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A Black Thing

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A (very lengthy) recap of the discussion so far. Start with post #77 in the other thread to follow along.

This whole thing started because Peter T. Chattaway expressed his confusion with the perceived duality of vulgarity and religious expression (particularly Three 6 Mafia's Oscar acceptance speech in which they gave thanks to Jesus Christ). I explained that, while the duality does exist in some facets of African American life and culture, his statement could easily be perceived as an indictment on African American people based on brief observations minus extensive knowledge and understanding of the culture.

Peter then responded by challenging me to separate the "people" from the culture and the films represented by the culture. I believe that is impossible. African-American film is a reflection of its culture. African-American cinema IS an extension of the people in which it represents. To some, "Madea", "Crash", and "Hustle & Flow" are just "sucky" movies. To (some of) us, those films are a reflection and representation of our real lives and our everyday struggles. There's a very thin line (darn near invisible) between what is real and fiction in our films. The early films of Spike Lee reflect the modern day African American experience. Boys in the hood inspired "Boyz N The Hood". Those who have been pulled over for DWB resonate with the storyline in "Crash" And, somewhere in the theatre audience

there is a woman getting beat by her husband or fiance' - or a woman who won't let herself be loved by a man because of the scars of her earlier child molestation, and there's a strong vibrant woman who's life was turned around because a foster mother showed her love, grace and discipline who can relate to "Madea's Family Reunion".

It may not be a person's intentions, but to speak of a piece of art or an artist (i.e. Maya Angelou) that is culturally relevant, they are actually making a commentary on the numerous faces and lives in the target audience of that particular art/artist. One may find that piece of work or the artist who created it "sucky", but what sucks to one group is soulful to another.

Edited by utzworld

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Thanks for starting this thread, utzworld. I haven't the slightest interest in Oscar analysis, so I haven't been following the other threads, but I certainly agree with you about the inability to separate people from culture, and question the respect, wisdom, and sensitivity of critiquing ethnic cultures of which we are unfamiliar. How much of mainstream Christian commercial media merely feeds conservative, middle class, WASP reflexes and stereotypes? It's good to take a step back, acknowledge, and reconsider those reflexes from time to time.

Incidentally, is anyone familiar with the work of Charles Burnett? I have been extraordinarily impressed with his films, particularly something like Killer of Sheep, which offers a humane and "neorealist" take on black urban life in the '70s at a time when blaxploitation was the dominant commercial image of "black culture."

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Netflix has Burnett's Nightjohn, which is a phenomenally well-made film about the role of literacy as a force against slavery. It was made as a Hallmark special, but don't let that fool you--it's a penetrating and provocative little film.

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utzworld wrote:

: This whole thing started because Peter T. Chattaway expressed his confusion with the perceived duality of

: vulgarity and religious expression (particularly Three 6 Mafia's Oscar acceptance speech in which they gave

: thanks to Jesus Christ).

Um, not quite. It was Denny Wayman who expressed his confusion, and I was the only person who offered an explanation. You disagreed with the way in which I phrased my explanation, but I think you also confirmed one of my underlying points, when you wrote:

The religious experience has always been (and will always be) a cornerstone of African American culture. It is true, in certain pockets of the culture/community as a whole, that many of us were brought to church at a young age. If we never learned the difference between the Epistles and the Minor Prophets, one basic, simplistic truth we know: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is Savior and Lord of all. Even the worst of us (as many in this thread has accused Three 6 Mafia as being among) do not hesitate to give Him the honor in which He is due....which also explains why (some) famous African-Americans seem to suddenly get religious when going through legal trouble.

This strong and pervasive religious dynamic, I think -- or, at least, thought, when I wrote my initial post -- is relatively unique to black American culture; hence, for example, so many black leaders bear the title "Reverend" while few if any white leaders do (outside of certain religious ghettos, that is). So, that alone might help to explain why people from that culture who indulge in crass and vulgar forms of artistic expression see no conflict between their emphatic vulgarity and their emphatic religiosity; it's just part of the air the breathe.

However, I have since tempered my view by allowing for the possibility that this duality between emphatic Jesuscentric religiosity and emphatic vulgarity might also be found in certain aspects of white American culture, such as certain kinds of country music -- and I say this as one who never listens to the stuff, though my wife sometimes does. However, even if we make this analogy, I would still be open to the argument that there is a difference in the KIND of vulgarity that tends to be celebrated in those two cultures.

FWIW, utzworld, I also appreciate this other point you made:

And, of course, while many of us were raised with this knowledge,
some
still live their lives according to the flesh and the world...which explains the duality raised in this discussion. Please notice that I used the words
some...not all of us in My Culture.
There are many many segments of African-American community in which sinfulnes will not be tolerated. I have some family members in which I cannot even use the word
damn
without catching a frownful stare powerful enough to burn through my chest! There are as many of us who reject the messages sent in hip-hop music as those who defend it. Even yesterday, I read
that gives a scathing review of the film partially due to the issues that you also have a problem with.

Thank you for underscoring that complexity -- and especially for linking to that negative review of Madea's Family Reunion! ;) I don't see any significant difference between my reaction to the film and that critic's reaction -- which leads me to wonder why it would make a difference in anybody's mind that I am only a white guy from Canada. The film and its contents and even its context are an objective set of facts that everyone is free to analyze.

: I explained that, while the duality does exist in some facets of African American life and culture, his

: statement could easily be perceived as an indictment on African American people . . .

And this, as I pointed out, would be oversensitivity speaking. To say that a culture, particularly a media culture, exhibits certain qualities and is tolerant of certain things is NOT AT ALL the same as saying "all Christians are _________" or, are as you put it in that same post, "all niggers are _________". And the moment you over-react to a comment by taking the rhetoric to that level, you shut down the discussion.

: Peter then responded by challenging me to separate the "people" from the culture and the films

: represented by the culture. I believe that is impossible.

It's necessary, whether or not it's possible for some people.

: African-American film is a reflection of its culture. African-American cinema IS an extension of the people in

: which it represents. To some, "Madea", "Crash", and "Hustle & Flow" are just "sucky" movies.

And as I pointed out before, Crash is NOT a specimen of "African-American cinema". It is, in fact, a comment on American culture made by a white guy from Canada (Paul Haggis). Heck, one of the original posters for this film focused on the Latino character instead.

: To (some of) us, those films are a reflection and representation of our real lives and our everyday

: struggles. There's a very thin line (darn near invisible) between what is real and fiction in our films. . . .

The question raised by your statement here, and the sentences immediately following it, is: In what way does this make African-America cinema different from cinema as a whole? Do not people respond to movies on personal levels all the time? I saw The Mummy Returns two days after I was mugged -- and the scene where John Hannah comes home to find thugs pressing a knife against his throat, while far more extreme than anything I have ever encountered, still hit me on a level that it would not have hit me a few days earlier, simply because I had personally experienced the sort of outrageously unjustified and unexpected and potentially permanent interruption in my life that that character was experiencing. Likewise, I respond to sex scenes differently, now that I have been married for a year. And there are all sorts of other ways in which I respond to films from my personal and cultural experience.

: It may not be a person's intentions, but to speak of a piece of art or an artist (i.e. Maya Angelou) that is

: culturally relevant, they are actually making a commentary on the numerous faces and lives in the target

: audience of that particular art/artist. One may find that piece of work or the artist who created it "sucky",

: but what sucks to one group is soulful to another.

Then no one is ever allowed to critique anything, ever. Would that be your position?

nardis wrote:

: Given Cicely Tyson's marriage to Miles Davis (who was highly abusive to the women in his life), I'd guess

: that she has serious reasons to want to back this project, on multiple levels. (And hey, I'm just glad to see

: her onscreen again!)

I liked her a heck of a lot better in Because of Winn-Dixie. For one thing, she played an actual character there!

Doug C wrote:

: I . . . question the respect, wisdom, and sensitivity of critiquing ethnic cultures of which we are unfamiliar.

Fair enough, as far as that goes. But what does "unfamiliar" mean? Does it mean you cannot critique black culture unless you are black? Does it mean you cannot critique neocon culture unless you are neocon? Does it mean you cannot critique Canadian culture unless you are Canadian? Etc., etc., etc.

: How much of mainstream Christian commercial media merely feeds conservative, middle class, WASP

: reflexes and stereotypes?

And, perhaps just as important, should anyone who ISN'T part of that Christian, conservative, middle class, WASP culture be allowed to critique it? :)

: It's good to take a step back, acknowledge, and reconsider those reflexes from time to time.

Exactly.

: Incidentally, is anyone familiar with the work of Charles Burnett? I have been extraordinarily impressed with

: his films, particularly something like Killer of Sheep, which offers a humane and "neorealist" take on black

: urban life in the '70s at a time when blaxploitation was the dominant commercial image of "black culture."

Never seen it, but it sounds familiar -- was this film featured in Los Angeles Plays Itself?

Your point about dominant commercial images is well taken. And this is precisely one of the reasons why Tyler Perry's films -- supposedly representing an independent vision that the mainstream culture isn't ready for -- are a disappointment.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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nardis wrote:

: You know, it's one thing to try and critique something when you've taken time and effort to get to know what

: it's about.

I agree. So please, nardis, get to know me before you try and critique my conversational style -- you've already made some erroneous assumptions as it is (assuming I was "bare-knuckle fighting" when I was only engaging in some good-natured teasing, etc.).

: I . . . find your comments re. black people to be very insensitive and inappropriate.

I don't recall saying anything about black people, per se. I do recall saying something about certain aspects of African-American culture. If what I said was WRONG, then please point out where it is; as you can see, I've already adjusted my original statement, and I am very open to further adjustments. But if you CAN'T point out where I was wrong, then you really don't have any reason to complain.

And if all you can do is engage in personal attack, then please refrain from doing so here. As Alan says, take it private. I like the fact that utzworld has created this thread, and I would like to focus on the subject at hand.

: I think it would help if you were willing to admit that you (like the rest of us) have much to learn, and that

: you don't know everything.

I ALWAYS admit this, nardis. That's one of the reasons I engage in conversation, to learn. I have literally "converted" because of conversations I have had on this board.

: I don't think *any* of this is about winning an argument. What purpose could that possibly serve?

Beats me, but you seem to want to win this one. Personally, I'm beginning to weary of your badgering me over your mistaken assumptions about me in this and other threads. But whatever.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Last week's PBS program Now might be of interest with Steve Harvey.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Sorry for the delay in response. Newborns...

However, I have since tempered my view by allowing for the possibility that this duality between emphatic Jesuscentric religiosity and emphatic vulgarity might also be found in certain aspects of white American culture, such as certain kinds of country music -- and I say this as one who never listens to the stuff, though my wife sometimes does. However, even if we make this analogy, I would still be open to the argument that there is a difference in the KIND of vulgarity that tends to be celebrated in those two cultures.

Not too much difference. The only difference between N.W.A.'s album "Straight Outta Compton" and Johnny Cash "Live at Folsom Prison" is Cash didn't cuss.

FWIW, utzworld, I also appreciate this other point you made:And, of course, while many of us were raised with this knowledge, some still live their lives according to the flesh and the world...which explains the duality raised in this discussion. Please notice that I used the words some...not all of us in My Culture. There are many many segments of African-American community in which sinfulnes will not be tolerated. I have some family members in which I cannot even use the word damn without catching a frownful stare powerful enough to burn through my chest! There are as many of us who reject the messages sent in hip-hop music as those who defend it. Even yesterday, I read a review of "Madea's Family Reunion" on BET (Black Entertainment Television)'s website that gives a scathing review of the film partially due to the issues that you also have a problem with.[/iThank you for underscoring that complexity -- and especially for linking to that negative review of Madea's Family Reunion! ;) I don't see any significant difference between my reaction to the film and that critic's reaction -- which leads me to wonder why it would make a difference in anybody's mind that I am only a white guy from Canada. The film and its contents and even its context are an objective set of facts that everyone is free to analyze.

That review echoes the sentiment of those within the African American community who have rejected the film. One of the 3 Black Chicks refused to see it (buying into the "No critics screenings = bad movie" argument"). For them, the film is nothing more than "a modern day minstrel show" that sets a bad example for Black cinema. I, personally, think that those comments stem from a oft-debated desire within My Culture and Community to see African-American entertainment display the same level of quality and craftsmanship as mainstream (White) entertainment. They view Perry's Madea character as a buffoonish caricature that puts the Black image to shame. Having seen African American grandmothers who have behaved in the same manner as the character Madea, I disagree with this sentiment. For me...and many others in my specific family as well as my culture, it's reality.

Does that mean that this sort of portrayal should not be included in the films which represent this culture? I don't think so. All aspects of African American (and Every American's) culture should have the freedom to be presented on screen...warts and all. Those who don't like it can show their discontent by giving their matinee money to another film. The problem is that African American cinema has not seen a balanced portrayal of the different facets of our culture. The success of "Boyz N The Hood" gave way to a bunch of inferior retreads. We've had minor successes in the 90's due to a host of films featuring 20-30 something African American professionals looking for love (films such as "Love Jones", "The Best Man", "Love & Basketball" and, most recently, "Something New"). We had "Waiting to Exhale" and "Soul Food" which focused on the struggles of modern day African American women in pursuit of love and life. And with "The Fighting Temptations, "Madea", "Diary", "Woman Thou Art Loosed" and "The Gospel", we are witnessing the birth of a new genre: the Black Christian film.

Do all of those films and genres sum up the total African American experience? Of course not. There are plenty of stories about Us that have yet to be told. But, as we've seen in this discussion, some whites feel as if they are experts on Black culture because they've sampled a film or two. That is disheartening.

And this, as I pointed out, would be oversensitivity speaking. To say that a culture, particularly a media culture, exhibits certain qualities and is tolerant of certain things is NOT AT ALL the same as saying "all Christians are _________" or, are as you put it in that same post, "all niggers are _________". And the moment you over-react to a comment by taking the rhetoric to that level, you shut down the discussion.

As I said above. and continuing my beef with your whole "It's a Black Thing" comment, you've seen only scant examples of how some people in African American culture present themselves, yet you felt the need to make a judgment call on the culture as a whole. Which is just like saying "all niggers are THIS" or "White people are THAT"...

And as I pointed out before, Crash is NOT a specimen of "African-American cinema". It is, in fact, a comment on American culture made by a white guy from Canada (Paul Haggis). Heck, one of the original posters for this film focused on the Latino character instead.

It IS a film that has successfully managed to capture an essence of the African American experience. I still can't see how people (whites) are pissed off by it's Oscar win and labeling the film as unrealistic. Then again, maybe I do understand.

They've never been pulled over by the police Driving While Black?

They've never been labeled being a gangbanger just because they have a few tatoos.

They've never had a cop cop a feel up their wife's skirt in front of them.

And...to take things off the screen and into real life...here are my personal Crash-like experiences.

One of my co-workers suggested that illegal aliens be sterilized before entering America. I heard those exact words in my office yesterday. Weeks earlier, same co-worker described the people of My Culture as "coloreds".

Once I walked into a movie theatre and, as soon as I sat down, the white folks a couple of seats down immediately changed their seats.

My wife got called a nigger when she worked at the movies because a customer got impatient with her in the concession stand.

I could go on...but staying on topic...

: To (some of) us, those films are a reflection and representation of our real lives and our everyday

: struggles. There's a very thin line (darn near invisible) between what is real and fiction in our films. . . .

The question raised by your statement here, and the sentences immediately following it, is: In what way does this make African-America cinema different from cinema as a whole? Do not people respond to movies on personal levels all the time? I saw The Mummy Returns two days after I was mugged -- and the scene where John Hannah comes home to find thugs pressing a knife against his throat, while far more extreme than anything I have ever encountered, still hit me on a level that it would not have hit me a few days earlier, simply because I had personally experienced the sort of outrageously unjustified and unexpected and potentially permanent interruption in my life that that character was experiencing. Likewise, I respond to sex scenes differently, now that I have been married for a year. And there are all sorts of other ways in which I respond to films from my personal and cultural experience.

I hope that God is using your personal experiences to help make you sensitive to the personal and cultural experiences of others and not so quick to make blanket generalizations.

Then no one is ever allowed to critique anything, ever. Would that be your position?

You made that Maya Angelou statement based on not reading a lick of her poetry but based on the words of someone else. Remember? That is called prejudice and ignorance - something My Culture is endlessly embroiled in. Read her work first...then judge. Then you can rightfully call yourself a CRITIC!

nardis wrote:

: Given Cicely Tyson's marriage to Miles Davis (who was highly abusive to the women in his life), I'd guess

: that she has serious reasons to want to back this project, on multiple levels. (And hey, I'm just glad to see

: her onscreen again!)

I liked her a heck of a lot better in Because of Winn-Dixie. For one thing, she played an actual character there!

What didn't you like about her "Madea" performance?

Doug C wrote:

: I . . . question the respect, wisdom, and sensitivity of critiquing ethnic cultures of which we are unfamiliar.

Fair enough, as far as that goes. But what does "unfamiliar" mean? Does it mean you cannot critique black culture unless you are black? Does it mean you cannot critique neocon culture unless you are neocon? Does it mean you cannot critique Canadian culture unless you are Canadian? Etc., etc., etc.

I don't know jack about Canadian culture. If I were to review a film focused on said culture, I'd preface my thesis by noting that this is my first experience viewing the workings of Canadian culture. And if I saw something that I didn't understand, I wouldn't make a blanket statement passing judgment on Canadians over stuff I don't know or understand. Then, I'd try to link up with you (or another Canadian) to help me with the stuff I don't know or understand.

Perhaps we should see the next "Madea" movie together...

Your point about dominant commercial images is well taken. And this is precisely one of the reasons why Tyler Perry's films -- supposedly representing an independent vision that the mainstream culture isn't ready for -- are a disappointment.

Now we get to the heart of the issue. It's been a long sought desire of African American cinema to seek validation from mainstream (white!) American culture in the form of critical success, major box office, and Oscars. With $20 - 30 million opening weekends, I don't see that stamp of approval as necessary anymore.

You assume that Tyler Perry's films are made for mainstream culture. If they were, he'd be kissing the asses of Ebert, Roeper, Travers, Corliss, Turan, Shalit, and all the other major film critics out there. He would have been advertising "Madea" on Today, GMA, Leno, Letterman, etc. And he certainly would have been having critic screenings.

As if he needs their validation and "thumbs ups" to signify his arrival and validate his success. The only Person he needed was Jesus. Christ gave him the freedom and courage to defy studio executives who claim that My Culture does not go to the movies. The principles of Christ are laden through the major plotlines of his plays and films. And, while you're bellyaching and calling his work a disappointment, he's busy counting the $200 million (and counting) that his plays and films have grossed.

Edited by utzworld

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Not too much difference. The only difference between N.W.A.'s album "Straight Outta Compton" and Johnny Cash "Live at Folsom Prison" is Cash didn't cuss.

Interesting you mention that -- in one of the last interviews Cash gave before he died, he was asked about rap music (since his last few albums were produced by someone who was arguably, at one time, a rap producing mogul) and he had some advice, which was "don't let anyone tell you what not to record." He saw a lot similarity between rap and some strains of country music, which I found fascinating. I'd always thought of the two as being polar opposites, but I can sort of see it.


It had a face like Robert Tilton's -- without the horns.

- Steve Taylor, "Cash Cow"

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I think Perry's putting things like domestic violence, drug abuse and comedy in the same play/film allows people who have been through (or are going though) similar situations to be able to see that it's possible to get out of/overcome them - and laughter is cathartic.

That is, in a nutshell, the appeal that his work has to offer. Perry's personal story involves him overcoming physical abuse. Not only did he overcome it, he was able to turn his pain into something that can be used to help others out of similar pains in their own lives. If just one woman/man is able to walk away from similar abusive situations, then Perry has truly done his job as an artist.

I'd like to see him *keep* the musical numbers in the movies, as they carry the plot along and would probably make it easier for people who don't know his work to accept it on its own terms. We suspend disbelief when we watch Hollywood musicals, after all - we know that people don't start singing and dancing on the street or in their living rooms at the drop of a hat. But good musicals are every bit as real, in their own way, as "straight" plays or movies.

On one hand. if he puts the musical numbers back into his films, the critics will continue to rake him under the coals dismissing his work as unecessarily melodramatic. On the other hand, his films are Ebert-proof anyway, and his target audience won't mind too much since they're already familiar with his style of work. I don't see too much room for musical numbers in his next project, however.

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Reopening the discussion...

I would like to know what everyone's favorite African American themed/oriented film is. Feel free to share the spiritual relevance of the film (if there is one); include tidbits about the storyline that struck your fancy; and what the film meant personally to you.

I'll share my highlights after y'all share yours.

(36 Minutes Later)

I just came up with a deeper question: Why is this a hard topic for us to discuss? Past experiences? Stereotypes? Discomforts? Please share!

Edited by utzworld

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Do the Right Thing - Althought it's not exclusively dealing with the African American expeience, it does a marvelous job of portraying a multi-ethnic community, the tensions and the possibilities there, and withouth turning anyone into a dumb caricature.

It doesn't really dig deep into things, but I've always enjoyed the delicate touch of Flirting, the film with young Noah Taylor and young Thandie Newton. To see them today, you'd have a hard time ever believing they were a perfect onscreen couple, but that was the first onscreen black/white romance that really won my heart. (Not that there had been any real competition at that point....) That film also sticks with me because it's the first time I ever saw Nicole Kidman... AND Naomi Watts.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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Do the Right Thing and Soldier's Story are probably my two top ones. Just a bit below them are Malcolm X, Baaaddasssss (spelling appoximate), and Driving Miss Daisy (in that order)

Some of the highlights:

Soldier's Story - the way racism has infected the sergeant and how he vents his hatred (self-hatred?) on the less educated African Americans under his control.

Malcolm X - the "I am Malcolm X" segment at the end and Ossie Davis's eulogy.

Driving Miss Daisy - Hoke's subservient demeanor at the beginning, but also his noting liking to work for Jews - a little acknowledgement that Boolie has his place as well. The MLK dinner when Hoke refuses to go when asked at the last minute and Daisy looking at the empty chair beside her while Hoke listens on the radio.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Chris, which films would you suggest to all us white folk to better know AA experience?


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Sort of an odd choice, but the first film to come to mind when I read your question, Chris, was The Landlord. It's the first film from one of my favorite directors, Hal Ashby. He made it in 1970, the year before he moved on to Harold and Maude. Unfortunately, it's not yet available on DVD, and even VHS copies are hard to come by.

Anyway, what I like about The Landlord is that it's made by a white, liberal filmmaker and features a white, liberal main character, but, unlike every other "race" movie I can think of for which that's true, The Landlord is finally about the impossibility of white liberals to ever really understand the black experience of America.

I hope it's not bad form to quote something I wrote elsewhere about the film. It's late and I should go to bed.

The Landlord is an outrageous debut, a film that, 34 years later, still feels daring, both stylistically and politically. Beau Bridges plays Elgar Enders, who at 29 leaves his opulent family estate and buys a row house in a New York City ghetto. His plan is to remodel the home once he has evicted its tenants, including Marge (Pearl Bailey), Mr. and Mrs. Copee (Louis Gossett Jr. and Diana Sands) and Professor Duboise (Melvin Stewart). When we first meet Elgar, he is reclining on a lawn chair, sipping brandy. He looks directly into the camera and tells us:

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Chris, what about films that aren't really African American but deal with the concept of nigger as with the Palestinians in Divine Intervention?


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I'm going to throw out Boyz N The Hood as a favourite of mine.

Also, the Hughes Brother's Menace II Society and Dead Presidents are interesting in their own right.

I remember also enjoying The Wood and Love & Basketball.

Edited by Anders

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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And now - a few words about my favorite movie - Black or White, Action or Sci Fi, Oscar or not, there is one film that rules them all.

The early 1970's (when I was born) gave birth to the Blaxploitation era. It's important to note the importance of the early films of the era. Keep in mind that this film movement was ignited only 3 years after MLK's assassination and right smack dab in the middle of the Black Panther Movement. The vibe in the air during that time was totally centered on revolution and conquering opression (and those who seemingly oppressed us). 30+ years later, they're clearly dated with subpar production values in comparison to "mainstream" cinema; but the impact of Shaft, Superfly, and Sweet Sweetback is undeniable. African American historians have noted that those films marked the first time EVER in Hollywood history that a Black character fought against his particular brand of oppression and lived to tell the story as the credits rolled. In the final portion of the "Sweet Sweetback" discussion featured in the documentary Baadassss Cinema, we are told about how that film's original audiences were pinned to their seats during the final moments of the film - so sure that the hero was going to get caught or killed. But,

when the hero finally evades the cops and crossed over the Mexican border to his freedom

, the audiences erupted in thunderous joy and applause.

I have seen Sweet Sweetback - and while I completely understand the impact of the film, the film itself is just about a half inch under "pornographic" (if you've seen "Baadassss", you know what I'm talking about). My favorite film is the one released 2 months after Sweet Sweetback - the one represented in my avatar. :D

While Sweet Sweetback's message spoke to working AGAINST the system, the beauty of SHAFT is that this brother worked WITHIN the system to get the job done. It's a simple crime story - A mob boss's daughter gets kidnapped, he hires a detective to find and rescue her. A story that simple could have easily been done with Steve McQueen in the title role. But it's the BLACKNESS of the project that makes SHAFT the legendary film that it is. Guided by the late great Gordon Parks behind the camera, driven by Issac Hayes's score and Oscar winning theme songs (arguably one of the top 5 most recognizable theme songs ever - I can't play it in my car and drive the speed limit at the same time!), and brought to life by the cool and infectious confidence that is Richard Roundtree, SHAFT ushered the world into a whole new level of cool. It is SOUL (can I get an "AMEN", Nardis?!) personified.

Going deeper, John Shaft the character is the perfect model of how African Americans should handle themselves in America. In a time were African Americans were still bound to their inferiority and pre-programmed subservience to all things White, here is a character who did not cowtow to the "ruling class" (in this case, the NYPD and the Mafia). Shaft looked them square in the eye, diginified, confident and intelligent, and commanded their respect. Check the dialogue between two cops after a verbal confrontation:

Cop 1: "That boy's got a lot of mouth on him."

Cop 2 : "Yeah...and that boy's man enough to back it up, too."

At the same time, he was able to maintain his Soul Power and street credibility in the streets of Harlem. He had his share of "haters" within his own community who slung slurs at him calling him "Snow White" and "Uncle Tom". But none of them could touch him. And, deep inside, they knew they couldn't touch him. No wonder his theme song calls him "a bad mutha...Shut Yo Mouth!"

He pounced across NYC like a roaring lion getting the upper hand on those who would attempt to double cross him. He could pretty much have any woman he wanted (and he did). He fought and battled (both physically and verbally) and, in the scene displayed on my avatar that has inspired countless imitators, he crashed through the window guns blazing, rescued the girl and lived to tell the tale - causally walking away from the scene of the crime with police and fire sirens blaring behind him.

SHAFT saved MGM from bankruptcy, spawned 5 straight years of subpar imitators (not to mention 2 sequels and even a TV Series), and became the eternal poster child of Coolness, Soul, and all around Black pride. Yeah they dug Sweet Sweetback and Superfly (Superfly even made more money when it was released in 1972). But, to hear my late father and others tell it, EVERYBODY wanted to be Shaft. Heck, a big part of me still does!

Other key films during the Blaxploitation era: (as mentioned previously) Sweet Sweetback, Superfly, The Mack, Black Caesar, Cleopatra Jones, the Pam Grier classics Coffy and Foxy Brown, and, for those with a lighter palette, the first 2 Sidney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedies Uptown Saturday Night and Let's Do It Again, the comedy Five On The Black Hand Side (which billed itself as an uplifting alternative to the other Blaxploitation action films), the Diahann Carroll/James Earl Jones drama Claudine, Cooley High (the Black version of American Graffiti set in mid 1960's Southside Chicago with a classic Motown soundtrack), and the documentary Wattstax - which is my favorite documentary film ever (more on that in another thread).

That should get the curious folk among you started. I'll cover the 80's later.

Edited by utzworld

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The thing, though is that a lot of black folks hate movies like Shaft - and other "blaxploitation" films.

Where did you hear that? I don't know of any Black person who hated the original "Shaft". They probably didn't (and wouldn't) geek out about the film as much as I have, but after spending many years gathering a cross section of conversations, Ebony Magazine polls, historical views, etc., I haven't seen a single POV that hated...even disliked..."Shaft".

But, as you said, its movies "like Shaft" that have inspired hate. Shaft was one of the first of its kind. When that and Sweet Sweetback blew up, the studios (who were in a tailspin and desperate for dollars) went and produced retread after retread after retread. It's the copycats that Black folks grew to hate. Another section in "Baadasssss Cinema" talks about the Jesse Jackson led protests against the copycats. In fact, it was he and his fellow voices of discontent that coined the term "Blaxploitaiton" in the first place. Also in the documentary: a sampling of actors & actresses from that era who downplayed both the term and the labeling of such films. Their reasoning makes sense - those films were just about the only ones offered to Black actors in those days. You either worked or you starved. That's not to condone the material in the films. But I understand the logic.

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Going deeper, John Shaft the character is the perfect model of how African Americans should handle themselves in America. In a time were African Americans were still bound to their inferiority and pre-programmed subservience to all things White, here is a character who did not cowtow to the "ruling class" (in this case, the NYPD and the Mafia).

I've not seen very many "African-American" themed films. Only five spring to mind, and of those, the dramas have more to do with an African American (or black African) being encountered and transforming, or being helped by a white man in an unjust system than with an African American stepping up and making his own successful way through the world.

Glory, Amistad, Cry Freedom (its been over a decade since I've seen it! I barely remember anything more than ghosts of impressions) all have this theme of the white man reaching out and helping break the shackles of oppression for the black man.

While all these are worthy films, well crafted, and with compelling and thought provoking stories--I am surprised that I haven't seen more of films with themes like Chris describes. I am almost assuredly too mainstream an audience member to run into many of them, and others, like Shaft, Spike Lee's joints, and John Singleton's work, I just haven't seen. Probably because alot of them came out before I was even thinking much about race and race relations; and now, I gotta admit I find the sexual content a bit daunting.

The other couple of movies I've seen which don't seem to have much of this type of theme are Barbershop and Undercover Brother, which was hilarious. White she-devil indeed.

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posted by Buckeye Jones

I am almost assuredly too mainstream an audience member to run into many of them...

Gosh, I'm not so sure that's true - so few "small" films get shown outside a handful of theaters in a few large cities here in the US. now that I no longer live in the D.C. area, I'm really out of the loop myself - and in some ways, would rather not know about all the movies that are playing down there, because my chances of getting to see 'em are so slight!

Hmm, rereading my comment I see it doesn't communicate exactly what I intended (a byproduct of a sick 6 month old, sick wife, and a really, really crummy day at the office). In Cincinnati, there's only a couple of theatres that would play the more niche-market AA-themed films. So, in the rare occasions we get out to a cinema, we're usually not aware of what's playing in the Bond Hill theater--especially if the films aren't receiving any TV time during Lost or the news. Still, with Netflix now, its very easy to just add a film to the queue--in fact I just added A Soldier's Story yesterday after reading the thread.

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SHAFT saved MGM from bankruptcy, spawned 5 straight years of subpar imitators (not to mention 2 sequels and even a TV Series), and became the eternal poster child of Coolness, Soul, and all around Black pride. Yeah they dug Sweet Sweetback and Superfly (Superfly even made more money when it was released in 1972). But, to hear my late father and others tell it, EVERYBODY wanted to be Shaft. Heck, a big part of me still does!

I've watched Shaft a few times again in recent years and it holds up pretty well as an action flick, in addition to the social issues. I think that some would have a bone to pick with this film because it IS a mere action flick, in sense. Such vehicles seem to start with a strick or two against them, critically.

The films that touch me in this regard are those which sort of force folks to deal with each other across the racial divide. My list would include The Scalphunters, In The Heat of the Night, Conrack, The Lords of Dicipline, A Soldier's Story, Jungle Fever, Remember the Titans.

I'd have to say that Scalphunters is significant for me in that I saw a black character stand up for himself and attempt to reason with a superior acting white character. Ossie Davis' character and performance stunned me into a new reality in race relations when I saw the film. Conrack took that to another level when I saw it within a year of Scalphinters (on TV). The more I see A Soldier's Story the thing that is the most fascinating is the development of the relationship between the investigating officer and the base captain who acts as a sort of host/liaison.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

The Wall Street Journal editorial, April 18, 2009 concerning the Franken Coleman decision in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race of 2008.

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So, do you like Cotton Chris? In many quarters, it is impolitic to bring it up except to trash it. The Baddaaaas aesthetic crowd has been vicious in attack of it.

I enjoy it as among the few times Godfrey Cambridge was allowed to swing a little. I think that he and St. Jacques (always enjoyed him) were a good pairing.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

The Wall Street Journal editorial, April 18, 2009 concerning the Franken Coleman decision in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race of 2008.

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So, do you like Cotton Chris? In many quarters, it is impolitic to bring it up except to trash it. The Baddaaaas aesthetic crowd has been vicious in attack of it.

I enjoy it as among the few times Godfrey Cambridge was allowed to swing a little. I think that he and St. Jacques (always enjoyed him) were a good pairing.

I thought it was pretty good...pretty funny in parts thanks to Redd Foxx. It's probably (unfairly) getting compared to the rest of the Blaxploitation canon in spite of the fact that it opened the year BEFORE "Sweetback" and "Shaft". It was enough of a success to generate a sequel in 1972: Come Back Charleston Blue - and the characters Coffin Ed & Gravedigger Jones do reappear in 1991's A Rage In Harlem made a short while after Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques passed away.

Edited by utzworld

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