Provocative title huh?
Well, it’s not quite as provocative as it seems. The premise of this article isn’t that shows such as MADMEN, PAN-AM, and REVENGE are in and of themselves bad or bigoted shows.
They may in and of themselves be good shows. But shows, dramas or scifi or action, that are predominantly White, when not off-set by any shows that are predominantly Black or colored, true to the definition of predominant… create an environment, a medium, that is about the ascendancy, importance, influence, authority of force of one group.
In such an environment it is impossible for me to buy into, relate, follow, view, or otherwise enjoy such shows. Now in an environment where a show such as PAN-AM is counter-pointed with a show on The forming of AIR JAMAICA or the Black Stuntmen’s Union or the Black Coyboys’ Union or any adventure or thrilling show with a predominant cast of color; then PAN-AM rather than being indicative of a color and ethnic bias in every show in tv, can be seen as one voice in a chorus, rather than the same voice, everywhere.
So that’s the problem I have with shows such as MADMEN and REVENGE they paint everything with the same trite and pale brush (take the series REVENGE, based on a book by the son of one of the most famous Black men, and the cast is all white. Explain that to me? Along with that it always rings false that we have yet to see a THREE MUSKETEERS that represents the ethnicity of the author Alexandre Dumas, or the ethnicity of the inspiration for all Dumas’ heroes, namely his father, France’s most famous and most feared soldier, the elder Alexandre Dumas, (inexplicably called Thomas-Alexandre in recent writings), the Black giant, the warrior Moor, Napolean’s most feared and brilliant General. The COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO is directly inspired by how his father was betrayed by Napolean, imprisoned, and killed. And rather than anyone ever tell that story, it becomes in REVENGE about a blond woman, mad about something. Forgive me if I have no interest in that retelling.)
So, What’s the solution?
We’ll get to it. First indulge me, with a brief trip to yesteryear.
In the late 50s, into the 60s and 70s television and cinema in the US, and indeed throughout the Western World, made great strides in becoming more representative of the class struggle going on throughout the world.
That’s a fact, it just is. So let’s begin there.
As countries from Congo to Cuba to Korea to the West Indies to Brazil all were dealing, at various stages, with the shattering of traditional Colonial ties. With populations of repressed people, embracing the concept, both with artistry and arms, of “not eating at another man’s table” but creating their own table.
It was a staggering period not just of revolution, but potentially evolution… for the world and the west.
Rather than mass media that explored and showcased only the fantasies and the fears of the white and the male you began getting shows that took place in a world reflective of the movements changing the landscape of our cultures and our time. Civil disobedience, and sit-ins, and Black power, and Native American rights, transcendentalism and free love, sexual and religious experimentation, and of course war and the search for peace and self identification.
And all these growing pains, all of this stew of change, could be seen in the entertainment of the age.
DANGER MAN, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, PROFESSIONALS, GOOD TIMES, SANFORD AND SON, the rise of Soul Cinema, and the rise of Hong Kong Cinema, and Neo-Realism in Italy, and the New Wave in France, and the didactic films out of Russia, and Brazil, and Cuba, and Senegal, all of this making its way to newly born film studies programs in the states that gave birth to a whole generation of entertainment makers excited and influenced and inspired by this time of change and challenge.
So suddenly you had Patrick McGoohan in the DANGER MAN TV show 50 years ago globe-trotting and going to different countries and different people, and exploring issues of colonialism, and civil war, and terrorism, and governmental oppression, and doing this with a changing ethnically diverse cast. Dealing with issues of Middle East tensions and modern slavery. And this kind of informed and humanistic film-making came from the creators down. And all the shows of that period, while not DANGER MAN ground breaking, to greater or lesser degrees were that informed and representative of a culturally diverse and changing world.
Move the clock forward 50 years, and suddenly you have no community owned or locally owned cinema, much less production companies. That’s not an accident, that’s a very pointed, and very considered monopolization and marginalization.
You have the end of virtually any locally or regionally owned newspaper, radio, or television station. So you get the end of people and community created movements, and art and music, and you get instead corporate construction of reality and ‘art’ in things like AMERICAN IDOL and its ilk.
You have cinema and television that is in retreat from ideas… like diversity and the rights of man, and instead seeks a return to the exclusionary, blinders on, cinema of the 50s. Not just in terms of content and cast in front of the camera, but talent and crew behind the camera.
As, in reality, the mad military war machine of billionaires undoes the local determinism of countries like Haiti and Liberia and Libya, so too is our entertainment,no less the tool of billionaires, undoing the strides made toward multiculturalism. A return to “Whites only” television from MADMEN to PAN-AM to REVENGE.
And those shows while they hold no interest for me, would be fine if they were counterpointed by an equal number of US made shows with a majority of Black or Brown or Asian or a combination thereof, of actors in front the camera, and talent behind the camera.
And the talent is there, as screenwriters such as John Ridley discuss in numerous interviews. Even more talent than was available in the 60s and 70s is available now, the difference is, the cinemas are bought up, the advertising is cost prohibitive, and quite frankly the doors are closed.
In the 60s and 70s, Hollywood saw the need for an influx of diversity to save them from the rise of Independent Cinema (an outgrowth of viable and healthy local cinemas, local determinism), and there were a good number of people in the studios who were happy and excited for that diversity. They were part of the changing times, and part of changing it.
Today Independent Cinema has no way into the theaters, because the locally owned theater circuit, and indeed the community controlled mass-media circuit that served America, particularly Black America from the 20s to the 70s, has been bought out, legalized away, and generally dismantled.
For what was gained, more was lost in the compromise of integration.
The problem with the doctrine of separate and equal, was the fact that is was NEVER separate and equal, it was always separate and UNEQUAL. The Black Power movement and Black Panther movement was about making it SEPARATE AND EQUAL. Was to make the lie into the truth. And that is the reason we have integration today. Because the idea of separate and equal, scared the powers to be to their very soul.
They saw in the more moderate integration model of Martin Luther and his ilk, a compromise that could become a massive victory. They retreated from Separate and (Un)equal and embraced Integration of a sort, “you can now use our Bathrooms, you can now to an extent come into our house, but… you have to lose your house. You have to lose your radio stations, your movie theaters, your stores, your farms, your wallstreets, your sports teams, your attempt at self determination”.
Of course it wasn’t presented like that, but a few decades later that’s absolutely what has happened. The thriving economic base of Black America that thrived even under the odiousness of Separate but unequal, wherein they could still provide for themselves and be self sufficient, has been completely gutted under the together but even more UNEQUAL system of integration. And that robbing of local determinism has extended to all America. Has shown itself to be the most significant volley in a class-war that has America trillions of dollars in debt, and slaved, to corporations gross and immoral.
And television and cinema is the clearest example of this wholesale pillaging of a peoples economic potential.
So that’s what I see when I see shows like MADMAN or PANAM or REVENGE or SMALLVILLE (past season 4) I see prejudice and bigotry and class warfare… codified.
So you have a television and a cinema environment that has turned back the clock, and is again solely about showcasing the fantasies and the fears of the white and the rich, to the exclusion of all else.
It bores me to go backwards. To learn from the past is a great thing, to repeat the past is not. And we have a whole generation of studio execs and heads, who think they are doing something new by embracing the old, and all they are doing… is wasting time.
In a multi-cultural society, an increasingly multi-cultural society, these dreams of exclusion cannot stand, they will become unsatisfying, they always do. And in the end we will have to waste years just getting back to the same point of diversity as the 1970s. Getting back to the starting point from which we should be… evolving.
So let’s cut out some of the time wasting. Contact these studios signing off on this exclusionary television, the creators and producers, twitter them, facebook em, call’em, even write em, let them know the show doesn’t represent you, and to create a show that does. And let the advertisers know, say “this show boycotts me and mine. Since you are asking me to support your product, I want you to produce a show that supports me.”
It’s economics people. For all their crushing of competition, ultimately the decision makers and gate-keepers still need to create a product you want to buy. Let them know they are failing at that mandate.
Let them know you want to see more shows, that are both smart and diverse.
Let them know you want to see more DAY BREAK with Taye Diggs and Moon Bloodgood, more 55 DEGREES NORTH with Don Gilet, more KINGS with Eamonn Walker more BLOOD AND BONE with Michael Jai White, more James Purefoy and Jesse L. Martin in THE PHILANTHROPIST (the spiritual descendant of McGoohan’s DANGER MAN); more shows that look forward to solutions, rather than backward to evasions.
Challenge the creators, challenge the studios, challenge the advertisers, challenge the performers, and challenge yourself to go not marching backward, but to go forward… into the mystery. And ultimately we will as cities and a nation, have to eschew outside control, and embrace again local production of items and local determinism.
And it starts as simply as recognizing and calling out the prejudiced the exclusionary and the destructive when we see it.
Here endeth the lesson.
What strikes me, in looking at the upcoming movies for the rest of the Spring is there is a shocking lack of films that are not stupid mean-spirited comedies or stupid mean-spirited 'thrillers'. There is also a staggering lack of diversity, as with the exception of Samuel Jackson, and one Blair Underwood film, you can pretty much slap the label "All White" on every single film coming out this spring and be not far wrong.
Films or television shows that recall the 70s where you could have numerous characters of color in significant roles (that's key) both in front of and behind the camera are few and far between.
That said, movies with characters of Color in lead roles, not just as tokens or secondary characters, get made all the time, both domestic and foreign.
You can see them at the film festivals. Unfortunately they just don't get picked up for distribution.
Brilliant ones such as the Cuban made EL BENNY, which is one of my favorite films of the last ten years. And the fact that most of you have never even heard of it, much less seen it says volumes about everything that is wrong about America's monopolized and color conscious theatrical and DVD distribution system. "Oh this film has more than two people of color and it's not a comedy or a 'mama drama'? Nah, we're not distributing that movie."
Of course not. That would take away theater space from films such as the umpteenth AMERICAN PIE idiocy. 🙂
So if that's what I'm not looking forward to, you may ask "what, that is making it to theaters, looks interesting?"
Answer: a few look intriguing. Not necessarily good, but perhaps because of Director or Star or in the case of KEYHOLE premise… at least interesting.
Here are the posters of ones I'll be keeping an eye out for this Spring:
KEYHOLE- Genres: Drama Thriller Language: English, French
Synopsis: After a long absence, gangster and father Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) arrives home to a house haunted with memories, towing the body of a teenaged girl and a bound and gagged young man. His gang waits inside his house, having shot their way past police. There is friction in the ranks. Ulysses, however, is focused on one thing: journeying through the house, room by room, and reaching his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) in her bedroom upstairs. The equilibrium of the house has been disturbed and his odyssey eventually becomes an emotional tour, as the ghostly nooks and crannies of the house reveal more about the mysterious Pick family.
Haven’t seen a trailer yet, but the description/premise intrigues me. Seems a bit experimental and potentially original.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS- Written and produced by Joss Whedon, this film looks to be a genre bending flick from what little I know of it. Count me interested enough to find out for myself.
SAMARITAN- This looks like a nice little crime thriller, but the trailer gives away pretty much the entire film. But that aside I’m still interested in seeing it. I would just urge people to avoid the trailer.
If you think I missed a film worth seeing this spring, feel free to put in your two cents. But I don’t think I missed any. :).
I’m always amazed how people get to this site.
It is so cool, some of the people who have links to my site. Mr. Walter Koenig being the latest one. Thanks all, for the links. They are deeply appreciated.
Okay onto the post:
This post is some rambling notes for myself, so bear with it:
I just saw REC the Spanish Horror thriller, I’m pimping a review to a paying site, so I won’t say much here except to say, I hated CLOVERFIELD and BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, all these found footage films; and REC avoids the weaknesses and pitfalls of all previous attempts at such a conceit, and manages to imbue it with real strength.
The film is fantastic. And damn Hollywood for remaking it rather than just giving it a US release. People aren’t morons, at least most people; this subtitled movie would have done great in the theaters.
But the suits in Hollywood are all greed and no taste. So we get watered down Americanized versions of great foreign movies. Typically inferior garbage, that only weakens the strength of the original film.
I have not seen QUARANTINE. After being stupid enough to see the garbage that was THE STRANGERS rather than the French original, I’ve learned my lesson.
I avoid Hollywood remakes, at least until I see the original first.
So REC was worth the wait. Fantastic film. Unfortunately for those wanting to see popular foreign films, Hollywood doesn’t make it easy, because they want you to see their crappy US remake, and buy that version on DVD.
So as of this writing, there are no region 1 DVDs available of great foreign films like REC.
Thankfully as long as you have a region free DVD player, which you really should have, and access to a foreign DVD seller, you’re good. Because the rest of the world isn’t as crippled and locked down as the studios have the American market. In the rest of the world, they release foreign films theatrically, and release foreign DVDs. Imagine that.
And that’s exactly what I did. I bought a region 3 DVD of REC, and it rocks.
But realistically you shouldn’t be at the mercy of the studios regarding seeing foreign films and tv shows.
It’s all greed.
They take a popular foreign series, delay the release of any region 1 DVDs so instead they can feed you their crappy US remake, and their crappy DVD. THEN they release the original series on region 1 DVD! So it’s double dipping! They generate ad revenue on the broadcast of their remake. then they generate revenue on their remake’s DVDs. then they generate revenue on DVD sales of the original!!! It’s a ripoff!
So I say screw em. Get yourself a multi-region Dvd, and then you’re not at the mercy of region 1 release schedules.
And the funny thing about that is, even when they release foreign tv shows on region 1 dvd, often the DVD is edited and cut differently then the original series. An example of this being JEKYLL BBC series. The show as broadcast in the states was cut, and the region 1 DVD is also cut. So if you want to see this series as it was released you have to purchase the Pal DVD.
And if you think the current DVD scenario is problematic, Bluray/HDDVD will further cripple your options, and put you further at the mercy of the studios. Which is why I’m in no rush to migrate away from the DVD. Hell there are enough DVD movies and tv shows I haven’t seen, that if they stopped making DVDs tomorrow, I would have enough used inventory floating around out there, to last me the rest of my life.
So screw you Hollywood studios! Screw you FOX!
So do your homework people, and don’t be deprived of seeing the films every other country gets to see. Take John Woo’s latest film RED CLIFF.
There’s no reason that film shouldn’t have gotten a US Theatrical release. But the greedy studios again, they want to be able to double, triple, and quadruple dip. So you’re going to have to wait to see the crappy Americanized remake or edited version of RED CLIFF, a year after the original has made the rounds. Then they are going to sell you the crappy American DVDs of RED CLIFF. And only after they’ve raked in all this money on feeding you two years of crap, are they finally going to release the original “director’s cut” Region1 DVD of John Woo’s RED CLIFF.
So you can wait two years for the Studios to feed you piecemeal John Woo’s vision. Or you know what, you can decide you want to have the same rights to see this film as someone in Thailand or London, and buy the DVD today. It makes me insane, how for such a supposedly free country, we are increasingly at the mercy of greedy fuckers.
And I understand profit.
I have no problem with profit. I have a problem when profit becomes a juggernaut of greed. A beast that eats away at the consumer, rather than just filling the needs of the consumer. And it’s even worse if the country producing the film, is not a western puppet.
One of the best films I saw last year was the Cuban bio-pic EL BENNY. I raved about it in my review last year. This is a film that should be seen by everyone. Especially Americans. Because it shows the world as something beyond the sound-bites of our nightly propaganda.
Unfortunately that’s the very reason many foreign films don’t get US releases, and don’t get DVD distribution. Which means some of the vital filmmakers of our age, Diop Mambety, Sembene Oursmane, their best films do not make it onto our shores. Are seen once, in a film festival, and then relegated to molding away in someone’s closet.
The move to all digital cinemas, will further marginalize such filmmakers. It’s all part and parcel of the same beast. It’s really, to a fine level, policing the content of what each region is exposed to. This even goes to the concept of having alternate endings and versions of films, a fad that i wholeheartedly despise.
It pisses in the face of cinema.
Why is CITIZEN KANE a classic? Or why is the THIRD MAN a classic? Or High Noon or JAWS or BRAVEHEART or DO THE RIGHT THING or BLOOD SIMPLE? Because these films offer a singular vision. A shared and shareable vision. An iconic and unwavering vision.
The fantastic ending of DOUBLE INDEMNITY comes to mind (and yes I know DI had an epilogue that was excised from the final version of this film. But the point is we did have a final version, and it is that one, singular version we saw, and those hard decisions that define a classic film).
And because of this, if you are 9 or if you are 90, and you have seen a great movie, you’ve largely seen the same movie. And you can share the memories, the conversation or the wow factor of that movie. It makes you part of a singular conversation. You gasp at the same moments at the end, you wow to the same scenes. It is a cultural connectivity that is very important, and unites the viewers, even if you didn’t see that film in the same theater, or in the same time, or in the same country, it is still the same film, its beats are the same, and you have that in common. That frame of reference.
In a world increasingly spinning itself apart, this shared cinematic conversation is a tiny way to keep ourselves together.
Cinema then, as that shared endless place in time where all our rosebuds are lost, and all our rosebuds are found.
As opposed to today with the move toward multiple endings. Which in the short term may seem an easy way for studios to triple dip as far as revenues, but in the long term it robs that film of its singular vision, its cultural connectivity. In the long term… it hurts film.
Because suddenly two people can have seen the same movie, but each remembers different endings. And the film rather than being a unique statement, that is memorable for the very fact it has the balls to lock itself in stone, and lock you, the viewers together, instead suddenly is something ephemeral, and transitory, and… forgettable.
The very act of having multiple endings, negates the ability of a film to be a classic. Period.
It negates the very ability of it to be a film, as far as I’m concerned.
It’s the act of a lazy filmmaker.
Multiple endings are great for “choose your own adventure” books and video games, but cinema has always been the domain of men and women, directors, who have something lasting to say to the world. Multiple endings negates the lasting voice of cinema.
DO you sense I really fing hate Hollywood suits?
And the only reason is because I love Hollywood. I grew up on cinema. I love Cinema enough to defend it perpetually and criticize, perpetually, the small minded, fing trolls, who temporarily, find themselves in positions they are not worthy of, interfering with the course of a medium, that was here long before them, and will be here long after they and their works have turned to dust.
Okay, that ends my rant. I’m jumped all over the place, but in summation…
Screw Hollywood. Get an ALL-REGION Dvd player. Screw Bluray. Support International sellers, and international filmmakers and generally screw Hollywood.
Oh and pick up REC, great movie.
This was spurred by a post on another site, and I’ve decided to weigh in with my own two cents.
As always 🙂 .
As much as it’s popular to bash Hollywood they’ve made some really strong and some really brilliant films in the last few years. So forgive me if some of my list is “Hollywood” obvious. 🙂 .
300- A medium changing film
CHILDREN OF MEN- ditto. I didn’t believe the hype people were giving it, but finally broke down and bought the DVD. Brilliant.
DEPARTED-for me a little Scorsese goes a long way, which means I get tired of his films quickly. That said I do think this is his best film in years.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN- deserving of its accolades
I AM LEGEND- probably outside of IRON MAN (and EL BENNY) the most fun I’ve had in the theater all year. One of the rare remakes that transcends its predecessors. And that scene in the darkened building… heart-poundingly impressive
RAMBO- people write off Stallone as being stupid, and his films being mindless. I’d argue nothing could be further from the truth. I would say much like the first RAMBO (FIRST BLOOD: which Stallone worked on the screenplay for) this film is a sharp indictment of its audience. It is a mirthless mirror of the audiences own bloodlust, and the fallacy of concepts such as hero… or villain. It’s a mirthless satire painted in broad strokes of blood.
SUPERMAN RETURNS- Had its flaws, but its strengths outweighed them
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
PAN’S LABYRINTH- Del Toro’s most personal film, mixes beautiful fantasy and sickening horror, into a stew that is pure cinema.
OPEN RANGE- along with TOMBSTONE and UNFORGIVEN and LONESOME DOVE (yeah I know it was made for tv, it’s still great) one of the best westerns in the last 2 decades. And more than that it’s one of the best westerns… period.
THE DECAY OF FICTION- which had a new screening this year, is an experimental flick, with allusions to film noir and Bunuel. And more than anything… is a love letter to a building. Challenging going, but worth a viewing.
THE DESCENT-I thought Dog Soldiers was amateurish at best, boring and predictable and unoriginal at worst. The same is being said for the director’s DOOMSDAY film. But between those two films, he somehow managed to crank out one of the greatest horror films to hit screens since SEVEN. Unquestionably a work that will stand the test of time.
SLITHER- A throwback to everything great about 80s horror movies
Some lesser known, foreign, and straight to DVD recommendations are:
MEMORIES OF MURDER- Not just my favorite Korean Movie, but one of my favorite movies of all time. Just brilliantly made drama/thriller/cop procedural film.
HOST- follow-up by the director of Memories of Murder, is flawed and overlong, but is still frigging fantastic.
3-IRON- it defies words. Except to say… I loved it. Go buy a copy now. Don’t read anything about it, just buy the DVD pop it in, and prepared to be… entranced.
OLDBOY- While no fan of this director’s earlier SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, and while I have no intention of sitting through OLDBOY a 2nd time, I cannot deny it is astounding, mind exploding filmmaking.
TAE GUK-Is pretty much a Korean version of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, but I think it is that rare homage that equals and some may even say… surpasses the original. Phenomenal film.
THE BIRD PEOPLE OF CHINA- From a director whose work I generally can’t stand, comes this meditative, funny, brilliant, warm, touching, and utterly human fable. Along with MEMORIES OF MURDER one of my favorite discoveries of the last ten years.
EL BENNY- This bio-pic on Cuba’s greatest and most controversial musician, is done against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution, and is a sumptuously photographed ode, to an age and a time and a county. Saw it at the 16th annual Pan-African film festival and again… it’s one that goes in that favorite discoveries pile. This is the film I’d urge you to see before anything else on this list. Not necessarily because it is better, it’s a B+ movie and some of the others on this list are As and A+s… but I think it may well be a film that adds something valuable to how you view the world…and as such I weight it a little higher than mere escapism. Plus it is a great film, with some of the world’s most beautiful women.
DARESALAM- Named after the region where blood still flows. Probably you have to go all the way back to BATTLE OF ALGIERS to find a film that is as utterly of and about, the nature of colonialism and what that means to still ongoing wars in distant lands. Yet another of my favorite discoveries of the last ten years. Hollywood needs to reach out to this director
CITY OF GOD- an oldie, but a goodie. nuff said
DIRECT TO DVD
Steven Segal’s return to form comes in URBAN JUSTICE. This action film is smartly written, well directed, and with a movie saving performance by Eddie Griffen. After years of sub par Segal flicks, this one hits the target. Worth a buy.
And last but not least…
Actually not on DVD, and not strictly speaking a movie, the Internet Fan Film in 3 parts STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN… is just plain fun. A low budget ode to everything that made the original concept of Star trek so enduring, a concept that Paramount and the suits just don’t get. If you’re sick of bad star trek movies and bad star trek tv shows (the quickly canceled Scott Bakula Enterprise comes to mind) you might want to give this film a look (done by people who aren’t making a dime, for no other reason… than love). I enjoyed it, and you may too.
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