Part 4—A slippery professor churns script: By some act of legerdemain, Professor Joseph seemed to know where the dispute had come from.
Why had some people criticized Selma’s portrayal of President Johnson? According to Professor Joseph, Selma’s treatment of Johnson had “sparked a controversy that could threaten the film's legacy and, in the short term, its chances for prestigious awards.”
Professor Joseph wrote his column about this matter for NPR. The column appeared on NPR’s web site on January 10.
The assessment we have quoted was perfectly plausible. But what had sparked the controversy about the film's portrait of Johnson?
Mind-reading brilliantly, the young professor eventually gave tribal members the news:
PROFESSOR JOSEPH (1/10/15): Part of the controversy over Selma stems not only from the film's portrait of Johnson, but from the lack of white protagonists in major roles. This is not to say that the movie only shows whites as villains. If Alabama Gov. George Wallace and the brutal Selma Sheriff Jim Clark are depicted as unapologetic racists—which they were—sympathetic white characters abound, including James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, two relatively unknown figures from the Selma protests who were killed by local whites for their activism. And two Johnson men, adviser Lee C. White and Assistant Attorney General John Doar, are portrayed as quietly determined allies of the movement.Are those assessments accurate? Did part of the controversy “stem from the lack of white protagonists in major roles?” Is “the real problem many critics have with this film” the fact that “it's too black and too strong?”
Selma is unapologetic in depicting the movement as one that was primarily led by black women and men. Black women stand out on this score with subtle and nuanced depictions of Coretta Scott King, Annie Lee Cooper, Diane Nash, and Amelia Boynton definitively illustrating black women's fierce activist commitment and leadership in civil rights struggles...
The real problem many critics have with this film is that it's too black and too strong. Our popular reimagining of the civil rights movement is that it's something we all did together and the battle is over; that's just not true.
Let’s start with a basic question. Who are the “many critics” for whom this is said to be the real problem?
Can we talk? Frankly, Selma hasn’t drawn a whole lot of critics! Published critics tended to review the film in reverential ways, as typically happens when film-makers tackle topics of this type.
Whatever one thinks of their assessments, our major reviewers tended to review Selma quite favorably. Who then are the “many critics” who found the film “too black and too strong?”
Mind-reading nicely while working from script, Professor Joseph never named the “many critics” for whom this was “the real problem.” In fairness, the professor did suggest two possible suspects, one of whom didn’t criticize Selma at all (see below).
Still, we were told that “many critics” felt the film was too black and too strong. Sadly, though, we were never really told who these “many critics” are. We were just told that “many critics” had this racial reaction.
Alas! In this rather slippery way, Professor Joseph was working from a low-IQ script—a script our sadly low-IQ tribe quickly adopted in response to criticisms of Selma, real and/or imagined.
Our sad tribe simply loves playing this card! When Selma didn’t receive a pair of Oscar nominations, it must have been a racial “snub,” we quickly agreed to say. When people criticized Selma’s portrait of Johnson, this had to mean that these “many critics” found the film to be “too black and too strong.”
It had to be a matter of race! Increasingly, this seems to be the only script our tribe knows how to apply.
Mind-reading nicely, Professor Joseph explained all criticism away in one fell race-based swoop. That said, it’s odd to see him making this play, because he seems to agree with critics who say that the portrait of Johnson was a bit inaccurate:
PROFESSOR JOSEPH: Selma's treatment of President Lyndon B. Johnson has sparked a controversy that could threaten the film's legacy and, in the short term, its chances for prestigious awards. As portrayed by British actor Tom Wilkinson, LBJ is a beleaguered president and is—at times—exasperated with King on the issue of voting rights. Historically, LBJ and King formed an effective political relationship on the issue, although real tensions emerged between the two men when Johnson suggested that voting legislation be pursued later, rather than earlier, in the congressional session. Johnson feared that an immediate push for the black vote would undermine his ambitions for a "Great Society." Selma's script hews close to the historical record on this point. Still, the unsympathetic portrayal of Johnson suggests a president who was an antagonist on voting rights rather than a supporter.In that last highlighted statement, the professor seems to agree with those who have said that the “unsympathetic” portrayal of Johnson was a bit misleading. Despite this assessment, he slimes the “many critics” who have adopted a similar view, suggesting that they must have mossbacked racial motives.
Once again, who are these critics? In this passage, the professor identifies two apparent suspects:
PROFESSOR JOSEPH: The hyperbolic response from some critics includes the outrageous (and false) assertion that the Selma protests were actually Johnson's idea, and suggestions that the film's portrait of Johnson should disqualify it from awards (read Oscar) consideration.In that first paragraph, Professor Joseph is talking about Joseph Califano, the 83-year-old former Johnson aide who wrote an angry column about Selma’s portrait of his former boss in the Washington Post.
A new line of criticism outlined in the Jewish Daily Forward argues that Selma disfigured the historical civil rights movement by "airbrushing" Jewish allies from the film. That's an argument that would carry more weight if DuVernay had focused on other moments in civil rights history, like Freedom Summer, when white and Jewish allies played a more prominent role. The events depicted in Selma were driven largely by the African-American activists portrayed in the film.
In our view, Califano’s column was hyperbolic or overwrought in points, although it was also informative. That said, does the professor claim that Califano found the film “too black and too strong?”
How could the professor know such a thing? Perhaps because he was typing from script, he felt no need to tell us.
The professor’s citation of the Jewish Daily Forward seems to lead us to the name of a second critic. Professor Joseph links to this piece by Mark Pinsky—a lengthy piece which doesn’t criticize Selma at all!
Go ahead! Read Pinksy’s long piece! Professor Joseph can type from a script—but can he read a newspaper column?
In his lengthy piece, Pinsky mentions Selma just once, very much in passing. Manifestly, he doesn’t “argue that Selma disfigured the historical civil rights movement by ‘airbrushing’ Jewish allies from the film,” nor does he argue anything like that.
But then, as a simple matter of fact, Pinsky doesn’t criticize Selma at all! He doesn’t state anything like the view Joseph puts in his mouth. The word “airbrushing” doesn’t appear in his piece. Neither does the self-involved claim Joseph attributes to him.
Is Pinsky one of the “many critics” who think the film was too black and too strong? Alas! Based on his actual column, Pinsky isn’t a critic of Selma at all! If Califano was hyperbolic (and we think he was), what word should we apply to Professor Joseph?
Alas! Our pseudo-liberal tribe is increasingly scripted and dumb. All too often, our scrub-faced professors seem to be leading the way to the dumbness.
Professor Joseph was slippery and slick in his piece for NPR—but he was playing the one card we know. Increasingly, this is the ditto-headed way our sad “liberal” tribe very much likes to function.
Still coming: Director Eastwood gets snubbed! Plus, our silly tribe’s ridiculous concept of “fiction”
Go ahead—we dare you: Go ahead! Read Professor Joseph’s account of the Pinsky piece. Then read the column itself.
It doesn’t criticize Selma at all! Our tribe just seems to get dumber each day—and we tribals just don’t seem to notice.