Questions to ask to understand NYC’s Corboda House mosque

I wanted to report about this, but my sources are slow, or no coming.  It’s bizarre that specific peoples cannot help but understand the prospect of the Corboda mosque being built near Ground Zero as a provocation.

A patriotic Muslim

Islam’s devotion to peace, love, and family – traditional American values – is very common knowledge.  We “know” that Islam is a faith devoted to peace, and that only a few Muslims have been terrorists, and then Islam mustn’t be the foe.  The same rancor would have to erupt over whether a church or a synagogue was to be erected near Ground Zero, right?  It’s about terrorism, not faith.  Right?

The uproar and seemingly rampant ignorance is shocking, and it isn’t.  We each choose those “facts” that we want to believe, no matter if they hold a base in reality.  A phallanx of people, willfully confused and barely informed, still wants to believe extremely conservative propaganda – that Islam contradicts peace.

But there’s also a confounding gray area: We each also cling to biases that we hold dear. Our mamas and daddies taught us life lessons, which may no longer serve us.

My former rhetoric professor mentioned that, with the protracted construction process that New York City, or any metropolis, has Corboda mosque’s process was probably begun before the towers were struck.

Why is that that bogeyman image attracts us with such ease and comfort us, like Häagen Daaz, or any kind, ice cream on a blistering hot day?

In stressful eras, (like a grievous recession) these images, common foes, and fears unite us.  Rhetorically speaking, people need an enemy to concentrate on.  Is it as simple as the conviction that “those” people, who look so different from us, who can’t possibly live as we do, can’t embrace the same “traditional values” that we do?

Many of us “say” that we want to live as a united people.  It’s morose how easy and often it happens that people are willfully ignorant, or cling to now wilted convictions, and want to emphasize division over a promise, at least, of unity.

One crisis of the Sherrod story: when journalists scramble to publish, vital facts, context can be ignored

United State Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod’s inspiring words, spoken at a recent event, and about a 20-year-old lesson in humility and equitability, were taken out of context.  The 7-second excerpt vilified her.  Or rather those pundits and journalists who leaped on the incendiary story did that.

Shirley Sherrod

In doing this, that rush to judge and punish Mr. Sherrod tainted the department’s reputation and the Obama administration’s – for a “moment.” The Today Show’s Matt Lauer hyped this segment, emphasizing how wrong it is to jump to conclusions without being well informed.

A different angle of story, and the hypocrisy, is that this is common. The conduct is so common that it’s banal.  Viewers see these embarassments so often that they must decide when it’s worthwhile to complain.  That doesn’t make it acceptable.

A separate point makes this worse.  “Race,” bias, and bigotry worked as rhetorical and political kindling for conservative pundits to indulge the prospect of reversed bias, while an honorable professional was forced to eject and deject herself from her position.

The CBS’ Evening News invited Jeff Greenfield to remind or admonish viewers and journalists to watch it; to get the story, but “get it right.”  His points were candid, well informed, and worth a concentrated listen.

Why would the pundits across the network and cable channels make this rush to judgement the crux of their segments?  This effectively punished Ms. Sherrod.  It would be more valuable to ask how many of those who leaped on the story had watched the entire video, and then ask how that would change their segment’s agenda.

Jeff Greenfield

These questions are in the same family of this one: “should Sunday panel show pundits’ sound bites be fact-checked; and then should those pundits be confronted, and pressed to explain when they’ve erred?”  Certainly they should.

A difficult question is why the U.S. media chose to broach this self criticism in the wake of the Sherrod affair.  Her story was worthy of it, but many prior and more high-profile stories were too.

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A “blackfaced” French film seen through American eyes

Bastille Day celebrates fraternity, among other values, but only some… paler… citizens feel that love, even in the 21st-Century.  Bias remains a pillar of French culture, at least through American eyes.  The suburban immigrant uprisings in 2005 told or reminded us of that.

As we look at this anniversary of the French revolution let’s pose a difficult, sensitive question: what about the brown, black, or beige French people?  Let’s consider a recent French film that has shoved this topic, and the more awkward questions of black face in our faces.

Let’s consider that the filmmaker, Safy Nebbou, cast the title character of a French film, about a multiethnic French literary icon, Alexandre Dumas, with white French acting icon Gerard Depardieu.

That makes you raise your eye brows and ask, “hunh?!”  Mr. Dumas wrote “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and “The Three Musketeers,” and other seminal literary works.  His grandfather was black.

This film The Other Dumas, entered theaters five months ago, in February.  The film  which is « L’Autre Dumas » in French, considers Dumas’ principal collaborator, Auguste Maquet.  It’s not a conventional biographic film.  It raises questions about whether we should see Dumas and Maquet as an iconic literary duo instead of leaving Mr. Dumas’ legacy to hold the lot of it.

Gerard Depardieu as Alexandre Dumas, an ethnically mixed, French literary icon

Both French and North American peoples consider and respond to questions about diversity in very different, even disparate, ways: in the U.S., we track a near myriad of statistics in regards to color, and rarely and barely have conversations that lead us to shrink the stark social boundaries that divide us.  The French handle it very differently.  Their government keeps no official statistical records about ethnic or “racial” groups.  They are convinced that that defies the objective of liberté, égalité, and fraternité, their ideal, without regard to your color.  Most Americans probably find this bizarre, awkward, and even ghastly.

This will tell you a lot about the respective characters and outlooks of France’s and North America’s cultures; France trusts (and expects) citizens to know right and act right.  The United States has little such trust or expectation.

La Fête de la Fédération (Bastille Day) is an instructive hour to pose awkward questions about the realities of that haven, which many non-French people expect to find in France.

A likeness of Mr. Dumas himself

Mr. Depardieu, who has no African ancestry, and didn’t wear burnt cork, the black face material, but reportedly he did “blacken up.”

One English writer’s conservative point of view proposes a rational approach instead of an emotional one.  In writing for the “London Telegraph,” Patrick West, a free-lance writer he said, “Sometimes ‘blacking up’ can have no racist intent, even if people are determined to detect it.”  In “Why ‘blacking up’ white actors isn’t necessarily racist,” he elaborated that, as long as the “portrayals didn’t aim to perpetuate ethnic stereotypes,” we should not take offense.

Marcia Dawkins, a media scholar with California State University – Fullerton, has been considering the Dumas question also.  She has been writing about a recent trend in film casting: passing for mixed. In response to Mr. West’s stance, Prof. Dawkins said, by-phone, that Mr. West isn’t completely off, “but it ignores the complex history…  We need to be more sensitive to how” these subtle and very sensitive questions are dealt with.

When people see that Depardieu used a contemporary version of black face, rancor easily follows.  The word mistrel pops to mind.  Prof. Dawkins understood this easily: “I definitely think it is to some degree.  It’s not the same as minstrelsy.   It’s like a first or second cousin of it.”  Just because you can take a cool, rational approach to this, “…that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cool..,” Dawkins said

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As the Univ Texas-Austin looks at renaming a building, questions of history, bigotry, and forgiveness come.

As we use history to frame how we see ourselves, we can also use it to frame how we understand progress.  The University of Texas at Austin faces a compelling and easily sensitive question: does it change the name of one of its dormitories because it memorializes a former Klansman?

Simkins Hall at the University of Texas-Austin

The university’s leaders only recently learned about the late Professor William S. Simkins’ biases.  The question, and particularly our approach to it, reveals a lot about not only the institution’s character and interest in a peaceful future, but those of the state, and of our country.

A key question persists:

  • At what point does someone’s past, however vile or evil as many other people may see it, stop tainting their present day?

William S. Simkins was a devotee of the Ku Klux Klan before he taught at the university.  He reportedly referred to his membership and to his own bigotry in speeches while he was a professor.  How necessary is it to remember someone at their worst when their present day conduct, or simply a faded public memory, might grant mercy or lean toward less toxic memories?

As News 8 Austin reports, understandably many people are concerned about the message, which Mr, Simkins’ legacy sends about the university, and even the wider community.

In looking at Mr. Simkins’ case, some reporters have compared him to the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who also subscribed to the Klan’s ideology in his youth.  But as Sen. Byrd grew, his attitude and openness to other peoples and their differences did too.

Simkins as a cadet

The University of Texas at Austin faces the question of renaming a dormitory, not pushing through legislation that might allow some peoples’ access or power to something that had been denied.  The scope of the consequences is minor.  The question is not.

For other situations, when may we decide that someone’s actions or attitudes, in the present, overshadow their offensive?

A few words to remember:

  • Focus on that, which unites us, rather than those ideas, which divide.

For some bizarre reason, we, in the United States, but also across the world, focus on the negative by reflex.

Moving film topics to WrightAboutFilm

After having written many different pieces of film criticism and analysis, some advisers have suggested that I start a web journal specifically for that writing.  This’ll be a space away from topics where I write about national political topics that involve color and bias.

As I continue to write about film, it’ll be at WrightAboutFilm.

Blacks blocked from Southern juries in the Obama era

How vital is Pres. Obama to moving us beyond bias when Southern juries still shed Blacks?

So the New York Times reports on a phenomenon that probably shocks many, saddens and disappoints some, and doesn’t really phase others.

Getty image

What shocks me is not the segregated jury pool.  I find that morose and vile, but not a shock.  What shocks me (although it shouldn’t) is the extent to which the public is shocked.  But for the public to not be shocked, they would need a longer or deeper memory for and sustained personal interest in social justice.

As usual, it probably comes down to a meager portion of America that feels these things come home to them.  The splintered, non-stop news, information, and entertainment cycle doesn’t help.

Ours is a society of bizarre and laughable contradictions: founded in freedom acknowledged (for some), and provided only to some, where largely “great” men owned their fellow men, and their great, great grandchildren elected a brilliant, but brown man with a funny name, Barack Obama, to lead their country and the free world.

Surely people used to say, at home, in the barber shops, and elsewhere, that “once there’s a Black president…”  Everything would improve.  Dramatically.  And traumatically for many.

This is another example of what U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder called a “cowardly” country when it comes to conversations and questions on color and bigotry.

People have apparently lost track of a similarly backward practice in Mississippi: segregated high school proms.

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“Winter’s Bone” A brave detective story with a tough, teen girl lead

Story:

“Winter’s Bone” is the refreshing story of a tough 17-year-old broad in the Ozarks, Ree Dolly, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  I could describe her in more polite or delicate language, but I doubt that she would.  Her story amounts to an odyssey as she locks horns with her rural, often criminal neighbors and family.  Her dad, Jessup, put their house up as collateral for his bond when he was put in jail on drug charges for making meth.  With his court date imminent and himself missing, Ree, hearty and hardened beyond her years, is saddled with fixing this.

Ree runs

Her mom can’t; she’s ill, seems catatonic.  Her brother and sister are too young.  In pleading for her neighbors’ cooperation, even empathy, she says, “they’re too young to even feed themselves yet.”  You might call this film is a petty detective story is worth your time is because of Ree’s fight against the dire consequences for the family.  This young broad’s story exemplifies a relentless love and commitment to her family, her siblings.

“Winter’s Bone” had its premiere, at least its Minnesotan one, on June 2nd at the Walker Art Center, where director Debra Granik introduced it and answered questions afterward.

Ree has to track down and deliver her father, even if it’s just evidence of his death, in order to keep her home.  She doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but those are the least of her concerns.  She must feel like Harry Truman, a 20-century Missourian.  After President Roosevelt died he said, “I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.”  So, she’s willing to be denied, lied to, yelled at, bullied, and gang-beaten.  She won’t take “no.”  As long as her brother, sister, and mother are at-risk.

Location and culture as character:

Neither Ree, nor her family of sometime foes, are the only memorable characters.  South Missouri and its poor, and often criminal subculture, are characters as much as “Winter’s Bone’s” characters are.  The traditions dictate how people live their lives and treat one another.

In the introductory scenes, Granik, uses the sparse, poor kitchen where Ree prepares the breakfast to illustrate their poverty.  The local morning radio show plays in the background.  It plainly announces the community’s goings-on.  This illustrates the work-a-day attitude of the area where the criminals and innocents alike make their ways.  Soon enough we see the trailers and the shanty-like structures that the residents claim.

Ree comforts her brother while she has so little to spare

This ambiance reminds me of rural Nebraska, where a 1990s independent film,”Boys Don’t Cry,” takes place.  So few TV or film stories, or at least good ones, about poor, rural peoples’ lives have been done; it’s very hard to spotlight useful comparisons. That’s why this film is refreshing and thankfully it’s potent story and well-developed characters make it stand out.

During the Walker Art Center’s Q&A, Ms. Granik said that “there are enough ‘ands’” that none of the details or characters should come off as stereotypes or digs at Hillbilly’s.  By “ands” she describes social and moral contradictions; those people who are both tender and brutal, or aloof or cooperative, depending on the circumstance, or just how far down the wrong road their passions or uninterest have careened.

“Winter’s Bone” is memorable, maybe indelible.  But there’s a caveat: The most memorable scenes are also the hardest to take.  This is a world where the women’s strength must never rival a man’s.  Her neighbors and family would just as soon punish her, in a way straight out of a Yakuza movie, if she won’t take their gruff, plain-spoken, yet subtle hints to back off.  This is a world where contemporary gender equality is a foreign concept.

Ms. Granik describes the story and source of “Winter’s Bone” on the Sundance Film Festival’s “Meet the Artist.”

Early on, when Ree presses her uncle, Teardrop, to stop being cryptic, but be straight with her, he grabs her up by her throat, as he might to discipline a hound, to deliver his insistent point.  Basically: “Shut up and suck it up!”  He sets the community’s tone and attitude toward her straights.   Finally after an elder’s convinced that she’s pushed too far, his wife – who had already abundantly established that neither of them is to be troubled – leads a small gang of women to beat Teardrop’s point home to her – barbarically.  It’s bloody.

And Ree pushes on.  Warily.

The film only flaw is a dream montage that stands out so much from the whole story’s style that it distracts you.  It’s very brief.  But I don’t know why it was there either.

It comes out in wide release on June 26.

Why bother?

  • We have a strong, perseverant female lead character
  • It’s a refreshing, but simple, even innovative, detective story
  • The narrative and characters are thoroughly developed, as  adapted from the novel
  • We are introduced to, or reminded of, a very different way of life, in South Missouri

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