Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for January, 2012

“The Help”, a review

I was tentative to watch this movie. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be deeply moved, or greatly offended. In the end, I was neither. I was totally surprised by my complete lack of reaction, actually. There were certainly bits that I found to be a bit overblown. The entire movie was populated by problematic caricatures and overacted accents. It was, to me, just as offensive to Southern White folk at it was to Black folk in general. But, these caricatures weren’t so very exaggerated to get my hackles totally raised. In my opinion, they were more indicative of bad writing, than of the overt racism that I was half expecting.

The main drama of the movie seemed to revolve around being surprised about the plight of domestic servants. I wasn’t overly surprised, and so the conflict seemed a bit muted to me. Other than the “pie incident” which seems to be the climax of the film, very little actually happens.

In general, it was kind of weird film because it suffered from the Tarzan complex. It focused on a white writer telling a story, rather than focusing on the story itself. I’m not wholly against white heroes in afro-centric films–there were plenty of real White heroes in the civil rights struggle. But, the conflicts of this particular White character aren’t as interesting or as heightened as the conflicts of the Black characters. In my humble opinion, this movie would have been better off sidelining or omitting the writer and just focusing on the story itself.

In any case, it was horrible and it wasn’t great. Which surprised me.

An outside perspective.

I was bit by a chimpanzee as a kid, so I’ve always had a fear of all sorts of apes. I’ve been looking forward to that movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. It should be refreshing to see a movie where chimps are scary, instead of funny.

MLK Day is always, of course, very important to me. I like to spend it with family and friends, just enjoying being alive — I figure I owe my life to MLK, since my parents’ marriage was illegal before him.

SO, I suggested we watch “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, yesterday. My wife said she didn’t want to. She pointed out that she’d have a hard time explaining it her coworkers.

Sometimes, you just have to chuckle.

A second-hand anecdote for MLK Day

Yesterday, my son was taking some tests held by the public schools here in Chicago. The tests were held at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and conducted by the staff of the Psychology Department there. While my son was inside getting tested, one of the professors entertained us with an anecdote of his about MLK.

It seems that when he was in grad school, he ran into an old college friend who was working as an intern with MLK’s staff. He asked his friend whether she ever saw MLK himself, and she said, oh yes, every day. So, he asked her to tell him something the public doesn’t know about MLK. She said that the surprising think about MLK was his sense of humor. She said he was the funniest man she’d ever met, who kept the whole staff laughing all the time, and that he could have easily been a stand up comic. She also said that he intentionally turned off that part of his personality when he was speaking publicly, since his work was so serious in tone.

It’s interesting to think about MLK’s public persona being intentionally crafted. It makes sense, both that he would be a funny guy, and that he’d be very thoughtful about his stage presence, being as his background was in preaching, and he was very good at it.

Of course, this story is third-hand at this point, so who knows what it’s worth. But, I find it very interesting to think about.

Another grammatical point.

I called this blog “Black White Man” when I first made, years ago. But, since then I’ve been thinking about it, and I believe that grammatically it should be “White Black Man”. I believe that, in America, ethnically “Black” people are, by definition, mixed. Our definition of “Black” encompasses both the “Black” and “Colored” distinction that you find in most of Africa. So I, being mixed European, African and Native American, am an American “Black”. My skin is white. So, in the same way that you would say a “short Black man”, or a “brown-eyed Black man”, you should call me a “white Black man”, rather than a “black White man”.

Red Tail, confirmation of awesomeness

George Lucas was on the Daily Show with John Stewart this week, and I was very glad to hear him confirm all of my hopes about his most recent movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. After the first trailer, I got the impression that it was going to be a kick ass action movie, a diversion from the usual, serious, dramatic historical Black film. But, then the second trailer had a lot more indoor footage, and featured a lot of higher profile, more serious actors, which made me doubt myself. But, George Lucas put my fears to rest. He referred to the movie as “an action film” and talked about how it wasn’t going to be “like ‘Glory'”, and feature White officers over the Black military men they command. He said a lot of stuff that resonated with me, a lot of stuff I’ve been thinking for a while. He talked about how he wanted the film to be an inspiration to young men, because it’s about heroes. He didn’t mention what race these inspired young men would or should be. He also talked about how it was hard to raise money for the film because investors assume a movie about Black Americans is going to be targeted to a Black American audience, and therefore won’t make enough money to warrant the huge costs of a big budget action film. I, like Lucas it seems, have been hoping and waiting for historical based action movies set outside of Europe or Asia to get popular in the main stream. It great for young Black people to learn about their roots, it really is. But, it’s better for all of us to learn about each others’ roots. It would be especially gratifying to me if this movie is popular overseas. It’s not that much of a stretch for White Americans to learn about the history of American fighter pilots in WW2.

Now all we need is a movie like Gladiator or Braveheart set in Medieval sub-Saharan Africa (or the Pacific, or India, or pre-Columbian America, etc.), and for it to be popular in the mainstream!

I’m psyched about this movie.

Red Tails, theatrical trailer

I saw another trailer for Red Tails on TV today, which makes me contradict a lot of what I said last week about the movie. Now, I’m more worried about it. I had said last week that it looked like a kick ass action film, a nice diversion from the obvious dramatic approach. This new trailer shows more sign of being award bait — noticeable high profile Black actors like Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr, and noticeable White actors like the dads from “Major Dad” and “Malcolm in the Middle”.

Ideally this will end up being both a kick ass action movie and a dramatic recreation of history. But, I’m worried that it will be more the latter than the former. As much as I love the serious Black historical drama, we have plenty of them. I think we’ll be better off if we can get one or two movies like “Gladiator” or “Braveheart”, but portraying Black African history instead of White European, rather than more serious movies like “Amistad” and “Rosewood” (don’t get me wrong, I love both “Amistad” and “Rosewood”, I’m just sayin’).

Diversity is the new segregation, addendum

I had a nice talk with a public school teacher today, who confirmed my thoughts on diversity in Chicago Public Schools — that very few affluent schools are homogenously White, but many, many, schools in poor neighborhoods are homogenously Black. We’ve managed to “desegregate” the good schools. But, until we actually solve the problems of impoverished minority neighborhoods and/or improve the schools in those neighborhoods, we’ll still have legions of young Black students who grow up not only with a substandard education, but also with no experience of diversity (perhaps other than their teachers).

Note, that this isn’t across the board “struggling” schools, as I seem to saying. There are quite a few very good schools in Black neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago which are nevertheless homogenously Black. It seems that Black South Siders are more likely to commute to the North Side to send their kids to a good, diverse school than are White North Siders to commute to send their kids to a good, all-Black school on the South Side. (Which actually makes sense to me, since I consider diversity a benefit in itself)

A day at Navy Peir

Today my family and I went to Chicago’s Navy Peir to enjoy the last day of the “Winter Wonderland” festival which they hold every year. Living in Chicago, I get used to the idea that there are very few occasions where I will interact with a diverse group of people. It’s a shame, because Chicago is, on a whole, extremely diverse. But, most of the groups I interact with are either entirely White or entirely Black. I’m lucky that my son’s school is one place where I encounter diversity on a daily basis. But, today it was nice, at Navy Peir, to just enjoy some Christmas fun with all different sorts of people from across Chicago.

Red Tails, an addendum

My wife makes an interesting comment about these trailers: that there are no white people in them. To her benefit, she brings this up as something that looks good about the film. She feels that too many Black history films find some white guy to be the hero in the Black struggle. I feel a little bit more nuanced on the subject. At some point I got very upset that Amistad was mainly about a white guy… but then I went and looked it up and found that there is a strong history of white people being involved in the anti-slavery and civil rights movements.

Red Tails, a pre-review

I’m cautiously excited about the upcoming movie about the Tuskeegee Airmen, “Red Tails”. I think that the obvious approach to this movie would have been to make it a moving drama, with a high profile, very respectable Black actor in the lead. It would have gravitas. It might be nominated for awards. It would the be 1995 movie “Tuskeegee Airmen” with Lawrence Fishburne.

That would be the obvious approach. The right approach, and the approach that this 2012 movie seems to be taking is to make it a kick ass action movie. Make it appeal to the demographic that the Tuskeegee Airmen themselves were in, 19-25 year old men. Hell, I think it would be awesome if they sold action figures and had a spin-off Saturday morning cartoon. I’m hoping that this is as much a popcorn flick as it is an homage to an important piece of American history. Because, our history needn’t always be serious all the time. It can be fun, too.