The manner in which the Civil Rights Movement is typically depicted in American media is problematic to say the least. One is quite frequently presented with a picture of a clearly defined struggle between right and wrong with a foreordained and definite outcome complete with a happy ending. Narratives such as these tend to create overly simplistic narratives with little nuance between and within the constituencies represented. Selma, to its great credit, manages to avoid this trap. Continue reading
There is a strange phenomenon that occurs in films where something can seem both drawn out and rushed at the same time. This usually happens when filmmakers try to do too much at once. For example: when one is attempting to tell a long, epic story in a normal cinematic run-time. Or when one is trying to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to the theistic, supernatural, or miraculous aspects of a particular story. Continue reading
The way some racists reacted to John Boyega’s face popping up in the first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens reminds me of the Dave Chappelle sketch where Neil Brennan’s head explodes after the blind black klansman takes off his hood. One thing confuses me though; are the racists upset that there’s a black stormtrooper or that there’s a black actor in the film at all? If it’s the latter, they’re even dumber than I thought they were, because that ship has sailed long ago. If it’s the former, I think I understand the nature of this idiocy, which I’ll explain below. Continue reading
4. Michael B. Jordan: Fruitvale Station
The biggest Oscar snub by far in my opinion. He’s been at it since he was young and was great on The Wire as a teenager but this is an incredibly mature and accomplished performance for someone his age. There was no more full picture of a single character than Jordan painted for us in Fruitvale Station. This film reminded me a bit of classic neo-realism like Bicycle Thieves, showing us a single day in the life of a completely ordinary citizen simply living his life that day and all that entails. Fruitvale is not about a shooting, it’s about a young man who’s life was taken abruptly and unexpectedly. What the film does best is show us Oscar Grant’s humanity, which is channeled through and personified to the smallest detail by Michael B. Jordan in a nuanced, understated and moving performance. The academy seemed to only have enough room in their collective hearts for one “black film” this year, which is a real shame, because I actually thought this one was better than the one they chose.
6. Chewitel Ejiofor: 12 Years A Slave
I find it incredible how this performance got lost in the shuffle of awards season. Were I a member of the AMPAS, he would have been my second choice for Best Actor after my #2 pick from this list, and I thought 2013 was the best Lead Actor pool in recent memory. I’m not quite sure the average viewer is aware of the physical toll this part must have taken on him, to say nothing of the mental aspects. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and this is his masterpiece. My favorite moments of his in this film are all dialogue-free: his reactions in big moments, his gracious smile, the singing of the spiritual at the funeral, and any moment in which he’s listening. He’s just got “that face” and he can communicate and do so much with it. He can do anything.
There is concept in film studies called “the Magic Negro.” The magic negro is a character through which a white protagonist achieves their objective, narrative or otherwise. Its a concept as old and enduring as the feature film itself. Famous recent examples include The Green Mile, The Blind Side, The Help, Jerry Maguire, and every Whoopi Goldberg film. Despite many fine performances and some quality cinema that has come out of this vein, the magic negro as a narrative device is problematic precisely because it essentially reduces black characters to mere narrative devices. In other words, it has a dehumanizing effect. Needless to say, I would be remiss for calling myself the Mixed American Film Buff if I didn’t keep an eye out for this, and frankly, its never too hard to spot. Sadly, when you look closely, there are few roles written for black actors that don’t adhere to this trope. Continue reading
10. Lupita Nyong’o: 12 Years A Slave
In the months since I posted my 12 Years piece on tumblr, the world has rightfully fallen in love with Ms. Nyong’o and it is safe to say she is an unknown no longer. The utter despair and pain captured in her performance continues to resonate. This is the sort of performance you can feel in your bones and makes you squirm in your seat. The whole film is like that, really, but her performance stands out in this respect because her situation is so uniquely desperate and hopeless. She’s literally hard to watch at times, not because of the brutality she endures, but because the despair and sense of being trapped is so complete and dire in her face, in her actions, her voice. Great work in what ought to be a star-making performance. Now, if only the American film industry created roles for black women…
Media are reflections of the culture and society they represent and emerge from. When one is alienated from certain media it likely stems from a lack of relatability on the part of the consumer in relation to the reflection in question. In other words, the consumer doesn’t see themselves reflected in the product. This is why, stereotypically, men don’t like daytime soap operas and romantic comedies, women don’t like sports and wrestling, and black people don’t like Seinfeld and the Winter Olympics (this black person actually loves Seinfeld as much as he hates the Winter Olympics, but we’re talking about stereotypes). Continue reading