You might know Armond White as the pompous dude who keeps writing good reviews of Adam Sandler movies. People often dismiss him as a troll, scoffing at his identity as a black, gay & catholic man.But when I recently read his stuff, I found that he got it right a lot of the time.He criticized 12 Years a Slave for ‘being’ torture porn, Django Unchained for being disrespectful to the history of slavery, and what still gets a lot of people - Toy Story for the capitalist exploitation. Whereas I don’t agree with his dismissal of Cronenberg, and Fincher or his entire conservative politics thing, I do agree with his statements on the other things I mentioned. I’m hoping to persuade a few of you to give his work a chance.
I know I’m a little biased, because my most valuable movie find was because of him, a little movie called ‘The We & The I’ by Michel Gondry. V rare movie with POC teens, which treats them like actual humans instead of mouthpieces for their race, but which also doesn’t avoid their racial identity. It is honestly my favourite movie right now, and I hope some of you might be persuaded to watch it.
The We And the I
Remember the shitshow that was Crash, ya’ll? While most mainstream critics (including Ebert) were jerking off to it, White was one of the few critics who called out that movie’s bullshit :
Local critics praising Paul Haggis’ Crash accidentally reveal racism so deeply hidden in their own privilege that they casually ignore it while expressing high-minded appreciation for this film’s fake controversies.
In Haggis’ dull perception, he blames Bullock’s character for racial profiling but then demonstrates that her suspicions about black men are right. And the persistent reduction of the black male characters—Cheadle, Howard, Ludacris, Tate—to sputtering impotence reveals no personal empathy. Haggis’ inability to humanize these types beyond sentimentalizing their confusion proves his exploitation impulse. It’s the easy, comfortable route.
On 12 Years a Slave :
One of the many problems I have with 12 Years a Slave, it treats the history of slavery not just as torture porn, or a horror movie, but it also treats it as something that only happened in the past, that is only relevant as history. It has no understanding of the ideas of race that are basic to the understanding of the institution of slavery, or even how ideas about race figure into the socio-economics of slavery. If the film had done that, it could have some contemporary relevance, but it has no contemporary relevance because its simply a look at the past. And I connect that to this fantasy that people have about the Obama administration, the Obama era, as an occurrence of what’s been called the post-racial era. And I think that’s been the destructive effect of a film like 12 Years a Slave, and why it was then honored by the Academy, because that’s the easy way to think about American experience. To say that all the problems are in the past, that racism is over, that there is a man of color in the White House, and we don’t need to worry about racism anymore. And I do believe that is why so many white people, especially, love that film. In my review of it, one line that I have to repeat here, is that the most racist people I know are head-over-heels about 12 Years a Slave.The worst people, the most racist and horrible people, love that movie. Because it allows them to think that they’re not racist, it allows them to think that because they voted for Obama, they’re not racist, and there is no racism. I hate the film for that, among other reasons.
Lupita N’yongo has mentioned in an interview that Steve McQueen instructed to play the character of Patty as ‘simple’ when it is not quite the same in the book. I feel like it was a way for McQueen to work out his weird fixation on Fassbender and that it undermined her character.
He also says :
Steve McQueen’s post-racial art games and taste for cruelty play into cultural chaos. The story in 12 Years a Slave didn’t need to be filmed this way and I wish I never saw it
...the perversion continues among those whites and non-Blacks who need a shock fest like 12 Years a Slave to rouse them from complacency with American racism and American history. But, as with The Exorcist, there is no victory in filmmaking this merciless.
McQueen, Ridley and Gates’ cast of existential victims won’t do. Northup-renamed-Platt and especially the weeping mother Liza (Adepero Oduye) and multiply-abused Patsey (Lupita Nyong‘o), are human whipping posts–beaten, humiliated, raped for our delectation just like Hirst’s cut-up equine. Hirst knew his culture: Some will no doubt take comfort from McQueen’s inherently warped, dishonest, insensitive fiction.”
He constantly praised movies about Black people which humanized them and which existed outside the whole slavery-civil rights spectrum.
On 42, a movie about Jackie Robinson, the first major league black baseball player :
Robinson strides into the roughneck world of sport possessing higher personal principles. He and wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) are already upwardly mobile; they need only the income and recognition that White Americans take for granted. Helgeland’s respect for aspiration, which informs every scene, is central to the story’s concept. Rickey’s decision to integrate baseball has an uplifting, spiritual goal: “I don’t know who he is or where he is, but he’s coming,”
Now let’s get rid of any suspicion about Hollywood race stories always unequally pairing history’s Black sacrificial figures with dominant White cohorts. Helgeland’s even-handed vision of the Rickey-Robinson revolution enlarges it, taking in different aspects of America’s racial reality. Not merely the Jackie Robinson story, 42 relates tandem efforts and transformations by Rickey, Negro sports writer Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), assorted teammates (many brief, perfectly etched characterizations from Max Gail’s genial retired manager Burt Shotton, Chris Meloni’s virile Leo Durocher to Lucas Black’s affable Pee Wee Reese)
On last year’s Beyond the Lights :
Tired of being a pop vixen, singer Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) takes the plum-colored extensions from her hair to unroll her naturally black, African curls in the movie Beyond the Lights. Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood dares this revelatory moment in the first film she’s directed since her winning ethnic romance Love & Basketball (2000). GPB deals knowingly with showbiz vicissitudes from the perspective of a black woman with something to say about the frustrations of going unrecognized, the insider insight of a hustler.
On last year’s Girlhood
Mirieme and her girls rent a hotel room where they drink, chat, smoke and dance—away from the parents and boys who want to impose rules upon them. In a blue-toned reverie, Sciamma shows the clique flossing and sashaying to Rihanna’s entreaty. Karaoke has never seemed so natural or been so ecstatic as when these girls exhibit their sense of freedom. Mirieme and Lady (Assa Sylla) with their long wig-like tresses, Bebe (Simina Soumare) and Monica (Dielika Coulibly) with their hair stylishly straightened, emulate Rihanna’s pop-star glamour but they could be stars in their own right. Each is model-beautiful, plus they have the insouciance of radiant youth.
The “Diamonds” sequence recalls what many teenage boys and girls have fantasized in the privacy of their own bedrooms—or in danceclub abandon. As each girl gets to Rihanna’s repetition of the song’s chorus, “Shine bright like a diamond,” that chirpy note on the word “bright” breaks glass ceilings and melts your heart. I used to find the song annoying, now it moves me.
I know this article is way too long, but I just find this man fascinating. He is conservative, yes, which is so bizarre to me, as he gets almost everything about Hollywood’s pseudo-liberal shtick right.