I’m a big fan of animals in general, I have my own pets I love, and I’m frequently disturbed by stories of animal actors being mistreated on modern movie sets–but I also I love this live-action movie Disney made in the 60s that involves a cougar doing a bunch of un-cougar-like things like participating in a log roll, riding a log flume (for miles) and being chased by hunters on horseback and their dogs. While I suppose it’s possible that a cougar could be trained to do all of those things willingly, being that it was the 60’s, I wouldn’t stake my life on those cougar actors having the greatest on-set experience. I recently had my husband watch this movie for the first time, and he pointed out all the problematic aspects–which is a lesson to me not to show this movie to anyone who didn’t see it first as a kid. I
My life has been an unbroken chain of cats that connect my past to my present. Sadie, the grey tabby asleep on my floor, knew my father, who died ten years ago this summer. Sadie knows my husband, who never met my father. I can’t talk to her about it, but I can watch the way her nose crinkles up when my husband’s fingers scratch her chin, and I remember that she did the same crinkle for my dad.
Sadie and I once lived with my parents and their cat Lacey, and Lacey, my parents and I used to live together with Silly Eyes, the fluffy yellow tomcat who showed up our new home (his old home) when I was three years old. I was allowed to name Silly Eyes, who eventually became just Silly, and he bore up nobly under that name.
My dad died just a couple of weeks before my twenty-ninth birthday, so this means forty years of cats in my life, stretching back over my sense memory like a living melody.
The first time I learned about Emmett Till I was in fourth grade, which is now thirty years ago. I have never once stopped feeling a slight cold wave over my chest at just hearing his name. If it’s more–if it’s a story, a photo, even a painting–that cold wave can turn into a claustrophobic despair, a suffocating rage or a roaring blackness.
It is impossible for me to be unmoved by Emmett Till, and maybe that’s a personal overabundance of empathy. Maybe that’s being a black american woman. Maybe those are the same thing.
Maybe that’s why Zadie Smith’s recent essay in Harper’s Magazine left me cold. She starts with a critical analysis of the movie Get Out, and some of those themes of otherness are universal throughout the African diaspora. But she misses the mark using it as a springboard to examine and ultimately dismiss the controversy surrounding the Whitney’s decision to exhibit “Open Casket,” a piece by a white artists where Till’s ravaged face is the subject.
The similarities between the film Get Out and the events of Till’s murder are obvious, (kidnapped and tortured by white men on a flimsy lie from a white woman), and it would be worth exploring where the similarities diverge (spoiler alert: in Get Out, the white people die and the black man survives). But Smith blurs the focus midway through, and moves away from media critique to first a broader defense of artistic freedom, then a treatise that racism is solvable by inter-race adoptions, and finally a dismissive verdict on Schutz’s painting that seems improbable to this black american (“I turned from the painting, not offended, not especially shocked or moved, not even terribly engaged by it”).
Maybe Smith didn’t know what to say. The language of the second half of the essay is largely ruminative and makes few declarations. Somewhat unfortunately, though, she does emphatically state that black americans are viewed as americans, “whether they like it or not,” by the rest of the world. This is true, but not necessarily a truth that would come as a surprise to the majority of black americans–and most importantly, it’s a statement that indicts the rest of the world, not black americans, as Smith seems to advise.
Given that the major export of the united states has been culture, a culture in large part owed to enslaved black americans and their descendants, Smith’s statement actually works better in reverse: it is white americans who are considered american despite their origin and self-segregation efforts, despite their efforts to exterminate the original inhabitants of the land.
Writers should ask themselves, “does this hurt someone? Do I mean to hurt that person? Does the purpose earn its pain?” The answers to all of those questions can be yes, and the piece can still be good, can be necessary, can be brilliant. But the question should be asked. Why didn’t Smith ask that question? If she did, and she felt that it was unharmful to dismiss the concern that black americans have with a uniquely black american tragedy–one that is in the living memory of many–that is a fault of her curiosity and analysis.
I am a fan of Smith’s. I am humbled by her talent and the number of true things she says, beautifully. In this essay, I believe that everything she said was true and honest to her viewpoint. I only wish she had reconsidered who it would damage (what damage it would do) to say it.
(Assume that every question contains a SPOILER for the movie title in bold.)
9. Was that last scene in Dead Calm tacked on because test audiences thought Sam Neill looked like a cuck?
8. The nutritionist’s office in Forks Over Knives is just a rundown house with a placard out front, right? Which is super sketchy, and did anyone else turn it off right away because of that?
7. At the end of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, did I really see Jean-Do’s pupils dilate? How did they do that?
6. What is that movie I saw when I was little where a woman casually killed a man by walking into the room where he was watching TV and stabbing a pair of household scissors into his shoulder?
5. Did anyone involved in the making of All Dogs Go To Heaven get in trouble for making the main character’s outfit look so much like what the Disney Snow White wears?
4. What happened to every actor involved in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
3. Why didn’t White God win any Oscars and how outraged are we about it from VERY to OMG?
2. Why the Scottish accent for Eric Balfour’s Canada-based wilderness guide in Backcountry? Like, why.
1. What am I missing about Childhood of a Leader that I felt disappointed at the end? Also, does he kill his mother?
Tonight we (I and the pets) are watching a version of Macbeth with Fassbender and Cotillard because the Sir Patrick Stewart version was not available on streaming. It’s very Game of Thrones-y from a makeup, costuming and set design perspective (so far). There has also been a, like, three-minute slo-mo battle scene with no dialogue that made me nervous for either the total running time or the edits we were about to see. I am all for trying new things with Shakespeare, but it really wasn’t written with long, dramatic action scenes in mind.
I wonder if, in 500 years, people will be staging adaptations of Aaron Sorkin films where all the characters speak while standing stationary, then move to a new location silently, then speak again. That would be a six-hour episode of The West Wing, easily.
What I’m saying here is: there’s a lot of dialogue in Shakespeare.