Monthly Archives: May 2009

Weekend Endorsements: Up, Out and Double X.

shani-o: I was intrigued by Up when I heard about it on Fresh Air.  It was the first animated film to open Cannes, and having seen it last night, I can totally understand why.  It was beautiful and moving, goofy and ridiculous, and I totally cried. Twice. (G.D. almost did, too, but don’t tell him I told you.)  It’s an adventure story, it’s a love story, it’s a bit of a coming-of-age story — for both the old man and the little boy — and it has classic Disney silliness and lovely Pixar animation. I recommend going to a showtime with fewer kids…in the midst of a sweet, sad moment, hearing a bored little one behind you ‘whisper’ “Mama, do you want some popcorn?” can be a bit jarring.

G.D. I’ve been a gym rat for a nice minute now, but it was only a few months ago I actually started running in earnest. Now that I’ve gotten decent at it — I ran 10 miles two weeks ago mostly on a lark — I’ve adopted the zeal of the convert. (New York is one of those places that only gets three or four weeks of spring, and I’ve been out everyday trynna get it in before our sweltering, smelly-ass summer rolls in.) A lot of people of hate running, which I think has a lot to do with the monotony and  the considerable early difficulty, but these are easily remedied: run outside and put together a good playlist. WalkJogRun has a list of running trails entered by users in dozens of cities and countries, and Nike Fit has a dope new running mix by De La Soul. So get off the couch and go outside, bammas.

quadmoniker: DoubleX, Slate‘s new sister spinoff that got off to a bit of a rocky start, is now a podcast, too. Emily Bazelon, one of DoubleX’s founding editors, is the host, and she must be getting busy jumping from gabfest to gabfest. David Plotz’s wife, Hanna Rosin, joins, and she and Emily have as much chemistry as David and Emily do on the political gabfest. The third commenter is another founding editor, Meghan O’Rourke, and the conversation — on Sotomayor, that study on women’s happiness, and Terminator — is pretty good. I’ll admit I was ready to write off DoubleX in the beginning; they all do the same thing I noticed Bryn Mawrtyrs doing in college: when they make a point, they intone their voice so that it rises at the end, as if everything were a question. Why do people do that?



I mentioned this to G.D. and on my Facebook status update yesterday: LeBron’s best might be better than MJ’s best. Really.

Your Friday Funny: Finally, Some Gratitude.

When There’s No Underbrush, the Tree Looks Taller.

A Word on Empathy.

(x-posted from here.)

Judging from jonolan’s comment on a previous post, it’s probably reasonable to assume that conservatives will, in their criticism of Sotomayor, zero in on this line from a lecture she recently gave:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

That one’s experiences – and thus ability to understand certain situations – are shaped by one’s identity is a fairly unremarkable and pedestrian sentiment.  Indeed, this is largely what Obama means when he says that he’s looking for a judge with “empathy.”  The simple fact is that a court dominated by white men will have a hard time looking beyond their circumstance to understand the problems faced by women or minorities.  It’s no coincidence that the Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the only justice to articulate a compelling dissent to the Court’s ruling in Redding v. Stafford; as a former 13-year-old girl herself, Ginsburg was the only justice who seemed to understand the humiliation involved in being forced to strip to one’s underwear.  To borrow from Dahlia Lithwick, “Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.”

On a court where the majority of justices empathize with the powerful and protected over the marginalized and weak, it.s critical that we have someone who can find common cause with the latter over the former.  Besides, as Neil Sinhababu correctly notes, it’s not as if Supreme Court justices rarely rules on these issues; these are areas on which the Court regularly offers a judgment, and “an ability to understand other people’s lives” is important to making the fairest decisions possible.

Notes from the Harbor: Syntax and Semantics.


Regrettably a long weekend has come and gone and, if you’re anything like me, the anticipation for all the wonderful “time off” in order to “take care of things” culminated in an uneventful weekend full of hair washing, reading, back-to-back viewings of Coming to America on Comedy Central, and the Pam Greer Blaxploitation marathon on TVOne—a channel I’ve really grown to love.

I digress. As you know, come June 15th, we’ll be talking about Colson Whitehead’s latest: Sag Harbor.

Here’s a teaser from the very funny, sometimes contrived, but so damn erudite and clever narrator (Benji) on the grammatical nature of boyhood insults:

One smashed a colorful and evocative noun or proper noun into a pejorative, gluing them together with an -in’ verb…”Lookin’ ” was a common -in’ verb…”Wearin’ ” made the rounds as well.

You could also preface things with a throat-clearing “You fuckin’,” as in “You fuckin’ Cha-Ka from Land of the Lost-lookin’ motherfucker…”

“You fuckin'” acted as a rhetorical pause, allowing the speaker a few extra seconds to pluck some splendid modifier out of the invective ether, end giving the listener a chance to gird himself for the top-notch put-down/ splendid imagery to follow.

You may have noticed that the -in’ verbs were generally visual. The heart of the critique concerned what you were putting out into the world, the vibes you gave off. Which is what made them so devastating when executed well–this ordnance detonated in that area between you and the mirror, between you and what you thought everyone else was seeing. (pg. 41-42)

Happy Reading.

Based on a True Story…Again?

We’ve made no secret of our belief that Hollywood is producing just a few too many paint-by-numbers Black biopics, and this week’s announcement of a whopping four black-themed biopics was just a case in point. According to Rotten Tomatoes’ Weekly Ketchup, all systems are go for an “official” biographical drama on Martin Luther King Jr., with Steven Spielberg at the helm; Will and Jada’s Overbrook Entertainment (in concert with Sony Pictures) has acquired the rights to John Keller’s life story (an ex-Marine who oversaw the rescue of 244 fellow Katrina victims); and Denzel is mulling his third directorial project, a little pet project called Brother in Arms, about “the only tank unit in the European theater of World War II that was manned by all African Americans”–based on a book co-authored by Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

We should note that the latter project has no shooting date–and the Weekly Ketchup writers slyly suggest that, perhaps, this is because there’s already a black WWII flick in the works—a Tuskegee Airmen project, currently filming in Europe.

Here’s the thing: we love heralding Black accomplishments as much as the next guy–and far be it from us to stand in the way of Our Own Stories Being Told. But aren’t most of these films rather indistinguishable from one another? If you’ve seen Remember the Titans, you’ve seen Glory Road. If you’ve seen Ray, you seen Cadillac Records (or parts of it, anyway). If you’ve seen The Rosa Parks story, you’ve seen Boycott. If you’ve seen Ali, you’ve seen… Will Smith in one too many of these vanity projects.***

It isn’t that we don’t endorse Black films being greenlighted; we do. It isn’t that we don’t love our history; we do. It’s that biopics, as a genre, are largely rote oversimplifications of incredibly complex lives. And no matter how nuanced an actor’s performance (or, as in the case of Denzel as Melvin Tolson, how phoned in), the formulaic storytelling impedes any real understanding of the person’s struggles and, more importantly, the accomplishment(s) that warranted a film in the first place. They all sort of bleed together untill you’re like, “You remember that flick where Cuba Gooding’s in the submarine and he’s a cook who manned a gatling gun?”

The best way to know your history is to research it for yourself. All the swelling music and single-teared male stars in the world aren’t going to provide you comprehensive—or even accurate—knowledge of actual events. So these “First Black ___ to Do _____” biopics work best when you go into them with your facts about the film’s subject straight. That way, you’re just watching for entertainment value and voluntary emotional manipulation.

All that said, we have to admit, we’re more than a little bit amped about Josh Brolin’s genius plan to both produce and star in a John Brown biopic. You can never have enough films about bloody, if ill-fated slave revolts.