Why Did Kyle Get to Stay on the Bus?

 

wendellIn Lee’s Get on the Bus, there is a scene where we learn that both Wendell and Kyle support the Republican Party. Wendell goes on a tirade about “niggas like Jackson” to make the point that Black leaders seem to be always asking for some form of patronage, leading him to say, “They all say the same thing, ‘Hire us. Feed us. Affirmative Action’. Like we need America to keep a nipple in our mouth” (1:05:58). Kyle reiterates this point in his defense. He says, “Democrats wanna keep us powerless, docile, begging for handouts. Running around having babies without even a minute plan for their future” (1:06:17). So why did Wendell get thrown off the bus, but Kyle didn’t? Continue reading “Why Did Kyle Get to Stay on the Bus?”

Chi-Raq: A failed satire if there ever was one

As Chicago native it’s hard for me to look at any piece of creative work that is inspired/about the city of Chicago without a critical eye. It is my hometown and in my opinion the greatest city on earth. Therefore, when I first heard back in November that Spike Lee was making a movie about the violence in Chicago based on a Greek tragedy I was skeptical, but open minded. I knew that Lee was a cerebral film maker and a lover of the advancement of Black people, so while I was a little nervous about how the project would pan out I still had hope that it would a solid film. A month later the trailer came out and twenty seconds into it I was both appalled and disappointed. It appeared that the movie’s humor and message focused less on all the institutional problems that perpetuate the violence in Chicago and more on a trivial storyline about women using sex to stop (institutional and systemic) violence– yeah, okay.

I have two major issues with the film. The first, is that I think it did very little to highlight and expose the issues for why there is such widespread violence in the city. The second, is that I think its objectification and sexualization of Black women was both over the top and pointless. In summary, I found the whole movie to be inappropriate. There were times were a character, mostly the Father Mike Corridan’s (based on the preacher and activist Father Pfleger) made good points about why the violence was so bad what needed to be done to stop it. In the beginning of the film when Corridan is giving a speech about why little Patti was murdered, he touched upon subjects like how the black market for guns is discriminatory in the neighborhoods it targets, how the lack of affordable housing causes Black families in high concentration of poverty…. etc, and these were all the reasons why the South side was a hotbed for gun violence. This sermon was the most redeeming scene in the movie. It actually informed the viewer on why the violence in Chicago was so bad, and why it needed to stop. The rest of the movie going forward was a serious regression in topic.

I understand that Lee was using satire to make a point. My issue is what point was he trying to make exactly? I feel like the satire in the film achieved nothing in exposure of the systemic violence in a city I love so dearly. I don’t know what contribution this film made to making the lives of those who live in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, Englewood, Austin, and Woodlawn better. There was a wake up call at the end of the film, reminiscent of School Daze, but what it was about I can’t say. It seemed like the message the film was attempting to portray at times was that Blacks need to start loving and respecting each other more, and that will solve the violence. While more self-love and self-care in the Black community would not hurt, it cannot solve the systemic violence that currently persists. What is happening in Chicago and other urban centers is a the apex of institutional racism that has existed in the American government and its treatment of African Americans since the Emancipation Proclamation. So sorry, Spike, your clever idea about relating the violence of Black men killing other Black to the Peloponnesian war didn’t quite hit the mark. You failed to expose the problem and deliver any real advancement to the people who are constantly being screwed over by this violence.

 

who is to blame?

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In Chiraq spike lee really focuses in on the conditions of the, urban center of Chicago particularly focusing on gun violence and murder. Throughout the film lee glazes over what actually causes these conditions in the communities where they occur. He sometimes alludes to systematic and institutional racism but never really delves deep into these ideas in the film. Lee then further complicates this idea of responsibility and who or what is to blame for these socio-economic conditions at the end of the film when the main character. Chiraq confesses to committing the accidental murder of Irene’s 11-year-old daughter and in an ending scene he begins to recite the lyrics of a song. As Chiraq walks down the aisle of the church there are praise dancers dancing in white behind him. The lyrics talk about gang and community members making change where they live and taking accountability for their own lives and actions. The significance of the praise dancers dressed in white dancing during his soliloquy is that they are affirming his message. The fact that praise dance is religious and they are dressed in white, a color associated with purity, good energy and cleansing affirms that Chiraq is doing the “right thing”. This sequence says to me that the conditions of Chicago are brought on by the people who live there, themselves as opposed to the conditions of violence and poverty being a result of a system. A system that fails to provide the urban centers of the world with adequate resources and opportunity, and so as a result poverty and violence are spawned. With this movie ending on that note I don’t really know how spike views this influx of violence limited to urban centers. I’m not sure if he deems it the fault of the people who inhabit these spaces or if he alludes is to system that is failing them. So the question that remains to me from the point of view as the audience for this film based on what spike has provided us with, is who is to blame.

GTA: San Andreas a Problem?

In 2006, Spike Lee dropped his new joint Inside Man. In this film, the only child hostage, a young black boy, is playing a overly violent video game that has the typical ‘black thug’ as the main character. I think that this is meant to be an indictment of the hugely popular 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Continue reading “GTA: San Andreas a Problem?”

Malcolm X

I first watched this movie when I was in 7th grade. Not in school, not in a predominately white district in a small town in North Carolina. I saw it at home with my parents. I had known nothing about Malcolm X previous to viewing. My grandparents had a picture of him doing his famous thinking pose next to MLK Jr., who looked calmly ahead, on their wall. I didn’t even know that that was Malcolm X. But I was intrigued by the picture – he looked so intelligent. When I thought about Malcolm X, vague terms came to mind. “Radical”, “black panther”, and “violent” to name a few. That is what I got from school. MLK Jr. was lauded and Malcolm X was ignored, or spoken about in those terms. I watched Malcolm X for the first time, and also for the first time, felt rage over something not related to me. I considered it a gross injustice that he had been painted so poorly in my head; that I had been lied to, or at least mislead; and that he had been assassinated for daring to speak poorly of other people, when he was right. That is not the America I had known. And for the first time I was forced to think about free speech. I was forced to think, heavily, about being black. Following the viewing, I did research of my own. I learned about Fred Hampton, and COINTELPRO. This movie is the first time I critically thought about race issues. And for that reason, other than that it is an amazing movie in its own right, Malcolm X is my favorite Spike Lee movie. And I agree with him completely. Everyone should be forced to watch it.

Mistakes in Mo’ Better Blues

 

Spike Lee’s characters are often times complex and ambiguous. Think of Sal from Do The Right Thing, or Delacroix from Bamboozled. Lee’s characters have warped or misguided views based on their history and upbringing. Despite these views, audience members can connect with them on a certain level because Lee redeems their misgivings by shining light on their humaneness in certain aspects of each film. Two characters that really stood out to me in Mo’ Better Blues are Moe and Josh Flatbush. These characters stood out not in their mistakes or their humanity, but rather their mechanical and almost cartoonish nature.

Lee's opening shot of the Flatbush brothers in front of a computer is fitting as he portrays them as robots who only care about the bottom line (28:02).
Lee’s opening shot of the Flatbush brothers in front of a computer is fitting as they are shown to be robotic and only care about the bottom line (28:02).

Continue reading “Mistakes in Mo’ Better Blues”

Black-on-Black Violence in Video Games

Compared to the other movies we’ve watched thus far, Inside Job seems only tangentially related to issues of race and racism in America. Of course, this is not quite true. Inside Job is a Spike Lee film, after all. But Lee’s discussion of race is much more subtle. It does not take center stage. Instead, race comes up in the small interactions, away from the gunfire and the guns. It occurs, for instance, during interactions between the white Ms. White and the black Detective Frazier, in which Ms. White threatens Frazier’s job and reputation, and Frazier responds by telling Ms. White to “kiss my black ass.” Racism also rears its head when there is a Seikh who is automatically considered more suspicious because of the turban he wears.

Continue reading “Black-on-Black Violence in Video Games”

Every Ni**** is a Star

The Black power movement from the sixties and seventies was all about embracing America’s past but also moving forward with the future, particularly with vocabulary. Terminology became a very important aspect to the Black power/empowerment movement because it was a grasp at identity formation– no longer settling for an identity given by a White “superior.” The evolution of word choice from nigger, to negro, to Black, to African American encompass that Blacks were working on embracing their skin color but not at the expense of a derogatory epithet.  With this, the n-word in the mid twentieth century became readapted by blacks but as a source self-determination. An embracing the n-word as a source of power and no longer degradation.

In Bamboozled when Delacroix is holding auditions for his minstrel show one of his auditionees gives a performance where the he ends his audition with singing “Niggers is a beautiful thing.” While this song is in many ways blatantly ridiculous and perhaps crass in nature, it also depending on the light you look at it, can be taken as a positive affirmation of black people. The man who is giving this audition looks to be in his late fifties, early sixties and most likely was young in a time when the n-word was being readopted by black to be used by black people as a positive word. Evidence of this seventies movement for blacks endorsing the n-word can been seen in Boris Gardiner’s 1973 song Every Nigger is a Star. Here Gardiner sings that black is beautiful, just with a word that many people take issue with depending on whose mouth it’s in. Lee’s use of this particular audition is meant to show the complexity of the word nigger and what it means to different people. When Dunwitty says it the audience of the film knows it is racist. When the old black man says it the audience is forced to question how bad of a word it really is. The n-word dilemma metaphorically speaks to the issue of a minstrel on TV because the show stars two black actors and is being produced by a black man.   Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.10.16 AM

The shots used in this scene are a back and forth between the old man and Delacroix and his assistants. Whenever the camera is on the old man though the New York Times Square-esq back drop is never shown. The shot is just the old man in his ill-fitting suit and purple hat. I think the purpose of eliminating the back drop from this scene is meant to show that what the old man is saying is applicable not just for the show but in general. Niggers is a beautiful thing is something that is true regardless if it used in the show or not– so it should not be taken in context of the show. The reason for the purple hat is to illustrate wisdom. While his performance at first may seem absurd, he in many ways has a large knowledge of theater and black people both with his affirmation song and his quoting of Shakespeare. The color purple is typically associated with wisdom and in this scene the old man might be the smartest/wisest person in the room.