Interview With Derv Gordon Of The Equals

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, June 23, 2019 10:40pm | Post a Comment

The Equals

By Audra Wolfmann

Often credited with being one of the first interracial rock groups in the U.K., The Equals also bear the Derve Gordondistinction of being a truly international band with an inclusive sound that revolutionized rock, bringing Jamaican and African touches to British beat. The Equals seamlessly integrated R&B, soul, and ska to bubblegum long before The Specials, Talking Heads, and The Clash (who covered The Equals). Formed in 1965, the original line-up consisted of Guyanese immigrant Eddy Grant on lead guitar, Jamaican brothers Derv and Lincoln Gordon on vocals and bass (respectively), and native Brits John Hall on drums and Pat Lloyd on rhythm guitar. Their album covers stood as a testament to a brave new integrated world, one that was just within sight in mid-60’s London. Surely, if anything could bring humanity together through our differences, it was dance music. The Equals first charted in 1968 with "I Get So Excited," “Baby, Come Back,” and "Softly Softly" – infectiously danceable songs that they are still well-known for to this day.

Front man Derv Gordon will be performing at Burger Boogaloo in Oakland on Sunday, July 7th at 2pm with an all new line-up of talented young musicians, also known as the Oakland-based band SO WHAT. I had the honor to speak with Mr. Gordon on the phone about 1960’s London, changing attitudes about race and national origin, what it’s like to be back out on the road, and the upcoming Burger Boogaloo festival. (More on Burger Boogaloo HERE!)

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Thor: The Dark(er) World (2013)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 10, 2013 11:23am | Post a Comment

If you'll recall, the first Thor film stirred up controversy by casting Idris Elba, a black man, as the character of Heimdall, the door man to Asgard -- not because the first black Asgardian is a door man, but only because Norse Gods are Aryan and thus presumed to be white. (I doubt it would've been the white power advocates objecting had Jarvis been made a black man, rather than A.I., in The Avengers and Iron Man.) The sequel, The Dark World, defiantly expands his role, having a lot more people, gods and various mythical beings enter Asgard, thereby keeping Helmdall busier than if he worked for a hotel in a 30s screwball comedy. The filmmakers also give the racist complainers even more whatfor by casting a lot of the Asgardian warriors as black (and one Japanese). See all those black dudes punching something or other in the background, or kneeling to the greatest of all Asgardians, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth, a white man), after he proves his mettle in battle? I can imagine the decision made at the meeting: "this will really fuck with those white power assholes!" This is post-racial Hollywood, so I guess it doesn't matter that the servant is still black, just like Rochester, and the master who, like Mr. Benny, makes all the major decisions, is still blue-eyed and white. Perhaps simply applying black faces onto white mythology isn't the best approach to solving problems in representation.

The Dark World does actually bring up an interesting problem about representation in fantasy on film (sigh, DCP). One of the main evil dark elves, Akrim (the second in command), is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a black man. Keeping with the film's racial sensitivity, he's the first major character to sacrifice himself for the cause. He doesn't exactly die, but instead transforms into a giant mutant elf, Kurse, with the actor subsequently completely covered in prosthetics and, I suspect, often rendered digitally (at least, in the battles). My question is does he still count as black representation? Too bad for the actual actor, but the answer seems to be 'yes,' since (1) in the fictional narrative of a novel, simply assigning a character as black (like Rue in Hunger Games) is enough to make them black, (2) a black character in a cartoon is an example of black representation (Green Lantern in Justice League), so why not this digital creation who clearly starts off as a black man? and, relatedly, (3) if the digital creation Gollum continues to be white, because of who he was as Sméagol, a white hobbit, the same rationale applies to the black elf becoming a mutant. (Not that any of this was probably thought about during pre-production.) 

As for the story, it was created with about as much attention as the solution to racial politics. Take a crucial plot point involving Jane (the human girlfriend to the white god; played by Natalie Portman, a white woman) who for some reason is brought into an alternate dimension where she accidentally discovers the aether, a magical force that was once used by the dark elves in an attempt to destroy all the universes ... or, as King Odin (Anthony Hopkins, white man) puts it, turn them dark.  (Should I point out the parallel with what's being done to Asgard on a metafictional level? I guess I just did.) The aether parasitically invades Jane (with effects borrowed from 1984's Dreamscape) who is then taken to Asgard for some mystical medical attention. I note that this aetheric possession is enough to re-activate the dark elves from their millennia-long slumber, target who has the aether in her body, and bring them all the interdimensional way to Asgard, into the next room over from where Jane is hiding. Yet, the main dark elf, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, unsurprisingly another white man), is fooled by the (white) queen of Asgard, Frigga (Rene Russo), into thinking an image of Jane without the aether is the real thing with the aether. The rest of the film only gets more nonsensical. The film goes through the motions until the dark elves have less success at darkening the multiverse than the filmmakers have with Asgard. Lots of shit blows up until Thor reasserts the status quo, or the status quo reasserts Thor. Maybe a 9 out of 10 for irony lovers, but a 2 for the ideo-morally and/or narratively concerned.


Poster by Doaly.
Movies mentioned available on blu-ray: Iron ManDreamscapeThor & The Avengers.

Snowball's Chance in Hell: Django Unchained (2012)

Posted by Charles Reece, April 28, 2013 09:59am | Post a Comment

Along with Inglourious BasterdsDjango Unchained forms something of a diptych for Tarantino insofar as both are revenge fantasies set in two of history’s greatest atrocities: the Holocaust and American chattel slavery. In the interview he gave at the screening I saw last week, he certainly thinks of them that way. But before either film could begin to be written, one crucial difference in their respective historical situations delimited the possibilities of fantasy: one can fantasize about the end of the Holocaust by killing the highest members of the Nazi party, whereas there is no easily imagined personalized end to slavery through a few targeted acts of vengeance. Thus, the use of explosives against the Nazis seems a tactical act, a logical means of warfare. The use of bombs against slavery would border on what we call terrorism these days, or “irrationally” violent outbursts against a society (targeting civilians who can’t do anything to change the way things are, or think of the portrayal of the Watts riots, for example: why did they destroy property?). Slavery was a deeply structural violence, an ontological domination of a people that didn’t obtain in the instance of the Holocaust. Any heroic narrative set in the slave-built Southern economy is going to have a major hurdle to overcome: there is no real end in sight, the villain remains like the renewable heads of a hydra, nor is there a place to go where the hero’s limited victory will be recognized, much less celebrated (excepting the audience who might applaud at the film’s end). As Frantz Fanon famously wrote in Black Skin, White Masks:

The Jewishness of the Jew, however, can go unnoticed. He is not integrally what he is. We can but hope and wait. His acts and behavior are the determining factor. He is a white man, and apart from some debatable features, he can pass undetected. [...] Of course the Jews have been tormented — what am I saying? They have been hunted, exterminated, and cremated, but these are just minor episodes in the family history. The Jew is not liked as soon as he has been detected. But with me things take on a new face. I’m not given a second chance. I am overdetermined from the outside. I am a slave not to the “idea” others have of me, but to my appearance.

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Love Thy Vampire? Priest (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, June 5, 2011 10:16pm | Post a Comment

I wasn't going to see Priest until I read Noah Berlatsky's critique. I could tell from the trailer that it wasn't offering anything new, nor was it going to even try. Indeed, it is cobbled together from clichés, tropes and designs borrowed from other films -- many of which would best be forgotten, as well. There's not one, but two "I won't let you / don't you let go" scenes as someone is dangling from the hero's hand. The villain conducts while his minions play a catastrophe on a town, just so you know how evil he is. Black Hat, the villain, is a former member of the superpowered priesthood, now corrupted by vampire blood, making him more powerful than both the pureblood vamps and the priests. The vampires are based on the same boring, wormlike design that was used in I Am Legend -- preferred, I guess, because it's generic and doesn't require eyes. Black Hat's main plan is get his old friend, Priest, to join him as a halfbreed and take over the world for the vampire queen. The worst offense is that the action is yet another uninspired appropriation of The Matrix's bullettime. Why, then, did I see it? Because Berlatsky argues that the film is virulently racist, and I can't stay away from films that unintentionally go horribly ideologically wrong. He had my hopes up for another 300 or the aforementioned I Am Legend, but is it a "racist piece of shit," or just shit?

The film's one innovation -- if you can call it that -- is borrowing the basic plot from The Searchers. In John Ford's classic, the Comanche kidnap Ethan Edwards' (John Wayne) niece, torch his brother's homestead and kill most of the family. The vampires do the same to Priest's (Paul Bettany) family, bringing him out of forced retirement to find his "niece" (actually, his biological daughter), and, thus, against the direct commands of the church state that he serves. The heroes are accompanied by the nieces' suitors, both of whom intend to keep the girls alive against the uncles' vows to kill their nieces if they show signs of infection -- cultural in the case of the Indians and genetic in the case of the vampires (or, I guess you might say, genetic mutation determines an ideologico-moral shift in the latter). It's the substitution of vampires for Indians in the plot that is central to Berlatsky's condemnation:

[I]f the Indians are vampires, suddenly you don’t have to shilly-shally. One by one the Western set pieces are trotted out and stripped down to their primal level of racist hatred and fear. The (white) family of peaceful farming folk out on the frontier is beset, utterly without cause, by slavering, hideous eyeless beasts. The reservation on which the vampires are herded is an impoverished, backwards tract of dirt—surrounding a slimy, stinking pit of sub-human insectoid breeding and bloodletting. 

[...]  But, of course, where Ford’s film at least intermittently sees Ethan’s bloody-minded racial panic as a monstrosity, in Priest there is no such bleeding heart nonsense. Racial mixing deserves death, period, and even Hicks has to admit that Priest’s absolute anti-miscegenation stance is the only true morality.

His hyperbolical reaction rests on one faulty assumption that seems to me fairly obvious: borrowing a plot doesn't entail the same intent or interpretation of that intent for the stories sharing the plot. As Roger Ebert put it, The Searchers has a nervous racial politics in the way it attempts to walk the line between the legitimate fear Euro-American settlers had for the Comanche and the genocidal solution that many, such as the character of Ethan, promoted. Berlatsky would have it that by substituting the vampires in the role of the Other, the nervousness is taken away, making genocide a moral solution to the settlers fear of the Comanche.

Even though he refuses to admit it (confer his article's comments section), the use of monsters of pure evil instead of humans from a different cultural tradition necessitates a different interpretation of storytelling intent. Granted, monsters often serve an allegorical role, but this role isn't merely determined by their placement within a plot. Rather, I suggest content of the villain role is crucial here -- i.e., the form doesn't determine (top-down) the way the content is to be interpreted. When Dirty Harry rails against the liberal bureaucrats in San Francisco, that suggests (regardless of the intent of the filmmakers) something about the realworld bureaucratic organization of a realworld city. It asks the audience to temporarily identify with a perspective (right-wing and reactionary) about something that actually exists for the movie to work the way it does. The vampires represent the Comanche (or Indians in general) only if one assumes that they do. And the only reason for assuming that they do is because of Priest's sharing a plot with a film about white settlers and the Comanche. But imagine a story where a girl is kidnapped by a Nazi group who intend on raising her with pure Aryan racialist beliefs (this idea shares similarities with the horror film Frontier(s)). Her uncle, a vehement Nazi-hunter, goes after her with the intent of killing her if she's been ideologically contaminated. I suspect his intention would find more sympathy from contemporary audiences than Ethan's, based as it is on a hatred that's considered more morally justified than hatred of Indians. Using Berlatsky's rationale, the Nazi-hunter would be just as bigoted as Ethan. 

However, even for the individual who finds Comanche beliefs as insidious and heinous as the Nazi's, there would be a monstrousness to either of the uncles' decisions to kill his own kind that simply doesn't obtain in Priest's situation: the ideological change in the niece is psycho-cultural in the former two instances, but genetic in the latter. One doesn't learn the evil of vampirism; it's a cancer that rapidly takes over the mind and body with the exchange of blood. The person that you were is really dead; what remains is an evil simulation. A white girl raised as a Comanche or Nazi continues to possess agency and can, therefore, be responsible for her actions. Her beliefs could change again. Ethan's racism is shown in the way he takes the Comanche and their culture to be something like vampirism, robbing his niece of her agency and replacing it with an evil, inhuman mockery of her former self. He finds some redemption when he embraces her in the end, despite her Comanche ways. Contrariwise, Priest would be mistaken to assume a vampiric version of his niece still possessed moral accountability -- a mistake that would result in more people being killed as the undead virus spreads like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The vampires in Priest represent a pure, evil Otherness, a group that shares no moral beliefs with and has none for the Orwellian church-state that the humans live under. (As dumb as this film is, it's actually a good deal more politically complicated than Berlatsky makes it out to be: many human ethnicities live under the totalitarian regime that probably isn't much better than the collectively minded existence of the vampires.) Whatever fear the filmmakers attempt to create using vampires is rooted in an abstract fear that underlies all fear of things we don't understand, or can't integrate within our own cultural codes. Who the hell fears the Indians these days? Racism enters the picture only when someone chooses to treat real humans as if they were these vampires. But the only person making that connection is Berlatsky.

Scimitars and Sand Dunes - Rethinking the Middle East, Arabs and Islam

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 6, 2009 10:41pm | Post a Comment
With President Obama's recent address at the University of Cairo, there has been a veritable sandstorm of media discussion about the Middle East, the Arab world and the Islamic world; three concepts lazily interchanged in the American mainstream media (including the supposedly smarter public radio). Despite some overlap, the indiscriminate use of the terms, both out of ignorance and deliberately,  minimizes substantial heterogeneity and differences -- to the detriment of our understanding of reality, and as a result contributing to the undermining and hindering of attempts at peace in the region. While I did find the president's speech fairly nuanced, intelligent and inspirational, until substantial actions reflect those attractive words, they offer nothing more than hope.

"Neighbour to the Moon," the legendary Christian Lebanese singer, ?????.

Today Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners remain some of the last people in the west for whom racism is not only extremely common but also widely accepted, even governmentally endorsed. Merely advocating equality and human rights for Arabs and Muslims is often met with charges of racism and embracing hatred, probably the only people likely to ellicit that response besides Germans. Given this reality, centuries of negative stereotypes and repeated military and political actions that reflect undeniable double standards, it's no wonder that many view the frequent proclamations that "Islam is a beautiful religion" and hands extended in friendship with widespread suspicion at best.

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