Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Calling yourself "Black" is cultural appropriation

Everyone heard of Rachel Dolezal? If not, here's a recent interview with her that points out all the things I'm about to rant on. Good? Good.

This lady has problems. Like, I wanna be a hot brown arabic princess with wizard powers, but I don't identify as one. Wanna be a spaceman too but I ain't no astronaut. Really hate seeing people with mental disorders trotted out on the news instead of given some goddamn therapy. The issue isn't that she wants a black hairstyle or dark skin, it's that as a white woman, she has power, and privilege, and taking on the black struggle like she lived it, like her children will live it, like her parents and grandparents and theirs before that through generations of colonialisation and slavery and saying "I know enough about this, I know the feeling, I know the hate, it all happened to me" is fucking fucked up. When you appropriate a culture -- and make no mistake, that's what she's doing, despite having her four black brothers or whatever -- you don't bring that culture up to your level. Americans love this idea, that when you get a dreamweaver tattoo or some Maori shit you are making yourself a part of that culture, bringing it onto this global stage or whatever, that it's a part of you. Well it's not. I still don't feel comfortable getting a chinese tattoo and 我可以说中文. Because seven months in China chilling and getting wasted with a bunch of Ozzies (much love) isn't me becoming Chinese. YOU don't get to say you're part of a culture. YOU don't get to say you deserve a tattoo of someone else's religious icons -- and this is coming from someone who thinks ALL religions are as real as Lord of the Rings. And that analogy carries! You wouldn't get a fucking tattoo of the One Ring without reading the damn book, would you? And if you do, you're a goddamn idiot and any LOTR fan, who is part of a nerd culture, will look at you and go "What the fuck, dude?"

Culture is like a nickname. You don't give yourself a nickname, you don't make up your own, you can't change it yourself -- it's given to you by other people. It's something you earn, for good or ill, and I don't think black america told Rachel Dolezal that she could be black, and put on blackface, and identify as someone who shares their history and culture. Every white liberal in America is desperate for a nigga to come up and call them "nigga," because then you're "not part of the problem" you're "part of the solution." You're "one of them." Well you're not. They're your friends, you are their friend, but you are not black and never will be no matter how many black people say "you my nigga." The cops will not pull you over or beat you. Your job application will not be denied out of hand because your name is Shaniqua (Rachel.)

You still have privilege. Try to give it up as much as you like, it's a part of you and always will be. It's up to us to use that privilege to help, to spread it around, to raise people up from oppression, not join in that oppression and pretend to be a victim. Rachel Dolezal is a crazy person with identity issues and I feel bad for her. But what she's doing is cultural appropriation. It encourages racists and takes attention away from the real victims of racism like Tamir Rice and the countless other dead black men and women murdered at the hands of a racist police state. And it must be condemned.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road: A review

I want tell you about a movie. There's a lot of movies coming out right now, and going to come out, and some of them are quite good (Looking at you, ex Machina). Others are just further iterations, rebootequels like, well, just about everything, or weird artsy movies about humanity, as always manage to make it through Sundance (once again, ex Machina). They are the movie, again. Age of Ultron is a good example, because I can't tell what made it any different from the first Avengers movie. Or the Iron Man movies. Or the Captain America movies. I can differentiate between AoU and the Hulk movies because Edward Norton is a good actor and the Hulk is a terrible hero on his own. Otherwise, these movies are just blasting repetitions of the same overly expensive CGI blasting frictionless across fake scenes where actors desperately try to imagine everything that's happening in front of them while also imagining their own fake emotions. Really. Think about the movies you've watched in the last couple of years. Increasingly all green-screened, increasingly repetitive, and increasingly based off of old franchises.

Well, Mad Max: Fury Road is like those movies, but also unlike them. It is iterative. Mad Max is there, as he has been. This movie is, at its core, no different from the other Mad Max movies. If you are unaware, Mad Max is a survivor of the nuclear post-apocalypse in 100% sad desert Australia where people are interested in three things: Oil, Water, and Crazy Face Masks. This movie adds one: Women. The first movie is fun, if forgettable. The first 45 minutes of Beyond Thunderdome (i.e. the Thunderdome part of the movie) is amazing, the rest forgettable. Cult favourites more for prop work than any storytelling. Fury Road is no different, but better. Because George Miller has realised the truth. He has seen the dark heart of Mad Max, and he has realised that he isn't actually very good. He's just not that interesting of a character. He's a guy, who's good at being alive, and that is his focus. All of Max's depth is spelled out for us within the first 180 seconds of Fury Road in choice sentences and a couple meh flashbacks. It is the madness of this world that we are attracted to, the complete insanity of humanity once we are stripped of the legal systems and comfortable lifestyles that constrain our bestial (especially male) instincts. In a time where studios are looking at past franchises and forgetting what made them good, George Miller looked back on his movies and realised exactly why they were bad.

He then corrected those mistakes. This movie is a lean, mean, murderous entertainment machine, with a simple message delivered by a mechano-fisted bald Charlize Theron: Women are badasses too, and just because it's the apocalypse doesn't mean you get to own them like cattle. (Since some of the women in this movie are literally fat women who are being milked, this is not even a metaphor. George Miller does not work in metaphor) The story and plot are spelled out immediately. There is a citadel, it is ruled by a bad man who controls the water and food, and he keeps a harem of healthy, non-mutated wives for his exclusive disgusting use. Charlize Theron does not like this, for good reason. The worldbuilding is simply and masterfully done -- you do not need to have seen any Mad Max or any post-apocalyptic movie to understand what is going on here. Yes, the movie is basically one long chase scene. It's really like four or five strung together, but there's only like one real slow moment in the movie, so come on. It's one.

But what a chase. Oh what a glorious chase, to roughly paraphrase one of the characters, who you no doubt have seen from the trailers, if not the movie itself. George Miller took the gigantic dumptrucks of money handed him for this movie, and he turned them into murdertrucks of incredible amazing power. All the vehicles in this movie are real. All were driven. All exploded, for real. I can not adequately explain to you just how satisfying every fight scene was in this movie. Everything felt real, was real. The grit, the grime, the sand, the mud, the blood, the burns and bolts and flaming spears, the men waving back and forth on poles swinging from the back of souped up desert roamers, the man strapped to the front of a bus playing a flamethrowering guitar. This movie will be a cult movie. It already is. It's the best Mad Max movie. It had people chanting at the end of it. WITNESS!

In short, I liked it. I will spell out the two issues I had with this movie. One, it could have been a wee bit shorter, just so that I didn't have a heart attack. There was a slow moment in the movie and my adrenaline stopped pumping and then it had to start all over again and I was literally exhausted after watching this. Not bad, but someone might die while watching this movie.

Second, and this is actually serious: this movie needs some diversity. There was an old asian woman, and while I couldn't actually spot the one black man, others have and I know he exists somewhere in the movie. Given that this movie takes place in Australia, and was filmed in the Namib desert, I feel like they could have dredged up some stunt actors of colour. There was also a brown lady wife who was pretty cool, but didn't get enough action. I love this movie, and I will tell everyone to see it. But racial diversity should go hand in hand with gender diversity, and this movie only succeeded in championing one. I'll take it, don't get me wrong, but intersectionality is important and real. I am thrilled beyond words that this movie was basically Charlize Theron kicking ass while her manboy sidekick Max shot things and gave blood while grunting. Seriously guys, Max says like 20 words in this movie. I'm going to count next time I see it, which I will. But we have to do more than take one step. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Hugh Keays-Byrne come back as a different masked madman in control of the world's dwindling resources, but there were plenty of opportunities to introduce some characters of colour despite the fact that every other character in this movie is literally painted white or related to our white antagonist. This isn't entirely Fury Road's problem. It's Hollywood's, which is why the ACLU is now suing them! Progress.

Bottom line: Mad Max is amazing, fun, wow. 11/10 fun and joy, some number out of 10 for quality of movie. You figure that crap out once you go see it, it's not my job. (But it's still 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) WITNESS!

PS: To all the MRAs crying about this movie.