This Looks Interesting

Also, Dev Patel in more things – hope he’s not playing secondary to what’s his name Armie Hammer in this story (don’t Green Book this, Hollywood). He’s been good in everything I’ve seen him in (Dev, not Armie who I really only found interesting in The Social Network and to some extent Sorry to Bother You – nothing against him personally, it’s just a chemistry thing). What have I seen Dev in?

Slumdog Millionaire
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Lion
The Newsroom

Hope he continues to get ever more expansive opportunities (i.e. not opportunities limited by Hollywood profiling).

Which brings me to my two cents on the Jordan Peele brouhaha. Really? People are throwing around charges of ‘reverse racism’ because he said “I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead in my movie. Not that I don’t like white dudes, but I’ve seen that movie.” Quick quiz. Are the majority of films in Hollywood made by white male directors, starring and telling stories from the point of view of white males? What is wrong with one of this deep field of auteurs adjusting the lens? Has he not cast white people in his two films, Get Out and Us giving them their own arc and nuance? Pick your favourite director – how many people of colour leads have they had relative to their entire filmography? Okay, let me make it easier, how many secondary people of colour characters have they had that wasn’t a trope or a stereotype or there simply to serve the white lead’s narrative (still looking at you Best Picture winning Green Book)? Easier still people of colour at all. Let’s get even narrower – how many black leads or people of colour leads have there been in the horror film genre in a mainstream Hollywood film? I was watching a discussion about horror noire recently. It mentioned the erasure of one of the few black women in a featured role in a horror film (Rachel True in The Craft) – on digging, I learned of her not being included in press junkets when the film was released in the late 1990s nor being invited to present alongside her co-stars at the MTV awards as though she wasn’t in the room, though she was, and more recently being omitted from convention panels that her co-stars were a part of and a recent Hollywood Reporter article (the latter was fixed after she spoke up on social media). The reality is that opportunities are limited for people of colour in Hollywood because casting directors, producers, directors, and filmgoers have blind spots and don’t even notice their absence or stereotyping when they do show up  – that’s the thing half the time it’s not even malicious. And then a single director says to reference Issa Rae, I’m rooting for everybody black, and somehow this attempt by one individual to address an imbalance by telling stories particular to his point of view is the most racist thing that ever racisted? (I think the word you’re looking for is prejudice anyway, since racism is systemic and underpinned by power but…okay). Us, Peele’s sophomore effort, opened very strong and there are a million theories and stories around that film and its success. Here’s one, Lupita Nyongo despite winning best supporting actress for 12 Years a Slave (which came out in 2013) and being young, gifted, beautiful, charismatic, and a fashion darling to boot had not played a lead role in a film before Us. Reflect on that and miss me with the outrage.

She’s Royal #2

Preamble to the preamble: Yep, when I started this series last week, I promised to make it my #womancrushwednesday #wcw and not one full week later I almost missed a Wednesday. In my defense… Christmas.

Actual preamble: This series began last week with this post on Queen Nzinga (Nzinga Mbande, Dona Anna de Souza). It offers some suggestions for Hollywood if they ever get around to spotlighting any other female Royals than…you know the ones.

She’s Royal #2:

Nora.png

Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan (“the Indian princess”, “the spy princess”, Nora Baker, Madeleine)

Her Story: She didn’t occupy any throne but she is descended from Indian royalty (her great-great-great-grandfather was Tipu Sultan, 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore). Born in Russia in 1914 to an Indian father (a musician and Sufi teacher) and American mother, she was raised in London and France, and studied both medicine and music, and was also a published writer of children’s stories. In fact – a bit of trivia (from rejectedprincess.com) – the code name she used during her time as an operative, Madeleine, was from one of her stories and her radio encryption code was from one of her poems. She escaped to England shortly before the French surrender to Germany in 1940 and there joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a wireless operator. Recruited to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1942, she was the first female wireless operator sent in to Nazi-occupied France despite concerns about her suitability for fieldwork – a particular brand of field work with a life span of six weeks; she lasted four months. She stayed, even after infiltration was suspected, continuing to send intercepted radio messages back to England, single-handedly heading a cell of spies, frequently changing her appearance and alias, before being eventually exposed. In captivity, she was starved and beaten, and yet refused to give up any information. Two failed escape attempts had her branded “highly dangerous” and kept in shackles and in solitary confinement until her eventual execution (via gunshot after relentless beatings by the gestapo at Dachau concentration camp) in 1944. Per the BBC, her final word was “liberte”. She was 30 years old. She has posthumously been honoured with Britain’s George Cross and a statue in her honour in Gordon Square Gardens in London, and France’s Croix de Guerre, among other tributes. She’s been chronicled in books, documentaries, and docu-dramas, but I can’t find a feature film centering her; about time, I’d say.

Possible casting: I’ve cycled through Archie Panjabi (wrong age but great acting chops), and Frieda Pinto (right age range, a known Hollywood big screen entity) but I’m currently leaning toward Tina Desai whom I’ll admit I barely noticed among the star-studded line-up of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but I think her charming screen presence and the things demanded of her for her performance in the Wachowskis’ Netflix series Sense8 will translate well to a WWll espionage thriller with an Indian princess at its centre.
Next up: The African Queen who turned the head of the world’s wisest man.

Hollywood, why are you so unambitious?

I was half watching Stepmom, a movie I never paid attention to when it came out.  My main impression apart from a stray observation about how bratty and privileged the kids came off was how unpleasant the Susan Sarandon character seemed – and I was okay with that. It’s okay to be bitter and unpleasant, unlikeable, in fiction as in life, if the rug of your life has been pulled out from under you. Like, it’s okay to not be a saint. But then they upped the sanctified-ness and gave her cancer, to redeem her in the viewers’ eyes I suppose, make her more likeable by making us feel sorry for her: Unnecessary and manipulative in my view. But that’s only me half watching it (maybe there’s more to the story or the backstory).

The thing that really caught my eye, though, was the credits. How had I half-watched two thirds of this film and not noted that Lynn Whitfield was in it? Okay, the half-watching thing, but still…how did they manage to make someone as talented and sexy as Lynn Whitfield blend in to the background?

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Scene from Stepmom – that’s Susan Sarandon and I’m 89% sure the back of Lynn Whitfield’s head.

That’s some Hollywood magic right there.1374787170_1-lynn-whitfield

Who is Lynn Whitfield, you ask?

She won a ton of awards for the Josephine Baker Story0026359057120_p0_v2_s1200x630 back in the day but I remember her from films like the underrated western Silverado, the superlative mini-series Women of Brewster Place

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That’s Lynn to Oprah’s left in red and white polka dots and pearls.

and the darkly magical Eve’s Bayou, and more recently you might know her from the Chris Rock comedy Head of State, a Madea film or two, a guest appearance on your favourite TV show (How to Get Away with Murder), or the new OWN show, Greenleaf.
greenleaf-lynn-whitfield-poster (sidebar: speaking of OWN series, check out Ava Duvernay’s Sugar. Thank me later.)

And I found myself wondering why she wasn’t more of a thing – why, like Viola Davis playing the best friend in Eat Pray Love, she was relegated to playing fourth fiddle to Julia Roberts. I mean, I get that Roberts has been America’s Sweetheart since the one-two punch of Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman but still in a world as colour blind as people like to pretend Hollywood (not so colour blind after all) is, a talent and beauty like Lynn’s would have had more of an opportunity to come through. Yes? Yes, I know she’s worked steadily over the years and in some quality stuff too but there seems no denying that outside of all-black or predominantly black productions she’s not seen as a main attraction, merely the girlfriend to the main attraction or, as was the case with Stepmom, the doctor I barely noticed (though, again, I was only half-watching).

I found myself doing some mental re-casting, like what if she’d played one of the main roles. It’s not so crazy, right? I mean this was 1998, Lynn was just coming off of the successful Martin Lawrence (i.e. the 1990s Kevin Hart) film A Thin Line Between Love and Hate mainand the critically acclaimed Eve’s Bayoueves-bayou, and was surely ripe for more mainstream fare. She had sultriness (in fact, if you look up sultry in the dictionary, you might see her picture staring back at you), she had acting chops (see earlier reference to the Women of Brewster Place and specifically *spoiler alert* the scenes after the death of her child), Hollywood already knew of her charisma and ability to fill up a screen (they’d given her an Emmy for inhabiting the charismatic Josephine Baker), so why not imagine her as a leading lady in a mainstream (read: targeted at white audiences) film; and with it being an ensemble cast they wouldn’t even be risking box office – keep Julia or Sarandon, no actually keep Sarandon, now imagine her and Lynn going toe to toe as they tuggah-tuggah re the boundaries of their new familial relationship (as bitter ex-wife and try-hard new wife to Ed Harris…yes, Ed Harris). Can you see how electric that tension would have been? Not Meryl Streep-Viola Davis in Doubt electric maybe but enough to zing a little. Don’t get me wrong, I like Julia Roberts, and I get that she was America’s sweetheart and roles were hers for the discarding. But Hollywood you played it safe, as you always do. Why can you only imagine black actors in uber-black-and-often-stereotypical roles or as the doctor/best friend/wall paper, nothing in-between (only a slight exaggeration; you know how you are)? It’s really your loss as you could have broadened the demographic for this film without deliberately inserting race in to it, just by casting the actress who was an obvious fit for the second (reviled but she’s not that bad once you get to know her) wife role. I mean, she was right there.

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Yeah, pretty sure that’s the back of Lynn’s head.

No worries. I’ll let my imagination do the job for you. If I ever watch Stepmom again (doubtful, but still) I think I’ll imagine it with my fantasy casting…and less bratty kids.

 

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If this is your first time here, I am Joanne C. Hillhouse. I write books , I write articles (including a personal essay earlier this year for my dream publication Essence), and provide writing and writing related services. And I blog all kinds of stuff including pop culture (Queen Latifah, Natalie Cole, Supernatural, the Walking Dead, Underground, Creed, Survivor’s Remorse among other such). Read, say things, share, come again. Bless.