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Friday, March 24, 2017

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO


I Am Not Your Negro is brilliant and disturbing and educational and poignant and enlightening and sobering and infinitely captivating. This documentary film directed by Raoul Peck is based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript Remember This House, and is masterfully narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. It explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I first became aware of James Baldwin when I read his semi-autobiographical book 'Go Tell it on the Mountain' in high school, and was fortunate enough to hear him lecture in person some time later (around 1985) at what was then Dekalb College. This was just a couple of years before his death in 1987, and I remember that he was just as relentlessly and unapologetically outspoken that day as he had ever been...just as he had been in the TV interviews from the '60's that I had seen with him. Much of the material in his lecture was difficult for me to listen to because it was so brutally honest and indicting of American history and of white culture, but he was so intelligent, articulate and even poetic in his delivery that I could have sat there all day and heard even more. His mastery of the English language and finesse as a wordsmith made it easier to absorb the sword of truth from his lips.

'I Am Not Your Negro' does an expertly commanding job of using movie clips, archival news footage, and clips of interviews with Baldwin to illustrate the powerful words of his manuscript, and much of it serves as a compelling time capsule that somehow resonates with uncanny accuracy and relevance for today. His words, written decades ago, ring quite sadly prophetic as it relates to our present reality.

Baldwin was incredibly and unflinchingly courageous, not just as an man of color who fearlessly gave a voice to the voiceless, but also as an out gay man who embraced his sexual orientation without trepidation. He is therefore an icon in several communities, including the literary community, and IANYN is a powerful tribute to his work and legacy on every level.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

MOONLIGHT


So I finally saw ‘Moonlight’ last week, about 24 hours after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture in the most bizarre Oscar announcement of that category in history, and I was blown away by it. 

It has been on my list of films to see for months now, during which time I've continued to receive a steady stream of recommendations for it from friends and acquaintances, but I just never got around to seeing it until now for some reason.

I think I was subconsciously putting it off, maybe even dreading sitting through it a little, because I knew enough about the subject matter to know what films like that can do to my psyche, and I just wasn't ready to experience that yet. The movie presents three stages in the life of the main character, Chiron, and explores the difficulties that he faces with his own sexuality, and the physical abuse he receives because of it, and on a personal level, seeing young people suffer because of homophobia can be just too difficult for me to watch sometimes.

And in a broader context, I'm not really that drawn to films with a gay theme, in general, because I rarely find them to be realistic in their portrayals of what it really means to be gay. But I actually found 'Moonlight' to be surprisingly life-affirming and authentically relevant, and, as much as I loved 'La La Land', I'm glad that it won Best Picture.

It's a lyrically beautiful piece of work, and very well cast. Each of the three actors who play the main character at different ages...Alex R. Hibbert ("Little"), Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes ("Black")...delivers an extraordinary performance, as does Mahershala Ali, who won a well-deserved Best Actor award (I was personally rooting for Dev Patel for "Lion", but there were a lot of Oscar-worthy performances this year)...

There are a lot of places the makers of the film could have taken the story, but their restraint and economy on several levels make for a much better film. It's neither gratuitously violent, nor sexually explicit, and completely avoids portraying gay stereotypes (as in the assumption that all gay people are promiscuous).

It's regrettable that the producers of 'Moonlight' were denied the time to give their full acceptance speeches at the Oscars show because of the mix-up at the end, but no one can take away their win...that's permanent.
Kudos to 'La La Land' producer, Jordan Horowitz, for handling the mix-up in such a classy way.

Great film. Congratulations!