black girl blogs · Movie Reviews · reviews · Uncategorized

Blindspotting: A beautiful insight of the ugly struggle

Words are hard. By themselves or strung together in a sentence. They’re tricky. Some of them have several meanings while others only have one definitive meaning. They can be exchanged like currency and thrown like punches. Both universal and limited. There just might be nothing more complicated than words. But there also might be nothing more beautiful than words. When used correctly and with imagination, they create works of art. Weaving colorful pictures into our minds without dipping a brush into paint, words compiled together to make scripts are often exquisite and give us compelling stories. The best movies have the best scripts. And Blindspotting, written by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs is one of 2018’s best.

Collin has three days left on his probation. He’s made it an entire year without any incidents and if he can make it through these last three days he’ll be free. As free as possible, with him being a tall black male with long braided hair that is. One would think since Collin has made it this far that his last three days of probation would be a breeze. But life always seems to have a way of making what should be easy, hard. And when your best friend is loud, volatile and ready to fight at the drop of a hat; staying out of trouble is more complicated than people realize. Miles has been Collin’s best friend since they were 11 years old, they work at Commander Moving and spend every day together. Collin even picks Miles up in the morning, drops him back home at night and makes sure their time cards are properly clocked in and out. They’re like two peas in a pod. However, where Collin is laid back and chill, Miles is abrasive and ignorant. Usually, it’s reflected back on Collin before it is Miles and even though that isn’t Miles fault, it eventually becomes the backbone of their fall out. Collin is, more often than not, the one who pays for Miles’s foolishness.

Make no mistake though, Miles isn’t stupid. He’s just very much a town nigga, he’s proud of his Oakland roots and he’s ready to defend himself at all times because of his pale skin in a sea of brownness. He’s had to be this way to survive but now with the gentrification of Oakland, more and more white people are starting to show up. Which makes Miles look like a poser to those that don’t know him. And there’s nothing worse than being considered a poser.

While Miles deals with the possibility of being seen as a transplant, Collin quietly suffers from PTSD after witnessing the police shoot an unarmed black man. Over the next couple of days, Collin is haunted by the incident. In the back of his mind, there’s the constant blaring of the car alarm that went off when the black man was shot. The red light flashes in his mind when goes for his morning runs and when he sleeps at night. Any time Collin sees a cop car his world suddenly zeros in on it. He’s is now always acutely aware of his surroundings and always on guard. He may be out of jail, but in many ways, Collin is still a prisoner. Which is only proven even more every time he goes home to the Halfway House. In this house, he’s nothing more than another convicted felon. The parole officer who runs the house, James, cares not for Collin’s personal life or feelings. His main focus is whether or not Collin has done his assigned chore of cleaning bathrooms each day. He tells Collin that he’s assigned these chores so that it can be determined if he can follow simple orders or not. As if how well Collin can clean a bathroom is going to stop the police from messing with him out on the streets.

It’s in the usage of words that Blindspotting finds its home. It’s a beautiful film visually but it’s the dialogue and the script that give it that little boost above the rest. Shown amazingly in the parking lot argument that Collin and Miles have after Miles loses his temper at a party. It’s a blow-up that’s been a long time coming, the two have clearly never had a real fight in their friendship before. To Miles, Collin is acting brand new. Almost like he’s trying to fit in with those that are gentrifying their home. He’s right in the sense that Collin is different since having gone to jail. But Miles is wrong to think that the change was something Collin did willingly and is just doing to try to fit in. Collin had to change to survive. He’s on police radar already for just being a black man but now he’s on it even more because he’s a convicted felon. He had to change so he doesn’t end up dead or back in jail. Miles doesn’t get that.

Throughout the whole movie, Collin has been calling Miles nigga. He refers to him as one constantly, it passes his lips with such ease and Miles just goes with it. He’s never said it back, he is white after all. But he hasn’t ever stopped Collin from calling him one either. It’s addressed however when emotions are high and tensions boiling over, Collin demands that Miles say it back to him. Collin wants to hear Miles say “yeah, my nigga”, he wants to hear that word come out of his friend’s mouth. But Miles won’t say it. He’s white, therefore he technically isn’t a nigga and can’t ever be one. And Miles knows that. Most importantly he knows it’s disrespectful. Even though Collin has given him permission to say it, which is all it takes for some nonblack folks. Miles knows that him saying nigga would be disrespectful to Collin. But he has it put into a whole new perspective when Collin tells Miles that his actions, his ignorance and his gun-toting bullshit is what they (the police and white people) expect from Collin. Even when it’s clearly Miles who is the ghetto one, people still look to Collin to be right at his side acting the same way. Miles is the nigga that they are out here looking for, even though their eyes automatically seek Collin to slap that label onto.

I really like Blindspotting. The story, the character structure, the script and the attention to detail. It’s all amazingly well thought out. There are so many layers to the film that one viewing isn’t enough and even after seeing the film five times, I find myself picking up on new things that I missed before. It’s in the details the story is able to become such a powerhouse. From new futuristic houses sticking out between older traditional Oakland homes to the way transplants have no care for the natives. Or the fact that the man in charge of Collin at the halfway house is a black man who has absolutely no sympathy for him at all. Even the flashback of the fight that sent Collin to jail is packed full of details that help the present story that beings told now.

Collin and Miles’s relationship is one of the greatest details of the film, the way they understand each other. It’s in the structure of their friendship that makes all other dynamics connect and progress the film through its journey.

For example, a seemingly big part of Collin’s struggle is his ex-girlfriend, Val. She works the front desk at Commander Moving so Collin has to see her every day. They broke up when Collin went to jail and Val hasn’t forgiven him nor gotten over it. She still likes Collin but is too aggressive in her disapproval of certain parts of his lifestyle. Val constantly tells Collin that he needs to get rid of Miles, dismissing the fact that Miles is his best friend. His only friend from the looks of it. She wants Collin to want better for himself, but she can’t get past the fight that put Collin in jail and she won’t stop blaming Miles for it.

One thing I wish we could have gotten a little more of was Collin and Ashley. I wanted them to have a one on one conversation about the trauma of cops shooting black people. Her just asking him if he’s alright and then never bringing it up again or noticing Collin’s rapid decline was a little strange to me. She does have a whole child to care for so it’s not unrealistic for her to not notice, but it would have been nice all the same.

As a beginning filmmaker, Blindspotting is a film that I’m going to be studying for a long time. It’s a masterpiece and it’s beautiful but it’s also simple. It’s not complex or hard to follow and I think, in that, it’s able to build a strong storyline and even stronger characters. It’s a film that you can tell truly began in the writer’s room with a clear vision of what the message was going to be. And I love that. It makes me excited for the world of films and opens the possibility of what we could be seeing in the future. I’m especially excited to see what Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal do next. It promises to be, at the very least, a thought-provoking good time.

9.8/10

-Danyi

Movie Reviews · reviews · Uncategorized

Sorry To Bother You- The Movie We Need To Talk About

I like weird things. Weird movies, weird shows, weird books and even weird clothes. If it’s different, to me, I’m more than likely going to at least give it a chance. There are some things that get a little too weird for me but more often than not I back things that others side-eyed. I used to think being called weird was an insult, I used to think that I needed to hide my nerdiness and never talk about what I liked in a group of people. Now though, in my mid 20’s, being weird is the next cool trend and people are clamoring over themselves to try and earn the crown of “Most Weird”. I’ve watched people flock to shows and movies, claiming them to be the outstanding kind of weird. Most of them aren’t but it’s interesting to watch people suddenly want to be weird. There is something good that has come out of this trend though. Black people are finally getting to showcase our weirdness and we’re getting to be loud and proud while we do it. And it’s a beautiful thing.

When I was in college, a classmate introduced me to a band called The Coup. Their frontman, Boots Riley, had a different way about rapping that really spoke to me. The Coup had just realized their newest album “Sorry To Bother You” when they were brought to my attention. And I played the album out over late night study sessions and bus rides to campus. As time passed though the album was shifted from my regular rotation to being occasionally played and finally just being something that would play in the background when I shuffled all songs on my phone. So imagine my surprise when, years later, it’s announced that Boots Riley had written and directed a film titled “Sorry To Bother You”. I freaked out. Then I saw the trailer and freaked out again. From the trailer alone I could tell that this movie was going to be my kind of weird.

Sorry To Bother You tells the story of Cassius Green, a young man who’s slowly sinking in an “alt reality” where the world relies on capitalism to keep it afloat. He and his girlfriend Detroit, whose art is as stunning as she is, live in his uncle’s garage. Detroit works as a sign twirler while Cassius has just been hired as a telemarketer for RegalView. They may be poor but they’re happy. And they’re trying their best to keep away from the rapidly growing trend known as “Worry Free Homes”, a place where people work 14 hours a day and are packed together like sardines. But it’s marketed as a happy, almost retreat, like community where no one has worry about debt ever again. At RegalView, the goal is to call as many people as you can and sell encyclopedias to them. The more you sell, the more you’re paid. However, Cassius quickly learns that more often than not, the clients are going to hang up on him. And with this job being a commissions only one, his paychecks aren’t going to be as much as he wants them to be if they’re anything at all.

Eventually, an older black man named Langston takes pity on Cassius and tells him that if he wants to make any money he’ll have to start using his white voice. Cassius dismisses this at first, a push back against conforming to the man. However, Langston explains that what we consider a “white voice” isn’t really about the person being white. It’s about sounding like you’ve got everything under control, you have no worries and you’re just as successful as the person you’re talking to. And after he takes a call and demonstrates, Cassius realizes that he just might be onto something.

Just when Cassius is starting to get the hang of being a telemarketer that actually makes sales, he is pulled into a completely opposite direction when his friends on the call floor decide they’ve had enough. Led by the resilient and persistent Squeeze, the workers stage a protest during peak call times. They want to be paid for the work they do and not just used like mules to keep the company going. Both Detroit and Cassius’s best friend Sal are down to demand change but Cassius himself is hesitant because he knows that the bosses upstairs are watching him. He needs to be promoted to Power Caller, to keep his uncle from losing his house but he also doesn’t want to go against his friends and girlfriend.

When he is promoted, Cassius is given a taste of what life is like when people are actually paid for the work they do. He gets to see what it’s like to not have to struggle to live. But he also discovers what prices he must pay for this life, what immoral things he has to turn a blind eye to and the kind of person he has to become if he wants to do well in this new world. And it’s not until Cassius is invited to the owner of the company, Steve Lift’s annual party does he realize that maybe he’s working for truly evil people.

For the sake of spoilers, I won’t go much further into detail about what happens in the movie. However, I do want to look at some of the things that I took away from this movie and why I think it’s really important for everyone to see it.

To me, Sorry To Bother You, is one of the most profound movies I’ve ever seen. Its stance on capitalism is loud and clear, with the Worry Free Homes and the RegalView job being commission only instead of by the hour. The movie gives us a clear picture of what we will be like as a society soon. Some would even say we’re already there and STBY is just showing us how everything will play out. The Worry Free Homes are a glorified version of prisons and they are presented in a way that makes them seem far less toxic than they are. On the TV, the people who in the Homes are happy to be there. Happy to be doing the work and happy to literally be worry free. But because of their presentation, people don’t question the ethics. There’s a resistance, of course, a group named Left Eye spends a majority of their time defacing Worry Free adds and aiding protestors when they hold their rallies. However, society as a whole doesn’t care and isn’t outraged enough for anything to be done. So Worry Free Homes continue to be an okay thing. I wouldn’t call this much of stretch from our world today. We rely heavily on public outrage for things to get done and more often than not if you want something changed you’re more likely to be successful if you take the issue to Twitter than you are if you take it to Congress or the Government. Even when Cassius finally thinks he’s found a way to take down Worry Free and by extension of them RegalView, he learns that people only care if you have an answer to the problem. No one wants to help solve problems that don’t affect them directly.

Another theme that Sorry To Bother You focuses on is the idea that black people are often seen as mules. We are worked harder and longer than most and often the work ends up not mattering because the goal post continues to be moved or isn’t even for us to score goals in the first place. What I mean by this is, at first Cassius wanted to be promoted just so he could save his uncle’s home and not have to struggle anymore. That’s all he really wanted. When the higher-ups suddenly took an interest in him, he was moved up and looked at as someone who could build a bridge between two worlds. He was moved up because he’s a black man who is going against what other black people and people of color are doing. It did not escape me that Cassius and his boss Mr. Blank were the only black Power Callers. They were the “we’re clearly diverse” hill that RegalView would die on in case they ever needed to defend themselves for what they were doing. Cassius is good at being a telemarketer but it wasn’t just his skills that got him an invite to Steve Lift’s party, a familiar setting that black people in the workforce often find themselves in.

There are little things scattered throughout the movie that I enjoyed and also show us just how ridiculous but alarming things have become. From the most popular show on the air being about people beating each other up to the elaborate code that a Power Callers have to us in their elevator and even Cassius’s broke down bucket car. They may seem like an exaggeration but when you stop and think about it, they really aren’t. Society as a whole has changed into something that is quickly becoming toxic and if we continue to ignore it, we’ll only get worse.

It’s important that people see this movie because not only is it massively entertaining, it’s a movie that has something to say. It may say it weirdly and it may make a lot of people extremely uncomfortable but the message STBY is trying to get out is one we all need to hear. I’ve seen the movie three times now and each time the audience reactions are different. Everyone takes it differently, I was in one show where a person got up and left while at another everyone clapped when the credits rolled. It’s bringing up things that society wants us to ignore and just be okay with, and Sorry To Bother You is here to say fuck that. We need to pay more attention to what is happening and stop hiding behind good presentation and promises of a better life. Because the “better life” has a rule printed in the finest of fonts that it can only be given to a few.

I only have one worry about Sorry To Bother You, and that is, that the “shocking” visual revelation in the third act will overpower the messages the movie conveyed. I fear that people only take away from the movie the end result and not how the movie got to that end in the first place. The revelation is very shocking, don’t get me wrong but what’s even more shocking is the people only want to talk about that. It’s being called this years’ “Get Out” and that alone tells me that many people missed the memo. They can’t comprehend that this movie is nothing like Get Out, but because both films deal with race they think the two must be considered the same. Get Out was one thing, Sorry To Bother You is something completely different. They are not mutually exclusive. We can praise STBY without comparing it to any other film because honestly there is no other film like it. Boots Riley has created a space where weirdness can have a home but the weirdness isn’t exempt from real life problems. And I think that’s wonderful.

The cast makes the movie all the better. Lakeith Stanfield is quickly becoming the actor to watch and his embodiment of Cassius Green is fantastic. Tessa Thompson has us all falling in love with her soft-spoken but highly radical Detroit. While Steven Yeun gives Squeeze a ton of heart and makes you want to join the resistance just to make him proud. Armie Hammer and Omari Hardwick play the roles of the villains beautifully. Hammer’s Steve Lift is absolutely insane but his presentation and constant cheery attitude lets him get away with pretty much everything. While Hardwick’s Mr. Blank was one of my favorite things about the movie, he’s a villain in the sense that we don’t know much about him but his support of Steve Lift tells us he’s in this for himself. I only wish we could have gotten to see more of Cassius’s uncle Surge because I love Terry Crews.

I recommend that everyone see this movie. Especially in a theater with others so that you can have this transformative experience with other people. I hope that it’s successful and Boots Riley is able to make more films, he’s clearly got a lot to say about things we need hear. Sorry To Bother You isn’t ahead of its time, rather it’s arrived right when we need it.

-Danyi

black girl blogs · Movie Reviews · reviews · Uncategorized

It’s Such A Beautiful Day: My Favorite Film

I like weird things. I always have. Admittedly usually what’s weird and enjoyable to me tends to make others uncomfortable or bored. It just happens that way and I end up watching things alone most of the time. I was alone and barely keeping my head above depression waters when I discovered Don Hertzfield’s “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” on Netflix. I remember it was that grey area between Christmas and New Years and I was house sitting. I’d said yes to housesitting because it was far away from the rest of my family, I agreed to it so I could wallow in my misery in peace.

So here I am, 2am, in the middle of a depressive episode and carelessly scrolling through Netflix. I still don’t know why I picked this movie, part of me wants to believe that it was the stick figures that pulled me in. All I know is that finding “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” changed my life.

To give a quick summary, “It’s Such A Beautiful a Day” is an animated film by the genius Don Hertzfield that follows a stick figure named Bill and his descent into madness. The character is simple by design and though the backgrounds range from live action to photos to literal nothing, the focus is always on Bill and the journey he’s allowing us to experience with him. I’ve honestly never seen anything remotely like “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” and it’s been two years since I discovered the movie. From the deepest darkest corners of my heart, I love this film.

Bill, is a stick figure man that’s living and struggling from day to day. He’s been diagnosed with some kind of brain disorder and it’s starting to take its toll on him, both mentally and physically. He spends his days at the mental health clinic near his house, taking tests and trying to remember everyday things. He goes grocery shopping, goes to work, and rides the bus. All normal things that seem easy. It’s in this routine that Bill’s mind slips away and crumbles. He starts to forget things, he calls his ex-girlfriend and hallucinations are becoming more and more frequent. While this may seem like a terrible thing, it’s actually quite liberating for Bill. He learns about self-identity and the meaning of life.

I like to think that even if I didn’t learn the meaning of life like Bill, he and his journey still taught me a lot about self-identity. I relate to Bill and the strange thoughts he has, like insisting on only buying the fruit from the back of the pile because the fruit at the front is exactly at crotch level. Bill asks himself if his daily routines and rituals are a waste of his life or if they are his life, something that I ask myself often. I hate routines but I find calmness in them. The idea of doing something different, something new every day excites the hell out of me. But at the same time, it makes my anxiety flare up. I find comfort in doing the same thing each day but I get bored so easily.

Bill spends a lot of time inside the chaos of his mind, he spends a lot of time with his own thoughts. Everything he does on the outside, physically, is almost not important compared to what goes on in his head. While he’s eating crackers, Bill feels weird not having the tv on so he decides to watch boxing. One of the fighters head is split open and as the tv plays it over and over, the man’s screaming including, Bill decides to call his ex-girlfriend. It’s almost as if in this chaos of having eaten a whole box of crackers and the head split screaming man in tv, Bill finds a sort of comfort. He finds normality in the constant buzz that’s surrounding him. It’s a spiral of loudness that I find myself possibly relating most to Bill. There is always something on my mind, always. Whether it’s a song that’s playing over and over or a scenario that I can’t let go of. Sometimes I’ll even get stuck on the way a word sounds and somewhere in my mind, that word repeats itself thousands of times. But I can always keep doing regular things while my mind fills up and buzzes. My family calls it mental multitasking. I usually call it annoying.

Throughout the movie, it becomes unclear if what we’re experiencing with Bill is real or all in his head. From his outlandish family history to his sudden need to drive and drive and just keep driving, Bill’s brain disorder has in a sense taken him to a new world where everything and nothing make sense. In these wild stories of family members strangling rocks in fits of rage and being hit by trains, Bill finds clarity and confusion. He recounts these tales to us and to himself, at first as if to explain why Bill is the way he is but as the stories fade away into other ideas and other trains of thoughts; I couldn’t help but wonder if we were told these stories to show that nothing changes.

One of the stories we hear from Bill is about an interaction he has with a co-worker. The man tells Bill about one of the many theories of time. The basic idea is that the passing of time isn’t real, the past isn’t over and the future has already happened. They’re happening simultaneously because we as humans are only able to travel through time in one direction. It’s actually one of my personal favorite time travel theories. So I say that perhaps Bill telling us of his family history is to prove that nothing changes because if everything has already happened then Bill was always destined to end up deranged. He was already deep in his mental illness before we even meet him, maybe before he was even born. It was set that way by time. I think about this a lot.

Just when we start to think that Bill is getting better, he has a breakdown that lands him back in the hospital. This breakdown isn’t like the ones before as Bill can suddenly only remember a handful of obscure things. According to him, it’s like the years are slipping out of his head. Although there is no physical change to him, Bill is different now. More passive than he was before, he seems to only be going through the motions because there’s nothing else for him to do. He’s lost his memory and by doing so, learns that there’s a very high chance the family history and stories he’s been retelling to us might not have been real at all. Turns out that Bill’s brain may have been protecting him from the disorder that’s spreading through his mind and in that protection, created fabricated tales. It’s like an extreme version of when we lay awake at night imagining scenarios that will never happen to make ourselves feel better.

Bill comes to peace with what’s happening to him. He allows the disorder, the weirdness to overtake him and uplift him. And in doing so learns more than any of us could ever hope to. I’m sure that if Bill were a real person, his brain disorder wouldn’t be made out to be so poetic and beautiful. However, I’m ready and willing to suspend my disbelief for this movie, for this experience. While I don’t have a debilitating disorder like Bill, I see myself in him more and more. Every time I watch the film I notice something that I didn’t catch before, or I find a new way of looking at what the film is trying to convey. I relate to Bill and his experience so much I even have him tattooed on my body. A tribute to stick figure that pulled me out of the waves of sadness and helped me see that sadness in a new light.

I’m really grateful to have found this film. I’m forever in debt to the fresh ways of thinking it’s brought me. It’s Such A Beautiful Day is exactly that, it’s beautiful. Most probably find it weird and a little off-putting, my family won’t watch it based on reading the synopsis alone, but in it, I found a space that I can be myself in. I found reassurance in minds that can work differently but still do amazing things. It’s a small film, compared to the ones I normally watch, but it’s easily my all-time favorite.