Category Archives: Movies

Martha Washington For Post-Apocalyptic Warlord!

So, there was a bit of an uproar over a story in Newsweek discussing how the current recession is specifically affecting middle-class, college educated white men.  Long story short, this is the first time a job shortage has hit the most mainstream of demographics and, while it’s still worse for women, minorities, those without college educations and, well, anyone that ain’t a middle-class white guy, well, there’s still some folks who aren’t getting jobs that have never had a problem getting jobs.  In other words, traditionally, it’s been super-duper awesome being a white guy in America and, now, it’s just more awesome than being anything else. 

And, according to the story, a lot of those guys are having a tough time dealing with their new reality.  Writers Rick Marin and Tony Dokoupil report that incidents of depression, anxiety attacks and familial stress have been on the uptick mainly because this demographic does not know how to deal with hardship.  The article quotes Judith Gerberg, a Manhattan-based executive career coach who says, “If you went to the college of your choice, married the woman of your choice, and bought the house of your choice, you’ve never dealt with rejection. You’ve never had to develop fortitude.”

This, of course, makes me think about Mad Max.

Let’s go back a little.  I am an unabashed child of the 80’s and have palpable  memories of living in a country that twice elected a doddering old mad man  to be in charge of The Big Red Button.  As a young teen, there was no doubt in my mind that, one day, we would all live in a radioactive, post-apocalyptic wasteland.  And, frankly, I couldn’t wait because The Road Warrior, Mad Max, Escape From New York, A Boy And His Dog, Creature Feature staples like Soylent Green and The Omega Man and a million other depictions looked AWESOME.  Again, because I was knew something was…off…about Ronald Reagan, I looked at these films, not so much as entertainment, but as a sort of series of instructional manuals.  “Okay, I’m going to need some bottled water, canned food, a machete and/or a crossbow, and some type of headband.”

The white guy-ness of them always threw me out my viewing though.  Nothing against white guys (some of my best friends are white guys, hell, some of my neighbors are white guys…), but I never really believed that when civilization collapsed, as a specific group,  your “average” white guy is going to be that helpful because they don’t really have a lot of experience in that area.

No, if you want someone to help, When The Shit Drops, you need to have someone out front who’s used to dealing with adversity.  You need an example of what Zora Neale Hurston called “the mules of the world.”  You need a black woman.    When stuff goes insane, I need somebody with experience in prospering under insane conditions.

That’s why I love Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ The Life and Times of Martha Washington.  Over a ten-year period, Miller and Gibbons created a postapocalyptic world where the apocalypse was the result of bankruptcy, a splintered U.S. and corporations running amok.  Sound familiar?  In the middle of this, they dropped the protagonist, Martha Washington, a poor, black, uneducated (but fiercely intelligent) black girl from the Cabrini Green projects.   And, whether her enemies are project rapists, corrupt superior officers or a Godlike computer entity, Martha applies the survival skills and adaptability she learned in her environment to survive and prosper.

(This is the point where I should probably acknowledge the black female protagonists of Octavia Butler, specifically, Parable of the Sower’s Lauren and Lilith, the main character in Dawn.  While both are black women facing unspeakable odds, I would argue neither are as downtrodden as Martha; Lauren was literate in a mostly illiterate world and had the luxury of preparing for life outside of her relatively privileged enclave  and Lilith was granted, basically, superhuman powers by her alien captors/saviors.)

So, y’know, God bless the victims of the “Mancession.”  Seriously.  Your pain is your pain; it’s just by the grace of God, everybody in my house got a gig and I’m certainly not going to dismiss the situation of cats who ain’t got one.  But, again, this just goes to prove what I’ve always believed.  When The End comes, I’m damn sure not following Kurt Russell ’cause he’s going to be to busy crying.  No, I’m looking for the person who’s figuring out how to make some stew and use old hangers as a blade.  Hell, that’s part of the reason I married her.

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In A Poetic Way, It Would Also Make A Great Weekly Series; Sort Of A Black 30 Rock

You know, as much as I love the razor sharp satire of Bamboozled, in a lot of ways, I think Dancing in September does a much better job exploring the nature of the black sitcom and the way the coonery we hate comes to the screen.  The criminally underrated Reggie Rock Bythewood wrote and directed this inside look  at how television and race intersect, Nicole Ari Parker and Isiah Washington personify very balanced statements on the value of working inside and outside the system and the sequence demonstrating how a well-meaning look at black life becomes a spectacle is as chilling now as it was a decade ago.  Good stuff…

Broom Jumping and the Never-Ending Battle of Black Authenticity

I have not seen Jumping the Broom. I figure I’ll start with that so if, later, I find out I’m wrong, I can say, “hey, I said I hadn’t seen it.”  Still based on the commercials and, well, pretty much every single black movie that’s been made in the last twenty years, I’m betting we can all tell what’s going to happen.  There’s some snotty black folks, there’s some “regular” black folks-because we all know, “poor/working class” is code for “regular” when we’re talking about us-and when they get together for the wedding of their children, high jinks occur!  Hell, I’m pretty sure Loretta Devine has purchased a half a dozen houses just playing this same sassy, all knowing, down home role.   Again,it looks like one of those by the numbers comedies that black Hollywood has churned out endlessly since the rise of Tyler Perry.

Where I think I’m having a problem specifically with this movie is with the symbolic conflict.  According to the film article in May’s Essence, the tension between the “uptown Watsons” and the “downtown Taylors” reaches a crisis point because Devine’s character, wants the children to respect their family tradition of jumping the broom and the hoity-toity Watsons don’t want to do it because it’s some “slave stuff.”

Okay…I call shenanigans. 

I’ve been to about two dozen weddings in the last twenty years and the only black folks I’ve ever even seen commemorating the slave tradition of jumping the broom have been college educated ones because, frankly, the vast majority of us all learned about it in an African-American studies class…in college!  Along with the significance of the broom jumping, I believe that many post-Civil Rights era age African-Americans were only exposed to cultural, historical and artistic aspects of the black experience in college.  Again, this marks another example of how, as a people, many of us have decided to delegitimize education by saying it disconnects us from blackness.   Logically though, college is one of the best opportunities that many of us have to fully explore the nuances and depths of what all African-Americans have brought to this country.  Frankly, I think it would be more believable if Devine’s family was against  the broom jumping for being some ol’ slave stuff and-bonus!-against Jah-zus!  (“Ain’t nobody in the Bible jump over no brooms!!!!”) But, again, I haven’t seen it so maybe I’m wrong.

madea11So, in the midst of the yearly spectacle of the Hollywood Establishment patting itself on the back, the real movie irmahall4story that caught my eye was the fact that Tyler Perry’s newest film, Madea Goes To Jail, not only opened at number one, but broke a record for Perry, making $41 million.  Frankly, they’re just not good movies but Perry’s mostly older, mostly black, mostly female supporters eat it up.  And I’m not buying the theory that they love it because of its “positive messages.”  Positivity and church talk don’t equal Tyler Perry box office success.  Ask T.D. Jakes or David E. Talbert.  There’s something about Perry that pull these old black ladies in.  Here’s my question: would this audience love the movies as much if, instead of displaying the ridiculous spectacle of Perry in drag, Madea was was played by an actual older black actress like Irma P. Hall?  And, if not, why?