Posts Tagged ‘brad pitt’

12 Years A Slave: True American Horror Story (Spoiler Alert)

November 7, 2013

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My blogs about films usually come long after release because I like to talk about what happens in movies—and I want to give readers ample time to see the film before I go in. So if you have yet to see this film, bookmark this post until you see it. Because everyone should see it. I fully understand excusing oneself from this film if you are African American. Why pay to watch a piece of your people’s genocide unfold? My answer is easy: if our ancestors could live it, you can spend two hours watching it. In fact, it’s the least you can do—in addition to the added benefit of supporting two Black men in roles rarely offered for tentpole historical Hollywood biopics: director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley (respectively shown below).

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I cannot recall a major studio film since the new millennium that outlines in sharp, granular detail the casual, yet unrelenting brutality of American slavery. Shout out to Haile Gerima’s independent classic, Sankofa (1993). In 12 Years A Slave, it is almost as if the physical and psychological violence dance a twisted tango, denying you the opportunity to look away. Civility and cruelty are in lock-step from start to finish. Adepero Oduye’s character Eliza watches her children torn away from her in a well-appointed auction house. She is then sold and transported to the plantation where she will serve the same mistress who offers her a chance to clean up and rest herself, after which she quips, “your children will soon be forgotten.” Eliza’s incessant tears and deep depression say otherwise. Her inconsolate heartbreak and human expression of trauma are rewarded with her being sold off the plantation. She’s too much of a wet blanket for the mistress, so she’s gotta go.

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Lupita Nyong’o’s character Patsy goes to great lengths to be clean despite a life where she is defiled regularly by her master, who, in a fetishist distortion of affection, defends his property’s ability to pick 500 pounds of cotton each day to his wife. His wife hates Patsy. Patsy is such an economic asset, her value as chattel eclipses the power the mistress relishes as the woman of the plantation. The mistress hates Patsy so much, she even denies her soap. After picking 500 pounds of cotton each day in blistering heat. After being raped while being asphyxiated, and being smacked awake during the assault. After all of this, all Patsy wants (aside from freedom from slavery via her own death) is to bathe and be clean.

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For this, the master tears open her back with his whip—but only after ordering Platt (nee’ Solomon) to whip her for him. “I’d rather it be you, Platt” Patsy calls through tears. Now faced with punishing his only ally or facing punishment for not complying, Platt whips her as meekly as he can; the hateful mistress catches on to his strategy and goads the master to end Platt’s “pantomime”. Then, the master takes back his whip and steps in. Bloody mist flies from Patsy’s body with each lash, which go on and on and on. In this scene, all at once, we are made to bear witness to the intersections of race, gender and class dynamics that still echo in modern American society:

The (Black) woman works harder than men and is somehow not only undeserving of basic dignity, but deserving of the cruelest shaming and/or punishment imaginable (today, this goes for all American women)

The Black man is made to sacrifice protecting the Black woman for his own preservation

The white woman castrates the Black man and the white man with impunity and colludes in the destruction of another woman who is poses no direct threat to her

The white man’s conscience is overruled by his ego and insecurity, and people are made to suffer for it

The other occupants of the plantation witness this and the messages of manufactured white superiority and black inferiority are branded into their collective consciousness

And this is just what I was able to pick up on as I watched, and afterward as I processed what I had just seen after the film ended. Understand that this is all from ONE scene.

 

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And know that EVERY scene (save the shots of nature that serve as vitally necessary palate cleansers and spaces for the audience to exhale) is loaded in searing, aching, enraging, surreal fashion.  Slaves are awakened from precious, uncomfortable sleep after toiling just to dance for their master. Platt is literally strung up for hours for speaking up for himself; for defending himself against an overseer after doing as he was instructed. He tiptoes in mud and feces to keep his airway clear until the man who has the right to actually hang and kill him comes to cut him down. (Even the overseer’s whiteness isn’t enough to interfere with the master’s profits—that’s above his pay grade). As Platt’s life hangs in the balance, no one comes to help him for fear of reprisal. Enslaved children play and laundry as laundry is also hung. Right as I wonder if anyone will so much as offer Platt a drink of water, a slave woman rushes in to do just that, quickly enough for the audience to be the only people who see her humane transgression take place. Just another day in Hell on Earth.

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In the span of this film’s running time, you see its protagonist, Solomon Northup—played with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s potent mix of raw emotion and undeniable craft—lose his wife and children, his home, his name, the shirt his wife gave him (beaten off him to bloodied shreds), his integrity, as he weaves a tapestry of lies at knifepoint to survive, his creative spirit as a musician, and nearly his faith in God and his very sanity.

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It is based on a true story. Very little is embellished from Northup’s own telling in his book of the same name. It is real beyond what the imagination can even conceive. How does a people collectively manage to not go crazy—or postal—during a lifetime of untenable situations? And how do their grandchildren’s children go on to achieve and thrive? This is the capacity, the triumph of the human spirit.

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12 Years A Slave is a masterpiece. It is shot as if each frame were its own canvas; McQueen holds on moments of depravity and epiphany so that we do right along with his characters. The editing is generous; even as timelines are usurped, the storyline remains unbroken. The writing is rich, but it also taut: with life or death hanging on each exchange of dialogue. The acting disappears; you become part of this film—and that is to the credit of stunning work by Ejiofor, Nyong’o, Oduye, Fassbender, Benedict, Woodard and Pitt. It is unflinching in its telling of one man’s harrowing story. It is America’s true horror story, one we all keep being made to live in some way or another, because we as a nation have yet to discuss, complete, redress, or heal its universe of injustices in any meaningful way. Until that happens, there is no getting over the socioeconomic ripple effects or the psychic undertow of slavery or institutional racism. No getting over. No overcoming. For Black people or white people. White people are also damaged in the transaction that lasted 400 years, bolstering corporations and setting the stage for genocide, xenophobia and mayhem that echo clear up to today’s headlines about changing the name of the capitol’s football franchise or granting children of undocumented residents full citizenship and access to the American Dream, or seeking justice for the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager by a man who identifies as white despite his mixed heritage and has no authority to patrol his neighborhood with a firearm. Utter American insanity. The only way through is to look it in the face, honor its victims, hold its perpetrators to account, and give its descendants permission to atone and move forward. 12 Years A Slave is a powerful, solid step on a shaky path.

 

Cassie & Rhianna: Nude Gal Massive

May 13, 2009

By Thembisa S. Mshaka

After 17 years of working with many a superstar in the worlds of music, advertising, and television, I’ve seen a lot of skin. I must say, however, that the concentrated display of nudity by females in the entertainment business over the last week has been very interesting to watch.

First, images of Cassie topless and spread eagle surfaced online. She denied leaking them for publicity purposes, brushing them off to a degree, saying, “it seems that someone has hacked into my computer. That’s real foul and evil. Now stop acting like you haven’t seen a titty before”.

I recently released a book that addresses how to succeed in business without using one’s body as an all-access pass. During an interview with Mike Street  of WBTJ-Richmond I was asked to comment on Cassie’s nude photo leak. Here’s what I had to say about it, “if nudity is the route you choose to take, you still need to handle your entertainment business!” I mean, even Brangelina sold photos of their babies and gave the money to charity!

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Then, not 24 hours later, nude photos of Rhianna pop up! No one’s claiming responsibility for this act of career terror either. But after some discussions about this, I submit that a generational shift has occurred with how young women perceive ‘compensation’ for nudity, the value of their bodies, and their relaxed relationship to decency, privacy and technology. Chicks are uploading their own clips of themselves making it clap on social networks–and I mean literally clapping their asses, not their hands. Teens are performing oral sex yet don’t see it as sexual intercourse. They are also ‘sexting’ by sending and sharing provocative images through phones.

In the digital age, privacy has taken a hit. Identity theft is rampant. Even former President Bush was listening in on your cell phone conversations. Your employer may even be following you on Twitter. So whether you want a third party observing your life or not, it’s happening–and this generation by and large, has accepted the fact readily. My generation by and large, wants our right to privacy back in full, not in part.

Perhaps this is not so for Cassie or Rhianna. Perhaps they’ve forfeited their right to privacy, or see that right as less of a big deal. Maybe the consequences of being seen as less credible recording artists, less admirable role models to their peers and young girls, and less marketable pitch women for corporations aren’t that big of a deal either.

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Maybe these leaks are their assertion of power over their bodies; maybe they did consent to the leaks and were in control of how and when they came out. Maybe they know it will help them sell records or get movie roles. Maybe Cassie’s half-shaved head didn’t get tongues wagging fast enough.

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Maybe Rhianna’s relationship violence coverage needed to be one-upped. I truly can’t call it. I’d love to talk to them and find out directly from them. I would have bet that as a successful working model, Cassie knew the value of her exposed private parts. I would also have bet on Rhi Rhi leveraging her Good Girl Gone Bad image (after her Cover Girl contract expired of course) to pose nude for at least seven figures to launch her new album.

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Either way, I would have lost both bets. Taking nude photos is choice; I’m not knocking it. I simply wonder: Are Cassie and Rhianna handling their business, or getting screwed in the transaction?

Back when I was coming up, posing nude for the world to see was held at a premium and done in magazines for adults, like Playboy, Hustler, and Penthouse, long before lifestyle skin books like Maxim, Straight Stuntin’, Smooth, and the now-defunct King existed.

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These nude spreads were major media events. The cover girls got paid handsomely for baring all. If you happened to be a star with nude photos floating around that got leaked on you, the word ‘scandal’ pretty much became your second surname. And for the woman in question, they were tremendously difficult to bounce back from.

Vanessa Williams speaks to this in the foreword to my book. She describes one of many obstacles she faced after the appearance of nude photos led to her losing the title of Miss America. “Not many songwriters were eager to give me good songs; they wanted to keep them for other artists who were proven, and of course they’d never bank on my success coming fresh of a scandal.”

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I have signed copies of it waiting for Cassie and Rhianna. Looks like these Nude Gals could benefit from some industry mentorship in a bottle. What did they teach me this week? That when it comes to how a pop princess shows her ass, it’s a new day.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business available now from Business Plus/Grand Central Publishing.