Martin Luther King Jr

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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oprah the butler

It’s not even July yet. Do we really have to start with Oscar stuff now? The only other people mentioning this fall’s crop of potential award-winners do so with hilarious disclaimers like “It’s never too early to semi-blindly predict the rest of the year’s critical darlings” or “It’s only June, but let’s take an ignorant stab at the Oscar nominations anyway, shall we?” Oh, how I wish such a disclaimer could have run at the top of this paragraph. But now there is news. News that does not mention any explicit Oscar-mongering, yet carries the faint swooshing noise of Oprah Winfrey, polishing her mantle in anticipation of Oscar number two (and the first one was an honorary humanitarian award, so it barely counts as it is). Selma, the Winfrey-produced, Ava DuVernay-directed, David Oyelowo-starring biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has a release date: December 25, 2014, for a limited release, and then January 9, 2015, for the wide expansion. And that kind of a release schedule, or course, is what you do when you want to see your film dented and eventually destroyed under a shower of heavy awards statuettes. Last year, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and 12 Years a Slave went for the late-year, limited-then-wide release pattern. Today, all those movies can proudly proclaim “Academy Award Winner” on their various Blu-ray and DVD covers.

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oprah the butler

That sound you just heard was a million The Wire obsessives, all emerging from their subterranean lairs at the same time (as most Wire fans burrow underground, subsisting on nothing but Wire marathons, YouTube clips and constant assurances that “you come at the king, you best not miss”). This natural phenomenon happens very rarely, but when it occurs, it can mean only one thing: David Simon has announced some new TV project. And, indeed, he has. As Deadline reports, the head writer/creator/showrunner of The Wire (and Supreme God-King amongst those strange, mole-like TV bingewatchers) is now working on a Martin Luther King Jr. miniseries for HBO. The series is based off of Taylor Branch‘s “America in the King Years,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the civil rights movement. Simon will be writing at least the first episode and the series bible (essentially, an encyclopedia of all necessary characters, settings and major details), then he and Eric Overmyer (producer on The Wire and co-creator of their later series, Treme) will be “seeing the entire mini through completion.” Simon might not be showrunner (at least not yet), but his name’s still attached, and that’s more than enough to slake the thirst of desperate Wire fans worldwide.

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MLK

It seems like there’s been a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic gestating somewhere in Hollywood ever since there was a Martin Luther King Jr. Sure an MLK might pop up in The Butler or Ali (the latter MLK played by LeVar Burton!) now and again, but you’d think that one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century would be generating biopics left and right. Most recently, the Paul Greengrass-scripted Memphis seemed like the frontrunner on that race to the mountaintop, but a dark horse has suddenly vaulted into the lead. It’s a horse made up of Oliver Stone and Jamie Foxx (and one reported on by The Wrap), and unlike Memphis, these two are predicted to have the support of the King family – somewhat of a necessity in making a King film. Stone is no stranger to the politically-charged biopic, and Foxx is more than capable of pulling off a dynamite performance when paired with the right director (see also: Ray, Collateral, Django Unchained). Both men have had their share of clunkers in recent years, but if Stone’s the right director for Foxx, then Martin Luther King Jr. will finally have a biopic worthy of all the good he did for this country. Unless Lee Daniels and David Oyelowo in Selma end up crossing the finish line first.

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Culture Warrior

Warning: this editorial contains spoilers for Rise of the Planet of the Apes (and, for that matter, the original Planet of the Apes). Consider yourself warned, you maniacs! The original Planet of the Apes lends itself quite readily to allegory. 1968, the year of the film’s release, was the peak of one of the most tumultuous eras in American social history. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in April of that year, and Robert F. Kennedy’s death followed a mere two months later. Student resistance and campus demonstrations grew increasingly violent in their opposition to the Vietnam War, the Chicago DNC broke into an all-out war, and racial discord mounted. Of course, none of this had happened yet when Planet of the Apes went into production, but the intersections of intent and circumstance that permit the film to be read so heavily, so variously, and so often in allegorical terms enrich the original film and its sequels with resonance that outlives whatever else may date it. Beyond entertainment value, the Planet of the Apes series has lingered in the popular imagination not because of any strong connection to a specific associative meaning, but because of the many possible allegorical readings it is capable of containing. One of several reasons that Rise of the Planet of the Apes succeeds where previous reincarnations of the series did not is its reclaimed capacity for allegory.

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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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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column. But would you say that El Column has a plethora of news items? Yes, yes, I know it has a lot of news items. But does it have a plethora? Empire recently brought Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin back together to recreate some of the Three Amigos magic that delivered one of the most underrated comedies of the last 25 years. Even director John Landis was on-hand for the photo shoot, celebrating the quarter decade anniversary of the film. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and part of my “cinematic friend litmus test.” If you don’t like this movie, we simply won’t ever be close friends. Them’s the rules.

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An incredibly talented writer just got hired to craft the Martin Luther King, Jr biopic for Dreamworks. Hand out the Oscar now.

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I Have A Dream Speech

Steven Spielberg finally has the blessing of the King estate to do a documentary of one of the most famous figures in American history.

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