Tag Archives: black America

233 – Hoop Dreams

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

From a central focus on two aspiring young basketball hopefuls from Chicago, Hoop Dreams weaves an incredible tapestry of race and class in America, without once explaining itself to the audience, without once winking and imploring us to notice something. William Gates and Arthur Agee, two black boys of about 14 or 15 years old, are plucked from their neighbourhoods by a scout for St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, a white suburban private school that dips into the inner city looking for talent to boost its basketball team, chucking back any kid that doesn’t show enough promise. Over the course of several years, we follow William and Arthur’s development.

William and Arthur don’t start in the same place – William is touted as the next Isiah Thomas, a former St. Joseph’s alumnus who reached the NBA, and receives as an individual gift a personally guaranteed scholarship to St. Joseph’s from a wealthy benefactor. Arthur is labelled with no particular expectation beyond that he shows the potential to go pro, and whose partial scholarship becomes a financial burden once the school decides they’ve had enough of him – they want tuition fees from him now. The stresses put on these boys come from all angles – their school demands they perform for the team while keeping their grades up, their parents and communities put all their hopes into their success, and achieving stardom, a vanishingly unlikely prospect, feels like the only hope for a life free of minimum wage jobs and the power being cut off because of unpaid bills. Over the course of three hours, we understand intimately who William and Arthur are, the familial and socioeconomic circumstances that shape them, and follow them as they grow, learn, and encounter hurdles throughout their time at St. Joseph’s.

Hoop Dreams is an all-time great documentary, a portrait of life in early Nineties America that is both a state-of-the-nation declaration for its time and effortlessly legible and relevant today.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

117 – Sorry to Bother You

A surprising, imaginative comedy full of dark twists and scathing observations, Sorry to Bother You fires us up. There’s so much going on in it that we love. It builds a forceful critique of modern capitalism, drawing on black stereotypes, animal imagery, and factory cities to develop a thesis of 21st century capitalism as thinly veiled slave labour. Everything is available for commodification and absorption by the establishment; the system is able to tolerate dissent by co-opting it. But there is a vital resistance movement, embodied exceptionally by the coruscating Tessa Thompson, and though the film depicts a deeply unfair world in which power is entrenched, there is plenty of room for hope and joy, even through something as simple as a sigh when confronted with the latest absurdity.

The film is a kaleidoscope of ideas, always on its toes, always unpredictable, absolutely restless, and although we feel it lacks a certain visual finesse and overall coherence, the benefits of its madnesses far outweigh their costs.

Hugely recommended.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

84 – BlacKkKlansman

We breathlessly debate BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s comic drama based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. With limited time – Mike has to leave for work at some point and he’ll only let himself be so late – we dig right in. Discussed is the film’s point of view on culture and particularly cinema, arguing that a single film can wield the power to affect an entire nation; John David Washington’s performance, the influences we can see in it, and whether a more charismatic star might have been beneficial; our attitudes to Lee’s pamphleteering and the pros and cons of propagandistic cinema; the film’s direct address of Trump’s America and its tragic, somewhat surprising ending; and more.

We question whether the film’s comic treatment of David Duke, head of the KKK, carefully undercuts our delight in mocking him or dangerously indulges it. Duke is rendered a figure of fun in some notable and hilarious scenes, but the film ensures we recognise that he has never gone away. And Mike is particularly affected by Adam Driver’s character, a Jew in name only who, through being threatened by the KKK and confronted by Ron, is forced to reckon with his identity and the fact that it’s been easy for him to ignore it for most of his life. (The Howard Jacobson article he references is linked here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/07/howard-jacobson-jews-know-what-antisemitism-is-and-what-it-isnt-to-invent-it-would-be-a-sacrilege)

As we acknowledge in the podcast, we unfortunately missed the first few minutes of the film, which is only one reason we want to see it again. Mike is bursting with thoughts and can’t get them all out; Jose vacillates on the film’s artistic value, though not its cultural value. There’s much, much more to consider in BlacKkKlansman than we were able to in this podcast and we shall return to it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.