Brave x Beasts of the Southern Wild

 

I saw both Brave and Beasts of the Southern Wild this weekend, and I hadn’t thought about the connection between the two movies until this morning.

I don’t read film reviews (ironic no?) so I am often in for a surprise when I see a movie.

With regard to “Brave” it is interesting that the relationship between the main character, Merida, and her mother, Elinor, is central to the film.

I think that this is ironic given how many blog posts I’ve seen throughout the interwebs about whether the main protagonist was a lesbian just because she didn’t want to follow the princess tradition and get married because the stability of the kingdom depended on it. The sexual binary makes my ass itch. So, most of the film focuses on and pivots on Merida and Elinor’s relationship which was a pleasant surprise.

When was the last time you saw a Hollywood film focused on the relationship between a mother and a daughter that chronicled their struggles, pain and reconciliation? Don’t worry, I’ll sit here and wait.

This brings me to “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. I had to go see it because for the last two weeks every quirky Black girl I know has been like Allcity have you seen it, and I been like, um, no. So I went.

I don’t even know where to begin with the film except to say that it is interesting to see a little Black girl as a protagonist in a film. I think that it is interesting that the protagonist in “Beasts”, Hush Puppy, is also working with and searching for her relationship to her mother.

I think that looking at these two films together as a pair says something about some depictions of little girls in popular culture in 2012. I am not quite sure what. On second thought, I am certain of something. These girls don’t look like the typical representations of little girls in feature films. Neither are blonde and neither appear to be invested in mainstream stereotypical gendered ideas of what a “little girl” is suppose to be. Both of the characters also experience a transformation by the end of the film.

Did you see either film?

What did you think?

Watching “The Best Man”: Old Movie, New Feminist Lens

Last night I watched The Best Man. What is significant about it is that watching the film with an eye towards representations of Black women, I knew that there were going to be major distinctions and differences that I would see now that I didn’t see before.

The first difference is in the opening when Sanaa and Taye are in the bathtub and she confronts him on his desires to take the next step towards commitment in their relationship. She gets upset, and gets out of the tub. The camera then remains on Taye’s character. This has the impact of forcing the viewer to experience the moment from his eye’s, not hers. This is important, because the focus of the camera tells us who the director thinks is important in a scene.

The second difference is that I noticed that the Black women fell into representations of “controlling images” that honestly could have come out of a Tyler Perry movie.

There was the “good Christian woman who deserved her man”: Mia/ Monica Calhoun.

There was the attractive Black woman, who was invested in her career more so on getting married, so she was seen as someone who “didn’t need a m an” and was “damn near a lesbian”: Jordan/ Nia Long.

There was the attractive, materialistic and shallow Black woman who emasculated her man/partner: Shelby/ Melissa DeSousa.

There was the attractive Black woman, who was smart and sweet, but held in a holding pattern by her gentleman friend: Robin/ Sanaa Lathan.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the movie but it was interesting that the Black women characters were very similar to the representations of Black women in Tyler Perry movies.

In the book Beyond the Black Lady Lisa Thompson helped me to think about how women in general were presented in the film, Nia Long’s character in particular. Thompson writes,

 “The middle class black woman (or Black lady) represents a problem to be avoided; she is too indendent, too intelligent, and too self sufficient. The men declare her a threat and romantic outcast who resonates to them in the same register as “the lesbian”.

Thompson then goes on to connect the dots regarding how middle class Black women are represented in films during this era. She writes,

Popular African American romantic comedy like “The Best Man” and “Soul Food” consistently reward women who pursue tradtional female roles. They present the desperate social circumstances of professional black women as the result of misplaced priorities and aggressive personalities. In essence, these films uphold and further the cultural stereotype the black lady as cold, prim and passionless. They also, in light of bleak marriage rates for black professional women, send an alaringly conservative message and signal a backlash against the recent academic and professional successes that women have enjoyed.

So, “The Best Man”. Old movie, feminist lens.

Thoughts?

 

Pariah and Red Tails: Film Finance, Sexuality and Race.

I will be writing a series of posts about Pariah. This is the first of three or four.

Dedicated to @Very54. I missed you too.

The conversation around Red Tails and Pariah is interesting in it brings the politics of black stories and professional Black storytellers to the forefront. (Peace to James McBride for the language of professional Black storytellers.)

This post isn’t about the content of the films, but about how audiences perceive movies, the history of White hollywood and the politics of getting stories made and distributed that feature Black subjects.

George Lucas personally financed Red Tails, after the Hollywood establishment decided that a film with all Black leads isn’t viable.  Forrest Wickman in Slate writes,

George Lucas, who produced the movie, has said that he was forced to finance it on his own—to the tune of $58 million—when studios balked at the marketability of a film with all black leads.

Last week, after the release of Red Tails,  on John Stewart’s show, Lucas went on record saying that the Hollywood establishment did not know how to market Red Tails with an all Black lead casts.  Sofia Hernandez writes,

He continued, “They don’t believe there’s any foreign market for it and that’s 60 percent of their profit…I showed it to all of them and they said ‘No. We don’t know how to market a movie like this.’ ”

Unlike the Matthew BroderickDenzel Washington Civil War drama Glory or other films depicting black soldiers in battle, the World War II pic Red Tails does not feature a white protagonist, said Lucas, “It’s an all-black movie. There’s no major white roles in it at all. It’s one of the first, all-black action pictures ever made. It’s not Glory where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fire. They were real heroes.”

As a scholar, I do the political economy of culture, which is a fancy way of saying that I examine the way race, gender and institutional power impacts how art (music and films and books) is made.

The fact that the overseas market plays such a huge role in determining whether or not the Hollywood film establishment would support Red Tails is significant.

Filmmaking is capital intensive and historically the domain of White men. For me, it would have been interesting if Lucas mentioned that movies featuring Black subjects have a hard time within the Hollywood establishment and went on to mention the fact that it is a miracle that Pariah has been made. This would have opened the space to talk about films made featuring Black people by a seasoned White male filmmaker and a new comer Black woman filmmaker. It would have opened the space to ask how does money, and race, and sexuality impact their films similarly and differently?

I’ve seen Pariah twice. The first time was at a screening with the producer, Kim Wayans, Dee Rees the director, Nekisa Cooper the producer and Adepero Oduye the star. The second time was with a nearly all Black sold out crowd at an art house theater.  I’ll see Red Tails next weekend.

Based on my notes from the Q&A on Pariah, the film cost approximately five hundred thousand dollars to make, and it took them 18 days to complete it. As of January 22nd, 2012 it made $497,579. This is a second career for the director/producer duo as Cooper and Rees met while they were both in corporate America, working a Proctor and Gamble. Cooper and Rees also fundraised and used credit to get the film made. Lastly, many of the crew members were willing to work without pay (temporarily) because they believed in the project.

Given the fact that the birth of film in the United States is largely thought to be “Birth of a Nation” it is in fact a miracle that Pariah was made in the first place.

What is interesting to me is that Reese and crew’s narrative has been one of we did it, come out and support, I have been working on this story for a while, no it is not autobiographical, but there are parts of me in here and I am glad we were able to make it.

So my questions are.

Why were Black folks in social media spaces and in comment sections of the mainstream press seemingly more willing to rally around Lucas’s film but not Reese’s?

Yes, the films are two different audiences, but they both feature Black casts, they both have awesome and interesting back histories in terms of film finance and they both feature stories that need to be told.

Is Black homophobia working here?

If we take the statement “We need to support Red Tails because if we don’t the Hollywood establishment may not make anymore movies featuring us” then don’t we assume that we have more control over film finance than we actually do?

Why would a Black person in 2012 assume that they can control which films come out of Hollywood, when it is clear that “overseas marketing possibilities” have far more control, at least with Red Tails?

I love writing about movies the way I use to Love writing about rap music. I hope it shows.

Justin Timberlake’s “In Time”: A Critique of Capitalism?

I saw the new Justin Timberlake last night, In Time a film where time is the currency used to pay rent, pay for bus rides, buy food etc. Everyone has a watch on their arm, that counts down to their last minute.

Timberlake lives in the hood, and by virtue of a come up, he gets HELLA TIME, a century,  but then has to figure out how to use it productivly.

Everyone who has little time lives a similar time-zone, where folks stay running, why? They have little time. So one of the ways in which social class identity markers functions in the film is by simply how fast you move. Low income folks move hella quick, because they are always on the verge of running out of time.

On the contrary, the folks in an alternate time zone, the elite in New Greenwich move real slow, why? Because they come from time.

Typically I stay wanting to walk out of movies, you all KNOW THAT.

But I really enjoyed this one honestly because I sat down not knowing what it was about.

The critique of capitalism occurred when Timberlake’s character, Will Solace, learns that the folks in zone are kept there living day to day, and dying on the reg (timing out) so that the folks in New Greenwhich can have eons of time. The general idea behind this is that in order for a few to have a lot, many have to die and that this is the natural evolution of things.

This is what we call dependency theory, where we look at the relationship BETWEEN the people who have a lot of money or time and the people who are barely staying alive.

I consider In Time to be Black Feminist win!

#Watchit.

On Walking Out of Columbiana (I Walked Back in Too).

Young Cataleya in Columbiana.

The Wackness is the last movie that I walked out of.

The scene that triggered it was when the main character’s dad gave the going off to college advice of, “Try and fuck a Black girl.” Yeah. I was all set on those.

Last night Goldy and I went to see Columbiana. I don’t read movie descriptions. I like to just go and peep the narrative, get lost in it if I can. I knew Zoe was the star and that was enough.

So the film opens and there is a little Black girl subjectivity, her perspective. Now I knew that this character was awesome because Joan Morgan mentioned it on twitter earlier this week.

I had no idea.

For the first time in God knows how long, there was a little Black girl on screen who was bad assed. She wasn’t a victim. She was a fighter and she wanted to survive.

And she wasn’t bound up in 5011 pathologies. Well. Sorta.

There were tight close up shots of her that centered her big old almond eyes.

She moved like a ninja.

Shit, you rarely see women of ANY race on the silver screen move like that, let alone a little Black girl.

Nearly ten minutes into the film the child has made up her mind, and these are her words. She states, “I want to be a killer.”

I get it. The irony that a little Black girl wants to be a killer.

But No.

And you know why? Two reasons.

Violence is real for Black girls. My homie was just walking on U on Friday with her lady friend, and had bugged out homophobic shit said to her.  Violence and the threat of violence is real everyday for Black girls. Now she is talking about packing mace. I don’t blame her.

The second reason is that we die inside if our stories don’t come out. For instance G-Dep, Bad Boy “Special Delivery G-Dep” walked into a police station last December and confessed that he murdered someone 17 years ago. 17 years? You can’t walk around with shit like that on your heart B. Nope.

You know how many stories killers have? #Ummmph.

Would I have been just as disturbed it were a White little boy in the film as well. No. Why? Because there are ranges of films that are released that tell stories about White boy children.

A story where one wants to grow up to be a killer would be out of pocket, but because there are a range of White boy children stories, it is just a part of a broader mix of options.

Black girls. No.

So I thought, this is what we have to do to get on the screen. Say that we are going to kill? #ummp. I walked out.

While trying to decide my next move, I got roped into helping this young Haitian man do his Neilsen survey for the new Sarah Jessica Parker film “How Does She Do It?” It was so funny because halfway through I say to him, “This data is really irreverent if you don’t collect my race.” He responded, “Oh, I have your race.”

O.0

I was like, in that case tell the Neilsen people that there are “No Black people in that movie, so no I do not believe a New York with no Black folks. AND tell them the film looks like Sex in the City Part 12. And NO to that too.”

He chuckled.

Then Goldy texted me saying “Woman, this is $22, I didn’t come to the movies alone.”

I took my ass back to the theater.

I rooted for Zoe.

The film was well done.

The story telling kept the narrative going.

It was just seeing a little Black girl say “I want to be a killer” that blew me.

For writers, every sentence moves a story along. For fillm makers every scene, every bit of dialogue moves the story/narrative along.

All I could think was, why couldn’t they move that story along without having her say THAT?

Did you see it?

What do you think?

Is it problematic that Black girls have to want to be killers to get on the silver screen?