Friday, August 24, 2018

Evolution, Revolution

The short answer is that one of our friendship goals is leaning into the hard conversations.

But when Mac and I originally began making plans for Wednesday evening, her suggestion was to catch whatever Bond movie was playing at the Byrd. Having just seen "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" two weeks ago and with plans to see "Casino Royale" next week, it was a logical plan.

At least right up until we researched what was showing: 1995's "Goldeneye." I gotta be honest: 1995 and Pierce Brosnan are a bit late in the franchise for my taste. Then I learned that it was the first Bond film not to use any elements of Ian Fleming's books and the first to use computer-generated imagery. That was enough.

What's funny about the screening of "Goldeneye" in the context of the Byrd's James Bond series is that all the films being shown were chosen by a poll. When manager Todd announced the upcoming Bond films, he was as perplexed by the choice of "Goldeneye" as anyone. But the people had spoken, so he planned to show it.

My guess is a lot of younger people voted in the poll, people who'd come of age post-Sean Connery and maybe "Goldeneye" was one of their first exposures to Bond. Mac and I said thanks, but no thanks and moved on.

My idea for Plan B was going to Movieland to see Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman" and as soon as I suggested it, Mac was on board. We'd talked about seeing it as soon as it had been released, not wanting to hear others talking about it before we'd seen it and formed our own opinions.

So here we were in our favorite seats (lots of leg room) in the front row of the back section of theater #5, a medium-sized bag of popcorn between us, as ready as we were ever going to be for Spike Lee's latest commentary on the state of race relations.

A true story set in the 1970s, the film was nothing short of extraordinary.

From the opening scene, taken from "Gone With the Wind," of Scarlet O'Hara crossing a field of injured and dying soldiers, the Confederate flag waving overhead, to the final scenes from the tiki torch white supremacy march at UVA last year and the demonstrations the next day that ultimately killed Heather Heyer, Lee's movie laid out how one rookie black cop managed to infiltrate the KKK.

A screenwriter couldn't make up a more implausible story, which was a big part of the appeal for me. It wasn't a documentary, but it was based squarely on fact. But then you layer on top of that how incredibly funny (and squirm-worthy) it is and you realize this is a mature Spike Lee masterwork that rests on the shoulders of every other important film he's made.

Denzel's son John David Washington looked like every attractive black guy I went to high school and college with, sporting a good Afro, bellbottoms, vests and wildly patterned shirts. That said, Adam Driver as the Jewish cop who has to physically infiltrate the Klan (and who gets reminded that he, too, has skin in the game) nails the transformation from white privilege to woke.

Besides the accomplished filmmaking and stellar performances, there's a soundtrack that resonated like the audio history of my youth with songs like the incomparable "Too Late To Turn Back Now" by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, "Oh, Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion" and even "Lucky Man" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Not gonna lie, I'm already planning to head over to Barky's to look for that Cornelius Brothers record to add to my collection.

Adding to the visual poetry of the story was Harry Belafonte, explaining to a group of young black college students about a young boy he saw captured, tortured and lynched for speaking to a white woman. The impact of a civil rights pioneer like Belafonte being made part of the story was moving beyond words.

I was one of several people who couldn't help but say "wow" out loud when he first appeared onscreen.

Watching a roomful of Klansmen gleefully eating popcorn while hooting and hollering watching "Birth of a Nation" was a sobering reminder that the film had inspired Klansmen to ratchet up their cross burnings as a result of seeing them onscreen.

Moving as the story was, ending with news footage from last year's Charlottesville events brought the subject of white supremacy home with uncomfortable proximity. I have to admit, I hadn't seen the actual footage of the car being driven into the protesters, though I'd seen photos, and it was excruciatingly painful to watch.

The woman sitting a seat away from me began sobbing when she saw it.

As the lights came up, Mac turned to me and asked, "Why do we do this to ourselves?" The truth is, one of the first ways we bonded was learning that we both have a desire to be part of the social justice solution, not the problem. We've chosen to go to many uncomfortable films, talks and lecture where we as white people were by far the minority and the subjects raised were difficult but important.

You know why, I reminded her. If only there was a way to make sure every white person saw complex and layered films like this and talked about them.

Mac and I know we live in a crazy age and sometimes we need to made to feel uncomfortable about it in order to make progress in going forward.

Truth be told, it's not going to be a happy day in this country until everyone gets on board with that.

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