Category Archives: Film

Why I Hate the New York Times Magazine.

In graduate school, one alarmingly bad, blindingly obvious article about gay marriage convinced me that the New York Times Magazine, the one you get for free on Sundays, is actually bad for journalism. That the world’s pre-eminent journalistic institution can churn out, at times, such a poorly written and edited magazine has always troubled me, not least because I feel its tremendous reach obligates it to delve into the issues the country faces in a meaningful way. I may be committing professional suicide here, but the conviction that we should burn this magazine as soon as it touches our doorsteps was only made stronger by the coming piece on the movie Precious.

The movie is already an Oscar favorite; it cleaned up at the festivals and its challenging subject matter — an overweight teenager abused by  her father and mother before a caring teacher and social worker help her find the beauty, the beauty that’s inside — is ready-made for the kind of congratulatory, back-patting spirit with which liberal Hollywood elites like to give awards. But by all accounts, the movie, which is based on the book Push by Sapphire, is actually a really good one,* especially because of (not in spite of!) the acting by Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey.

So it’s natural to want to know a lot about how the man who made it, Lee Daniels, did it, what inspired him, and how he got the woman who made this to become a good actor. Too bad, because the piece is written by Lynn Hirschberg for the New York Times Magazine, and what you get to read about is how one time Daniels caught Carey putting on some blush when he needed her to stay ugly. You should know something’s up when Hirschberg tries to draw you in with this lead:

At the Cannes International Film Festival in May, in the loud, chaotic bar at the Martinez Hotel, Lee Daniels seemed, as he often does, both ecstatic and nervous. He jumped, he slumped, his mood changing from giddy to anxious. He was the only black man in the crowded bar, a fact that he mentioned and then brushed away. He was dressed unremarkably in a loose, untucked shirt and slouchy khaki pants, but his hair, an electric corona of six-inch fusilli-like spirals, demanded notice. Although Daniels will be 50 this year, he has the bouncy, mercurial energy of a child. The previous night, at the gala screening of his movie “Precious,” which he directed and helped produce, he greeted the audience by saying, “I’m a little homo, I’m a little Euro and I’m a little ghetto.” The crowd cheered.

Wow, really? A movie director at Cannes is nervous and a little bit eccentric? What a unique fucking insight. I hope someday I become famous so a writer can pick this scene, in which I’m doing the exact same thing as everyone else is at that chaotic bar is doing, and describe my unremarkable clothing in the paragraph that’s supposed to make everyone want to read the story about my professional breakthrough.

It’s especially disappointing because later on, you learn some interesting stuff about Daniels, the actors involved and why they decided to become part of the movie. Many of those who join in or back it, like Oprah and Tyler Perry, admit to being abused. Daniels’s police officer father, who died when Daniels was 15, beat him, and Daniels aunt thinks it’s because the father knew Daniels was gay. See? That’s interesting. What’s not interesting is that lede.

Neither is this:

A MONTH AFTER Cannes, Daniels was back in Manhattan in his 11th-floor loftlike apartment near Madison Square Garden. “This is where I raised money for ‘Precious,’ ” he said. Daniels, dressed in black, lay sprawled on a plum-colored sectional sofa; on a low, white table in front of him were piles of scripts and stacks of photographs from “Precious.” A Roller Disco pinball machine stood next to a baby grand piano, and a large TV screen dominated one side of the room. Although he had a separate office in the same building, Daniels’s apartment seemed more like a lavish hotel suite than a home.

I DON’T CARE ABOUT HIS PURPLE COUCH! But if you make it through that, you get this great quote about the main character, Precious, “But at the end, it’s just this girl, and she’s trying to live. I know this chick. You know her. But we just choose not to know her.” So why isn’t that quote higher up in the story?

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Untangling ‘Good Hair.’

I saw Good Hair the night it came out, but I’ve been holding off writing about it because my feelings about it keep changing. I’m still not sure just what to make of it. It’s a really, really funny film, but it throws out all sorts of eye-popping numbers and images without really commenting on any of them or even bothering to ask any decent follow-up questions. There’s a scene in which Chris Rock and a chemist demonstrate that the active ingredient in hair relaxer is so toxic that it can melt a soda can in a few hours. Okay…so how much of this stuff is in the typical dose of a relaxer that goes on someone’s head? And what does this mean for the health of the hairdressers who handle it for a living? Neither gets asked. Indeed, the history is hair-straightening is never even touched upon (C.J. Walker’s near-total absence from this movie* is unjustifiable).

And then there’s the powerful segment in India — after software, human hair is the country’s biggest export — which also really unsettled Anna at over at Jezebel.

I will give Chris major points for the segment in which he goes to India to see how the human hair used in weaves is obtained. The resulting footage was damning: Human beings in a third world country reduced to their body parts, which are then sold off so that comparatively rich women in the first world can use them as adornments. Ugh. Seeing those swaths of hair being sorted, laid out, combed through and spun into perfect bundles of shiny ebony silk made me sick to my stomach.

Again, Rock’s take on this segment is essentially “That’s crazy, right?” Why, yes! It is crazy! One might even venture to say that it’s unnerving enough to necessitate a change in consumer behavior! But the closest thing we get to any sort of critique from Rock on this or anything else is his cheesy dodge of a closing line, which goes something like this: “I guess when my daughter is old enough to decide whether to get a weave or a perm, I’ll tell her what’s on top of her head is less important than what’s in it.” And with that, me and the natural-haired woman with whom I went to see the movie rolled our eyes.

*The homie NiaTrue on Twitter reminded me that Walker’s great -granddaughter A’Leila Bundles makes an appearance in the movie, but they certainly don’t explain who she is or why she’s being spotlighted.

Random Midday Hotness: Tall Enough.

Latoya posted this short which is part of some promotion by Bloomingdale’s. (But don’t hold that against it.) It’s by Barry Jenkins, who wrote and directed Medicine for Melancholy, which I really, really dug.


Impasse.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Very well done.

[Via Africa is a Country. h/t Winslow.]

Some Disjointed Thoughts on Blackface, ‘Coonery,’ and Hip Hop Fogeyism.

I’m probably gonna get pilloried for this by some folks, but I don’t care much for Spike Lee. Yeah, he’s talented and a pioneer and Do The Right Thing rightly deserves the praise it’s accorded. But the quality of his work varies too wildly, there’s a weird misogynistic streak in many of his films, and he’s way too hamfisted a lot of the time — his endings are particularly egregious.

That last bit is especially true of Bamboozled. Up until the inexecrable Crash and 2007’s putrid Angelina Jolie vehicle* Wanted, it was almost certainly the most supremely shitty movie I’d ever paid money to see.**

There are a lot of reasons that movie didn’t work — yes, Damon Wayans does speak that way for the entire film — but Bamboozled‘s most insurmountable shortcoming was its central device: the director’s employment of blackface. This is a lazy move, and sort of like comparing a political opponent’s policy prescriptions to Nazism; useful in getting the people already on your side to whoop and amen, but toxic to any discourse with the unconvinced. What Spike was trying to say (I think?) is that black folks play a major role in dehumanizing media portrayals of black life/lives. Fine. That’s a little simplistic and broad, but okay. That idea could be a jumping-off point for an interesting conversation. But Spike, as always, prefers to kill his ants with sledgehammers, and so we get a media critique featuring black tap dancers in blackface before rabid fans who are also in blackface  and an oleaginous white TV exec who enjoys emasculating his black underlings. (Also, people feel guilty and get shot at they end.)

This is too much even for Spike, which makes me think that the near-constant presence of blackface in Bamboozled just sets the movie’s baseline for provocation so absurdly high that every other dramatic element in it had to be turned up to 10 so they wouldn’t be completely drowned out. More…

Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup: The Low-End Theory

Hey, has anyone else seen that picture of President Obama ogling that 17-year-old girl’s ass at the G8 summit in Italy?:


Of course you didn’t. Because there’s no such picture and he wasn’t doing that. Silly rabbits.

And without any further ado, your reading material from the weekend:

1. On Friday, the Washington Post reportedthat Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, killed a secret intelligence program started in 2001 that had been hidden from Congress and that he himself only learned about in late June. This, understandably, kicked up a major shitstorm, with Senate Democrats saying they want to investigate the program (and indications from Eric Holder that he wants to go after the Bush administration on torturedespite Obama saying that he doesn’t want to “look back”). As of now, no one even knows what exactly the program entails, but yesterday, the New York Times reported that the program was kept secret on Dick Cheney’s orders.

Seriously, after wiretapping Americans without warrants, authorizing the torture of detainees, and sending others to secret prisons in other countries to be tortured, what other nefarious shit could the Bush administration possibly have thought up? The Washington Times quotes an anonymous source who hinted that the program involved assassinations overseas — which it bears mentioning, is against the law — which is sort of what Seymour Hersh reported earlier this year.

2. The White House has been getting Sonia Sotomayor ready for the confirmation hearings, which start today. What to expect: a whole lot of bluster and self-aggrandizement from senators, a whole lot of “I cannot answer that question lest this issue come before me on the bench” from Sotomayor, a lot of feeble attempts by Republicans to make her look crazy on abortion and discrimination cases, and an easy confirmation.

3. Speaking of SCOTUS, Emily Bazelon sits down with Justice Ginsburg, who has been a vocal advocate for more women on the court. “I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.” Like Sotomayor, she makes no bones about the fact that she benefited from affirmative action. And like Sotomayor, she’s a sparkling example of how it’s supposed to work: Harvard Law (one of five women in a class of several hundred), while raising kids and caring (and taking notes) for her husband who was stricken with cancer. She made law review before transferring to Columbia and graduating first in her class. Please believe it: she’s a beast.

4. Also, a new poll from C-SPAN shows that 54 percent of Americans can’t name a single Supreme Court justice but two-thirds know Obama has picked a Hispanic nominee for the current vacancy on the panel. Behold our idiocracy.

5. a. The NYT takes a look at the events that led up to Sarah Palin’s resignation. After the campaign, Republicans from across the country tried to help her get her affairs in order for her to remain a national figure; as is her wont, she disregarded their advice. She got bogged down in petty fights with Levi Johnston and David Letterman. Her schedule got lighter and lighter, and she took a trip to Indiana for an antiabortion event while the state’s budget was up in the air. Now she’s saying she wants to campaign for conservatives across the country — even conservative Democrats — and fueling speculation that she wants to start her own party.

b. Want to hear more about Sarah? I know you do. Check out this smart post from Anonymous Liberal about the Village’s role in the ascendancy of Palin, likening it to the Hans Christian Andersen classic, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”

c. Dahlia Lithwick and Frank Rich also offer their own takes on the Quitta from Wasilla.

d. Thanks but no thanks. GOP politicians facing tough elections in 2010 would prefer she stay far away, roughly somewhere in the vicinty of the Bridge to Nowhere.

e. According to a Mudflats reader, Sarah Palin became the member a very exclusive group of state leaders when she announced her resignation the other week. She joined Jim McGreevy and Eliot Spitzer as only three of about 1,200 governors in the U.S. since 1900 to quit in their first term for no apparent reason. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Ok. That’s plenty.

6. As the economy worsens, thousands and thousands of families are joining the ranks of the homeless. Also interesting but disheartening: 20 percent of homeless people live in Los Angeles, New York and Detroit.

7. ABC News lists the 10 states in the worst budget situations. The West is in particularly bad shape. California tops the list, with Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington also facing significant shortfalls.

8. Despite being in the middle of a shitstorm for condoning racist comments on her Facebook page – and defriending the folks who called her out on it – Audra Shay was elected chair of the Young Republicans. Of course she was. Because, as Michael Steele might say, this is all strategic.

9. With California crumbling under the weight of its deteriorating economy, The Economist asks if Texas is ready to lead the U.S. in the 21st Century? The answers are unclear. But in many ways, Texas represents both the best and worst of our country. And quiet as kept, Texas seems well on its way to becoming a blue state.

That said, we should all fear for the schoolchildren being held captive there by an increasingly partisan educational system. The state’s Board of Education has put together a six-member committee to help develop new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. Among the members are a couple of conservatives who believe that Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall receive too much credit under the current curriculum. Also, Gov. Rick Perry is considering a rock-ribbed, right-wing conservative to lead the state’s Board of Education. Which wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that she argued the country’s founding fathers created “an emphatically Christian government” and that government should be guided by a “biblical litmus test” in her book, One Nation Under God. She also calls public education a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion” and home-schooled her own children.

Heckuva job, Ricky.

10. Lou Dobbs does not want you to hear this: “If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population,” says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. “If the immigrant community represents a large proportion of the population, you’re likely in one of the country’s safer cities. San Diego, Laredo, El Paso—these cities are teeming with immigrants, and they’re some of the safest places in the country.”

11. SEK at The Edge of the American West pens a beautiful takedownof right-winger Andrew McCarthy, who spent an awful lot of time during the fall complaining that it was impossible to learn anything about Obama’s allegedly radical days at Columbia. Well, the New York Times managed to get the goods. So says SEK: “If you believed that a trip into the city and an afternoon in an archive would spare America four years of tyranny, would you do it? Would you fly into the city, rent a room, borrow a library card, request a day-pass under false pretenses, and spend an afternoon in an archive if you believed that doing so might save the world from nuclear destruction? Or would you whine because no one will silver-platter you a smoking gun?” Please, read it all.

12. No, MLK was not a Republican. And don’t let anyone or anything tell you different.

13. Wendi Muse at Racialicious wonders: can interracial porn not be racist? Short answer: not really.

14. James Kirchick at The Advocate wonders how “half-literate typist” Perez Hilton has “become one of the most prominent gay people in the country?” It’s a fair question.

15. Jamaican sprint star and Olympic champion Usain Bolt is still fast.

16. The rise and fall (and rise) of Stephen A. Quite frankly, I disagree with the author’s contention that Smith might be our next Al Sharpton. No thanks. One is plenty.

17. Eating watermelon and fried chicken and drinking Kool-Aid? It’s the Black Olympics, with your host, Dallas Cowboys tight end and all-around buffoon Martellus Bennett. You see, stereotypes are funny. Remind to tell you all this joke about picking cotton later.

18. Joey at Straight Bangin’ reviews the first half of the year in hip-hop. He liked the new joints from Mos, Puba and, miracle of all miracles, U-God. Can’t say the same about the latest from Hov, Eminem and Maino.

Some of you folks are going to have to hang out somewhere else this summer. I’m worried you’re changing the complexion of this blog.

Also, we have only one rule. Tell’em Kobe:

“Today, we celebrate our Independence Day.”

I would be remiss in my duties as a fan of Independence Day – the 1996 Will Smith vehicle and the national holiday – if I didn’t post Bill Pullman’s memorable speech, as President Thomas J. Whitmore, to an assembled group of fighter pilots and aviation enthusiasts preparing to launch a last-ditch, Rebel Alliance-esque assault on the genocidal alien invaders who serve as the film’s chief protagonists:

Full text below the break. More…