Amoeblog

Exodus shocker -- the latest Hollywood Bible cartoon isn't very realistic

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 17, 2014 09:06am | Post a Comment

The other day I found out that some people are outraged by the casting in a Hollywood film -- in this case Ridley Scott's latest effort, Exodus: Days of Future Past (or whatever its full title is). They're apparently so upset that they're boycotting it, which is something I do with all but one or two Hollywood films every year although I refer to it simply as not paying to see it.

The problem that the boycotters have, it seems, is that Exodus is almost completely historically inaccurate (It's safe to guess that most of the Egyptian and Jewish characters are most portrayed by Anglo-Saxons and presumably speak Modern (if pretentious) English with a modern British accent, or approximation of one. Without having watched a trailer I'd guess that there aren't a lot of apparently Middle Eastern Africans portraying Middle Eastern Africans and the actual actors of African descent are used entirely for background color and supporting roles). 

Apparently these scandalized and offended won't-be viewers have never seen a Hollywood film before... or assumed that they'd somehow completely change their raison d'etre. Even at Hollywood's artistic peak in the 1930s, racial sensitivity and historical accuracy were not exactly hallmarks of Hollywood films -- making loads of money was, and that's what they did and they did it well. At one point Hollywood made loads of money with elaborately choreographed, brilliantly scored, escapist musicals. Nowadays Hollywood makes loads of money with loud CGI superhero cartoons. Sometimes -- rarely -- art slips through the cracks. Much more often big, dumb-looking movies like Exodus get released that look rather like the big, dumb movies that Hollywood was mostly pumped out for the last 90 years.

Sometimes these big,dumb movies made by Ridley Scott, a once-briefly-interesting filmmaker more than three decades ago made two excellent films (Alien and Blade Runner) and one not-great-but-enjoyable one, Legend. After a few years of light fun with gender (White Squall, GI Jane, and Thelma & Louise), Scott made the Gladiator, a truly old fashioned sword 'n' sandals epic in which Anglo-Saxons with British accents played sanitized, dehomosexualized Romans. It made no efforts at accuracy (no one spoke Latin, the statues were all unpainted, there was nary a priapus to be found, the meaning of thumbs up and thumbs down were reversed, &c). It was also, as a film, not good -- but it made loads of money and apparently convinced Scott that he could be this generation's Cecil B. DeMille. Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood followed -- neither of which looked any good and both of which I thus ignored, sorry, "boycotted."


So setting aside the fact that you're a grown-ass adult who apparently was considering watching a film based upon a book of the Torah, my question to the boycotters of Exodus is this: Why would you expect anything more or different from either Ridley Scott or Hollywood? Were you somehow misled? Did you see the trailer for Exodus in an arthouse, film festivalforeign language cinemagrindhouserevival housemuseum, on MUBI or somewhere else that good films are routinely screened -- or was it before some dumb, loud movie you watched in a multiplex? [I'm not not suggesting that I'm somehow above magical thinking. Every autumn morning in Los Angeles I put on a sweater somehow thinking that I'll will it to cool off and possibly snow but when it's hot by noon I curse my own stupidity and not the predictable weather.]

More importantly, If you want to see an historically accurate or artistic film set in Africa and depicting Africans then why on Earth are you turning to an industry whose best known "African films" were shot on a Culver City sound stage and starred Johnny Weissmuller? If you want African food do you go to Souplantation and wait for the chain to one day change their menu or do you go to an African restaurant? If you want African music, you go to the African music section (or store). So why, if you want racially sensitive or accurate portrayals of African history or culture wouldn't you go to the source?


If you want realistic, artistic African films depicting Africa then why don't you watch African films?
 If you really have your heart set on Biblical films, with the slightest effort you'd have come across Cheick Oumar Sissoko's La Genèse is a widely available at all finer video shops and is a good Bible film made in Africa by an African director and an all African cast. La Genèse was released on video in the US by Kino Video, who've released a lot of African cinematic masterpieces. Other widely-distributed, English-subtitled African classics are available from New Yorker Films, Facets, and Film Movement. If you live in a respectably diverse city, you could also try an African market. I'm just saying, maybe if you want to see sensitive, intelligent cinematic depictions of Africans, watch more African films than just District 9.

In case you need to be reminded, there are about 196 sovereign countries on our planet today and of them, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, ChadChile, China, Colombia, CongoCosta Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the UK, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam are all have film industries and/or filmmakers who regularly produce films that quite often are more intelligent, more artistic, more honest, more insightful, and more culturally sensitive than their Hollywood counterparts. 

It is 2014 and you have options. Assuming that you're reading this on a computer and not a print-out, you have electricity which means you have internet and are not required to rely solely (or at all) on Redbox. There is no reason you'd have to watch a Hollywood film unless you're a film reviewer or your friend is involved in the production. This should be cause not for complaint but for celebration. 


*****

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Happy 30th, Criterion -- May your next 30 be even better

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 25, 2014 11:18am | Post a Comment
Criterion is, without a doubt, the most loved video-distribution company in the video distribution game. No one (outside Korea) packages their films so beautifully and today they released a lovely, book (just in time for Christmas) of their "covers, supplemental art, and never-before-seen sketches and concept art" featured on their releases over the years called Criterion Designs. They're also beloved for their supplemental special features, which are similarly rarely paralleled, and the high quality of their restorations. There are podcasts, and subreddits, and completists devoted to the label. My only problem with them is over the films which they release -- or rather, those that they don't. 


Criterion Designs (image source: The Criterion Collection)


Criterion was launched back in 1984, when Joe Medjuck, Aleen Stein, and Robert Stein founded the company in New York City. From the get go Criterion chose films from Europe, North America, and Asia for their lovingly attentive treatment. I only became aware of the company around 1999. I recognized a lot of their films from introductory film school classes -- the canonical status of which was usually advertised by the stamp of Janus Films. At the same time, couldn't help but notice the glaring omission of ANY films from South America or Africa. When I pointed this out to Criterion loyalists and asked for their thoughts I got the following replies: "Do they make films?," "You mean like Tarzan?," and "You mean like Superfly?" My answers to all three were, "Are you *censored* kidding me?"

While Cinema EpochFacetsFilm MovementFirst Run FeaturesKinoNew Yorker Films, and Zeitgeist all regularly release films from less-exposed corners of World Cinema, none of them enjoy the loyalty, and thus power, that Criterion does. For many film fans, Criterion is unfortunately the first and last word in foreign and art film. In the minds of Criterion's completists, the fact that Criterion ignores entire continents means there's nothing there for aspiring film lovers. 

Three decades later and Criterion have still yet to release a SINGLE film from South America. It only took thirty years and the involvement of Martin Scorsese for the label to release its first (two) African films, Touki Bouki and Trances, both among the six films in that director's collection, Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project. Next year Criterion are set to release their first ever South American film, Lucrecia Martel's La Cienaga (2001).

Criterion have long been more open to Asian Cinema, especially if the film in question is from Japan. Japan has accounted for nearly 90% of Criterion's Asian films whereas only five films from China have been deemed worthy. Meanwhile, mo more than two films each in the collection come from IranKorea, or Taiwan. Criterion have released no Turkish films which means no films from Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

If you need a graph to see what Criterion's bias looks like, here you go:


Of course there are acclaimed directors from Africa and South America, directors like Alejandro Jodorowsky, Abderrahmane Sissako, Souleymane Cisse, Ousmane Sembene, Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Carlos Diegues, Gaston Kabore, Youssef Chahine, Andres Caicedo, Anselmo Duarte, Carlos Mayolo, Daoud Abdel Sayed, Eliseo Subiela, Farid Boughedir, Fernando Meirelles, Glauber Rocha, Hussein Kamal, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Juan Jose Campanella, Luis Ospina, Med Hondo, Mweze Ngangura, Oussama Fawzi, and Raja Amari, to name a few.

So whilst bells, whistles, and shiny wrapping paper are all nice -- but how great would it be for Criterion to broaden their scope to include great films from around the world? Mark Cousins's documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which came out in 2011, was surprisingly encompassing and in 15 hours did more to correct western bias than Criterion has in its first thirty years. Let's hope that we won't be saying the same 30 years from now.

*****

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People Power in the Maghreb - Celebrating the Culture of the Maghreb and the Possible Awakening of Democracy

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 15, 2011 01:00pm | Post a Comment


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Maghreb

The term Maghreb comes from Arabic المغرب العربي (meaning "place of sunset") and, as a foreign term is disliked by some of the region's indigenous Berbers, many who prefer "Tamazgha." However, as "Maghreb" is much more widely used internationally, I'm using it here, without meaning to offend. On the same note, many Berbers also don't like the term "Berber," as it comes from the Greek bárbaros or "barbarian." Many prefer a variant of "Imazighen" but no one term is agreed upon by the the Tuareg, Moors, and other Berber people so, similarly, I'll use "Berber" in this entry for the sake of familiarity.


 

In the Maghreb, press freedom is almost nonexistent. Mauritania, which enjoys the highest Press Freedom rating, comes in at 95 out of 178 according to Reporters sans frontières. State-sanctioned coverage of political unrest in the region is usually restricted to demonstrations against Israeli apartheid or the occupation's supporters. But recently, a wave of protests against Maghrebi's own corrupt governments threatens to bring progressive political change to the region, one of the least democratic on Earth. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Mauritania is also the most democratic state in the region, scoring 3.86 on a scale of 1 to 10 (115th out of 167 countries). By comparison, the United States scores 8.18 and ranks 17th. 

 Almohad Empire

 

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Ethiopia

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 3, 2010 01:30pm | Post a Comment

LIVING WOULD BE EASY IF YOUR COLOURS WERE LIKE MY DREAMS -- LITTLE ETHIOPIA - ሊትል ኢትዮጵያ

This blog entry is about the Midtown neighborhood of Little Ethiopia. To vote for more LA neighborhoods, click here. To vote for LA County communities, click here. To vote for OC communities, click here. I was accompanied on my adventure to the hood by Aussie filmmaker, Diana Ward.



LOCATION OF LITTLE ETHIOPIA

Little Ethiopia is a small, one block stretch in Midtown's Carthay district. It's situated along Fairfax between Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive. It's the smallest of the Southland's' many ethnic enclaves. It exists within the borders of Carthay Square with Picfair Village to the southeast, Carthay Circle to the north, Miracle Mile to the northeast and Wilshire Vista to the east.

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Celluloid Heroines - Fearless Filmmaking Females

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 20, 2010 01:28pm | Post a Comment
   

Every female director who's been nominated for an Oscar

On January 31st, The Guardian published an article titled “Why are there so few female filmmakers?” Less than a month later, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the director’s prize at the 62nd Directors' Guild of America Awards. Then, in March, she repeated that feat at the 82ndOscars, where only three women (Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola) have previously even been nominated. Although membership of the Academy remains secret, it’s probably fair to assume that it’s disproportionatly male. What is known is that, when it was founded in 1927, there were 33 male members and three females (Mary Pickford, Jeanie MacPherson and Bess Meredyth) – or 8%.

    The money-makers

Although women make up a large percentage of directing students enrolled in film schools, as of 2008, they made up only 9% of Hollywood feature directors. Of the 241 films that have grossed over $100 million in the US in the last decade, only five female directors made the list, Vicky Jenson, Nancy Meyers, Catherine Hardwicke, Anne Fletcher and Phyllida Lloyd. None of them enjoy the fame or recognition of most of their counterparts who appear in front of the camera.

    

Amoeba's female directors with sections

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