This Scandal Just Went Hollywood

We don’t want privacy – we want a good story.

Edward SnowdenI’m not sure what to make of the revelation that the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans for years, secretly monitoring our phone calls and internet activity in ways that certainly push the boundaries of what is legal and just.

I had already assumed that the NSA (and who knows what other agency) was violating our privacy. So the leak provided by Edward Snowden merely confirmed reasonable suspicions that I and many Americans have held since…well always, but certainly since September 11, 2001.

The public tumult following the NSA leaks is different than the controversies surrounding Obama’s other scandals. Ben Gazi seems like a case of incompetence being stretched to one of treachery. The IRS targeting conservative organizations was inappropriate but a drop in the bucket compared to the number of right-leaning organizations that received little scrutiny. The Justice Department seizing phone records of the Associated Press is a dispute in policy rather than a scandal – if the actions seem despicable, blame the law that allows the Government to take such actions.

Although none of the three scandals mentioned above should be excused, upon closer inspection, they fail to get my blood boiling. It feels like the Government acting dumb – just as it always has. This week could have featured another tired news cycle of a Government agency overstepping its boundaries in a flood of partisan talking points had it not been for one key element that changed everything – Edward Snowden.

One man. A face. That’s all it takes to turn this whole mess into a story of good versus evil. We knew all along that the Government was the bad guy, but what we were missing until now, was a hero, and we have found him. Is he a hero? I have no clue, and most folks won’t care because we want the narrative more than the substance of character or policy. For goodness sake, his name sounds like that of a character from Game of Thrones – the next Lord of Winterfell, Ed(w)ard Snowden!

We don’t want our privacy – we want an individual (preferably a white male so as to fit the Hollywood narrative) to stand up to the system and fight. If we really wanted our privacy, we wouldn’t be signing it away every single day to Facebook, Google and all types of companies collecting our personal data. Edward Snowden represents the answer to all our collective longings. He’s a nerd who took a stand. He has libertarian tendencies (donated to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign) which gives him automatic anti-establishment cred. He’s tough (enlisted in the Army in 2003 to join the Special Forces) and not ugly, which is not insignificant. And of course, his main concern now is the pain he may be causing for his family, many of whom work for the US Government. I expect that the screenplays are already being written.

The place he chose to go makes the story only more interesting. Hong Kong is, for all intents and purposes, a democratic system within a larger authoritarian one. The semi-state already has an extradition treaty with the US, but none of that matters if China, which has the final say on all foreign relations with Hong Kong, decides to step in. Snowden’s decision to flee east sets up a potential clash of superpowers that would never have been possible had he fled to anywhere else in the world.

Had the same news about the NSA’s PRISM project came from a boring committee of journalists at a big newspaper, I guarantee that the story would not have made as big a splash as it did. We are much more concerned with the fate of this troublemaker than the laws and policies he hopes to change.

Hollywood’s White Savior Complex

“it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them…Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.”

This from an article by Kate Masur in the NY Times. I’m not entirely sure the movie was devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery. It was called “Lincoln” after all, not “Emancipation”.

I have a difficult time saying that any particular film is a “white savior” film. No single film should bear the burden of collective problem in the industry. The white savior complex is meaningful only when seen as a pattern.

White saviors can be found in many places but thrive in the following environments:

  • inner city schools
  • American courtrooms
  • anywhere in Africa
  • sporting grounds
  • battlefields

By themselves, these movies do not portend any significant ideas on the depiction of race in movies. Seen together, the pattern is undeniable.

The settings may change but invariably, Hollywood is in love with stories of white people going out of their way to save the “others”. You will notice that many of the themes repeat over the years.

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You would be correct in noticing that several of these movies are based on historical events. Is it the film maker’s fault that it was a white lawyer who defended the captured slaves in Amistad? That a white man was actually the head of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as depicted in Glory? While these may be based on actual events, it’s no coincidence that Hollywood chooses to make such heroic movies, only if the savior is white.

There are of course some who go out of their way to insert white saviors and deserve ridicule. Continue reading “Hollywood’s White Savior Complex”

Thoughts on Epic Super Bowl Ads

Every year, there’s one Super Bowl commercial that seem larger than the rest. Amidst the foolishness associated with selling beer and chips, there’s usually one ad that is unapologetically dramatic and downright cinematic. They cost tens of millions of dollars and will likely air just once. They’re not commercials – they’re short films. And that’s exactly how the companies want us to perceive them.

Given the pomp and spectacle that is the Super Bowl, it’s remarkable that these ads manage to captivate us at all – and yet they do, sometimes for an entire two minutes. They do so by being the opposite of the event that they interrupt. They are eerie, powerful and almost impossible to ignore – like a calm during a storm.

In 1984, Apple put out what is perhaps the greatest television ad ever.

This is the ad that changed it all and made the Super Bowl the event to showcase your brand to the country (fun fact: the commercial was directed by Ridley Scott). Continue reading “Thoughts on Epic Super Bowl Ads”

Missing: Beautiful, Black Women

Hollywood is eager to showcase dark-skinned beauties, just not too dark. Colorism is more subtle than racism, which makes it dangerous in a totally different way.

Maybe it’s because Europeans and their descendants took over the world. Or maybe it’s because for thousands of years, the wealthy and powerful avoided hard labor in the sun. For one reason or the other, fair skin is a common standard of beauty across the world. In the United States, it is certainly possible to be black and beautiful, just not too black. The problem is especially onerous for dark women.

People of color are still reduced to ethnic/racial tropes.  Men of color, typically black men, are often macho action stars (Wesley Snipes, Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson) or wise “magical negros” (Morgan Freeman, Michael Clark Duncan). Black women have an even narrower window of opportunity. For women, the archetype of the plump, sassy, god-fearing matriarch has given way to a more contemporary sexual object.

Plenty of black women are considered beautiful, but the most famous ones almost always conform to white standards of beauty. Who are generally considered to be the icons of black beauty in the 21st century? Halle Berry, Beyonce and Alicia Keys? How about Tyra Banks? Rihanna? Even when Beyonce rocks an afro, it’s a tongue-in-cheek comedy throwback to the 70s when it was normal to see Pam Greer sport one.


Of course these women are all gorgeous, but imagine how many darker complexioned women get ignored. Imagine how many little dark girls grow up thinking that there may be something wrong with them. It would be difficult for them to dismiss the pattern as racism because, after all, there are clearly black women on the screens. We must stop thinking of colorism as a word made up by complainers and the politically correct. It is a real and harmful practice.

And yes, Oprah may be one of the more popular and powerful women in the world, but she was never renowned for her beauty. This preference for lighter skin minorities can be found in the newsrooms as well where a disproportionate number of minority anchors are light-skinned.

To achieve mainstream success in Hollywood, one must still be able to pass a brown paper bag test – unless you have a penis and can fire a gun while looking cool.