Friday, June 12, 2015

Causing Trouble With Odienator: We Need To Talk About Earl

by Odienator

(Spoiler alert for a spoiled ass movie.)

Long ago, I gave up on any hope that Hollywood would see the error of its ways and try to craft non-White characters of substance. I am resigned to the fact that your average screenwriter, who is statistically a White male, falls into one of these three theoretical categories:

1. They've never come in contact with people of color. At all.

2. They learned about how to write Black characters from the Hollywood studio system or episodes of '70's cop shows like Baretta and Starsky And Hutch.

3. Everybody has the same token Black friend, whom they use as an inspiration. This guy fits so neatly into every single Black stereotype that staring at him would incur the risk of being blinded by the racist version of a solar eclipse.

As the token Black friend of a number of people (and you know who you are, and YES I KNOW I'm your token, so please stop acting like you're enlightened), I have at least tried to establish a baseline that would not embarass my mother in public. I have multiple degrees and speak several languages. And yet, I'm never seen onscreen, unless you count every time my doppelganger Cuba Gooding Jr. shows up. And all Cuba's been doing lately onscreen is running--he's playing O.J. Simpson on TV and a runaway slave in a Christian movie at theaters right now. You're killing me, Cuba.

"Are you gonna drive my Ford Bronco, Mister Whitaker?'

Readers of this blog know I'm an extremist. I now reside at the opposite side of the minority character equation; rather than drown in false hope, I backstroke in the pool of mocking Black stereotypes in film. It's a deep pool, folks, and you all know how much we love picking apart these travesties of justice here at Big Media Vandalism. With that said, some kind of award should be given to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I've always wanted to meet #3 in my list above, and thanks to screenwriter Jesse Andrews, I have been formally introduced.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was huge at Sundance, winning the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. Until today, it held a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. After seeing the film at an advanced screening at the Museum of the Moving Image, I went to read those reviews. Every positive review I read said very little about Earl. One of them didn't even mention him at all! Plus, if you watch the trailer, you'll see how little Earl is referenced there as well. He's in the damn title, but his appearance in the trailer I saw is not much longer than the Fox Searchlight logo's appearance. I wonder why. Hmmm...

We need to talk about Earl. Yes, I stole that line from We Need To Talk About Kevin. Fuck Kevin. If Tilda Swinton had just called my mother, no discussion about Kevin would have been necessary. Mom would have shot a few arrows in Kevin's ass and told him to sit his ass down. Tilda and my Mom would then bond over Lipton tea and Shop-Rite brand Windmill cookies. We Need To Talk About Kevin would have been over in 5 minutes.

I'm almost tempted to send my mother to see Me and Earl and the Dying Girl if only to get her sure to be memorable take on the movie. Alas, I don't want my ass beaten, so I'm going to pass on recommending any movies to Miss Arlene.

Let's talk about Earl, and while we're at it, somebody call Guinness Book to see what the world record is on racial stereotypes in a movie.

Earl Lives In A Bad Neighborhood 

We're immediately told that Earl lives on the other side of town. The movie doesn't say "the wrong side of the tracks," but it damn sure doesn't look like any right side of the tracks I've visited. Earl's house is rundown in a way that screams "Ghetto Designs By Tim Burton." Considering how much gentrification is going on, I guarantee you there's some bearded White hipster with ugly feet crammed in some flip-flops living next to Earl. Yet we only see Black folks in Earl's area, including Earl's brother, who is even more of a stereotype than Earl. More on him later.

Earl is Greg's Token Black Frie--I mean, Greg's "Co-worker."

Greg is the "Me" in the title, and since he is telling the story, we'll be treated to his viewpoint, a viewpoint that solely exists to romanticize and justify how fucked up it is that people must suffer and/or be marginalized so a straight, White male can "grow as a person." Greg is supposedly so detached that Earl is his only friend. Greg can't even call him "a friend." He refers to Earl as "my co-worker" because they make parodies of classic movies like Peeping Tom and Midnight Cowboy. These parodies are a huge pander to the type of all-knowing, snooty cinephiles who feel they're above standard movie fare. Like those folks, these kids are too cool to enjoy current movies, even to mock them.

Me and Earl is so dishonest about this plot element it doesn't even mention Be Kind Rewind, whose plot featured a Black guy and a White guy making their own versions of classic movies. This isn't even an homage to Gondry's film, it's a damn ripoff of it. And Jack Black and Yasiin Bey's remade movies are far better. If we see more than 20 seconds of any of Greg and Earl's lazy film parodies, I'll eat my hat.

Being Greg's Black friend has numerous perks, all of which are stereotypes. 

Earl Knows About Drugs

When Greg and Earl eat the weird soup whose recipe their teacher got from Costa Rica or some other brown place ripe with "Other"-ness, it's Earl who points out that they're high on drugs. "The soup had drugs in it!" Earl tells Greg. Perhaps Earl learned about dope from his brother, whose vocation seems to be toking on the porch while holding a giant pit bull. Because all Black folks have vicious pit bulls and love sitting on the porch smoking their reefer, right? Confidentially, I have never smoked weed, but I did have a Maltese. She was no pit bull, but that bitch would have ripped your balls off nonetheless.

There's another character in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl who sells drugs on school grounds. He's White, but his only defining characteristic is the type of music he's constantly singing. Nope, not emo or heavy metal or even Toxic by Britney Spears. This fool is rapping. Fake-ass Eminem wannabe comes into play when we discover

Earl Knows How to Fight

Greg doesn't know how to fight, but Earl appears to be an expert on scrapping. Greg gets into a fight, but once he starts getting his ass kicked, Earl runs in like a superhero and takes over. Leave it to your tough token buddy to save your ass when you write a check it can't cash! It's a well-known, yet incorrect given that we all know how to fight, which is why we're presumed to be far more dangerous than we actually are by the cops.

Later, Earl whips Greg's ass in front of Pit Bull Porch Manor aka Earl's house, and Earl's brother screams out ignorant comments before threatening Greg with a new, improved ass-kicking-slash-pit bull chewing. Earl's bro also calls Greg a pussy, which leads me to

Earl Is Oversexed

He's a teenager, so of course he's oversexed. Greg is also a teenager, but we rarely hear Greg talking filth-flarn-filth about fucking. No, instead we get Earl's constant running commentary on "dem titties." The breasts in question belong to the Dying Girl. She's dying of leukemia, yet all Earl can ask about her is if Greg has played with, touched, looked at, lusted over or done any other number of activities one can do with "DEM TITTIES." Earl says "dem titties" so many times that you could make a damn good sample of him saying "dem titties" over a rap beat, and you wouldn't even have to loop it. Earl talks about titties so much I stopped liking them.

Every Black character in this film is preoccupied with sex and utters sex-related dialogue. The chauffeur who takes Greg to the prom has two modes of dialogue: One is him saying "HUHHHHH?" as if he were channeling Stepin Fetchitt. The other is him practically demanding Greg fuck his date in the back of the limo. Nobody else talks about sex. Greg makes allusions to making out with Rachel, the dying girl, but his dialogue is respectable and chaste by comparison to the brown and oversexed folks.

Earl Teaches Greg About Soul(TM)

It's Earl who chastises Greg for being cold and distant, even to a girl whose suffering is beneficial for Greg's character growth. Once again, the Black character helps his White friend pull the stick out of his White ass and FEEL or GROW or CHANGE or GET FUNKY or whatever else these Bagger Vances do in these movies. 

"See the way youse holdin' dat club, boss? That's how ya needs ta hold dem titties!"

 Speaking of Bagger Vance:

Earl Sounds Like a 1930's Movie Character--With Curses

"Why does Earl sound like Eddie Rochester Anderson?" I kept asking myself while watching this movie. Earl's dialogue is peppered with profanities and occasionally broken English I assume I'm supposed to take as "Ebonics." I suppose it's meant to be charming but again, only the Black folks in this movie talk like this. Fake ass Eminem Drug Dealer also talks like this, but this movie had already gifted him with a Ghetto Pass, so I'm taking a tip from the movie and including him as an honorary member of the tribe.

I could go on about Earl, but why bother? The far more egregious sin is in this film's treatment of Rachel. Since Love Story, pretty girls have died of cancer in order to teach White dudes lessons about life. The illness is treated callously--it becomes all about the dude and not the poor, suffering girl. Not only does the dying girl in this film's title suffer, the final joke in the film mocks her death. If that weren't offensive enough, she then assists him from "beyond the grave" as it were, taking time from her busy schedule of dying as slowly and as painfully as possible to pen a fucking letter of recommendation for Greg's college application. He gets it after she's gone to glory.

Sundance movies have a bad reputation that I sometimes think is unearned. But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl should have its poster in the dictionary next to the term "Sundance movie." It exemplifies every single worthy complaint about Sundance movies, and yet critics and audiences ate it up and will continue to shovel heaping spoonfuls of its poison into their gullets on opening weekend. To quote Bugs Bunny, "I hope ya choke!"

Every year, there's a movie that the critics love that I find dreadful. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is this year's version of that, but I at least am in good company amongst my circle of critic friends, all of whom hated it. Sheila O'Malley called it "a pandering, self-flattering mess, featuring unearned catharsis, lazy clich├ęs and characters presented in broad, sometimes-offensive stereotypes." Matt Prigge says "[i]f you need to know what hipster racism is, then here’s a great example: a film that trades on ignorant stereotypes but think it’s above it because it’s enlightened." And Sean Burns summed up my feelings better than anyone else in a tweet he wrote eons ago. 

He simply said "Fuck this movie."

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quick and Dirty: Guess Who Might Ruin The Wiz?

by Odienator

During the first year of my Black History Mumf series, I wrote a piece on the 1978 big screen version of The Wiz. It was entitled Guess Who Ruined The Wiz? I answered the question by pointing to Miss Ross and her director, Sidney Lumet. The piece was a bit meaner than I intended; despite all the scorn I deservingly heaped on the miscasting and misdirection, the movie has a special place in my heart. At least I did mention that in the original piece.

Fast forward to today, where it was announced that, after fucking up The Sound of Music and Peter Pan, NBC is now tackling The Wiz. And they're doing it with Cirque Du Soleil! I will not hide my utter hatred for Cirque Du Soleil--or any circus for that matter--so my excitement is really tempered by this announcement. After all, to appease Deadline Hollywood's skeered White editor, the one so concerned with "too many ethnics" on TV, NBC might cast that White lady rapper with the Blaccent as Dorothy. I ain't saying her name because she might be like Beetlejuice and show up here if I do, and I do not need that right now.

When it was rumored NBC was considering a live version of The Wiz, Big Media Vandalism creator Steven Boone and I had a conversation about casting. I said Usher should be The Scarecrow and Cedric the Entertainer should step inside Ted Ross' furry Mean Ole Lion mane. I couldn't decide on Dorothy, as there are so many superb choices. Denzel would make an interesting Wiz (and his singing isn't bad--see The Mighty Quinn), but I have a sneaky suspicion that NBC might make the same mistake the 1978 version did and cast Kevin Hart as The Wiz. Like Pryor before him, Hart has too much electricity to be this character. Now, Kevin Hart as the Tin Man--that might be entertaining. 

On February 7, 2014, the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens ran a print of The Wiz. It was an appropriate venue, as much of the movie was shot behind the museum at Kaufman-Astoria Studios. Boone and I attended (I told him our attendance was MANDATORY), and we were suddenly transported back to our youth. 

Aftewards, I wrote a Facebook post about it that I'm reposting here, both as an update to my prior piece and a timely mention now that we know NBC may be singing Mike's classic Scarecrow number from the movie version of The Wiz.

Here's what I posted on Facebook on February 7, 2014:

Watching The Wiz tonight on the big screen was a bittersweet experience. I still stand by everything I said in that infamous 2008 piece I wrote on the movie, but I reconnected with the reasons why I watched it a million times growing up. As a kid, New York City WAS the Emerald City to me. Sitting in a theater on the Astoria Studios lot, where most of The Wiz was shot, was a little surreal. MoMI has items from the movie in their museum exhibit right now.

When Diana Ross sings Home, Sidney Lumet wisely keeps the camera on her (she acts the hell out of the song, I must say). I used to think it was cheesy to have the faces of the people she met in Oz going by as she sang. This time, it was profoundly sad. My eyes started to water, because it played like an In Memoriam reel. Nipsey Russell, Mabel King, Richard Pryor, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Michael Jackson--all dead. Hell, Sidney Lumet is dead. Dede Allen, who edited The Wiz is dead too.

My least favorite scene in the movie, the extended Emerald City color coordinated fashion show, also hit me hard this time. I had totally forgotten where it takes place--between the Twin Towers. The globe has the OZ logo on it. The Wiz also apparently is at the top of the Trade Center, as we see Miss Ross and company take one of the elevators.

They showed a 35mm print, which made me happy even though it looked as grungy as the old Universal logo. There were sound problems at times as well. Despite all that, it was great to hear Mike sing my theme song "You Can't Win, You Can't Break Even." through theater speakers, and to see Lena Horne returning to the screen, even if her attire made her look like she's in a Tyler Perry movie.

Tony Walton's art direction remains a high point of the movie. It is so deliciously ghetto that the Yellow Brick Road is made of the same kind of linoleum my Mom used to tile our floors with, and he gets maximum mileage out of both real locations like the Brooklyn Bridge and the studio backlot.

Over the years, I have softened to Miss Ross, even if I still think she's miscast. Her interaction with Jackson's scarecrow has always been a highlight for me, and I love how, in order to scare off the crows, she throws out the favorite line of all Black aunts: "YOU GO ON ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS NOW!!" Jackson is even better than I remembered. Russell and Ted Ross (recreating his Tony winning Cowardly Lion) have a lot of fun with their roles, and it's infectious.

All in all, a very nostalgic return to a staple of my youth, a film that I first saw on a double bill with Which Way Is Up? back in 1978. The director of that film, Michael Schultz, should have directed this one.

Me again:

I look forward to the Black Twitter live tweet of this blessed event in December. Especially if they cast Cookie Lyon as Evillene. I know that is probably miscasting, but I'd kill to hear my Taraji P. say "I'll get you Boo Boo Kitty, and your little dog, too!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Steven Boone <>
to: Kevin B Lee
Sun, Jan 18, 2015 at 8:41 AM
Al Sharpton's outrage over the whiteness of nominees just illustrates the industrial mindset that both Howood's fans and detractors are trapped in. It keeps the studios at the high center of our cultural conversation against all reason. For Sharpton, the studios are just another corporate job creator that should embrace diversity and reward excellent job performance. In other words, his POV is that of a non-artist. That's great when we need somebody to stick up for a civil rights victim but not when some insular awards committee expresses its tastes.

I want to write something beseeching black folk and others to drop the plantation/stockyard mentality. The Academy Awards are unimportant, always were. All this cheap moviemaking technology, all these freewheeling new ways to watch a movie, and folks are still petitioning the hairpiece-and-Porsche set to give them justice at the movies. What passive, retrograde horseshit. There is no center, and no top. Fuck a billboard. Look around, motherfuckers!!!