Sunday, April 20, 2008

Manderlay and Hope?

posted from the now-defunct blog "When Whiteness Attacks"
20 April 2008

Last night I watched one of the most insightful and relevant DVDs I can think of. The film is Manderlay (2005). Directed by Lars von Trier, Manderlay is the second part in an intended trilogy of which Dogville was the first part.

Here's a preview from IMDB:

This is probably my fourth time watching the movie all the way through, and my first time with my roommate. When I asked him what he thought of the film last night, he was shocked and agreed that it was powerful and raw and honest. He thought some more about it, and this morning when we spoke, he said, "The thing is, it's so hopeless!"

I first saw Manderlay in 2006, shortly before I got my degree in theater. A professor of mine showed it as the first film in an African American drama class. I was stunned and painfully offended and repulsed by the film. "Great," I thought. "Another medium telling me how bad we have it as African Americans, and not even in a very exciting way."

The film is indeed sparse in its mise-en-scene. Set on a sound stage with the most minimal of sets, the plot moves along simply in eight chapters.

Americans are so wedded to hope just now. We are hopeful probably because things have gotten so much better materially for us over the past three generations that we don't have a strong cultural memory of what it's like for children to not have more and better opportunities in school and in lucrative jobs than did their parents and grandparents.

Our cultural memory is feeble and fickle in that sense.

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