“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. 

 

Capitalism is a scam.

I’m tired, y’all. I have to admit that Drumpf’s America is wearing on me. After 8 years under our glorious King Obama, I had bought into the notion that we were heading into the twilight of the worst inequality and that better days were ahead. Now I see that the ugliness of racism and bigotry is not going to go quietly, and is in fact still actively sowing seeds of hatred faster than we can dig them up.

I get why white people are mad. Truly, I do. I don’t get paid what I’m worth. The rent is too damn high and so are the utilities, the groceries, and the gas. I have an advanced degree and over $50,000 of student loan debt. I live in a six figure household and I don’t even have one full month’s income in my savings account.

But I don’t blame this on immigrants, queer people, or minorities because they haven’t done shit but try to survive and thrive in a system that is set up for everyone but the richest to fail. 22.5% of my income goes to federal taxes, while corporations pay a top rate of 21%. But given the wealth of deductions, setoffs, and loopholes, big businesses are only effectively taxed on profits, rather than gross income. I don’t get to deduct the gas for my commute, or the payments on my student loans. I can’t even deduct the cost of my bar license renewal and continuing education fees because they’re less than 2% of my income.

Love of money is the root of all evil, and that evil comes to bear in capitalism. The natural end of capitalism and a 100% free market isn’t equal pay for equal work, or even pay commensurate with productivity, skills, or experience. It’s slavery or at best, indentured servitude. Capitalism prizes profit above all else, which means that business will never, I mean NEVER, pay their debt to society. A safe workplace isn’t a natural result of capitalism because cutting corners to increase output makes more money than making sure the factory equipment isn’t going to cut someone’s hand off. After all, basic needs are priced so far above production cost that you’ll have no problem finding a replacement for your crippled employee because people have work or starve. Wage inequality hasn’t been this high since right before the New Deal, and before that, the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Not to mention that at the rate global warming is progressing, parts of the world will start becoming uninhabitable within our lifetime. I don’t understand why people can’t, or won’t, see that we need to band together and fight for humanity as a whole. Capitalism is killing us and too many of us are refusing to fight back.

 

Why I’m With Her.

News broke this week confirming what we already knew–that Donald D_ru.mpf is the official Republican presidential candidate.

For a brief moment in time, progressives all over the country were excited about the prospect of Sen. Bernie Sanders becoming the Democratic presidential nominee. Ultimately, he failed, but not before running a grassroots campaign that will likely end up in the history books. The silver lining is twofold: young and progressive voters are definitely invested in the election, and Hillary Clinton has adopted several of his key platform points. I believe that if she is elected and we continue to put political pressure, she will move to the left on more issues.

But some folks aren’t satisfied. They refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils, they say. Hillary is a liar, they say. They’ll write in for Sanders or vote for one of the third party candidates because it’s time to stand on principle, they say. While I understand where they’re coming from, ultimately I am almost as disappointed in these people as I am in D_ru.mpf supporters. That’s saying a lot because, I’m deeply disappointed in those people I know who are voting for D_ru.mpf.

The thing is, I’m black. Sure, the Ancestry.com DNA results show that I’m just as much Nigerian as I am Native American, Russian and French. But I believe in calling a thing a thing, and I’m black. Blackity black. Negro. Colored. I’ve got chocolate skin and frizzy hair. There’s nowhere in the world I can go where I will be treated as anything else. But I’m proud to be black, despite the enormous psychic burden it confers. I’m very proud of my people and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. I grew up just 20 minutes south of Atlanta, the birthplace of Civil Rights Movement legend Martin Luther King, Jr. It was instilled in me that Black History was just as important as American history (and that I needed to know the difference). I majored in history in college and when we studied European revolutions, I saw W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

Embedded in my cultural legacy are the things that make me an individual. I am passionate about political and economic empowerment, as well as community service. I believe that because I call myself a Christian, I am called to love and understand others even when they deny my humanity. I believe that people are more important than money. I believe that socialism is the best form of government, but human greed and shortsightedness get in the way. I believe in law and order, but not in blind obedience.

My grandparents grew up during segregation. When they wanted to go the movies, that had to go certain showings on certain days and times and walk in the back door. My parents attended Georgia State University less than 10 years after integration. My father had a professor who refused to give black students a grade higher than a C+. My mother wrote a genealogical history of her family and tracked down my 4x great-grandfather’s grave. The only record of Sandy Reed, other than his tombstone, is a line item in his owner’s log book:

“He was a good slave.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

I can never escape the fact that not too long ago, historically speaking, I would not have been a United States citizen but property. Chattel. An object. Not a human being, much less a lawyer. When I got married, I wanted a formal ceremony and I took my husband’s last name not just because I wanted to, but because years ago I would not have had that right. I went to a law school named after a known racist. I went to school in classrooms where the Confederate flag and the American flag hung side by side. And while I don’t know of any relation, my maiden name is that of a president who is lauded for giving the country its independence but who refused to free his own slaves.

There is not a person in this country who doesn’t know of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. In fact, we romanticize World War II because it is the only conflict, other than our war for independence, in which America was unquestionably one of the Good Guys. And yet, the hate filled populist rhetoric Donald Dr_ump.f is spewing doesn’t ring any bells. He has dismissed or insulted every non-white male group in this country, from black to female to disabled. He has been endorsed by the K_u.Klu.x-Kla.n and has not condemned them. He encourages his followers to beat up and kick out anyone at his rally who dares to question him. Recently, a white woman attended a Drumpf rally with a sign that simply read “No Racism, No Hate” and had protesters try to rip the banner out of her hands and cover it with the American flag. Apparently, if you support equality and understanding you don’t love America.

When people tell you who they are, be skeptical. But when they show you who they are, believe them. In the year of our Lord two-thousand and sixteen, we cannot all agree that racism is a bad thing. This is madness. But it is a madness we are familiar with. It is a madness that makes it acceptable to gun down a black person for simply being unfamiliar. It is a madness that demands a system be put in place to track the more undesirable elements of society. It is a madness that justifies the systematic isolation and extermination of an entire race or ethnicity for “the greater good”. It is a madness that turns hatred into patriotism and bigotry into justice.

Our country is facing a crisis. Do not be fooled. D.ru_mpf is not running for President on lower taxes, or more jobs, or any other legitimate reason that outweighs his real platform. He is running on hate. Whether or not he believes the bigotry that many (if not most) of his supporters ascribe to is irrelevant because he is their voice. A vote for Dru.mp.f is not a vote for making America great again. It’s a vote for making America white again. It is a vote for America to return to the days when we ni****s knew our place.

And this is why I’m with Hillary. Not just because she’s the most qualified person for the job and not just because I’m a progressive liberal who doesn’t want to see regulatory legislation gutted. But because in our current system, any vote that is not for Hillary is a vote for Trump. And I’m bone-chillingly afraid of the havoc that a Drum.pf presidency would wreak. It took 100 years for black people to get from emancipation to liberation, and we fought tooth and nail every step of the way. There is no telling the damage that Dr.umpf could do. He has lifted up the most radical elements of the Tea Party and given them free rein to do and say whatever they want. His RNC speech has drawn comparisons to Adolf Hitler. How much more proof do we need in order to act?

I would love to be able to vote on principle. But I don’t have that luxury. I am black, from a black family, with a black husband, and black friends. We are teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, nurses and more. We are church goers, athletes, musicians, and bookworms. We are loud, funny, thoughtful, and generous. We are people. We are just like you, and yet we are disenfranchised and mocked and condescended to and murdered just for being a shade too dark. So forgive me if I don’t want to hear anything about third parties and sticking it to the establishment and how you shouldn’t have to vote for the lesser evil. Sometimes the lesser evil and the greater good are so close you can’t see daylight between them, and this is one of those cases. I am black. And I want to live in an America where blackness isn’t ignored or condemned but allowed to just be.

I don’t know if Hillary Clinton can get us on the path to that America. But I know for sure that Donald D_ru.mpf will not.

State of the Union

It’s 2016 and election fever is in full swing. (I’m amped up to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary). Sadly, that means the Obama era is at an end. This was a once in a lifetime experience! Even if it doesn’t take another 220 years to elect the second Black president, Barack Hussein Obama will always be the first.

Of course, even though a lot of people tout Obama’s presidency as the beginning of a postracial era it was nothing of the sort. Instead, it put a magnifying glass over tensions that had been left to simmer for years. Minorities and women getting ahead is okay as long as the economy is booming, but the Great Recession exposed America’s true colors. But I think the time has come for Black people to have some real talk with themselves.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t absolve white people of their responsibility to act like decent human beings. There is no excuse for racism, the same way there is no excuse for rape.  But if we’re waiting on white people to collectively apologize for slavery or issue some kind of reparations, it’s not going to happen. The fact that many white people are awakening to the reality of racism and bias in various areas of life is a victory. a lot of folks denounce Bernie Sanders as not being enough of a progressive because his platform is based on class and economic issues. Well, guess who makes up a disproportionate share of the poor in this country? At this point, it’s like we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face. As vindicating as it would be to get reparations, it’s a pie in the sky dream.

The Oscars boycott is a recent example. The Academy Awards have been “so white” since day one. But what are black celebrities doing about it? I’m a firm believer in DuBois’s Talented Tenth theory. The best of us have a responsibility to reach back. The African American Film Critics Association was founded in 2003, but most of us have never heard of it. Last year,  the BET Award for Best New Artist went to Sam Smith- a white singer who didn’t even attend. Granted, most of us don’t have the resources of the 1% to affect policy and invest in our communities on a large scale. But Oprah, Will & Jada, LeBron James, etc. do. In addition to pushing for governmental policy changes, we should be demanding our own give back. It would be more productive to encourage our own people to create opportunities for those who come after, than to continue to beg the establishment for recognition. Essence magazine is no longer black owned and it’s basically 100 pages of ads for Walmart, lotion, and hair care products along with 3 articles on how horrible it is to be a black person. Yet when the sale happened, we didn’t boycott.

Things need to change. We need to build bridges with other people of color and stop playing Oppression Olympics. The experience of every minority culture in America is unique, but Blacks, Latinos and Asians share a common struggle of being treated as lesser than the white majority. We need to get out and vote–not every 4 years for the president, not every 2 years for Congress, but every. single. year for the mayor, city council members, comptroller, superintendent, whatever. So much policy is made at the state and local level–sales tax, property tax, school districting, zoning laws are all decided every year by old white people, because the rest of us (not just black people, but EVERYONE!) don’t vote.

Trayvon, Eric, Mike, et al : Where do we go from here?

2014-15 was when Millenials collectively figured out that white people are still racist, the political system is rigged, and the justice system is crooked af. So what are we going to do about it?

If you were to compile a list of victims of police violence, and only include those who got media coverage, you’d still come up with a list as long (or longer!) than Bi.ll C.osby’s so-called groupies.*

There’s a lot of protests and social media buzz, and I’m not mad at that. Times have changed, the media and the way we consume media have changed. Our civil rights movement is not going to look like that of yesteryear. However…I think my generation risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We still need to vote, attend city council meetings, write to our representatives, and volunteer with the youth so that they know this stuff matters too. And before you say “politics doesn’t work, we’ve tried it” have we really? Only about 1/3 of the eligible voting population turns out for PRESIDENTIAL elections.

The truth is, citizens have much more power at the state and local level than federal. The President controls the army and foreign policy. Congress passes a lot of laws, but how much it affects you depends on how much you’re bothered by other people’s ability to marry the same sex or get an abortion. But state and local government basically run your life. Sales tax? Local/state government. Property tax? Local government. School district zoning? Local government. Police reform? Local government. See where I’m going with this?

You can only get so far with raising awareness. At some point, you’ve got to give people a job to do. The Black Friday boycotts are a great start, but that only happens once a year. And as much as I enjoy supporting black business year round, there’s not a black owned, non-chain grocery store or drug store where I live so Kroger and CVS are going to continue to get my dollars. I also think that we need to think multiculturally. The NAACP can’t do everything (and haven’t been doing much of anything lately). What about the Urban League, the ACLU, the National Action Network and the Anti-Defamation League? Traditional political processes are slow and bureaucratic, and we want instant results. But policy doesn’t happen overnight. And you get things done a lot faster when you can bring a coalition together to accomplish a single goal.

 

 

 

 

 

*I was being cute but don’t get it twisted, I know he’s a r.apist.