[On almost walking out of Detroit]

So. Detroit.

I almost walked out near the end of the hour-long torture scene because I knew there was almost an hour left of the film and I didn’t know how for how much longer it would be that brutal.

I regret not leaving. I regret watching it in the first place. I should have stayed in the lobby with my library book like I did when we showed Stonewall and also that movie where Seth Rogen plays a hot dog.

The largest portion of the movie is devoted to reveling in the time in the Algiers Motel – the beatings, the murders, the ongoing mental anguish – in a way that verges on pornographic. “Look at this; isn’t it terrible?” the movie says, and yes of course it is and it’s obviously powerfully constructed, but the movie doesn’t care to say anything else about it. Just “look at this thing in the past and be horrified.”

Samira Wiley has a cameo role as the desk clerk, and as the movie progressed I thought again about her character’s death on Orange is the New Black. Some of the same questions are raised by Detroit, “who is this story for?” being the primary one, and the answer once again being “white people who somehow don’t get it yet” and – spoiler – they’re not seeing this movie anyway.

Detroit is also like OITNB with its excessive humanizing of white men. It is very concerned with excusing white people from responsibility, particularly near the end where a survivor encounters a white cop who asks, “Who could do this to someone?”, as well as a scene where Poulter’s ringleader cop is specifically called out as racist. I did not for a second believe either of those interactions. In fact, I audibly groaned at the first one.

By arguing “Not All Cops”, the film excuses the inherent violence of a system of policing born from slavery that continues to murder black people consequence-free today.

Telling this story, especially tied as it is to the 50th anniversary of the incident, gives white audiences – the audience it was made for – a pass, allowing them to compartmentalize this story as the past. But it’s obviously not the past. There’s even a throwaway scene of a small girl being mistaken for a sniper & shot at. The film doesn’t care enough to tell us what happens to her, but children are still being shot in their homes and on their playgrounds and in their streets, so I still care.

This was all unfortunately more or less expected. So why did I see it? The cast, mostly. And thus as I sat there, I thought about all of the different stories about black lives we could be watching instead. This story, the story of black men murdered and white men freed is a story we see all the time, still. If you don’t get it, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know how to argue that white people should care except, ironically, through more stories. But the stories need to be the wide-ranging, complex stories mediocre white men get all the time, and not yet another story about the destruction of black bodies.

And finally, yes, these stories can still be told by white people. One of my favorite films of last year, The Fits, is a story about black girls directed by a white woman. It was a film that taught me things about gender, about growing up, about existing in a group, about a particular community of young black girls.

Detroit taught me nothing.

[#lastweekslove: May]

May loves! Also, from the Department of Better Late Than Never I’ve been considering the lack of accessibility in these, so I’ll be going back and adding plaintext to all the posts.

Week 18, Your Name and Here Lies Love.

I couldn't decide. #lastweekslove #yournamemovie #HereLiesLoveSeattle #herelieslove

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More loves after the jump!

Continue reading “[#lastweekslove: May]”

[Colossal & the abusive Nice Guy]


WHEW. I just had to say that out loud.

Professional (& largely male) reviewers will tell you it has twists they don’t want to spoil, and they might add that it’s gets dark (obviously, as our lead character is a blackout-level alcoholic, a thing you learn in literally the second scene), and maybe they’ll hint that it’s not the rom-com/kaiju romp the trailer apparently suggests.

This is all true, and also it’s true that it’s a movie about domestic violence, a fact that I was unprepared for and that left me super anxious some hours after the film had ended. (Related frustration: the fact that reviews frequently discussed Gloria as a manipulator, but never as a target for abuse. This is a natural result of the male-dominated world of film criticism.)

The summary that you all know is that Gloria (Anne Hathaway) comes home after one too many nights of binge drinking to find that her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) has packed her bags. Time for her to go. So she leaves the city, camps out in her abandoned family home, runs into a former classmate, now bar owner (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a job & an immediate social circle of (obviously all dude) barflies.

It doesn’t take too long for the monster to appear, and refreshingly it also doesn’t take long for Gloria to figure out there’s a connection. And here’s where the abusive relationship comes in: a character discovers he has power. He enjoys this power. He wants to use it. He prevents her from leaving by threatening to do harm to others. He says it will be her fault if people are hurt. He hits her.

Like I said. This is a movie about domestic violence.

I spent most of Colossal wishing that Gloria had just one female friend. She’s surrounded by men – frankly smothered by men – so at the end of the film when she finally speaks with a woman I was incredibly relieved for her.

Now, of course there are reasons for her to be isolated, and I’d argue it’s an intentional failing of the Bechdel Test. We meet her as her boyfriend is breaking up with her, and once he’s left the apartment a carload of her so-called friends rush in, including several women. They all make themselves at home in the apartment, swirling behind and around her, but not interacting with her at all. These are not friends. These are people along for the ride as she crashes & burns.

Instead, she interacts with a series of Nice Guys, including particularly a character who sees her vulnerability and uses it. He’s a rom-com trope, the small town childhood friend, now all grown and ready to take care of you, sad rom-com heroine returning from the city.

But it’s not kindness to give an alcoholic a job at a bar. It’s not generosity to furnish her home when she doesn’t remember consenting (she excuses it as conversations from when she was drunk; I don’t believe the conversations ever happened.) It is not friendship to insist a person drink when they do not want to drink. And it is unsurprising when the friends of a Nice Guy do not stop any of these things from happening. This is how Nice Guys are enabled, when other Nice Guys sit around with their beers and do not call them out on their entitled, toxic shit.

A couple of other points:

Her ex-boyfriend also turns out to be his own variety of Nice Guy, the codependent wannabe savior Nice Guy. He’s the rom-com trope of White Knight, hoping to save you, but only so you can be trapped by him instead.

The film definitely felt long, which was a combination of my personal anxiety plus some repetitiveness, but I did adore the ending.

An element that going in I thought would be a larger issue for me is the fact that this is a white woman mindlessly causing destruction in Seoul. Obviously there are themes here that could have been better handled around the West’s lack of interest in consequences our actions have in the East, but it’s also true that Hathaway’s gut-wrenching performance makes clear that *any* death and damage at her hands is too much. (& as my kaiju-loving friend points out, a hallmark of those movies is wanton destruction of faceless civilians.) Could’ve been done better; was done better than I expected.

[#lastweekslove: January]

This month I kicked off #lastweekslove. Here’s how it works for me:

#lastweekslove #jacirecs

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It came about because last year I only wrote about things that made me mad, so I wanted to try to focus on something positive once a week. Also, I have a tendency towards wallowing in comforting rewatches when the world is shit, so another goal was for me to seek out things I might love. So far so good! January’s picks after the jump.

Continue reading “[#lastweekslove: January]”