“Sorry To Bother You”, but you need to watch this movie

I watched this movie over the weekend with my husband and we were both left wanting more. There was so much context and subtext in this film that I know I need to watch it at least two more times to get the full picture. But it’s so profound that I really feel the need to sit and wrestle with it first.

There are plenty of spoiler free reviews about this mind-blowing movie, and this isn’t one of them. I went scouring the internet to find some critique and analysis of the film and, strangely enough, came up wanting. Somehow there are dozens of thinkpieces on “A Star Is Born” (which is the THIRD REMAKE of a film that came out in 1937 and tells a fairly predictable show biz story) but none on this amazing film. But one woman’s failed Google search is another woman’s blog post idea! FYI, this is going to be long.

Quick synopsis: LaKeith Stanfield (of Atlanta fame) plays Cassius Green. He lives in his uncle’s garage and is desperate to find a job to help his uncle, who is several months behind on the mortgage, from losing his home. Cassius gets a job as a telemarketer and shoots up the ranks using his white voice. Meanwhile, the other employees (including his best friend and a traveling union rep) attempt to go on strike and form a union to get better pay and benefits, and he crosses the picket line because the money he’s making is just too good. Of course he loses his friends and his girlfriend (a protest artist played by Tessa Thompson) as he gets rich and gains notoriety within the company. Then he finds out the company he’s working for is evil (not normal evil, but sci-fi dystopia evil) and has to figure out what side he’s on.

I’m going to make my points roughly in the order that the movie takes, so here goes. 

The White Voice ™.


If you’re black (or any person of color), you probably know what this is. This movie made me think about how much code switching I do. Turns out I actually have 3 different voices. My natural voice is high pitched but sits in the middle of my range, quiet and slightly monotone, with a slight drawl and soft consonants. My White Voice (warmer tone, higher up in my register, more upbeat, faster paced, and with crisp enunciation) is for networking events, job interviews, and any time I have to deal with the bank or something like that. I developed my Lawyer Voice after entering practice and realizing that while men could talk like they were having a couple of beers at Hooters and still be taken seriously, I couldn’t. And my White Voice wasn’t quite doing the trick either. So my Lawyer Voice is slightly lower pitched and declarative with deliberate pacing. 

This part of the movie drove home how much Black people have to perform for the white gaze. When you think about it, even the title There is also a poignant scene where Cassius is at a work party being pumped for information about “the hood” because since he’s black, surely he’s shot someone before or been in a gang or at least raps. His boss starts a chant and pretty soon the whole room is yelling “RAP! RAP! RAP! RAP!” I cringed so hard because we’ve all had some version of that moment. Cassius complies, is terrible, and then leans into minstrelsy by simply shouting “N***a shit! N***a shit! N**a, n***a, n***a shit!” At first he’s elated when people start to cheer for him, but as it turns into the audience shouting along with him you see the moment where his eyes dim and he realizes, These people only care about how I can entertain them. It was so hard to watch because it was just so damn real–look at what happened to Colin Kaepernick! The fact that he dared to use his fame to bring attention to black people getting murdered by the police caused him to lose his football career. 

How physical comfort undermines resistance. 

Cassius starts his job with the sole intention of making enough money to save his uncle’s home. Then he discovers that he can live a comfortable life. Soon enough, the accolades are rolling in and he begins to dream of advancing and becoming a Power Caller, one of the highest paid employees at the company. Cassius was down with the struggle when he was broke, but once he got a taste of money and power he turned his back on his friends.  He gets really friendly with his white coworkers and lets them gas him up with celebratory high fives and dances every time he closes a sale. He moves out of his uncle garage and into a fancy downtown loft with expensive furniture. 

When Cassius gets confronted by his girlfriend Detroit, his best friend, and the union organizer, Squeeze, he lashes out. He says that they’re hating, that he can support the strike from the sidelines, and that what he’s doing has nothing to do with what they’re doing. I’m pretty sure every black person who’s ever worked in corporate America has met a Cassius. If there is more than one black person at your mostly white job and you think you don’t know a Cassius, it’s probably you. 

Capitalism is designed to dehumanize. 

I don’t know how you made it this far if you are avoiding spoilers, but if that’s the case this is your ABSOLUTE LAST CHANCE TO BAIL. Everybody ready?Well after Cassius becomes a Power Caller he is faced with the ultimate test of complicity: the company he works for is a subsidiary of megacorp Worryfree , which is trying to create the perfect workers. At Worryfree, poor people can erase their debts for life in exchange for what is just slavery with better marketing. They wear generic factory uniforms, have living quarters that look like prison cells, and get three cafeteria meals a day along with a lifetime job at Worryfree. 

But in case that message didn’t get through to you, there’s a huge twist.  Cassius gets called in for a meeting with the CEO, who offers him cocaine adn says he needs to show him a video about a new opportunity. Cassius is clearly impaired and says he needs to go to the bathroom first. Well, he takes a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom and runs into the room where some nightmarish looking half-human, half-horse creatures are being held. Have you ever heard the saying, “he’s such a workhorse”? The corporation is trying to create the perfect workers by genetically engineering a new species called “equisapiens”. There was some really good costuming and visual effects because they look realistic and creepy as hell. Had I seen this movie in the theater I probably would have jumped out of my seat! 

Cassius’s boss tries to calm him down by showing him a video about how the equisapiens are stronger, faster, and (hopefully) more docile than humans. They will triple WorryFree’s profits. But WorryFree knows that the equisapiens will rebel, so they want an inside man to be the “MLK of horses”. They’re  willing to pay Cassius $100,000 to turn into a horse for 5 years, and at the end he’ll receive the super secret reversal serum (which sounds made up and nonexistent if you ask me). He refuses to do so and goes on TV to expose them. 

Throughout the film we see clips of a show called “I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me!” where, surprise surprise, people get beat up on camera. Cassius goes on the show to reveal his video footage of the equisapiens, but they make him get pummeled on and dropped in a pool of excrement before they will show it. It’s a very scathing commentary on how media not only distracts us from the issues, but how reality tv in particular is desensitizing us to cruelty. Real life example: on MTV’s “How Far Is Tattoo Far?” people who have relationship issues tattoo each other to show their true feelings. 

Despite the expose, WorryFree’s stock shoots through the roof and the Republican party praises the CEO for his innovation.  Cassius and Detroit work with Squeeze to start a big protest to cause a distraction so they can break in and free the equisapiens. The scene turns brutal because the police and SWAT team show up and start spraying tear gas and beating people up, as they are wont to do. 

Capitalism is a system, and systems are hard to destroy.

After the equisapiens are freed, things go back to normal. Cassius takes his original call center job back (now with better benefits!). He even moves back to his garage apartment which has been upgraded with the luxury furniture he bought during his stint as a Power Caller. He and Detroit are about to get cozy when Cassius sneezes. When he looks up, we see he has started to mutate into an equisapien. (That cocaine he took before the meeting wasn’t just cocaine!) Cut to credits. 

But wait, there’s more! We get one more scene during the credits. The CEO is sitting on his couch in a bathrobe looking stressed. The doorbell rings; he limps over to his security camera and sees some equisapiens on the porch. The lead one bangs on the door and says “Open up motherfucker!” in CASSIUS’S VOICE. Oh snap! We smashcut to the door being broken down and an equisapien stomps through, roaring (neighing?) furiously. Then the movie ends for real. 

A good ally is hard to find. 

Now this is just my interpretation, but I thought it interesting that when the union organizer, Squeeze, is introduced to Cassius and Detroit, he and Cassius immediately size each other up as romantic rivals. It’s true that Detroit is clearly more woke than her boyfriend. But if you’re really trying to organize a movement, you need to win over the people who are on the fence. Instead of doing that, Squeeze starts flirting with Detroit. This is a symbolic illustration of how he seduces the workers and distracts them from the larger evils being perpetuated by the company. Throughout the movie, Squeeze seems to treat the creation of the union as just a job; he wants people to march in the street but doesn’t care about them individually. And once it’s over and the workers have negotiated a (paltry compared to what the company can afford) raise, and slightly better working conditions, he’s on to the next. Meanwhile, the equisapiens are still out there and there’s no indication that WorryFree isn’t still operating. Squeeze is off to the next city to stir shit up, and help people get just enough to keep them from rioting. Kinda seems like he’s not really on their side. . .?

Final Thoughts

That fucked me up. Like, you go through this emotional rollercoaster and the main character, who ends up doing the right thing and already didn’t make the revolutionary change he wanted, gets turned into a horse person. It’s equivalent to how Martin Luther King, Jr. fought his whole life for civil rights, but while he was alive they made only incremental gains…and he lost his life in the process. People who go against the system are basically sacrificial lambs. But it’s only through violent upheaval that real change is made. 

Heavy, heavy stuff especially considering the Mexican internment camps, shootings of black and Jewish places of worship by white supremacists, and voter suppression happening as we head into election week. Resistance is painful but we can’t afford to turn a blind eye to injustice. No matter how much money you make, what title you earn, or what power they allow you to have. . . it can all be ripped away in an instant if you step out of line. And that’s not freedom, that’s just indentured servitude. 

Stay woke. 

 

Put your name on it

DISCLAIMER: The below is not intended as legal advice or counsel and should not be followed as such. If you have an intellectual property law issue, consult with an attorney because this blog post does qualify as legal representation and is written for informational and entertainment purposes only.

I’ve seen it time and again. A hashtag or tweet goes viral, white people start making money off of it, and a Black person pops up to say “Hey, I did that first! Where’s my credit?” Then I sigh deeply, and make this face:

 

It’s true that most people have no legal training. But I didn’t think you needed to go to law school to understand that if you get a product or service for free, YOU are what’s for sale. So that means: Snapchat owns your snaps. Instagram owns your ‘grams. Twitter owns your tweets. Facebook owns your statuses, photos, videos, messages, and whatever else you put on there. There’s also this neat thing called “the public domain”. Anything that isn’t copyrighted is part of the public domain, and can be used by anyone, whether or not they give you credit.

Not everything can be protected under intellectual property, and there are three different layers. A copyright protects the original expression of an artistic work, e.g. a book. A trademark protects a brand name and accompanying logos. Both “Coca-Cola”,and the cursive script it’s written in are trademarks. Patents protect physical inventions that make the required “innovative leap” from already existing devices.

So how does this apply to social media. Hashtags are not copyrightable because they don’t qualify as an artistic work. A poem in your Facebook status could be copyrighted, however. Hashtags can be trademarked, but only if you’re using them to sell goods as part of a business (ie, coffee mugs or t-shirts). The business part is important, because that’s what tripped up the creator of #BlackGirlMagic. (In my opinion, the fact that her shirts said “Black girls are…magic!” rather than #BlackGirlMagic is also part of it).

Even if you have a trademark, you can’t stop other people from using the hashtag in their tweets. For instance, a Black woman came up with the “Me Too” sexual assault awareness campaign ten years ago. She wrote a blog post about but didn’t get the credit. In my opinion, she has no right to be mad. If she had a website or a nonprofit called “Me Too”, then fine. But social media has a very short half life. When I googled”me too sexual assault”, Ms. Burke’s blog wasn’t even on the first page of my Google results (and let’s be real, nobody goes past the first page unless it’s for a school assignment). Get your SEO search together and hush. Some things you have to be okay with not getting credit for. There’s so much information out there that you’re basically shouting into a void unless you take proactive steps to stand out.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. The money is all in the execution. If your tweet goes viral on social media, your best bet is to go write a buy the website domain name, blog about it, and start selling something with your hashtag on it. (Shout out to the women who came up with #BlackLivesMatter and started an actual foundation.) Otherwise, a random white person will swoop in and start profiting off of it. Black Twitter hasn’t been just us since about 2013 so conduct yourselves accordingly. Otherwise you’re going to be scrolling through your timeline and see an ad with the hashtag you wrote on it going, “Hey! I thought of that!”

 

Is Marriage for White People?

The analyview returns! I got a free copy of Dr. Richard Banks’ book, Is Marriage for White People from the professor who advises the BLSA group at Orange Law. It was a good read and surprisingly easy to get through; despite my impending finals, I managed to get through in just a few hours.

Thesis 1: The “marriage crisis” is not unique to black folks.

Hallelujah! Finally somebody said it, and it was a man, so people might actually believe it (true, but *eye roll* all the same). Marriage has been on the decline for decades now, and a lot of it has to do with the “success gap”–women both white and black are surpassing their male counterparts in education and income. However, the negative effects of societal trends are exacerbated in the black community by racial baggage.

Thesis 2: Marriage is a market.

A) The Man Shortage. We see the usual suspects: high rates of black male incarceration, interracial marriage of middle class, educated black men, and the success gap. However, he points out that the men who end up in prison are overwhelmingly not the men that successful black women are looking for anyway. The interracial marriage statistics are a bit more worrisome though–black men outmarry at three times the rate of black women (more than one in five black men, vs. less than one in ten black women). Finally, traditional ideas of marriage promote a male breadwinner. But given that black women earn college degrees at more than twice the rate of black men, and a labor market in which high wage industrial jobs are disappearing, that’s increasingly implausible.

Banks opens Chapter 4 with a bit of sensationalism on “man sharing”. He includes an anecdote from a physician with a largely black female population who says “Women are not surprised by the fact that their men are cheating on them. .  .  .They’re not shocked and they aren’t mad.”  o_O Really though??? So white women never get cheated on and when they do, they go slash some tires? Moving on, a 1980s study done at the University of Chicago did find that African-Americans were the least likely of all groups to have a monogamous relationship. In one predominantly black neighborhood, almost two out of every five men had simultaneous relationships with more than one sex partner. Now, the footnotes (I’m a history major and law student, how can I not read footnotes?) do state that these conclusions were drawn from much smaller sample sizes than that of the study as a whole, and thus the inference may not lie with the greater population. I know from the experiences of myself and others that man sharing definitely does happen, but I don’t know if I want to believe that women are just meekly putting up with it. Unfortunately, the rising STD contraction rates of black women and articles like this aren’t coming from nowhere.

B) Purchasing Power and Brand Loyalty. The simple fact is that middle class, educated black women outnumber black men who are the same. So black men hold all the cards, and they exploit them. It’s nothing personal, just human nature. Banks points out that many women put up with philandering behavior because they don’t want to be alone but insist on getting something out of the deal. In exchange for their acquiescence, they want expensive trips, dinners and trinkets. However, this perpetuates a cycle of distrust and discord. Successful black men now have three major disincentives to marry: the numbers on their side, women are supposedly gold diggers, and black women will remain loyal no matter what. Meanwhile, women resent men for expecting a lack of commitment with no repercussions, given that a woman who can’t carry on with multiple men without being deemed a whore.

Thesis 3: More black female led interracial relationships will benefit black people as a whole.

The same way competition forces business to adjust their prices and practices, competition shapes human mating behavior. A man who is less attractive will try to make up for it through humor, accumulating wealth, or other such mechanisms.So it logically follows that if black women outdated and outmarried in the same numbers as black men,  black women would step their game up and adapt to the new competition.

One of the biggest problems with black women’s determination to marry within the race is the inequality. Tyler Perry movies tout the “Blue Collar Brother” as the answer but the truth is, how many bus drivers have the heart of a poet? How many mechanics have the talent, drive and ambition to open their own auto shop and thrive? Marriages are based on shared values, and a weed smoking high school dropout who lives with his mama, or even the electrician with the associate’s degree who grew up in the hood, likely have little in common with a woman who went to an Ivy League school and works for a multinational corporation. That’s not good or bad, it just is. Suburbanite that I am, I’ll be the first one to admit that I dropped a potential suitor like a hot potato because he did a little “dope boy magic” in addition to his college internship. If the choice is ride or die, I’ll just walk. Basically, compatibility in a marriage relationship goes far, far beyond race.

At the end of the day, it’s about the children. Marriage isn’t what’s good for children–healthy, functional relationships between the two parents are. However, it’s hard to provide this stability between two people who are ill suited to each other. White middle class men arguably have much more in common when it comes to values than middle class black women and blue collar brothers. Furthermore, since white men and women outmarry at more equal rates and white men vastly outnumber black men, the man shortage disappears. Black women don’t have to settle for a lack of monogamy, and they can avoid the health consequences that come with it.

Thesis 4: It’s more than just numbers. 

A) Desire. At the heart of the interracial dating issue is the fact that many black women are either not attracted to white men at all, or just have a strong preference for black men–the way some men have a preference for women with light skin, long hair, or big boobs. What’s so wrong with it? Nothing really, and there’s no way to make someone feel attraction where there is none.

B) The Black Family. Some black women (like myself, admittedly) feel they have a duty to preserve the black family. As interracial marriages increase, we are moving closer to a beige America and some of us want to preserve the culture in our own small way. But the big issue is loyalty. Some women also feel that it would be a slap in the face to their beloved fathers, brothers and grandfathers to marry outside the race. The world still looks down on black men and it’s our job to lift them up, right? Well…not really. At least, not in the way that we’ve been doing.  Marrying outside the race doesn’t mean that you think black men are unworthy, and you don’t have to stop supporting the black community just because you marry outside of it. Black men feel no such loyalty to their women; marrying a white/Asian/Latina woman doesn’t mean to them that they love their mothers, sisters and cousins any less.

This is the really complicated bit. My sister is one of the few intrepid souls to try dating a white man; coincidentally, so is her best girlfriend! And they’re happy together. My brother and father don’t feel in any way put out by her choice. But many families aren’t as open as mine; in fact, some of my extended relatives still look at her boyfriend as an exotic and expect the drama to pop off at any moment. But even if they were to break up, that doesn’t mean interracial dating is a failure. Most relationships don’t make it to marriage, regardless of the two people’s race. Still, it’s hard to go against a lifetime of social conditioning, much less do so amid the objections of the people you hold dear.

C) Reciprocity. A study by the dating website OkCupid revealed that black women got the least responses to their personal messages. Closer examination of the data showed that other minority men–Native Americans, Asians, and Latinos–were all very likely to respond to black women, but black men were the least responsive, with white men in second. The racial divide goes both ways, and many white men think that women won’t be attracted to them. And black women are afraid of being treated as a fetish object. Their fears are not unreasonable–just look at the decades of sexual exploitation at the hands of white slaveowners, and the hypersexualization of black women that still saturates the media of today

Although Is Marriage for White People is a rather slim volume, Banks packs in a ton of information. I’ve merely summarized the main points of the book,  but I still highly recommend that you give it a read. While interracial dating is presented