When Mute is not an Option

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My father seldom scolded me as a child but I do remember there was one instance when he threw up his hands, thoroughly exasperated, when I constantly answered him back on a subject I felt strongly about.

Dad:  You always have to get the last word, don’t you?

Me (in protesting voice):  No, I don’t!

Needless to say, this character flaw has continued into adulthood – as everyone who reads notesfromachair is aware of.

On the other hand, is it really a flaw?

There are many schools of thought on the art of having opinions and knowing when to voice them.  Admittedly, I have learned to zip it through the years if only to conserve the much-needed energy I know I’ll require in order to face the larger fight.  Yes, you find as time goes by that you can’t possibly engage every battle and, even if you could, your overall number of losses would inevitably increase even if the total stats in your win-loss column remains impressive to everyone else.  That alone can drive you crazy, as any fighter of any kind will tell you, myself included.

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

Still, what I have not learned nor have any interest in acquiring knowledge of is the ability to remain silent when that little voice in your head tells you it is imperative that you speak.  This is not the same voice that demands that you curse someone out, punch them in the nose or insult their parents, spouse or child when something or someone annoys you.   It is the wiser, more measured voice that implores you to fight back because you know this is a battle that must be fought or a voice that even in small measure has to be heard in order to counterbalance the misinformed, moronic or simply wrong-headed views of another person, group or even nation.

Such circumstances came across my computer screen any number of times this week (as they often do) and I spoke out – loudly, softly, directly, calmly and angrily, depending on the situation.  See, what I’ve also learned is that you can modulate your tone depending on who your audience is and how effective you plan to be in persuading the opposition to your point of view in the argument.  Contrary to what I used to think, that’s not called compromise or selling out your passion or values – it’s simply referred to as– GOOD STRATEGY.  (Or is it “stategery” – GW Bush).

Let’s look at some my examples in a category I like to call:

Nut Bag Fringe & The Religious Crazies (not a band) or The Extreme Right Wing

A common misconception

A common misconception

As a gay person, each day presents numerous challenges in the art of energy conservation and reigning yourself in.  Of course, this is the case for any member of any minority groups fighting for its rights as well as for the friends who love and support them.  But with the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality and the country’s now majority view that members of the same sex have the right to tie the knot, opposing factions have intensified their anger and attacks.  It’s akin to the barely coded and/or totally racist attacks against President Obama and African-Americans at large (Note: Any more comments on inner city laziness, Congressman Paul Ryan?) have had to endure since we elected the first Black man to lead the United States (or in this case – a man who is half-Black) in our more than two and half centuries of existence.  (Note #2: It might be worth recalling that during our first century African Americans couldn’t even vote and were considered “slave property” in many of these United States.  Those in the industry doubting this need merely to pop in their DVD of this year’s best picture Oscar winner, 12 Years A Slave).

Okay, no metaphor is perfect and perhaps I am overstating the comparison here.  I mean, we gays were never enslaved – only discriminated against, arrested, periodically beaten and just every so often killed by our oppressors.   But that in itself is a nice segue into the first of two public statements this past week that needed my answering.

#1: In a nationally-aired radio interview, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (D-MN) tried to defend the just vetoed Arizona bill (SB1062) that would have allowed any business to refuse service to any individuals said business choose not to serve on the basis of religious grounds. Said Rep. Bachman:

There’s nothing about gays in there (the law).  But the gay community decided to make this their measure. 

The thing that I think is getting a little tiresome is the gay community – they’ve so bullied the American people and they’ve so intimidated politicians that politicians fear them – so that they think they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.

boo!

boo!

Now, you can think Rep. Bachmann makes a whole lot of sense or is a whole lotta crazy but the fact remains she is a five-term Congresswoman and has a key position as a member of the House Intelligence Committee (Note: Uh no, not joking) overseeing the CIA and the rest of the United States’ intelligence activities.  She also won the Iowa straw poll in 2012 in her bid to run for the US presidency as a nominee of the Republican Party and speaks for a significant group of religious conservative power brokers within it.  Therefore, any member of any outside group ignores her at their own peril.

What needed answering – as I did on web comments and am doing right here – is Rep. Bachmann’s classic fact distortion about the Arizona bill. Yes, the bill is worded in such a way that it does not specifically name gays and thus allows merchants to refuse service to any people they choose on religious grounds. (Note: As if that makes it any better).  But what she leaves out is the reason for the bill to begin with and the primary cases cited by numerous lobbying groups in support of it.  And that would be Elane Photography vs. Willock – a case in which a Christian wedding photographer was sued for refusing to serve a same sex wedding.  Similar cases involving bakers and florists who chose to refuse gays and lesbians as customers have also been cited.

Don't forget we're also dealing with this logic

Don’t forget we’re also dealing with this logic

This is classic political manipulation akin to pending laws trying to limit early voting, decrease voting hours on Election Day and enforce stringent voter ID laws in states where no overwhelming voter fraud exists or time cutbacks are needed (e.g. Florida, Wisconsin, Florida).  But what is certainly well-known in these states is that the African American and other poor or minority community members – people who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats –  vote early, have limited time on Election Day and frequently don’t have driver’s licenses to easily identify themselves.

Now, as Aretha Franklin once sang, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

#2:  Here is a story very prominently quoted nationally this week and displayed on a website sponsored by Norman Lear’s watchdog group, People for the American Way:

Oliver North: GOP Must Oppose Marriage Equality Like It Fought Slavery

In an appearance at CPAC today, Oliver North denounced President Obama for treating military service members like “laboratory rats in some radical social experiment” and “apologizing” for America. North insisted that the US “has nothing ever to apologize for, not once” in its entire history.

Later, North said that the GOP must remain firm in working to ban marriage equality and abortion rights just as abolitionists fought to end slavery, warning that “if we as conservatives cease to be a place where people of faith and those who believe in strong moral values can come, we will cease to be a political force in America.”

For those under 30, Oliver North was a key member of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council in the 1980s before resigning in the arms for hostages scandal of Iran-Contra and is now a best-selling NY Times author, popular conservative commentator and host of his own television show on the Fox News Channel, War Stories with Oliver North.

Remember me?

Remember me?

When my longtime companion posted the North piece on Facebook this week with an angry comment, one of his Facebook friends, who incidentally is a gay man, commented that “political discourse would probably be less apoplectic if the left didn’t spend so much time publicizing extremist statements by right-wing loonies and if the right didn’t spend so much time doing the same by left-loonies, neither of whom were in positions in power.”

Oh, I so beg and begged in print to this guy, to differ.

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

When fringe talk gets national attention and begins gaining national power it is the very definition of political discourse to engage with it – much like a military man like Col. North would do and is doing.  It is imperative.  It is a requirement.  Yes, it’s tiring, but if you are so moved in opposition it is your obligation to answer back and not leave such exaggerated, misinformed statements unchecked.

Rather than dissect each of former Col. North’s arguments point by point, let’s limit it to his comparison of religious conservatives fighting against the right of gays to marry as something akin to the abolitionists who were trying to end slavery.  So the logic goes that allowing gays to marry will somehow enslave religious conservatives?  And those fighting in support of the religious conservative, anti-gay marriage views are akin to those people who wanted to abolish slavery and free the slaves?  How will gay marriage enslave religious people in the same way that African Americans were enslaved?  (Note: Doubters from any industry can rent or download 12 Years a Slave from Netflix and find the correct answer.  Which is:  They will not).

I think the jist is... see this movie!

I think the jist is… see this movie!

See, this didn’t take much time at all.  And it only took me mere moments to answer this guy online with it.  Maybe it changed his mind, maybe it didn’t, or maybe it gave someone else who was on the fence something to think about.

Well, as they say, both Rome and marriage equality weren’t built in a day.  Nor is any cause that gets your goat, or any point the voice inside tells you is worth fighting for or against.  In any arena, playing field, social event or family gathering and on any subject – personal or otherwise – that you know needs your support.  I can’t believe I’m going to end with a sports metaphor but when in doubt think of what hockey great Wayne Gretsky once said:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

…And I don’t even like hockey.

Win, Lose or Awe: Betting the Oscars

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One of my best Academy Award predictions was in 2003 when I told my Dad to bet on Sofia Coppola in the best original screenplay category for Lost in Translation.  She not only got her Oscar but my father won several thousand dollars he happily split with me.

Of course, those were the days when websites still gave great odds on categories that almost anyone vaguely involved in the biz knew were pretty sure things.   (Note:  I think the early odds we got on Ms. Coppola were something like 13-1).

They were also the times when racist politicians could make bigoted remarks to local constituents and/or at fundraisers without fear of an international media blitz via Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.   Needless to say, that era has ended.

We now live in a world where even a professional football player can’t bully one of his teammates in a locker room or insult the player’s mother and/or sister without lawsuit and public retribution.  What’s next – everyone’s vote getting counted in a presidential election?  Well, I might be willing to sacrifice another Oscar betting windfall for that providing the name Hillary is listed as a nominee in one of those races.

Until then, those who want some quick cash at this time of year are left only with the measly remains of the local Oscar office pool or the generous rewards from one of the grand charity events you might be attending where predicting the outcome of the Academy Awards is even more popular than Olympic curling.  (Note:  You say you don’t care, didn’t watch or don’t even know what curling is?  Um, I beg to differ).

Oh, you know me.

Oh, you know me.

But back to what really matters here  – Oscarmania and how we can profit from it.

I’m not sure it’s terribly exciting to predict the Academy Awards anymore until I peruse virtually every magazine, newspaper or website within view of a Goggle Glass and see all evidence to the contrary.  Judging from what I’m reading, all of these sources have many more readers, advertisers and well-funded marketing surveyors proving to them that I am wrong and that we all secretly, outwardly or even perversely do care.  Whether you think of the Oscars as an apple pie tradition or something akin to watching the DVD of Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls, Battlefield Earth or Movie 43 (Note: This all depends on the year you were born), the odds are you will be watching, betting, watching some more or, at the very least, dishing about the Oscars.  So you might want to be armed with just a little more information and be a part of all the…fun?

But please, be forewarned – there is no scientific basis for any of following.  I have not meticulously done research weighing the statistical likelihood of who will win or what might happen based on the results of current guild award winners and anonymous marketing studies from expensive media consultants paid to unofficially check-in with (nee “lobby) Oscar voters.  This is just me – the winner of the Sofia Coppola sweepstakes eleven years ago and owner of a lifetime of show business disappointments and near exhilarations – telling you what is likely to happen.

THE SHOW

The Golden Gal?

The Golden Gal?

It will be too long.  Ellen DeGeneres will be a fun if not much safer host than last year’s Seth MacFarlane.  It will get boring at parts.  You will get tired.  And – there will be few surprises even though everyone says that each year there will be some.  Still, here’s some stuff we don’t know but might expect.

1. The producers have announced Bette Midler will be singing on this year’s show for the very first time.  What will she sing?  Hmmmm, let’s see.  The producers have also announced the theme of this year’s program will be movie heroes, Ms. Midler wasn’t featured on any of the nominated songs and we have to figure out how to fit her in the program so it will all make sense that she’s there in the first place.

Speaking of Bettes...

Speaking of Bettes…

Prediction #1:  Bette will sing Wind Beneath My Wings (…did you ever know that you’re my HERO…and everything I would like to be…) and it will probably be over the In Memoriam portion of the program.

2. Pink has been announced as a performer for a highly anticipated moment on this year’s show.  How do you not love Pink?  And how does any movie lover also not love The Wizard of Oz, which will receive a 75th anniversary celebration on this year’s Oscar show.  Well, Pink has a magical quality to her and often likes to sing upside down in a circus-like theme, so….

Prediction #2:  Pink will sing Over the Rainbow during the Oz tribute, evoking a sort of modern day, surviving version of an adult 2014 Judy Garland in movie business Oz.   Unless, they figure out a way to tie in Pink’s penchant for aerial acrobatics to best picture nominee Gravity, which I am so, so, so hoping they don’t do.  Or wait – maybe I’m hoping that they do do!!

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

3. Two of the most superb independent movies of 2013 – Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station – received a total of zero Oscar nominations.  It’s difficult to understand why since often a very small film sneaks into at least a screenplay, if not best picture nomination (e.g. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Precious).  Some people will tell you the Academy chose the larger, racially historic themes of 12 Years A Slave instead of Fruitvale and the similarly small, character-based storytelling of Her, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Short Term 12. This may or may not be the case.

Prediction #3:  Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station will receive no mention at all during this year’s Oscar show unless it’s in the introduction to ST’s much over-looked star Brie Larson, who has been announced as a presenter.  But even that is doubtful since they will probably refer to her as merely the co-star of the upcoming remake of The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg.  What a shame.

THE AWARDS

Best Original Screenplay:  Spike Jonze, Her

Betting Meter:  Sure Thing

the future is now

the future is now

Anyone you talk to in the business will tell you privately that Her was certainly the most original story of the year – even people who don’t think it’s the best movie of the year.  Forget that Spike Jonze has won most of the writing awards so far.  For my money, of the nine nominees Her was the best film of the year.  Count on this for the Sofia Coppola moment.  And wager the rent.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave

Betting Meter:  Safe Bet

12-years-of-not-fancy-dining

Oscar eyes his competition

There’s a lot of diverse work in this category but it usually comes down to the overall impact of the film rather than the quality of the script.  The adaptation of the memoir of a free Black man who was kidnapped by two White men and brutally enslaved for 12 years in the Civil War era South is Oscar bait in that it takes an unusual, larger than life political story and tells it in a human manner (Note:  Last year’s winner in this category was Argo).  Truth be told I was underwhelmed by both 12 Years A Slave and Argo.  The latter felt diffuse and disjointed while 12 Years seemed repetitious and strangely undramatic in its constant use of inhumane, brutal beatings in order to make the same dramatic point twelve times.   Still, the Academy voters don’t give a whit (or is it shit?) what I think and the debate over what makes great film drama on the page is only one small factor in who wins a screenplay Oscar.  Which is why Mr. Ridley is a safe bet.

Best Supporting Actress:  Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave 

Betting Meter:  Slightly Favored

The best thing about 12 Years A Slave was this relative newcomer’s performance -heartbreaking, human, multi-layered and seemingly out of nowhere.  That’s what this category is all about when it’s not about a lifetime achievement award for the entire body of work of a perpetually ignored Hollywood veteran (e.g.  Remember Jack Palance’s acceptance speech pushups onstage when he won for 1991’s City Slickers? Anyone? Bueller?).

Girl, you know you got my vote

Girl, you know you got my vote

The buzz is that the universally beloved Jennifer Lawrence could sneak in for her charmingly frenetic seriocomic turn in American Hustle.  But I’d bet even JLaw voted for Lupita.  Though I wouldn’t bet for money –  it’d have to be more of a Jackass type wager.

Best Supporting Actor:  Jared Leto, Dallas Buyer’s Club

Betting Meter: Sure Thing

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bet the house.  I and many of my friends lived through the AIDs era of Dallas Buyer’s Club.  And while there is much to be debated about what the film left out, there is no debate over the accuracy and unexpected originality of the actor’s work here.  Straight men playing a gay, transgendered or cross-dressing character tend to evoke performance or caricature or just plain too much sass and/or nobility.  That wasn’t the case in this instance.  When a male actor can make you believe that the one time he is in opposite gender clothing is the one time you see him in a suit, tie and combed hair, then you know you’re watching a total transformation and not a carnival hat trick.  That and much, much more, was always the case every time Mr. Leto appeared onscreen.  Brava.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine 

Betting Meter:  Closer Than You Think

If you’re wagering, I’d resist tossing all the coin on this category.  Sure, everyone thinks Ms. Blanchett will win for portraying a sort of Blanche DuBois meets Ruth Madoff neurotic madwoman/scorned wife and she probably will since she’s picked up every other major award this season.  Plus, as an actress she has industry-wide admiration and has never won in this category.  Not to mention voters will enjoy resisting the whispered speculation that they will lead a backlash against Woody Allen due to his recently renewed molestation scandals and, in turn, deny the leading lady of his latest film an award.

Both fierce suits

Both fierce suits

But still – consider Gravity made a fortune and Sandra Bullock is the #1 box-office movie star of the year if you also count in The Heat (Note: And…you try acting next to mostly green screen nothingness!). And then consider that many voters greatly admire Amy Adams and her performance as the young con woman among con men in American Hustle since most people in the Academy have spent at least a moment or two of their lives referring to working in the industry as navigating one big con game run amok among similar types of con artists, most of them men.

Okay, consider it.  But if you want to play safe with the rent money, put it on Cate to win.

Best Actor:  Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Betting Meter: Safe Bet

All right, All right, All right

All right, All right, All right

It’s his year, plain and simple.  Especially after a scene-stealing scene opposite Leonardo DiCaprio at the beginning of Wolf of Wall Street and a vulnerable and charismatic supporting performance in the indie film Mud this past year.

Still, this does not take away from Mr. McConaughey’s great work portraying a mostly unlikeable, misogynistic, homophobic bigot who only begins to get a tad nicer when he’s diagnosed with full-blown, terminal AIDS in the 1980s. Yes, losing 45 lbs. and the drama of embodying a dying man is yet another example of irresistible Oscar bait if done well.  Which it was.  So deal with it.

The one potential upset in this category could come from a groundswell of support for Mr. DiCaprio in Wolf since he’s both well-respected, constantly sought after and has never actually won an Oscar. Add to the mix the fact that Academy voters of all ages admire the work of Bruce Dern in Nebraska and would enjoy finally rewarding him a career Oscar for a career-making lead actor performance.

But….it’s MM’s year and MM’s to lose.  Chances are he won’t.

Best Director:  Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Betting Meter: The Surest Thing – More sure than you getting up tomorrow morning.

The magic man

The magic man

No one thinks he won’t win and no one thinks he shouldn’t win – except perhaps Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, and a few of its loudest proponents.  But the award this year has nothing to do with who does the most and loudest Oscar campaigning and everything to do with technical directorial achievement that moved cinema forward.  The latter seldom happens in the space of a decade, much less in a single 12-month period.  For most in the industry, that was the power of Gravity, a film that actually took more than four years to make.

It also helps that Mr. Cuaron has a large and varied body of films that includes everything from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban to the indie hit Y Tu Mama Tambien.  Though even if he didn’t direct those and other well-respected movies, he’d still win.

Innovation in a repetitively endless world of technology,  a.k.a. #2001ASpaceOdyssey2014.

 Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave, though I want to say Gravity 

Betting Meter:  Do Not Bet Under Any Circumstances!!!

Can she snag it?

Can she snag it?

My father would call this pick ‘em, which is a bookmaker term that means the odds could go either way.  In this case the choices are 12 Years and Gravity with American Hustle close behind.  What makes this so close is that 2013 wasn’t a great year in movies, simply a good year.  Meaning all three of these are good films but each have their faults when you strip them down.

That being said, the Academy usually errs on the most socially relevant and mainstream choice.  American Hustle has an odd zaniness but is seen as a comic parody of social mores.  Gravity doesn’t have social resonance but is what people in the biz are increasingly calling a movie movie – a film that harkens back to the kind of motion picture you have to see with other people on a large screen like they used to always do in the old days. (Note: That would be, uh, 10 years ago, right?).

12 Years fulfills both of these requirements.  It demands to be seen with other people around you in the quiet dark and is political, epic and socially relevant but not so much so that will alienate too many voters. (Note:  There is thankfully not a pro-slavery contingent in the Academy nor a substantial group of people who were offended enough by the excessive violence to withhold votes).

Last year’s surprise winner, Argo, had similar attributes.  Not that that means anything at all.

TIE-BREAKERS:

magic-8-ball

These are the ones that win and lose the pool.  Don’t bet on them individually because the Academy tends to reward these either as consolation prizes for films that won’t win in other categories or for showy work the broader membership likes to vote on as best but that is not necessarily the best.  Only sometimes do the winners emerge for the right reasons, mostly because no one knows that those really are.

Animated Feature:  Frozen.  No one thinks it’s necessarily the best but it’s good enough, has made millions and would, strangely enough, be the first Oscar winner in this category for Disney Animation Studios (Note:  The best animated feature Oscar originated in 2001 and though Disney has released numerous films that have won, the studio has never actually made one of the winners)

Documentary Feature:  20 Feet From Stardom.   No one in show business can resist stories about people who were wronged in show business, survived long enough to tell the tale – and are still working.   Plus, it’s good.

Cinematography: Gravity, Emmanuel Luberzki.  It’s technology and Gravity wins.

Costume Design:  American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson.  Sorry Great Gatsby it’s 1970s America.

Editing: Gravity, Alfronso Cuaron and Mark Sanger.  Technology wins.  Again.

Production Design: The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin. The 1920s trumps the future in terms of looks and partying.

Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects: Didn’t you hear me, technophobes — G.R.A.V.I.T.Y!!!!!  (There are a ton of names here so I won’t list all the individuals for fear I’m beginning to bore you). 

Makeup and Hairstyling:  Dallas Buyers Club, Andruitha Lee and Robin Matthews.  I will paraphrase the words of another prognosticator and tell you this:

No one at the Academy is anxious to hear the words Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa come out of a presenter’s mouth as the winner in any category.

NO COMMENT COMPETITIONS: Do not think for a second I am going to be responsible for predicting the unpredictable, pool-losing categories of:

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Foreign Language Film, Animated Short film, Documentary Short Film and Live-Action Short Film.

You should NOT bet on these.  Or even include them in a pool.  Or even think about doing either.  That is, unless you know someone who has seen them all, is an Academy member and is very good at predicting the whims of voters.  I know several such people and as soon as I can borrow their screeners and cross-examine them I’ll get back to you.  Maybe.

Minority Reports

feeling_left_out_by_millenniumalchemist-d3279nn

Everyone feels marginalized at one time or another even when they’re not.  You know it when it happens to you – even when you’re generally safe, comfortable and in the majority.  It’s the moment when you perceive you’re not being treated fairly or the time where you helplessly watch as an undeserving person or group achieves a goal that should’ve been bestowed on you or yours.  Or, at the very least shouldn’t have been theirs.

The downside of this is that furor reaches a tipping point – sometimes nationally or even internationally – and sends the planet into chaos.

The upside is it’s responsible for great art.  And sometimes even change.  And, in rare times, both.

The above accounts for the national temper tantrum currently being thrown by White America via the Tea Party (uh yeah, they’re mostly WHITE) and the determination of their national representatives to shut down as much government as possible under the rule of that Kenyan Muslim Communist Marxist or just plain Black President Barack Obama.

But it is also reflected in such boundary pushing current movies as 12 Years a Slave, Blue is The Warmest Color and Dallas Buyers Club.  If it were not for the miscarriages of justice each illustrates on the part of the African-American, gay, female and poor and sick communities, none of these films would exist in their current form.

No one wants to support human suffering in the name of potentially great art – except perhaps a writer or two.  As a member of the general population of the latter group, I must admit I have wondered where I’d be creatively were it not for the traumatic moments in my childhood that I managed to spin into stories of snide yet noble survival that reflected what I perceived to be some of my own unfair misfortune (Note: Is there fair misfortune? Something to think about).

Jury's still out on this one.

Jury’s still out on this one.

Still, that’s an entirely other, too personal subject and strays away from the main point.  In clear-minded moments I choose to believe if given the option I would gladly trade in the art in for a more blissful beginning.  But deep down I’m not so sure if, knowing the eventual good outcome, that kind of trade would even be possible.

No one is safe from perceived oppression even if the facts are that you’re not particularly oppressed.  That’s because human nature being what it is, we will all experience real slights, often based on nothing more than the way we look or what particular group we’ve been marginalized into via race, religion, body size, sex or sexual preference, athletic skill, age, money (too much or too little) or some other incendiary category. (Note: Yes, some slights, though they may be real hurts to you, do pale against the more big-ticket items).

The question is: what do you do to counter, cope or overthrow what’s going on – or what you think is going on?  How do you marshal the forces to get your point across? What creates change, or at least catharsis?  How long does it take?  How do you live with it?  Or better yet – can we ever eliminate it all together and, well….all just get along?

Not likely.   But as we currently say – eventually – it gets better.  No one movie or song or TV show will do it and it will likely not happen in a sinlge year.  And certainly our political systems move at a snail’s pace – even as they’re prodded by art and cultural upheaval.  Often it takes generations and creates change so glacial and imperceptible for the current generation that it becomes difficult for them to really understand the severity of what existed decades before they were even bought into or became part of the world.

Last weekend I watched both 12 Years a Slave and Blue is the Warmest Color back to back – and bully for me because that’s 5 and a half straight hours of dramatic filmmaking, a rarity these days – I became acutely aware of how similar all of our struggles against oppression are.  And yet, how individual and dissimilar certain elements of them are when we’re put into the position of watching them dramatically unfold in no consecutive order other than the timing at the scheduled movie theater and screening.

Serious stuff.

Serious stuff.

12 Years a Slave was my first lesson – and yes, it often felt that way.  There will be no spoilers here other than to state what you already know from the title and the trailer.  An upscale free Black man with a loving wife and family from the North gets snatched off the street in the mid-1800s and sold as a slave to the South in the halcyon days of the Confederacy.  Much of the movie is rightfully grotesque and hideous as we watch this classic case of the worst kind of mistaken (or perhaps engineered) identity play out.  This is not a Gone with the Wind, Amistad or even Django Unchained kind of story.  Director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley, both of whom are Black, are determined to tell the unvarnished truth of what it meant centuries ago to be a human being who is owned by other humans in much the same way that a farmer owns any animal that he intends to use for work and/or eventual (perhaps even likely) slaughter.

There is rightness to this film, if for no other reason than to make up for the century old legacy of movies that have presented slavery as anything more nuanced than the above.  But there is also a heavy dramatic price to pay for what we’re watching.  Countless repetitious moments of bloody torture.  A mostly one-sided depiction of cruelty by broadly drawn villains from another time.  Rarefied dialogue that often feels written – alternating between speechy or spoken in a period syntax that occasionally comes off as grandly Shakespearean or just a little too plain grand.

ACTING!

ACTING!

And yet – you can’t leave the theater unhappy that this movie was made or that it is getting some attention.  No, this is not liberal guilt.  This simply is.  Why hasn’t a big, solely dramatic movie ever been made that gives us such an unrelenting picture of what it was like to be a slave from the point of view of being a slave?  Has it really taken this long?  And why has it taken this long?  This story, and the book it is based on, has been around for decades.

On the other hand, as someone who likes multi-layered plots and characters I couldn’t help but feel that I was being left behind for some broader political statement that was being made – one that has been earned but one that is, in the final analysis, not very complex.  I don’t want the Southern White guys to get off too easily as simply monsters from another era.  I wanted to see more depth, more layers of perceived oppressions from both sides – strange as that sounds.  What is it an old writing teacher once told me – a hero is only as well written as the villain who is oppressing him.  In this case, there’s not much there there.

In light of the rave reviews and overwhelmingly positive cultural reaction so far to 12 Years A Slave (Note: Cue the news shows, the talk circuit, the awards and the Oprah), as I write this I’m feeling as White Male Privileged as I’ve ever felt.  That is even if, in my mind, I’ve never really felt a part of that fortunate majority as a short, gay, Jew.  Is it because this is not my history that this movie didn’t resonate for me in the way that…uh….Schindler’s List or, well, Parting Glances did? Perhaps.  But as an American this IS my history.  Or is it?  Well, let’s just say it’s part of my history – actually our history.  Whether we’re Americans or not, we are all human.

Feeling Blue?

Feeling Blue?

Blue is the Warmest Color has another issue.  It is a three-hour French film with no plot other than what will happen in a love relationship.  Will the lovers stay together or will they break up?  Usually a movie logline continues and sets the relationship against –-

  1. The backdrop of war
  2. Feuding families
  3. A skating or piano competition
  4. A boxing match.

It is to this film’s credit – and partly due to the fact that it is French because no one makes better and more leisurely films about romance than they do – that Blue offers no such counterpoint.  Oh, well other than the fact that in this case these two lovers are both FEMALE – nee GAY.

The achievement here is that the gay is fairly incidental in this love story.  Perhaps that is why it was so widely lauded as the Grand Prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival and is on every critical prognosticator’s list of top films of the year thus far.  Can the fact that there is a film starring two gay characters that doesn’t really seem like it should be a considered a film that primarily examines gay issues be considered, in itself, progressive?  Oddly enough, yes.

A gay mentor of mine from the early eighties who is no longer around once said to me that it is when we treat being gay as an integrated and almost incidental part of our characters in books, movies and on television that we’ll know we’ve made real progress.  In this case I think he was right, as he was on many subjects, though it pains me that partly because of our lack of progress on gay issues at the time of his death he is no longer around to see his pronouncement become a reality.

OK peel me off the floor

OK peel me off the floor

I am again not engaging in spoilers when I tell you that Blue traces the sexual awakening of a high school girl who instantly becomes fascinated with a blue-haired young woman four years older and many more years experienced than she is. But beyond its very initial stages, the story pretty much ignores the LESBIAN issue in favor of what happens when two matched yet mismatched young people fall in love.  It’s leisurely, evocative, erotic and very real.  And it is especially, for this type of film, very long.

In Blue, character doesn’t enrich the plot – character IS the plot.  There is nothing else.  Gay, shmay.  It’s not about that.  Which is part of what I loved about the movie.  And part of why I suspect I could so relate to it and didn’t particularly mind the length.  My romanticized versions of some of my early relationships were reflecting back at me from the screen – all I had to do was change a few body parts.  Okay, I wasn’t a high school girl but I certainly felt like a high school girl, at least archetypically, in the midst of those experiences.  And now, in one of those rare times, I was watching them being played out onscreen– in French, no less!!

On the surface, I didn’t at all wonder why I ultimately preferred Blue over 12.  I’m much more of a love story guy than a historical action guy.  But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that it was more than that.  Who we are and what we’ve experienced is the window through which we feel and it will significantly determine how we’re moved and why we’re moved.  It is the reason why I keep not going to screenings of Dallas Buyers Club, a movie set in the mid-80s AIDS crisis where there were no effective drugs available and at a time where primarily gay men in the US were getting sick and quickly dying at record speed.

The skinny on Matt

The skinny on Matt

I watched the bodies of too many people I knew involuntarily emaciate the way the film’s lead actor, Matthew McConaughey voluntarily did when he went on a 1300 calorie a day diet to lose 49 lbs and become a skeletal version of his onscreen persona.  Never mind that he plays a heterosexual, bigoted White Texan – the image more than works for me.  Actually, too well.  Though I will see the movie and, at least from the trailer, it feels accurate, I’m not rushing out to the theater.  Yes, just as we need to relate our experiences to what we view and who we empathize with, the contrary is also true – some things can, at their very core, hit even much too close to home.  And you just need to gird yourself in order to get in the mood.

That is not to say that a story of Black America can’t move me as much or more as a love story between two contemporary gays, or even a plethora of dying gays and the friends thereof.  Only that, all things being fairly equal (which they never are) I can probably forgive a lot more in a film about the latter two because they more closely resonate to where I’ve been and who, at heart, I perceive I am.

As a wee child in the 1960’s through today, I have always believed, spoken and written that the struggles of each oppressed or marginalized minority were on some basic level the same.  That is the fight for equality and acceptance – the acknowledgement by others that we be considered no different than the person next door despite how we looked or where we came from.

I now see it is somewhat deeper than that.  Until we can recognize that there are some struggles that we can never fully understand, but yet can honor in the same way as our own, we will never quite be free of our divisive pasts.  This is not to proclaim I think about 12 Years a Slave any differently.  Only that I acknowledge that, given who I am, my perceptions about art and a lot of other things, are merely opinions rendered through my own personal lens.  This is equally true for everyone else on the planet – a fact that might be worth remembering next time we bridle at the radical personal, business or political statements of protest that comes from someone on the other side of an issue we might think we clearly see.