Based in Atlanta, Earn and his cousin Alfred try to make their way in the world through the rap scene. Along the way they come face to face with social and economic issues touching on race, relationships, poverty, status, and parenthood.
Brian Tyree Henry,
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A social satire that follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League college where controversy breaks out over a popular but offensive black-face party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film explores racial identity in acutely-not-post-racial America while weaving a universal story of forging one's unique path in the world.Written by
The film is essentially one big soapbox and dropped the ball many times and in many different ways.
I want to talk about the positives first and the reason(s) the film is definitely worth watching: I was really impressed with the production value, the acting (most of it) and the humour. I think Teyonah Parris deserves special mention because she was the character I most empathised with simply because she was the only one looking at things from both angles. Tyler James Williams also stood out due to his humour and commitment to his role.
Keeping in mind that a person (or persons) wrote this script with the intention of instigating discussion about the issues raised, I think it's only fair to discuss those issues in reviews especially as some of the commentary affected my enjoyment of the film.
Obviously the film deals with more substantial issues but those applied (mainly) to the USA so to address a few lesser issues: Hair. This subject grates a little (/a lot) for me because I've never heard white people make comments about black hair. Again, this might be a bigger, more well-known topic in the US but here in the UK, I don't think anyone has ever looked twice at a black person's hair. The obsession appears to lie with black (USA) people, not with white people. What is the problem with someone touching your hair? I had a fringe cut in a few months back and people touched it and made comments. When I have my hair curly, people touch it and make nice comments. It might be annoying for you but hair isn't a race issue, it's a hair issue and anyone who focuses on this 'issue' needs to get over it. When Teyonah's character expressed annoyance with being asked if she 'weaved' her hair, I couldn't help but wonder why that was a problem. First of all, how many people say 'Google it'? We make verbs out of nouns all the time and the fact that her white friend asked if it was her own hair, instead of assuming that it wasn't, actually says a lot. Women discuss hair. White women ask each other if they have extensions, if they've had plastic surgery etc. and so for anyone to be annoyed at being asked if they are wearing a weave actually highlights how insecure they are. Not every question or action by a white person is about race. Sometimes it's genuinely about curiosity and taking interest in another person. If you are so touchy about every subject, white people will not want to talk to you for fear of offending you, not because they are racist.
There were other bits of commentary that I took issue with but I don't want my review to turn into a soapbox, so I'll move on to the main gripes I had with the film: When Tessa's character stated that it wasn't possible for black people to be racist, the film lost all credibility. The definition of 'racist' is not up for debate. We have dictionaries to clarify and after consulting one, there is absolutely no mention that in addition to holding the belief that one race is superior to another "the race believed to be inferior must also be negatively affected in some way". It is indeed possible for a black person to hold the belief that one race is better than another which would in fact, make them a racist. How their racist beliefs affect the race they believe to be inferior is irrelevant to the fact that they would be considered racist.
Finally, I disagree that white people dressing up as black people (make-up and all) is (always) the same thing as 'blackface' and I think the more that people focus on these scenarios as opposed to the real blackface which goes on in the industry, the more that film makers will get away with continuing the real tradition of blackface right under everyone's noses.
It's all about intention. Going to a party and dressing as your idol, make-up and all, is flattering and should be encouraged. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look like someone you idolise and when white people are accused of being racist for donning an afro wig and make-up, all that happens is that white people try to isolate themselves from 'ethnic' people to avoid being accused of racism.
The party in the film however, was 100% racist and offensive because the invitation was decidedly unflattering and had nothing to do with celebrating black people.
True blackface is about 'presenting an acceptable image of black people to the world'. Which is interesting when you consider that the main protagonist of this film is mixed-race. It appears that the lead role was written in such a way that allowed the casting of a light skinned woman when it could just as easily have been written in a way that would allow for a dark skinned woman to make all the same points. Casting a light skinned actress to play a dark skinned black woman, is blackface. Especially considering that they will likely apply dark make-up to her skin. Casting a white woman to play a dark skinned Latin-American woman is in the spirit of blackface. Every time a white or light skinned person is given the role of someone who 'should' be darker, that is blackface.
It's not about the make-up. It's about why you're wearing the make-up and any film which tries to hammer home a point about racism using the controversial theme of blackface, while casting a light skinned woman in the leading role, loses a few stars on IMDb for the sheer hypocrisy.
6/10 (it's good entertainment but the message is a bit off)
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