NELSON MANDELA'S LIFE, COMING TO A BIG SCREEN NEAR YOU
By Danny Schechter
New York, New York: It has been said that this is the year of the black film. Three have stood out as the Oscar buzz begins in earnest.
First, there was The Butler, later Lee Daniels The Butler, after a studio pissing-match about who owned the title. The heavily rewritten and sanitized story of a black butler in the White House became a platform for celebration as a cast of Hollywood heavyweights led by TV Queen Oprah Winfrey offered a praise poem to civil rights victories in which they included the election of Barack Obama.
Some critics like one at the Daily Mail felt the film was over the top: "It has been given a rather overly generous dashing, as if by a nervous butler, of dramatic license. Not historic license, though. No, every major development in the civil rights story is ticked off"what you might call the Forrest Gumping of Forest Whitaker."
The Guardian said it "plays fast and loose with the facts" as the "central character becomes a cipher for the changing fortunes of African Americans in the 20th century."
The underlying idea: turn civil rights into a feel-good story.
Then, enter British director Steve McQueen with a feel-bad counterpoint, 12 Years A Slave, a retelling of the brutality of slavery. It is a movie about subjugation and victimization. Most of the media loved it except the African-American critic Armond White who was brave but scathing in putting it down, writing:
"Depicting slavery as a horror show, McQueen has made the most unpleasant American movie since William Friedkin's 1973 The Exorcist. That's right, 12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre " but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend "a conversation about race.' The only conversation this film inspires would contain howls of discomfort."