Tag Archives: Race

Suburbicon

29 Oct

 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/227269516

The “Suburbicon” of the title is a 1950s housing development and community in sprawling suburbia that’s practically a closed socioeconomic ecosystem, like the towering apartment complex in Ben Wheatley’s near-futuristic “High Rise” (2015). There, the elite lived at the penthouse level while the servicing class made do in the shabby confines below; here it’s a mass-marketed commercial ideal where all are on an equal plane and essentially have the same humble abode. It’s an endless sea of sameness, a sleepy Ozzie & Harriet existence, until the Meyers, an African-American family, buy a lot. The all-white town meeting that erupts to discuss “what to do” casts uneasy shades of the recent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Oddly and wastefully (if not irresponsibly, given the issues of race today), the black folk next door become a mere distraction for the plot’s main thread of self-interest, murder and money – and it’s a silly one, at that. Based on a Coen brothers script and directed by George Clooney, who seems to lose more footing as director with each outing, the film angles to be a dark comedy in the vein of “Miller’s Crossing” and “Fargo” but lacks the wit and whimsy of either. What it is, is a beat-up, welded-together jalopy, angry and mean in its quest for recognition, but that’s a hard feat when the only likable characters in your crew are a family under duress for their skin color and a young boy (Noah Jupe), who’s not sure if his aunt and father have inside information on a home invasion that accidentally killed his crippled mother. (Trust me, I’m not giving anything away. There’s little in the film that will surprise you).

For such a stylishly tepid affair (it does look great) Clooney has assembled an impressive cast. Dad, Gardner Lodge, is played by a portly Matt Damon, and mom and her sister are played by the ravishing Julianne Moore, who gets a scene where she gets to sip iced tea with herself. The film even boasts ubiquitous scene stealer Oscar Isaac, who crops up as a fast-talking insurance adjuster. He’s in it so briefly it almost seems criminal, considering he’s the liveliest thing in the film besides a pair of bungling hit men (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell), who seem ripped lazily from an early draft of “Fargo.” Continue reading

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Staying local to protest the Free Speech rally

22 Aug
James Selvitella and Declan Haley run a peace-themed lemonade stand Saturday in front of the Cambridge Main Library. (Photos: Haley family)

As up to 40,000 Bay Staters made ready to descend Saturday on the Boston Common to protest a “Free Speech Rally” linked to white supremacists, many parents – fearful of the same type of fatal violence that broke out at a Charlottesville, Va., white supremacy march the previous weekend – struggled with whether to bring their children. Even though the organizers of the rally insisted they were not affiliated with Charlottesville rally organizers, the slate boasted some of the same speakers with ties to hate groups, and the City of Boston and Boston Police Department were on high alert.

Children make art at the lemonade stand Saturday – an alternative to marching in potential danger in Boston.

For one Cambridge family that wanted to spread the word of peace and inclusion – and be part of the movement without risking getting caught in the fray – the reasonable option took the form of a lemonade stand outside the Cambridge Main Library, with the proceeds going to Black Lives Matter Cambridge and the recently vandalized New England Holocaust Memorial.

Elizabeth Haley, a resident of Inman Square, didn’t feel comfortable taking her 8-year-old son to the rally, and sought other ways to engage the community and support the movement. “It was my son, Declan, who came up with the idea,” Haley said. The stand, prominent on Broadway with the banner “Lemonade for Peace,” wasn’t your typical impromptu corner stand; the Haleys had come wth a large folding table, colorful signs and art supplies to engage thirsty passers-by.

The art angle was the brainchild of Haley’s friend, Julie Selvitella, a Cambridge resident who teaches art in Andover, and her son James, who felt a communal art project would enrich the effort and bring unity. People getting drinks or just stopping by could write a message of acceptance and hope on a heart, with those hearts then hung on pinwheel structures hanging from the great willow tree sheltering the stand.

Hearts with messages left by lemonade buyers became decorations for the kids’ stand.

“The day worked out so well because it was so last-minute and we didn’t complicate things by overthinking it,” Haley said. “We met a lot of people who were on their way to the rally. Also,. there were many families with small children who felt the same way we did, so they were happy to make a donation and work on the art installation.”

The stand raised a few hundred dollars in just three hours, Haley said.

Get Out

24 Feb

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a devilish little bit of social commentary that takes the essence of “Guess Who’s Coming to Diner” and forces it, with vehemence but also panache, into a “Wicker Man”/“Stepford Wives” construct. The result is something clearly borrowed, incredibly fresh and nearly perfect in light of the current political climate. What’s also remarkable is that the horror flick-cum-black comedy marks Peele’s directorial debut, and a surprising one at that – not only because is it so sharp and confident, but also because Mr. Peele is better known as half of the comedy team of Key and Peele on Comedy Central.

The setup’s simple enough. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an aspiring photog, agrees reluctantly to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams of “Girls”), whom he’s been dating for five months – just long enough to have to take these things seriously.

“Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks, a question that the lily-white Rose shrugs off, telling him that her dad would have voted for a Obama for a third time if he had the chance. It’s a pointed little barb, but since “Get Out” started filming long before it played at Sundance in January, I’m not certain Peele understood the whole political backdrop he’d be facing. Given the results of the election, the daggers the film throws couldn’t be any more on point. Continue reading

Hidden Figures

7 Jan

One of the best films of 2016 (yes, it opened in New York City and Los Angeles a few weeks ago as part of awards season’s annual bait-and-switch shenanigans) happens to be a sentimental crowdpleaser that, for all its potential schmaltz and didactic pitfalls, maintains an incredibly poignant balance especially when it comes to matters of race – and there’s plenty of them; “Hidden Figures” is about three African-American women employed as engineers and mathematicians by NASA during the first space launch, just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic push for Civil Rights was gaining its groundswell.

It’s not a widely known bit of history, but Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (singer Janelle Monáe, successfully doubling up as an actor) and Dorothy Vaughan (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, killer good) toiled for NASA during the Mercury space program as engineers and computers – mathematicians doing the technical legwork before Big Blue dropped its first mainframe – and proved critical in getting John Glenn up and into orbit. One of the film’s most telling – and touching – moments comes when Glenn (Glen Powell) meets Johnson during a technical assembly of scientists and mucky-mucks where she’s not only the only woman or person of color in the room, but the only one able to solve complicated flight variables mathematically. Later, when there’s a snag in the mission and the reentry point needs recalculating, he asks for her aid, referring to her simply as the “the smart one.” Continue reading

Race, Film and Reflection

4 Sep

Huffington Post

Posted: 09/03/2013 2:41

In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial two movies have come out that have helped shape the discussion on race and the racial divide. The docudrama Fruitvale Station explored a similar real-life shooting, but preceded the tragic event with a poignant preamble that chronicled the struggles of a young black male trying to go straight in a society seemingly stacked against him, and more recently Lee Daniels’ The Butler, followed the life of a black man (Forest Whitaker bringing grace and dignity to the role) raised during the early 1900s on an antebellum plantation in Georgia where he witnesses his father shot and killed by a plantation supervisor (who had just raped his mother) and later goes on to become a member of the White House wait staff, serving eight presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan during his long tenure.

As a freelance film critic, formerly with the now (and sadly) defunct Boston Phoenix and currently publishing in a variety of media outlets, I was carefully preparing my review of The Butler for a South Carolina paper, and in looking at the film’s credits, I noticed that the basis for Danny Strong’s script was a Washington Post article by a reporter named Wil Haygood, who in print had documented the decades-long career of Eugene Allen, the man Whitaker’s fictional Cecil Gaines is based upon.  Continue reading

Fruitvale Station

1 Aug

‘Fruitvale Station’: Based on true events, stirring film brings Oscar Grant back to life

By Tom Meek
July 31, 2013

In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial and the cries of justice for Trayvon Martin, “Fruitvale Station” could not come at a more appropriate time. It won’t ease the current emotional swell, but it will aid in furthering the conversation.

073113i Fruitvale StationAt 2 a.m. New Year’s Day in 2009, Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man, was shot and killed by a transit cop as he lay face down and partially restrained on the platform of the subway stop of the title. It was a tragic end to a buoyant and hopeful evening as Oscar and his friends tried to make their way back to Oakland, Calif., from a sojourn across the Bay to see the fireworks.   Continue reading