Tag Archives: south

The Deepwater Horizon Film Reminds us That Hollywood is Still a Propaganda Machine

I’m kinda furious about this:

When first watching the trailer, I tried to remind myself that it was just a movie.

But it’s never just a movie, is it?

Given enough time, I’m sure I could list hundreds of films that changed my perspective on the world. The Hours was the first time I felt challenged on my once very black-and-white perspective on LGBT rights. Hotel Rwandadespite being called “revisionist junk” by then UN peacekeeper/now senator Romeo Dallaire, was the first movie to open my eyes to the role of politics in preventing, or allowing, genocide and devastation. There are just so many movies that moved me to reconsider my stance or opinion by challenging me to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Movies do affect us, often more than we’d like to admit. Heck, that’s exactly why we talk so much about representation in movies here on the blog.

So I am a movie fan who believes that movies impact their viewers. That’s why I’m furious that there is about to be a major blockbuster that will hero-wash “the worst oil spill in U.S. History” a spill that polluted the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days and leaked approximately 3.19 million barrels of oil. Continue reading

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Explaining American Politics to Non-Americans – Part II: The Republican Party

Welcome again readers, to Culture War Reporter’s second installment of “Explaining American Politics to Non-Americans” [Part 1 here], in which yours truly attempts to explain the chaotic carnival that is our great democracy.

This week, we’ll be looking at the Republican party. Or parties, if things keep progressing as they do.

But let’s dive right in.

I won’t pretend I don’t have my own bias but I will try to be as fair as possible.

To say that the “Grand Old Party” has made itself unpopular abroad would be an understatement. The Bush-era wars, sanctions, and seemingly indiscriminate use of military force has created an international image of Republicans as blood-thirsty imperialists. While Obama has been far more liberal (pardon the pun) use of drone strikes, others point to the Republicans shaky relationship with environmentalism, science, and women’s issues to cast the GOP as backwards and puritanical.

But how fair are these assertions? If they’re true, where do they come from?

The History

The “Grand Old Party”, as it was once called was established in 1854, just prior to the American Civil War. Evolving from a number of groups, the Republican party came to stand largely for federal power and industrialization, contrasting with the emphasis on state’s rights and agriculture that the Democrats had (who we’ll get to next week). Indeed, while now struggling now to rid themselves of the accusation of being an “old, white guys’ party”, the Republicans of old were actually the more progressive, liberal and inclusive of the two parties. Although racism would remain an issue across the political spectrum, it was Republicans who could often count on the African-American voter demographic throughout much of the late 1800s.

Exactly when and why that stopped being the case is still a matter of heated debate.

Some would cite that the “Red Scares” (anti-communist witch hunts) of the 1950s pushed the party increasingly towards aggression, militarism, and social conservatism. Others might argue that as issues of civil rights, poverty, and the war in Vietnam caused many African-Americans to shift towards the Democrats, leaving the party almost exclusively in the hands of the white tycoons.

In spite of this shift, Republicans nevertheless have consistently managed to gain and often dominate American politics, the Reagan-era in the 1980s seeing massive cuts to government spending while increasing intervention in Latin America, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. The short-lived presidency of H.W. Bush, however, would see the abrupt end to the Republican Golden Age, with economic downturn and issues from within the party leading to Democrat victories in the 90s.

And then came “W”.

Continue reading

Slavery and Movies

I recently had a chance to see The Man with the Iron Fists, a gritty Kung-Fu-Spaghetti-Western-70s-Exploitation mash-up film presented (of course) by Quentin Tarantino. I say presented by Tarantino; the creation of the film itself is owed largely to The RZA of the former (and still awesome) Wu-Tang Clan. In addition to co-writing and directing the film, the RZA stars in the epic slug-fest itself, serving as the narrator and titular character.

Now I went into this film simply suspending my disbelief. I assumed all the nonsensical elements in the film would simply be loving jabs at the old-school kung-fu and action movies that Tarantino and Roth grew up on. That’s why Russel Crowe’s character has a gun-scissor-knife weapon, or why (and here’s the big thing) the blacksmith in this fictional Chinese village is black. Much to my surprise however, the movie began offering explanations (though not to the gun-scissor-knife). The blacksmith is, in a flashback, shown having grown up on a plantation and receiving his freedom from his dying master. Despite having papers declaring him a free man, he is continually treated as a slave- in one scene he is told by a couple of dandies that there’s no way he can read, and therefore understand what’s written on his documents. The two men crumple up his paper and proceed to slur and shove him until he fights back, inadvertently killing one of them. He flees west, and after his ship is wrecked, finds himself in China.

Now obviously that whole last bit about him running so far he winds up in the far east is obviously just the movie shifting back into fantasy, but what really got me was the depiction of slavery. Not prejudice, not segregation- slavery. When’s the last time you can actually say you saw a film deal with that? Glory in 1989? Some Little House on the Prairie episode sometime in the 70s? It simply isn’t done (and that one episode of The Boondocks doesn’t count).

And that’s what I want to talk about. Our depiction, or lack of depiction, of slavery. For all our grand talk of freedom, liberty, and American “exceptionalism,” we do tend to gloss over the uglier elements of our history, such as Manzanar, Wounded Knee, and perhaps most notably, slavery. It brings up all sorts of uncomfortable, and frankly unresolved conflicts. It throws a dark shadow over all of our self-reported greatness. Nevertheless, we really can’t shove it under the carpet, and it looks like, at long last, it’s starting to all come out.

AMC’s Hell on Wheels takes place during the years following the close of the Civil War, and like The Man with the Iron Fists is one of the few depictions of slavery I’ve ever seen on film or TV. In addition to its frank depiction of slavery, I want to take a moment to give the show some applause for the historical accuracy it had in general, depicting Northern racism towards the ex-slaves, as well as the racism inflicted to (and by) the Irish immigrants- another nasty little thread in American heritage you won’t find in most history books.

Of course, beyond that, there’s the highly anticipated Tarantino film Django Unchained, which we’re all expecting to be jaw-dropping in how good or bad it turns out to be. Unlike the previous two examples, which depicted slavery only briefly, this is a movie set completely in the antebellum South. That’s another hefty jump, though again, how well this is going to be executed is still very much up in air.

Now I’ve been struggling all night to come up with a conclusion for all of this, but I’m really not sure what to say. I can’t say why we’re suddenly interested in a subject we’ve been ignoring for the past century and a half. I can’t quite figure out if this is some little trend or the awakening of some part of our culture that’s been dormant so long we’ve forgotten it. I can’t pinpoint what’s causing this. I can’t tell you where it’s all going. I can tell you, however, where I hope it goes.

I hope this is the beginning of something that might pass for maturity in our culture or our generation. I hope that movies depicting the reality of slavery become a thing. I hope that they open up the doors for the rest of our small-pox-infected, witch-burning, Japanese-interning, waterboarding history. I hope we can actually learn something from all of this once it’s out there, and hey, maybe we can actually get some racial diversity in our movies for a change.

Maybe.

P.S. I haven’t seen Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter or Lincoln yet, so I can’t say how they deal with it in there.