(Warning: Sambo Alert and SPOILERS)
Saw “Infinity War” again yesterday with Larry Niven, Nicki, and Michelle Pinkus. I had a ticket for Jason…but he didn’t want to go. We dropped him off at the trampoline park with a friend while we watched it.
He didn’t want to see it again. And I understand why. Many of you will not. I’ll try to explain, one last time.
Watching it again, I understood what had irritated me so much the first time: Black Panther is what Tananarive and I refer to as “a movie from the other world.” A world which treats everyone as essentially equal across racial lines, and I don’t sense the strain experienced by filmmakers trying to conceal aversion or differential value or essence. PLUS it was an exceptional film, one that subverted superhero tropes to go beyond them into myth.
These two things, together, made an extraordinary viewing experience.
Infinity War is only exceptional on the logistical level, in terms of the number of plates spinning, and the ten-year stretch of 18 films that support it. It is very much a Marvel double-sized summer annual, filled with characters who swing in from the wings, with pre-existing relationships that mimic human emotions. There’s Spider Man! Watch him trade quips with Tony Stark, his father figure! How do we know that relationship? Ummm…from Civil War and Homecoming…?
In other words, in terms of the film itself, most of the emotional beats are unearned. But in terms of the SERIES of films, we “get it.” So…that deals with the second complaint. The first one, the sense of differential worth lurking under the choices, remains. Yes, there are justifications for the choices made. I’m simply not interested in hearing them for the umpteenth time. I have no more faith to extend, having seen those choices made thousands of times in the past, all perfectly reasonable. People will try to justify the events in a film as if they are history, rather than the manipulations of human writers and directors. The puppets don’t plan their own dance.
And if you kill half the characters, including almost all the male Wakandans, leaving the women (and yeah, they pretty much did that) and also kill the non-Avengers (including 90% of the diverse characters) leaving all the Avengers from the first movie…who just happen to be white…you know what? On one level its fine. Been here before. And on another level, I’ll notice that’s what you did. And that the creators just happen to be part of that same racial group. And that some people (guess which ones?) want me to ignore that.
No, its not open hostility on the part of the filmmakers. No, it isn’t conscious decisions. It is just the way the marbles roll. Frankly, I’ve seen this my entire life, and heard every rationale you or anyone you know is likely to throw at me.
And I don’t care. Let me explain another way: Imagine you are black, and on the Titanic when it goes down. You are swimming in icy water. There are two lifeboats. You swim up to it, and try to climb in. The passengers sneer, scream racial epithets at you, and send you away with curses. Drown, boy! We don’t give a shit…
You swim to the other life raft. Here, the captain and his passengers smile sympathetically. “Sorry, old boy, but this raft is reserved for first class passengers. Who all just happen to be white. No offense. Nothing against you. That’s just the way it is.”
So…you drown. Do you feel better because the people in the second raft were polite? Reasonable? Explained that it wasn’t your skin color, it was…well, the cost of the ticket…which happened to be influence by job opportunities and history, all of which WERE influenced by race? Does it matter? Do you enjoy a brisk discussion of history as the life drains from your body?
Or do you #$%%in’ DIE, knowing that it makes no functional difference at all.
But the people in the second raft get to feel great about themselves. Or righteous. Angry that the company didn’t include more lifeboats, perhaps. Resolve to write letters, or at least light a candle in your memory, and never, ever forget your sacrifice.
Feh. Frankly, I’d rather they were more like the folks in the first raft. At least then they would be forced to grasp that they didn’t really care, didn’t really give a damn. That they operate by the law of the jungle. The problem of course is that they don’t want YOU to operate by that law. “Tragedy of the Commons” and all that. They’ll take the advantages…but weep as they do.
And to a degree, that’s fine.
I’m dead either way. Either way, my son, watching Infinity War, watches all the healthy, primary black heroes he could grow up to be…fucking DIE. Heimdall. Black Panther. Falcon. Nick Fury.
Leaving only secondaries like M’Baku, or badly injured and cybernetic (and gee…his lower body isn’t working…) character like Rhodey.
And if he’d been white? Why, he could identify with Stark, or Cap, or Thor, or Banner, or the Dwarf, or Rocket (Bradley Cooper) or Thanos! (Josh Brolin) or Secretary Ross, or even Stan Lee.
Jason, who doesn’t enjoy movies much at least in part because he’s already noticed how often the black male characters die, enjoyed Civil War and loved Black Panther enough to want to see it twice. And heart open, he went to see Infinity War and watched that door slammed in his face again.
I took that crap all my life: exclusion, or death, or secondary status. I’m used to it. He is not, nor do I want him to be.
Are you going to be the one to say I shouldn’t care about his pain? Or that he shouldn’t hurt? Or should identify with a loser, or a damaged man, or the strong women of Wakanda…or the white characters, when rather obviously, that is difficult for white people do do back in our direction? Why do YOU think they started the trailer for Black Panther with two white guys talking? And did you notice how many people STILL claimed the movie was “All black”?
Jeez, people. Wake up.
It HURTS to watch the character you identify with killed. You search for someone else to identify with. And when there are none who look like you, you identify across racial or gender lines, and soak up the implicit values of those who created that situation.
M’Baku and Rhodey just barely, BARELY made it tolerable. With them still limping to the beat I can stuff my bile, and enjoy 300 million in special effects. Fun for the whole family!
Unless you are a 14 year old black boy, who wants to be a winner just like every other boy, and realize you were given no winners to identify with. But it doesn’t matter, you see. Because it wasn’t deliberate. Because, well, that’s just the way it is. Not that we don’t love you, young man. Its just that these seats were reserved in 1965, when the first Avengers comic was published, in a different time, and a different world.
Have a nice drown. I mean…enjoy the trampoline park, kid. This movie isn’t for you.