Yay for ignorant racism.
“We’re more Nazi than the Nazis.”
Yay for ignorant racism.
“We’re more Nazi than the Nazis.”
This is Oleh Tyahnybok, he has claimed a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” rule Ukraine and that “Germans, Kikes and other scum” want to “take away our Ukrainian state.”
US warmonger John McCain supports Tyahnybok. Previously McCain posed with Syrian terrorists well known for kidnappings.
I normally hate to make Oscar predictions. It usually depresses me. By the time the predictions start proliferating, it’s a cold matter of analysis of the awards already given out by the guilds, BAFTA, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and (to a certain extent) the critics’ associations, like predicting presidential nominees by counting poll numbers and delegates before the conventions. You wouldn’t even need to have seen the movies first, because it tends to be a simple numbers game. I don’t much like thinking along those lines; I’d rather keep my mind on what should win.
This year is different. I actually think that, rather miraculously, 12 Years a Slave is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This may be the one time in Oscar history when the film which so unquestionably deserves to win actually does win.
Moreover, the selection of 12 Years a Slave brings a great many other precedents with it. It is the most uncompromising of the movies likely to be on the list of Best Picture nominees. It is not comfort food. It is not the kind of film which requires nothing of the audience, or reassures them about their own complacencies. Although the performances are amazing, they can’t be separated from the crystal-clear relevance of the film — unlike for instance, the striking, masterful, 8-category nominee There Will Be Blood (2007), when everyone talked about Daniel Day-Lewis’ fearless performance but overlooked the damning psychological portrait of an American oil baron. The directing, acting, screenplay, cinematography, editing, and music of 12 Years a Slave are all astonishing, but none of them let the viewer forget that this is a true story — an adaptation of a first-person slave narrative published in 1853 — and that it is a history churning with urgency about politics, race, and justice in America.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that director Steve McQueen would be the first black director to helm a film that receives the Oscar for Best Picture.
I won’t go into whether he will automatically win the Oscar for Best Director too, since we know very well from last year that the two categories are not necessarily in lockstep, but he should. He would be the first black director to do that as well: John Singleton and Lee Daniels are the only two to ever even be nominated in that category. (It’s hard to believe, but Spike Lee has never been nominated for an Oscar for Best Director — only for Screenplay and Documentary — though he did get a well-deserved Golden Globe directing nom for Do the Right Thing.) No black director has won the Golden Globe for film directing before either. If McQueen wins the top Directors Guild prize leading up to the Oscars, he would also be the first black director to achieve that honor.
It’s certainly a year with an abundance of talented, thoughtful, and fiercely independent directors. (Alfonso Cuarón’s technical skill, graceful style, and boldness of vision in his gorgeous Gravity are especially impressive. Even more notable is the degree to which he turned a potentially “Hollywood-ized’ sci-fi actioner into a compelling meditation on space, our dependence on Mother Earth, and the insignificance and significance of a human life.) I feel rather sorry for Steve McQueen’s competitors, in fact, simply because they might have had better chances another year.
The director, who is about as far removed in attitude and appearance from the cocksure 1960′s movie star Steve McQueen, has actually only made 3 feature films. (Although he has directed an incredible number of shorts.) Yet this British filmmaker’s first feature clearly showed him to be an extraordinary artist, idiosyncratic and visionary. Hunger (2008), a biographical drama like no other, was jaw-dropping. He has simply continued to get better with each feature, single-mindedly carving out his own path with utterly unique projects on rock-serious subjects that few would touch. Hunger is about the 1980′s IRA prisoners’ hunger strike led by Bobby Sands: McQueen makes the concept completely visceral by boldly showing us what it looks like for a person to starve to death. His second film, Shame, mercilessly examines sex addiction, incest, and psychic pain with a minimum of dialogue and a shortage of easy answers.
McQueen’s latest, 12 Years a Slave, is a searing period drama adapted by John Ridley from Solomon Northrup’s memoir. It’s a story that, as McQueen himself has said, was crying out to be made into a film. Northrup was a free, educated, black father and husband; a prominent member of an upstate New York community; an engineer and respected violinist. Then he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south.
By focusing on a protagonist who has grown up free, the film is able to expose slavery anew: we can feel the horrors of it more vividly and acutely because the victim is so confident, so used to self-determination. He goes through enormous suffering, his faith and hope are destroyed, and he finds himself unable to philosophically reconcile the horrendous crime against him — yet in this way he’s a kind of witness for all slaves. Though Northrup’s kidnapping is part of an illicit commerce between the states (the process of abolition in the Northern states gave slave owners ample time to divest from their slave holdings, thereby leading many to just sell their slaves to the south), the 12 million Africans who were kidnapped and brought to the Americas before Northrup’s story even began were themselves ripped from their homes, loved ones, and sense of their own humanity in very much the same way.
Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s face, no matter how devastated, always reveals the free man inside. And McQueen makes clear the inner dignity of those born into slavery as well, in a variety of scenes with black supporting players — the fact that some are used to this mistreatment certainly doesn’t make it any easier on them than it is on him.
Black men on the boat traveling south try their best to overcome their terrible situation, but the odds are against them. The price of rebellion is death. Another angle is presented by Alfre Woodard, in a cameo as a privileged apple of a white man’s eye; though she plays house rather like a society matron, she bears no illusions about her status or the meaning of the slavery project as a whole — unlike the cartoonish Candyland toadies which Quentin Tarantino had so little sympathy for in Django Unchained.
It is Lupita Nyong’o, however, in a truthful and heartfelt performance as the charming, spirited, much-tormented slave Patsey, who deeply enriches the moral significance and complexity of the world Northrup encounters — and whose continued captivity when Northrup is finally freed helps ensure that we don’t regard it as an unalloyed happy ending. McQueen doesn’t let the audience off the hook.
The movie lays bare in chilling detail a great many of the mechanics of slavery, and even familiar tropes like the masters’ rapes, the wives’ jealousy, and the backbreaking toil are brought home in ways that seem fresh. McQueen’s special ability to invoke the audience’s empathy in Hunger and Shame are even stronger here, where Ejiofor’s raw emotion and spiritual pain lend a depth to his suffering that is almost Shakespearean.
Indeed, the acting is tremendous with the exception of Brad Pitt, and the visiting Canadian he plays too close to the vest (though Pitt should be commended for his vision in producing the film — getting it made in the first place.) Paul Giamatti is first-rate as the slave trader who slaps and shoves his “merchandise’ around and makes domination his business. Paul Dano is quite brave as an overseer who seethes with resentment over Northrup’s intelligence — Dano’s willingness to dig into the ugliness of such a mentality is profound . Sarah Paulson is intense as a brooding, tightly-coiled, wronged wife, full of perhaps the most virulent race-hatred in the movie. And Michael Fassbender (in his third collaboration with McQueen) is wonderful — as he always is — in a colorful, eccentric role as a depressed, alcoholic, hands-on master; his villainy is also Shakespearean, by turns red-hot and soft-spoken, powerful and needy. (In the interests of full disclosure, I must mention that his character’s last name is Epps. Since this is based on a memoir and that might be the real slave master’s name, I pray that there’s no relation.)
There’s such a subtle, wide-ranging understanding of racism in the film, it really is provocative in the way it challenges viewers on issues of personal accountability for social wrongs. The versatile Benedict Cumberbatch is Ford, Northrup’s first master after the kidnapping. Ford is an intelligent and feeling man who admires the special musical and engineering skills of his slave — but he still gives him a violin instead of freedom. Ford’s complicity in the injustice against Northrup is one of the finer points made by the film; Ford sees how much suffering the slave market creates, but he makes only the merest peep and then drops his complaint. (The agony caused by separating parents from their children is an extended topic of the film.) Ford is also impressed, and takes advantage of for the benefits to his business, Northrup’s exceptional levels of education. But when Northrup tries to tell him that he’s a free man, Ford exclaims “I cannot hear that!”
There’s a theme emerging here where films are reexamined and dissected for the better. Sucker Punch got a similar 2nd chance at life with this video essay:
I had to stand up for the Burton/Depp Alice in Wonderland. I know that Josh Olson stood against the tide with Speed Racer (which I haven’t seen, so he might be full of it!).
I always liked Starship Troopers for what it was, not considering it some kind of master work, but I did get the dark satirical view lording over it. It seemed in direct conflict with the underlying source material, as if Verhoeven was mocking the book (could be, haven’t read it).
by STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
(Reposted With Permission)
The movie “12 Years a Slave” is described in a Wikipedia entry presumably written by its makers as an “historical drama film.” It is a British-American production based on the book by the same name published in 1853 by the African-American man, Solomon Northrup, who endured this agony.
“There have been a number of movies about slavery as it really was. I have hardly seen them all, but this one is the most powerful one that I have seen…”
It received a limited release in the United States last month, and will be released in Great Britain in January, 2014.
It will be very interesting to see how wide a release it eventually gets in the U.S. It is hardly likely to be shown in very many, if any, theatres in the South, except possibly in those catering almost exclusively to African-American audiences. It would certainly not be well-received by those Southerners (and others) who refer to the First American Civil War as, for example, the “War of Northern Aggression” (a term used by the new President of the National Rifle Association, a man who refers to President Obama as a “fake President” and to Attorney General Holder as “rabidly un-American”), nor to those who refer to it as the “War for Southern Independence.”
It is fascinating that the first reference cited in the latter document is: “How Should 12st [emphasis added, and yes, that is exactly how it appears in that document] Century Americans Think about the War for Southern Independence?” In that particular article, the author, a Professor of History appropriately enough at the University of the First Secessionist state, South Carolina, entitles the First Civil War “Lincoln’s War to Prevent Southern Independence.” Of course, regardless of what it is called, at the War’s center was the struggle by the Slave Power to preserve slavery in the states in which it already existed and to expand the “peculiar institution” to all of the then-remaining Western Territories. This is a movie that shows the full horror of slavery. Horror, that is, to those who view what was done to one group of human beings by another as a horror. Presumably those who characterize the war as one for “Southern Independence” or whatever, don’t see it that way.
There have been a number of movies about slavery as it really was. I have hardly seen them all, but this one is the most powerful one that I have seen, and other viewers have described it in the same way. In a way, in fact, it is more like a retro-documentary about slavery than it is simply a drama about the subject. Why do I say that? Because first, most viewers are likely to see the film with some foreknowledge of its origin, a true story with a true beginning (Mr. Northrup’s kidnapping), middle (Mr. Northrup’s 12 years in captivity), and conclusion (Mr. Northrup’s return to freedom). And second, because of the way the film is constructed it can easily be seen as a documentary showing slavery in all of its major horrors, consecutively.
Perhaps the most important point of the film is that it clearly illustrates the Southern justification for slavery, that “blacks” were inferior people, not really human you know. (This has always struck me as quite odd. By the 19th century, after end of slave-importation in 1807, there were very few pure African blacks in the United States. Virtually all slaves were thus of “mixed blood.” Did that mean, therefore, that there was something inherently inferior about the white men who fathered all of those mixed African/North American children too?)
The Southern justification for slavery was well-summarized by Alexander Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederate States of America, who, after the death of John C. Calhoun in 1850 had become the principal theoretician of slavery:
“Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural condition [emphasis added].”
And so, serially, the movie illustrates the major features of, to quote Stephens, the “system [that] commits no such violation of nature’s law (sic).” Among them are: the kidnapping of free African-Americans in the North to be sold into slavery; the selling of such people, as property; the separation, by sale, of family members; the constant threat and use of violence against slaves, on any pretext, real or imagined; the practice of lynching, that is extra-judicial execution (even though it meant loss of “property”) of recaptured escaped slaves, primarily to set an example for anyone who thought of trying to escape (lynching of blacks, even in the absence of legalized slavery of course being practiced on a regular basis throughout the South into the 1960s); the use of torture short of lynching; the dreadful working and living conditions; the constant humiliation practiced by the slave-masters; the repetitive rape of female slaves by the slave-masters; the creation of a sub-class of especially docile African-Americans who served on some plantations as intermediaries between the owners and the rest of the slaves; and, until in Mr. Northrup’s case what happens to regain him his freedom, the total lack of any system of justice for any slave. One wonderful irony of the film is that Paul Giamatti, who plays the slave-seller in “12 Years a Slave”, in Tim Burton’s 2001 version of “Planet of the Apes,” itself in part a movie about slavery and the struggle for freedom, played the role of an ape slave-seller in a society in which intelligent apes were the owners, and humans, of any color, were considered an “inferior race” and were the slaves.
As the Confederate Navy Jack, (not the “Confederate Battle Flag,” as we are told by those who are in the know) is waved in front of the White House in an anti-”Obama Care” demonstration; as the former governor of Virginia declares a holiday to celebrate the Civil War but the first time around forgets to mention slavery; as a white woman sends her son out on Halloween in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, saying “it’s supposed to be white with white, black with black, man with woman and all of that; that’s what the KKK stands for;” as Republican candidates and office-holders claim that President Obama was born in Kenya; as Tea Party propaganda is full of racist attacks on the President; as a Republican Congressman in their leadership allegedly tells the President, to his face, “I can’t stand to even look at you:” but most importantly, as the modern Republican Party, all around the nation, is instituting laws designed to take away the vote from African-Americans (and certain of its leadership is saying this more-and-more openly), which happened to be the first self-announced task of the Ku Klux Klan when it was formed in late 1865; it is very important for all of us to understand what slavery, the central focus of secession, the Confederate States of America, and the First Civil War, was all about. In that regard, do see “12 Years a Slave” if it is available where you live.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. Dr. Jonas’ latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and available on Amazon.
by Steven Jonas
Hairspray is a movie that can be taken on a number of levels, your choice. It’s a funny, sassy, heartwarming old-style Hollywood movie musical about teenage life in Baltimore, circa 1962. It’s about actors like Christopher Walken, John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Michelle Pfeiffer playing against type (and doing it marvelously well). It’s about a classic Hollywood “discovery,” the previously unknown high school senior, an aspiring actress from Great Neck, NY, Nikki Blonsky, delivering a drop-dead performance as the lead, Tracy Turnblad. It’s about terrific singing and dancing all designed to make you feel oh-so-good while you’re watching it.
At the next level, the social issue of obesity is prevalent, how it affects the lives of so many Americans in so many different ways. John Travolta in a fat suit playing Tracy’s mom shows how socially crippling it can be. Tracy, also obese, shows how one can overcome the prejudice our society has against overweight people, even as it encourages overweight (much more now through the role of the food industry than back then, but back then too). Tracy says “I’m happy with myself. I can do tons of stuff, and if you don’t like me because I’m fat, that’s your issue, not mine.”
The next level is classically political. The movie shows very starkly just how the nation was beginning for the first time to deal with race-relations and the coming desegregation, in a former Border State city, Baltimore. A highly popular afternoon teenage TV show that features high-powered singing and dancing by and for teens is totally and consciously segregated. It’s an all-white show, with one “Negro Day” a month. In Tracy’s high school, when she is sent to detention for some minor infraction in the classroom, virtually everyone else there is African-American. It is in that setting that Tracy, who can already dance, is introduced to the coming wave of African-American popular dancing that is about to burst into the mainstream for the first time.
Tracy, who looks entirely different from all the other white kids on the show, somehow manages to win a dance contest and get a slot on it for herself. But by then, she has already been taken by the black dancing and is beginning to spend time with and work her way into the culture. She eventually proclaims that the show should be integrated and, with Queen Latifah who plays the entertainer-leader of the black kids, she is in the leadership of a street march and demonstration that eventually leads to just that eventuality. For a Hollywood movie, this one has an unusual amount of bare-bones, yes, that-is-what-it-was-like, politics in it. The progressive forces are the good guys. The police and the station management are the bad guys (and boy does Michelle Pfeiffer do a marvelous job of playing a bad guy). And the movie ends with the triumph of integration over prejudice, at least circa 1962.
The next level on which one can view the movie and its lessons is not nearly so happy. This is one that is encapsulated in a line from the movie’s climactic musical number: “We’ve come so far; we have so far to go.” Indeed we do, in terms of race relations in our country. The issue is not on the movie’s agenda in any way. But the line does make the politically conscious person think, right to the present. Are things better than in 1962? Of course they are, in many areas of discrimination. Are things worse? Oh yes they are, in the political arena. During the 1960s, it seemed that political racism was on the way out, that George Wallace would be its last howl of un-reason. And then came Nixon and the Southern Strategy that has defined the modern Republican Party.
Race prejudice and its political usage is what defines the Southern Strategy, and defined the Nixonian Republicans into the Reagan Era. Starting with Reagan’s capitulation to the Christian Right, the modern Bush-Cheney-Rove Republican has taken prejudice to a much broader level and made it into their party’s political foundation. Race is there, of course, in the judicial nominations that led to the recent Roberts Court decision that said racism is for communities to decide, through their democratically elected representatives. And racism is there in the conscious campaign started by Ashcroft to use the “Justice” Department to suppress black voting, under the cover of “dealing with election fraud as mandated by the Civil Rights Act (sic, and sick).” But these folks have taken the political use of prejudice to a whole new level.
Just consider: the political exploitation of prejudice against homosexuals simply because of who they are, not anything they have done; the political exploitation of prejudice against those of us (in this case, the majority of the population) who believe life begins at the time of viability, and the drive to criminalize our belief; the political exploitation of prejudice against Hispanics through the whole so-called “illegal immigration crisis”; the political exploitation of a prejudice these people are building from the ground up: Islamophobia; the political exploitation of prejudice against anyone who is labeled a “liberal,” because as Ann Coulter/Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh/Bill O’Reilly say out in the open and the party’s leadership says in code words, “liberals” are traitors, and, it so happens, the penalty in this country for treason is death.
Yes, the modern Republican Party has reached new depths. If the Democrats don’t begin to take it on directly on this issue of the political use of prejudice, and soon, it will very likely, very quickly get to be too late. Yes indeed, “We’ve come so far; we have so far to go.”
What a loathsome piece of shit. Thankfully Glenn Greenwald sets Maher and his bigotry straight. Bill Maher is as ugly as Hannity and Limbaugh, and just as dangerous when he misleads his section of the viewing audience.
By Jennifer Epps
George Zimmerman’s defense team more or less put Trayvon Martin on trial, so maybe the prosecution should have called Oscar Grant to testify. If it didn’t make a difference that Trayvon was dead, the fact that Oscar was dead shouldn’t have been an obstacle either – he might have been especially qualified, since both Oscar and Trayvon were black men gunned down in their prime by those supposedly watching out for public safety.
Fortunately, in the new film Fruitvale Station, Oscar Grant is essentially a character witness for Trayvon, and for scores of other young black men who’ve died at the hands of ‘law enforcement’. Oscar, only 22, was shot on New Year’s Eve, 2008, by a BART subway police officer in Northern California. The details of his demise are so extreme they seem like they’d have to be one-of-a-kind: Oscar, an unarmed black subway passenger who was not being violent when the officers decided to arrest him, was shot dead in the back while prone, face-down, on the Fruitvale station platform, in full view of a packed train of witnesses. The defense claimed by white BART cop Johannes Mehserle was that he mistook his gun for a taser. Consequently, he received a sentence of just 2 years – and served only 11 months.
But behind the specifics of Oscar Grant’s horrific tragedy lies the even greater horror and tragedy inherent in the fact that this kind of extra-judicial execution is commonplace. A recent study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that 136 unarmed blacks were shot dead last year by police, security guards, and self-appointed vigilantes. This adds up to an extra-judicial killing of an African-American every 28 hours.
The new film doesn’t address these facts, but it certainly stems from that kind of awareness.
The fiction feature Fruitvale Station, winner of big prizes at the Sundance and Cannes Festivals, requires a generous supply of Kleenex. Though its simple presentation is elegant and spare, it makes you weep not just for Oscar and his family, or for Trayvon and his, but for the state of America in general. Without preaching or heavy-handedness, with the utmost of subtlety, first-time writer-director Ryan Coogler shows convincingly that something is very wrong out there.
Though the genre is character study, this drama is named after the infamous subway station. It isn’t titled after Oscar, I suspect, because the socially-urgent point of this carefully researched docudrama is that Oscar didn’t die because of anything he did, but because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And if you’re a young, poor, black man in America, it can be the wrong place and wrong time almost anywhere, almost anytime.
Coogler does use some of the actual cell phone camera footage of the incident as an opening prelude, but his focus in the film is on supplying the visuals that have been missing from our consciousness: how Oscar spent his last day alive. He shows us what Oscar valued, what he regretted, and what he hoped for, making sure we get to know Oscar intimately so we can truly mourn for him. The script, which Coogler wrote after perusing the cell phone footage, interviewing the family, and researching Oscar’s life and character, depicts Oscar as a loving young father and boyfriend, a considerate son who actually listens to his mom these days, and a likeable family man whose grandmother dotes on him.
Oscar, charismatically played with what seems like effortless naturalness by Michael B. Jordan, is a complex person here. He is often joyfully childlike, especially when playing with his 4-year old daughter Tatiana (played by Ariana Neal, a great find) yet he also falls into deep, serious introspection over the course of the day. He does seem to genuinely love his girlfriend Sophina, a feisty and very watchable Melonie Diaz, and he genuinely wants them to have a future together. Yet he also has a penchant to flirt, and he has been caught doing much more. Moreover, he has trouble showing up on time for work, and has lost his job because of it. When the movie starts, he is preparing to sell drugs again to pay the rent.
Fruitvale Station doesn’t hide Oscar’s prison record, in fact it brings it to the fore by turning it into a long flashback and by showing that Oscar’s mother Wanda (a towering Octavia Spencer) was at one point so upset by his repeat convictions — apparently for dealing — that she hardened her heart against him for a difficult period of time. Now, he is torn between the life he wants to lead and the life he has led, conflicted and confused but also very close to his siblings, elders, and nuclear family. Part of the message, of course, is that people don’t fall into either/or polarities, that just because a black man isn’t a genteel scion of accomplishment like Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, it doesn’t mean that he’s a vicious incorrigible criminal who threatens the social fabric.
The kind of characterization of Oscar which Coogler and Jordan assemble, with internal contradictions, has the most sterling of pedigrees: Shakespeare was fond of it too. It is also poignant. In the dramatic world of the film, Coogler proposes that this day was different long before the BART train back from San Francisco pulled into the station; Oscar seems to have made a tacit New Year’s resolution to straighten up and fly right. And this interpretation is apparently justified – a Slate article cites
statements by Oscar’s loved ones which support the idea that Oscar planned to reform. In filmic terms, it is also supreme irony. The structure of the film is such that Oscar deals with various personal problems over the course of the first two-thirds of the film but reconciles with his girlfriend, celebrates his mom’s birthday, and approaches 2009 – soberly – with hope for a better life. If you had never seen the headlines, you might be convinced there’s about to be a happy ending.