Remember when Taylor Swift basically took the music world by storm with her amazing banjo-picking rendition of Earth Wind and Fire’s R&B classic September a little over three years ago, prompting many in the Black community to praise her as a musical genius, dubbing her an honorary queen of soul, and even extending to her a lifetime invitation to the “cookout”?
Well, neither do I.
But I do remember that it didn’t take long for Black Twitter to unleash the draggin’ once the cringeworthy track was released.
And I also remember thinking to myself that, of course, Taylor Swift being a multi-talented, award-winning musical artist probably felt she was qualified or simply entitled by virtue of her whiteness to cover any song of her choosing which seems very much on-brand in an industry with a long history of cultural appropriation.
It would seem that certain people have learned nothing from Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, in Jurassic Park (1993) that just because they can do something doesn’t always mean they SHOULD, especially when it comes to white women who believe that Black people should somehow be honored by their often whimsical, joyless, unseasoned, and baffling interpretations of our art and culture.
Because we’re not talking about a one-hit-wonder by a group of unknowns whose short-lived celebrity is eclipsed by the popularity of their once upon a time chart-topper. We’re talking about Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame legends whose songs are still considered bangers even in a more tech-savvy era of social media, viral videos, and the ominous specter of cancel culture.
So what does any of this have to do with the movie Passing (2021)?
Rebecca Hall is an English actress turned director who made her directorial debut earlier this year, adapting the 1929 Nella Larsen novella Passing to the big screen. Hall claimed she felt connected to the book’s precarious subject matter of Black women being able to pass as white in late 1920s New York.
It turns out that Hall’s grandfather who apparently was light-skinned enough to pass as white (I assume somewhere between El DeBarge and retired baseball great Sammy Sosa) probably came to her in a “vision” -a lot like the same entitlement vision had by Swift–to make this film. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I will admit that Passing is aesthetically pleasing to look at with its lush monochromatic hues producing a sort of grim gray effect that nicely punctuates the theme of racial ambiguity evident throughout the film. And, although, Tessa Thompson (Irene Redfield) and Ruth Negga (Clare Bellew) turn in superb performances their characters largely felt incomplete.
Passing the novella is the early seminal work that exemplifies the intersectionality of Black women before the term was even coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989. But in the hands of Rebecca Hall, Passing becomes a generic, unimaginative, cautionary tale in cautious storytelling. In other words, there’s more telling than showing which is indicative of an inexperienced first-time director unwilling or not skilled enough to take risks with the source material.
Still, the overwhelming majority of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie positive reviews. But, then again, they’re probably mostly white people who think Taylor Swift’s Milk of Magnesia version of September was a vast improvement on the original.
Umm…let’s see…a white man is acquitted of shooting three other white men–killing two and injuring the third with an assault rifle that a white judge says that the white man was allowed to carry (according to the white judge’s biased interpretation of the law) to a Black Lives Matter protest of the shooting of a Black man by a white cop (a white cop, by the way, who was never charged with any wrongdoing after shooting the Black man several times in the BACK) in August of last year.
I do have some problems with Jeymes Samuel’s Netflix Original The Harder They Fall (2021) but Regina King as Treacherous TrudySmith is definitely not one of them. Her onscreen presence commands much of the viewer’s attention no matter what scene she’s in and she melts me every time with her sinister I-wish-a-nigga-would glare.
But it would be easy to praise THTF for its representation of Black legends of the Wild West, its stylishness, and trying to make the overabundance of clichés and tropes that routinely accompanies the Western genre more appealing, fresh, and cool to next-gen moviegoers.
Because African Americans still thirst for representation on the big screen, especially in a genre where white men like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood (along with racial stereotypes and historical inaccuracies) have dominated for decades in Hollywood.
But if you’re going to make a Black Western with a run time of well over two hours then representation alone is not enough. There has to be a compelling story. And, unfortunately, Samuel opted to tell a fictional (yet familiar) tale of revenge by employing actual historical Black figures of the Wild West while borrowing previous oater templates of gratuitous violence and bloodshed that make THTF less of a love letter/ homage to classic Western films and more of a middling, unsatisfying imitation with an all-Black cast, some eyebrow-raising accents, but with a great soundtrack.
However, The Harder They Fall is Jeymes Samuel’s feature-length debut and I do believe a legitimate effort was made to breathe new life into a genre of filmmaking that remains very much white-centered and in dire need of a make-over.
This brings me to the questionable casting choice of Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary. The real-life Stagecoach Mary Fields (aka Black Mary) was a product of slavery and I can’t help but feel that being plus-sized with a dark complexion would factor more into her experiences of living as a Black woman in the toxic whiteness of the Wild West. Her prominently hard features lend credibility to her well-earned reputation as a short-tempered, heavy drinker with a penchant for wearing men’s clothes, unlike the bright-skinned, the slightly more lady-like male fantasy that Beetz provides in the movie.
And Beetz may have talked tough in THTF but at no time did I see her as anything other than a romantic interest for Jonathan Major’s Nat Love(with chemistry, by the way, that ranged from zero to nada). Beetz casting is nearly a complete erasure of who Stagecoach Mary Fields was. As if Fields’ physical attributes were not part of her legend.
Colorism is as old as it is prevalent in Hollywood and should not be dismissed as some petty grievance among Black people trying to decide who’s Black enough. And to claim that his film is not a “biopic” as Samuel does during an Insider interview is disingenuous and doesn’t excuse him of being guilty of colorism. But it does expose his lack of creativity which is why The Harder They Fall falls short of contributing anything significant or groundbreaking to Black Western cinema.
I’m very much a newb, a neophyte when it comes to Dune ( Warner Bros, 2021). Meaning, I have not watched any previous onscreen adaptations nor have I read the 1965 Frank Herbert novel they were based on. And you may say that I’ve neglected my Blerd duties which is not true. It’s just that Dune has never been on my radar in a big way and, amazingly enough, nobody cares.
But I am an avid fan of science fiction movies. There’s nothing like an entertaining epic sci-fi saga of good versus evil teeming with thrill seeking action and adventure and lightsabers with dope sound effects and likable, humble characters answering a higher call and a motley of creatures from distant planets all uniting for a common cause against a villain voiced by the great James Earl Jones.
George Lucas’ first Star Wars trilogy (20th Century Fox, 1977-83) remains the gold standard for epic sci-fi storytelling in my humble opinion. And is there any weapon in the entire sci-fi cinematic universe more bad ass than a lightsaber? I. Think. Not. (An argument can be made for blasters or phasers but who are we kidding? They’re basically point and shoot and require a lot less skill to operate. Plus, lightsabers are a welcome addition to any cinematic universe and greatly increases one’s chances of defeating any number of foes. But I digress.)
In other words, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is not Star Wars. Nor does it have to be but it should have at least checked off more of the boxes that makes a sci-fi saga an entertaining epic (especially with a $168 million price tag).
Aside from the all too familiar overarching theme of white patriarchal saviorism or what I like to refer to as nauseating, Dune part 1 felt like a dull, uneventful promo trailer for the inevitable sequel, lasting a little over two and a half hours, resulting in something that I refuse to call a cliffhanger. Which is a shame because the world-building is superb, as is the cinematography accompanied by a stirring musical score from Academy award winning composer Hans Zimmer. There’s even a really cool looking CGI sandworm that doesn’t get nearly enough screen time (if you ask me).
Part of the problem with Dune is that Villeneuve’s version doesn’t allow viewers to fully invest in the lives of the film’s characters. And they don’t have lightsabers. But Dune does have the equivalent of a Jedi mind trick technique which is some type of weird flex move called the Voice except it’s a lot less Yoda and a lot more loud, angry, and violent, y’know, like white parents performing their outrage at public schoolboard meetings. They also have a Crysknife (still not a lightsaber) made from the tooth of a dead sandworm which is still not enough to save this movie from the tepid doldrums of mediocrity. #teamsandworm
At a time when much of the pandemic has unfortunately been politicized, empathy for our fellow human beings is in short supply. Some Americans have been violently attacked and even killed trying to enforce mask rules, while anti-vaxxers refuse to believe that Covid19 is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, going so far as to quit their jobs instead of getting the jab. And those of us who have lost family and friends (otherwise healthy individuals) to the coronavirus have listened to nonexperts boldly try to school scientists, questioning their expertise on pandemic diseases.
So I wondered what kind of people were riding on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Market–Frankford (SEPTA) line on October 13–a Wednesday night–as they witnessed a woman being raped, sexually assaulted on the train for roughly eight minutes. None made any attempt to intervene. No one even bothered to call 911. I mean, are they the type of people to enforce rules or demand their right not to obey them? Would they remove a passenger for not masking up or threaten school board members to stop their children from being taught CRT in the classroom? In other words, what is it exactly that needed to happen to compel these passengers to act?
Because I need to make sense of all of this. I am desperately clinging to whatever sanity I may have left after 2020 and the events of January 6. I want to believe that the passengers on that train are a fringe group and that the vast majority of Americans would have stepped in, putting our differences aside. But any evidence of that actually happening is severely lacking.
It would be extremely easy for me to write a hit piece dismissing Dave Chappelle’s latest and final Netflix special The Closer as unforgivably transphobic. That surely a veteran comic like Chappelle could have chosen other equally marginalized groups to offend such as Blacks beating up Asians, or “Space Jews”, or angry, violent lesbians, or feminists, or TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), and tiki torch whites. And I could simply write that Chappelle has finally aged out of stand-up after securing his multimillion dollar Netflix bag and, therefore, he’s too rich to care about who he offends.
But, if I were to do so–if I were to join Dave Chappelle’s many Twitter anti-fans, critics, and LGBTQ representative organizations in demanding that Netflix remove The Closer from the streaming giant’s platform I would have to honestly believe that Dave Chappelle is an unapologetic transphobe, a TERF who truly hates trans people. I would have to believe that Dave Chappelle simply crafted his jokes for The Closer with the malicious intent of causing more hurt and violence to the trans community. Violence that is mostly inflicted upon Black trans women. That joking about trans women in any way, shape, or form dehumanizes them and places their lives in great danger. Because a joke about trans women’s genitalia TASTING differently is not only unfunny but a matter of life and death.
I would have to disregard any nuance Dave Chappelle’s jokes may have had along with any larger points he was trying to make during his set. I would have to ignore the fact that Chappelle’s gratuitous use of the n-word continues to get a lot of laughs. That it’s not possible for comedy in the hands of a Black man to be multi-layered and thought provoking. Nor is Chappelle capable of using comedy to ask very uncomfortable questions concerning hot button issues. That Dave Chappelle was not actually making fun of transphobes, and TERFs by posing as one because his fans are probably low IQ degenerates who will laugh at anything. And anybody who laughs at Chappelle’s jokes must be transphobic too.
But, most of all, I would also have to believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that Dave Chappelle absolutely hates Daphne Dorman–an ardent fan, a white trans woman whom he befriended and chose to dedicate the last ten minutes of his special to. And even though I was moved and somewhat teary-eyed I must believe that deep down Chappelle really doesn’t care that Dorman killed herself. Besides, it would make more sense that he simply saw an opportunity to shamelessly use her suicide to defend himself against critics who have called him on his transphobia. Which is why I’m not going to write another hit-piece about Dave Chappelle’s The Closer because that would be too easy to do.
Imagine a Harriet Tubman biopic starring Julia Roberts (Yes, that Julia Roberts) in the lead role. Her hair corn-rowed or in Bantu knots and her complexion a tanning bed brown as she leads “her people” on a perilous journey through the Underground Railroad to instant scripted freedom.
Sounds impossible, right?
But while you shake your head in disbelief, once upon a time in Hollywood, it was actually a suggestion made by a studio exec who reasoned that because Harriet Tubman is a historical figure from a long ago, bygone era that audiences wouldn’t know the difference between an iconic Black woman and Roberts. Which is very much on-brand for an industry that greenlit a stereotypically racist movie like…well…Soul Man (1986) where anti-Black racism is not to be taken seriously but comes off as an offensively unfunny punchline in an unnecessary romcom no one asked for.
And despite Soul Man co-star Rae Dawn Chong’s best efforts in defending the film, I don’t think it has aged well. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how the movie made “white people look stupid” as Chong claimed. Instead, Blackness gets reduced to C. Thomas Howell’s character, Mark Watson–a Harvard Law School hopeful–ingesting some tanning pills and sporting an obviously fake afro wig as he moved about onscreen, his overt whiteness undetected even by the seemingly intelligent Black characters he frequently interacted with.
Incredibly enough, Chong, Howell and other notable cast members were able to walk away from this train wreck of a movie, careers unscathed. Soul Man was even considered somewhat of a box office success amid lukewarm reviews, harsh criticism by a then up-and-coming film maker Spike Lee, and even though a chapter of the NAACPprotested the film at the time of its release.
So why am I bringing up an extremely cringeworthy movie that’s over three decades old and will hopefully never be remade or, God forbid, spawn a sequel or become a streaming television series? Because I’m a Blerd–a Black nerd–which is the kind of thing Blerds do. And in case you haven’t noticed, I proudly wear my Blerd hat whenever I post reviews and I’m often petty and resentful with my analysis because Black people experience movies and television differently.
African Americans understand that historically Hollywood has always been and continues to be a white supremacist’s propaganda machine (*see D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) or you can just watch the Hallmark Channel). Which makes it more difficult for us to emotionally invest in characters and stories that do not share our lived experience of anti-Black racism in this country. And any current attempt at inclusiveness or diversity in Tinseltown, though necessary, often feels more like cultural appropriation, exploitation, and seems mostly profit driven.
It’s also cheaper, costing basically nada to create intersectional narratives about marginalized groups based on race, sex, gender preference, religion, etc…providing the illusion of progress instead of using a very powerful and lucrative platform to produce works that actually confront white supremacy and all of its phobias and -isms head-on. It reminds me of politicians kneeling while wearing Kente cloth or nationalizing Juneteenth without passing any meaningful legislation in genuine support of racial equity.
But let’s face it, Hollywood is not well. Hollywood is not okay. Hollywood, like America, is not ready to be honest about its addiction to whiteness. My guess is that Hollywood is not necessarily addicted to whiteness itself but to the power and privilege that comes with being white in America. And until we can see this addiction for what it really is, a pathological disease, I’ll be waiting for the late comedian Paul Mooney’s film The Last Nigga On Earth starring Tom Hanks to be posthumously released. A movie that will most likely have been directed by Quentin Tarantino.
It’s not fair that Ma’Khia Bryant’s final tragic moments of life on this earth were captured on police body cam. The dramatic footage deceptively casting her in a stereotypical role of a violent teenage Black girl, a criminal threat in urgent need of elimination. Or in the dangerously callous words of GOP racist shill, Black conservative grifter, and clout chasing celebrity troll, Candace Owens, who smeared Bryant as a “knife wielding maniac“, a dehumanizing label for an adolescent, would-be cosmetologist who posted Tik Tok hair tutorials.
But it’s not enough to try and boil down Ma’Khia Bryant’s 16 years of existence to a split second decision in a thinly veiled attempt to justify her state sanctioned murder. Her executioner, Nicholas Reardon, has been praised as a “hero” for purportedly saving a Black life, which is not even remotely true. And to be brutally honest, the only reason Nicholas Reardon’s actions have been hailed as heroic is not because he somehow managed to spare a Black life but because he took one. Which does not require heroic traits like bravery or courage. Just a badge and a gun.
Because, like his blue lives matter colleagues nationwide, Nicholas Reardon is a hired gun, a state agent who made a value judgment knowing that he had the full support of a legal system that disproportionately favors law enforcement. And, in doing so, normalizes the disproportionate slayings of African Americans who are more likely to be the victims of extrajudicial killings by police. In fact, Reardon’s initial inaction from the time he arrived on scene and exited the vehicle suggests the possibility of other nonlethal options, a missed opportunity. That Reardon’s only contact with Bryant was through his use of lethal force is very telling.
POP! POP! POP! POP!
And for those of us who have seen police employ nonlethal means to subdue armed suspects (mostly white) in the midst of attacking law enforcement are being told to just accept that Nicholas Reardon had no other choice. That we should only listen to Black people like Don Lemon and Val Demings, both having defended the actions of Reardon. That we shouldn’t listen to Black celebrity athletes like LeBron James for tweeting his outrage at the murder of yet another African American by police on the very day of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict. Essentially, snatching defeat from the jaws of a short-lived, hard earned victory of sorts.
But the greater tragedy in all of this is that I’m not the first person to write in defense of Ma’Khia Bryant’s humanity. And I know my words don’t have the power to convince the she-got-what-she-deserved crowd that a teenage Black girl in a moment of crisis is still worthy of protection, love, and understanding.
So then the real question becomes why would anybody need convincing?
In his scathing rebuke of the widely accepted mythos that is the history of western civilization, Raoul Peck, director of the Oscar nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016) employs various visual weaponry to deconstruct and challenge the false narratives originating from toxic Eurocentrism and white supremacist ideology in his four part docuseries Exterminate All the Brutes (2021).
Peck collaborates with his close friend Sven Lindqvist–the late Swedish author of Exterminate All the Brutes (1996)–the book on which the docuseries is based. He also enlist works by the late Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot author of Silencing The Past (1995), and American historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (2014) in delivering his well documented historical coup d’é·tat.
I’ve binged the series in its entirety not once, not twice, but thrice since its release on HBO Max, giving my full attention to Peck’s grim but gritty voice-over narration as he analyzed and scrutinized with razor-like precision bogus long held beliefs that have infested historical text, religion, science, and popular culture, which has led to the worst global atrocities known to humankind. Atrocities that are still ongoing.
Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way after being subjected to the highly sanitized filter of America’s public schools that I could not trust this country to tell the truth about it’s own sordid history. An early indoctrination into all things white blinded me to the gaping holes, the gaslighting, the blatant dishonesty, the unapologetic hypocrisy rampant in America’s origin story. It wasn’t until I started to attend college that I began to investigate my suspicions about the founding of this nation.
What Raoul Peck has done with Exterminate All the Brutes is nothing short of a call to arms. We must arm ourselves with facts and truth no matter how ugly they are or how uncomfortable they make us. We can no longer afford to leave history in the hands of those who are willing to celebrate genocidal maniacs, mass murderers, racist enslavers, violent white supremacist, and brutal colonizers recorded as though they are great men without a continuing legacy of death and destruction. Because, as Peck demonstrates, it is not possible to study the long, bloody history of western civilization and come to the conclusion that it is actually civilized.
All it took was 90 seconds for viral footage of the two teenage Black girls who in the course of carjacking a 66 year-old Uber Eats driver, Mohammad Anwar, resulting in his tragic death, for many on social media to express their outrage and call for the harshest punishments possible (even the death penalty) for the two underage perpetrators.
But to be honest, a lot of the outrage was performative with some not even knowing the victim’s name. Others shamelessly used his unfortunate death as an excuse to unleash their partisan venom or spew their racist takes.
I, too, was outraged after watching the horror unfold for 90 seconds. And then for it to be punctuated by one of the girls who had the audacity to ask about her cell phone that was still inside the overturned Honda, while Mr. Anwar lay just feet away, motionless in a crumpled heap on the sidewalk. I wanted to shout at them, “What the hell is wrong with you?!” and “Have y’all lost your damn minds?!”
But I had to examine my own outrage to understand that I was mostly angry at the fact that these were teenage Black girls who had behaved in such a despicable way prompting the American Pakistani Public Affairs Committee to ask that Mohammad Anwar’s death be investigated as a hate crime. And who could blame them given the explicitness of the footage?
Even so, I could not let my outrage blind me to the fact these are still two teenage Black girls.
It was later reported that a plea deal was being offered to the two minors which many wrongfully interpreted as the girls would go unpunished. That it was a show of leniency because the defendants are Black. Again, wrong. The 13 year old by law cannot be tried as an adult. So in order for the prosecution to hold both girls accountable for the death of Mohammad Anwar a plea agreement was made.
And then I jumped on a Twitter thread and scrolled down to a tweet thinking that maybe I was being overly critical of my fellow Americans:
So I liked the tweet and then replied:
And this is what happened:
Others called the girls monsters, cold blooded killers, and sociopaths. And keeping their ages (ages 15 and 13) in mind, many felt they were beyond rehabilitation. That the only way for the grieving family of Mohammad Anwar to receive justice is for these girls to be locked away for the rest of their lives or “put down” as one disgruntled Twitter user tweeted.
And all it took was 90 seconds for their young lives to become forfeit. But their deplorable actions are not the actions of hardened career criminals. At best, they are careless and reckless acts indicative of adolescent minds that are often prone to making poor life choices without proper guidance.
And it’s no secret why so many feel they are able to determine that these girls possessed no redeeming qualities without knowing anything more about them other than the 90 seconds of recorded footage. It’s a painful truth that we as African Americans have always known.
If it only takes a minute and a half to convince people that the lives of two teenage Black girls have absolutely no value at all then they were never convinced that their lives had any value to begin with.
The birth of the minstrel show of the early 19th century was an effective means for white men to control the narrative concerning the Black experience in America. Racist, blackface caricatures of burnt cork flesh and exaggerated African features helped to create the deceptive myth of the lazy, happy-go-lucky plantation slave. But more than that, minstrels were popular, exploitative and profitable appealing even to African Americans thirsting for any sort of representation. They were also a subtle and indirect critique of white supremacy as an extremely dull, unremarkable, dominant culture characterized by its single note, anti-Black oppressive violence.
And I’m not suggesting that Sam Levinson–the writer/director of Malcolm & Marie (2021)–is guilty of outright minstrelsy. I’d describe it more as blackface by proxy or low-key Black cosplay. Because, as many reviewers have already pointed out, the premise of the movie strongly resembles Levinson’s own experiences as a filmmaker which I don’t have a problem with. My beef is with his reckless use of Black actors to dress up his bland experiences by normalizing a toxic relationship, endorsing rampant misogynoir, and passing it all off as some form of Black romantic love.
So what is Malcolm & Marie about? Short answer: Marie (Zendaya) feels underappreciated by Malcolm (John David Washington). And maybe my take is a little reductive but therein lies the whole entire conflict for the nearly two hour run time of the movie. The two leads verbally brawl like heavyweight contenders slugging it out in a posh ranch-style getaway. But it is Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm–an egomaniacal Black filmmaker flying high off the critically acclaimed success of his movie premier–who fights dirty. A role that Washington overly commits to, offering no justification for the needless cruelty of his character.
But Marie withstands his verbal abuse and responds not in kind but with the truth. In fact, I was rather annoyed with Marie because I don’t know too many Black women who would’ve put up with Malcolm’sfoolishness for that long. It is more likely that their argument would’ve began inside the car during the ride back from the movie premier and ended with Marie telling Malcolm, “Nigga, you ain’t shit!,” as she drives off leaving him standing on the side of the dirt road confused.
The. End. Roll credits. Twenty minutes tops.
Reportedly, Netflix paid $30 million for Malcolm & Marie with Zendaya and Washington sharing executive producer credits with Levinson. So it’s not surprising the trio has defended the film from criticisms concerning the noticeable age gap between Zendaya and Washington, Levinson criticizing critics via Malcolm’s nonsensical rant, and his questionable choice to make the movie about a Black couple. But in recent interviews, Levinson assures us that he had the approval of the two leads. That it was a collaborative effort which still does not make them all equal partners because, unfortunately, Malcolm & Marie remains trapped under the white male gaze.
The Undoing (2020), the HBO original mini-series, wants to be taken seriously as a thriller/murder mystery but comes across as more of an under achieving slacker whodunit made for the likes of “meddling kids” who travel around hob-knobbing with celebrities in a van called a Mystery Machine with a barely coherent talking dog. This drama offers plenty of predictable red herrings but raises even more red flags concerning the questionable bedside manner of Dr. Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant). Grant stars as an unfaithful husband and a deceptively charming pediatric oncologist accused of brutally murdering his lustful mistress, Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis). But much of the drama it seems is focused on convincing Jonathan’s clinical therapist wife, Dr.Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) of his obvious guilt. It took nearly all six episodes for Grace to be fully convinced (despite overwhelmingly damning evidence) that her husband was capable of bludgeoning (beyond recognition) his lover–a married mother of two and artist–to death with her own sculpting hammer. In a sudden turn of events, Grace insists on taking the stand in the guise of defending Jonathan’s character but, instead, ends up assisting the prosecution in convicting him during cross examination. A plot twist that both surprises and shocks, said no one paying even the slightest attention when the title of the novel, You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz that the series is based on is listed in the opening credits acting as a subtle spoiler for each episode.
Nicole Kidman unquestionably possesses a wide emotional range evident in a more popular David E Kelley HBO drama, Big Little Lies, but very little of it was on display in The Undoing. I was more distracted by the scene stealing Botox causing unnatural bulges in places on Kidman’s face during close-ups that looked more like an apparent food allergy, unable to escape the harsh resolution capabilities of high-def television.
And unfortunately for Matilda De Angelis, her role as Elena Alves–the younger, hotter other woman–is a well worn trope foreshadowing her expendability as the cliché fleshpot. Besides showing that she was not shy about breastfeeding in the company of other women during a committee meeting, or exposing herself (unwaxed genitalia and all) while casually conversing with a visibly uncomfortable Grace (Kidman) inside a gym locker room, we are given very little information about Elena (De Angelis). Other scenes include Elena and Jonathan (Grant) in the throes of passion (read: yuck) in a series of cringe flashbacks which make up the bulk of her onscreen presence but doesn’t give us any insight into what kind of wife, mother, or artist she may have been. De Angelis’ character was never fully fleshed out though her flesh was peddled for no other reason it seems than to provide ammunition to assassinate her character later on during the trial.
In a highly improbable and surreal scene, Jonathan (Grant) visits Elena’s husband, Fernando Alves (Ismael Cruz Córdova) in a bizarre moment of what can loosely be described as “bonding” where Fernando confesses that he is understandably having trouble loving the child that Jonathan has fathered with his wife, Elena (De Angelis), whom Jonathan is also accused of murdering. And I don’t know of any likely scenario or alternate universe where this scene would have even the slightest possibility of taking place without Jonathan ending up being carried out on a stretcher with various life threatening injuries.
Keeping It Real
I think The Undoing is nothing more than peak whiteness. It’s not necessarily concerned with the guilt or innocence of Dr. Jonathan Fraser (Grant) as it is in demonstrating how easily disposable the life of a woman of color is. Elena (De Angelis) paid the ultimate price for not staying in her place of lower class insignificance with her family in Spanish Harlem. Because it is only when Elena demands to be treated as an equal with Grace (Kidman) that Jonathan’s murderous rage is triggered. Of course, he had every expectation of getting away with it being white, male, privileged, and having access to wealth. And the absurd, extremely unsatisfying ending gave me no assurance that Elena would actually receive justice which is a reality that us non-white Americans continue to live with.
I’m not convinced that Wonder Woman 1984 was not just another DC Extended Universe, big budget, franchise money grab which happened to exceed low box office expectations…after being released on Christmas day…during a pandemic. Nor am I totally convinced that this much anticipated sequel was not, in fact, some badly written piece of fan fic by some fandom rando consuming copious amounts of alcohol, illegal drugs, and possessing a weird obsession for 80’s nostalgia–fanny packs, breakdancing, and leg warmers.
So go ahead and fight me! Please, prove me wrong! And don’t just tell me that Wonder Woman 1984 is so awesome because Gal Gadot is hot! I don’t want your frat bro takes. I want receipts. Tell me the significance of the movie being set in the year 1984 and don’t try to lecture me about how it profoundly speaks to a decade of excess and greed relevant to the present time and I’m just being salty because the movie was directed by a woman.
Or tell me why was it so necessary for Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to return as the love interest of Diana Prince. But to be fair, I never liked the choice of Diana Prince and Steve Trevor hooking up in the original. It was too predictable in a romcom kind of way and felt like lazy writing to score some needless fan service points, a hedging of bets. Besides, there is a reason why the Amazons live on Themyscira off the grid from the rest of the world. Men suck. One white man in particular who inadvertently causes the death of a beloved legendary Amazon general and sister to the queen, Antiope. (But I won’t mention Steve Trevor‘s name.) And the likelihood that Steve Trevor, a white man, an American spy is not misogynistic, sexist, and/or racist on any level is even far less believable than him existing in 1914 where these social injustices were prevalent. Call me petty. But I digress.
(*side note* In historian Jill Lepore’s book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, an avowed feminist and Wonder Woman’s creator, was often at odds with editors who would have preferred the Amazon warrior play a more subordinate role as a secretary or possibly a wife to Steve Trevor or Superman. But Marston initially created Wonder Woman as Superman’s equal and not as a subservient addition to DC’s superhero sausage party. Just sayin’.)
Wonder Woman is comic book royalty, a DC legend, a Justice League OG, and she deserved better treatment than a somewhat convoluted, lackluster plot about a Reagan-era, infomercial grifter, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who nearly destroys the world with nuclear warfare by acquiring the power to grant wishes from an ancient artifact. A ridiculous looking gemstone recovered from a jewelry store in a Washington D.C. mall which we learn is actually a front for a black market operation for stolen merchandise. And we know this because, of course, there was an attempted heist which is thwarted by our favorite wedge heeled Amazon fashion plate, her glowing lasso of truth in tow as she swings here and there ultimately foiling the would be robbers and conjuring images of a certain webslinger. And, yes, it is as anti-climactic and cringe as it sounds.
Anyway, the movie segues into the pitiful origin story of DC supervillain, Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), a socially dysfunctional colleague and fangirl of Diana Prince at the Smithsonian who goes by the name of Dr. Barbara Minerva. And, no, the movie does not improve one iota as we learn that Dr. Minerva’s greatest motivation for eventually joining team Lord is because she wants to be like her newfound bestie, Diana, who is one of the cool kids. Oh, and Diana rescues Barbara from a drunken business man who attempts to sexually assault her but it’s not clear how much of that factors into Barbara’s ultimate wish to become an “apex predator”. Her words. Not mine.
Wonder Woman 1984 became that much more of a struggle for me to power through once Steve Trevor reappears in the body of another man, reuniting with Diana. Diana and Steve briefly reminisce, go back to Steve‘s apartment, have sex and later on Diana suddenly remembers as they are flying in a stolen jet that she is able to turn objects invisible and because radar technology exists in 1984 they need to fly undetected to Cairo which makes perfect sense when you think about it because Steve is a pilot from 1914, duh! Try to keep up.
Did I forget to mention that Wonder Woman can also fly and latch onto lightning bolts with her magic lasso? And I had to ask myself, have these abilities always been a thing with Wonder Woman in the DCEU or am I just late to the party? I’m still not sure how the whole secret identity works either. Are people just not willing to say anything? Plausible deniability can only go so far and then the anti-aging cream excuse becomes suspect.
And can we talk about the janky, Walmart brand, Great Value, golden body armor (some really shiny armor with protective wings that was first worn by the legendary Amazon warrior, Asteria) that Cheetah totally made light work of with a few quick slashes of her claws in the final battle scene. A fight scene that pretty much summed up the entire movie–a lot of green screen and flashy CGI but ultimately falls apart upon closer scrutiny. And it would seem that Maxwell Lord nor Dr. Minerva had to face any consequences for their actions, followed by the ending credits, a cameo by the 70’s television icon Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, as a third installment of the Amazon warrior immediately gets greenlit.
Clearly, Gal Gadot has an all consuming on screen presence as a leggy, slightly knock kneed, super heroine with an accent and a seductive Hollywood beauty aesthetic, which is all part of her charm as Wonder Woman. And I also believe the bulk of Gadot’s box office appeal is largely due to her being a woman of color. Unfortunately, she is mismanaged in Wonder Woman 1984 and is unable to escape the limitations of the white male gaze even with Patty Jenkins in the director’s chair because Wonder Woman still functions as an exotic fantasy of white men’s heteronormative desires.
Look, I’m not sure what Patty Jenkins, Warner Bothers, and DC had in mind with this latest offering other than to not to be like Marvel. It would seem that Jenkins and company are more than satisfied to check some representation and empowerment boxes for young girls while continuing the DCEU‘s record for making mildly entertaining superhero films. But Wonder Woman 1984 in a way feels shamelessly exploitative of the current moment filled with a mounting Covid body count, political instability, racial tension, and economic uncertainty. A reality that many of us are desperate to escape from to the point that some of us will go so far as to declare on Twitter that Wonder Woman 1984 was “the movie we never knew we needed in 2020” but that is the one wish that, unfortunately, this movie fails to grant.
“You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being.”
James Baldwin (The Fire Next Time)
How We Got Here So, how did we get here? Short answer: White supremacy. The insurrection, the attempted coup by a terrorist mob of white Trump supporters on the Capitol in Washington on January 6 of this year only serves to punctuate a history of unchecked white supremacy in this country. The ease with which they gained access, believing that their cause is just, and the feeling of righteous indignation, entitlement, and impunity for their actions is on brand for a race of people whom history has inadvertently conditioned to believe that they are America’s perpetual ruling class. A false notion largely unchallenged for centuries.
This Is Not Who America Is This is exactly who America damn well is. America’s very own history indicts this country on a daily basis for its growing list of atrocities carried out against its non-white citizens. But this is America’s current dilemma–squandering valuable opportunities to reckon with and failing to atone for its historical legacy of racism, inequality, and injustice. And after the white insurrectionist’s coup attempt, there are some who foolishly claim that this is not what America stands for. That this is not the America that they know and that America is somehow better than this when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
America Is A Failed State America originated as a failed state founded upon the violence and bloodshed of its hypocritical, genocidal, land-grabbing, white supremacist, racist enslavers. America’s sordid history of forced bondage, oppression, and toxic white nationalism is very much alive in the faces printed on our currency, in the holidays that we celebrate, in centuries old monuments, in the namesakes on our various institutions across the US, the flags that we pledge our allegiance to, and even in our nation’s anthem. They are constant reminders of not only this country’s many transgressions but of its continued refusal to take responsibility for them.
America Must Unite? Calling for unity and healing in this moment without first punishing those accountable for trying to violently overturn the results of a presidential election is disingenuous and unrealistic. Historically, America has given little indication that it is actively seeking to purge white supremacy from the soul of this nation. And threatening to impeach and remove Trump from office does nothing to ensure that these types of incidents will never happen again. I believe the insurrection on the Capitol was just the opening act of 2021 setting a frightening precedent.
The Message Is Clear African Americans have long since lost the luxury of being shocked much less surprised by white violence in this country. But we remain outraged with our humanity yet to be recovered because we know that last week’s carnage in Washington will not result in any significant changes in policing or severe punishment for those involved, especially when we see Kyle Rittenhouse out on bail after killing two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year. And after Jacob Blake learned that no charges would be brought against a white police officer, Rusten Sheskey, for shooting him in the back multiple times which initially led to the unrest in Kenosha where Rittenhouse was able to act out his white power, vigilante fantasy.
My Prognosis For America Make no mistake, it is not because white supremacists felt necessarily threatened by a Joe Biden presidency that spurred the deadly events at the Capitol. Or that they even felt the election was actually stolen. It is because white supremacists were utterly humiliated on a global stage by a majority of Black, Brown, and Indigenous masses–Americans they do not consider to be deserving of equal rights as citizens–who mobilized, organized, to overcome blatant voter suppression tactics to deliver a historical ass-whoopin’ to Trump at the ballot box. And what many consider to be the chef’s kiss by electing Kamala Harris–the first woman and woman of color–to be this country’s vice president. Signaling a power shift that the white racist patriarchy and their supporters feel they must destroy by any means necessary including violence in order to preserve white supremacy at all cost. Which is why the story of America cannot end well.
I cast my ballot on the very first day of early voting in Texas as the line of masked up voters socially distancing themselves snaked outside into the parking lot of Sunland Park Mall in El Paso. A little before nine in the morning my three sisters and I stood for nearly an hour to make our voices heard. But all the while I thought to myself that America does not deserve the Black vote because this country has done very little to earn it. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe America deserves our allegiance, our love of country, our military service, our labor, etc… But most of all, America does not deserve our patience.
I am extremely unhappy with Joe Biden as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. That out of such a diverse field of presidential candidates (some of whom I felt were more qualified) African Americans are, once again, left with the option of voting for two white men. It is an all too familiar and tiresome predicament which does not speak well of a country that allegedly seeks to heal its racial divide. A country that has managed to produce a single African American POTUS after centuries of existence only to then elect a man who gives a voice to white extremists and legitimizes white nationalism is not progress. It is failure on so many levels.
So, why did I vote?
I voted because by not voting in the previous presidential election I felt that I had actually helped to elect the man currently occupying the Oval Office who admitted to down playing a virus he knew to be potentially fatal causing a massive loss of American lives. I voted because there are many Americans who after knowing this still support this same man. I voted because there are Americans who are willing to take his word over medical experts and put the lives of their fellow Americans at risk. I voted because I am tired of the rage tweeting, the racist dog whistles, the disinformation by him and his administration. But, more importantly, I voted because I could not live with myself knowing that after all the ballots are counted and no matter the outcome that I did nothing.