From Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas

I saw the movie “Marshall” on the first day of its widespread release and was assaulted with impressions. I went to a matinee in a dying mall in West Orlando where audiences tend to be mostly black. There were maybe thirty people at this showing, mostly in their 50’s and older, people likely familiar with Marshall at least as a Supreme Court Justice if nothing else.

The movie itself was very entertaining, humorous in parts and revolved around a real trial in Bridgeport, CT where a black man was accused of the rape of a white socialite. My hope is that those who watch the film will not only cheer the heroic Marshall in the film but go on to learn more about the amazing work he and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund did to fight for rights we now take for granted. I want them to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Devil In The Grove about the Groveland Boys case in Florida. I wish the film to be a jumping off point to learn more about a history more likely to be whitewashed than brought forward.

a a a a marshalll

Exiting the movie, I crossed paths with a woman who I recognized from the audience and asked, “How did you enjoy the film?” She said, “I got so mad to think that we went from Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.” We talked briefly about  Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, and Ben Carson and then went our separate ways. I am still pondering how we got from a legal giant to the black Harvey Weinstein whose best quality is to speak little lest he reveals himself a fool.

Thurgood Marshall fought in small courtrooms, mostly in the South and often alone. Sometimes the only hope standing between an innocent man and execution. The NAACP and Marshall only took on cases where they believed defendants to be innocent and their arrests based on race. Marshall risked his life that we all might benefit. His work is his legacy of which we can all be proud.

Clarence Thomas can be noted for his singular lack of legal accomplishments. His greatest skill before his appointment to the Supreme Court seems to be his ability to rise within government bureaucracy, rising to the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He all but discontinued the practice of filing/joining class action suits, instead focusing on individual cases. He complained all black leaders did was, “bitch, bitch, bitch” about President Reagan instead of working with him. His nomination to the Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate despite riveting testimony from Anita Hill and written statements from other women. Thomas himself claimed he was a victim of a “high tech lynching” and his biographer said Thomas was being attacked, “because he was black.” As a Justice, he’s a reliable vote to uphold police brutality, voter suppression and the end of Affirmative Action. He’s still best known for charges of sexual harassment, his affinity for porn including his fondness for, “Long Dong Silver.”

a a a a marshalllll

As shown I the film Marshall, Thurgood Marshall sacrificed much in the pursuit of equal justice under the law. He served as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice and will forever be a legal giant. Thomas is an embarrassment, ultimately becoming a barrier to progress instead of an example.

Review: Birth of a Nation

I got around to seeing, “Birth of a Nation” today. In what might well be the last week it was showing. I had the whole place to myself during a matinee showing.

I had been “spoiled” by the reviews. I knew of the criticisms of historians. I was aware of how certain scenes appeared to others but decided to see and judge for myself. Of course, I’m aware of the Nate Parker controversy including the recent allegation he exposed himself to a woman. That incident by the way reminded me much of a similar allegation against Peyton Manning which blew over in about a week. One can still find Peyton doing commercials on TV, quite unscathed. I’ve written before about Nate Parker. I now write about the movie.

a nate parker

What affected me most was not the brutality and inhumanity of slavery. How black women were raped and taken at the whim of their owners, sometimes given as gifts. I had seen whippings on film before. What struck me most was two lines of dialogue. Nat’s friend came to him shortly after the back to back to back to back rape of his wife, seeing his friend’s wife given away to a guest for a few hours, experiencing a brutal lashing and the death of his grandmother. The two lines were.

“You alright?”

“Mostly”

From that point on in the movie I thought about how black people go through life in America. Not just in Virginia in 1831 but in 2016 everywhere. Doing alright… mostly. You see we’re constantly reminded of that which has changed little since that time. Back then a white man, sometimes using the authority of the slave patrol sometimes not. Could kill a black person with little regard for consequences. The same thing can happen in any American city whether it be by a duly authorized lawman or a citizen standing his ground. What the law actually says means little when it’s constantly interpreted to serve one group over another.

I watched Nat Turner as preacher whose designated role was to pacify black slaves to keep them from rebelling. He was literally driven to nearby plantations to deliver a message of obedience and compliance. Reciting approved bible passages under the watchful eye of the master. I’ve written about their contemporaries as well.

I had my own concerns about the historical portrayal of the real Nat Turner rebellion. I think they underplayed the role of the slave patrols. Membership wasn’t limited to the lowlifes as shown in the film but all able-bodied white men took their turn keeping slaves in check. I also think the movie made the rebellion seem somehow small. There was no mention of the deep impact it had throughout the South making real the fear of a black man.

As I watched, I translated the macro-aggressions of then to the micro-aggressions of today which are no less common or accepted. I didn’t leave thinking how bad things were then. But how much has changed little. To those who chose not to see this film at the theaters and support the star/director. I understand. Catch it on cable when it gets there. It’s still an important contribution to our understanding.

Review: The Free State of Jones

 

I saw the movie, “The Free State of Jones” today and came away with mixed feelings. I did not see the film untainted because I’d read  reviews and knew their takes before I saw it for myself. One take lambasted the film as yet another where the white savior saved the otherwise helpless black folk from their despair. I didn’t feel that way because the black folk never really got saved anyway and mostly reverted back to a similar life than when in slavery, with a different name. Those that survived anyway.

jones blacks

Another take was that it was the true story of a Union stronghold in rural Mississippi that never gets told. While the Free people of Jones County had a common enemy with the Union soldiers. They were hardly allies and got little support because the geographic area had no strategic significance.

I can see that those that don’t know their history might rally behind the hope offered by the Republican Party vs. The oppression offered by the Democrats. They apparently don’t know that today’s Republican Party more closely resembles yesterday’s Democrats, as they have since the passage of Civil Rights legislation and Voting Rights legislation of the 1960’s. As entertainment, the movie works. As art it works, assuming one of the purposes of art is to create discussion. Where the film absolutely doesn’t work is as an accurate portrayal of history.

jones black man

 

“Free State of Jones” makes Newton Knight out to be a hero. To do so required they omit the history that would taint his legacy. They don’t mention that after his second (and black) wife Rachel died, he fathered children with his daughter George Anne. He led a community of not only interracial mingling but more familial mingling where the children of Newton and his first wife Serena married the children of he and his black wife Rachel. These are not the stories that tend to be seen as heroic, so they were omitted.

jones and rachel

The movie is a story, heavily disputed by many as conflicting books have been written and few facts are known. Even the subtitles giving the history of Jones County and the American Civil War are at best misleading, because of what they do not say. They tell us about reconstruction and blacks getting the right to vote. They fail to mention the Compromise of 1877 which led to the Federal troops that enforced reconstruction leaving, basically ending it as Jim Crow became the new law of the land.

For the purpose of the story, Newton deserted the Confederate Army to bring his dead nephew home to be buried. Whatever his reasons for desertion, they were not that. The story suggests Newton joined the Reb’s because of conscription which forced white men to join the Confederate Army when in fact he joined of his own free will. His causes of equality and freedom for all men are suspect when compared to some of the reports of his life.

jones nephew

If your motive is a couple hours of entertainment, and you don’t mind a bit of gratuitous violence, by all means go. If you’re looking for an honest portrayal of history, you’d be in the wrong place.

What I Disliked About Captain America: Civil War (Mild Spoilers)

 

I write about politics, family, I write poetry and more. I have yet to write about superheroes in film, yet it is here that I am as comfortable as any other genre. I grew up on comic books. Primarily Marvel, but I have a firm grounding in the DC Universe as well. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen Batman vs. Superman and today Captain America: Civil War and find I have something to say.

Batman vs. Superman had its moments. It followed up on the aftermath of Man of Steel and it was interesting to see Batman power up to the point where he could go toe to toe with Superman. I was slightly annoyed that the Superman who watched his Earth father die when he could have saved him in the previous film, suddenly was willing to sacrifice the world to save his Earth mother. What was worse was the feeble efforts to introduce the Justice League. While Wonder Woman was arguably the best character in the film. The “introduction” of The Flash and Aquaman was terribly weak and can’t compare to the juggernaut that Marvel has created with The Avengers which was set up by multiple individual character films. I’m glad I saw Batman vs. Superman for the sake of completism and being able to hold my own in a conversation but all in all, I could have missed it and been alright!

It’s Captain America: Civil War that was disappointing in a different way. Not that it was a bad movie. Like the fawning critics have made known it had a good story, amazing fight scenes and the much-anticipated introduction of Spider-man and the Black Panther did not disappoint. Ant-Man literally played a large role and generally speaking most of the other Avengers played their part and were consistent with their previous appearances and motivations. I get the impression that Falcon and War Machine were afterthoughts in the movies as they were in the comics but that is a relatively minor complaint. What I found disappointing was that the future of the superhero hero film itself looks dim to me. I told a friend that I’ve waited all my life for these characters to come to the big screen in a realistic fashion and Captain America: Civil War and pretty much all the recent Marvel movies not produced by Fox (and the Hulk movie) have done that. The problem is that they have almost nowhere else to go.

I am reminded of a report I once did on Monster movies and their rise and fall within a relatively short period of time. After Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and Dracula had a few successful individual films. Interest started falling and the only way to fill the seats was to put multiple monsters in the same movie. This gave us “House of Frankenstein” which begat “House of Dracula” and when we knew the shark had been jumped was in “Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein”. All three featured Frankenstein, Wolf Man and Dracula along with other monsters and they finally reached the point where there was no point.

The two Avengers Movies, Captain America: Civil War (which was close to a third Avengers film) and Guardians of the Galaxy were all outstanding movies. After the introduction of Doctor Strange, another Thor movie, a Black Panther film, Captain Marvel and another Ant Man movie. We’ll see a two-part Avengers Infinity War which is rumored to contain as many as 67 characters. What saddens me is the thought there’s nowhere for them to go from there.

The concept of a stand-alone hero movie where the hero singularly battles a foe has already gone by the wayside. This the third Captain America installment had at my count 12 uniformed heroes (depending on how you count Bucky Barnes) and there is little hope in the immediate future for a story which isn’t propped up by co-superstars. Thor: Ragnarok will feature The Hulk, Spider-man will feature Iron Man, it appears the Black Panther will bring back Bucky if not Captain America as well, Ant Man will introduce the Wasp. After Infinity Wars 1 & 2 where can they go?

I’m looking forward to almost all the Marvel (not produced by Fox) movies already announced. I’ll also see X Men: Apocalypse and hope to enjoy it. The Fantastic Four was one of my favorite comics but the movies? Not so much! It might seem a little early to be sounding the alarm but for superhero movies… the end is near.