The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Capote (2005) and flinch response

CAPOTE (2005)

Well, I got whacked again yesterday.  For the last couple of weeks, I’d been hearing about a new show on F/X called “Thief ,” which was getting terrific reviews.  Starring Andre Braugher,  it tells of a group of…wait for it…thieves, as they head toward a Really Big Job.  O.K., so I decide to Tivo and watch it.  Coming attractions showed him kissing a woman.

Hmmm.  His stepdaughter was shown as white.  Hmmm.  A reviewer commented that “as on 24, characters can die unexpectedly…”

I’m driving along with Tananarive on Sunday, when I turned to her and said: “They’re going to kill Andre Braugher’s wife.  I give her three episodes.”
“God,” she said.  “How can you be so cynical?”

Well, I watched the first episode, and his white wife had a fatal traffic accident.  I immediately turned the show off.  I’ll never be able to watch it again.  Instead, I turned to The Unit, and watched Dennis Haysbert’s intelligent, courageous, ethical, lovely, obese wife rally the home troops, while the fit, slinky white wives bowed before her wisdom.  Sexless spiritual guide anyone?  Ah well, you take what you can get.
I’m convinced that the core of this black male sexuality thing is the fear that, if black men are sexual, they will eventually be sexual with white women.  Well, that’s natural: white men certainly have always enjoyed black women.  The reason I think this is the secret obsession beneath the exclusion is that, whenever I discuss this issue, even if I’m just talking about black male sexuality in film, , someone in the audience (and I mean WHENEVER I discuss it) will invariably mention some movie or television show where a black man was sexual with a white woman.  “See,” he or she says (and the speaker can be white or black, by the way) “it happens…”

Then I point out to them that I never, ever said that I wanted to see interracial relationships (although that’s just fine.)  What I was saying is that you can’t see black men in ANY kind of sexual relationships without hurting the box office.  The American mind just naturally seems to leap to interracial.
Saw “Capote” over the last couple of days, and it’s terrific.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the tortured literary genius is wholly remarkable.  At its core, “Capote” is a tale of what happens when you sell your soul for worldly goods.

It is the story of the killers in Capote’s landmark “nonfiction novel” “In Cold Blood.”  Over the course of years, he befriends, seduces, cajoles, bribes and blackmails them into telling their story.  But, as the guy says, when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares also into you.  He was never able to finish another novel, and died of alcoholism.  The movie is simply sensational.

And yet…that cobra in the back of my head rears up and hisses.  The second most important character in the film is the novelist Nell “Harper Lee,” the author of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  I’d always heard this was a fantastic novel.  I’ll never read it.  Saw the movie when I was a kid, had been told it was a wonderful piece dealing with race relations in the South.  Yeah, wonderful if you’re white.  I remember watching it, and thinking for the first time, that for white people to feel ennobled, they have to watch a black man die and feel all weepy about it.

So the one black male character I could identify with dies.  Gregory Peck is ennobled.  Huzzah, huzzah.

Anyway, “Capote” is a sea of white faces.  There is one black man with a line of dialogue.  A Pullman Porter comes into the compartment Capote shares with Lee, and compliments him lavishly on his new book.  Lee immediately knows that he has been paid to say this.   I suppose the filmmakers MEANT that the praise was just too extremely lavish.  That’s one perspective.  The other is that a black man would read at all.  The truth is probably somewhere between the two.  I am perfectly aware that I am sometimes too sensitive on these issues, but an abused child will flinch at even a loving touch.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Anyway, “Capote” gets an “A,” especially if you’re a writer. 


Anonymous said...

Ever since I read this comment about 'To Kill A Mockingbird' I've watched media differently.

I went to see Memphis this week, which is about race relations and black music in the fifties. It was a lot of fun and very well done. Great performances. Great music. But I couldn't help sitting there thinking: 'Another race relation's story that is all about a white guy'.

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