves.

Similarly, When the Bough Breaks portrays blackness both physically and allegorically to illustrate  a similar reversal. Westerns raped Africa of her natural resources and children to birth the productivity of a stolen land. After providing the blood, sweat and tears necessary to nurture what we now consider America, blacks were emotionally and socially tossed aside to fend for themselves in a sea of disenfranchisement. Anna Walsh allegorically represents this marginalized presence, seemingly driven mad by the demands of a society that seems rooted in her exploitation. Conversely, John and Laura Taylor embody a systemic favorability that permits them to use and discard those lacking resources. In allegorically representing blackness, When the Bough Breaks employs black bodies as tools to discount racism in suggesting that blacks are as equally susceptible to racist positioning as whites. This suggestion implores viewers to conceptualize as individual not systemic. Ironically, in nurturing this belief, films like When the Bough Breaks and shows like Scandal cultivate the necessary unconsciousness for systemic racism to operate. Thus, what seems like another great time at the movies, permits black audiences to participate and foster their continued oppression in a country that thwarts enlightenment with entertainment.

Barbershop 3, A Review

My interest in Barbershop stemmed solely from the predominately black cast and black director Malcolm Lee. The difficulty in supporting black films stems from wanting to support such projects but still remain in close proximity to black consciousness. While I am still ambivalent regarding whether its fair to require screenwriters/directors to operate with the extreme cultural consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised at the dialogue, and communal dynamics put forth at such a critical moment in contemporary black culture.

Black Father Dynamic

One of the dynamics strengthened by the time separating the last time viewers saw Calvin (Ice Cube), is the father/son dynamic. Now that Calvin is a parent to a teenaged Jaylyn—viewers are invited into the temptations that surround young black men. The movie’s setting— southside Chicago, also reels viewers into a real situation that hovers over the black community. However, none of what we see in the film is limited to Chicago. As a young black child growing up, it is much easier for you to get into a gang than into a competitive university and worlds easier for you to obtain a gun than a job. Plagued with the demand of pending masculinity, Jaylyn considers joining a gang—but eventually passes on the decision due to his strong familial ties. This revelation is powerful as it defies the stereotypes of the broken black family and the fallacious yet projected image of black male inclination to violence.

The film also dispels the silent tale of white superiority. Specifically, the film works against the belief that white presence is the resolution to black conflict. In wake of his son’s pending gang affiliation, Calvin considers uprooting his business and family to relocate to the Northside. After a lesson in community, Calvin learns that the remedy isn’t in leaving but in staying.

Staying

As an initiative to stop the violence, Calvin and his crew state a “cease fire” where they offer free services in exchange for communal tranquility. This depiction dissolves the ever-consistent white or non-black person or faction that aims to “solve” black issues during election season or so. While these acts are seemingly for black benefit, they often attempt to solve issues started by a white supremacist system. Thus, depicting black unity as a means to cure the labyrinth of cultural oppression is nothing short of powerful.

Immigration

As is the case with most “all black features,” Barbershop features a non-black cast mate. Omitting, a white or latina colleague, Barbershop asserts a “brown” diversity initiative in featuring Indian barber Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar). During a spirited discussion regarding improving the black community, Raja chimes in. Raja’s monologue professes “now is a great time to be black” referencing his own parent’s struggles and triumphs (as Indian immigrants )as a token of black possibility. His monologue is brilliantly executed down to the cliche intertwining of President Barack Obama into the discussion to prove” just how far blacks have come.”

Admittedly, this dialogue was hard to hear for two reasons. First, it mirrors countless discussions encountered with those who reflect on the black experience without having endured the black experience. Second, these sentiments typically derive from an individual who prides him or herself on their non-racist agenda yet performing in a racist agenda. Raja, much like most of the free world black and white is deeply captivated and convinced by symbolism. President Barack Obama alongside First Lady Michelle Obama— a county that once defined them both as livestock, now employs their bodies for a similar political message. Yes, they occupy arguably the highest positions in America, yet blacks continue to face disenfranchisement, and lack of economical power. Thus, while President Obama and First Lady Michelle seemingly depict a changing of the times, they demonstrate that racism isn’t consistent with the face of power but the function.

To paraphrase what Calvin states in the movie, “a black president didn’t stop Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown or Tamir Rice from being killed.” President Obama is he face of power yes. But, he too is disenfranchised by systemic racism. Furthermore, as the leader of America, he steers the same ship that enslaved his brethren years ago. Except, the same ship that once floated on the arrogance of manifest destiny is now sinking in the inevitable karma that awaited centuries of injustice.

Just as a black president failed to uplift, Black America, Barbershop, even its redeem ability fails to elevate black portrayal in media. My primary issue with this movie is a general conflict I face with most movies that attempt to showcase the perils of black culture. Presenting black people as the cause of their own conflict casually overlooks the power of systemic racism. Blacks are pawns in their own impression, as we lack the economical and political power to execute the manifestations of mental freedom. In failing to acknowledge the depth of white supremacy in destroying and employing the black mind , body and spirit in pushing their own agenda, blacks remain stagnant and complacent with fabricated “efforts” of advancement. Film like Barbershop feature black community as a weapon for white supremacy, yet subtly proves counterproductive in its failure or unwillingness to tackle racism in its entirety. Maybe this is too big of a role for a two hour movie, or maybe the “big” screen is simply too small to encompass the totality of the black experience.