Tag Archives: race in film

Film Favorites: Do the Right Thing


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Both the initial reason why Spike Lee is a household name and one of the most controversial films of all time, Do the Right Thing is a masterwork of undying tension and resistance, and one of the greatest films of the past 30 years about the very feeling abyss of inner city life. It’s a truly startling and affecting portrait of the simmering everyday hell of lives not lived, an apocalypse that just happens to resemble a Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York during the late 1980s and early 1990s. And more than anything, it’s a film which genuinely reveals and honestly understands the state of race relations in the United States at its time like no other.  Like most great films, Do the Right Thing exists in shades of grey, in the blind spots, and it pries them right open until we’re suffocated by them. It isn’t preachy, and it doesn’t give any answers, nor does it act like it could if it wanted to. It simply sets you down in the trenches of this neighborhood and lets the characters interact with each other, telling a story  brutally honest and completely free of melodrama or manipulation, all the while being clinically aware of its own distance from the subject matter it wished to depict. Watching Do the Right Thing is frustrating and aggravating, a breathless gasp of an experience that really causes one to sit back, as much a plaintive sigh as a shriek into the blistering day. It understands a certain world, our world, and it makes that world something to “feel”. The day depicted in the film isn’t one that the residents of this neighborhood will ever forget, and Lee, with his biting insight and seemingly preternatural understanding of the formal mechanics of film, makes sure we won’t either. Continue reading

Review: 12 Years a Slave

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As a history major in college, I’ve taken numerous classes specializing on slavery in the US. I thought I could understand something of the history, the pain, the suffering, the anguish. I thought, to whatever extent it was possible for a white kid in the early 21st century to know, I knew. I was wrong. Sitting in the theater watching 12 Years a Slave, I felt the inescapable grasp of history around my neck, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Never before have I felt so clearly and achingly the tragedies upon which America is built. I felt helpless. My reaction was visceral; I gritted my teeth, I began to shake uncontrollably, all the more so when I realized how, even with 12 Years a Slave,  I still couldn’t “know” fully. 12 Years a Slave is the best “Oscar” film in the better part of a decade. But it isn’t just a great film, it’s a necessary one, and it is all the more so because it is painfully aware of what it leaves out of the story and what we may never know. As a story, it plays out in insinuating gazes and implicating glances, all fissures into history that demand that we confront the film not as an objective portal into the past but as a subjective interpretation of it.  Continue reading