Don’t Other-ize Me, Bro!

There is a moment in Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman where a Jewish police detective, who has gone undercover as a KKK member, laments being put in this position by his Black counterpart.  It’s as if he’s forgotten (or never fully understood) the Ku Klux Klan were not only rabidly anti-Black segregationists but also virulently, and quite openly, anti-Semitic.

I’m Jewish, yes, but I wasn’t raised to be, says the character played by Adam Driver.  No Jewish rituals, no deep education about Jewish history, not even a bar mitzvah.  I was just another white kid.

Exactly.

Did someone say bar mitzvah?

Suddenly, and much to his chagrin, he’d been OTHER-IZED.

Somehow a movie set in the early 1970s has managed to become the most timely filmic statement now out there about Trumpism.  Based on the 2014 memoir of real-life Black police officer Ron Stallowrth, it tells the story of how Ron made phone contact with the KKK, pretending to be an eager acolyte, and worked with his White counterpart, Flip Zimmerman, to pose as his physical self while in their presence.

Two Ron Stallworths.

Part comedy, part drama and many parts many other things, it tells not only a racial story but speaks to the type of numbness all of us can fall into when traveling in circles where THEY are in the majority and WE are just the unwanted, or at least unfamiliar, INTERLOPERS.

To be OTHER-IZED is not a choice so much as it is a condition of where you live, where you travel and overall what you choose to do or need to do with your time.  A room full of jocks of many races can OTHER-IZE the lily Whitest of nerds just as a gaggle of snow White Hollywood BROs in power can OTHER-IZE any Brown-skinned woman of color – or any FEMALE of ANY color for that matter – who may be twice as smart and/or talented as any one of them.

Or all of them if you’re Oprah.

Gurl, you got that right. #badassbish

We are all nothing if not multi-tribal, depending on where we live, how much we make or what we do for a living.  The one tribe that trumped (Note: Ahem) all in the U.S. used to be American, but what being a REAL AMERICAN is seems to be quite up in the air these days.

In actuality, it seems to depend on which other TRIBE you belong to – or at least choose to identify with.  And with that comes a full handbook on who one needs to OTHER-IZE.

Yes.

The fact is, it is no longer feasible to be a part of ANY TRIBE where SOMEONE is not generally THE OTHER.

Right, that’s what it is Gretchen. #dontotherizeme

We here in the Southern Californian #Resistance headquarters seriously distrust Trump voters of all stripes – and that’s the best case scenario of when we’re not foaming at the mouth angry at what we see as the nasty, racist…well, so many things I can no longer count… those voters have allowed.

On the other hand, Trump voters all over the country call us snowflakes, and at best see us as weak and anti-working class – or so I’m told from the few of them that I can still bear to talk to.  At their worst, well they prove the very points we’re trying to make, probably daily, about them, though I’m sure they’d put it quite differently and probably a lot less delicately if I gave them the chance.  Which I’m not any longer.

I’m done.

The funny part is there are Black, White, Jewish, Hispanic, LGBT, straight, poor AND rich members on BOTH SIDES.  In that sense, we’re all getting OTHER-IZED daily, and perhaps hourly, by somebody, and often in ways we don’t know about as we go about our day.

Of course, there are times when we do realize we are being cast as THE OTHER, and it is at these moments we are faced with THE CHOICE.

I’m trying my best Jamie Lee!!!

Ah yes, you do have any number of CHOICES when you realize you’re the only _________ in the room – or at least woefully outnumbered, discredited or discounted in that person or group’s mind/think about those in YOUR TRIBE, depending on your looks, skin color or affect.  They are:

  1. BLEND – This is the easiest or hardest of the options depending on your denial system, how much therapy you’ve had, or both. Am I GAY????  Not a chance, I hate musicals and I have season tickets to The Lakers/Knicks/Eagles/_______.   Jewish?  Whatever gave you that idea, I don’t like those _______s any more than you do.

I was born in the 90s! I swear!

On the other hand, it’s hard to deny you’re Black if you are very dark-skinned or pretend you’re not poor if you are three months late on the rent and about to be evicted.   Though even in the latter case of ZERO money, there’s always the chance that person is just being…irresponsible.  #AreYouWokeYet?

  1. HIDE – This is not a pleasant alternative but there are advantages to just going along and being an under-the-radar, quiet part of a group. In my younger days I’ve heard straight guy locker room talk about women that offended me to the bone, not to mention bitchy talk among my gay brothers about lesbians that I should have stamped my feet more adamantly about. Yet too many times in my teen and early twenties I did neither.

Sadly, most of us are not always up for a FIGHT, especially when we have the luxury to sit behind the tallest person in class and go unnoticed.  At least metaphorically. I, for one, have also spent time with one or two Republicans I admit to have gleefully watched squirm at Southern California dinner parties rather than blow their cover to the other guests in the room.  Sure, I told myself it wasn’t my place to say or do anything to help them but these days I realize my sadistic inner self rather enjoyed OTHER-IZING them far more, in secret hopes that this would somehow wake them to their senses.

You tell ’em Cher!

  1. DENYOh, he can’t be a sexual harasser. My roommate told me he had a torrid affair with Mary Jane and she would never put up with someone like that.  And no, just because she’s from Paris and her visa expired and he’s an American citizen doesn’t mean she’s tolerating it or pretending they’re an item.  Please.  Besides which, she’s NOT marrying him for her green card to be with her lesbian lover!  Come on!!

Okay, perhaps the last example is a bit fanciful.  But it is possible to be into vintage and thrift stores and old school tech because you want to seem cool when you’re searching for work.  In the same way you can DENY you are RACIST by producing one of two Black co-workers or acquaintances of color even though there are dozens more who heard you use the N word when they were in the room.  And no, just because a videotape of that has yet to be produced doesn’t make it any less so.  Or mean that when it is it was somehow doctored. #ApprehensiveApprenticeTapePart1

Oh jesus, does this mean more Tom Arnold??? #HELP

  1. FACE THE MUSIC – The best alternative because even if you hide, blend and deny most effectively you will NEVER prevent EVERY single ONE of THEM from seeing YOU as something OTHER than THEY are. Implicit in this is that to some people you will ALWAYS be INFERIOR. And that’s in any version of the perfect world that is viable at this moment in time.

Yes, it’s easy to advise be yourself when YOU yourself don’t run the risk of being killed, permanently maimed or beaten up for doing just that.   But the way we’re going soon there will be nowhere for any of US to hide in certain circumstances. That is a condition that will be inevitable for pretty much ALL OF US at some point in our new GLOBAL REALITY.  #ThisISUs.

Meaning blending in, denying or hiding behind HATE simply won’t cut it anymore, if it ever did.  That is unless we want to live out the rest of our days as petulant junior high schoolers playing an eternal game of spin the bottle where we kiss the same people for all the wrong reasons in one unsatisfyingly long loop of endless hell.

“Too Late To Turn Back Now” – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (from the soundtrack of BlackkKlansman)

Advertisements

Watching the Gross

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 9.39.34 AM

I thought I’d grown used to the movies I like grossing very little money but it’s sobering. Still, this shouldn’t be surprising. I can now get into films as a senior citizen in some places. I know, I’m shocked too.   When I went to see the Steve “Jobs” movie a few weeks ago I almost passed out. But still paid full price.

tumblr_maq0abRfJy1r4v34qo2_r1_250

Clearly, I’ve permanently strayed from the “youth” demographic Hollywood covets no matter how many times my peers say 50 is the new 40, 60 is the new 50, 80 is the new 20 and death is something that happens to OTHER people. That’s scary enough. But to realize that not one of my favorite films is among the 50 top grossing movies of the year – well, that’s positively un-American. It’s like my entire country has turned on me when I wasn’t looking. And in more ways than one. On the other hand, it’s not the first time. I lived through the eighties, Ronald Reagan and Forrest Gump winning the Oscar yet I am still here whining about it all as our first African American-president completes his second term of office and Birdman was last year’s best picture winner. Inevitably, these types of things, as well as life, do run in cycles.

And yet…

Hard as it is to recognize I have come to understand that like many Americans the movies are my touchstone. Each year at least a handful reflect what myself and our culture were thinking or feeling en masse and, when they worked really well, even showed us alternative ways to cope. Did Michael Keaton really go out the window at the end of Birdman? Who cares – it raised the question of just what are the alternatives we all face when trying to survive as an artist of any kind. And if one believes, as I do, that anything you attempt to do well in life does indeed have some sort of artistic element to it, it is essential we continue to consider these questions. And spend less time pondering how high of a gilded wall we can build around ourselves to keep out those who are different. Ironic, isn’t it? That a country built on a melting pot of difference should be faced with the 2015 Shakespearean question of how we engineer and preserve our current gene pool to exclude as many others as possible.

There’s a reason why, at its essence, drama hasn’t really changed very much since the Elizabethan period or even as far back as the ancient Greeks.

Still works!

Still works!

Which in a roundabout way brings me back to The MOVIES, 2015.

If you’re a member of a Hollywood guild each year you’re fortunate enough to receive DVDs of many of this year’s movies so you don’t have to move your privileged ass off the couch and make the effort to go to the movie theatre if you so prefer not to. (Note: Well, you wouldn’t either if you didn’t have to and had a decent TV setup at home – give me a break)

So being the lazybones (nee whore) that I am I decided that after gorging myself on turkey I’d continue gorging myself on some of the movies I got in the mail and have not yet seen. I also decided to go out to the movie theatres and pay for a few others as well as attend several industry screenings (Note: Yes, for free – I’m not only getting lazy in my old age but also cheap). And what continued to amaze me is that without exception the films that I really enjoyed continue to make very, very little money at the box office. How long before these types of films are not made at all? I fear, not very long.

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I'll ask Matt Damon)

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I’ll ask Matt Damon)

Now before you go saying I’m part of the problem because I’m not going out to see my films enough – you’re only partly right. Like all of you, I should venture out and support my local theatres more than I do. But also know that part of the marketing budgets of all production companies include sending out free DVDs to guild members not to be kind but to get us to VOTE for said film in an enormous array of awards competitions that the industry will use to promote the winners and get you/us – the audience – into the theatres to see or into the stores to buy or into our heads to stream. For better or worse that’s the way the system works. Bottom line dollars.

I suppose this explains why as a Writers Guild member two of the early DVDs I received were for Furious 7 ($353 million domestic box-office gross) and Jurassic World ($652 million). Did anyone really think these would win any writing awards? (Note: That question was rhetorical). No, it was about spreading the word. Well, fyi, I’ve previously seen both a Furious AND a Jurassic movie before and was entertained. I tried briefly with both of these. Oh God. I might be old but I’m not brain dead. Yet. Which is why I turned them off.

As for some of the others – well, here I am to do the job that I was sent to do by the studio overlords – spreading the word. (Note: As if I wouldn’t give my opinion anyway).

TRUMBO

He is Spartacus?

He is Spartacus?

This is the story of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and how his intellectual liberal leanings sent him to jail for a year in the 1950s merely for being subversively un-American as a member of the Communist party. (Note: Think of him as a Muslim under a future Trump administration).

More interesting is the tale it tells of how Trumbo, once out of a jail, worked secretly writing tacky low-budget movies under assumed names and got his other unemployable writer friends jobs doing the same via a hidden writer’s clearing house he ran out of his house. With the help of his wife and children. Who answered five different telephone lines and served as their script couriers.

As played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, this Trumbo is a witty, erudite crusader, family man who takes advantage of the people around him while at the same time loving them and his country in the most unorthodox of ways. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance that will surely get him an Oscar nomination. The movie takes a long time to get going and in the first half especially feels a bit like a choppy, TV movie biopic from the 1970s. But ultimately it’s smart, breezy, clever and not without some meaning. And slickly made by director Jay Roach.

AND — It’s made less than a $1 million after three weeks of limited release.

Verdict: Watch it.

TRUTH

Would you... Rather?

Would you… Rather?

I was where most of you probably are on this. Robert Redford playing Dan Rather in a movie that shows us how Rather got pushed out of the anchor chair at CBS because of a 60 Minutes story he did on George W. Bush’s questionable military record of service? A story where sources recanted their original claims but nevertheless a story that was never proven factually inaccurate?

#1 – I don’t want to hear any more about Dubya. #2 – Redford is about as similar to Dan Rather as I am. #3 – It’s my private time, I want to be entertained by a film not forced to think about unpleasant stuff I was forced to live through all too recently.

Well, the film is not really about Dubya at all but about how the news you see on TV is put together and just how influential political dynasties can be “behind the scenes.” More importantly, Redford might not look anything like Rather but he’s got his speaking cadence down pat and is ultimately absolutely believable as the veteran Texas newsman – in fact it’s the best he’s been in a movie in many years. Who knew? Not any of us because no one is going to see it. Since it’s release in October it’s grossed about $2.5 million.

Oh, and then there’s Cate Blanchett starring as Rather’s real-life producer Mary Mapes, a tough-talking Texan she gets exactly right because she doesn’t slather on the accent but instead accentuates her intelligence. The whole film is smart. And –

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING.

SICARIO

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

My students will hate me for this because they seem to love this movie. Why? I have zero idea. Emily Blunt is as good as she can be as an FBI agent drawn into the web of breaking up a Mexican drug cartel by her CIA overlords as well as by others. But…it’s a labyrinth of action with character development and logic so spare as to be almost non-existent. And after a while it simply becomes preposterous. And a bore.

I’ve experienced first-hand as a writer notes on the strategy of throwing audiences right into the world of a movie without much of a convincing setup and allowing the viewer to play catch up. This sometimes works – as it did in the first season of True Detective. And it often times fails, as it does here. But then again, it depends what you mean by failure. Sicario has grossed $49 million in the U.S. alone and another $34 million overseas so far. That makes it a bit more than a modest success in the world of the balance sheet of a film with no above the title movie star or director. It’s also a world where logic and dialogue don’t matter as much the various kinds of actions that are ultimately delivered.

Verdict: SKIP IT. Though you could do worse (Note: See Furious AND Jurassic).

CAROL

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner... what can ya say?

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner… what can ya say?

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two seemingly mismatched women falling in love in the repressive 1950s under the direction of Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, HBO’s Mildred Pierce). This movie was MADE for me!! You’d think.

It’s beautiful to look at. Cate Blanchett’s mink coat and shimmering blonde hair and red lipstick are breathtaking. As is every single room, piece of jewelry and choice of scenery and period motor vehicle and hotel room and tacky apartment and cheap motel room. Which is a big part of the problem. It’s a movie in love with artifice – and itself. The drama is real and sometimes palpable but as someone is said to have once said, “it’s like watching paint dry.” The same emotional beats are played over and over. Time and again.   It’s based on the seminal lesbian romance novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, which she published under a pseudonym in 1952.   But never for one moment do you feel as if you’re watching anything other than a book unspooling in movie time without any of the nuanced language that made it so special.

The two actresses are wonderful. Everything is pretty. And it does show us how much a great deal of the world has changed. But…well….

Verdict: PASS – which is not to say there is not a great deal of skill and intelligence here. Would I watch it before Jurassic and Furious again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I should just force myself to get all the way through the latter two for the first time. Though Carol needs the money more. It’s grossed about $500,000 in 10 days of limited release. And I doubt there’s a ton more to come. DVD/streaming sales? Maybe. But…OK, I’ll stop now.

BRIDGE OF SPIES

A Spielberg movie written by.... The Coen Brothers?

A Spielberg movie written by…. The Coen Brothers? 

I popped the DVD to this in and had low expectations. I mean, it’s the tale of the reluctant negotiator spy type American hero of the 1950s as played by Tom Hanks and directed by Steve Spielberg that somehow you believe deep down in your soul you’ve seen before…. but directed by Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman or by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Except it’s not any of those. Or really that much like them.

Tom Hanks is very good, very believable and very likeable – in an authentic, throwback Americana way. It’s a tough act to pull off an insurance lawyer turned hostage negotiator in period clothes but somehow you buy it all. At this point it’d be shocking if Mr. Spielberg did not direct an infinitely watchable movie. And this one is pretty darn watchable – thanks also in great part to Mark Rylance’s brilliantly understated performance in a role you need to see rather than read about from me. He anchors the film. And if you think that’s easy when you’re not a movie star, you’re wrong.

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING. It won’t change your life but it’s engaging. Though at a $67 million box-office gross it’s the equivalent of Trumbo or Truth in dollars for a Spielberg pic. That may not be fair but it’s the way the industry thinks. And for our future films bodes a bit ominous.

Feel free to agree – or disagree. But just know the top five grossing films of 2015 are Jurassic World ($652 million); Avengers: Age of Ultron ($459 million); Inside Out ($356 million); Furious 7 ($353 million) and Minions ($336 million). And that’s just in the U.S. alone. Films that are more adult – nee a bit more complicated or intellectually challenging – are in trouble. And need our support. At theatres, on DVD, or yes, even for free. It’s who we are. Or were. Our choice.

Oh you'll be adding me to that list pretty soon....

Oh you’ll be adding me to that list pretty soon….

P.S. Note #1: I did very much enjoy Inside Out but it’s an animated film and they’re in a category of their own. This is not a snob thing but everyone likes at least one animated movie a year except a dear friend of mine who I still can’t convince to embrace Aladdin – the gayest animated movie that’s ever been made. I’ll work on him, though.

P.S. Note #2 – Just got home from a screening of The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne and his co-star, the Swedish film actress Alicia Vikander, will both receive Oscar nominations. As will others behind the scenes. It’s mainstream yet unusual. Thought-provoking though not too complicated. And timely in that it follows one of the first medical cases of gender reassignment. Verdict: See it. People actually speak in full sentences, and often more than one sentence at a time. Plus, nothing blows up.

At least that’s something.