|A few weeks back, I noted that there are not many movies about slavery. Given that, though, the list of slavery films that have been real contenders come Academy Award season has been surprisingly large. Besides 12 Years a Slave, which won a Golden Globe for Best Picture of the Year (Drama) on Sunday night and yesterday received nine Oscar nominations including one for Best Picture, films recognized in major categories on Oscar night over the past 30 years include Glory, (1989, Best Supporting Actor award), Amistad (1998, Best Supporting Actor nomination), Lincoln (2012, Best Actor award), and Django Unchained (2012, Best Supporting Actor award, Best Original Screenplay award).
Despite the number of films, though, there's a relative paucity of thematic range. All of these critically acclaimed films use variations on a single narrative: Black people are oppressed by bad white people. They achieve freedom through the offices of good white people. Happy ending.
The stridency of the “white savior” narrative varies a good deal from film to film. Lincoln treats black people mostly as props who provide significant glances and strategic reminders of What This Is All For while strings swell and Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor!) flexes his cheeks in an excess of folksy, canny, oleaginous self-regard as Lincoln. Django and Glory, meanwhile, both figure their white saviors as military enablers, teaching black men to self-actualize through violence, and thereby free themselves (Django) or their people (Glory). 12 Years A Slave drops its Brad Pitt-ex-machina in only at the end, focusing instead—refreshingly—on Solomon Northup's own struggles and resilience.
The white savior in 12 Years probably wouldn't be off-putting at all except for the fact that, in Daniel José Older's words, "Did we really need yet another white savior narrative?" As it is, in the context of Hollywood, Northup's stunned/numb gratitude at the end of the film tends to blur into a montage of other teary-eyed black actors gazing with awe and wonder at the surprising, over-determined nobility of some white actor or other.
I've seen Brad Pitt's role in 12 Years defended on the grounds that Northup was in fact aided, and saved, by a white man. That's certainly true. It's also true that Lincoln did a great deal to end slavery. And it's true that white men worked to free Africans in the Amistad case, and that Colonel Robert Shaw bravely fought side by side with black troops during the Civil War. I'd even argue (as I did here) that white people need to see stories about anti-racist whites, both as inspiration and as an exercise in humility. (If Shaw is the standard for principled resistance to racism, I know I, at least, don't measure up.) But when every major film representation of slavery hinges on venerating the noble sacrifices of honorable whites—well, let's just say that as a challenge to white supremacy, it leaves something to be desired. […]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2012—Kirsten Gillibrand trying to have her cake, and eat it too, on PIPA:
|On Wednesday, as Republican lawmakers abandoned SOPA and PIPA in droves, Democrats clung desperately to the legislation demanded by their entertainment industry donors. Among the most vocal defenders of the dangerous internet-censorship bill was New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who posted on her Facebook page:
Thank you for all your messages regarding Protect IP. I agree there are real concerns with the current legislation & I’m working to make important changes to the bill. We must work to strike a balance between ending online piracy to protect New York jobs & ensuring Internet freedom so our tech community can continue to flourish.
But with Republicans abandoning the bill, effectively killing it, Democrats were left holding this stinker of a bill, and inevitably, they had no choice but to start abandoning it. And today, we just heard that next week's Senate vote has been indefinitely postponed.
On today's "classic" Kagro in Morning show, it's the January 18, 2013 show, and it's a good one! Greg Dworkin with more polling on guns, and evidence of a shift in intensity shifting the ground, post-Newtown. Armando joined for our interview with former Hostess bakery worker Mike Hummel, aka bluebarnstormer. Hear the details the traditional media skipped in telling the story. See today's podcast post (at the link above) for a link to Mike's short film on the whole debacle. You won't believe what the hedge funders get away with!"