The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.
Saturday, February 7, 2015
Dear White People
Look, you gotta see it, no matter what your bartender says. Justin Simien (b. 1983!) made a smart, though green, confident first movie and he gets to say what's on a lot of people's minds through his self-involved characters. And not just what's on black folks' minds. He puts the range of absurd things we Caucasians say or think about race into a single movie. Is it good? As a movie, sort of. As a conversation buster, it's pretty magical.
Now, as a middle-aged guy, it's pretty easy to be cynical about puppy love, the power of rock 'n' roll, and college kids. They take themselves so seriously! As did we. I look back and cringe, but as the philosophers know well, the world needs the idealism and energy that youth taps in order to keep afire. It's hard to keep it up (literally and figuratively), but then the wisdom of age means hedging bets, so you really only get to think you're changing the world once or twice before the Prestige is revealed. (Magic tricks work well as stand-ins for the agony of politics and life: the pledge, the turn, the Prestige. The revealing of the Prestige is always what breaks your heart.)
Much like Spike Lee's earliest films, which OF COURSE are drawing all the comparisons, you get ALL of the ideas crammed into one film, just in case the Man doesn't give him a chance to make another. And he will make others, especially if he resists the urge to make big bucks and sticks to the formula of cheap but authentic. The production values are actually pretty good, and like a good semiotician, he plays a lot with breaking that fourth wall and throwing deconstructionist theory at you (new new, but if you studied film theory you GOT to do it and get it out of your system). He also digs into white/black lust, and the trickiness of defining your identity when you're just a dozen years on from reading your first chapter books.
If you think the conceit of a frat-like party making fun of black people is far-fetched, the final credits show that such modern day minstrelsy is alive and well on college campuses. I didn't flinch at all; I recall similar shows of insensitivity on my supposedly liberal campus, and their converse, embarrassingly sincere attempts to protest the most grievous offenders. (Recently a woman on campus at Columbia University took to carrying a mattress around to remind her classmates that her alleged perp was still freely walking the hallowed grounds - which I must point out is what happens when you don't press charges against someone. but as with many a college protest, the show is often the point, since we all know (knew) the campus clowns (cops) and administrators never knew how to handle serious stuff anyway. i say all the above without taking sides in that particular case...the allegations are serious enough to be taken seriously.)
And so the lovable but sometimes unlikable characters of DWP provide either a shot in the arm or a blast from the past, depending on how long is your tooth, and there's plenty of new world racial politics and intrigue to start a million conversations. I wish it were funnier; then the Spike Lee comparisons would make more sense. I mean, why does the comparison get made anyway? After hundreds of movies with white kids on college campuses, TWO black filmmakers set their films on the green and they get lumped together?
That says more than the all the lines in DWP combined.