Friday, January 13, 2006

"Cape of Good Hope" and other Facets stuff

Liz and I caught the film "Cape of Good Hope" at Facets last week. We're still riding on the family plan that lets us see unlimited movies at the theatre plus rent three DVDs at a time for about $25/month.

The film was excellent and you can read Ebert's review here. I won't spoil the film as it's a true must see, so please catch it if it comes to your local art theatre or grab it on DVD when it comes out.

As one of the rare films that adequately balances race/class/gender issues with an uplifting story, there were a couple things I wanted to discuss:

1. From Ebert's review:
The movie was directed by Mark Bamford; his wife Suzanne Kay Bamford co-wrote and co-produced. At the Toronto festival, they told me they were Americans who were unable to interest Hollywood in the stories they wanted to tell. They moved to Cape Town "for one year," are still there after four. Ironically, their screenplay for "Cape of Good Hope" attracted the interest of Hollywood, but the studios wanted to use an American cast to play the South Africans. That would have lost the particular local flavor that is one of the film's assets.

Once again, racist, nativist, stupid Hollywood strikes again. You have a team of empathetic, immensely talented writers and they are driven away because Hollywood needs its latest Comic Book rewrite. Then once they write a beautiful work, the studios want to de-soul it and put some random American beautiful people in the roles. Maybe they could have gotten Chris Tucker to play the romantic, powerful black lead?

2. There was a brilliant moment where that lead (played by Eriq Ebouaney) is out on a first date of sorts with one of the main female characters and her son. They drive into town and watch a big movie-ish screen next to one of the city gas stations. At one point (and I'm not going to get the direct quote) he turns to her and says, "White people do the strangest things!" And I just busted out laughing. I looked around and realized that no one else was laughing, although as I laughed, an Asian American couple in the front of the theatre also started laughing. I felt truly empowered. Before someone jumps all over me with assessments of racism, let me explain.

The character in the film was not commenting on "the white race"; he was merely making the observation that many ethnic minority folks make when assessing the group in power. He was saying, "These white folks, who by default in our society are always right, really look pretty foolish at least as much of the time as everyone else." And he rolled that into a little 5-second comment.

That might seem like nothing, but it's actually a pretty courageous act. It's hard to be a dissenter--a minority voice--and it takes a type of heroic bravery to say, "The Emperors have no clothes" especially on a first date.

Do we have this courage? I don't know. I guess I did in that crowd of white folks at the Facets Cinemateque. And maybe, just maybe, that lent some to that couple in the front row. And hopefully it made a few people squirm.

We need to do this more. We need to stop self-censoring around ethnic majority folks and just say what we think and laugh when we want to. They are free to judge and disapprove, but maybe they will actually have to spend an ounce of empathetic energy to realize that their perspective is not the only one. Let's do this not in order to mock and feel superior, but in the hopes it can help us all meet somewhere and improve our society.

So that's my prescription: Laugh more at folks in the majority, question them, call them out when you think they are being condescending pricks. When they respond, assess their response empathetically and try to start a loving conversation.


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