I made myself a little film festival this week, as one must do in the month of November. It became centered around the civil rights movement.
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Our lecturer in Editing forum had recommended the Rolling Stones tour documentary Gimme Shelter because of how it focuses on another person than the obvious one, namely the drummer Charlie Watts instead of Mick Jagger. Well, it doesn’t really, but I get her point. The film came to be about a stabbing that occurred during an free concert that was improvised at the Altamont racing track in California. We actually get to see the stabbing, or at least the first stab.
Throughout the film I had the uncanny feeling of just knowing how it would turn out despite knowing no details, namely that the stabbing would have a race aspect. And it did. A white Hells Angel “guard” – since the organisers had hired Hells Angels as guards in return for beer – stabbed a black teenager to death: Meredith Hunter. I found this article about the boy:
- Dennis Yusko (Medium): The short life and tragic death of Meredith Hunter
Yusko quotes Saul Austerlitz who wrote a book about the incident:
The story of Altamont was, as so many American stories were, about the fundamental trauma of race. A black man had gone somewhere white men did not want him to be, and had never come home.Saul Austerlitz: Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont
This had me watch lot 63, grave C, a short film from 2006 by Sam Green, in which he visits Meredith Hunter’s grave, which does not even have a headstone. Watch it here:
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Triggered by Gimme Shelter, I finally watched Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro about James Baldwin on Netflix. I didn’t know much about Baldwin, despite having read Giovanni’s Room in my twenties (without knowing he was black). The film is about three friends of Baldwin who had been killed: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Marthin Luther King. I didn’t know much about the first two. (Monday.)
Malcolm X (1992)
So this made me watch Spike Lee’s Malcolm X from 1992, which I think was extremely well done, combining historical events with current ones in a way that became very powerful. I didn’t know anything about Malcolm X, but the film had been on my list for quite a while. It’s three and a half hours long. Denzel Washington as Malcolm X is beyond brilliant, dazzling! (Tuesday.)
Who Killed Malcolm X? (2020)
The natural follow up was the Netflix mini-series Who Killed Malcolm X? from 2020, which confirms the authorities’ involvement in his assassination. Very interesting, but in my opinion not necessary to drag out into six 43 minute episodes. Spike Lee’s 3.5 hours were justified (yes, every single minute!), Netflix’s 4.3 hours were not – should have been half that time. But I guess this is the way Netflix does things. (Wednesday and Thursday.)
After the films on Malcolm X, I decided to switch to Martin Luther King and the feature film Selma from 2014, about the protests in Selma, Alabama, 1965. It started off a bit amateurish (yes, I’m looking at you, high resolution explosion in slow motion and flying body parts of little children) but it grew to the film that actually moved me the most, or maybe it’s just because I watched it yesterday. I was not convinced by the main actor David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King. Sure, he had his moments, but whereas Denzel Washington was Malcolm X, David Oyelowo acted Martin Luther King. (Saturday.)
Selma is done by Ava DuVernay, whose 2019 mini-series When They See Us I watched in June 2019.
A name I take with me from the events in Selma is Jimmie Lee Jackson, the 27-year-old unarmed deacon who was killed by the police. Jackson was portrayed by LaKeith Stanfield (see featured image of the two of them). I didn’t even remember him as the main actor in Sorry to Bother You (2018, watched in October 2019), but he made an impression as a side character in Get Out (2017, watched in April 2019). And right after Selma, he turns up as Snoop Dogg in:
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
So this was the finale of my White History Week film festival: Straight Outta Compton from 2015 is a more contemporary take on the same violence and segregation that was the more direct focus of the other movies. A more indirect and distorted version, as reflected in gang violence and gangsta rap? But at the same time with the very direct presence of classical police violence. (Saturday.)
Why “white history” instead of “black history”?
Because the race problem in America is a white problem. I think Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay and NWA would have preferred to just live a good life in peace and quiet. To be seen as equals. But they were not. (The line that keeps surfacing days after I watched Malcolm X is “I am a man!”, yelled by Malcolm’s father as their house was burned down by whites.) Their activism and artistic expressions were the logical results of being seen as subhuman. It was whites who insisted (insist) on the existence of blacks as a category, maybe as a way to understand themselves as another (and better) category – the mirror-image of a black-and-white binary. Meanwhile, the rest of the world pays the price for their insecurity and public self-therapy. In other words, blacks were invented by whites, and race issues are therefore related to whiteness rather than blackness.