The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, March 08, 2010

Congrats "Hurt Locker"--and a question

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained. ~ Marie Curie

Thanks again to LaVeda Mason.


I was happy with the Academy Awards. It would have been bizarre for Avatar to win...I loved it and all, but it was a pulp melodrama told with blisteringly beautiful visuals. Not enough. "Hurt Locker" was deceptively deep, and directed by the best female action director ever. And no female director had ever gotten "Best Director" or, I think, Best Picture. I suspect that her relationship to Cameron had something to do with that, frankly. I'm not sure why, but most female directors tend to keep a static camera and let the action flow around them. Katherine Bigelow moves her camera to create dynamism. Frankly, I've only seen male directors do what she does. Not being a director, or having gone to film school, or really having had extensive conversations with directors, I don't know if my perception is accurate, or have an explanation for it if it is. But this is a good thing.


And what of "Precious"? Well...until I see some positive, healthy images of black sexuality onscreen, I am never going to be comfortable with films that, however "uplifting," revel in dysfunction, or feature only people out of what might be called the "breeding circle" of sexual attraction/function/competition: lean bodied, heterosexual, attractive, between eighteen and fifty. Oh...and survive the movie. Saw "Couple's Retreat" last week, just because I was in a masochistic mood. And Faison Love was clearly cast as "the morbidly obese black man" we would cringe over when he was humiliated into dropping trou on the beach. Grotesque. And it seriously troubles me that white audiences seem to love this so much--I cannot help but relate this to unemployment stats and prosecution stats, seriously. If this is less threatening in film, then it is the same in life as well, and one is horribly tempted to suspect that this "protective coloration" (masking secondary sexual characteristics) is one of multiple factors in the obesity epidemic as it manifests in the black community. That would make a certain amount of sense. I've certainly heard enough white women say that they had more female friends when they were fat and therefore non-threatening. And other comments from rape and abuse victims about not wanting to be attractive any more. Combine that with the cheapness of fast food and the lack of physical education programs and abundance of sedentary occupations...and you have a recipe for disaster.

I'm rambling. At any rate, I promise myself that I'll watch "Precious" one day, but I need to see a movie dealing with healthy black sexuality first. It's been a very, very long time.


And I remember, quite recently, a brilliant, lovely man, screenwriter friend of mine, tried to tell me that there just isn't sex in movies anymore. I asked him if he'd seen a little movie called "Avatar"...


A study revealing that children as young as six months discriminate. Note the stats that only 16 percent of children discriminate on the basis of gender, while over 60 percent disciminate on the basis of race. Also, that parents who try "not to mention" race, or create color-blind children by not discussing the issue, fail miserably. The parents who discuss the issue straight-up and provide specific multi-cultural programming succeed in producing relatively unbigoted kids. Innate wiring? Perhaps...or picking up unconscious crap from their parents? Some combination of both, I'm sure. We are tribal beasts and people who say they "don't notice race" are like men who say they "don't notice gender." Oh, please. I just don't buy that human consciousness works that way.


For those who have considered trying Scott Sonnon's "Tacfit Commando" program may I reiterate that this is a serious decision? This is a ferocious exercise program, even though the beginning level is available to anyone in moderate physical condition (you can scale it WAY down). But let me tell you something--this is real, real, real. If you follow this path, it will take you all the way there. I would suggest avoiding it unless you are actually prepared to change your body.


So "The Hurt Locker," hugely positively reviewed but lightly released, will get its major release. To the conservatives who feel Hollywood has politically avoided films presenting a positive view of the Iraq war? Does "Hurt Locker" qualify? Yes? No? Why? And what would the critical success of "Locker" imply?


Pagan Topologist said...

I am going to disagree abvout Avatar. I think it is so subtle that few understood it. As I wrote on 5MM a week or so ago, I believe it is a story about humans who encounter an alien species who are so very much more advanced than they are in almost every way that they cannot grasp or understand it. The Na'vi do what is necessary to prevail, recruiting double agents as necessary. The humans are misled by the Na'vi's lack of visible military hardware, which puts them into the approximate position of the Kzin when they first encountered humans in Larry Niven's first story that launched the Man Kzin Wars.

If (hah!) there is a sequel, I will wager that this becomes apparent.

Reluctant Lawyer said...

"I need to see a movie dealing with healthy black sexuality first."


What was the last movie that you saw that fit the bill in terms of this? The last movie that I can think of that showed a reasonably healthy depiction of black sexuality was Jason's Lyric. I'm sure there were others but I'm not thinking of any right now.

BC Monkey said...

To the conservatives who feel Hollywood has politically avoided films presenting a positive view of the Iraq war? Does "Hurt Locker" qualify? Yes? No? Why? And what would the critical success of "Locker" imply?

Some discussion (reviews, debate, etc from the Right on "The Hurt Locker" can be found here:

BC Monkey said...

Also see

Reviews from initial release

Some criticism on the accuracy of the picture from a former embed.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"..most female directors tend to keep a static camera and let the action flow around them"

Puzzling, since film pioneer and propagandist Leni Riefenstahl is often credited with discovering or being the first to use dynamic filming techniques on a massive scale. Cameron and the hordes of action flick directors who use dizzying shots to pump the audience's adrenaline to high octane owe their craft to her.

"..parents who try "not to mention" race, or create color-blind children by not discussing the issue, fail miserably.."

Given the gross and subtle color bias that permeates American society, avoiding such discussion likely results in children adopting racism by default. Countering and minimizing racist attitudes requires active and continual critical evaluation of social and media conventions. Parents must teach children about America's sordid racial history and coach them to reference it when viewing common racial arc-types (the obese black male, etc.). Instilling such habits of reflexive analysis can also promote critical thinking in general, which is invaluable in all aspect of life.

Shady_Grady said...

I had zero interest in seeing "Precious". The subject matter didn't grab me at all.

Anonymous said...

"... the 'breeding circle; of sexual attraction / function/ competition [is] lean bodied, heterosexual, attractive, between eighteen and fifty."

I remember that you'd earlier set the upper age bound at 40, not 50. Am I remembering that correctly? If so, any reason for this (encouraging) upward revision?

--Erich Schwarz

Frank said...

To the conservatives who feel Hollywood has politically avoided films presenting a positive view of the Iraq war? Does "Hurt Locker" qualify?

Yes it does.

Marty S said...

Young children certainly notice color differences. The first time my oldest son saw a black man in the street he was two and started jumping up and down in his stroller yelling chocolate man over and over. But I don't think it takes an anti-bigotry program for the to grow up unbigoted. Both my sons appear to be unbigoted just by not being brought up bigoted. Last year my youngest married an Asian girl and his black roommate from college attended along with several other black friends.nov211972

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

".. set the upper age bound at 40, not 50."

I'd think the "main sequence" of the breeding cycle corresponds to the 18-49 age range that's the traditional demographic targeted by advertisers during prime time. Having said that, it's noteworthy that entertainers such as Patrick Stewart, Robert Redford, Frank Sinatra and Sofia Lauren posses sex appeal that transcends the bounds of the cycle, maintaining virility or femininity well into their so-called grey years.

"Hollywood has politically avoided films presenting a positive view of the Iraq war"

While being sharply critical of the Iraq War, which I frankly consider folly a la Barbara Tuchman, I'd love to see a film were Americans fight and annihilate full-blown Muslim fanatics. My ideal film would pointedly contrast enlightened secular ethics with medieval, Jihad barbarism and feature fanatics like those in Executive Decision. The US fighters would contain tough females like Sigourney Weaver, who would knock the shit out of sexist pigs whose feminine ideal is scared and vaginally scarred women cowering beneath dark veils. Further, the film would use ex-Muslim Atheists such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan as consultants. IMHO, the Iraq War is a folly born of Neocon naivete and Bush stupidity, whereas the larger global struggle against the ideology and goals of Fundamentalist Islam is truly a noble and vital cause. It's this latter war I wish to see promoted in film.

Steven Barnes said...

I think I previously used 40 because that is the normal range of heroic male figures in films, as well as the previous upper limit on female fertility. As the population ages, it is reasonable to expand this--but also, I'm desperate to find something to consider a positive model in this regard. I am EAGER to put this particular argument to rest. And sickened that it has taken so much time. The last positive image of a black man and woman together? Damn, maybe "Set It Off." The last positive image of a black man? Maybe Will Smith's "Seven Pounds." Yes, I know lots of people didn't like the film. I ask you to note that it won the NAACP Image Award, implying that there is a real difference in the way blacks and whites view the movie--there is a real possibility that this is one of those examples of unconscious aversion at work. Image of a black woman? Maybe "Lakeview Terrace" (nice, sensual swimming pool scene).

Nancy Lebovitz said...

One thing about Precious and the "breeding circle"-- she actually breeds. One of the elements of the movie is that she has a child, is devoted to it, and insists on keeping it in spite of pressure from the welfare system to give it up.

How many of the "it's ok to have sex" couples in movies have children?

A minor thing that annoyed me about Precious-- she's good at math, but this is established early in the movie and then forgotten. I'm not sure what my issue is, but it's got something to do with intelligence being discounted. Or possibly that math is so at odds with stereotypes (female, fat, poor, other?) that the people making the movie couldn't hang on to it.

In re "the breeding circle": In the real world, fat people enjoy sex, fall in love, get married, and have children. (Not always in that order.)

This is as simply true as the fact that black men have sex lives.

Dropping whole basic ranges of successful human behavior out of art strikes me as status enforcement.

The other thing about fat people which tends to get dropped out of movies is that most fat people are just kind of fat. In movies, it's typically just thin/lean people and very fat people. There's something fishy about this, but I haven't put a finger on it.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"The last positive image of a black man"

IMHO, the ultimate depiction of a black man radiating mesmerizing power and prowess remains Henry Cele's Shaka Zulu. Never before or sense has a Jet-Black African endowed with a dazzling shrewd mind and a titanic physique that's the envy of all male humanity embodied Nietzsche's unshakable Will To Power.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

The most heartfelt reactions I've heard about to Precious were from people with similarly abusive families-- race and income level didn't seem to matter.

This is not to say that Steve is wrong about feeling uncomfortable with white people in general loving the movie-- I've seen it described as poverty porn. I'm just saying that the movie might actually be psychic food for some people.

(I have a notion that just getting stories is like getting the basic macronutrients-- protein, fat, carbohydrates, calories. Having main characters with the best endings the culture offers which resemble you is the vitamins and minerals. That's why people can be content for a while with stories that never represent them-- and then they start to realize they've got malnutrition of the imagination.)

(In re endings: we're used to happy endings. In some cultures, tragic and/or heroic deaths are more typical.)

Bemused said...

RE: a movie about healthy Black sexuality - "a good day to be black and sexy" (2008) directed by Dennis Dortch

showed it to my POC colleagues and friends - sparked a lot of healthy discussion about sex and Blackness in the movies.

Anonymous said...

Forget seeing _Precious_, READ _Push_.

Oh, very well, I haven't seen Precious yet myself, and do not know what level of justice or injustice it does to the book. But you were right, you were rambling... how does a movie about a child who tackles reading, motherhood, self-care, and making the social systems *work* "revel in dysfunction"? And, as commented above, if a mother of two isn't to be considered part of the "breeding cycle"... then is "breeding cycle" an accurate term for the concept?

Yes, I'm being picky: consider it a complement to the high standards you inspire.

Also, regarding your note on "victims... not wanting to be attractive anymore", I want to make sure you've seen this:
it is one of the starkest and most eloquent explanations available for anyone trying to understand this experience.

Anonymous said...

"...But you were right, you were rambling... how does a movie about a child who tackles reading, motherhood, self-care, and making the social systems *work* 'revel in dysfunction'? And, as commented above, if a mother of two isn't to be considered part of the 'breeding cycle'... then is 'breeding cycle' an accurate term for the concept?..."

That depends on who the person using the term "breeding circle" acknowledges.

It's like when a self-proclaimed "nice guy" says "nice guys finish last because women only like jerks!" (instead of "I'm having a hard time because the women who I'm attracted to only like jerks and only the women whom I'm not attracted to like nice guys"). He's talking about the women whom he thinks *should* like "nice guys" instead of acknowledging all of us women who *do* like nice guys and *don't* like jerks.

I've only read the book, not seen the movie. In the book, Precious gives birth twice because her father keeps raping her. Similar things happen IRL all over the world, although usually the victim's father does it less directly by picking another older man and paying a dowry or receiving a bride price.

Maybe the idea of Precious being outside the "breeding circle" is looking only at characters the speaker thinks *should* breed instead of acknowledging all the ones who *do* breed?

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

'In re "the breeding circle": In the real world, fat people enjoy sex,.."

IMHO, the Breeding Cycle depicts sexual ideals and indicates the probability of successful reproduction. That is, all things being equal, in current US society, breeding prospects are maximized the closer one approximates the physical ideals of muscled, ripped masculinity and thin, lithe femininity. The Cycle's physical ideals aren't fixed, being selected in Darwinian fashion by socio-economics. Further, those physical ideals have no intrinsic value, but are prized since they code for the ability to maximize reproduction in specific contexts. Thus the one enduring sexual trope, muscled masculinity, promoted with equal gusto by Pindar, Michelangelo and Hollywood, denotes raw power for protecting loved ones and slaying enemies. More fleeting ideals are selected by transitory conditions. Thus paleness was desirable among Europeans and East Asians when the rich lounged in palaces and the poor slaved in squalor. Now that the wealthy luxuriate in spas and more humble sorts work office jobs, among Whites the Cycle's deep tan. Similarly, the Cycle lauded corpulence, even morbid obesity a la Henry VIII, when fatness denoted opulence and the scrawny masses struggled on the edge of starvation. Now that Western poverty means an endless feast of low nutrient, high calorie junk and wealth affords the best that exercise, nutrition and surgery can buy, the Cycle's trim.

In short, yes, fat people of course participate in the Cycle too. However, their contributions and mating/breeding success are less than that of fitter folks, since the latter display physiques that advertise success in 21st Century America. Such may not be “fair”, but it’s pure, inescapable Darwinian logic.

Pagan Topologist said...

I know several women who have given birth to and raised five or more children. Only one of these women is really thin; the others are rather plump.

Anonymous said...

It's fitting that 'Precious' was set in the Reagan led 80's because that movie was basically an ode to EVERY sterotype and cliche that Reagan and his cronies perpetuated about blacks in America. And you didn't mention the 'colorism' which had a lot of people up in arms and please DO NOT go there on '7 Pounds'! Spare me racist a$$hole white male film critic bitches will hate anything Will Smith does unless he's playing a 'slave' type as in 'Bagger Vance' or a gay man. They don't want to see him as anything but the sidekick and damn sure not the 'star' if that had been Brad Pitt in the movie those bleep bleeps would have just 'loved' it. Despite 'Meet Joe Black' being boring,sappy,contrived,and implausible beyond belief so movie critics can go suck a big black one if you know what I mean.