Tag Archives: Segregation

A Reflection On My Racial History

How do you think it feels knowing that your race caused decades of inhuman suffering and cruelty on a group of people that didn’t deserve it?

It’s the end of Black History Month, and after African-American citizens spent four weeks reflecting on their own history, I thought it was important that I took a moment to reflect on my own.

When I was thirteen, my great grandmother informed me that her father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Wearing the white robe of evil and judgement as if he were as clean as snow, he marched with his brothers in uniform against those of a different color from him with a sign filled with spite in one hand, and a torch burning with hatred in the other. She never learned if her father quit the organization or not. She found his uniform in the attic later on when she was an adult.

The rest of my family’s history isn’t much better. My dad’s uncles thought African Americans were selfish, lazy human beings, sputtering racial slurs at them while they drank their glasses full of whisky. Friends of my mother’s parents jokingly called them “jungle buddies.” Things only started getting better for my family when my mother stood up to her white classmates for her black friends when she was eight years old in elementary school. She was ridiculed and called by her classmates a “nigger lover.”

Bad as that is, I know it isn’t half as bad as what some of her friends had to face during that time.

Nowadays, with everything that has been going on in Ferguson and Staten Island, I sometimes find some people judging me and labeling me as a racist just because of the color of my skin. They don’t say this in words, but in silence: in the eerie, guarded ways they stare at you and in the sharpness in their breathing that feels like blades to your character.

I understand their contempt, and if I were in their shoes, I would probably judge myself too.

I’m not proud of the things my ancestors has done. I’m not proud of the things my entire race has done. In fact, I have to live with the fact that I’m living in a former slave state back when the south was considered the Confederate States of America. How can I say I’m proud to be a Texan, when I know all of the gross, unforgivable things we’ve done as a state?

But here’s what I need to keep reminding myself: it’s not me. I am not my family. I am not my origin. I am a passionate citizen of the United States of America. I love my brothers and sisters of all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. I smile when I see them exercising their rights of freedom of expression, and I cry when I see them discriminated for their beliefs and appearances. I am filled with joy when their voices are heard, and I am filled with grief when their voices are silenced.

I am not my history, and for that matter, neither are you. We all should be proud, equal citizens of the United States. It’s high time we start acting like it.

– David Dunn

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“12 YEARS A SLAVE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Over a decade of injustice and cruelty.

12 Years A Slave is quite possibly the best film of the year.

It is also the most disturbing.

Based off the 1853 autobiography of the same name, 12 Years A Slave follows the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who lives with his family and plays the violin in Saratoga, New York.

One evening, he becomes acquainted with two young gentlemen who claim to be circus performers looking to hire him for a one-night gig. When he wakes up the next morning, he is in chains, and realizes that he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery by his captors. During his years as a slave, Northup goes from one owner to the next, from a kindhearted owner named William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a cruel, racist and mean-spirited pig named Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who presents the greatest trials he must face if he is ever to survive.

12 Years A Slave is a film that not only lives up to all of its built-up hype and expectations: in many ways, it exceeds them.

Its quality as a work of art is so striking and powerful that it can be compared to other historical tragedies, including The Pianistand Schindler’s List.

Director Steve McQueen, who made the morally reprehensible and eerily bleak film Shame back in 2011, redeems himself here as a filmmaker. McQueen, in collaboration with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, is not only masterful with framing his articulate, beautiful shots with 12 Years A Slave, but also brilliant with orchestrating scenes between his actors, showing us the bleak realism and truth of the slavery years in America.

Ejiofor, who portrays Northup in 12 Years A Slave is endlessly captivating. In moments where you think he might just be phoning it in, or just going along with the motions, he surprises you and releases an emotional intensity in ways no other actor has this year, not even Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o plays a young female slave in this movie so passionately that you forget she’s an actress and slip into her character’s tragedy as a human being more than you do as a movie character.

Most noticeable perhaps is Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, who is so hateful and so spiteful in this role that all of the audience’s energy, anger and frustration is focused on him and his sadistic acts. Fassbender was brilliant in his portrayal, and I sincerely hope that he at least gets an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

Every other aspect of this film can be praised endlessly. The script by John Ridley, who wrote Three Kings in 1999, was endlessly emotional and captivating. The score by Hans Zimmer was quiet, humble and breathtakingly beautiful, encompassing both the truth and tragedy of Northup’s heartbreaking story.

However, let there be a strong word of caution: 12 Years A Slave will elicit violent reactions from its audiences. You will laugh. You will weep. You will grind your teeth in anger and frustration, maddened by the many years of cruelty, prejudice and barbarism that no human being should ever have to experience. But it compels you to care for the character, to reach deep down in your heart to feel what he is feeling, to experience compassion and sympathy in ways almost no other film can do, not even with Schindler’s List. 

And let this be a testament to the film’s quality: at the end of the showing, there was a white man who could be heard weeping in the back of the theater. In between his hiccups, tears and hysterical reactions, he turned toward the black viewer sitting next to him, shook her hand and after introducing himself said to her, “I’m so sorry for what my race did to your ancestors.”

That man felt a powerful feeling of guilt and shame for the things that he saw in 12 Years A Slave.

That man was me.

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“THE BUTLER” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A humble heart living through harsh times.  

When we watch movies like The Butler, we are reminded of our history and why we must never return to the horrible origins that we came from.  When I say that, I am saying that regardless of race.  The film is obviously centered around the issues of slavery, segregation, and racism, and asks us to feel sympathy towards the African population for all of the horrible things they’ve been through.  But the movie evokes a more powerful emotion from me personally, a deep sense of regret and shame that my own race, the Caucasians, were at one point responsible for all of the death and cruelty we inflicted upon our own African brothers.  And why?  Because they have a different pigment than us?  That’s the sort of hate and bias that lead us to World War II when Adolph Hitler led the Third Reich against the Jews.

Based on the career of real-life butler Eugene Allen, The Butler follows the story of Cecil Gaines, a black butler who grew up during the slave era, growed up learning how to be a white man’s servant, got a job at the White House, and continued to serve there for almost 35 years. Throughout his career he witnesses history unfold in itself, from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s (Robin Williams) decision to enforce desegregation laws in Arkansas, to witnessing the assassination of John F. Kennedy (James Mardesen), to seeing the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panthers, to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to the eventual inauguration of Illinois Senator Barack Obama into office.

The Butler is an earnest, humble film, parts approachable and observant yet equally ambitious and honest. Like movies such as Ghandi, The Hurricane, and The Shawshank Redemption, this is a movie that looks into the reality of situations and shows them exactly how they were, no matter how tragic or heartbreaking those circumstances were.

Take, for example, the scene where the Ku Klux Klan is introduced.  During his college years, Cecil’s son Louis (wonderfully portrayed by David Oyelowo), was on a bus to protest against a racist Alabama.  While on their way, their bus stops suddenly as they stare at the white-robed, torch-bearing Klan staring at them with their hateful eyes.  Equal parts petrified and terrified, the protestors desperately tried to escape before the Klan started igniting the bus with fire and molotovs.

I sat there watching these scene, equally infuriated and enraged as I was emotional and mournful.  How could this be our country?  How could this have once been our land, our people who so hypocritically claimed to be the land of the brave and home of the free?

To watch these scenes and to incur such an emotion takes great skill and courage, and I think Lee Daniels does a great job orchestrating these scenes in ways that makes them so emotional and powerful.  Daniels, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2009 for Precious took quite a fall last year when he made Paperboy, a idyllic, preposterous, and morally reprehensible film that was anything except relevant, coherent, and well, good.  Here Daniels redeems himself, and leads a star-studded cast through such a gripping, overwhelming story that I think it surpasses his accomplishes even with 2009’s Precious.

Oh yes, the cast.  The cast is what makes this picture, but you already know that if you take the time to simply read the cast list.  Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.  Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan.  John Cusack as Richard Nixon.  Liev Schriber as Lyndon B. Johnson.  Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy.  John Mardesen as JFK.  Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower.  Alex Pettyfr as a plantation owner.  Terrence Howard as Cecil’s neighbor.  Cuba Gooding Jr. as a head butler.  For Pete’s sake, Mariah Carrey is in the film as Cecil’s mother and she doesn’t even say a line of dialogue.

The best performances, however, are the lead ones by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.  Whitaker, who won the academy award for The Last King Of Scotland in 2006, steals the show in every single scene he’s in, showing the still portrait of a man who is tired, weary, and emotionally strained, a man who has seen endless ages of wrongful suffering but can do little to change it because he’s worrying about himself and his family.  Winfrey is equally as striking as his wife Gloria, a woman who is also hurting and in deep suffering because of her situation and because of a drinking problem she has long struggled with.  Both of these characters are central and integral to the plot and to the progression of the story, and at many times, they’re the only ones carrying the movie through as a whole.

The Butler is one of the best films of the year.  Period.  I know there’s a lot of movies about African-American history being released later on this year (Such as Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and 12 Years A Slave), but there’s no denying the power, drama, or the history the movie so brilliantly provides us.  Yes, there are some inaccuracies to the butler’s real-life story (Starting with his name, with the real name being Eugene Allen), but the fact that it is loosely told is the best asset Daniels has towards his narrative. Since the figure is so little-known in today’s world, it allows Daniels to let loose and tell the story that he wants to tell, not the story that he’s committed to tell.  This is a movie that shows the history of a great man and a humble servant who was simply trying to support his family and to get through the days of wrongful judgement and discrimination.

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