Driving Miss Daisy

Culture Warrior

In 1989, two major studios released films about race relations in America that couldn’t be more different. Driving Miss Daisy, Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of Alfred Uhry’s successful off-Broadway play, was a heartwarming tearjerker about a rich, isolated elderly Jewish woman who comes to the astounding revelation that her friendly African-American chauffeur is often subject to discrimination in the South during the 1950s. Do the Right Thing, meanwhile, enshrined Spike Lee’s place on the cinematic map. Its pull-no-punches mosaic of conflicting, negotiating racialized voices in contemporary Bedford-Stuyvesant refused happy endings and clear answers, leaving critics and audiences in a gray area where they couldn’t decide whether the film was a lament over the brick-wall met by post-Civil Rights discourse, a call to violent action, or something else entirely. The relative critical and economic successes of both Driving Miss Daisy and Do the Right Thing paved a crossroads for future representations of African Americans in mainstream American cinema: should they pursue the direction of  affirmation and closure in the face of racism dismissed as a problem solved long ago, or strive for contemporary relevance and a refusal of easy answers to complex questions? Time and again, Hollywood has overwhelmingly preferred to continue in the direction of Driving Miss Daisy. As a retelling of history, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which chronicles the hard-won political gymnastics enacted in order to get the 13th Amendment passed and abolish human slavery in the US thereafter, would seem to continue Hollywood’s preference to gaze backwards at race relations […]

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Sally Field in Lincoln 2012

Should we reward the films that challenge us? More pointedly, is that the role of the Academy Awards? Sasha Stone opened her State of the Race column this week by raising that very question. The two most recent Best Picture winners, The King’s Speech and The Artist¸ don’t exactly demand soul searching. They “offered a path of least resistance; they delivered a lot but asked so little of us in return,” she explains. Yet in 2012, a year of such great political conflict and often ugly national bickering, we might be in the mood to laud films that strike closer to our core. For Stone, this leads directly into a proclamation of Lincoln’s historical weight. Her argument casts Steven Spielberg’s film as period piece that reaches into the present, calling on us to examine our wounds so that we may prepare for the future. There is no better time for such a powerful work about America to arrive and take Oscar gold, reminding us to continue on the road to a better society in the spirit of the Great Emancipator. The same logic can be applied to other films in the race as well, from Argo to the (as yet unseen) Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty.

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Over Under - Large

I was only eight  in 1989, but from what I remember it was pretty much the year of Batman and Driving Miss Daisy; two movies that my 8-year-old self was less than impressed by. Perhaps we’ll talk about Batman at a later date, but today I want to talk about Miss Daisy, a movie that won so many awards and got so much critical praise that it made even those of us who had yet to sprout pubes aware of who Jessica Tandy was. The hype on this thing must have been huge to get me to tear my attention away from G.I. Joe and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles long enough to watch a film about a couple of old people driving around, but it did. The other movie I want to look at is from 2008. It’s Clint Eastwood’s acting swan song, Gran Torino. This one was well-liked, from what I can tell, but it didn’t get the hype or attention that I imagined it would once awards season rolled around, and consequently I don’t think as many people saw it as should have. I mean, with this one’s racial themes and its focus on old people you’d think it was a shoo-in for baiting the Oscars into giving it recognition. Perhaps it had too many racial slurs and too much gunplay to get embraced by the intellectual bourgeoisie that make up the Academy though. Give something a little color and suddenly it can’t be viewed as “serious […]

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Culture Warrior

The Help has started a conversation that’s stretched far beyond the 137-minute confines of the film itself. And in its second week in a row atop the late-summer box office, the critical conversation surrounding the film has continued amidst (and, sometimes, against) the sleeper popularity it endures in a fashion similar to the success of the book it was based on. In interest of full disclosure, I have deliberately chosen by this point not to see The Help (perhaps a combination of my reservations against it combined with its daunting running time). However, in following the many editorials published in response to the film’s release, it oddly enough feels appropriate to comment on the conversation that the film has inspired without having seen it, as it’s a conversation that is hardly limited to the film itself. The Help seems to represent a breaking point, the last piece of white liberal guilt that broke the clear-cut racial fantasies of Hollywood cinema’s back, so to speak. The film is bearing the brunt of a decades-long history of similarly minded feel-good studio fare about race relations. While The Help certainly has its full-throated detractors, one interesting component about the overall critical reaction to the film is that it is politically simplistic while also presenting good or perfectly competent filmmaking, carried by a couple of strong female performances at its center (which, when considering what’s lacking in terms of identity and representation in Hollywood, is itself no small miracle).

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Since Halloween is over, people are already decorating for Christmas because Thanksgiving never got around to choosing official colors. To get in that holiday spirit, we’ve got a look at two new movie posters that are painting the town green and red. The first is for Kevin Smith’s long-promised horror film about religious zealots, Red State. The other is for the Seth Rogen-starring adaptation of the classic television show, Green Hornet. Deck the halls. It’s November.

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Driving Miss Daisy is one of three films in history, and the only one in modern history, to do something incredible at the Academy Awards. Find out what the phenomenon is inside.

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ChowoutofGreenHornet

Another bump in the road for a production that has already seen a ton of ups and downs. Now the question remains: who will step into the domino mask and drive Seth Rogen around while they fight crime?

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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