Movie Review

On Wonder Woman and T’Challa

Still thinking about why Wonder Woman and Black Panther (and there’s a team up someone should do…) seem to evoke such a different response from moviegoers than, respectively, female and black moviegoers.

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Let’s remove from the equation the qualities that are obvious. And here we’re going to compare a finished film with a trailer.  Its hard to do, but still interesting.   (For the sake of simplicity of speculation, we’re going to assume BP gets as positive a response in its completed form.)

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What are the obvious things?   Acting, directing, good writing, good effects. Stuff like that certainly.   How about the fact that a woman or black person was promoted as the star and central character? That’s happened many, many times before.  So while that is part of it…that’s not all.

 

What about the pre-existing popularity of the character?  I think we’re getting closer here, but  still begging the question.   To straighten that out, people aren’t reacting to the characters because they were pre-existing popular titles, they were pre-existing popular titles BECAUSE PEOPLE REACT TO THEM.

 

In other words, whatever is happening here, the popularity of the characters and the success of the films come from the same root.  They succeeded because they effective communicated the same emotional/mythical “juice” channeled by the comics.

 

So…let’s see what they have in common that might be useful.

 

  1. Ironically, they were both created by the “other” class: Wonder Woman by a man, Black Panther by two whites.   So they were fantasies that appealed to women, or blacks, but were not alien to men, or whites.   Of the thousands of female or black characters created by white males, these communicated something direct and powerful to BOTH men and women, BOTH black and white.  EVERYBODY gets excited.  Could a woman or a black person have done the same?  Yes. But they’d have to have had as many opportunities to fail, which they haven’t.  Countless female and black characters have risen and fallen, most forgotten.But that’s creativity: the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.
  2. Both were created deliberately, by what I’d call  Social Justice Warriors.   William Moulton Marsten, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee deliberately set out to create heroes who hadn’t existed before, feeling a specific lack in the world.    This usually ends badly: beginning art with political intent isn’t a very effective approach. But…it worked.   Luck in Marsten’s case, and Stan and Jack were simply the Lennon-McCartney of comic books, at the height of their powers.  I bet the Beatles could have deliberately created a hit if they’d wanted to, as well.   Like Mozart or Shakespeare could create art on demand. That’s almost superhuman, but it happens.  Thank goodness.
  3. Here’s what I think is different.  Both exist ON THEIR OWN TERMS.   Diana is an Amazon.  She lives in a society without men.    T’Challa is a prince of Wakanda, a nation isolated from the world, without Europeans.   Wonder Woman can therefore play into a fantasy: “this is what women could be but for Patriarchy”.   Black Panther plays into a fantasy: “this is what Africans could be, but for European Colonialism (or racism)”

 

If this is accurate, it explains why few of the female superheroes mentioned can come close. They ALL exist in contrast to, or relationship to, men.  “Supergirl” is a REACTION to “Superboy”  or “Superman”  “Batgirl” or “Batwoman” in reaction to Batman.  “Catwoman” is specifically “Batman’s love and nemesis.” She exists to orbit a pre-existing male character, not on her own terms.

 

The situation is even stronger with black superheroes.    Iron Patriot, Falcon, Power Man, and so forth were ALL given their powers by white people (I understand that Falcon’s wings have been retconned to be Wakanda tech).

 

What about their names?  Sam Wilson, Luke Cage, Rhodey, Hancock…excuse me, but do those names sound AFRICAN to you? Is there a white Superhero without a European name (maybe an alien name, like Kal’el.  But then he came from a planet of white people, so it’s the same thing.)

 

We are so used to seeing European names attached to black people that most folks don’t even consider the implications. There is nothing natural about that.  It is generally a sign of OWNERSHIP.  Most of these character orbit, or live in reaction to, whites or Europe.  How many of them would exist if Europe had been wiped out by a plague in 1300?  None.

 

But T’Challa would.  He doesn’t live “in reaction to”.  Wakanda doesn’t need Europe. Doesn’t exist in reaction to Europe or Europeans.   He’s his own man.   Sure, he’s as smart as Reed Richards, can out-fight Captain America, and is as smart as Tony Stark…but he’d be those things even if none of them existed.

 

THAT is critical.  We as human beings don’t just exist “in reaction to” our parents and our world…or our opponents. Sure, that’s where we begin. But the process of maturation includes asking “who am I?”  and as long as your definition includes other people, you are still on the surface.

 

Men and women have the relationship they have because it served the production of grandchildren. That includes rigid roles.  Due to the advancement of industrial, weapons and biological (birth control) technologies, sexual dimorphism simply doesn’t control us as it did our ancestors.  Because this works to the direct advantage of women, I think they are waking up faster.  The unfortunate thing about it is that they are no more perceptive than men, so they only see one side of the equation–their side–and from it, it looks like men control the world with “Patriarchy.”  Fine.  From that position, the re-imaging of their potential includes the question “what would we be if we’d not been oppressed?”

 

Why, we’d be Diana, Princess of the Amazons. The full expression of female potential.    Free, brilliant, brave, strong, sensual…a complete human being.   Existing on her own terms, beholden to no member of the oppressor class.   A unique symbol, beautifully realized onscreen.

 

Blacks and whites have a different relationship. Remember: men and women cannot live without each other.  Different tribes can and do and have EXTERMINATED each other.  Very very different.  Due to accidents of geography and history, Europeans technology was a fraction more advanced than African when the cultures collided, with the expected results of exploitation and domination. That’s how humans roll.   And another thing humans do is blame the victims for what they do.

 

So in America, you have the descendants of the people hauled here in chains, stripped of names, religion, history, mythology, like hard drives wiped and programmed with “Slave 1.0”.  Then after 250 years, after the descendants have forgotten 99% of what they were, you set them free and add-on “Emancipation 2.0” software, which of course is full of glitches, and incompatible with “Free American” software .  Then of course, they were blamed for the inevitable crashes.

 

Every image of the long lost “homeland” is of ignorance and savagery, more likely to be based on Tarzan than actual anthropological data suggesting WHY the technological differential existed.  Hell, the Encyclopedia Britannica straight-up stated that whites were just smarter.  I distinctly remember reading that.

 

So…reinforce with “Gone With the Wind” being the dominating image of that deprivation. Why, slavery wasn’t so BAD.  If we have problems, it must be us.  Inferiority was the assumption, and battling against the fear that the culture might be right weighed heavily.  If our very names were European…if the God-figure we’d been given looked more like our oppressors than us…I mean, what the hell?

 

“In the Heat of the Night” in 1967 had an utterly amazing scene where a black man slapped a rich old white man…and survived.  I was fifteen years old, already “cooked” in terms of basic life attitudes, but the scene blew my mind. When “Shaft” and “Superfly” and so forth came along, they were revolutionary, amazing, devastating in impact. We’d never SEEN anything like that before: black men who were smart, savvy, sexual, strong.  All the great “S” stuff.  Might as well have had it on their chests. They were Superheroes, not because they did things which, on the surface, countless white heroes had not done, but because they did it carrying four hundred years of baggage.

 

When Marvel created “Black Panther”, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee were just seeking to create a black superhero. They felt that lack. And I suggest that if they had created a Captain America (given his powers by the government) or a “Black Spiderman” or even a brilliant black “Tony Stark” type, it couldn’t have “hit” the same way, because no matter what they created, how wonderful, how well written, it would have been a garnish, a sprig of creative parsley atop the shit sandwich that is black history  in America for our first 350 years.

 

No.  Black Panther was Black Panther, and would have been if Europe had never existed at all.

Diana Prince was Diana Prince, her mother an Amazon, her father a god (I believe this has been retconned as well–in original form she was formed from clay by her mother).  In other words, to the degree possible, she would have been what she was even if men had not existed at all.

 

That thematic unity, at the core of great storytelling, acting, and SFX, FEELS DIFFERENT.   It is closer to the “I am.” It opens the door to asking new questions.   It throws off invisible chains.  “I never even knew I needed to see that” women have said of the “No Man’s Land” sequence.

 

Move.  Or be moved.”  I watched black women with zero interest in comic books scream with joy at that line.

 

Watch the Youtube videos of black people watching shots of Wakanda.   Sheer ECSTACY on their faces.   Disbelief.  They  might not have even known how much they needed to see that.

 

How important are such images?  ALL CULTURES, all over the world, tell their children (especially their boys) stories of heroes who can overcome all obstacles, and protect their countries, families, religions, whatever.

 

Women were told they were secondary to men: their heroes could exist, but only in reference to.

Black were told they were secondary to whites: their heroes could exist, but only in reference to.

 

And here is something important to grasp again, to remember: BOTH WERE CREATED BY WHITE MEN.

 

Yes, we as humans can touch something deeper within us. We can sense the missing piece. Create from a sense of shared humanity.  Create empowering symbols that heal the damage created by a million years of separation to maximize reproductive potential. Or four hundred years of cultural domination.

 

And this should provide the perspective we need to BOTH celebrate these heroes, AND realize that we are all human, all capable of going deep and doing something special, and healing, and redemptive.   It takes brilliance, and commitment, and the maniacal focus of intent that creates and liberates genius…and luck of course.

But damn, isn’t it worth it when it works?

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.lifewrite.com

“Better Call Saul” is amazing

Monday on “Better Call Saul” Jimmy took another step toward becoming a professional criminal.  He extorted a guard, enabled a drug dealer and committed an insurance fraud.  Meanwhile. His mentally ill brother is being kicked out of the firm he created because in a previous week, Jimmy “accidentally” revealed the depths of his illness in a fit of pique.  Let’s see…what else did he do?  I don’t even want to go into it.    But I thought that, as he makes his progress toward being “Saul”, the fixer and middleman to genuine monsters like Gus Freng and Walter White, (Jimmy is a puppy in comparison), it might be useful to devise a model of Jimmy’s internal state, so that we can see how he step by step becomes what he ultimately becomes…a hugely “likeable” Igor.

 

Jimmy starts life as a kid with a brilliant older brother with whom he constantly competes, a strong strain of likability, and little moral compass. He is “clever”, not really smart.  In other words, he can see ways to cut corners, but could never build anything himself.   People who burn buildings down can feel superior to the people who planned and built it.

 

Like all human beings, he wants to avoid pain and gain pleasure.    Clearly, he associates money with pleasure, but the only things we EVER hear about in terms of his money-making is scamming and stealing.  Always with a smile, of course.

 

Meanwhile, his brother Chuck, brilliant but emotionally damaged, almost certainly resents the fact that Jimmy is such a little thief, but PEOPLE LIKE HIM BETTER.  Get this?  They respect Chuck. But they LOVE Jimmy.  Jimmy has that plausibility.   So Chuck doubtless does things to undercut Jimmy, including the worst thing that we know of: he doesn’t tell Jimmy their mother asked for him on her death bed. That is terrible, no question about it.

 

But don’t take your eyes off the ball–and Jimmy is the ball.   Jimmy continues to desire the respect Chuck gets, but cannot change his habit patterns–continues to cut corners, lie, and steal, and then acts surprised when people see through his “who, me?” act and actually TREAT him as if he is a liar and thief.

 

And this is where it gets interesting. Where “Breaking Bad” is a tragedy of a genuinely amazing human being who is destroyed by the discovery of his power, “Better Call Saul” is the story of a little man who wants to be a big man, and is destroyed by the gap between his dreams and his reality.

 

He attends a cut-rate law school.  There are THOUSANDS of occupations he might have chosen.  Does anyone doubt that he is specifically competing with Chuck, who built a mighty law firm on the strength of his knowledge and intellect?

 

Does anyone think that, having established that Jimmy cheats at EVERYTHING, he didn’t cheat in law school?  Anyone?

 

One of the really amazing things that Vince Gilligan achieved with both Walter White and Jimmy is the degree to which people justify their behavior.  I can only figure that they are thinking “under those circumstances, I would do the same thing.”   Brrrrrr.

 

Because no matter what Jimmy does, the excuse is: “he HAD to do that!” I mean, what choice did he have to extort a guard and enable a drug dealer for seven hundred dollars?  He needed the money, and his back was hurting.

 

Why did he need the money? Because he lost his ability to practice law for a year and was on “community service.: Why? Because he broke into his brother’s house. Why?  Because his brother had evidence Jimmy had stolen and fabricated legal documents.  Why did Jimmy do that?  Because because because.

 

Why did his back hurt? Because he faked an injury to blackmail a store owner. Why?  Because he needed the money. Why? Because that store owner refused to buy commercials from him, and Jimmy considered this unfair.  Why?  Because he desperately needed money.   Why? Because he’d lost his license…

 

Because he wanted to compete with his brother, and fabricated documents to do it…

 

Because he wasn’t smart enough to compete with Chuck without cheating…

 

Because he HAD to be a lawyer, to both get Chuck’s respect and to drive him crazy like little brothers do (“this law stuff isn’t so tough…”)

 

Because his ego is based on getting a specific acknowledgement from Chuck and the world.  With a thousand other professions, a million other places to live, he had to do that, there in New Mexico, even though he simply doesn’t have what it takes.

 

Watching Jimmy McGill is watching a slow-motion car wreck.  He could probably own a car lot and be a success. Any number of other things. But he has to do THIS, even though he simply doesn’t have the problem-solving ability to do the job without lying and cheating, then doesn’t have the moral strength to take responsibility when he is caught.

 

But man, is he ever LIKEABLE.    He will enable thieves, drug-dealers, killers. Will be complicit in death and destruction on an impressive scale.  But every step is tiny.  He CANNOT awaken to the reality of the path he is on without questioning his core identity: Slippin’ Jimmy.  NOT a good person.  NOT a smart person.  “Clever” yes.   He can see holes in the structures others create, and wiggle through them…but couldn’t create anything himself to save his life.

 

Watch him drag down anyone who ever loved him.   Watch him justify any level of nastiness because he HAD to do it.

 

But he’s so damned LIKEABLE.

 

Now…look around you.  If YOU justify Jimmy, I have to ask: do you have “Jimmy’s” in you own life?  People who are plausible, and “nice” and “warm” and break everything they touch and corrupt the people who love them?  Are YOU ever a “Jimmy”?

 

I think we all have a bit of “Jimmy.” We all want to believe we’re as smart as anyone else, and if we have to cut corners, well, if we don’t get caught, what difference does it make?  Who gets hurt…?

 

Musashi’s first principle is “Do Not Think Dishonestly.”   Jimmy might, just MIGHT have an epiphany and finally understand what he is, perhaps later in life.  He might, just MIGHT understand all the damage he has done, after it is too late to do anything about it.  And chances are that he will NOT have the strength to admit, genuinely regret a wasted life, where all he had to do was set his goals a little lower, and he wouldn’t have had to lie and cheat.  He lied to himself, he lied to the world, and he is responsible for every bad thing that happened.

 

All he had to do was tell the truth. Jimmy won’t wake up.

 

But will you? Will the audience? Can we love this show, love Jimmy, and still see what he is?  Because if we can, BETTER CALL SAUL is an AMAZINGLY moral show.  As was BREAKING BAD, viewed from a distance.   It is less blunt than “The Shadow” with his “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit” but it is the same thing.   And all we have to do is look at the fascination with such characters, the tendency to justify them, and even our own love of such scoundrels and ask “why?” and we can understand human life more clearly, from politics to “gaslighting” relationships.

 

THIS is fine drama.   BETTER CALL SAUL  and BREAKING BAD are  so far above most of what passes for drama on television that it is pretty clear, in mid-series, that we’re watching a modern classic unspooling before us.  But…it’s up to us whether it is just “entertainment”…or “art”: the revelation of deep truths about the human condition, told with such craft it can be mistaken for triviality.

 

Man oh man, do I love this show.

 

He is so LIKEABLE!!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.lifewrite.com

What do all these movie have in common..?

  1. Jurassic Park
  2. Wrath of Khan
  3. Damnation Alley
  4. Kingsmen
  5. Magnum Force
  6. Sudden Impact
  7. The Unforgiven
  8. Freddy Versus Jason
  9. Ice Station Zebra
  10. Dirty Dozen
  11. RED
  12. The Shining
  13. The Green Mile
  14. Night of the living Dead
  15. Alien
  16. Aliens
  17. Terminator
  18. Terminator 2
  19. Prometheus
  20. Conan
  21. Conan the Destroyer
  22. Predator
  23. Commando
  24. Return of the living dead
  25. Life

 

 

What is the connecting thread between all of the above movies?

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Well, there may be several, but one is that in every one of them, all the black people, or all the black male characters (people with at least one line of dialogue) die.  (Note: it is the pattern I hate, not necessarily the individual films.   Some of them I flat-out love.  But the fact remains that there isn’t a single American film in which all the white characters die while non-white characters survive.

Not a single one.

There are some Asian films where this happens, like Bruce Lee’s “The Chinese Connection” where Bob Baker plays a Russian Lee kills with a chop to the throat.   Only white guy in the movie.  Chinese feeling mighty antagonistic toward Japanese and Russians in that movie.   Hmmm…you couldn’t think that killing all the members of a group is symptomatic of antagonism and fear, could you?

Naw.   Couldn’t be.

But you do have to wonder why it’s never happened in reverse.  Not once.   Couldn’t be because they FEEL that this would be anathema, could it? That it would doom the success of the film?  That THEY wouldn’t want to see something like that..?

 

Nah.  Couldn’t be.

 

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I got an email today from a guy who was apparently disturbed that on a “Writing Excuses” podcast I listed “The Green Mile” as a movie I loathe and will never watch again.  On the other hand, I thought the BOOK (published in chunks) was actually quite fine.   What was the difference?

 

In the book, the Tom Hanks guard character THINKS that John Coffey is innocent, and tries to free him. Fails. It is tragic, and the book’s title “The Green Mile” is a metaphor for life itself.  Coffey dies, as do we all.

 

But in the movie, Tom Hanks KNOWS that Coffey is innocent (gets a psychic vision of exactly what happened) and does NOTHING to try to save him. Has one conversation (“what should I do, John”) with a severely depressed man who just wants to die, and accepts that life is just too hard, too cruel, for such a perfect spirit…sob sob.

 

Apparently, the gentleman who wrote me disliked the fact that I didn’t find this inspiring.  That no, if he is the only black man on the screen, he isn’t a symbol, he is a human being wrongly accused, arrested, convicted, and executed by white people.   A human being who is black, as the culture defines me.  The only one.

And while this may provide some kind of epiphany for white audiences, it is just another in a long, long series of images that make us other than human.  Less than human (I just recently had to ask another racist not to comment on racial threads) or more than human…it doesn’t matter, because what is clear is that in the minds and hearts of the audience and the filmmakers, we aren’t like them.

 

And that is lethal. It justifies violence and oppression. On the other hand it triggers guilt and overreaction, which leads to resentment, which leads to anger, and back to violence and oppression we go.   Put us down in a ditch or up on a pedestal and the result is the same.

 

So no, I don’t consider being a Sacrificial Negro, or a Spiritual Guide to be a good thing.  Dying to protect or uplift white people is not my idea of a good time.   All of this crap is part of the same Matrix of false beliefs that was necessary to build a nation, and justify what was done, but stands between us and a healthy future.  I won’t be silent about these things–they cost lives.

 

Still like “Aliens” though.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

 

A sentence a day to a book a year

A long time ago, I watched a  writing student struggling with all the usual excuses (“I don’t have the time! I don’t have the energy!  I’m not talented!   I don’t know how!) change completely as soon as he thought of himself as a character he was writing about in a story about the early days of a successful writer.

 

Bang.  Instantly, he understood EVERYTHING that can stop accomplishment, and began to organize his imagination to see how he could turn problems into advantages.

 

He could take his lunch to work, and write at his desk. He could trade household chores with his wife, swapping intensity (heavy work) for time-intensive work.  He could get his kids turned on by the idea of having a published writer in the family.

 

Suddenly, it became an adventure.   I mean…if you remember ANY movie or story about someone who succeeds, you know there will be twists and turns, setbacks, betrayals, fear, fatigue, moments that they almost gave up.  THAT’S STORY.   That’s the big cycle of story–each of these as “major moments”.

 

In “Wonder Woman” there are major moments of threatened defeat, loss, betrayal.  But most of any story…and most of our lives…is just “the road of trials”, which is this larger cycle in smaller form, repeated again and again.

 

Wonder woman arrives in London

Her goal: to reach the Front so she can kill Ares

Her obstacle: Steve Trevor has to take the journal to the high command.

Her reaction:  She feels betrayed, reminds him that a promise cannot be broken

Her ally’s reaction: He promises to take her to the front as soon as he fulfills his duty

Her reaction:  She agrees.

Next obstacle:  She cannot walk the streets of London dressed as she is.

Her ally’s reaction: Let’s get her appropriate clothing…

 

And so it goes.   EACH of these steps could be turned into a major problem just by expanding or deepening the intensity, swinging the story this way or that.  Here, they are just moments, exchanges of dialogue.

 

They are the dynamics of story, which means the dynamics of life.  Micro-cycles within macro-cycles.

 

The advantage of writing short stories is that each of them is a micro-cycle of a full macro-cycle novel.  EVERYTHING you need for a novel is there, but in the smaller form you can focus on smaller things without being overwhelmed by hundreds of pages of text.   It is dealing with a single tree rather than an entire forest.

 

THIS is the strength of the “Machine”, the idea of starting with writing only a single sentence a day, the smallest practical micro-cycle.  If you can write a sentence a day, you can springboard this to a book a year, because you will run into every possible obstacle, internal and external:

  1. I don’t have time
  2. I don’t know how
  3. I don’t have anything to say

 

And on and on.   Master your internal voices, you produce the external result. Produce a sentence a day for a few days, you automatically begin to produce more.  BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO.  No guilt connected with not doing that.

 

Your ego will go crazy trying to find a way to stop you, sabotage you. But because there is NO logical reason not to write one sentence a day, you will meet the lies that have stopped you in every arena of your life, and begin to make the internal/external connection.

 

Try it!

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.lifewrite.com

Making your own Family

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One of the things that gets me excited to wake up in the morning is that I never know what people are going to be talking about on my pages.  What emails or texts I might get about one or another issue.   What will be a theme for the day?  How can I help people?

 

Well, today what came up is painful childhoods.  Abusive step-parents, bullying, neglect.  Painful stuff, damaging our self-worth and what I call “self-love.” Without it, we search for love outside ourselves.

 

For instance:  I have a student who has a girlfriend who is more sexually experienced than he is.

He won’t leave her, but thinks of her as slutty.  Wants to be the greatest lover she’s ever had, and is constantly repelled and angered by her descriptions of previous affairs and their…attributes.

He constantly asks what’s wrong with her.  My answer is that as far as he’s concerned, NOTHING is wrong with her.   If she has half a brain she knows he considers her “slutty” and if she has any sense at all, knows that he would throw that in her face in an argument. So it would be stupid to ever open her heart to him, risking real damage.  So she attacks him in his insecurity, so that he will either run away or, finally…grow the @#$$ up and take responsibility for his own emotions.   He is stuck in the “dark night of the soul” and cannot take my advice: withdraw from all sexual interactions until he is a healthier human being.

 

I have no idea if he’ll make it through. He has no faith in her, none in himself. Wants to skip the work that needs to be done.  Newsflash: you can’t do it.

 

Every time I hear about her bringing up her past experiences, I think: good for you, girl.   Keep those defenses up.  This is the wrong guy.

 

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A family should be the place you can tell the truth. A place to heal. Where you can drop your defenses, your artifice, your masks.  We all wear them: our masks get us through life, but they are so, so heavy. If you can put them down, absorb emotional nutrients, rest and recover…you actually return to the fight STRONGER. But if you cannot put them down, ever?   They will break you.

 

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And if you don’t have memories of a happy childhood?  If you don’t have a healthy birth family?  Well, that’s what friendships are for.

 

Make one.

 

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There is a movie currently in the theaters, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, which is all about a “family” of dysfunctional beings who, together, are massively stronger than they are as individuals.

I don’t want to tackle it because too many people haven’t seen it yet.  But I think we can discuss the first film profitably. (And speaking of profit, note that the subject of “family” looms large in both GUARDIANS and the “FAST AND FURIOUS” films, suggesting to me that there is an enormous hunger for simple human connection.   Understand this, feel this, learn how to express it…and you will empower your work…

 

And possibly your lives.)

 

**SPOILERS AWAIT**

**SPOILERS AWAIT**

**SPOILERS AWAIT**

 

O.K.  Every character has an arc in the first film:

 

Quill’s mother died and he was kidnapped by aliens on the same day.  Raised by an abusive father who trained him to be a thief and threatened him with death by cannibalism every day, he learns commitment and connection, self-sacrifice and the beginnings of love for others.   And in that, he finds self-respect and the beginning of transformation.

 

Gamora was  kidnapped by an alien who raised her and her adopted sister Nebula to be deadly, emotionless assassins.   When Quill, who is sexually attracted to her, actually commits an action of self-sacrifice her heart is touched: another being in the universe actually cares, for the first time in her life. It is the beginning of her transformation.

 

Drax the Destroyer is an empty hulk, filled with nothing but the commitment to kill in vengeance for the death of his family.  A friend with an autistic son considers Drax’s over-literal mind to be representative of a person on the Autism/Asperger spectrum.  Whether neurological or environmentally/experientially triggered (abuse, etc.) Drax has nothing but the wish to die killing, until he realizes that drive placed the lives of good  people at risk.  He expands from simple self-interest to the acceptance of other beings as real entities, not just shadows in his own internal tragic play.

 

Rocket Racoon is the product of an experiment that tore him apart endlessly and reconstructed him into a super-intelligent highly aggressive predator.  Bitter and utterly self-contained, he cares about nothing except his faithful follower Groot, who can express himself only in three words.  Groot, in essence, makes Rocket look downright communicative in comparison.

 

And Groot’s arc is inextricably intertwined with Rocket’s.  Although he can speak only three words, in some ways he is the most open, expressive, joyous, loyal and emotionally healthy member of the entire crew.  He offers a flower to a child.  He is capable of utterly selfless action: who didn’t tear up when he gave his life for his companions?  “We are Groot”.  And make no mistake, Groot DIED in that moment.  “Baby Groot” is a clone. He is not Groot.   And in the second film, they love him at least partially because he is a symbol of the sacrifice that saved them.  And that Sacrifice opened Rocket’s wounded heart, and made it inevitable that he step up to the plate, join hands with his companions, and create a circle of power capable of containing cosmic forces and besting the villain.

 

Through Groot’s sacrifice, they became a family, tentatively willing to accept responsibility for each other and try to move forward in their lives.

 

Those are their individual stories.  Now as a group:

ONCE UPON A TIME there were a group of misfit thieves and criminals who had been damaged and abandoned by the world.  Thrown together, they were forced to tolerate each other to defeat an evil larger than any of their small lives. Clever and courageous, they mastered and out-foxed every challenge until meeting one that was too big, only conquered through the mortal sacrifice of one who saw that they were all part of the same soul.  This sacrifice gave them the strength to move beyond their egos, to expand, to trust and hold each others’ hand in the face of death, and in doing that to not just win…but  earned the greatest reward any of them could have: a place in the universe, people to trust. A future, together.

 

They were heroes, the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, but more importantly…they were a family.

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That was the first film. The second continues to explore the themes of love and family, and together, they’ll make about two billion dollars.  Because we’re all searching for connection.  And denied a healthy connection, we become bitter and selfish, stop believing it is even possible to make a connection with someone outside ourselves, and most horribly lose even the connection to our own being.

 

  1. We must love ourselves enough to be fiercely protective.  ALL the “Guardians” are strong as individuals.
  2. We must open ourselves to loving another.   It is love, and ONLY love that has the ability to open the floodgates of emotion.  Make us expand our ego walls.
  3. We must ask “who am I?” and “what is true?”  Both films are about the search for identity, and understanding. As we expand, we must seek such understanding to survive in the adult world, as well as accept ourselves and others.
  4. We must find our tribe.  People of similar values.  Believe what they DO, not what they SAY.  Behavior is truth.  Rocket Raccoon believed in love because he SAW it in action.
  5. Win.   By victory, you know your path is a valid one. When that victory brings love and joy to the world, and safety for children, you know it is a righteous one. And then, of course, you move on to the sequel.

 

The way out of the box is  love.  We have to shift our “story” to believe we are worthy, precious, as worthy as anything in the universe.   Until we do we cannot accept the love of others, cannot believe they see anything inside us worthy of sacrifice. “I’d never join any club that would have me as a member.”

 

We have to believe. We are as precious as the Nebulas.

 

We are all Starlords and Ladies.

 

We are Groot.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.

www.lifewritingpremium.com

James Cameron on “Alien 3”

One of my readers, Lancelot Falk, got to ask James Cameron a question I’ve often wondered about:

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“OK, the story.

First off, let me say, I friggin, unapologetically love the work of James Cameron. Yes, Avatar. Yes Titanic. Yes, Dark Angel…etc. Aliens and T2 and the uncut version of The Abyss are among my favorite movies. (Your milage may differ).

A decade ago, I went to a studio screening of Titanic on the day it crossed the 100M line.

It was a large packed auditorium. After the screening JC took the stage and was interviewed for a bit, then questions were taken from the Audience. I got the first question.

After briefly complimenting the film and his work in general I asked:

“I’d really like to know your gut reaction to the first five minutes of Alien 3”

The audience made sort of an uncomfortable, anticipatory noise.

He paused, concentrated, considered his words…which as far as I can remember were….

“Listen. David Fincher is one of out Great Directors. I’m a big fan. I see everything he does. He’s going to do some really timeless, important work. I’ll see anything he does.

That being said……

If you have ANY affection for what Ridley and I did. If you have any love for Ripley and those other characters from my sequel…. I have to say it felt like a hostile act when they were arbitrarily slaughtered like that. Next question”

When I had him sign my Making of Titanic book afterwards, he may not have known I was the guy who asked that question.”

Tilting Left or Right

So within two days I read movie reactions from the far Left and the far Right, or what looks that way from my perspective.  That means, of course, that I am defining myself as much as Left or Right by looking at this stuff. And I’m sanguine about that.

 

First was a thread commenting on “Beauty and the Beast.”    Basically, it was ripping Emma Watson apart for appearing in an “anti-feminist” tale, about a woman suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.  And on into how it encourages women to remain in abusive relationships.   Okay.

 

The other was a complaint about the movie “Life.” It was a comment that Ariyon Bakare was cast as the lead scientist Hugh Derry because of “PC.”   Yeah, that’s right.

 

Now…which side of the political spectrum do you imagine these people come from?  Who do you think they voted for in the last couple of elections? Can you predict other things about them, other values and attitudes and preferences?

 

Yeah, I thought you could.

 

And if you can’t, you can probably predict what I think, and thought.  If you tilt one way or the other you might understand my problems with one, or not the other, or be ready to claim that one attitude is far more common than the other.  That one is delusional but common, the other objectionable but rare or atypical.  Lean further and you will see no problem with one, but find the other vile.

 

Yeah, you’re defining YOUR self.

 

Yeah, right. Sorry, but I see both.  And see both as dealing with dreams and nightmares about what the past was, and what the future might be.   Needless to say, they are concerned with different things.        IMO neither understands humanity very well.

 

I understand and empathize with both points of view, but see both as driven by anger and fear, and find both damaging in their own ways.  One triggers a bit of sadness, the other a sense that monsters are hiding behind code words.

 

There’s a middle path, and those who veer in either of the directions implied above are not upon it.   They are welcome to their road, but I see no joy or belief in human equality along either one.  I come very close to saying “a plague on both their houses” except that I have a little more sympathy for one than the other.  You can probably guess which.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares

Let’s see: our guest list for AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES might be the best ever collected for such a venture: Cheo Hodari Coker Coker (Luke Cage), Nnedi Okorafor  (Who Fears Death), Reggie Hudlin(Black Panther), Samuel Delany (Dahlgren), Rodney Barnes (Boondocks), Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl In The Ring), Mike Carey (“The Girl With All The Gifts”), Bree Newsome (artist and real-life superhero), and Jamie Broadnax (Black Girl Nerds), as well as Tananarive Due (“The Living Blood”). Oh, and me, of course.

 

I’m kinda thunderstruck at what we’re pulling together, and it isn’t done yet. We get started March 25, and this will be a full 10-week (over an actual longer period than that, because of traveling) with both live and on-line on-demand components and social media. Join us! www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Logan (2017)

Went to the Inosanto Academy in Marina del Ray this morning, to work out.  It felt like going home.  I plan to do this once a month.

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Saw “Logan” last night, and it is an exceptional superhero movie, with more genuine emotional resonance than any other I can remember, as well as excellent acting, and action. Basically, Wolverine is long past his prime, his healing powers diminished, wracked with pain and addicted to pain-killers.  Professor Xavier is semi-senile, his occasional fits creating mental havoc for anyone within a city block.  The time of mutants has passed.  They live in a Mexican backwater, dreaming of escape to the sea.  Into their hopeless lives comes a woman who begs Logan to help her and her daughter escape to Canada. They are being pursue by deadly enemies, and hold important secrets.

 

That’s all you need to know.  Franchise-best performances from Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier, bringing a very real sense of weariness and honor, familial love and loss of faith, to a project that is really an exceptional film of its kind.  An “A”, without question.

 

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And now…SAMBO ALERT!

(SPOILERS)

 

LOGAN is another film that cannot be judged solely on its own.  It is the ninth in the series of X-Men movies, and as such, I feel very comfortable discussing the pattern I see.

 

It was clear from the first that the X-Men movies (and before them, the comic books) were playing with the Malcolm X/MLK split concerning race relations.  Should we assimilate peacefully?  Should we fight?   That was the earliest mutant metaphor, although later other threads of social tension were braided in.  That’s all good.

 

There was only one problem, one I noticed about four movies in.   And it is this: for movies of massive size, with huge casts, it was odd that there was not a single black male character of any note at all.  Out of more than a hundred characters in those first movies, set in America…not one, when statistics would have indicated about six.  O.K…are you saying black people wouldn’t mutate?  Or be represented among any of the “normal” human beings they encountered?  Well, clearly the white producers thought so, or didn’t care. And the white audiences didn’t care.   And if you think it unfair of me to be racially specific about the producers and audiences, then I doubt that, were you in my position, you’ be as polite about this as I tend to be.

 

As the movies rolled on, there was finally a black male mutant. He died protecting his white friends. Oh, and a black female mutant, who ended up as sexual chattel for the white head mutant.   All righty then.

 

What of Storm?  Oh, you mean the mutant with no human connections?  I can’t even remember her touching another person.  But yes, it was nice to see somebody black there…although still, no black males, even when the statistical unlikelihood of this (no one with a line of dialogue, no matter where they went, or what context they were in.)

 

The X-Men were not just comic book movies made by filmmakers. They had become WHITE comic book movies, made by WHITE filmmakers–in other words, there was a force of will, even if unconscious, pulling the casting in a very specific direction.  And there was no reason for it other than the ethnicity of those filmmakers and their target audience…who didn’t notice, and didn’t care.   Seven movies. Eight.  The exact, same situation just getting worse and worse.

 

I could go back and watch them all, look for someone, anyone I might have missed.  It’s irrelevant. Over eight movies, with hundreds of speaking parts, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

 

Then..LOGAN. I heard it was great. I also heard that Eric LaSalle was in it.  Someone over on “Aint It Cool News” said that in the matter of LeSalle’s family in LOGAN, a “courageous” choice had been made.    Ummmm. No.  Utterly cowardly choice. Predictable choice. A choice that fit right into the pattern established in eight previous films.

 

It wasn’t a complete wash-out.   There was a black major who spoke a couple of lines at one point. That was nice, even though he had no name, and was only there to establish a plot point.  The “Breeding Circle” thingie, that black men in SF/Horror movies were generally too old, too young, too obese, too gay, or too dead to be reproductive competition, was just barely violated, enough that I was able to enjoy the rest of the film. Yeah, there was a black mutant kid.  He had two out of five of the factors that kept him out of the Breeding Circle.  But that nameless major…that works.

 

That’s all I’ve got for watching a total of nine movies, eighteen or twenty hours of film, hundreds of characters with speaking parts.   No, I don’t think it is deliberate.  I think it is an unconscious expression of perceived value and worth on the part of the producers and directors, all of whom, so far as I’ve been able to determine, were white.

 

THIS is why it is critical to get diversity in the board rooms and behind the cameras.  This simply doesn’t’ happen when there are people who give  damn in control.

 

And it will continue to happen until that diversity exists.

 

Namaste,

Steve