Saturday, January 27, 2007

No Surprises

This AP article describes a study which investigated the role of skin tone in earnings of recent immigrants. Researchers controlled for educational background, skills, race or nationality and other factors.

I have no doubt some who absolutely love prejudice or at least are too scared to consider the possibility that it is still an integral part of our social institutions will dismiss this information by saying, "I knew some guy once, who was blacker than the ace of spades who made a lot of money!"

You are free to your own beliefs, but I would encourage people to ask themselves, "Which is a more compelling argument? One I agree with that is anecdotal or just something I made of, or one that is based on a research study that people invested considerable time into making it accurate and significant?"

Anyway, I'm going to go eat some breakfast that my skin tone privilege helped purchase. Peace out.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Movies We Saw in 2006 (Part 1)

Lately, I've been talking to a student who attends the only non-Japanese class in my room. Her World Studies class was added 2/3 of the way through the semester--all the students were taking out of their other sections and put in a new section with a new teacher.

This student is passionate about film. She's like an encyclopedia of art house and international film. While the other students are raving about the latest blaxplotation flick, she's all, "Audition, you seen that? Wow, that was crazy. I like different movies, but that was too much!"

So in tribute to all the Roger Ebert's of the inner-city, here's my "watched in 2006" movie list:
Please comment or mail me questions about any of the films. I hope that you will find old favorites and new treasures from this list. Since it's quite extensive, I'll break it up among several posts.

Also, to remind you the vast diversity of perspectives on film, and also how far we have yet to go on issues of equality and empathy in this society, I'll link the reviews for each movie that has one.

1. Whale Rider--The feminist real-life fairy tale that crosses many gender and ethnicity barriers. Beautifully shot and an amazing debut by Keisha Castle-Hughes, who has now played the leader of the Maori and the Mother of God.
2. Maria, Full of Grace--Empathetic, but difficult to watch drama about "mules", young women drafted to smuggle drugs across the border.
3. Love Liza--MOST. DEPRESSING. FILM. EVER. Yeah, Philip Seymour Hoffman is an awesome actor, but we already knew that. Do we have to sit through two hours of life abusing him to realize that?
4. Cidade de Deus (City of God)--Gritty look at the child gangs who populate the underbelly of Rio. The narrator is so charismatic as to bring shine to sobering darkness of the environment. Also, the film box picture ranks among one of the most misleading in the history of the world. I remember the scene from the box well, but several of my friends who saw the film were like, "When the fuck was that? Was that even in the movie?" Yeah, but barely. I guess we know how much thought film marketers put into box art: "Half-naked kids on the beach? Sounds like a hit!!!"

5. Unbreakable--Second time I saw this, but I wanted to give Liz a chance to see it since she admires Samuel L. I know that M. Night has fallen out of favor, and this is not one of his favorites, but I thought this was probably his best when combining the obvious love his has for his subject and Samuel L's acting. Superior in my opinion to "Sixth Sense" which I thought was pretty good, but saw it in Japan and found "the twist" to be too predictable.
6. Ghost World--This movie totally stumped me. I had heard all of the rave reviews for it as a great American movie classic and so I'm left with this burning question: Does this film make me want to punch myself in the head due to its overratedness or is it really all that irritating all on its own? It kind of reminded me of Kevin Smith's "Dogma". It's true that adolescents have to deal with being angsty, hipster and smarter than people give them credit for, but that doesn't mean that it's brilliant to point that out for the billionth time. Finally, what the fuck is up with Scarlett Johansson? How much acting ability does it take for a charisma-less personification of vapidness to play a charisma-less personification of vapidness in every single movie? Moreover, in what way is that "hot"??!? Does it have something to do with her octagenarian smoker's voice or is it her strangle preportioned face? Maybe it is every man's secret desire to lust after the one person in the world who they can confirm is actually even less capable of simple social interaction than they are? All that said, Liz and I loved this film. She still turns to me occasionally and in her best Scarlett/James Earl Jones bass says, "I'm Scarlett Johansson, aren't I pretty?" and we bust out laughing...
7. The Village--Another M. Night movie that people reacted negatively to. I thought it featured beautiful imagery and brought up some interesting moral dillemas. In an industry full of recycled plot-lines and recycled actors, I thought he put together a good story and strong cast. Not great, but decent.
8. Office Space--Only funny because it's true. The copier death scene is something worth reliving again and again, and certainly a secret wish of the drunkest person at Liz and I's wedding. When I was a kid, the rest of the Asian and white kids at my high school and I really did listen to Geto Boys all the time and think we were hard while we were copying each other's Calculus homework...
9. Violent Cop--One of Beat Takeshi Kitano's earlier films. It's often compared to "Dirty Harry". I don't remember much about this film. I think it's mostly because there was little to remember. Lots of action; lots of corpses; some exploitation of women. Violence begats violence. It's useful mostly as a way to chart Kitano's development as an actor/director.
10. Monsoon Wedding--In terms of Mira Nair's short and narrow directing resume, we can only hope it is due to her picking and choosing her projects rather than the ugly filmmaking reality of institutional racism. Over the last three decades, she has done a movie every several years, with a number of truly standout pictures. Monsoon Wedding is one of her best. In general, the genre of American films with so-called "exotic" locales is an ugly, jingoist one. But Nair's pictures are always labors of love in which she delicately balances the novelty of cultural difference with warm central themes of shared humanity. It is easy to love and understand her main characters as we learn from them--they are not specimen to be studied, but friends to embrace and understand.

If you want to see more comments from a labor of love--a relatively comprehensive movie review database put together by a bunch of people who think that the mere discussion of homosexuality is an abomination, and that it's worth counting the exact number of times people use marginal profanity and that the destruction of a copy machine is "violence", please consult:
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