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New York Times, Myself on “Precious” November 21, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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The New York Times has a great little article out on the debate  over Precious, over whether or not it’s a responsible representation of black people. Felicia Lee asked for my opinion, based on an essay written for this blog:

Aymar Jean Christian, a doctoral student in communications at the University of Pennsylvania said he found “Precious” brilliant and added, “In some ways, the debate’s not about the movie, it’s about the idea of the movie,” and black concerns about representation.

On his blog, Televisual (at blog.ajchristian.org), he wrote that Precious was “by far the scariest movie for anyone invested in having only ‘good’ representations of black people (‘The Cosby Show!’) in film and TV.”

The article explores the film’s historical predecessors, markedly The Color Purple, and its televisual antithesis, The Cosby Show. Professor and cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal (under whom I researched YouTube, black vloggers and identity) lays out the connection:

A father repeatedly rapes and impregnates his daughter in “The Color Purple” (as does the father in “Precious”), enraging some critics (mostly men) who asserted that the book and the film treated black men harshly. “Precious” has avoided that kind of backlash, but “people are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light,” Professor Neal said. The roots of that suspicion, he said, can be found in a long history of negative images in popular culture that helped keep black people in their place by reinforcing the notion of their inferiority.

Most black people, the article implies, aren’t wholesale against the movie — except Armond White — but some are still wary of it, especially scholars, because of a long history if demeaning images of black people (minstrelsy, early radio, film and television) and the persistent threat of stereotype.

This strikes me as true. The enormous popularity of the film, especially among black people, signals there’s a demand for these kinds of stories. I’m not sure if it’s about a kind of “authentic” black narrative, or if it stems from a larger narrative of struggle, but whatever the case, the story has resonated in print (Sapphire’s novel Push) and now in film. This is meaningful, and in my opinion not particularly damaging.

“Precious” Isn’t the First Naughty Black Film November 16, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Originally published at Splice Today. My first post about Precious here.

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Precious has arrived! For anyone following the film world, the push for Precious, at first titled Push, began months ago, in the beginning of the year. It has been a long haul. Some of us are tired.

Now it is here and is bound for Oscar greatness, unless you take Armond White seriously. Precious is brilliant and moving, entertaining and important; you should see it, and keep your eyes on Mo’Nique. While there might be some backlash as a result of the Oprah and Tyler Perry hype, I imagine critics will still lavish it with enough praise to carry it to the Academy Awards in fine shape.

Back to Armond White. White, the enfant terrible of film criticism, finds in Precious a kind of bamboozle. White:

“Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious. Full of brazenly racist clichés (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show. Offering racist hysteria masquerading as social sensitivity, it’s been acclaimed on the international festival circuit that usually disdains movies about black Americans as somehow inartistic and unworthy.”

White wants to revise black film history to include lowbrow schlock that nonetheless portrays black people as happy deviants, not real deviants—or something like that. The truth is his argument isn’t very good. His criticism of Precious is old and predictable, even though he masks it under the guise of going against the mainstream.

The truth: Precious is just one film in a long history of black movies that go against “responsible” images of black people. (more…)

Atom Egoyan: “Artists Don’t Always Do What Their Communities Want Them to Do” October 30, 2009

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atom_egoyan

Filmmaker Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Adoration) has, over the course of three decades of movie-making, probed such disparate characters as strippers and comedians in provocative and artful ways. Egoyan further demonstrated his artistic curiosity at The Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday during a public conversation with curator Michael Taylor commemorating the recently opened retrospective on modernist painter Arshile Gorky.

The Armenian-Canadian director shared his thoughts on Gorky, also Armenian, after whom Egoyan named his son. Gorky plays a major role in one of Egoyan’s most known films, Ararat, which dramatizes the Armenian genocide, and in Portrait of Arshile, a short film with footage of his son the director made in the nineties. But the painter has been with the director his entire life, from his childhood in Egypt and Canada with his parents, both painters, to his experiences in young adulthood trying to articulate his identity as both English and Armenian.

“We saw these paintings and they had such a profound effect on us,” Egoyan said of he and his wife’s relationship to Gorky’s work. A Gorky admirer, he commented at length about the museum’s retrospective, which runs through January, saying it properly contextualizes Gorky both culturally and art historically. “It’s a defining show.”

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Arshile Gorky's The Artist and His Mother

Egoyan also premiered a new short video commissioned by the National Gallery of Art, an edited rumination on Gorky’s painting The Artist and His Mother assembled from footage from Ararat. (more…)

“New York I Love You” in Five Minutes October 24, 2009

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New_York_I_Love_You_Central_Park

Anton Yelchin in Brett Ratner's sequence

I had high hopes for New York, I Love You. My friends know what kinds of movies I fall for easily, and this is it: pretty people, New York City, romance, set in autumn, bourgeouis pretension. I eat it up: You’ve Got Mail, As Good as it Gets, Auntie Mame, All About Eve, the list goes on and on, some are classic, some are good, some are bad. I love it all.

But I found New York, I Love You a bit disappointing. It does everything right visually, and looks as romantic as it should. But it also panders. Let’s turbo review:

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Good: The movie tries to unite the disparate sequences, having characters from different directors cross paths, making it more than a mere collection of sorts.
Bad
: Those sequences do not lead anywhere. No plot, no point, or at least no point in connecting the films.
Good
: Pretty people.
Bad
: Pretty people who almost all live or go to Upper/Lower Manhattan, only a sprinkle in Queens and Brooklyn. No Harlem. No Bronx.
Bad
: Pretty people most of whose lives aren’t terribly interesting.
Bad
: Pretty people who are mostly white, with a couple Chinese. One was Cuban, in the least interesting segment. No other black or Latino people in New York?!
Good
: Numerous characters who hail from outside the United States.
Good
: Lots of meet-cute stories.
Bad: Lots of meet-cute stories.
Good: Well-directed sequences; Mira Nair, Wen Jiang, Shunji Iwai.
Bad: The overused conceit of two smokers who meet on the sidewalk; sorry, Yvan Attal! Anyway, who smokes in New York anymore?
Good: The artsy, oblique sequence by Shekhar Kapur.
Really Bad: No gays! Are there no gays in New York?!!!!

Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q meet on the street while sharing a smoke.

Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q meet on the street while sharing a smoke.

New York, I Love You is mostly pleasurable and sophisticated, certainly more curated and conscientiously produced than Paris, Je T’Aime. But it lacks the diversity of genre and narrative seen in Paris, and it doesn’t leave you with strong feelings, neither amorous nor unsettling.

FILM: Online and Off No One Sees Your Face October 3, 2009

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ORIGINAL at SpliceToday.

Afterschool_large

Please excuse the following nerdy statement: I care about how artists represent online video. This is something you need to know to understand why Afterschool, an independent film out in limited release on Oct. 2, is one I respect but do not love.

Afterschool, the debut feature of Antonio Campos that premiered at Cannes last year, tells the story of Rob, a lonely student at a prestigious high school who, in a turn of bad luck, witnesses the death of two popular girls at his school. He captures the incident on film, and then he is tasked with filming and editing a memorial video of the two girls.

Rob is unpopular and spends his time watching YouTube and other online videos, most of them concerning violence and sex. While Afterschool is a coming-of-age story, and a somewhat bleak one at that, it is also a film about our current media moment.

“It feels like YouTube has been around forever and will always be around,” Campos said in an interview with The New York Times.

That’s the setup, now the film. (more…)

FILM: Rising Indie Director Shows Us A Rare Romance September 15, 2009

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ronebreak Original at Ronebreak.

Let’s just say this: if Bloomingdale’s offered me money to make a short film, I’d say, “sign me up!”

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Rising indie filmmaker Barry Jenkins, whose first feature Medicine for Melancholy (my thoughts on it here, and here) made a small critical splash last year in the indie film community, not to mention a nice bit of cash, given its teeny budget, has followed it up with a quirky and smart short film for Bloomingdale’s, as part of a competition among up-and-coming directors for a chance to make it to the Independent Spirit Awards, Shadow and Act informed me. This only builds anticipation for Jenkins’ next feature, whenever that may be.

Obligatory product placement (for Bloomingdale’s) aside, I can’t remember the last time I saw a romance between a Chinese-American man and a black American woman, and such a stylish one at that. But certainly, this being 2009 and all, it’s about time! Not to mention the film looks stunning. Head over to the site and vote for the one you like the most! To purchase Jenkins’ equally beautiful first feature, click here.