Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Gift and The Curse

So I just got finished watching "American Gangster." You know the movie everyone is calling
"The Year's Best", and "Five Stars" and I agree that it is a great movie! Let my qualify my statement of Great. Denzel Washington is a great actor, the scenes and cinematography were great, the soundtrack and cast was great. Sitting back and looking at the big picture, however made me a bit uneasy. At the end of the day, what do we have here? A man (Frank Lucas) who is a criminal and does great good for his community. A corrupt city police department which has the nerve to go after him only because he was accomplishing things the traditional crime families could not do. Stepping back further I came to the realization that though this will likely be Denzel's second (and much deserved) Oscar nomination/award, I am starting to sense a trend of our portrayals in Hollywood, even at the highest levels. Everyone knows the the gauntlet was thrown when they gave Halle Berry a Golden Statue for porn. It also didn't help that soon after Denzel Washington, his generation's finest actor built proudly in the mold of Sidney Portier, was awarded an Oscar for his "Masterful reenactment" of what? A crooked police officer who happens to meet his untimely demise at the end. Funny, I don't remember Al Pacino getting any Oscar talk about his amazing portrayal of a poor Cuban coming to America, making his fortune and going out in a blaze of glory. Actually, Scarface was a box office and critical bust. How could so similarly portrayed stories garner such different critical acceptance (and don't tell me it was the director). What we are seeing is a pat the dog on the head mentality when it comes to awarding our best and brightest. Why didn't Denzel get even a nomination for Malcomn X? Homosexual cowboy movies and movies about fictional love stories set in the slavery south (shout out to Hattie McDaniels ) received massive awards but an accurate portrayal of one of the most revolutionary and compelling figures of the 20th Century is widely ignored??!?! Its not always about how we view ourselves, but in some cases forced to view ourselves. Forced because these views that we actively support with our ticket sales are applauded and recognized by Hollywood? Who controls the determining factor for setting the benchmark for success for our people ? To be fair, there are certain bright spots in our mirror, the painful ones painted for us by Spike Lee and the positives one being shared with us by Tyler Perry. But to quote Shawn Carter "F*** rich lets get wealthy, who is gonna feed us if not we?" After the movie I was riding home with some members of the younger generation (damn I'm old), and they LOVED the movie! To be blunt they knew nothing about the following: The drug game, the true story of Frank Lucas (Ask the streets!!!), or the code of Costa Nostra. To be quite honest I am slightly amused and happy that they are so ignorant of these things, because it signals progress, but some of these things borders on historical nature. Now after reading all of this I appear to be rambling, so let me condense this in one line. African American culture has been consistently, on all levels imaginable, targeted for exploitation and suppression of any forward movement, regardless of industry or legality. Whats more ironic is that American Gangster in its portrayal falls under this rationale. Go see it and draw your own conclusion, because I still love Denzel, but think about what this movie represents by its mere exisitance and the story it tells. We are damned if we do, and damned if we don't. If we don't support black movie portrayals of us featuring our actors, then our representation will disappear almost entirely from mainstream cinema. If we do support it, we can do nothing more but hope for more of the same that we have seen. Where's the MLK feature movie? Louis Armstrong/ Harlem Renaissance big budget picture? A movie on Black Wall Street? We have to demand better, and if we don't get it, then we have to make those movies ourselves.

1 comment:

CJessup3 said...

Denzel in 'American Gangster' can't TOUCH Denzel in 'The Great Debators' either...but we won't hear about that one come Oscar time.