Scarlett O'Hara and her mammy in Gone with the Wind.
With their Oscar wins last night, Django Unchained and Lincoln have taken their places in the top-tier pantheon of Hollywood's slavery films. As Official Slavery and Jim Crow Epics, both films have the full support of the Hollywood machine, enjoying obscene budgets and lengths, and use the power of image and story to re-create the history of the eras. They also both, in my opinion, absolve the white majority of guilt for upholding systemic labor exploitation.
Slavery and Jim Crow Epics are a whole mini-genre in Hollywood. These films are often released in an important anniversary year and rake in the box office dollars, and often wind up hindering meaningful conversation about the legacy of slavery. Whether the films employ benevolent omission or base humor, these versions of America's racial history continue to write African Americans out of the scene.
Here is a brief history of America Slavery and Jim Crow Epics, from 1915 to the present.
Last night was the Academy Awards, which means my Facebook feed was awash in comments from high school acquaintances along the lines of, "WTF was up with Kristen Stewart!?!? She was totally frowning and had some kind of bruise on her arm!!! What a slut!!! #TeamEdward."
In my opinion, there were lots of moments last night more notable that Kristen Stewart's facial expression. Here's my list for best and worst moments from the interminable broadcast:
Loved It: Quvenzhané Wallis. The 9-year-old star of Beasts of the Southern Wild was the youngest Best Actress nominee to date. Not only did she rock a stuffed puppy dog handbag on the red carpet, she was unabashed in the fact that she was damn proud of herself. When they announced her name along with the likes of Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva and Naomi Watts, Wallis spared viewing audiences the false modesty of batting eyelashes, shrugged shoulders and downcast eyes. Instead, she flexed her arms like a champion and grinned.
Hated It: So many of host Seth MacFarlane's jokes!
Nostalgia for the 1960s never seems to fade. It was, we're told, an era that reshaped the American political landscape and empowered millions of people to challenge cultural norms. It rallied a generation. Its energy was palpable. If you were part of it, you should feel damn lucky. Some of us who weren't born until long after the sixties still feel cheated at the ostensible apathy of our current crop of radicals.
But '60s nostalgia is often concentrated in the anti-Vietnam War effort. Diverse interests coalesced around the anti-war movement: civil rights, gender equality and justice for the working class. But the story of the sixties, after the millionth telling, feels recycled: Abbie Hoffman, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Woodstock, LSD, The End.
MAKERS: Women Who Make America a new three-part documentary airing February 26 on PBS, will do little to abate this misty-eyed view of sixties-era activism. What it will do, however, is build a new appreciation for the heady nature of the women's movement.
Mirroring the feminist maxim that "the personal is political," MAKERS revisits the last 50 years of the women's movement, or what's commonly known as its second wave, through the personal stories of participants and witnesses.
Unlike many documentaries that sideline the women's movement in favor of a broader view of the era (with lip service to the fair but reductive point that the Pill enabled women to have more sex), MAKERS stays true to its subject through reminiscing about visions of revolutionary social change and the radical, sometimes provocative, rethinking of institutions.
This Sunday, we'll find out if nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis will be the youngest actress ever to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. There are some solid criticisms of the film, but just for fun, I made this illustrated tribute to Wallis and her character Hushpuppy, who lives who live Louisiana wetlands called the Bathtub in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
"You put me in a broken plane!" wails Denzel Washington's character, secret alcoholic pilot Whip Whitaker, in Flight, after crash-landing a malfunctioning 737. Replace "plane" with "movie," and he's exactly right.
The Oscars are handed out next week and Flight was inexplicably nominated for best writing after mildcriticalacclaim, Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by John Gatins, is not a good movie. But let's be real: I saw Flight because I wanted to see a commercial airliner fly upside-down. I didn't expect it to be good. I also didn't expect it to be rife with misogyny, so when it opened with gratuitous female full-frontal nudity, I was a little confused. I had been promised harrowing turbulence! When, I wondered, would the real story begin?
Spoiler alert: A good story never begins. But the objectification soldiers on, bolstered by stale sexist tropes that Gatins seems to have all but copied and pasted from old standbys of the romance and horror genres.
Spoiler Alert: This blog post discusses nearly all of the film's many plot twists.
Last month, director Steven Soderbergh seemed to "come out" as the gay community's latest Hollywood ally when he complained to the press about the impossibility of finding $5 million—a pauper's sum in the film industry—to make a Liberace biopic because the project was deemed "too gay." If Side Effects' sloppy gay characters are any indication, though, perhaps it's a relief that this pharma-thriller will cap Soderbergh's multiplex career.
Side Effects stars Rooney Mara as a depressed waif named Emily Taylor, Jude Law as her psychiatrist Dr. Banks, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Emily's suspiciously suspicious former therapist Dr. Siebert. The film begins as a worthwhile, if ham-fisted, exploration of the inherent neurochemical mystery of pills and the questionably cozy relationships between doctors and pharmaceutical companies.
But as Side Effects contorts through its preposterous plot twists, it becomes clear that the film's real preoccupation isn't the sins of the drug industry or the casual consumption of mind-altering tablets. In fact, the film neatly sweeps all those issues under the rug to warn moviegoers of far urgent danger within its paranoid universe: evil lesbians bent on destroying the lives of innocent straight men.
If you've never had bedside seats to a live birth, here's your chance.
Raw, nostalgic, and lovingly-crafted, Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore's feature-length documentary, "A Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives" captures the 1970s countercultural zeitgeist of its titular band of self-taught midwives. Grainy footage depicts the early settlers of The Farm, an intentional community in Tennessee, enacting a utopian mission to "be in community, to raise children in another way, and to take care of the planet."
Spearheading this mission is Ina May Gaskin, the film's heroine, whose own fraught encounters with the medical establishment during her pregnancy led her to reclaim childbirth as a community-based effort. Arguing that medical knowledge does not have to be the property of a select few, Gaskin inspired a renaissance of homebirthing culture on The Farm that challenged the dominant trend of unnecessary pre-emptive C-sections and empowered mothers to be more autonomous in their own birthing processes.
It's hard to talk about and even harder to film. In this exclusive Bitch Q&A, feminist poet and writer Katha Pollitt talks with filmmaker Jennifer Baumgardner about her powerful new film, It Was Rape.
KATHA POLLITT: Your new film "It Was Rape" consists almost entirely of 8 women, telling the story of their rape and its aftermath in great detail. I found it simultaneously compelling and unbearable to watch. How did you find women willing to identify themselves as rape survivors?
JENNIFER BAUMGARDNER: Sadly, it was incredibly easy finding people who had been raped. I lecture frequently on college campuses and each time I mentioned that I was working on this film and project, at least two people would approach me after the talk to tell me about their story. I somewhat randomly chose the stories that ended up in the film. Going into the interviews, I didn't know the stories beyond the barest sketch.
Most of the women in the film were not out in public about being raped—often they had discussed it with just a few people in their lives—but they were hungry for a venue in which they could talk about this really huge, life-altering event and be listened to respectfully and openly. I had no problem getting people to talk. That said, many were scared to see their interviews when the film was finished. The prospect of being in the public opened up the possibility of being not believed (again) or blamed (again).
I believe this movie stirred something in me. Perhaps the feelings I had for my '97 sea foam Geo Metro? That was a similarly creaky and stressful thing that I'd have preferred to chop up for parts.
For good or for bad, Mama opens with a far more chilling scene than any of the film's subsequent ghostfoolery: It's the beginning of the Great Recession and a freshly-ruined man in a suit runs horrific errands around town—first, shooting partners in his office and eventually making his way to his estranged wife and children. After a sad, heavy gunshot in an unseen room, the man kidnaps his two young daughters by car (naturally, the license plate: reads "N1 DAD").
Here's your warning: This rest of this review will contain some spoilers.