Monday, February 8, 2010

Postracial Oscars? No way


Here are some against-the-grain takes on the Best Picture nominees for 2010's Academy Awards.

District 9
"Yup, that’s Hollywood’s Africa, isn’t it. Black Africans shown as degenerate savages who’ll have sex with non-humans and are pretty damn eager to eat people.
Ooga-booga negroes who think *eating* the aliens will somehow give them their ~*magic*~, gun-toting gangstas, hos, and yes, we even have a barely-there sidekick who is repeatedly called ‘boy’."

Precious
"Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious. Full of brazenly racist clich├ęs (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show. Offering racist hysteria masquerading as social sensitivity, it’s been acclaimed on the international festival circuit that usually disdains movies about black Americans as somehow inartistic and unworthy."

Inglourious Basterds
"Much of Inglourious Basterds confirms Tarantino's flair. But he's flashy, superficial and takes the unpleasantly racist view that all Germans were Nazi Jew-haters who deserved every bit of torture they received."

Avatar
"This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.
Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege."

The Blind Side
"The movie peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of blacks who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them."

An Education
"We were only 15 minutes into the film and this was the second reference to the “Wandering Jew,” an age-old, European anti-Semitic stereotype. The British coming-of-age film, “An Education,” had gotten rave reviews, yet the more I watched, the more the character of David Goldman resembled the parasitical Jew of “Der Ewige Juden” (“The Eternal Jew”) — one of the infamous 1930s Nazi propaganda films I had studied in Peter Loewenberg’s class at UCLA."

The Hurt Locker
"The film largely ignores the political questions raised by the reasons for the Iraq war or by the conduct of it. For instance not one single Iraqi is killed by an air strike during the film because in the Iraq war of the film there is no such thing as an air strike! Iraqis, the boy nicknamed Beckham and the professor and his wife apart are either portrayed as passive victims or villianous and shifty. Like in many more contemporary war films, the ‘other side’ is portrayed in a one-dimensional and oppressive way... The racism of the occupying troops is throughly sanitised. We never see the full impact of war and occupation on the Iraqis."

A Serious Man
"The Yiddish shtetl shtick that opens Joel and Ethan Coen's new movie—a Jewish peasant stumbles on an old Hasid who may or may not be a dybbuk—is pretty clumsy, but at least it tips its hat to the great existential comedy that A Serious Man might have become, if it weren't buried beneath an avalanche of Ugly Jew iconography.
Set in 1967, in a Midwestern Jewish neighborhood with a strong resemblance to the one the Coens grew up in, A Serious Man is crowded with fat Jews, aggressive Jews, passive-aggressive Jews, traitor Jews, loser Jews, shyster Jews, emo-Jews, Jews who slurp their chicken soup, and—passing as sages—a clutch of yellow-teethed, know-nothing rabbis."

Among the nominees, Up In the Air and Up have not, to my knowledge, been accused of racism.

9 comments:

Rukminee said...

Girish, you write precisely and I like to read your blog but your articles are not very legible. If your template allows it, you could make your column narrower and increase leading. That way, your readers won't struggle to find the beginning of the next sentence once they have reached the end of one.

Girish Shahane said...

Sorry, Rukminee, the blog opens fine on the computers I've used. Will look into it.

Anonymous said...

http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/2009/12/up-in-the-air-and-the-decline.html

Girish Shahane said...

Almost mentioned the Asian joke bit. It goes like this:
“Bingo. Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and have a thing for slip on shoes, god love ‘em.”
“That’s racist!”
“I’m like my mother. I stereotype – it’s faster.”

So the potential sting is drawn in the conversation itself. Not for everybody, of course.

seana said...

Nice list. Or not so nice list, but you know what I mean.

Let's just say that when the revolution comes, it probably won't start in Hollywood.

Khalil Sawant said...

The "Up" movie actually has a Japanese kid giving voice for the main kid character in the movie :)

Girish Shahane said...

True, and there was some controversy about how he was originally drawn, but the final movie's escaped any racial-bias allegations as far as I know. Maybe a truly postracial film...

Mohammed Musthafa said...

I agree that there's a lot of racism in movies. Like Arabs shown as terrorists and all...but does that mean every movie has racism in it? Like the Blind Side example. I cant get it. The Sandra Bullock character is based on a real life woman, who actually took a black kid in, and helped him make the NFL draft. Now, if that's what actually happened, howwould portraying that make it racist? If anything, I admire the courage the woman shows to care for the black kid...

Girish Shahane said...

I agree, Mohammed. None of those quotes are mine. The point was just to show how racial depictions continue to be polarising.