Malcolm X

Do the Right Thing

“Heroes, as far as I could then see, were white, and not merely because of the movies but because of the land in which I lived, of which movies were simply a reflection: I despised and feared those heroes because they did take vengeance into their own hands. They thought that vengeance was theirs to take. This difficult coin did not cease to spin. It had neither heads not tails: for what white people took into their hands could scarcely be called vengeance, it was something less and something more.” In his autobiographical essay on movies and American racism, “The Devil Finds Work,” James Baldwin discusses at length the absence of black subjectivity and the prominence of white heroism in the milieu of classical Hollywood in which he came of age. At one point in the essay, Baldwin states that he has seen no black persons that he knows in the movies. He does not mean that he has never seen black faces onscreen, but rather that he has never seen a black protagonist whose experiences honestly reflect his position, neither the “debasement” of Stephin Fetchit nor Sidney Poitier’s role in The Heat of the Night, the latter of which Baldwin refers to as conveying, yet refusing to confront, “the anguish of people trapped in a legend.” That legend forbade black characters from achieving anything resembling the vengeance that white characters so regularly found on American screens. While published thirteen years before the movie’s release, Baldwin’s reflections on American cinema are essential […]

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adamclaytonpowell

It’s February, and that means it’s Black History Month again. Naturally, a site devoted to nonfiction ought to honor the occasion with a look at great documentaries about black heroes and accomplishments. But I don’t want to focus too much on the history of struggle. Most docs on the African-American experience have involved tragedy and/or civil rights. Many heroes depicted are civil rights leaders, or they’re men and women who’ve made achievements in sports and music. There are far fewer films about more common black people or even those who are notable for other things. Where is the inspiring black equivalent to Man on Wire, for instance? Through this month, we’re going to be highlighting docs tied to Black History Month that are currently available to watch (many of the old ones are not). Some will celebrate heroes, some will celebrate the not-famous. Some will be actual historical record, while today’s list is specifically films that use archival cinematic documentation for the purpose of telling and depicting history.  These are black history documentaries, and you should make time to watch them, even if not necessarily in the designated time of the year. READ MORE

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This Week in Blu-ray

This Week in Blu-ray is back with another big week of releases. This is the time of year when a lot of great fall releases, Oscar contenders new and old, and even a few summer blockbusters going for the double-dip get their more impressive debuts on the mother of all HD formats. This week we get to explore my personal favorite film of 2011, as well as some fantastic re-releases of classic films like To Kill a Mockingbird and Malcolm X. There will also be a discussion of The Thing (2011), albeit a brief one. Drive In recent interviews, director Nicolas Winding Refn has promised fans that a fully loaded edition of Drive would eventually make its way to Blu-ray, with plenty of extras, interviews and other special features. While I, like you, find that to be a nice idea, it’s also hard to overlook the urgency of getting 2011′s best film into my collection as soon as possible. And much to my surprise, this Blu-ray release is solid. Ryan Gosling is still Driver, he’s still driving fast and fighting for the girl, and he’s still punching out Christina Hendricks and stomping dudes flat in elevators in between driving scenes backed by the pulsing score of Cliff Martinez. There’s also some special treats. No, not a toothpick. Although I’d take it. This release comes complete with four featurettes, all worthy of your time, and a documentary-length interview with the film’s director. It’s an efficient package that, like the film to which it’s […]

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Culture Warrior

Themes of identity, difference, stigma, and othering are explicitly or implicitly present in much of the X-Men mythology, whether expressed through comics, television shows, or films. While I was never a devotee to the comics, as a fan of the 90s animated television series and (some of) the recent slate of Hollywood films (that have, as of this past weekend, effectively framed the continually dominant superhero blockbuster genre), I’ve always been fascinated by the series’ ability to take part in the language of social identity issues. Fantastic genres like horror and sci-fi have often provided an allegorical means of addressing social crises (vampire films as AIDS metaphor, zombie movie as conformist critique, or Dystopian sci-fi as technocratic critique, for example). The superhero genre has possessed a similar history in this capacity, even though it has thus far been mostly unrealized in the medium of film. As big entertainment, superhero films ranging from the first Spider-Man to the Iron Man films have bestowed narratives of exceptionalism and wish-fulfillment rather than shown any aspiration towards critique or insight. Perhaps The Dark Knight is most involved example of social critique thus far – a film that explores themes surrounding the personal toll on fighting terror and the overreaches of power that can result in the name of pursuing safety. What X-Men: First Class (almost) accomplishes is mining fully the allegorical territory made available by its fantastic premise in a way that few previous comic book films have.

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. This trailer knows where it came from. Denzel Washington turns in a powerful performance as the most famous civil rights leader with a letter for a last name. In Spike Lee’s best film, a man rises up as a follower to become a leader, telling people that it’s time to stand up. Think you know what it is? Check out the trailer after the jump.

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The Library of Congress opens up its big mystical vault once a year to toss in 25 films that it deems worthy (by stirring old clapboards into a vat of rat blood and reading the star alignment). This year was a big year that honors some of the fallen members of the community – notably Leslie Nielsen, Blake Edwards and Irvin Kershner. Safely stowed away as important cultural documents, The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane!, and The Pink Panther join 23 other films that will be forever kept in the hearts of those who care to apply for a Library of Congress library card (a three-step process that includes a photo being taken). Check the entire list (which is littered with incredible movies) below:

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