2017 in Film: Breaking the Rod of the Oppressor

For Living Lutheran, I wrote about what I saw as the prominent trend in 2017 movies: a focus on those who are dejected, powerless, and (financially, politically) weak.

The films that resonated most with critics and audiences were about the monstrosity of systematic racism (Get Out), the poor outside of Disneyland (The Florida Project), the mute and disrespected and exploited (The Shape of Water), or those from “the midwest of California” (Lady Bird). We certainly had the customary power fantasies — Justice League or Kong: Skull Island — but those failed to ignite the public imaginations. And the superhero movies that did catch our attention weren’t really about strong people punching other strong people. They were about the motley Guardians of the Galaxy, the perpetually losing Peter Parker, the dying Wolverine, and Wonder Woman defending the powerless.

Looking primarily at The Last Jedi, Get Out, and The Florida Project, my piece claims that these movies have a cathartic element:

Catharsis, argued philosophers like Aristotle and Nietzsche, has always been part of communal storytelling, but for the Christian viewer, it can also have a prophetic element: Our stories tell us how things can or should be, not just how they are. In the same way that Jeremiah’s poetry insisted that those who trusted in Babylon’s apparent might were “stupid and without knowledge,” and Isaiah’s poetry transformed “swords into plowshares,” movies can remind people that exploitative power is not inevitable, that other ways of life are possible.

Check out the whole thing here!

The Official (Not Official) Get Out White Liberal Bingo Card!

 

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Get Out

 

As indicated by its (nearly) unanimous critical praise and impressive box office receipts, Jordan Peele’s horror film Get Out has been enjoyed by lots of people. For some white liberal filmgoers, myself included, the movie has been a revelation, dramatizing a type of horror that I’ve never seen, let alone experienced. Between Peele’s deft filmmaking and the layered performances by Daniel Kaluuya and his costars, my fellow white viewers and I get a taste of what it’s like to receive compliments that feel like insults, to be treated as a suspect in a purportedly safe suburban space, to be used as an emblem of a host’s enlightened beliefs. In short, Get Out allowed me to see America through a black person’s eyes.

Yeah.

I said that sentence out loud. In public. Twice, actually, before realizing what I was saying. I was midway through my third utterance of the phrase, this time in front of my undergrads, when I recognized my error.

As I stood there lecturing on how the movie presented a new perspective for Americans who do not experience systematic racism, I finally realized that I mirrored the man who ultimately threatened Kaluuya’s Chris Washington: a white liberal, blind to color (and everything else), wants to put his brain in Chris’s body and literally see through Chris’s eyes.

Despite my moment of self-awareness, this would not be the only time I would excuse myself from Get Out’s satirical gaze. The other incident occurred while listening to the most recent episode of the excellent Next Picture Show podcast. As Scott Tobias and Keith Phipps, alongside co-host Tasha Robinson, admitted that they saw themselves in Dean Armitage’s self-satisfied praise of Obama and other acts of racial paternalism, I became defensive, insisting that I did no such things and then congratulating myself for failing to find the evidence I refused to seek. I’m not very honest with myself, you see.

I doubt am the only viewer to make this mistake, to admire the craft and humor and relevancy of the film while simultaneously refusing to admit a modicum of my own guilt.

And so, to help like-minded viewers avoid my shame, I’ve created this: The Official (Not Official) Get Out White Liberal Bingo Card.

Get Out Bingo

As white liberals watch the film, we mark a square every time one the Armitages or their guests do something that we’ve done in real life. Whoever first connects five boxes in any direction must stand up and shout “Bingo!” to draw attention to him or herself. Then, the winner gets to indulge in the other players’ praise, proudly aware that she or he has identified and eradicated any lingering racism!

Hopefully, this handy viewing aid will keep others from committing my mistake. Art has the power to prompt self-reflection, to make us aware of our contributions to the suffering of others, but that can only happen if we watch closely and honestly enough, and allow ourselves to be critiqued without responding defensively. Art helps us see the worst of ourselves, if we care to look.

Also, it’s fun! After all, how could anyone make bingo into something nefarious?

What’s that? There’s a bingo scene in the movie? Played entirely by the white liberal characters? And the winner gets what?

 

Oh.