Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

Get Out

February 28, 2017

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Get Out is a comedy/horror film that is written and directed by Justin Peele. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), who is black, is engaged to Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who is white. They go to visit Rose’s parents. While they are staying with them, Rose’s parents throw a party. at which many people show up. The behavior of the people at this party strike Chris as increasingly creepy.

Get Out is that rare film that manages to successfully balance comedy and horror. I have been told that some people have claimed that this film is “anti-white”. Seriously? I saw this film with a mostly white audience, and people were laughing, and they applauded at the end. It seems to me that only someone who is actually a racist would think this film is anti-white.

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The Hateful Eight

January 9, 2016

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em>The Hateful Eight is billed as the “8th film by Quentin Tarantino”. This does nothing to reassure the uneasy feeling one gets that Tarantino thinks his films are more profound than they actually are.

While traveling to Red Rock, Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter, hitches a ride on a stage coach. On board are another bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a convicted murderer. The are soon joined by Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Seeking shelter from a blizzard, they stop at a place called Millie’s Haberdashery. To Warren’s concern, the proprietors are not there. Instead, they are greeted by a mysterious stranger (Demián Bichir). Also seeking shelter at this place are an Englishman (Tim Roth), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), and a former Confederate general (Bruce Dern). Ruth confides to Warren that he believes there may be a plot afoot to help Daisy escape.

The Hateful Eight really only deals with two topics: racism and revenge. This is not enough to justify a two hour and forty-seven minute. One of the things I liked about Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs was they way it would leave certain things to the imagination. Tarantino’s recent films leave nothing to the imagination. They tell us things we don’t really need to know, and they show us things we don’t really need to see.

This is not to say that The Hateful Eight is a bad film. Quite the contrary, I found most of it entertaining, though it became wearing towards the end. (And it has a score by Ennio Morricone!) For all his flaws, Tarantino is one of the most interesting directors working. I just wish he would get some sense of perspective.

A Thought on Black Lives Matter

August 10, 2015

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As we all know by now, two members of Black Lives Matter recently prevented Bernie Sanders from speaking at a rally in Seattle in support of Social Security and Medicare. A number of Facebook friends of mine have tried to defend what they with the following argument: they forced Sanders to take more substantive positions on race issues. I can’t agree with this argument for two reasons. First, this tactic has clearly alienated many people who would otherwise be sympathetic towards Black Lives Matter. Was it really worth doing that just to get Sanders to take slightly better positions? Second, if you say that Sanders takes good positions just because two people forced him off the stage, that makes him look weak, doesn’t it? What good does that do?

Cartel Land

July 20, 2015

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The “War on Drugs’ continues to take a heavy toll not only on our country but on Mexico as well. The drug cartels that terrorize that country grew up to feed the underground US drug market. Matthew Heineman’s documentary, Cartel Land, examines this situation.

The film begins with a scene of Mexican cartel members cooking meth. One of them frankly informs us that most of their meth will go to the US. We are then shown a funeral for several members of a Mexican family. When the owner of a lime farm refused to pay money to the Knights Templar cartel, they responded by killing the workers on his farm, as well as their families. We are then introduced to Jose Mireles, a doctor, who has organized a vigilante group, Autodefensas, to fight the Knights Templar in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The go from town to town and drive away any cartel members that they find. In one scene, an army squadron shows up and tries to disarm the Autodensas. The people of the town come to the aid of the vigilantes, and the army is forced to back down. The Autodefensas grow rapidly in size and power. There are inevitably abuses, and in some cases outright criminality. Mireles tries to reassert control over the group, but one gets the impression that he is in over his head. He suspects that the Autodefensas have been infiltrated by the Viagra cartel, and it soon becomes clear that this is exactly what has happened. The Autodefensas become “legal” by joining the federal police, with cartel members in their ranks. Fearing for his life, Mireles goes into hiding. He is eventually arrested by the government for illegal firearms possession, and he is now in prison. We are shown members of the Viagra cartel, some of them wearing federal police uniforms, cooking meth.

This story is interspersed with another story about a US vigilante group, Arizona Border Recon, which claims to be “defending” the border. (The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified these people as a hate group.) Their leader is Tim “Nailer” Foley, who lives in Arizona’s Alta Valley. Foley claims that Mexican drug cartels have taken over this area, although he provides no evidence to prove this claim. We see Foley and his followers patrolling the desert, with nary a cartel member in sight. (This is marked contrast to the gun battles we see in some of the Michoacán scenes.) In one scene they come across some immigrants, and they promptly turn them over to the Border Patrol. That is all the “invasion” that we see. One gets the uncomfortable feeling that the people in ABR get their ideas from watching Fox News. This is clearly another situation that can’t end well.

This film is deeply disturbing to watch. Seeing the Autofefensas turned into their opposite shows just how powerful and corrupting the drug trade is. The only possible solution is to legalize and regulate the sale of “recreational” drugs.

3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets

July 1, 2015

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3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets is a documentary about the 2012 murder of Jordan Davis and the subsequent trial of his killer, Michael Dunn. Dunn shot and killed Davis after the latter refused to turn down his car radio in a gas station parking lot. Dunn also shot at the other three people who were in the car with Davis.

This film largely consists of interviews with Davis’s parents and with his friends, as well as scenes from Dunn’s trial. Davis is portrayed as a good kid, who was well liked by his friends, even though he wasn’t very good at playing basketball. It’s the trial scenes, however, that are the most interesting. Dunn’s lawyer does a good job of cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses, but he makes a crucial mistake when he puts Dunn on the witness stand. (Perhaps he felt he had to call Dunn because there were few witnesses, and because Davis’s friends seemed credible on the stand.) The prosecution catches Dunn in a lie, which undermines his claim that Davis had a gun. In spite of this, the jury dead-locked on the question of whether Dunn committed first degree murder. They did find him guilty of three counts of second degree murder, for shooting at Davis’s friends as they were trying to get away from him.

Dunn’s lawyer tells the jury that the trial is not about race. There is no evidence that Dunn used racial epithets at the time of the shooting. Yet one can’t help but wonder if he would have shot at three white boys playing loud music. I would have liked to learn more about Dunn: his background, his political beliefs, etc. At the end of the film, he shows no remorse for what he did, and he even claims to be the “real victim” in this case. Dunn kept a loaded gun in his car, and I suspect that he was secretly wishing that he would one day have an excuse to use it. He was an accident waiting to happen.

Selma

January 18, 2015

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Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay based on a screenplay by Paul Webb and DuVernay, depicts the struggle for voting rights in Alabama, which resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Although the film is about historical events, it has a topicality due to the recent undermining of the Act and the efforts to disenfranchise black voters in some states.

The script is highly didactic. Almost every scene seems to drive home a particular point. Many of the scenes consist of two or three people talking, in which they present contrasting points of view. This can be effective at times, but it becomes a drawback in the scenes between Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo). The two of them sound so high-minded and professorial, that one wonders how they didn’t drive each other crazy.

Selma touches upon King’s complicated attitude towards violence. It makes clear that one of the aims of non-violent resistance was to provoke a violent response from authorities, in order to cause them to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the world. The film shows King struggling with the possible consequences of this tactic. In one scene, he calls off a march -much to the consternation of his supporters – because he fears that the police have set a trap.

One thing I liked about Selma is that it doesn’t try to prettify anything. J. Edgar Hoover and George Wallace are portrayed as being every bit as vile as they were. Some people have criticized the film’s portrayal of Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), particularly its implication that Johnson got Hoover to try to blackmail King. However, we know that Johnson was not above playing dirty, and at the very least he was aware of Hoover’s hostility towards King, so one has to admit that this part of the film is at least plausible. (Fun fact: it was Robert Kennedy who ordered the FBI to spy on King and his associates.)

Selma is a timely film that everyone should see.

After Charlie Hebdo

January 11, 2015

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The men who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo are dead. The discussion we need to have at this point is how do we keep the political right from capitalizing on this tragic event. (This would be a more useful discussion than arguing about whether or not the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were racist.) Already the right is on the march. The media mogul, Rupert Murdoch has tweeted:

    Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.

So, 1.5 billion Muslims should be held responsible for the actions of three (maybe four) people. This is grandstanding, of course, but it shouldn’t be regarded as harmless or inconsequential. The idea of collective punishment has a strong emotional appeal for some people. And there are people who would really like to see the US invade another country, preferably a Muslim one.

And then there is the “liberal” “comedian”, Bill Maher, who recently announced that “tens of millions” of Muslims supported the Charlie Hebdo attack. As with many of his ideas, Maher pulled this out of his ass. Whether or not he realizes it, Maher is helping to recreate the atmosphere of fear and hysteria that preceded the invasion of Iraq. (The fact that Maher says that liberals have turned the US into a “pussy nation” perhaps indicates what his real intentions are.)

We must confront and condemn advocates of prejudice and drum-beaters for war.

After Ferguson

December 7, 2014

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The widespread anger at the verdicts in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases is striking. Back in the 1990’s, I was involved with a group that organized around police violence in Los Angeles. We would hold panels at which people would tell heartrending stories about their loved ones being killed by the police. For the most part, the media didn’t pay much attention to this. We would organize demonstrations against police violence, sometimes gettting several hundred people at these events, but they were never anywhere near as large or as militant as the protests we are now seeing.

I think there are several reasons for this change. The most obvious difference between now and then is the development of social media. People now share on the Internet stories that used to get buried in the back pages of local newspapers, which has created greater awareness of the problem of police violence. There is also the alarming militarization of the police, a process that has accelerated since the 9/11 attacks. Stories about no-knock raids ending in tragedy have become almost a regular feature of the news. There is the obvious fact that racism is involved with these killings. And it seems that people are finally just getting fed up. The inspiration for all this are the demonstrations in Feguson, where a largely black population has been living in a virtual state of occupation by a white police force.

It’s hard to say at this point where all this will lead. The protests will likely peter out after a while, but they may start up again with the next killing of an unarmed black man by the police. (And you know this will happen sooner or later, probably sooner.) These demonstrations challenge two fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system: the virtual immunity of the police to prosecution, and the targeting of poor and minority communities. The resistance to change will be fierce, not just by the police, but by the entire government and much of the media.

Against the “Don’t Vote” Argument

November 8, 2014

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Over the past few days, I have read a number of articles that have posited various reasons for why the last election turned out the way it did: low turnout, Republican gerrymandering, the weak economy, the stupidity of the Democrats, etc. I think there is some truth to all of these arguments. What I would like to address here, though, is an argument that some of my leftist friends made, which is that we shouldn’t vote. I can understand why people would feel this way, since our political system is such a scam. Yet I think the argument is seriously lacking in some ways.

In the last election, Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. all voted to legalize marijuana. Massachusetts passed a paid sick days law. Denton, Texas, outlawed fracking. Here in California, voters passed Proposition 47, which reduces many non-violent crimes, including drug possession, from felonies to misdemeanors. This is a major blow against what the late Alexander Cockburn called “the prosecutorial state” – in other words the warehousing of human beings who committed petty crimes. This vote indicates there has been a huge shift in consciousness since the 1990’s, when Californians passed the god-awful “Three Strikes” law, which resulted in people being sentenced for life for such trivial offenses as stealing a slice of pizza. People are beginning to realize that mass incarceration is not only not the solution to our society’s problems, but it actually makes them worse.

Should you vote? I would argue it depends on the circumstances and what’s on the ballot. Yes, we have a terrible political system, but we should take advantage of what little room to maneuver that we have.

From El Paso to Auschwitz

July 6, 2014

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On July 1, protesters in Murrieta, California blocked buses carrying Central American immigrants, many of them children, from overcrowded Border Patrol facilities in Texas to a facility in that town. According to CNN, the protesters chanted “Go back home!” and “USA” at the buses.

On June 29, the “alternative medicine” website, Natural News, carried an article by Mike Adams (aka “The Health Ranger”) entitled Unloading disease-carrying immigrants in large U.S. cities a ‘perfect storm’ for pandemic disease outbreak. I will spare you any quotes; the title says it all.

Beginning in 1917, and extending through the 1920’s and 1930’s:

    Mexican visitors were forced to strip naked and subjected to ‘screening’ (for homosexuality, low IQ, physical deformities like ‘clubbed fingers’) and to ‘disinfection’ with various toxic fumigants, including gasoline, kerosene, sulfuric acid, DDT and, after 1929, Zyklon-B (hydrocyanic acid) – the same gas used in the Holocaust’s death camps.

    The ostensible reason for the US fumigation was the fear of a typhus epidemic. Yet in 1916, the year before such ‘baths’ were enforced, only two cases of typhus had occurred in the poorest El Paso slum.

In 1924, Hitler wrote:

    The American union itself… has established scientific criteria for immigration… making an immigrant’s ability to set foot on American soil dependent on specific racial requirements on the one hand as well as a certain level of physical health of the individual himself.

It never ceases to amaze me how the same old rubbish keeps getting recycled over and over again.