Currently there are three outstanding movies in theaters showcasing life as a Black American Male. BlackkKlansman is set in the recent past, Blindspotting feels as fresh as yesterday in Oakland, and a there’s a possible future in Sorry To Bother You. Each film is a reflection of the filmmakers who created them and the three protagonists are played by actors in career-defining roles. Audacious and brave, these three films are essential viewing.
A docudrama unfolding in Colorado in the 70’s, BlackkKlansman is a Spike Lee film. The hip brother, Ron Stallworth, an assured John David Washington, is an outsider in two cultures. As the first black police officer in an openly rascist Colorado Springs Police Department, he must struggle beyond his token role. Chosen to infiltrate Black Power organizations, he’s an outsider to his own race and as a spy, has to hide his identity. The extended opening sequence with a scene from Gone With The Wind and a stuttering Alec Baldwin add unnecessary baggage to the 2 hour running time. The drama builds slowly and Spike Lee lets the relationships between Ron and his partner Flip (Adam Driver) and his romantic interest, Patrice (Laura Harrier) unfold from mistrust to an easy rapport. A little less preaching, camera flourishes and lengthy cross-cutting and little more trust in the audience to “get the relevance” would’ve improved the film. The message and the performances are worth seeking out the film. Rating: 3 redneck beers out of 5
Sorry To Bother You is Boots Riley‘s first film though he’s also a rapper, screenwriter and producer. This exciting film envisions a Dystopian future Oakland that feels uncomfortably real. It’s easy to make the leap from tech buses gathering workers to commute them to Silicon Valley…to dorms for worker bees at any of the big firms. The premiere of the film at the SFFILM festival (in Oakland and SF), featured sign twirlers out front and were sold-out high-energy screenings leaving audience’s drained or energized or laughing out loud…but all wanting to discuss this ground-breaking work. For me, the film went off the rails 3/4 of the way in. The energy and ideas contained in Sorry To Bother You and Lakeith Stanfield‘s performance are amazing…but it went too far for me and pulled me right out to the film. Rating: 3 snorts of coke out of 5
Boots Riley recently tweeted his feelings about how Spike Lee “whitewashed” the relationships of Ron Stallworth and the police and toned down the racism in BlackkKlansman. Having not read the novel the film was based on, nor read any of the news articles related to the actual event in the 70’s, I still assumed the film was a docudrama, not a documentary. Riley praises Lee for inspiring him as a filmmaker but then rants about Lee’s interpretation of the events. Odd behavior. Interesting that both his film and Spike Lee’s film deal with “passing for white” on the phone. Also of note, that two of these films were created by rappers who co-wrote their screenplays and set those films in Oakland.
Blindspotting feels like a documentary; the action seems so real and the emotions that Carlos López Estrada elicits are hard to shake. I had the privilege of seeing the film at an Alamo Drafthouse that played rap videos of Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Sitting in a theater in a newly-gentrified part of the Mission, once home to a primarily working class Hispanic population in SF, with hipsters sipping craft beers, really brought home the juxtaposition of race and class.
Having co-written the script together, Diggs and Casal have a relationship that translates to the screen. There’s much-needed humor to relieve the tension but as the days are counted down, an explosion of rage seems certain to derail their futures. Set in working class Oakland, this low-budget film explores the tragedy of living as a black man with so few prospects in a society ready to Judge him, Fear him or Jail or Kill him. Rating: 5 hipster beers out of 5
Here’s to hoping that there’s a wide distribution for these three films. It’s time American audiences have a chance to see an array of stories from people of color on the big screen. The simplicity and depth of emotion present in Blindspotting seem particularly suited to reach hearts and minds. #BlackStoriesMatter #DiversityRules