Movie Review

“All That Jazz” and the Morning Ritual


There is a movie that changed my life.  I’ve spoken of it before: ALL THAT JAZZ, the semi-autobiographical Bob Fosse movie starring Roy Scheider.    In it, “Joe Gideon”, a brilliant choreographer and film director, is addicted to the high of sex, drugs, and musical theater.   He is flirting with death (literally played by Jessica Lang) and is a man turned inside-out.


Let’s say that the model of human beings in Milton Erickson’s work, Abraham Maslow’s work and especially the six thousand year old Chakra system is correct.   That is ABSOLUTELY my assumption–that 99% of people want to have healthy strong bodies, ethical sexual relationships, the money and power necessary to have reasonable control over their environment, to fall in love, raise families, understand the world around them, speak their truth, create goods and services their communities find of value, grow old with dignity and die at peace.


Yep, those are my assumptions, and some of them are more flexible than others (many people are genuinely deciding not to have children.  I notice that many of those are teachers, or doting aunts and uncles.  Same things in the modern world, IMO).


Gideon’s core challenge then is to evolve to spirit.   He makes it at the end but screws up almost everything along the way.


  1. Survival.  He compromises his survival by putting performance above being.
  2. Sex.  An addiction, one which has destroyed his intimate relationships, replacing them with temporary, intense experiences.  But his sexuality produced a daughter, who he loves…but not as much as he loves the spotlight.
  3. Power.  He has power, but it is illusory.  When he gets sick, his “partners” are immediately looking to replace him.  He is a fabulous choreographer at war with his own body (smoking, drinking, drugs, lack of sleep, etc.)
  4. Emotion. Gideon is a man turned inside-out.  He treats his private relationships (wife, daughter, girlfriend) as secondary and his occupation as primary.  As a result, his heart is in the hands of people who don’t care about him at all, who would happily squeeze him dry, throw him away and replace him.
  5. Communication.   He isn’t honest with himself. Does he want to live?  Doesn’t he?  Can he keep promises to himself?  Can he understand his actual limits? Is he clear on what he really wants?
  6. Mind.  On the other hand, he is an acknowledged genius. Probably the only part of his life that really works.
  7. Spirit.  He drives himself partially with an awareness of death and life’s brief candle.   But although he eventually embraces spirit (as must we all) he has reduced himself to meat for the pleasure of people who wouldn’t shed a tear for him.  Their reaction would be: “what a stud. Who’s next?”



I saw that movie and realized that what killed him was  a lack of balance. If he had force himself to focus on his family as much as his work, it simply wouldn’t have happened. And if he’d factored in his body as well…he wouldn’t have had the jagged, spectacular “sparking” ups and downs, but rather a gentle uphill spiral. His contemporaries would have outperformed him…at first.  But two things would have happened (at least)

  1. He would have outlived them, and  ultimately his work would have reached levels of maturity and insight they couldn’t match if lost in entertaining illusion.
  2. He would have achieved far more deep satisfaction, away from the roar of the crowd, in the bosom  of a family that actually loves him


And I realized that as committed to success as I was, I could fall right into that same trap:

  1. That the road to success is hyper-excellence
  2. That hyper-excellence demands hyper-focus, OBSESSIVE focus.
  3. That obsession throws you out of balance
  4. That imbalance can easily destroy you with mania.
  5. And that that destruction both cuts short your excellence, and reduces the very joy you were seeking in the first place.


It was out of this grim realization that I had one of the ten greatest insights of my life:


Success requires obsession. Obsession creates imbalance. Imbalance destroys life, which derails success.


PROPOSED: The only thing it is safe to be obsessive about is balance itself.


Can this go off the rails as well?  Sure. At the far edges of obsessive behavior, I can imagine someone paralyzed trying to match equal times and amounts of energy in different arenas, or figure out what amount of time in one arena is equal to that in another.  For instance, an hour a day of exercise pretty much maxes out basic fitness potential for 99.9% of the human race.  But an equal amount of mental excellence might require four hours.


The inability to match durations, intensities, arenas, and life interruptions (among other factors) could drive someone with OCD right up the wall.


But…given that, balance is still the safest thing to get obsessive about.  The question is: how to implant?



Pills, shower, music, eyedrops, headache powder, cigarette, game face, “showtime!”


All that matters is how it looks. How “it” feels is irrelevant. A man turned inside out.


This is his morning routine, the way he prepares himself for his day, because he has defined success as something separate from health and love and life.  And  that is the path to death and destruction.


What would have worked better (for instance)


Yoga (to repair the body and quiet the mind in preparation for action)


Shower is fine. A good way to wake up.


Music is beautiful.


Eyedrops and headache powders aren’t necessary like this unless you are destroying your life with alcohol and an inverted sleep schedule.


Cigarette?  A young dancer might want them for appetite suppressant. But this has no positive contribution other than perhaps a little focus.  Caffeine would work better with less damage.


Connecting with his most important task of the day: to complete (for instance) the “Fly Me” sequence.


Why?  To provide guidance to his dancers, an experience for his audience and a return on investment to his bosses. To express himself deeply and fully to the limit of his ability. To make his ex-wife and daughter proud of him.


You pile on those POSITIVE reasons until you feel inspired. And if you haven’t destroyed your body and nervous system, you should be able to “stack up” enough reasons to fulfill your most important daily action that you feel awake, alive, juiced.   You have nurtured your body, calmed your nerves, awakened your spirit, and are ready for the day.


No, you won’t be as “hyped” as that guy on benzedrine, sex, all-night benders and so forth…but you will be more connected to your being, capable of deeper art. And you will last longer. And even if you don’t, you will experience more genuine joy through expression of self, love of family, and feeling of connection to the world.


And the purpose of life?  Joy.   Pursued properly, you find it on every level of being. If you cannot…something has gone wrong.


What you see here is precisely the WRONG kind of “morning ritual”, one designed to produce short-term performance…and misery, and death.


What you want is long-term performance, joy, and the best life possible.


Design your “morning ritual” for THAT, and you win the game before it even begins.






The Aliens are here! (and that might be a good thing..?)

I had a thought this morning, ideas colliding around.   The Aliens are Here.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


1995.   I was watching “Independence Day” at the Cinedome Theater in southern Washington.  Will Smith pilots a spaceship out of the atmosphere, and says “I’ve waited my whole life for this.”   I sat there with tears streaming down my face and thought: “me, too.”


After the movie was over, I went to the rest room. The Cinedome theater is in a very…well, let’s say “Redneck” part of the state, lots of pickup trucks, blue-collar Yee-Haw and a generous helping of Confederate Flags.    There were a couple of denim overall clad gentlemen who fit the stereotype quite well, standing at the urinals taking care of their business with no idea I’d walked in.    And I heard one say to the other: “Whoo-Eee!  That Will Smith sure was cool!   I can’t wait to bring my Daddy to see this!”


And I thought: Wow.  We are entering a very new world.




I’m nine years old, watching an old (there aren’t any “new.”  Sigh.) Ray Harryhausen SX spectacular, “Earth Versus The Flying Saucers.”    The world was at war against the aliens, in an expression of the “if the aliens came, all of Earth would pull together.    We would forget our differences”


Only one problem: in all the speaking roles, everyone was white.   Also most of the crowd scenes. A couple of shots of Asians hunkered by a radio, and one of a roomful of Indian-looking men  with maybe one African somewhere in a back row…but no, if the Aliens come, it is all the white people that will pull together.  So diverse. Why, there will be English, and Americans, and Germans, and Irish and Russians and…

I watched and loved that movie as a kid, but I knew that white people were somewhat twisted about this, and figured it would take decades to straighten it out. One of the reasons I’ve fought to take really good care of myself: I intended to enjoy myself when things got better.


Well, as of “Independence Day,” which was the first movie that REALLY paid attention to that notion about the world pulling together, I’d stepped into a new world.  Not fully balanced yet…but getting there.


And as of “Black Panther” we finally had a fully created fantasy film from “the other world” so to speak.  And even though two white characters were FRONT AND CENTER, the first seen, and the first speaking in the commercials, the same white folks who used to tell me not to complain about “Earth Versus The Flying Saucers” were now whining about the fact that there were no white people.


Wow.   As the great philosopher Sho Nuff said:   Stings a little, don’t it?




I see a lot of complaints  about diversity in films or comics.   “Virtue Signalling,” “Social Justice Warriors”  and “Political Correctness” are often the terms bandied about.


All right.  I’m going to assume that people who say that are honestly representing their points of view.  Let’s explore that.


Is diversity in film a matter of politics?   Well…yes, perhaps, if you are doing it to achieve a direct political goal (change) or indirect political goal (creating a coalition.  I’ll cover yours if you cover mine. Sort of like folks on the Right who defend the CSA), its political.


But shall we look at some other reasons:   How it being thought about philosophically?  Because you think it is the right thing to do BECAUSE IT IS TRUTH.  Demographically, what we see happening is just…reality.  The country is getting browner.   If racism and tribalism were not a factor you’d see movies with a HELL of a lot more diversity than we see now.     But every step in that direction, you hear the whining. Someone’s nerves are being tweaked.



How about spiritually?   Racial diversity could be considered an expression of universal humanity, “Num.”   Or religious diversity (Ms. Marvel being Muslim) could be a growing sense that there is one mountain, but many paths to its summit.


Psychologically? Maybe Emotionally?     You could do it because you remember some aspect of your own life where you felt like an outsider. Perhaps felt depression and despair.   Then you saw something in a comic book or a movie that touched your heart, gave you hope.  And now, you look out at the world, and wish you could give that same gift to some other child.   Pure naked self-interest. And as good as it gets.


For those who don’t care about ANY of those, how about economically?   If you want my money, you show me you respect me. You let me see myself in that world, because NOTHING but your aversion and leveraging of advantage would keep me from being there in your fantasies. I see who you are by the dreams you feed your children.


How about Art as a question: “Who am I?” and “What is true?”   Here, tropes can reveal cogitation.  “Who are these black people” they ask, as they ask “what is the moon?  What is an atom?”


If centuries of CSA brainwashing has warped the reality (assumption: human groups are basically equal.  All my thoughts flow from this, whether you like ’em or not is not my concern)  then what is the truth?  Are we “Magical Negroes?”    (This absolves guilt [why, they just LOVE helping us] and simultaneously confers some odd respect [well, they don’t have technology, but maybe they have something innate and more powerful than white science can understand…]  That one is almost cute. Kinda like it: it is a desperate attempt by the logical mind to avoid a racist conclusion)


Politics is an attempt to win.  Philosophy is asking “what is true?”  Art is an expression of philosophy (it can be political, but I think that in the sense I’m using the word, it is ALWAYS consciously or unconsciously philosophical) , in the sense that there are only two things to write about: “who am I?” (what is humanity) and “what is true?”  (the physical and ethical structure of the universe).    So a philosopher who looks out into the world and says “why is X?”  “what is Y?” may well write something touching those questions.


OR, they might say “what if some other quality than skin color was the most important thing about a character?”  (Which was, I think, the motivation behind Michael B. Jordan’s casting as Human Torch, however bad that movie may have been.  Not so much a political thing, but a philosophical one that decided to ignore the political push AGAINST such decisions.)







And if multi-national corporations are running studios, it is useful to ask if corporations are now complex enough that their actions can be best understood by considering them simple life forms.  Because if you do, then they are life forms that eat money and shit products and services.


And that…can be a very good thing if you grasp the implications.   It means that you can in essence communicate with an alien life form that is totally outside the binary racial or even gender system.  It eats money and shits products and services.   This is why bigots complain about boycotts (and yes, there are non-bigoted reasons to, of course)…boycotts work.  You starve them (not enough resources, Malthusian crisis) or give them constipation (not enough market, Keynsian crisis) and like worms moving away from a hot needle, they will do whatever is necessary to stop that irritation.


Including being “fair” if they really really have to. Which leads them to trying different things, including hiring diversity. Which leads to different decision, creating different products, some of which scratch that itch.  Money is made, irritation diminishes, the alien goes back to sleep.


So marching through all seven chakras, some reasons to embrace diversity:


Survival (making money)


Sex (Well…anyone who thinks human beings aren’t exogamous hasn’t considered that the only way you can stop us from boffing each other is to pass harsh laws against it. That doesn’t work, either.  We relish images of people with whom we’d like to bump uglie)


Power:  Yes, you can organize politically by exchanging favors. Also…money is power.  Probably the most useful and fluid form, overall.


Emotion: The sense that something is right.  Emotionally identifying with a person having a powerful emotional experience.  And representation, when you have been excluded, is a POWERFUL experience.


Communication: Art can also be saying “this is who I am. This is the world I see” if you see a world of diversity, then you are being dishonest not to express it.  Trust me: those who DON’T want a diverse world are not being shy about  expressing THAT.


Intellect: Asking “what is true?” and “who am I?”  Creating a valid world map.   If racism and tribalism (white guys ran Hollywood exclusively.  Of COURSE they were gonna make themselves look good.  But it isn’t “Hollywood.”  It is humanity.  You think Chinese film companies or Indian film companies or Nollywood goes out of their way to fill their movies with people not their own ethnicity?  Don’t you think “their own tribe” are at the center of most of their output?  Of course) created “Earth Versus The Flying Saucer” in monochrome, what happens when you release that energy?  You swing a bit, irritating the people who were happy with the status quo.  They squawk as loudly as they ever accused Liberal “snowflakes” of squawking, and the irony is hysterically funny.   “What is true” is that human beings are selfish…


SPIRIT:  But that selfishness isn’t a bad thing.  It all depends on your definition of  “Self”.  With some people, it stops at their own skin. For others, it is an infinite circle with no circumference.   I love the Koisan “Num” concept (dammit, I only found it once, in a book printed in South Africa by a pair of anthropologists.  Don’t know where the book is any more, but it had a red cover):  “one soul looking out through many eyes”.   That…is beautiful.  And if you START with an alive survival drive, IMO it is the best place to live.  If you feel this way, you might actually go out of your way to include “others” in your work, because it matches some internal music, a sense that instruments are missing from the Human Symphony


So: “Virtue Signaling”, “SJW” (implication: no personal skin in the game, pretending like you care), or “Politically Correct” are all implications of dishonesty and manipulation, or doing something because you want approval reaction from your tribe.


IF the above is true, then let’s try a little thought experiment, shall we?


Proposed: There are basic two ways to view this.


  1. They are saying: “you are like me.  I wouldn’t do those things from any purpose other than naked self-interest.  So if you don’t acknowledge me, if it doesn’t increase my connection to other poseurs, or build a political coalition…I won’t do it.   I see nothing here that would motivate me if no one was watching.”

2. Or they are saying: “I am above you.  I can’t believe YOU would do a thing because you think it is right.  I would, and I’d do this if I thought it was right.  I don’t.”


I’m sure there are others, but these two seem pretty reasonable, frankly.  And easily dealt with.   With #2, they are coming from a place of “Superiority”–and frankly, anyone who steps to me from that position will get laughed at  (unless I feel sorry for them.  Or unless they really are in some specific arena I care about).  I certainly have no reason to want to engage with them.


With #1…well, at the core of that is a metaphysical discussion, isn’t it?   A bit of “faith” about the basic nature of humanity.  As it is possible to be a perfectly fine human being either way (I certainly prefer the notion that we’re connected, but know plenty of very good people who don’t feel all that connected to other people) I can simply listen to their argument, realize they are coming from a different position and let it go.  Why argue? There really are different ways of living together.


And it seems to me that there are way more than 60% of people willing to live and feel connected, that when I look at all seven levels of motivation, they will find something that resonates.   In terms of diversity, THAT is my tribe.  There will be 20% of hard core “NEVER!” but…so long as I focus on building a coalition, and keeping them safe, and inspiring them with a vision, that 60% will win.


What are the principles?


  1. Love yourself
  2. Love one other person
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame
  4. Find your tribe, don’t waste time arguing with trolls
  5. Win with integrity.


Can you see how this stuff fits together?   Whether you start at the individual level ( just aim at the 60%) or the top level (appeal to Corporate interests by voting with your dollars), the most basic motivations (survival) or the most elevated (spirit) I see a road map to victory here, if the win is defined by helping the human race to a higher level of love, peace,  integration and complexity. From 1/1 billionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe has been undergoing a continual march toward increased complexity, leading from stars to planets to life to intelligence and social construct. This is just what we do.  And there will always be resistance as we evolve: most mutations create cancer, not Wolverine.  It is good to be cautious. The ego fears death, and every time we go from individual to group, there is both loss and gain.  This is just real human stuff.


Understand history.


Anyway…the aliens are here.  And that might be the good news.   Because if they come, human beings will all pull together.  The “aliens” are corporations, nations, multi-national unions and banks.   They don’t care about human concerns. They are not us, although they are made of us: they have  emergent “differences” that are probably as hard to grasp as it is for an amoeba to understand an elephant.


But some of their motivations ARE understandable.  We can talk to them, if we speak their language: money.   And if we can speak to each other, as individuals. We can satisfy all of our needs…and still be spiritual beings living together.


All it takes is a commitment to two questions:  “who am I?” and “What is true?”


And, of course, watching Black Panther for the fifth time.





Your “Incredible” Life

The Incredibles is coming!   I don’t know if it will be a fraction as good as the original, but I’m going to give Brad Bird the benefit of the doubt, and get excited.  Why?  Because when Pixar is at their best, they have a WISDOM in their storytelling that gives an emotional foundation to otherwise “trivial” stories that raises them very high indeed.


INCREDIBLES is the story of a man, Bob Parr, who is secretly Mr. Incredible, a superhero.  OR, it is the story of a superhero, Mr. Incredible, who has a mild-mannered alter-ego: a family man working at an insurance company.


OR: it is the story of an extraordinary family who must pretend to be ordinary to survive.


OR: it is the story of ordinary people who feel something extraordinary within them, and crave to let it out.


OR: it is the story of Helen Parr, who feels that the passion and purpose of her marriage is slipping away, the meaning of her life with it, as her husband so pines for the “glory days” of his life that he cannot engage with the extraordinary adventure of his actual family.


OR: It is the story of Elastigirl, one of the most powerful superheroes in the world, who was “running with the big dogs” and stepped out of her costume to find love and raise children, who feels her girlhood slipping away, the sense of lost opportunities overwhelming her with “ordinary-ness”…



In other words, INCREDIBLES was the story of all of us who have made choices and wondered about the roads not taken.  All of us who feel that our “insides” don’t match our “outsides”.


The Heroes in this story are bound by love, who took on adult responsibilities (Helen and Bob) or are facing the beginnings of sexual stirrings (Violet) that will take her to making the same decisions every other generation has made, or the feeling (Dash) that he  cannot be himself and be safe in the world.


They don’t know me.  They don’t see me. They don’t appreciate me. I cannot be myself.


But these are the heroes, and their love for each other saves them.


Contrast with the villain, Buddy.  No, his problem isn’t his costume (“No Capes!”).  From his position, INCREDIBLES is an amazing tragedy.


He is the Man-Boy, in visual design as well as psychology.   The child who cannot, WILL not  grow up.


As a boy, he worshipped “Mr. Incredible” and was rebuffed in an attempt to become his ward (Incrediboy!).  And…NEVER GOT OVER IT.


Not when he became a Lex Luthor-level genius.  Not when he became Bill Gates rich.  Not when he created tools that could have made him the most powerful “Super” of all.


He never developed the “adult” part of his personality, capable of nurturing the wounded “child” part, and sought power through destroying others, sex instead of love, building machines and hiring stooges instead of building a family.


And when he ultimately fails with his dreams of becoming a Super (becoming his role model/father figure) he decides to replace Bob Parr as the father of Jack-Jack.  Which led to his downfall.


Get this?  Not the only way of looking at the story, but a useful one.    Bob Parr almost fails his task, but his love and core decency allows him to escape the traps of sex and ego to become the man his family needs him to be.  (And if the sequel can choreograph as skillful an arc for Helen, it will be fantastic).


Buddy fails the “leap of faith” to become an adult, causes destruction in the world, and is destroyed by his own hubris.  “I’ll get your son!” (“I’ll replace you!”)  Ummm…no.


There are few things sadder than watching people whose sense of inside/outside, child/adult are not balanced.  They drag themselves from one disaster to the next, always claiming the world is abusing them, because they are secretly terrified to look in the mirror, afraid that if they looked deeply they would see something horrible.



It is hard.  We don’t have permission to just love ourselves.    It is permissible to accept the cheers of the crowd, but if we simply love the child within us, cherish our own hearts?


  1. People who don’t have this will be intimidated. They will think you think yourself above them. No.  You just don’t think that they, or anyone, are above YOU. Very different things.
  2. They lose the ability to manipulate you. You are not co-dependent. They will attack, out of their own fear and need and lack of belief in their own real agency.
  3. The world looks different to people who love themselves.  Your very existence will threaten them. It says there is another way to be, to live.  If you are right, they are very very wrong…and that triggers pain and fear.
  4. The way out is to love yourself.  Heartbeat Meditation, the Ancient Child and other similar approaches are great for this. Integrate them with the daily work of the Morning Ritual.


M.A.G.I.C.:  Magic= Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction


Gratitude: be grateful for the people who love you, as well as all the things that little kid inside you learned to do that helped you become who you are: read, write, walk, talk, dance, live, love.


Intention: Clearly state your commitment to accomplishing things that will make YOU happy.


Action:   And clearly define what you can do TODAY to make them come true.


Conviction: Clear statement in belief that you CAN and SHOULD take these steps.



Love is so powerful.  It is healing, nurturing, energizing. If we don’t love ourselves, how can we believe that we are worthy of the love of others? We must either reject it, or tear them down (Groucho’s “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member”)


When we learn to love  forgive ourselves for past mistakes, and to embrace our potential for the future we gain the greatest gift of all: the present moment.   Bob Parr almost missed his greatest adventure: his family


Love saved him.   You might have to save yourself, but you can, if you believe in the Superhero within.


And remember…no capes!



Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime!


Maybe last comments on INFINITY WAR



If I had one  thing to change in INFINITY WAR that would make me think it lived up to the promise of CIVIL WAR and BLACK PANTHER, it would be to address a serious issue:


Unlike those other two movies, INFINITY WAR doesn’t pass the Barnes-Due test, which for the sake of a morning conversation, is the racial version of the Bechdel Test. That test measures whether there are at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.


This test is very similar: one aspect is that there are at least two black people who speak to each other about something other than white people and events triggered directly by white people. There are other measures, like that pesky genocide thing, but that’s another discussion.


To my surprise, “Civil War” passed the test in the first scene with T’Challa and his father. I was actually shocked, and touched. It was beautiful, and I knew something special was happening.   That scene, I believe, was added to the film by Ryan Coogler.


Black Panther?  I have no words.  It was a movie from another world, to the point where it doesn’t pass the Barnes-Due, it damned near defines it.


Now…Infinity War.   Fails.  Everything black people say is in service to, reference to or in response to white people’s actions.


Here are some issues:

  1.  the Wakandan’s didn’t react intelligently to a threat whose only analog was the Battle of New York (they weren’t prepared for flying dragon machines, that’s for damned sure.)
  2. No internal debate about the wisdom of bringing Thano’s War to Wakanda (note that I don’t say it was a bad idea–but it involved the survival of his nation. There would have been debate)
  3. No sense of the panicked citizens (compare with New York)
  4. No “interiority” to the characters–it was all external reaction to the war Cap brought to them.
  5. Images of many black men dying, while the women were surviving.  No rational reason we were seeing that–should have been half of each.  As the movie was “jimmied” so that all original Avengers survived, you can’t even pretend it was random chance.


This drains the agency and humanity from a world we’d come to love. It was the mixture as we’ve seen countless times before.


So…to fix it, with the same basic results we saw:

  1. Better air and ground defense. It can crumble so that we fall back on hand-to-hand. I love hand-to-hand scenes. But they need to be intelligently presented, not just “cool trailer images”.
  2. Scenes of panicking citizens.
  3. MOST IMPORTANT: a scene between T’Challa and Shuri. Discussing T’Challa’s impassioned emergency meeting of the council.   They know that there is no place in the world to hide if Thanos wins.   Shuri is terrified, knowing that this is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, and they may not be able to survive it. She may never see her brother again, and she is losing her shit, just a little.   He comforts her, shocked that she is actually directly expressing concern and love for him, and badgers her into being the teasing little sister again, remembering a time in their childhood where her mischief saved the day.   Tearfully, she teases him about N’Kia being sent out of country supposedly on an assignment, but really to protect her.  Perhaps a picture or swift video of his beloved.  They share a moment, then remind each other that they have duties to their country, and must be strong.


Now they are human beings with a past, agency, feelings, needs, fears, loves. What happens next happens to a COUNTRY, to PEOPLE, not just pieces on a game board creating a cool tableau.   And while the events might have been tragic…the emotions would have been earned.


That would have done a LOT for me to correct the problem. I’m perfectly aware that many folks felt no problem with this. That’s fine. In fact, the issue couldn’t exist if more people gave a shit. I’m not interested in explanations of why that it: they are irrelevant to me. We’re not talking an objective measurement of story quality.  We’re discussing my subjective reaction, and why I had it.


And what might well have made it better.    Tony, Thor, Bruce (who was short-shrifted), Starlord, Cap, Natasha (short shrifted with Bruce), and Rocket all had heart-space connections that made them more than costumes or effects.


The Wakandans did not, and I resent it.



Next time, Marvel..god dammit, pass the test.  Or leave us out.




“Cobra Kai” and cultural appropriation

Some time back, I watched a documentary about  master Fumio Demura, one of the first to bring authentic Japanese karate (Shito-ryu) to the United States.   I thought of him because he was Pat Morita’s stunt double for the Karate Kid movies.


One of the things that struck me about the documentary was his struggles to integrate into our culture, his uncertainty about sharing his cultural treasure with us, the degree to which his masters in Japan didn’t really want him sharing (“cultural appropriation” anyone?) and his superhuman efforts to create not just a life of meaning but to uplift the children of Japan’s former antagonist.


As he is struggling with health issues now, the story is all the more poignant.  One of the most affecting portions was his interactions with Pat Morita.  Morita adored him, and the respect was fully returned. The “Mr. Miyagi” character was greatly beloved in Demura’s social and professional circles, and Morita was a super-star, the one who had “made it.”   They were so happy that he had made it, and his success was a beacon of hope and pride to the Japanese-American community. The love and admiration at a testimonial dinner when Morita took the podium was unmistakable. The shining faces made me so happy.


The “cultural appropriation” question is difficult. While it is true that all social or technological progress is a matter of exchanges between different people, there is also the very real fact that oppressed, dominated, colonized or marginalized people often feel that they have very little that is “theirs”, and it hurts to see that tiny remaining uniqueness diluted or misinterpreted. The fact that it is generally the larger group, often the dominator group, arrogantly asserting their right to take whatever they want is unfortunate.


Those are the polarities, and I can see both positions: the urge to protect, and the reality that we must share.


There is something missing from the “Cobra Kai” series, and while it is not unrealistic, and I really enjoyed the series, it didn’t hit me until this morning what it was.


Whereas the original movie was about a boy who wanted to find his way to manhood, and a man who needed an apprentice (there are only two stories, some say: the young man grows up, and the old man faces death.  Karate Kid touches both), it is also about the beauty of stepping outside your normal reality to see life from a different position.  And…the sharing of not just two lives, Daniel Larusso and Nariyoshi Miyagi, a  war hero and karate master. They need each other, and the exchanges between them are precious and beautiful.


Daniel learns an Okinawan art of power and grace, and the external “Rocky” structure of the film isn’t as important as his internal journey.


If I have a problem with “Cobra Kai” it is the reality that as martial arts moved away from the first generation, a matter of Japanese and Okinawan immigrants sharing their cultural treasure of body-mind unity with American students, the next generation was of Americans, some studying in the East, others here in America, opening their own schools. No more direct transmission.  And while great respect is shown the memory of Miyagi, I cannot help but wish that some of that dynamic could have been maintained.


Now, it is just about Americans teaching Americans, and while there is a little color in the system (a Latino student, a maybe 1/4 black student) it is basically all white people’s issues and challenges.


Again…this is statistically accurate. It is also legitimate.  Artists have not just the right but the responsibility to represent their experience.  I just…mourn a bit. When the only Asian in the cast is the villain, I flinch.


And while the Japanese community has aged out, and many of their children, most perhaps, see themselves more as Americans than Japanese…that creates a different set of problems when roles that COULD go to them are “whitewashed”, which happened egregiously as recently as “Ghost in the Shell” last year.  I know it hurts.


To see their images, and roles, and cultural treasures given only to others who often mock their very sense of exclusion.   Damn.  I have no easy answers here.


If Larusso’s student had been Japanese, that’s a facile reversal that could have backfired…or it could have been beautiful, if handled well.  But that could have been criticized too: “oh, look at the white guy who is more Japanese than the Asians…”  Sigh.    I understand both sides of that as well, and it is painful to realize that this has happened countless times as different cultures collide.


The only real answer I can see is to tell stories with respect and courtesy, with appreciation and understanding, and with both love and the strength to hold your center.


The answer is not JUST to beg the makers of excellent shows like “Cobra Kai” to be more sensitive (IMO), but for those who feel they are not represented to learn to express their essence in their art, to work their way into the business, to understand the marketing and sales techniques that allow you to express value to an audience and show them why it is in THEIR interest to buy your wares.


Don’t expect people to care for the sake of caring. That’s not human nature.


If I try to explain the ways in which INFINITY WAR is problematic, black people tend to agree quickly, white people more likely to argue.


Who is right?  One could say that whites are oblivious. Or that black people are too sensitive.


How about this?  If we assume equality, you split the difference: both are true.  If the average response from one group is a 5, and of the other a 7, you average them out and get a 6.  You go with the “hmmm.  There is a little more than I thought…but maybe the other side is being too picky. Or not picky enough.”


But you listen…while continuing to work to speak your truth and live your life the best you can. I’m not sure anyone can do more.


Meanwhile…”Cobra Kai” is a fine extension of many of the themes that made “Karate Kid” wonderful. Family, courage, maturity, awakening sexuality, what it means to find something worth fighting for, the power of both love and strength.  Connection between generations and the need of a father to find a son, a son to find a father.


It expands those themes a bit, and promises ways that future seasons could go deeper, explore more. The martial arts, like all profound disciplines,  are metaphors for all of life.  The west doesn’t have much of this body-mind stuff, arguably because the best of them, those that deal with death itself, have been supplanted as “technologies of defense” by firearms, and possibly the Cartesian body-mind split that has done so much damage to our Self-concept.


We need it.  And…we went and got it.  Yoga, Karate, Tai Chi and so forth.  Amazing, profound technologies that can take you all the way to genuine knowledge.   They are ours now, no doubt about it. We have our own masters. And have not just the right but the responsibility to teach our children to live within our world with integrity and grace and power and love.


And…eventually, if we go deeply enough, we are asking those two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”


The answer to those questions always takes us to the unity of the human experience, and the concept of Num: one soul looking out through many eyes.


The snarky folks complaining about Cultural Appropriation are, IMO, mostly just protecting their right to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, and screw you.


But those who appropriate with respect are being what human beings have always been at their best: respectful but moving forward beyond boundaries and dualities, sharing and listening and learning.  Always remembering that there really can be pain on the other side of the issue…but also that, as the Japanese community applauded for Pat Morita, proud that he was bringing their treasure to the American public…there is also joy.


No room for snark here.  But much room to celebrate how many ways there are to be human.  It’s what we do.


Do it gently, with love.





Yet More “Infinity War” stuff

SPOILERS (ya think???)


Tim Barham said:

“So I have a question, Steven… you noticed, as I did, the only surviving major characters were the (indeed all white) heroes from the first Avengers movie. So the old guard – characters we *know* are on the way out of the franchise – survive, while the new guard – characters we know have future films planned (Black Panther, Spider-man, Doctor Strange) die. Why do you think that is?


It seemed so obviously contrived to me that all the original Avengers survived, that I felt there had to be a very particular reason – an important pointer to what will happen in Avengers 4 (seeing as we’re now in a place where those who have to ultimately survive are dead, and those we expect to die – or at the very least retire – are alive).


My point being – if the twist of Avengers 4 involves those who died in Infinity War coming back, and something bad happening to those who survived, then those who died were chosen by dint of having an ongoing involvement in the franchise, and that’s the extent of it.


And it’s the sad fact of MCU history – all white heroes until Black Panther – that means all we’re left with, for now, is white heroes.


BTW, I get this is all pretty irrelevant to the disappointment this movie would have been to Jason (and you) – seeing all his black heroes die. And I’m not trying to take away from that, or justify it. And I’m certainly not trying to explain or condone this movie’s treatment of Wakanda. I’m just wondering, given the overall story line that might be planned, whether who died would have changed under a black director, for example – whether the problem here is more a consequence of the lily white history of the franchise than anything else.”



Dear Tim:


Good questions.  Hopefully, some good answers.

  1. The movie was a vast improvement over the original comic book, in which (for all practical purposes) ALL black heroes were killed before the story even really began.   This only happens when all the creators are white.  Period.
  2. The meaning of a story is the emotional impact at the end. Everything is designed to create that moment.   The impact was designed for fans of the original Avengers.  The original Avengers were created at a time when comic characters were lily white.  In that sense, we are therefore stepping back into the past, and reflecting those values.
  3. Let’s say I’m the director.  I’ve been told by the “Suits” that the Avengers must survive.   And that the end of Part I is a holocaust. What do I do?
  4. First, I remember that after seventy years of comic books, superhero serials, television shows and movies, there was finally a black character that resonated.  And no, I don’t have to wait for the box office: I wouldn’t need to hear audience responses to “Civil War.”  Why? BECAUSE I WOULD HAVE FELT IT MYSELF.  I would have watched those scenes, gone home and dreamt about them.  Cried at the tenderness of T’Challa and T’Chaka interacting as father and son.   Cheered when the Dora said: “Move.  Or be moved.”    I WOULD KNOW what Wakanda meant.  The notion of throwing it away would be nauseating to me, a complete betrayal of the trust and emotion engendered by finally, after centuries, presenting an image of black people uncrippled by the legacy of slavery.
  5. Let’s say that “The Suits” insisted that Wakanda be severely damaged, as a way to demonstrate that all Earth, all the universe was severely damaged.    That…is tragic, but acceptable.  In fact, there is a way to do it without the taint of “Sacrificial Negro”-ness that so often tars such decisions…when the decisions are made by white executives.    White people honestly think there is something noble about dying to protect them.
  6. So…what would I do?


  1. Heimdall doesn’t die protecting the white guy and providing Thor motivation for revenge.  A combination of two horrific tropes, beloved by white guys.   Really.   Let him die fighting for his own life if he has to die.
  2. Wakandans discussing letting Vision come.  It is clear that letting Vision come to Wakanda will be devastating, bringing death and destruction  to their people.    I can believe T’Challa making the decision: the fate of the universe is at stake.  But he will have to make his case to the leaders of the other tribes.
  3. Wakandan defensive apparatus post-“Battle of New York” was pitiful. Where was air support?  We SAW their air power, including projectile weapons.   They KNEW, based on the only evidence (the New York Battle) what was coming.  Did they in any way look as if they were ready for flying metal dragons?  What the @#$$?? They even had flying ships that delivered foot-troops to the energy barrier.  Why were there no energy cannons on those transports?  Where they acted with no unit strategy, only raw courage and hand weapons.    This was a betrayal of the entire concept of Wakanda.  You can have them prepared, but then be overwhelmed so it comes down to man-to-monster hand-to-claw combat.  That would have been thrilling.
  4. T’Challa lives.  I promise you that T’Challa means more to black audiences than Tony Stark or Captain America means to white audiences.   If you choose to protect those audiences by respecting their emotional investment, it is dehumanizing not to realize what you are doing to black kids when you kill the greatest superhero they’ve ever had…and just throw him away.  And not even showing his face when you do.
  5. Falcon lives.  He is another intact, healthy dynamic black male.   Rhodey, emasculated due to his injury, can be sacrificed instead.
  6. Pepper dies.  Want tragedy?  Give it to Stark.  Take Pepper AND Spidey from him.  Not a dry eye in the house.
  7. Male and female Wakandan troops dying in rough equivalence.  Watching male after male crumble to dust as the women watch is pure creator artifice, with nothing to do with statistics.  One has to ask what was on the filmmaker’s mind.
  8. For that matter, a long shot of the evacuation of Wakanda.   The PEOPLE. We saw New Yorkers, establishing the basic humanity of a world we are going to damage.   That’s what you do when you give a damn.
  9. T’Challa interacts with Shuri.  All the Avengers had connection with people they love.  Thor and Loki.  Stark and Pepper and Spidey.   Cap and Bucky.   Banner and Black Widow were admittedly given short shrift–(I would have given them a scene together.  Missing that emotional beat was a major problem.)    Starlord’s entire arc was about his love for Gamorra.   Hell, THANOS was powerfully connected to his heartspace.    Where was T’Challa’s emotional connection?  If not his sweetheart (I can understand N’Kia not being there) then give him a moment with his sister.  Let them remember their childhood.   Now he is human, not just a symbol to be manipulated, a piece on a game board.



No, I don’t care that they will resurrect T’Challa and Falcon in part II.  The filmmakers have reminded me that they made decisions based on race: the original exclusion of the Avengers, and the discounting of humanity increasingly criticized in the 21st Century.  I am not interested in watching black people exterminated so white people can live, or be ennobled by the urge for revenge.


If you identify fully with a character, you give them sexuality and agency and family.  Hopes and dreams.  They act with intelligence and courage, or you make their struggle with fear part of what humanizes them.  When I wrote “Lion’s Blood”, I SPECIFICALLY set out to give my white characters more humanity than I had ever seen white writers give to black characters.  I REFUSE to be turned into what I hate.  That is allowing my enemies to win.


Marvel had a bad track record after “The Mandarin” and “The Ancient One” .  They knew white audiences would accept any explanation given for the change, BECAUSE UNCONSCIOUSLY, THEY WANT THAT CHANGE.   “Ghost in the Shell,” Khan, Chuin, Mr. Moto, Kwai Chang Kane… innumerable other “whitewashed”   Asian characters.  Any excuse will do.


I got scared when in “Age of Ultron” there is a retreat to the generic “all African are the same” when there is a screen title: “Off the coast of Africa.”  This was the typical “we are many, you are one group” bullshit I see all the time, and first noticed in “The Great Mouse Detective” when there is a mouse U.N. meeting with England and Germany and Japan…and “Africa.”




It’s the Matrix, and those asleep within it will argue for their dream.  I’m done arguing with them. Sleep on.


When Disney hired Ryan Coogler to direct BP I breathed a sigh of relief.   Perfect.  THEY KNEW THEY COULDN’T DO IT WITH A WHITE DIRECTOR.  There might BE a white director who could pull it off, but there isn’t one I would have TRUSTED  with the project. That’s just being honest.   Disney understood their limitations.


And didn’t understand that lesson here.  There is nothing at all unusual about “Infinity War” in that sense.  It is the mixture as offered countless times before: “you aren’t as human or important as us, and we have a raft of reasons to justify it that will be accepted by white audiences. So just be satisfied we put you on the screen.”

I was indeed satisfied with this all my life. I swallowed that bile for sixty years. I will not ask my son to swallow it.    There is only one answer to this: diversity behind the camera.  When you have diversity in the board rooms and directing and writing, things change.  Which is precisely why the anti-SJW types attack the concept: it works.


Yes, black writers and producers will make their own movies. Always have.  But they have to get those movies past white investors, distributers, exhibiters.   That’s before they can even REACH a white audience, which is just as invested in seeing themselves as anyone else.     An entire apparatus. Disney alone has EIGHT of the top ten box office films.   I’m sure segregationists love the notion of us trying to compete with that.  Separate and VERY unequal.


That’s fine.   Not my approach.   Here’s the point of attack:   Corporations are primitive organisms that eat money and shit products and services.  They don’t care much about individual prejudices…or even hopes and dreams on an individual human level


But they respond to things that hurt their bottom line. And rather than “educating” the Suits, just force them to hire more diversity. I’m not interested in educating people whose attitudes are mostly integrated at an unconscious level.


Want better roles for women?   Force the corporations, (which are not sexist.  Hell, they aren’t even human) to hire more women.


Any other sub-group can follow the same strategy. THIS, IMO is why some object to boycotts…because they know they work. Just sit back and observe who complains the most: almost always people who might be protecting their current power.  Their right to watch people who look like them being the greatest, smartest, sexiest, most powerful.


Everybody wants to rule the world, as the song goes.


Want change?   Be the change. And force the change.  There is no real human evil here.  Just natural, unconscious human tribalism, the automatic default switch that has been stuck in place for all human history.     And most people are asleep to much of reality.  God knows I am.  Not on THIS issue.  But doubtless on countless others. No one can be “woke” to everything. Too much input.


But no, I won’t watch my son’s heart open with “Black Panther” and then watch it slam shut because of “Infinity War”.  I  hear “wait!  We’ll bring him back next year” when you gave your own children Iron Man and Cap and Banner and Thor and Black Widow to empathize with because you KNEW you had to, or it would hurt them. The creators knew damned well that if you kill Spider Man, you have to have somewhere for their hearts to go…or those hearts will break.  You will lose them.


No, I won’t let you hurt my son like that and grin at you and say: “its good.  We can wait.  You can throw us away.  I trust you, Boss.”


Nope.  Don’t like it?   Not my problem.   No one has the leverage, force, or intelligence to intimidate me.  No one.  Not about my family.  Never.




Why Jason didn’t want to see INFINITY WAR again

(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.



The Battle of Wakanda (SPOILERS)











Still here?  Then I continue.


The last sequence of the new Avengers movie takes place in Wakanda, where Steve Rogers asks T’Challa to help them remove an Infinity Stone from Vision’s forehead.


This leads to a tense scene with super-genius Shuri trying to get that stone free, and the Wakandan army, side-by-side with most of the Avengers,  standing against Thanos’ legions.  I saw that coming in the trailers, and it looked exciting.


The only problem is that it makes no sense.


As John Ringo pointed out on his page, the Wakandans are considered to be (one of) the most advanced societies on the planet, with technology beyond any other nation.


Umm…in this battle, what the hell are they doing running toward their opponents with spears?  Aren’t these spears said to be capable of taking out TANKS?   Where were their land-mounted versions of such things?  Fortifications?  How about air power?  Those wonderful cloaked airships?   I could easily see a battle between two advanced forces, and if you want hand-to-hand, well, you can choreograph that in and around the larger actions, and have all the thrills you want.


But…why did T’Challa allow Vision to come to Wakanda, knowing that this would bring Thanos’ legions to their doorstep?  Surely he might have made the decision to do this, but shouldn’t we have seen him making his argument to the council of tribes?  Further, where were the panicked Wakandan citizens fleeing for their lives with their children?  What would THEY think of their king and the choice he made?  Again, the case can be made that Vision would have been given sanctuary…but if you show normal life in New York before the chaos begins, giving us a sense of Paradise Lost…why not here too?


And isn’t there a little sense of “he’s doing it because Captain America asked”?   How exactly does that sound like a sovereign ruler concerned for his people?


I suggest to you that the director and screenwriters had two problems:


  1. They were unfamiliar with military tactics, even tactics from the Civil War (the 1865 version).
  2. They were not invested in Wakanda as a real place, with real people, with real hopes and dreams and blood and tears.


They weren’t.   Wakanda was a “cool” place to stage a massive battle.  Wow! Watch ’em die!  Isn’t this fun?


Wanda can refuse to remove the stone from Vision’s head, killing him. So he comes to Wakanda, bringing death. Then, after Shuri runs out of time to remove it, Wanda STILL refuses until the last second, so that Thanos was capable of reversing her action and re-constituting the stone.   And using the completed Gauntlet to take out half the universe.


All those dead Wakandans. Because Wanda.  All right, I can accept a tragic love story killing tons of folks, and I could stifle my irritation with so many of those folks being African, while all the white Avengers, who just happen to match the ethnicity of the writers and directors, survive.




Except for the stupidity of the defensive action.   It ONLY makes sense in terms of “let’s have cool action on the way to the Avengers feeling depressed and beaten.”


All those dead Wakandans were MEANS rather than ENDS.  They had no “inwardness”, were chess pieces manipulated to achieve the effect of guiding the audience’s emotions toward a given effect.


And while it is not uncommon (well…probably ALL writers do this to one degree or another) I refused not to notice what they did: moved the battle to a place where the filmmakers could choreograph “cool” action without regard for the humanity of the participants.


This is PRECISELY what I was afraid would happen with BLACK PANTHER. PRECISELY why I was thrilled that they chose Ryan Coogler to direct it, and frankly PRECISELY what I was concerned about had they hired a white director: no real concern for the “inwardness” of the characters.  Tony Stark had Pepper and Peter Parker to care about.   Steve Rogers had Bucky to care about.  Bruce Banner had Natasha (they REALLY gave that short shrift, didn’t they? But then I didn’t believe Banner’s emotional arc, starting with making him a dim bulb in RAGNOROK. But that’s a different matter).   Hawkeye was off with his family.  Thor was mad with grief over Loki.  Wanda, of course, had Vision.


Did War Machine have anyone? Has he ever?   Did Falcon have anyone?  Has he ever?


T’Challa had no one to care about except his people, and he brought death to their doorstep without the slightest moment of visible hesitation, and then defended his nation like an idiot.  Yeah, I said it.


This is the reason that diversity BEHIND the camera matters.  Would that have fixed the problem?   Considering that Tony Stark was a fine strategic thinker (he knew he had to take the fight to Thanos, or have Earth devastated) we can assume that a black director would have given T’Challa the same respect, and asked “what would he do?”  And once you ask “what would a warrior do?” You might, just MIGHT do what you do if making a boxing movie: ask boxing coaches about the training, tactics and strategy involved. Or in this case, ask a military strategist how an advanced nation would defend itself against an attack like this.  It just isn’t that hard…if you care, and if you think “these people are brilliant. What would they do?”  instead of “what would look cool” when you don’t really, REALLY believe they exist.


This is why diversity matters behind the cameras. Why it is critical for people to write their own stories.  If they had gone directly from “Civil War” to “Infinity War” without the humanization of “Black Panther” I’d be incensed.   As it is…it is just business as usual.


If you agree, let me know. And if you agree…patronize and create the art that DOES embrace full humanity…and intelligence.


Write with Passion!


INFINITY WAR (2018) review




Infinity war is loud, colorful, logistically amazing and tons of fun. It is also not a film in any ordinary sense of the word. ALL of its emotional texture is borrowed from other movies, and I can’t imagine what this would feel like to someone who hasn’t seen them. All of them, really.


The only character who is treated like an actual being is the villain Thanos, whose dream of “restoring balance to the universe” is actually somewhat affecting, especially once we realize that he actually has feelings, isn’t just a CGI special effect. That there is an actual performance in there, thanks to Josh Brolin.


For those unaware of the story, it deals with Thano’s search for the six “Infinity Stones” that will give unlimited power to their holder.  He wants to wipe out half of the universe. Basically, every MCU hero teams up to stop him.


The problem is that the story is simply too unweildy, there are too many characters to expect any human being to juggle them all gracefully. Here, you have the Russo brothers doing it together, and I think they do about as well as anybody could expect them to. Better.  There really is a lot of fun to be had here. But at the expense of human moments, and some jarring character choices.


(Just for instance: in what world is the Hulk a coward?  I’ve watched that character for half a century, and that just isn’t part of the equation. Banner being basically useless is almost as jarring. When in THOR: RAGNOROK they had Thor spouting astrophysics while Banner sort of mumbled along, I thought it was a director’s joke: the big blonde guy had never seemed much one for book larnin’ and it was a good laugh. But not giving Banner a single decent thought seems…thoughtless)


There are emotional connections that really do work: between Wanda and Vision, and among the Guardians of the Galaxy (although the bit with Groot anchored to his video game seemed a little wearing after a bit).


The problem is that we only care about the action if we care about the people, and we only care about the people here because of what we’ve seen in other movies.  So Thor has Loki, Tony has Pepper, Cap has Bucky, Spidey has Tony (again), and so forth. But searching for that emotional texture means that when it doesn’t show up we FEEL it.   No real Natasha-Bruce reunion?   Really?  Seems…like an odd choice.


Without those connections, its just kinetics and effects. GREAT ones, often, but you don’t want to mistake that for real quality. This is really the first Marvel film where I could see the seams showing pretty clearly.   Joss Whedon was overwhelmed by ULTRON, but while it was a modest little boutique movie compared to INFINITY WAR, it also had more genuine entertainment overall.


I liked INFINITY WAR.  It was a pretty decent translation of the comic to the screen. It is just that movies demand an opportunity for their actors to act, not just posture and throw punches.


I have to give it a “B-” in more ways than I really wanted to.   And if you weren’t a Marvel geek?   Man, I can’t see any reason you should go at all.





I loathed the “Infinity War” comics, because for all practical purposes they killed off ALL the black characters in the very beginning, the kind of choice that is only made when ALL the decision makers are white.  And one problem with the movie lies right in the same uncanny valley.


Heimdall dies saving Bruce Banner.  Thor vows revenge.  Ah, the Sacrificial Negro inspiring the mighty hero.  Screw them.


Neither Rhodey or Falcon have EVER been shown to have any human connections with anyone beyond their male white benefactors.  No wife, girlfriend, mother, father, friends…nothing.  Nothing at all.  They are satellites only.


In BLACK PANTHER, Wakanda was a vibrant land filled with diverse, brilliant peoples with their own history and traditions, fashions and life-ways, ruled by a king with deep spiritual roots and the soul of a warrior.

In INFINITY WAR, Wakanda is a place to stage some nifty action sequences, with little or no sense of the inwardness of any of the people involved, let alone the deep and searching decisions that would have to be made before bringing an interstellar war to their doorstep.  Black Panther makes one interesting decision, Shuri is useless, and Okoye delivers a funny line.    This is precisely what I’d been afraid about with BP, and why I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Ryan Coogler was announced: I knew that as a black filmmaker he would have no problem addressing the “inwardness” of the characters.  This is why it is critical to have more diversity BEHIND the cameras, because otherwise you end up arguing with people about “how much humanity is enough?”


So the message for white readers: if you create black characters, invest them with the same humanity you give your white characters, or leave us out of your damned stories. We don’t exist to uplift you and your children.

For black readers:   Don’t settle for being second-bananas in someone else’s fantasies of power and glory.  Just…don’t.  Create your own.  And if you aren’t creators, support the films that understand that you aren’t a sock puppet to die nobly protecting white people. You just…aren’t.


Get mad, but don’t “get even.” Win by showing how its done right.




Why “Do the right thing”?

In some discussions of morality, some people will say:

“If I’m not going to be acknowledged for behaving morally, I won’t.

“If there was no God, why would we be moral?”

“If no one was watching, I’d steal.”

“If I wasn’t afraid of getting caught, I’d cheat.”


O.K.–they are saying they have no internal compass for morality. That absent the approval of the tribe, or the fear of being cast into hell by God, or of being thrown into jail, or getting a painful divorce…they would do things considered “bad.”


But…do THEY consider these things “bad”? Or do they consider them neutral, but mouth platitudes about them being “bad”?


I remember a guy who, under other circumstances spoke deeply and fervently about God and morality, commenting about how if we were on a liferaft together in the middle of the Pacific, he’d kill me and eat me.  Nice.   Hard for that person to then come back later and tell me about morality, don’t you think?


He’s saying there is no moral law absent human perceptions, there is only efficiency and effectiveness.  Law of the jungle.  I can deal with that, because it seems to me that ALL morality starts there.  It is “bottom up” in the sense that the same principles against stealing, killing, lying, raping and abusing children recur all over the world (to varying degrees) even among cultures who have no contact with each other.    Cannibalism is relatively rare as well, so we might add that.


If human beings aren’t much good alone, then a primary survival question is: “how shall we live together?”


Hard to imagine any kind of society where there are no laws against killing, lying, child abuse, stealing and so forth.   At the very least, that culture will be smaller and more chaotic than a culture that has prohibitions against such things. And will therefore be out-competed by them.


But WHY do people obey those rules? Initially, for the same reason children do their homework or pick up their rooms: to avoid punishment.  This is the CHILD level of the game.


The fact is that you CAN get away with stealing much of the time. This leads to the “tragedy of the commons,” where you are best off, short term, convincing other people to be honest, while being a thief yourself.


LONG term you will usually be found out.  But it is entirely possible to postpone that reckoning for an entire lifetime.  People who put out a surface appearance of being “good, pious” people, but are horrible behind the scenes.  Again, however…in general this will be found out over enough interactions, enough deals, enough years.


But another thing that happens in a society is we ask “what is true?”  What is the structure of the universe? And all societies evolve religion and mythology.   Ways to grasp the infinite.  Whether imagination or revelation, they create demons and gods, and begin to personify vast natural forces into structures we can begin to understand.  Often, they mirror the structure of human societies: we understand the strong father or loving matriarch, so a LOT of god figures mirror those.


It is an exercise for the reader whether you believe this is human beings projecting what they know, or a Divine Mind simply recapitulating its essence in Earthly form.   The notion works either way.


But the point is that you can see morality as starting from individual human needs, progressing through group imperatives and becoming encoded socially through mythology and religion.


As soon as you believe in a God figure, you have an omnipotent being who is ALWAYS there.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or….


Oh, wait. Different magical being.  Ahem.


If up and down the structure, morality is important…but FAKING morality is actually more effective short-term,  but actually BEING moral is more effective long term, then we ask the next question: how can we be moral beings whether or not there is anyone watching?


We must integrate morality into our most basic essence.   We must do what we do not for EXTERNAL rewards, but because that is simply who we are.  Or who we aspire to be.


When I was a kid, I had a hard time with stealing.  I just couldn’t figure out an external reason not to.   I was smart enough to get away with it…but it was clear to me that eventually I’d run into someone smarter than me, and I’d be screwed.  I might have been smarter than ANY body, but I sure as hell wasn’t smarter than EVERY body.


No matter how swollen my ego, I knew that wasn’t true.    So what could I do?


I had to find the aspect of my personal intimate being that was contrary to theft.    It took a few days of deep introspection, but I found it:


Every time I stole, I stole because I believed that was the most efficient and effective way of gaining something. But that means that I had no real faith that I could organize my mind and heart to EARN it.  ONLY if I could not earn it did it make long-term sense to steal it.


I was damaging my faith in myself.  And without that faith I couldn’t accomplish my dreams.


There.  I’d found it.   I BELIEVED that: that stealing weakened my ability to create the life I wanted, whether or not I ever got “caught.”


Armed with that, I was able to turn my life around.  It had NOTHING to do with other people, or an omniscient being. It was “what do I want from life?  Who do I have to be to get it?  Is every action of my life a step toward becoming that person?  Yes? No?  If `yes’, continue. If `no’ CUT THAT SHIT OUT.”


And that, evolved when I was about 24, removed any thought that dishonesty was a viable tactic, and clarified my path.




When you hear law-abiding people who insist that morality (“goodness”) is tied with obeying the rules of society, also hear the ways what they are REALLY saying is “as long as I agree with the laws of society, so long as I believe they are good for me and my family, I will obey them.”


One thing that cracks me up is hearing one of them then state, re: 2nd Amendment Rights, that a lawfully elected government could only take their guns if pried from their “cold dead hands” and imply that they would kill legally empowered law enforcement officers.


In other words, they will agree with laws, consider them moral, if and only if they are in alignment with their personal desires and interests.   This is a serious reality of life.  It is only dishonest if they then imply that other people should obey laws even if they don’t align with personal interests.


Tragedy of the Commons, right there on the level of obeying laws. What is right?  Law of the Jungle. What is efficient?  Convincing other people to obey laws for the sake of “goodness” when you are actually picking and choosing.


Is this common?  You bet. Is it optimal?   I think not…but that’s a value decision.   You have to decide for yourself.


And for your children, of course.   And every time a storyteller writes a tale of moral consequence, they are arguing the ethical structure of the universe.


In Black Panther T’Chaka kills his own brother, conceals the crime and abandons his nephew to poverty.   Was it right?  Few would say so. Was it understandable?   That kid was gonna go Hamlet on the royal family, you know damned well.   If your primary intent was to protect his son and the throne…well, yeah, li’l Killmonger was kinda screwed.  In fact, it would have been safest to kill him.


It would have been BEST, probably, to Flashy-Thing that kid’s memory and give him to a middle-class family in Atlanta somewhere to raise.  But of course that would involve more people in setting it up, and the more people who knew, the more dangerous. Someone ALWAYS wants to take the throne.


(And that is where I agree with Wakanda remaining secretive until and unless there is a sufficient organization of nations to deter open invasion to take their resources. And those who think “Wakanda was strong enough to resist” IMO aren’t thinking it through.  If I’m writing that story, I don’t attack openly.  I attack psychologically, splintering the alliances of tribes, supporting usurpers, supporting assassinations rather than outright military action UNTIL THEY ARE WEAK ENOUGH, or until I have a puppet on the throne. That story is EASY to write.  You don’t attack where your opponent is strong.  Attack their weaknesses.  Ego and ambition.   Wakanda would have been toast within a couple of generations)


One theme of BP is that evil will emerge.  Decisions made from efficiency, unless they are aligned with morality, will come back to destroy you.   T’Challa was so appalled by what his father had done that he gave Killmonger a chance to surrender and almost lost that fight, WOULD have lost it if Killmonger hadn’t succumbed to his sense of the theatrical and tossed him off the waterfall rather than just stab him to death.  Boom. Done. He’d have the throne.


To be a king, T’Challa had to be a better man than his father. But even that was only standing on his father’s shoulders: he was the man he was because his father had protected him.   He was a worthy son: a warrior, a statesman, capable of both vengeance and mercy.  “You are a good man, with a good heart. And it is hard for a good man to be king.”


There you go. A beautiful, wise moral and strategic lesson encoded in a superb entertainment.   Works for people in general, but for an underserved community BP is an absolute THUNDERBOLT.   An advance so extreme that I can only think that Ryan Coogler was “lit” along his entire system: intellect, emotion, aesthetic/creative, political, philosophical, kinetic and more.   It worked on all levels, and presented what might be the overall strongest Marvel character: a man of intellect, physicality, morality, family connections, political savvy, courage, and capacity to love. What comic character has as many levels cooking?   Spider Man has his Aunt May…Thor has his relationship with his father and half-brother…but we watched Tony Stark going batshit to kill Bucky who was only a puppet, willing to KILL a “friend” (Captain America) to do it, and this was after 2/3 of a billion dollars of therapy and twenty years of distance.


T’Challa had better control of his emotions less than a WEEK after holding his father’s corpse in his arms, confronted with the ACTUAL killer.   No slightest comparison in terms of maturity and “wholeness.”


What do YOU think of morality, ethics, the human condition?  What do YOU think your community, or the human race needs to move forward to the future?


Either support the art that teaches these lessons, or asks the right questions…or create it. That is one of the ways we can, as individuals, make the world better for our children.


The other is to do the right things, not because otherwise we’ll be caught, or so that people will pat us on the back.  Those are rewards for sleeping children.


Do what you do because that is what you are.  THAT is how you change the world. Once word, one action, one soul, one work of art at a time.



Write with Passion!

Steven Barnes