SELMA ON OUR MINDS: On first agreeing with Maureen Dowd!

MONDAY, JANUARY 19, 2015

Part 1—On rereading Dr. King:
A half dozen commenters said the same thing about yesterday’s Maureen Dowd column.

They said it was the first such column they had ever agreed with.

Funny that! The very same thought had run through our minds as we read the Dowd column! That said, we also disagreed with one basic part of Dowd’s piece.

Below, you see the part of the column with which we agreed. Dowd is speaking about Ava DuVernay’s new film, Selma, which has received an Oscar nomination as the year’s Best Picture.

In particular, Dowd is discussing the film’s semi-controversial portrait of Lyndon Johnson, a former American president. We agree with this part of Dowd's piece:
DOWD (1/18/15):“This is art; this is a movie; this is a film,” DuVernay said. “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.”

The “Hey, it’s just a movie” excuse doesn’t wash. Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season.
We agree with Dowd’s diagnosis. If you’re making a major film about major historical figures, you need to make a basic effort to get basic history right. In our view, DuVernay has been a bit slick, and perhaps a bit “truthy,” in her discussions of this basic matter.

Dowd thought DuVernay misrepresented the truth in one part of this story. We’re inclined to agree with that assessment—and we think this is unfortunate. We agree with Dowd!

That said, we disagreed with Dowd on another point. We wondered if she got a bit “scripty” in this part of her column:
DOWD: Many of the teenagers by me bristled at the power dynamic between the men. It was clear that a generation of young moviegoers would now see L.B.J.’s role in civil rights through DuVernay’s lens.

And that’s a shame. I loved the movie and find the Oscar snub of its dazzling actors repugnant. But the director’s talent makes her distortion of L.B.J. more egregious. Artful falsehood is more dangerous than artless falsehood, because fewer people see through it.
Were Selma’s actors actually “snubbed” in last week's Oscar nominations? Is its director loaded with talent?

Like Dowd, we went to see the film this weekend. For various reasons, it didn’t strike us that way.

We didn’t love the movie. We thought it was surprisingly poor, just not a great piece of work.

Your reactions may differ! We brunched today with two old friends whose assessments differed from ours. That said, we thought the film was mediocre at best. In many ways, we thought it was rather poor.

Full disclosure: We rarely like “historical dramas” of this type. It’s hard to turn important historical events into two-hour dramas. To us, Selma seemed to come in on the low end of such productions.

You may not see it that way! For ourselves, we’d recommend some of the dazzling documentaries which discuss various chapters in the civil rights era. Or we’d recommend the actual words of Dr. King himself.

A few years ago, we reread, then gushed about, Dr. King’s first book, Stride Toward Freedom, his memoir of the Montgomery bus boycott. Rereading that book after many years, we were stunned by the morally brilliant person who emerged from its pages.

We didn’t find a hint of that person in Selma’s portrait of Dr. King. We thought the film was rather leaden—and we can’t help wondering if mainstream reviewers may perhaps feel compelled to say different.

Our two old friends found Selma moving. That said:

In our broken national discourse, it’s typically narrative all the way down. Stride Toward Freedom emerges from a remarkable moral and intellectual world, as did much of the civil rights movement. It's a world which lies well outside the truthy, scripty horizons of our grasping elites.

We thought Selma was murky, dull, uninspired, uninspiring. The film may not strike you that way. It didn’t seem that way to our friends.

Having said that, is Selma’s director loaded with talent? Were its actors really “snubbed” by Oscar voters?

Was Selma snubbed? That script was clownishly overextended at the new Salon, where we were told that the film, a Best Picture nominee, was “overwhelmingly snubbed.” But then, we the devolving pseudo-liberals seem more and more scripted each day.

We were surprised by the real Dr. King when we reread Stride Toward Freedom. We’d recommend that you see the new film, and that you read this man’s books.

59 comments:

  1. has been changed ...January 19, 2015 at 5:34 PM

    I read Stride, based on your recommendation, and it was great. Now am reading Strength to Love. One thing that strikes me about that is the gender language. King seems to be all about men and brothers. No mention of the sisters. Creature of the times, unlike me he wasn't raised in the post-feminism ERA. Both are well worth the read. Was he becoming more militant by the time he wrote "Why we can't wait"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Too bad that large portions of those books, like most of King's work, was stolen from others.

      Delete
    2. Too bad his example taught Deval Patrick and Barack Obama that plagiarism is OK.

      Delete
    3. Glad Bob's efforts to attract people to his progressive cause is succeeding so well.

      Delete
    4. Being a progressive means never having to tell the truth?

      Delete
    5. No. Being a progressive means never getting within 100 miles of mass media.

      Delete
  2. Talking to Al Sharpton today, MLK III said the film was deliberately excluded. That takes the accusation a step further from snubbed or overlooked.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can a film the Academy nominated for its highest yearly honor be fairly described as "deliberately excluded?"

      Delete
    2. Perhaps the race hustler and tax criminal should take it up with the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who last year was inducted into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame.

      Delete
    3. "Dumb and Dumber To" was also deliberately excluded. Who does this "Academy" think they are to pass judgement on the art of film-making?

      Delete
    4. She was placed in a very uncomfortable position, having to support the Academy without saying anything to undermine comments about racial disparities in the awards. She tactfully said it was a difficult field this year because the people nominated were at the top of their game, but said that stronger efforts to increase diversity were needed. It was painful watching her try to support everyone at once.

      Delete
    5. Imagine if POTUS Obama was as concerned with the sensibilities of his entire constituency instead of selected groups. Perhaps he should have CBI visit him in the White House instead of Rev. Al. He could actually profit from her advise.

      Delete
    6. Yup. He's the worst POTUS on race since Saint Ronnie of Reagan (AKA easily the worst President in the history of the nation) was ranting about Cadillac-driving welfare queens and strapping young bucks buying steaks with food stamps.

      Delete
    7. @ 2:22,

      "Though Reagan was known to stretch the truth, he did not invent that woman in Chicago. Her name was Linda Taylor, and it was the Chicago Tribune, not the GOP politician, who dubbed her the “welfare queen.” It was the Tribune, too, that lavished attention on Taylor’s jewelry, furs, and Cadillac—all of which were real."

      http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2013/12/linda_taylor_welfare_queen_ronald_reagan_made_her_a_notorious_american_villain.html

      And then there is this:


      "Income Inequality Worse Under Obama Than George W. Bush"

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/income-inequality-obama-bush_n_1419008.html

      Delete
    8. Yet the champion race-baiter still sits as the worst President the nation has ever had.

      Delete
    9. "Though Reagan was known to stretch the truth..."\

      Now THAT'S a euphemistic way to say, "Can not differentiate between fantasy and reality".

      Delete
    10. @ 8:07,

      That liberals loath Reagan is not news. They loath him more than Bush 43 because Reagan was responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union and Berlin Wall.

      Any POTUS who selects Rev. Al as their race advisor and liaison to the black community claims the mantle for greatest racial divider.

      Delete
    11. @ 8:14,

      Careful. If you believe stretching the truth qualifies a POTUS as delusional I suggest you review POTUS Obama's record. WaPo gave him Four Pinocchios for the greatest domestic policy lie ever uttered by a POTUS.

      That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

      – President Obama, speech to the American Medical Association, June 15, 2009 (as the health-care law was being written.)

      “And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn’t happened yet. It won’t happen in the future.”

      – Obama, remarks in Portland, April 1, 2010, after the health-care law was signed into law.

      Four Pinocchios

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2013/10/30/obamas-pledge-that-no-one-will-take-away-your-health-plan/

      Delete
    12. I would think stretching the truth to get people to buy the medical insurance that they need is different than stretching the truth to get people to accept cutting benefits to truly needy people.

      Delete
    13. cicero,
      We were talking about the President and race. But even excluding race, Reagan was EASILY the worst POTUS ever.
      Beyond turning the nation from the greatest creditor nation to the world's greatest debtor nation in 8 short years, he also had a very hard time differentiating between reality and his fantasies.

      Delete
    14. Times were so bad when Reagan was President, Jodi Ernst had to wear bread bags on her feet instead of shoes.

      Delete
    15. @ 1:29,

      Clinton reformed welfare and he is beloved by liberals. Why is that? But liberals might want to actually use the historical record instead of just parroting left wing propaganda about the Reagan decade.

      "Andrew Brimmer, the Harvard-trained black economist, the former Federal Reserve Board member, estimated that total black business receipts increased from $12.4 billion in 1982 to $18.1 billion in 1987, translating into an annual average growth rate of 7.9 percent (compared to 5 percent for all U.S. businesses.

      In fact, black social scientist Bart Landry estimated that that upwardly mobile cohort grew by a third under Reagan's watch, from 3.6 million in 1980 to 4.8 million in 1988. His definition was based on employment in white-collar jobs as well as on income levels.

      All told, the middle class constituted more than 40 percent of black households by the end of Reagan's presidency, which was larger than the size of black working class, or the black poor.

      The impressive growth of the black middle class during the 1980s was attributable in no small part to the explosive growth of jobs under Reagan, which benefited blacks disproportionately.

      Indeed, between 1982 and 1988, total black employment increased by 2 million, a staggering sum. That meant that blacks gained 15 percent of the new jobs created during that span, while accounting for only 11 percent of the working-age population.

      Meanwhile, the black jobless rate was cut by almost half between 1982 and 1988.

      http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1152200/posts


      The success of the black entrepreneurial class during the Reagan era was rivaled only by the gains of the black middle class.

      Delete
    16. @ 1:25

      Obama didn't earn Four Pinocchios from WaPo for "stretching the truth;" he got them for telling bold-faced lies. Why would a magical healthcare insurance plan require lies to persuade millennials to buy into it? That the Obamacare failed website cost nearly $1 billion is priceless.

      Delete
    17. cicero,
      Unbelievably (yes, that word is snark), you are incorrect yet again. As a liberal, I abhor Clinton (who conservatives love because he got all bipartisany by working with the GOP to repeal Glass-Steagall, deregulate the commodities future market, and slap around the working poor).
      Bill Clinton? This liberal says "screw him", if I wanted someone to fuck over the people and legalize theft, I'd vote for a Republican.

      Delete
    18. I was incorrect in stating the extent of your ideology? You are to the left of Liz Warren? Ok. Other than that, please where I am wrong on the facts?

      Whom are the Republicans stealing from, exactly?

      Who are these working poor and why are they poor? LBJ's Great Society was an epic failure.

      Delete
    19. I'm to the left of conservatives, but that just means I don't want the poor starving on the streets (and I think there is a ceiling to corporate welfare).

      Delete
    20. Where in the U.S. are people starving on the streets? Rank Malnutrition as a Cause of Death the U.S. is ranked 140 out of 192.countries That is 100 deaths a year out of a 330 million population. Most of them are children whose parents neglected them either intentionally or accidentally.



      http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/malnutrition/by-country/

      Delete
  3. Whatever the case, Boyhood was beneath awful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same with that new Turkish joint. 17 minute scene of two people talking.

      Delete
    2. I think "Boyhood" was interesting because of the unique way in which it was made. But it turned into a real snore-fest for me after the mom left the first step dad.

      Delete
    3. Like being forced to sit through 12 years' worth of home movies of the most unlikable, banal and dysfunctional people you know. Condensed into 3 hours but still feels like the entirel 12 years.

      Delete
  4. Current piece up now on WhoeverKidnappedJoshMarshall's website:

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/selma-did-distort-history-and-was-right-to-do-so

    "Selma Did Distort History—And Was Right To Do So"

    "Having seen Selma, I have to agree that it does distort history, making Johnson into more of a villain than seems justified by the historical record as it exists. And I believe doing so was a correct and necessary choice."

    "For one thing, every prior Hollywood film about the Civil Rights Movement and era has used white characters as the lens through which to view African American histories and identities: from the FBI agents in Mississippi Burning to the lawyer in Ghosts of Mississippi, the housewives in The Long Walk Home and Fried Green Tomatoes to none other than Miss Daisy herself, time and again it has been through the perspective of white characters that these civil rights histories have been portrayed. And as a result, those histories have always been distorted, quite literally: viewed differently than they would be from African-American perspectives."

    ".... [I]n Selma, we finally have a Hollywood feature film that distorts history in precisely the opposite direction—a long overdue, and very welcome, choice and effect."

    Are liberals bound and determined to drive every last white American from the Democratic party?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. White Americans have long based their politcal affiliation on words in film reviews by a white English professors at third tier state universities.

      Josh Marshall should have known better than to turn over valuable guest commentary space in TPM Cafe to a piece so harmful to progressive interests.

      It takes a great friend of progressivism like majneb to ferret out such heresy for us all.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, but I agree with majneb. These sorts of things make liberals appear foolish and do undermine our attempts to attract voters to progressive candidates.

      Delete
    3. Point to some examples of your recent "attempts."

      Delete
    4. Not to be all "both sides", but if liberals can't attract voters with foolishness, who will these voters, who spurn foolishness, be attracted to?

      Delete
    5. It is well known progressive candidates cannot attract voters on their own and thus must rely on mid level professors at backwater state univeristies not to appear foolish on blogs perused by persuadable voters looking for cultural clues.

      Bob is right about at least one liberal being lazy and dumb.
      I wouldn't say anything about 12:23's morals, however.

      Delete
    6. 2:24@ The recent November elections would be one such example.

      Delete
    7. Yuck. Precisely the "thinking" that has left no one with any self-respect identifying with progressives. Along the lines of "Even if the rape story was invented and people's lives were ruined, that's not the point. And they were frat boys, after all."

      Delete
  5. Apparently the portrayal of Ralph Abernathy was inaccurate too.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Let me see. Dowd loved the movie and thought the actors got snubbed. Somerby didn't love the movie and didn't think the actors got snubbed.

    Glad we cleared that up.

    ReplyDelete
  7. TDH needs a film review section. It will generate comments and interest as did thi post.

    ReplyDelete
  8. In other news, George C. Scott didn't sound at all like George S. Patton who had a squeaky voice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is trivial. The historical discrepancies in the film are major matters of fact. In LBJ's case, he goes from an ally to opposition in the film. In Abernathy's case, his contributions to civil rights were minimized. These sorts of changes matter, whereas the timbre of Patton's voice does not.

      Delete
    2. I see that Chris Hayes was right. The efforts by rival studios to campaign against the film's "inaccuracies" right as Oscar nominations were being readied certainly worked.

      Poor LBJ!

      Delete
    3. That interpretation assumes the film ever had a chance at being nominated beyond best film (where 10 films can be nominated). Somerby suggests not. It is hard to see how "inaccuracies" might have affected the acting awards. Their main impact is on the writing and directing awards. This is sort of like suggesting that set design or sound editing would have been undermined by a dispute over LBJ's role. So, I don't think Chris Hayes could be right. Remember too that the esoteric arguments had to reach the ears of the people voting, who are different in different categories, larger older people.

      Delete
    4. Your Howler ReadersJanuary 20, 2015 at 12:45 PM

      Ah, but that's not 12:28's point, which seemingly must remain uncontested: The scare-quoted "inaccuracies" aren't real inaccuracies, and are only an issue at all due to the efforts of rival studios.

      The work of the bullshit artist consummate, to leave folk debating whether the film and its acting are of sufficient merit while ignoring or glossing deeper questions.

      -What is the evidence that "rival studios," to the exclusion of other factors, drive the debate over historical falsity in the film?

      -What is the evidence that "inaccuracies" -- rather than simply inaccuracies -- are the main problem for the film's text?

      Delete
    5. @12:22,

      The "timbre" of the voice of the real Patton in contrast to Scott is indeed a glaring inaccuracy considering Patton was self conscious of his voice when addressing his troops and reporters. Historical accuracy was sacrificed for artistic discretion and the film not only did not suffer from the embellishment, selecting Scott in the role was one of the all time brilliant pieces of movie casting.

      Diminishing LBJ's profile in "Selma" may upset the Hollywood white liberal establishment, who expect blacks to genuflect to the Democratic Party, but making blacks the heroes of the film instead of "Big Daddy" was a refreshing decision even if it is in contrast with the popular impression of the 36th POTUS as determined by his liberal biographers.

      Delete
    6. @12:25, the inaccuracies are not minor. They portray LBJ as taking the opposite position to what he did, and the film implies he encouraged Hoover, which he did not do. JFK authorized the wiretap on MLK. That maligns LBJ when he was on the right side. No one wants LBJ to be the hero of the film but it isn't fair to make him a villain when he did the right thing. The diminishing of Abernathy in order to strengthen MLK's image seems unfair too. Why can't there be more than one heroic figure? Maybe that choice is part of why it didn't get a best director nomination -- it oversimplified what might have been a richer, more complex story.

      Delete
    7. Don't believe what the "white liberal establishment" wants you to think!

      Implying LBJ instigated Hoover's 'suicide letter' tactic is really nothing more significant than "diminishing LBJ's profile." If you're thinking that it is a noteworthy departure from reality, well that's just you "genuflecting to the Democratic Party."

      It really isn't possible to invent folks like Cicero -- although they seem to actually exist!!

      Delete
    8. @ 8:45,

      You sound like one of Al Gore's inventions that is a by-product of his internet creation. Have you considered an internship with Rev. Al?

      Delete
    9. @ 8:25,

      Attorney General Bobby Kennedy authorized Hoover to bug MLK. Did that shameful act diminish Bobby as a hero of liberals?

      Oliver Stone's "JFK" portrayed LBJ as conspirator in Kennedy's assassination. Where was the uproar by liberals back in 1991? And Stone insists his film is a factual representation of the assassination unlike Ava DuVernay who admits she took creative license in her film which is not a documentary.

      Delete
    10. His (laughable) words come back at him -- And. He. Goes. Off!

      parodist 1, cicero nil

      Delete
    11. @ 11:06,

      You must be using deflated balls.

      Delete
  9. Both Dowd and Bob dance around the unpleasant truth: the film's disgusting falsehoods concerning LBJ are black racism. The idea that white people have had anything to do with progress on racial issues has always bugged certain black people and some white people too! The former are racist, the latter crazy.
    At bottom, the problem is simply a silly culture that places way to much importance on Awards Shows on TV.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Mississippi Burning" is more suited to the Hollywood palate that prefers liberal seasoning of white pepper.

      Delete