Sunday, February 27, 2011

Happy Oscar Day!


by Odienator
(click here for all posts)

For the second time, I have no “sway” over what will happen at the Academy Awards. Last time, I wrote about the wonderful Taraji P. Henson, but the ceremony had been moved to March; her loss wasn’t the result of the Black History Mumf Oscar curse. This year, the ceremony is back in February—tonight in fact—but I can’t hurt anybody because the show is severely Negro-impaired. If you do see a Black face on TV tonight, it’ll probably be wearing a waiter outfit.

Since you’re here, I suppose I should write something. I already feel guilty about my schedule keeping me from being more prolific this year. I have folders of screenshots for three movies I’ve yet to write anything for this month—we’ll have to do BHM extras in March. For now, let’s discuss the past Black winners of acting Oscars. Let’s start with the first winner:

Hattie McDaniel, Gone With the Wind (1939): Olivia de Havilland is the first White actor to lose to a cullud person, but she knew this before the ceremony because, back then, the Oscars were no big secret. Imagine if she hadn’t known! I would pass out if her loss had elicited Shelley Winters’ classic Cleopatra Jones line: “That troublemaking coon!!!”  But seriously, folks, McDaniel deserved her Oscar simply because Mammy was no ordinary Mammy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Mammy was kicking Scarlett O’Hara’s ass when the camera wasn’t on them. Racist White Southerners knew this too: Wikipedia cites that “[h]er role in Gone with the Wind had alarmed some in the Southern audience; there were complaints that in the film she had been too familiar with her white employer.” Too familiar? Yeah, too familiar with airing her employer out. “Go get me a switch, Miss Scarlett!” I can hear Hattie yelling.

Of course, some bougie Negroes and liberal White folks cringe at not only this role but this win. To them I say something I haven’t said since Black History Mumf 2008: SIT YO’ ASS DOWN!!!! As Ms. McDaniel once said: “I’d rather get paid $7,000 for playing a maid than $70 to be somebody’s maid. Lest I forget, it’s a damn good performance too, with several winks to us, the Black folks in the audience. My score: A.

James Baskett, Song of the South (1945): I’ve already said everything I wanted to say about Song of the South; I’m just putting Baskett here because, technically, he was the first Black man to receive an Oscar, honorary or not. Sure, he couldn’t go pick it up at the ceremony (McDaniel got hers at the Oscars, and read a speech written for her by the studio), but he received the Oscar nonetheless. My score: B- for Uncle Remus, A- for Brer Fox.

Sidney Poitier, Lillies of The Field (1963): Y’all know I love Sidney. He’s been a constant here at Black History Mumf, both as actor and director. But honestly, what did he do here that warranted an Oscar? This is Sidney at his most asexual—he’s with NUNS for God’s sake—and though he has several good scenes with the Mother Superior (Lilia Skala), it’s nothing worth worrying Price Waterhouse. He’s been so much better in so many different pictures. This was pure charity. My score: C.

Louis Gossett, Jr, An Officer and A Gentleman (1982): Gossett’s drill sergeant was up against a gay man, a transsexual, Mandingo’s Warren Maxwell (did James Mason attempt to use Gossett’s head to drain his rheumatiz’?) and George W. Bush. W is played here by my personal favorite in this year’s category, Charles Durning, who remains the only person who deserved an Oscar nomination just for singing a song. My Pops said that Gossett was “pretty soft for a drill sergeant,” and he’d know: he was in Vietnam.  Gossett feels a bit soft, especially when you compare him to Adolph Caesar, R. Lee Ermey or hell, even Lynn Whitfield in that dreadful Pauly Shore movie. Still, he turns in a good B-plus worthy performance here, calling Richard Gere “Mayo,” and singing one of the more entertaining march songs. Gossett was the third Black Supporting Actor nomination and that category’s first win. Which leads us to:

Den-ZELLLL, Glory (1989): Denzel Washington was here two year before, for Cry Freedom, and in Glory, he manages to steal the spotlight from his fellow nominee in 1987, Morgan Freeman. Private Trip is the PERFECT STORM of Denzel mannerisms. This is the role you go to if you want to perfect your Den-ZELLLL imitation. His vocal “heh-heh’s,” his righteous indignation, his puffed up pride, his brooding and his “so you’re tellin’ me” verbal sarcasm—they are ALL HERE. Unlike some of his later performances, where the Denzel-ness borders on parody, here it’s perfect. Pauline Kael, who disliked Washington’s performance and called it overly telegraphed, was absolutely wrong here. But I can’t help think of her complaint when I watch Denzel slum his way through movies he shouldn’t have taken in the first place. But Glory is a must-see, and this may be Washington’s best performance. My score: A.

Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost (1990): Here’s a performance that divides people. Some saw it as coonery. The Academy saw it as a great performance. I think what Goldberg is doing here is intriguing: She knows this role’s potential for Willie Best-style coonery (She’s seein’ ghosts, y’all!) and she both acknowledges it and subverts it. She knows how far she can go, and unlike Best, there is genuine emotion and craft in her performance. Her role is strong enough that, had the makers of Ghost not pussied out and kept Goldberg onscreen with Moore at the end rather than go all Swayze on us, I would have believed her as Swayze. Most critics don’t respect comedic performances. I do. My score: A-.  If you think I’ve gone soft in my militancy, the next paragraph will be my downfall.

Me, Jerry Maguire (1996): My doppelganger, Cuba Gooding, Jr., is remembered more for his Oscar speech than his performance. If you happen to watch Jerry Maguire again—and I did a few nights ago when it was on cable—you’ll see that Gooding’s speech is foreshadowed in that movie.  Cuba G’s shouting down of the Oscar orchestra is pure Rod Tidwell, his Jerry Maguire character. As I wrote in my Regina King piece at BHM 2008, Jerry Maguire does an Imitation of Life style switcheroo: We think it’s about the White love story, but it’s really about the Black one. Gooding and Regina King are both excellent here, a fact that is overshadowed by all the terrible choices Gooding has made since he won this thing. (Boat Trip, Cuba? Why hast though forsaken me?!) No matter. Bitch at me if you want, and I’ll send you an autographed picture of me; Gooding deserves an A.

Den-ZELLLL, again, Training Day (2001): Had Pauline Kael gone after Washington for this performance, I would be in her corner. Washington is quite convincing as corrupt cop Alonzo during his early “mentoring” scenes with Ethan Hawke, but as the film progresses, he slowly starts going off the rails until his big “KING KONG AIN’T GOT SHIT ON ME!” freakout, which is NOT convincing AT ALL. This is three-quarters of a great performance, helped along both by the joy you get watching Washington have a good time as the bad guy AND how close to Denzel parody this gets. Just listen to the way Alonzo says “heh-heh (pause) MY nigga!” Like the last Black actor to sink his teeth into blatant villainy (the far superior Morgan Freeman in Street Smart), Alonzo is not given an exit worthy of his character. And sorry, Denzel, this should have been Wesley’s role and his Oscar. My score: B.

Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball (2001): I won’t waste any time. I hated hated hated this performance. Her Southern accent is shaky, her scenes with her son (which foreshadow Precious) are unconvincing, and there wasn’t a single moment her character felt real to me. Berry has been convincingly downtrodden before (she’s fantastic in Jungle Fever, good in Losing Isaiah), but not here.  I remember laughing my ass off when she talks about getting “curtains on credit,” (a more knowledgeable screenwriter would have used the correct word: LAYAWAY) and rolling my eyes at hack Marc Forster’s attempts at symbolism (a little white spoon going into a big ass mound of chocolate ice cream? REALLY, Marc? That’s about right.) In my review, I said her sex scene with Billy Bob Thornton (who should have gotten the Oscar nod instead of her) sounded like “Rhett Butler screwing Mammy.” Black pussy can cure a lot of things. Racism is not one of them, and I’m insulted this movie even attempted to make that statement. The same folks who called Precious poverty porn seemed to just love Monster’s Ball.  I wasn’t fooled. Angela Bassett should have broken the Black Best Actress curse instead of Berry, at least not for this role. My score: F-.

Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby (2004): More charity from the Oscars. I loved Million Dollar Baby (as I’ve said before, as a former boxer I am a true sucker for boxing movies) but this was payback for former slights by the Academy. Freeman won this for his narration. Yes, he’s convincing as a former boxer and Eastwood’s right hand man, and it’s nice to see him and Eastwood together again after Unforgiven, and yes, there is that Freeman gravitas. If he could exchange this Oscar, he should send it in for the one he deserved for Street Smart or The Shawshank Redemption.  As Carol Burnett said about her role in The Four Seasons: It’s fine, no gem. My score: B.

Jamie Foxx, Ray (2004): Who knew Ray Charles was such a dick?!! The general complaint about this win is that Foxx is just doing an imitation of Ray Charles, but what an imitation it is. I forgot I was watching Foxx—he became Ray Charles to me. And damn, I didn’t like Brother Ray very much. That Foxx could add that layer of complexity on Charles—with Charles’ blessing—is why I think he deserved this Oscar. Ray is ultimately too long, and does fall into the biopic trap, but Foxx is stellar throughout. I should also mention that the actress who played Charles’ mother, Sharon Warren, has one of the greatest moments in movie history. I could watch that scene 100 times. My score: A.

Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (2006): Yeah, she had that damn song on her side, and yeah, I think Eddie Murphy was more worthy of the Oscar than she was, but I saw Dreamgirls on Broadway and if Jennifer Holiday could win the Tony, Hudson could win the Oscar. The role is better written, and better acted, in the movie than the musical, and Hudson’s pitching of the song is perfectly calibrated to the movie. Had she done it Holiday’s way (and Holiday’s version of the song is better), it would have come off as grotesque on the big screen. Like on stage, my love of Effie White was helped by the audience I sat with at the movie theater. They talked back to Effie, and made her one of their own. On stage, I must admit I did not hear one note of Holiday’s performance after the first line—the Broadway theater vibrated so loudly with cheers and stomps that I feared it would collapse. People went batshit at my movie theater too. That has to count for something Hudson did right. My score: B.

Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland (2006): OOGA BOOGA!!! Whitaker is the Black boogeyman as Idi Amin. I’ll give him much credit for the accent, but maybe the mistake here is that the only way Idi Amin can work as a movie character is by showing real footage of him. He’s stranger than fiction, and nothing Whitaker does can make his performance work. I kept comparing him to the Amin I saw in documentaries, and he kept failing. The script also doesn’t help him very much by making the “hero” of the piece so stupid that you want Idi Amin to get him. I’m going to give Whitaker a pass. My score: C+.

Mo’Nique, Precious (2010): Mo’Nique is outrageous in Precious. This is one of the most fearless performances I have ever seen, and what made it even more compelling for me is that I knew people like this in my old neighborhood. I knew Precious, the kids at her school, and mothers who screamed at their kids the way Mary Jones screams at Precious. The movie does pour it on a bit thickly sometimes, but in comparison to the harrowing novel, viewers of Precious are getting a break. I’ve never been a big fan of Mo’Nique’s comedy, but I had newfound respect for her after this (and, from a comedic perspective, after Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins). Her big scene should have inspired envy in other actresses that they weren’t able to deliver it—and nail it—the way she does. When you read my autobiography, you’ll understand just how much I understood the 80’s ‘hood environment Precious forces you to wallow in, and you’ll get to meet my neighborhood’s Mary Jones. Mo’Nique captures not only the character’s villainy, but also the character’s victimization. That she forces you NOT to feel sorry for her earns her the Oscar. My score: A.

Enjoy your Oscars tonight. I am hoping Anne Hathaway has a wardrobe malfunction to spice up the Harvey Weinstein payola!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ain't I'm Clean?

by Odienator
(click here for all posts)



In August, 1965, the neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles erupted in four days of rioting after the DUI arrest of Marquette Frye by the California Highway Patrol. The residents of Watts, Black, poor and tired of feeling oppressed and disrespected by police expressed themselves in a way that caused 34 deaths, injured 1,032 and caused $40 million in property damage. In August, 1972, the citizens of Watts came together in a far more peaceful community expression. At the beginning of Wattstax, Mel Stuart’s concert film, Richard Pryor describes it thusly:


“All of us have something to say, but some are never heard. Over seven years ago, the people of Watts stood together and demanded to be heard. On a Sunday, this past August, in the Los Angeles Coliseum, over 100,000 Black people came together to commemorate that moment in American History. For over 6 hours the audience heard, felt , sang, danced and shouted the living word in a soulful expression of the Black Experience. This is a film of that experience, and what some of the people had to say.”

Wattstax is the 1973 film of this Los Angeles Coliseum concert, sometimes referred to as the Black Woodstock. The concert, and the film, took its name from the combination of Watts and Stax, the Memphis label that brought us a different kind of soul than its rival in Detroit, Motown. Stax, whose record labels were yellow with a snapping Black hand on them, gave Salt n’ Pepa a career of samples to use. It was the home of Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MG’s, The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla, The Bar-Kays, Sam and Dave and the writer of numerous Stax songs for others and himself, Isaac Hayes. Several of these acts appear in Wattstax at a concert that charged a dollar for admission. Hayes, the biggest Stax star of the time, sang two songs from the Shaft soundtrack, but until 2003, this footage was never seen by viewers of Wattstax due to MGM’s refusal to release the rights to this Columbia release.

Richard Pryor, years before Silver Streak, Live in Concert, and Twin Peaks: Fire Run With Me, is your master of ceremonies for Wattstax. It’s a role he previously assayed in the horrible 1971 film, Dynamite Chicken, and like that film, he appears in hilarious stand-up comedy bumpers whenever the main feature takes a break. Wattstax also features commentary from numerous people in the Watts community, including Raymond Allen and a grey mustached Ted Lange. The former took his Watts ties over to Sanford and Son, playing the perpetually drunk husband of Aunt Esther. The latter wound up in much more dire straits as the token Negro on The Love Boat. They and others discuss various topics including the riots, women (Black and White), church, and the word nigger. That word gets a major workout in Wattstax, but none of the singers ever utter it.

Watching Wattstax brought back a lot of memories for me, from hearing both the music and the conversations. Seeing all the Afros and bad 70’s clothing took me back to my Superfly coat and hat and my bushy Afro.  We had all the Stax records, from Hayes’ Black Moses to Rufus Thomas’ Do the Funky Chicken, one of my favorite songs as a kid. My aunt loved Staple Singers songs, and I loved Mavis Staples so much that, when I was a teenager, I dreamt that Pops Staples beat my ass with his guitar because I grabbed Mavis’ titty.  Still reeling from that guilt all these years later (remember, the Staple Singers were originally a gospel group), I kept my eyes in my head during their musical number in Wattstax.  Melvin Van Peebles, no stranger to breasteses, introduces the Staples’ Respect Yourself.

Sigh. She doesn't look like this anymore.

The Los Angeles Coliseum is packed with Black folks, dancing in the stands and singing along with the entertainment. Director Mel Stuart and his director of photography John Alonzo provide numerous shots of audience members, especially if they’re hot chicks wearing short skirts and booty-choker shorts. The DVD of Wattstax I got from Netflix looks like shit, but the audience’s energy was so infectious I wanted to climb into the screen. No, not to get to Mavis! I swear!

Every kind of 70’s hairstyle, from Afros to Afro puffs to cornrows and pigtails was displayed. One talking head from the neighborhood sported a hairstyle that looked like the UltraPerm from Hell, and several other talking heads were depicted getting their Afros trimmed and picked at a barber shop. The nostalgia was overwhelming as I ran my hands across my bald (by choice, folks) head.

In the privacy of my own house, I danced with impunity the Funky Chicken with Rufus Thomas, who comments on his ridiculous pink outfit with the title of this post.

"Can I ask y'all somethin'? Ain't I'm clean?!!!"

I laughed at how easily Thomas gets the crowd, who had rushed the field during his number to do exactly what I was doing, to go back to their seats. I sang along with Luther Ingram’s If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right and Johnnie Taylor’s Odie’s, I mean Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone. The Emotions’ Peace Be Still, set in a Watts church, almost made me want to go back to church. 

Pryor’s commentary is a series of riffs on ghetto life, from winos to women, and the editing makes it seem that his commentary leads to further comments from the Watts community. Women and men discuss relationships and it’s interesting to hear just how differently people thought back then. Jesse Jackson, back when he was respectable, opens the concert, and it ends the way Wattstax should have in 1973, with Isaac Hayes singing perhaps his best song, Soulsville. Dressed in a knee-length shirt made of gold chains, Hayes cuts quite the figure of gaudy machismo.


It’s impossible for me to try to review a concert movie for you, as it is an experience that words really can’t convey. So allow me to close out with two memories from my youth that came to me while watching Wattstax.

Ted Lange tells a story about when he was first called a nigger. Immediately, my mind went back to when I was 12. I had to travel after school to a predominantly White part of Jersey City to stay with my brother in the hospital until my Mom came at 8PM to stay the night.  I took the wrong bus and wound up about a mile from the hospital. As I walked back, I passed this group of White kids on a stoop. I didn’t look at them until one of them shouted at me, “Hey nigger!” I turned around to find the entire group following me. They surrounded me and called me everything but a child of God, but I kept walking. I was terrified out of my mind until one of them said “Y’all come back now, y’hear?!!” I had never heard anybody but hillbilly White folks on TV say that to each other; it had nothing to do with the racial slurs they were spewing. So I started laughing hysterically, which made them mad as hell. They chased me the rest of the journey but, considering I’d spent most of my childhood running from dogs in my neighborhood, I outran all those kids, running straight into the emergency room. My location was appropriate because it felt like I was about to have a heart attack from my ordeal.

On a lighter note: During the Emotions’ gospel number, a woman in church gets hit by the Holy Ghost.  Black folks in my church called it “getting happy.” I’ve told this one before: In my church, there was this woman who got happy every week. We thought God was touching her more than necessary, but then we realized she was full of shit. She was doing it for the attention. Those nurses at my church would grab her when she started getting happy and drag her out of the church as if she’d just bombed on Showtime at the Apollo. When kids in my neighborhood would visit our church, I’d bet them a quarter that I knew who would get the Holy Ghost in church that day. They’d always take the bet, because who God was gonna touch in church was a mystery…except at MY church. I made a good amount of post-church junk food money that way, spending it on Drakes Coconut Jumble cookies. I am so burning in Hell.

Your Homework Assignment:
Look out for Pops Staples. He wields a mean guitar.

Now THIS is a movie credit!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not So Super Negroes

by Odienator
(click here for all posts)

Richard Pryor has a great joke in Live In Concert where he awakens from his heart attack in an ambulance full of White EMT’s working on him. In his groggy, resuscitated state, he thinks he’s dead. “Ain’t this a bitch?” he says, “they sent me to the wrong goddamn Heaven!” That’s the same reaction fanboys had when they discovered that Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall, a Norse god in the upcoming Marvel Universe movie, Thor:  He’s in the wrong goddamn Heaven. The only Norse gods I remembered were Loki and Odin, so I had to go look up Heimdall. Wikipedia tells me that Heimdall is “the whitest of the gods.” Here’s a picture of Idris Elba, in case you were one of the fools who DIDN’T watch The Wire.


The fanboys are mad because the only thing Norse and Negro have in common is that they’re five letter words beginning with N.

Kenneth Branagh, the director of Thor, has partaken in the race switcheroo before: Robert Conrad’s Jim West was played by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the fiasco that was the Wild, Wild West movie. That caused little controversy because fanboys weren’t old enough to know what Wild Wild West even was. This, however, was blasphemy. If he were the whitest of the gods, that meant he had to the purest Aryan muthafucka there is. Heimdall is White with a capital W, White and pure, like Ivory Snow soap powder. For them to cast a bruva in this role was a slap in the pointy hood!

In response to this, Idris Elba appeared on British TV to dispute the uproar. He said that those who protest have no problem believing that there’s some huge White man with a magic hammer running around, yet they can’t accept him being cast as the NordicNig. I wish Elba had read that Wikipedia entry, because he would have had some serious ammo to shut those whiny bastards up. From that site, I learned that:

1. Heimdall is a horn player
2. Heimdall hangs in his crib, Himinbjörg, drinking mead all day
3. Mead is a cheap ass wine made out of honey and water, and has as much alcohol as malt liquor, if not more.
4. Heimdall has GOLD TEETH.
5. Heimdall has a tricked out horse with gold hair, the horse equivalent of rims.

Now if dat don’ soun’ like a stereotypical Negro, I will eat my hat! Plus, didn’t all humanity come from Africa in the first place?

I was about to end this piece by saying that these friggin’ fanboys should stop worrying about some fake ass comic book hero and start doing things like getting a job, moving out of their parents’ basements, getting off the goddamn Facebook, Twitter and video games and finding some pussy (or dick—we’re equal opportunity and non-judgmental here at Big Media Vandalism). BUT THEN I had a horrible, awful thought:

These guys might be onto something!

Have you SEEN Black superhero movies? They’re atrocious! Have a look:

Meteor Man: Robert Townsend follows up on his Hollywood Shuffle promise and makes a Black Superman movie. He plays the lead, a man who gets hit by a meteor, and unlike Stephen King in Creepshow, he gets some good out of it. Seeing Townsend battling his Hollywood Shuffle nemesis Roy Fegan is fun for us fans of his work, and the film is full of Black stars like Bill Cosby, Eddie Griffin, Robert Guillaume, Marla Gibbs, LaWanda Page and Don Cheadle (with yellow hair!!!). It even has a clever power for our hero: He can absorb a book’s knowledge like Number 5 in Short Circuit. The problem is the movie is a mess, full of plot holes and confusion about its tone. There are some funny moments in it, as in all of Townsend’s movies, but there’s so much wasted potential that I walked out feeling depressed. The one truly inspired thing Townsend does is cast Luther Vandross as a mute hitman. Luther conveys much without using that awesome voice of his, but we see so little of him that it becomes just another wasted opportunity.

Blankman: Damon Wayans scored comic points for some by playing Handi-Man on In Living Color. In an attempt to cash in on that, Wayans plays what imDB refers to as “a simpleton inventor with a bulletproof costume and a low budget.” They make it sound so much better than it is. David Alan Grier, the Blaine to Wayans’ Antoine, is more interesting as his brother and sidekick “Other Guy,” but Wayans’ attempt to bring a ghetto (in every possible definition) hero to the screen is unfunny, boring, and unwilling to exploit Blankman’s potentially interesting mental state. On the plus side, this movie has Lynne Thigpen, who’s smart enough to get shot early in the movie. It is also probably the cleanest movie Damon Wayans has ever done.

Hancock: Let me see if I get this straight: Hancock is a homeless, drunk superhero who destroys property and acts like a genuine ass. Yet, people still live in the town Hancock occupies. Never mind that he’s more of a danger-slash-menace than the criminals. I guess that’s because Hancock lives in L.A., and if earthquakes, gangs, and Botoxed Hollywood types couldn’t get people to leave, one superpowered lush isn’t going to either. And wait—Hancock’s weakness…is a White woman. From South Africa. It would be a lot more subversive if it didn’t come out of nowhere. To quote the R-and-B classic Heartbeat: “Now you know this just don’t make no kind of sense!”

To clear my palette, I have to mention a GOOD Black Superhero:

The Brown Hornet!

The Brown Hornet appeared on Fat Albert, and was the reason they got rid of all those catchy songs that used to show up at the end. He looked like Bill Cosby and, as voiced by the Cos, had a very interesting way of speaking. You could...imitate himmmm...all day. He and his sidekick, Stinger, drive a bee-shaped spaceship, fight crime in space and always "naturally escape unharmed" from whatever trap they find themselves in. He battles space witches and graffiti artists while the Cosby Kids cheer.

Hancock should have killed any attempt to give a Black man superpowers, but it made money, so now we have Idris Elba in Thor. Perhaps the fanboys who protested were trying to make the same point I am making, that outside of the Brown Hornet and Richard Pryor’s classic SuperNigger routine (“who, disguised as Clark Washington…”), Black superheroes make bad movies. Perhaps?

Nah.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One Ignorant Negro Don't Spoil the Whole Bunch

by Odienator
(click here for all posts)


The mystery in A Soldier’s Story never compelled me. I knew whodunit early on, and I don’t think director Norman Jewison and screenwriter Charles Fuller intend to generate much suspense over it. The bigger question is whydunit, which is answered by the flashbacks that make up both A Soldier’s Story and the Pulitzer Prize winning play from which it is adapted. Both the film and the play open with the gunshot murder of Sergeant Waters, the commanding officer and baseball coach of an all Black regiment in 1944 Louisiana.

Though Sergeant Waters has his favorites, he treats most of his men even worse than the Whites In town would treat them. He calls them shiftless and lazy niggers, and is especially harsh to darker skinned Southerners like C. J. Memphis, a talented blues guitarist and ace baseball player. Memphis is a musician and a sports hero, two things that guarantee boatloads of booty, but he is COUNNNN-TREEEEE. Like a chicken coup. Sergeant Waters, a light-skinned, well educated Negro, hates the fact that Memphis, like many other of his men, is willing to shuck and jive to stay alive. He calls it yassir-bossin’. Of course, Sergeant Waters, a man in a rather high position for a cullud person, had to do his own yassir-bossin’ to get there. Educated as he may be, he had to defer at some point to racist, White officers in order to climb the few steps up the ladder the segregated US Military would allow. He can do plenty less yassir-bossin’ nowadays. How quickly they forget.

Right before Sergeant Waters is gunned down, he cries out “they still hate you!” We assume he is talking to his murderer, and in an ironic way, he is: Sergeant Waters is talking about himself.

The army calls in a lawyer named Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.) to conduct an investigation. The victim would have liked Davenport—he’s no nonsense and obviously well-educated. He’s also something of a blank slate, numb almost, a tactic that would have helped Sergeant Waters had he considered it. After numerous viewings over the years, I’ve concluded that Davenport’s rigid state of coolness is a defense mechanism. Everybody stares at him because nobody has seen a Black officer with this high a rank in the Army before. Some White soldiers won’t even salute him, which forces him to have to call them out. Even Colonel Nivens (Nathan Arizona himself, Trey Wilson) tells Davenport that if he’d known his skin color, he would have called off the investigation. Having your rank and achievement constantly tested, disbelieved and shat on has to make you present a more enigmatic front as protection. After all, as my favorite racist joke in Truly Tasteless Jokes goes: What do you call a Black lawyer? You know the answer. You’ll hear it a lot in A Soldier’s Story.

Davenport interviews Sergeant Waters’ platoon. There’s Corporal Ellis (Robert Townsend), who also serves as Davenport’s personal Jeep driver (“I’ve only flipped this over twice,” he assures Davenport.); Private Wilkie (an excellent Art Evans) who was once both Sergeant Waters’ right hand man AND a higher rank; Corporal Cobb (David Alan Grier), Private Henson (William Allen Young), Private Smalls (David Harris) and his partner from Alabama, Private First Class Peterson (a young but still fiery Denzel Washington). C.J. Memphis (Larry Riley), Peterson’s fellow ‘bama and Sergeant Waters’ constant target, committed suicide in the jail cell Sergeant Waters threw him in after he finally worked up the courage to fight back. Scratch him off the whodunit list and push him near the top of the whydunit one.

The first time I watched A Soldier’s Story, I kept watching the flashbacks looking for clues to the mystery. After reading the play, I realized that I’m looking for the wrong thing. I should be focusing on Sergeant Waters, on what he says and how he reacts. In one scene, he practically begs his White superior officer to give his men work instead of the afternoon off the superior promised.  In another, he fights, verbally and physically with Peterson, who, tired of the verbal abuse, asks him “what kind of colored officer are you?” Peterson gets chewed out because he’s country, then gets his ass beaten because the Sergeant fights dirty. The flashbacks also reveal a big clue to Sergeant Waters’ belief system, which turns out to be his undoing. It’s a chilling sequence of dialogue about his WWI days, and a bravura speech by actor Adolph Caesar:

You know the damage one ignorant Negro can do? We were in France in the first war; we'd won decorations. But the white boys had told all them French gals that we had tails. Then they found this ignorant colored soldier, paid him to tie a tail to his ass and run around half-naked, making monkey sounds. Put him on the big round table in the Cafe Napoleon, put a reed in his hand, crown on his head, blanket on his shoulders, and made him eat bananas in front of all them Frenchies. Oh, how the white boys danced that night... passed out leaflets with that boy's picture on it. Called him Moonshine, King of the Monkeys. And when we slit his throat, you know that fool asked us what he had done wrong?

One ignorant Negro. That’s what Sergeant Waters thinks is holding the Black race from rising in the ranks more quickly in the military and in life. When Davenport asks Cobb why Memphis was Sergeant Waters’ favorite target instead of him spreading the wealth to the equally Southern Peterson, Cobb states that Waters respected Peterson because he fought back. Memphis didn’t, and every time he expressed his odd, country beliefs about crows and mojo, Sergeant Waters felt as if he were pushing the race back.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Waters thinks his own upbringing, the way he speaks and how he was educated will make a difference in 1944 (or even today, for that matter). Whites will see him and he will elevate the race by sheer will. After all, he’s respected by many of the Whites on the base. But he forgot one thing: It really doesn’t matter in 1944 Louisiana. His illusion of inclusion blinds him. When two angry, racist White officers become suspects in the murder, Davenport believes they are innocent after his cross-examination, even if the White officer he is with thinks they are guilty. Those two officers did accost the drunk Sergeant Waters the night of his death, but they didn’t kill him. They killed his illusions about all the work he’d done in crafting his persona, but they didn’t literally kill him. The ass-kicking they dispensed on Waters was an eye-opener. All those dominoes he set up and knocked down, actions that led him to his demise, were for naught. At that moment, he realizes that no matter how smart he is or how high he gets in this Army or this life…

They still hate you.

This may seem like a dated message. But look around, people. Listen to what is being said. Look at the vitriol and the hatred that’s grown exponentially the past few years. It’s not so dated at all. When Davenport confronts the murderer, he asks a question he would have had to ask Sergeant Waters: “what right do you have to decide what a good Negro is?” Charles Fuller is asking us that very question, embodying it in the character of the hated Sergeant Waters, who looked at his platoon and saw things about himself he’d rather forget. Fuller’s question gets to the heart of the lack of unity I sometimes feel amongst Black people. Who killed Sergeant Waters isn’t important; the death of what he stood for does.

And now a few words about the man who played Sergeant Waters. I grew up listening to Adolph Caesar’s voice—he was the announcer on practically every Blaxploitation trailer/commercial AND he told me that “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste” on numerous United Negro College Fund commercials. (Click those first three links to hear him.) Here, in a few scenes, he creates a complicated character, oozing with hatred and using that wonderful voice of his for malicious evil. He originated this role on stage, and he owns it. His final scene, when he drunkenly realized the gravity both of his situation and his actions, is stunning. You can see his world collapsing in his eyes. Shooting him was a mercy killing at this point. For this performance, Caesar was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar—he’s one of the two nominations people tend to forget when they compile lists of Black nominees (Rupert Crosse in The Reivers tends to be the other). Caesar died in 1986, but I have this performance and his work in The Color Purple to remind me how great he was at being sinister. And that voice! It’s wonderful.


Lest I forget: Miss Patti is in this movie, singing a wonderful blues number about whiskey. She sings two songs in this, and both are worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prez Day Double Feature: Life is a Traffic Jam

By Odienator
(click here for all posts, and don't forget the first part of this double feature!)


With all this crazy healthcare shit going on, I thought it appropriate to bring up Vondie Curtis-Hall’s Gridlock’d. It’s a tale of two junkies who decide, after their partner overdoses on New Year’s Eve, to try to get clean. But that’s not so easy for those who don’t have any insurance. Curtis-Hall puts his two male leads through the wringer, sending them from one gov’ment office to another. If that weren’t enough, in this After Hours-like film, the director himself plays a drug dealer named D Reeper who frames the duo for murder before trying to kill them.

Strech and Spoon, the two leads, are played by Tim Roth and the late Tupac Shakur respectively. It’s an odd pairing of actors rounded out by the character who instigates the run to get clean, Cookie. Cookie is played by Thandie Newton, one of the finest looking and least talented actresses around. The best thing about Gridlock’d is that she spends most of it unconscious, though her few awake scenes are tolerable enough. Roth and Shakur are both quite good as heroin addicts, playing off each other with a combination of comedic timing and outright frustration. Roth is the more unrestrained of the two, and Shakur makes for a convincing voice of reason and straight man.

On New Year’s Eve, Cookie decides to try heroin, which is not her usual drug of choice. The trio are slam poets at a club who are up for a potential record deal. That changes when Cookie winds up in a coma after overdosing. Spoon and Stretch try to hail a cab to get her to the hospital. No cab will pick up someone who looks like Pac, so Stretch tries to hail a cab with Spoon and Cookie out of sight. When he gets one, and Spoon comes out to join him, the cab pulls off. Their attempt to call 911 is worthy of Flavor Flav’s famous song about the emergency number: Spoon tells the operator “a White lady’s been shot,” which is the quick way to get an ambulance in the ‘hood, but then he fucks up by adding “and there are a buncha Black people running around talking about revolution!”  They wait in the phone booth for a while. Nobody comes to help.

After dragging Cookie through the streets to the hospital, Spoon is met with his first bureaucratic obstacle of the night. An uncaring ER nurse played by Elizabeth Peña asks Stretch questions about Cookie he can’t answer. When he freaks out—after all, Cookie is laying on the seat in the ER practically dead—the nurse curses him out, tears up the ER application he tried to fill out and screams “well I should just let the bitch DIE!!!”

A quick aside here. You might find this scene unbelievable, but lemme tell you a story. I was cutting up an onion in my apartment a while back and the knife slipped and went through my hand. The outcome was like a Brian DePalma movie, blood flying everywhere while the soundtrack blared string sections being abused by a conductor. I couldn’t stop the bleeding, so I did the one thing most dying people do: I called for my Momma! Well, actually I CALLED my Momma on the phone, and she agreed to meet me at the hospital, which was on the corner of her block. I wrapped  a T-shirt around my hand and walked the four blocks to the ER. When I got there, the entire T-shirt was red. I went to the desk and there was a pissed off sistah sitting there. She was annoyed that I’d interrupted her phone call, presumably to her trifling ass man.  She threw some paperwork and a clipboard at me.

I’m now bleeding all over the floor, but I fill out the paperwork. When it got to my insurance part, I realized I’d forgotten my wallet. My mother said “give me your keys and your father will drive me to your house to get the wallet.” I gave her my keys. While Mom was gone, I went back up to the desk to explain the situation. I told her I had Blue Cross and even gave her the information I knew on the form, but since I didn’t have my card, she wanted nothing to do with me.

“I think I’m bleeding to death here, lady!” I said as calmly as I could. “My Mom drove to get my wallet. I live four blocks away. Can I please get something—a bandage, a tourniquet, something?!! I am really in trouble.”

“HELL NO, NIGGA!” said pissed off ER Desk Sistah. “No card, no service!” she said. She did the sistah neck roll as she said this. “Either gimme your card or get the hell out of my ER and go to the STATE HOSPITAL!!”

In my mind’s eye, I could see myself choking this heffa to death with my chopped up hands. (Hey, this IS a Brian DePalma movie! Misogyny is expected, folks.) Instead, I left the hospital. My Mom returned to find me bleeding all over the parking lot. I’ll spare you the part where my Mom curses the ER woman out so badly that we have to go to a different hospital to get service. To quote Slick Rick “shit like this happens every day.”

Stretch and Spoon don’t have Odie’s Mom in Gridlock’d, so they have to flag down a sympathetic doctor who puts Cookie into a room. He returns to tell them that she may not make it. In their panic, the duo decide they want to get clean. To get money, Stretch and Spoon sell camcorder boxes full of bricks. They sell one for $83 to an unseen  guy with D Reeper on his Ohio License plate. When Stretch disses D Reeper’s Mom, Curtis-Hall makes a dramatic entrance, threatening to kill Stretch before the cops show up.

Down at rehab, the guys meet up with Koolaid, their supplier. He tells them they need a Medicaid card to get in. Since they don’t have one, they’ll need to go to the welfare office to get one. But first, they go with Koolaid to get high. They’ll need that high because, at the welfare office, they discover that it can take weeks to get a card. Fearing that if they wait, they’ll chicken out, Stretch and Spoon try to follow the trail to either a quickie Medicaid card or a different rehab center. Unbeknownst to them, this trail is covered in red tape.

They fall asleep at a different rehab, and miss when their number is called. The woman at the desk won’t help them. “You have to choose another number,” she says. A blind man played by Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hesseman, gives them the extra number he usually takes for his seeing eye Rottweiler, and when it comes up, Stretch and Spoon discover this rehab no longer accepts junkies. It’s alky only now. When they go down to the new Medicaid office, they find MAD TV’s Debra Wilson having a conversation with another sistah about her man. When they interrupt her, they are told the Medicaid office moved, something the guard could have told them at the front desk. When Strech protests, Wilson treats them the way my ER clerk treated me.

Frustrated, they go back to get high again with Koolaid and discover that he and his girl, played by Lucy Liu, have been roughed up by D Reeper. Stretch and Spoon saw him when they were leaving Koolaid’s earlier. D Reeper was accompanied by his henchman, Tom Towles from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. “My client was upset that his product didn’t come with the batteries,” he says of the brick-filled camcorder box. Stretch and Spoon run off, only to return later to find Koolaid beat up. The next time they return to Koolaid’s, they’ll find him and Liu dead. That doesn’t stop them from getting high while the dead bodies are laying on the floor.

Once these murders have been committed, the cops put out an APB on Stretch and Spoon, whom they encounter leaving Koolaid’s apartment.  The race to get off the street and into rehab becomes imperative. It becomes a necessity when D Reeper and his pal start gunning for them too. Between the bureaucracy of welfare, Medicaid and rehab centers, and the imminent death promised them by D Reeper, Stretch and Spoon have their hands full. It culminates in a harebrained scheme where Spoon gets the now injured Stretch to stab him so they both can enter the hospital together. Once inside, they can try to get clean. The only problem is that Stretch is not really good at being stabby. Watching Roth repeatedly stab Tupac is the comic highlight of this morbid movie.

The ending of Gridlock’d is a tad ironic. Curtis-Hall frames Roth and Shakur in the foreground and Newton in the background. She’s in a phone booth across the street, calling home looking for Stretch and Spoon without realizing they are in the same building she’s just left. It’s the message she’s leaving for them that provides the irony, along with the location of Shakur and Roth. The film ends with Shakur’s government name in the film, Ezekiel Whitmore, being called by an offscreen voice. “It’s about time,” we hear him say as Newton walks off in the background.

Gridlock’d is a dark comedy that anyone who has had to deal with a gov’ment agency (especially when healthcare is involved) can appreciate. Curtis-Hall gives small roles to recognizable faces, including those of directors John Sayles and Kasi Lemmons (Curtis-Hall’s wife, who cast him in Eve’s Bayou as well). He generates tension and suspense in several scenes, and he gets fine work out of his actors. Tupac has always had a wonderful screen presence, and Roth plays idiotic mania very well. Newton does fine in her musical/poetry performances.

During the closing credits, the trio perform a song whose chorus is “Life is a Traffic Jam,” which accurately describes the life of lower class people having to deal with shelters, welfare, social security, veterans administration, and any number of institutions that don’t really seem to care. Hesseman’s blind man does what I’m sure these people would like to do: He goes batshit, destroying a gov’ment office with his cane while his seeing eye Rottweiler holds the cops at bay. It’s Gridlock’d’s one moment of genuine catharsis. That the dog’s name is Nixon doesn’t hurt either.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Prez Day Double Feature: Mandingo

by Odienator
(click here for all posts)

Happy President’s Day! Today we celebrate our pals on the penny, quarter, dollar bill and 5 dollar bill! They deserve reverence in the selection of movies I discuss today, but to quote Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven:  “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” We have a double feature today at Black History Mumf. Our second movie, Vondie Curtis-Hall’s Gridlock’d, is about bureaucracy and frustration. Our first movie, however, details a topic both Washington and Lincoln knew something about: slaves!


 In 1975, Roger Ebert wrote a zero star review of Richard Fleischer’s Mandingo. One of the numerous  things that bugged him was the amount of children present at the screening he attended. The review ends:

“This is a film I felt soiled by, and if I'd been one of the kids in the audience, I'm sure I would have been terrified and grief stricken.”

Well, I was one of those kids in the audience—not at this screening but at one in Jersey City—and with all due respect, Mr. Ebert, I was neither terrified nor grief-stricken. I was bored. I went to sleep, laying my head on my cousin’s lap.

Most of the reviews that appeared when Mandingo premiered sounded like Ebert’s review. The movie was a major commercial hit but was reviled by most critics, who saw it as camp or exploitative trash. Fast forward 30+ years, and a new set of reviews popped up declaring Mandingo to be some kind of honest masterpiece that fearlessly showed what slavery was like. It’s even been compared to the work of Toni Morrison. This notion is, to quote my aunt Carol, “pure T. Shit.” Ms. Morrison is way too dignified to get in her car, drive to these reviewers, and slap the everlasting gobstopper shit out of them with her Nobel Prize. If only she had my level of dignity.

Mandingo is trash. It is just as guilty of overkill as any pro-Southern piece of antebellum bullshit produced in Hollywood back in its heyday. Tarantino is quoted as saying it’s the first time a major studio partook in making an old-fashioned exploitation movie. QT’s description is accurate; Mandingo is an exploitation film. Sure, it operates under the “pretense” that we are seeing the “real truth,” but isn’t that what all exploitation movie posters tell you in order to get your ass in a theater seat? It comes “highly recommended” in Josiah Howard’s Blaxploitation book, and Black historian Donald Bogle says it’s “a pulpy, lurid, antebellum potboiler that turns the fantasy world of a romanticized film like ‘Gone with the Wind’ inside out.” That it does, but in exchange it presents a falsely serious film that focuses with laser-like precision on a hot button issue of the ‘70’s: Jungle Fever Sex.

Plus, every single time the film shows something that has the weight of historical accuracy, it is depicted in the most salacious way possible. Mandingo is historic not because it shows these things. It is historic because Dino De Laurentiis, a man who never met a piece of trash and pulp he didn’t like (thanks, Dino!), convinced Paramount to put up the dough to make a big studio exploitation picture. It wasn’t made as a corrective. It was made because we all know nasty motherfuckers will pay to be titillated and shocked by taboo material.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What pisses me off isn’t the movie itself, but some of the reviews I’ve read, both by well-known critics and viewers on imDB, that try to make Mandingo respectable. I stayed awake for my second viewing of Mandingo on VHS, and also last night, when I watched it for the first time since 1988. My reaction is the same: The filmmakers knew what they were doing, and it wasn’t trying to make a serious film about this material. There are far more offensive movies made about slavery (see Goodbye, Uncle Tom if you really want to be sick), but this one has more than enough potential for offense. Its bread is buttered on the Roger Corman side, not the David Wolper one. I submit several examples that prove this was NOT meant to be anything but a moneymaker for the studio by any means necessary.

Example #1: Slaveowner son Hammond Maxwell (Perry King) discovers that his trusted nigger Agamemnon (Richard Ward from The Jerk) can read. He’s been taught by the troublemaking buck slave Hammond just sold to another massa, Cicero (Ji-Tu Cumbuka—more on him in a minute). Hammond’s daddy, Warren (James Mason, who should be ashamed of himself for doing a worse Southern accent than Laurence Olivier does in The Betsy) tells Hammond he should shoot Agamemnon. But Hammond is one of dem new-fangled massas that tries to be fair where appropriate. He doesn’t want to shoot Agamemnon, so he agrees to have him beaten instead. “You gotta cut deep,” says Warren, “cuz a nigger don’t feel physical pain as quick as a White man.” Then Warren tells him to rub fresh red pepper and  “plenty a’salt” into the wounds. Hammond strings up Agamemnon, naked and upside down, and tells another slave to beat him, but not as badly as normal.

So far, so good. I’d read that slaves were often hanged upside down to be beaten, and the whole salt and red pepper thing Warren talks about also seems accurate. I’m even willing to grant that Hammond would ask that his favorite slave be treated a little more gingerly—King does a good job showing conflict and sympathy in this role.  But then we get to the beating.

Agamemnon is, how can I put this delicately, a little more toned than you might have expected him to be. Director Fleischer makes sure he keeps that nekkid ass in frame, so you can see almost every single time that bottom gets paddled. Whap! Whap! Whap! Perry King goes to the far corner of the frame to weep, and you’d think Fleischer would stay with his actor as he tries to reconcile his emotion. But no, Fleischer moves his camera right back to focus on the nekkid ass whipping. Whap! Whap! Whap!  It goes on and on and on.

Then, Hammond’s sadistic cousin comes in, and, in obvious sexual glee, takes the paddle from the slave so he can show him the real way to whup an ass. More ass shots. Whap! Whap! Whap! Hammond comes running, screaming “How dare you handle my niggers!” before realizing that this is his cuz. Even during this conversation, Richard Ward’s ass appears between the two actors. Don’t dare tell me that the framing, and length, of these scenes wasn’t intentional, and designed for maximum exploitative value.

Example #2: Hammond has Jungle Fever. “It’s massa’s duty ta plez-yuh da wenches de first time,” says James Mason’s shitty accent, and Hammond has taken this to heart, nailing every young Black female on the plantation. So far, so good. We all know massa was in our ancestors’ tents. But then we get scenes of Hammond’s latest deflowerin’ running off crying that “I too Black for massa!” Then, in the scene before Agamemnon’s beating, Hammond is shown undressing before bedding his next bed wench. Fleischer gives the ladies a full frontal shot of Hammond. Lest you think I’m anti-penis or something, I say this is only fair as in the same scene Mandingo gives me something I had a harder time viewing: Debbi Morgan, who gave one of the best performances ever put on celluloid in Eve’s Bayou, is here reduced to a naked bed wench with really bad dialogue. “I’se knocked up, master suh! When mah sucker come, why cant’s I keep it?”

Hammond explains that this isn’t possible because he might have to sell her “sucker” so he doesn’t want her to become attached to it. Then, Hammond kneels down and starts praying. Rather than the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd psalm, he says the kiddie prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Morgan’s titty, which has been in the frame all this time, stays in the corner of the frame, bearing witness to this grown ass naked man saying a 5-year old’s prayer. Yeah, this is how it “really was.” Uh-huh. They could have at least gotten the titty out of the frame if they wanted me to take this seriously.

Example #3: There isn’t ONE SCENE of anybody doing any work in this movie. Nobody picks a bale o’cotton, let alone jumps up and turns around before doing so. The reason why Falconhurst looks like shit is because the slaves aren’t working. Everybody is just having interracial sex, doing UFC or giving ridiculous speeches about Black pride. Ji-Tu Cumbuka brings the fiery Nat Turner vibe to his role as Cicero, but his dialogue is designed to stoke the fires of 1975’s audiences. He calls himself Black, for starters, tells Massa to kiss his ass right before they hang him and, in the screenplay’s most blatant pander, says “when I hang, you gonna know they HUNG A BLACK BRUVA!!!” Cumbuka should have thrown up the Black power fist while a wah-wah guitar blasted in the background.

A few years ago, I sat in a room in a museum in San Francisco and listened to Black actors like Samuel Yell Jackson, Loretta Devine, and Angela Bassett read the actual narratives and letters of former slaves. The room was empty and dark, forcing you to focus on the words spoken by the actors. I sat there in the dark for about 2 hours, mesmerized by what was said. None of it sounded one iota like the shit writer Norman Wexler puts into the mouth of Cicero. For starters, every single narrator I heard referred to him or herself as "cullud" or "nigger."

Example #4: The Mandingo of the title, Mede, played by Ken Norton, is primed for a revolt that never comes. The moviemakers must have realized their mistake because Mandingo’s “sequel” Drum was released a year later. Norton broke Ali’s jaw two years before Mandingo, but the film treats him the way George Foreman did in 1974.  Norton’s first scene is my favorite in the movie. He’s on the auction block, and there’s a German widow with a disastrous accent interested in buying him. She knows the Mandingo has a rep for being an uber-buck who “is hung so big he might tear the wenches.” The German “vidow” doesn’t waste any time. “This is what I lookin’ for, ja!” she says. Then she puts her hand right down Norton’s loincloth.  When Hammond protests, Mr. Bentley from the Jeffersons (who earlier looked directly up a guy's ass to check for piles) tells him that the “vidow” is down with the swirl. To keep her from turning Mede into a sex slave, Hammond buys him. The vidow utters a line I swear to you someone said to a guy about me when I was working in Germany:

“You are no gentleman! Trying to take the nigger away from the poor German vidow voman!”

Mandingo gives us a scene between Cicero and Mede that makes us think that Mede will pick up where Cicero left off. He’s certainly big enough to cause damage to more than the slave wenches. He looks like he can kick some ass, which is the other reason why Hammond buys him. You could even justify the UFC match at the brothel, where Mede treats his opponent the way Cookie Monster treats a cookie, as foreshadowing for a bloody revolt against Massa. THAT would have turned Mandingo into the “anti-Gone With the Wind.”  But no, Mandingo goes down that trash route, turning Mede into a get some dick for free card. When Mede finally rebels against the slave life, his rebellion is two words: “No massuh.” Massa kills his ass with a pitchfork, a gun, and a cauldron of scalding hot water. Jason from Friday the 13th got less killing than Mede does.

Are you tired of me pulling apart those bullshit reviews that say this is some kind of revisionist masterpiece of realism and not the trashy camp classic crowdpleaser it actually is? Bear with me for one more example:

Example #5: Susan George’s over the top ridiculous performance as Hammond’s cousin/wife, Blanche. (Why are all the crazy Southern chicks named Blanche? It’s like how all the leads in cullud musicals are named Joe.) Deflowered by her brother (the same guy who likes whipping slave ass), Blanche jumps at the chance to marry Hammond so she can get away from her family. So far, so good. Incest was fairly popular in the South back then, a holdover from the days when royalty married family members. I can also buy Hammond’s fury when he realizes after marriage that he’s not the first man to have “plez-yuhed” Blanche. This entire plot line is presented with minimal trashiness, and Hammond’s refusal to touch Blanche after this is credible. I’m even willing to go with Hammond falling in love with the lovely, sexy Brenda Sykes (who wouldn’t?) and favoring her over the screechy Blanche. But Blanche is the key to Hammond’s undoing, and as played by George, she’s so absurdly rendered that you can’t stop laughing at her. If Fleischer were going for realism, couldn’t he have made George watch some old Bette Davis movies to see how to play a Southern belle?

Watch the scene where Blanche causes Sykes to fall down the stairs and miscarry the “sucker” she’s going to bear for Hammond. George gets a riding crop and starts whipping items in the room. Her entire scene with Sykes is a mismatch. All Sykes has to do is hit this bitch and run like hell. Instead, she falls to her knees and Blanche chews the scenery to bits. It’s not harrowing at all, and George, a horrible actress by every standard (yes, I’ve seen Straw Dogs folks), is the movie’s one true camp attribute.

Blanche’s seduction of Mede is the best example I can give for Fleischer and company’s intentions of “shocking” sexuality in the false guise of revisionism. Maurice Jarre’s score has, until this point, had an out of place jauntiness that seemed way too cheerful for the material. But during the seduction scene, the score takes on almost a horror movie tone. It’s saying “oh Lawdy! Dis here big buck gon’ fuck da hell outta dis here White woman! Dis what y’all done came ta see!” It’s the ONLY sex scene in the movie shown in its entirety, and the shot of the huge Norton laying between the legs of this small, “gentile” White woman was given to us for ONE REASON ONLY.

Like I said earlier: Mandingo is trash. Readers know I love trash like Oscar the Grouch does, so I admit I found Mandingo “highly recommendable” from that perspective. But to you folks who think this movie is anything but exploitation: don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining. Accept this movie for what it is, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. One scene of James Mason resting his nasty bare feet on a naked slave boy he thinks can cure his rheumatiz’ is harrowing.


Multiple scenes of him doing that (I counted six) is parody.

This is like kiddie porn crossed with foot fetish videos.

 Where were the child labor laws protecting that poor kid?!

I like to think Mason's character died from athlete's foot he got from those naked slave boys.

With different framing, a better script, and a more honest depiction of some of the things the movie touches on, we could have had a truly subversive movie, a cinematic Roots. But that was never the filmmakers’ intention at all. And I’m fine with that, so long as we, to use that racist phrase, “call a spade a spade.”

 This is for showing my ass being paddled for 5 fucking minutes!!