….so that’s now two for two. Two bad biographies written by important Black writers losing battles with time and illness. And two Pulitzers for bad or incomplete history. Sad. I wish Columbia University would have found other ways to honor Manning Marable and Les Payne.
a) Lin-Manuel Miranda reminds me how Ta-Nehisi Coates described Barack Obama: an activist, not a protester. (Nice move he made with NPR’s Maria Hinojosa to get some intellectual/activist cred! :)) This is the most thoroughly gentle–even if ever-present!–film portrayal of systemic white supremacy I’ve seen on film. Miranda, who loves 20th-century white popular culture at least as much as I do 🙂 , does NOT want to upset Whitey, EVER. 🙂 Having said that, I enjoyed seeing the undocumented struggle included in this. It shows how, like Coates, he is VERY careful.
b) This story is highly cultural–very BROWN, the way Hamilton is (ironically!) very WHITE. (I can see Miranda on that Heights vacation, reading that Ron Chernow bio and going: “Yes! I can now go completely in a new and opposite direction, like an artist should! Past instead of present, white instead of Black/Brown, historical narrative instead of love letter, naked, individual ambition instead of family/community survival, birth of a nation instead of death of a neighborhood!”) As a concept, Hamilton makes a LOT of sense to me now. You can clearly see the themes in both New York-centric, immigrant-centric musicals that attract Miranda–the power of personal drive and dreams with/versus sacrificial commitment to family and community, etc.
c) Whether it is culturally stereotypical I will leave for Brown people to discuss. To this outsider, it looks like he’s trying to hit EVERY cultural mark.
d) Because Hamilton was first for me, this seemed like a workshop to test out the style he would perfect with the slaveholders. 🙂
JUNE 12th UPDATE: So now that I’ve laid my issues on the table, I will admit he’s a FREAKIN’ GENIUS!!! Have you seen the teaser (below) for his directorial debut?!? And the Oscar goes to…. 😉 The year 2021 is only halfway through, and he’s already its savior!! LOL!!!
UPDATE: MOVE Protest on 4-28-21:
UPDATE: Some of Democracy Now!‘s coverage:
At one point, Glenn Thurman shows Aretha Franklin The Trust Fall and it takes a little bit of internal work for Aretha to make it. But make it she does. Watching eight hours of Genius‘s third season requires a lot of trust in showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks, because the viewer has to wade through aaaa lottttt of Lifetime-type, music-biopic tropes to get to the core of Franklin’s story: She is a woman who is sometimes-comfortably trapped in concentric gender and music circles, pushing out only when they threaten her windpipe. Each burst-through creates its own cycles of searches. Aretha’s stoic speaking voice is the outer shell that hides deep insecurities but also hidden strengths. The seemingly endless flashbacks show where and why the holding patterns stick; her grown-ness comes in her 40s, as an unavoidable right-of-passage beckons. Parks has said she read all the books and articles, so while the hours went by this viewer had to trust that she was going in a direction worthy of so much (relatively) limited discussion of politics and society that seemingly dominated the show’s first two seasons. What the playwright has shown is how complicated the sexist male circles are to surmount–how it takes time and patience to wedge through, to prove oneself, to burst free into a full identity who can do anything–even sing opera on 15 minutes notice.
As my friend Malik Russell once said of him, “He is Black media royalty.” I knew him as a fixer–a guy who knew everybody in Washington, D.C. and every other center of power and could solve anyone’s problem. I will never forget that he let me tag along with him to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Colorado.
(I’m about to finish this film for the second time as I type this, so I think I can say a few intelligent words.)
This masterpiece is fascinating because of the tension within the film itself. If expanded to the six hours it should have been, what could have been an amazing Season 3 of the Black Panther Party HBO series of my dreams is instead a compressed, truncated story that pushes against the false-equivalencies the format has set up. How can you do a Black Panther film and not talk in-depth about the Ten Point Platform and Program? Or show the naked brutality that led to the naked brutality on all three sides? (The third side is the violence within the Party.) The Judas and the Black Messiah cast is Oscar-bound: LaKeith Stanfield does not miss one Shakespearian note, complexity showing in every brow and movement. Dominique Fishback steals every scene from Daniel Kaluuya, top to bottom, beginning to end, her poetry and prose indistinguishable. The writers and the director are happily trapped in the web of intrigue and anguish caused by Panther informant William O’Neal, but that emphasis comes at the expense of knowing him–and the quasi-sympathetic white FBI agent!–better than Hampton because the filmgoers enter in the middle of the latter’s movie. Having the Panther leader recite his greatest speech-hits does not compensate for this in the way the filmmakers think, but it’s all they decide to do. What do the Panthers believe in again? How’d they come about? What’s their goal? Sad that the political-personal merging, the key to so many American film classics of almost a century, was not good enough here for some (commercial) reason. This spectacular has made this writer want to burn Mario Van Peebles Panther and toss Spike Lee’s almost-30-years-old Malcolm X into the closet of film history, but The Spook Who’s Sat By The Door’s and Reds‘ clearly-explained political analysis, the focal point of its dramatic core, continues to beckon in the Panther’s afterglow while this reviewer is left wondering what might have been and what still could be.