"Altruistic" movies legitimize racism, inequality, and imperialism

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Michelle
"Altruistic" movies legitimize racism, inequality, and imperialism

This is an excellent article by Mita Sengupta, which explores the racist themes of the movies that topped the Oscars this year: Precious, Avatar, The Blind Side, etc.

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Lee Daniel's Precious transports us to Harlem, to the world of Precious Jones, an illiterate, obese and sexually abused black teenager. John Lee Hancock's The Blind Side -- adapted from a biography of NFL superstar, Michael Oher -- follows the troubled life of another overweight and undereducated dark-skinned teen. Loaded with racial allegory, the science fiction blockbusters up for Best Picture also promise insight into the plight of the culturally distant -- segregated blacks under South Africa's apartheid regime in Niall Blomkamp's District 9, and aboriginal communities on the brink of colonization in James Cameron's Avatar. One might add to this mix last year's Best Picture winner, Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which ventured into the sprawling slums of Mumbai to chronicle the journey of a young boy, Jamal Malik, as he navigated through a childhood ravaged by poverty and crime. 

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The denials of humanity and agency we see in Precious and Slumdog are not without consequence. They provide ideological justification to policy agendas that only deepen the misery of the poor. Viewing the "slum" as a worthless space mired in evil and decay only paves the way for involuntary relocation and demolition (on this, see my earlier review of Slumdog). The spectre of the sexually voracious, criminally fertile, welfare-cheating black mother of Precious has been used to restrict the access of single black mothers to federal poverty programs and subject them to forced sterilisation (on this, see Melissa Harris-Lacewell's review of Precious).

The theme of pathological black motherhood also runs through The Blind Side (Oher's "mama's on the crack-pipe" and can't remember who fathered him or how many children she's had). In a particularly unsettling snatch of dialogue we're told by Oher's rich, white adoptive father that "Michael's gift is his ability to forget." Forget what exactly? His life of poverty, or his blackness?

Michelle

Frig, I still can't quote properly.  It makes me nuts.  Sorry about that, folks.  I have no idea why my quote function isn't working properly.

antsunited

Ishmael Reed goes after the financial contribution made to the NAACP by the "Precious" producers and the subsequent NAACP Image award for the movie.

http://counterpunch.org/reed03052010.html

 

Michelle

That was an amazing article.  Thanks so much for posting that!

500_Apples

I wonder if the professional complainers consider HBO's "The Wire" to be racist.

I think the only way to avoid the racism criticism is to simply never deal with race. For example, on Avatar, not one person who criticized the movie as racist gave a proper suggestion as to how it could have been not racist. That reality comprehensively dismantles the value of the criticism.

Personally, I would rather have art that deals with issues of race, even if imperfectly, than to have an art world that ignores the issue altogether.

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The Blind Side -- adapted from a biography of NFL superstar, Michael Oher -- follows the troubled life of another overweight and undereducated dark-skinned teen.

It's a story about an NFL player, of course he's overweight.

The message of that quote is that Hollywood should pretend black culture doesn't exist, and blacks should be portrayed identically to how whites are portrayed. Well, it does exist, and like it or not sports are a big part of that culture.

Science fiction can legitimately get away with at times pretending race doesn't exist as it often takes place far in the future. Guess what follows? Critics harping the work is racist for pretending race doesn't exist. I'm thinking of an interracial couple in Firefly.

Unionist

To situate Ishmael Reed's above-linked article in context, you at least have to first read his earlier review:

[url=http://www.counterpunch.org/reed12042009.html]The selling of "Precious": Hollywood's Enduring Myth of the Black Male Sexual Predator[/url]

And perhaps Carl Dix and Annie Day's response (to which Reed responds in his latest piece):

[url=http://revcom.us/a/189/precious-en.html]The Controversy over PRECIOUS: The Demonization of Black Men? Or, Shining a Light on the Squandered Potential of "Precious Girls Everywhere" and Why Everyone Should Want That Realized[/url]

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Brilliant article in the OP. Thanks, Michelle.

I love Ishmael Reed, but I can't access the counterpunch articles. Maybe the site is down right now?

ETA: it's up now, or it least my problem is no more. Great stuff!

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I think the only way to avoid the racism criticism is to simply never deal with race. For example, on Avatar, not one person who criticized the movie as racist gave a proper suggestion as to how it could have been not racist. That reality comprehensively dismantles the value of the criticism.

Actually, I recall someone--maybe an article, maybe a babbler--why Jake Sully was required at all. That seemed to me to be a decent start. It's also a question Reed asks in his articles: why do we market movies with depraved black characters rather than heroic or intelligent ones?