Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
It’s Black History Month, so I’m looking at some historical movies that fit the profile. There’s a British drama about forbidden love and a united kingdom, and a French documentary about a writer’s look at African Americans in the divided United States.
A United Kingdom
Dir: Amma Asante
It’s London in the 1950s. Ruth (Rosamund Pike) is an attractive, professional woman who lives with her parents. One night she meets a handsome student from Oxford at a dance. After a few dates he reveals he’s a prince, destined to become the king of a far off country called Bechuanaland. They fall in love, decide to marry, and move there… it’s like a fairy tale. But they face one problem. Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is black, and Ruth is white. This doesn’t matter much to them, but it does to the people around them.
Ruth’s parents are dead set against it, and as a mixed race couple they face abuse and even violence from strangers on the streets of London. In Bechuanaland, a British protectorate in Southern Africa, Seretse also faces trouble. He’s going against tradition by not choosing a wife from his own tribe. His uncle, the current Regent, objects strongly. And then there’s Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport), a highly-placed diplomat in the foreign service. He’s condescending, snotty, racist and sexist – he assumes Ruth works in a typing pool (because she’s a woman) when she’s actually an underwriter at Lloyds of London. And he has ulterior motives.
Bechuanaland (now Botswana) is a British protectorate completely surrounded by Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa and South-West Africa (Namibia). Since 1948, South Africa has been under apartheid rules which make it illegal for whites and blacks to marry. For the king of Bechuanaland to openly flout these racist laws might undermine South Africa’s legitimacy. South Africa is a commonwealth member and the region is a huge source of mineral wealth for multinationals. Under current laws, Seretse and Ruth are not legally permitted to share a drink in a restaurant… in the land he’s supposed to rule!
Politics is strange. Seretse is forced into exile, while Ruth – and their new baby – remain in Africa. Can Ruth and Seretse win the trust of their countrymen? Can they win the sympathy of the British public? Can they bring justice and prosperity to a remote arid country? And can love hold a separated family together?
A United Kingdom is a historical drama, with equal helpings of romance and British parliamentary politics. It’s based on a true story I knew nothing about. Although it ends abruptly, it has a surprisingly fascinating story. I liked this movie.
I Am Not Your Negro
Dir: Raoul Peck (Written by James Baldwin)
James Baldwin was an African American writer, the author of Notes of a Native Son, and novels like Giovanni’s Room. Born in Harlem he took part in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. But because of the racism and potential violence he faced in America he left for Paris where he spent most of his life. He joined the expat community there, including Nina Simone and Josephine Baker. He wanted to be known not as a black writer, not as a gay writer, but as a writer.
This film follows Baldwin’s writings on three important figures in the struggle for civil rights: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.,
They represented, respectively, the NAACP, Black Muslims, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. All three were spied on and harassed by the FBI and labeled “dangerous”, and all three were assassinated before the age of 40.
Baldwin looks back at their stories and his encounters with them, but also sets himself apart. He’s not a Muslim, not a Christian, not a member of the NAACP or the Black Panther Party.
The title, I Am Not Your Negro, is Baldwin’s central point. The story of the Negro in America, he says, is the story of America, and it’s not a pretty story. It’s a history of violence and racism.There is no difference between the North and South, Baldwin says, just the way you castrate us. He covers slavery, lynching, segregation, and incarceration. And the film neatly connects the slaying of Medgar Evers by a white supremacist with current racist murders, like the deaths of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin
Samuel L Jackson’s narration of Baldwin’s prophetic words alternates with Baldwin’s own voice: on the Dick Cavett show and at the Cambridge Debates. Baldwin – and director Peck — tells his story with a barrage of Hollywood images. From the pink-scrubbed face of a dancing Doris Day, to John Wayne’s confidence in killing native Americans. Baldwin recalls his childhood shock at a John Wayne Western when he realized he’s not the “cowboy”, he’s the “Indian”.
I Am Not Your Negro is about the fear and violence faced by African Americans. It’s a terrific documentary, a cinematic essay told through the masterful use of period still images. These are not the photos and clips you’re used to but jaw-dropping, newfound pictures. There’s lush nighttime footage and a fantastic juxtapositions of words and images. (The film reminds me of the work Adam Curtis.) It’s nominated for an Oscar for best documentary.
A United Kingdom and I Am Not Your Negro both start today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening this weekend: if you’re a cat person, there’s Kedi, about the street cats of Istanbul; or if you’re a zombie or a zombie-lover, there’s the wonderful horror movie The Girl with all the Gifts (read the review here).
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Canada is a land of opportunity for citizens and permanent residents alike. Immigrants, students and asylum seekers share in the country’s bounty. But not everyone has the rights and privileges the average Canadian takes for granted. Temporary Foreign Workers lead a precarious existence, subject to fraud, abuse and neglect by their employers. Many come saddled with a crippling debt owed to the recruiters who bring them here. Workers who fight back are threatened with job loss or even deportation. Will Temporary Foreign Workers ever achieve their migrant dreams?
Migrant Dreams is a new documentary having its world premier at Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival on May 9th. It follows the plight of a group of Indonesian women working in the greenhouses of Leamington, Ontario. It was directed by award-winning filmmaker Min Sook Lee, known for her documentaries on the plight of persecuted minorities and precarious labourers.
I spoke to Min Sook Lee at CIUT.
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
Spring is here, and, in Toronto that means it’s time to go back inside and sit in the dark. Wait — Huh…?
It’s festival season, starting right now! In quick succession, look out for Canadian Music Week Film Fest, CineFranco, the Images festival (of alternative, artist-driven media art), Hotdocs (the documentary festival), the Jewish Film Festival, Inside-out (the LGBT film festival), NXNE, and many, many more. It’s Images’ 25th anniversary and HotDoc’s 30th.
And speaking of looking back, this week I’m reviewing two movies: a documentary where musicians look back a quarter century to their past fumbles and triumphs; and an action/ comedy where two policemen are forced to revisit their own mistakes and triumphs of their high school days.
Dir: Joe Berlinger
It’s 1985, and the famous American pop musician Paul Simon, who is intrigued by a song by the band the Boyoyo Boys, goes to Johannesburg to record an album alongside South African musicians. His record, Graceland, turns into a huge hit. 25 years later, and looking a bit hobbit-like but still a great musician, Paul Simon returns there to play a concert with the people he worked and toured with back then. Seems like a simple concert doc, right? No…
You see, in 1985, the Republic of South Africa is ruled under an ideology they called Apartheid. This meant 80% of the country – that is, anyone not classified as white – could not vote, were not citizens, could not intermarry or have sex with people from another group, and were kept physically separated from, and impoverished by, the ruling white minority. And the government responded to uprisings with increasingly violent attacks and persecution of non-white South Africans, driving the leaders into exile, like Oliver Tambo or imprisonment, like Nelson Mandela. In response to this, the banned African National Congress called for a massive international boycott of everything South African, including sports and entertainment.
This documentary takes place then and now, 25 years later. And it raises some very delicate questions. Should groups like Ladysmith Black Mombaza, Mistela, and others, some of whom were arrested or harassed by a racist government, also be boycotted by international audiences? Is it OK to use music not of your own making in the music you record, even if they receive credit? Or to record new lyrics over someone else’s music? Of course a lot of these points seem moot now — when everything is mixed with everything else, and sampled, overdubbed, or mashed up – but at the time, it was quite controversial.
The movie covers all sides, from the American and South African musicians involved, to members of the ANC, to exiled musicians, to anti-apartheid activists in Britain, the US and elsewhere – people like Harry Belafonte, Oliver Tambo’s son Dali Tambo, and And musicians like David Byrne, Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones.
Most interesting is the incredibly dynamic music and movement in the new and old concert footage of the many South African musicians like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the late Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masakela. Or as Harry Belafonte puts it in the movie: “the whole mishpokhe.”
Joe Berlinger (a great documentary maker who co-directed the Paradise Lost series, about a small town murder blamed on non-conforming teens) combines vintage footage, music videos, concert and studio clips, along with interviews with people not afraid to disagree.
Under African Skies looks at old wounds In a new way: placing the new South Africa’s emphasis of Truth and Reconciliation above all.
Dir: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) went to high school together. Schmidt was the brainy-but-bullied unattractive nerd who never had a girlfriend, while Jenko was the popular, dumb but handsome jock who found it hard to get passing grades. Later, they both end up as cops. They weren’t friends in high school – they traveled in different circles – but become partners, and friends, as police.
But after failing to read a biker gang their Miranda rights, they get assigned to a deep cover squad known as 21 Jump St. It’s their job to return to high school pretending to be students and brothers, bust a synthetic drug ring, and find the supplier. But so much has changed since they were students that they can no longer read the social codes. And after a name mix-up, the two find their roles reversed: Jenko hangs out with the science geeks, while Schmidt becomes the popular guy. Will they catch the bad guys without getting kicked out of school (and the police force)? And will they get to attend the high school prom?
OK, this movie has a whole lot of the red flags that tell me it’ll be a bad movie: it has two directors, it’s based on an old TV show, it has a number in its title, and it’s a buddy action/ comedy about cops.
That said, it actually wasn’t that bad – actually funny at times, and with like-able players. Ice Cube is a bad/funny police boss like out of a bad 80s TV show; and Dax Flame (the cameraman in Project X) is a chemistry geek; and others, like Brie Larson and Dave Franco. Some of the jokes are funny and the story is watchable, but the chase scenes are awful.
21 Jump Street is playing now, check your local listings, Under African Skies premiered at the Canadian Music Week Film Fest, which continues through this weekend, and includes interesting documentaries like “Kevin” the first doc by the Duplass brothers (Jeff Who Lives at Home)
And be sure to check out the amazingly renovated new Bloor Cinema showing documentaries every day. It’s just beautiful, with new seats, great sound, newly-papered walls, and something I’ve never seen before: a glass window in the lobby with a view of the entire theatre.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.