Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Blue Skies After Stormy Weather
I love music, and am especially fond of Jazz. Just last night at work I was listening to one of my favorite albums, “Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington”. Monk’s trio-his piano, plus bass and drums, plays tribute to and finds the heart of Duke Ellington's orchestrations. Each song is distinctly Ellington, and essentially Monk.
I was watching “Stormy Weather” the other day-not a great movie, but the music made up for the broad acting. I bought it to see Fats Waller doing “Ain’t Misbehavin”, and also Lena Horne.
The DVD hosts an audio commentary by a Dr. Todd Boyd, who is the “Professor of Critical Studies” at USC, whatever that means. It’s an interesting commentary-rather than delivering biographical insights into the stars of the show-Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lena Horne, Dooley Wilson (Sam in Casablanca), Dr. Boyd focuses on the social, racial landscape of the times represented in the movie. He notes, for example, that the bad guy of the piece-not a villain, just the ‘heavy’-is a light skinned black and the hero, Bill Robinson, is darker skinned. I would have missed that bit of differentiation; he made no comment at all that Lena Horne was even lighter.
Dr. Boyd’s most constant comment was ‘problematic’. The caricatures of racial stereotypes was problematic. The language was problematic. The set design was problematic, reinforcing all sorts of uncomfortable prejudices. Okay fine. I’ll be getting to my point in a minute-I think that they should have picked someone to do the commentary who actually liked the picture, who could have touched on the race differences, but also enjoyed the music, and could tell us about the lives of the actors/singers, detail who directed it, how the picture was made, etc.
He brought up an interesting point; the mainstream (read:white) movies of that era would include performances by a Lena Horne or other black artists which would have their scenes in full, with no plot business, so that the scenes could be easily cut out of prints to be shown in the South without lousing up the continuity. Think about that. Dooley Wilson couldn’t be cut out of Casablanca, as he was integral to the plot. The studio, Warner Brothers, probably fretted about a lack of ticket sales South of the Mason-Dixon.
But musical performances, dance numbers by black acts, such as the ten minutes jubilant dance in the Marx Brothers “A Day at the Races” could be excised to maintain the racial status quo in the South.
In effect, the studios were bowing to established racial prejudices, censoring themselves to placate the racist South. The way Dr. Boyd put it, “To keep Southerners from having to see black performers on the movie screen.”
We now enjoy relatively Blue Skies after that Stormy Weather. Thanks to the Civil Rights movement (and no thanks to Hollywood, who with their medium could have railed against racism decades earlier) we now enjoy a more integrated world, where people are accepted as people, and racial intolerance is not honorable.
There are still racists, but in large, I believe things have gotten much better. No studio today would excise Denzel Washington from “ Man on Fire” to placate racists.
In effect, the Civil rights movement declared that it was no longer socially acceptable to hate someone because of the color of their skin. And I praise God for the men and women He raised up to confront racism and move us forward.
We have to speak up again. Just as the Civil rights were fought for and won in the 1950’s and 60’s, here in the new world of 2006 we have to confront hateful prejudice, and make it as unwelcome in our world as racism. I’m talking about the unhinged, irrational destructive hate which Muslims exhibit against Jews and all the rest of Western culture. And I’m also talking about the quiet, moderate silent racism which is prevalent in Islam-not every Southerner in the 1940’s lynched a negro, but a good many of them kept silent when it happened in their communities. Not every Muslim will burn a flag, but...
Lets move forward. Lets make the hate inherent in Islam socially and globally as unwelcome as racism.
What can we non-Muslims do? Speak up-if a jihadist decides to drive a SUV into a group of college students, call it what it is: a terrorist act by a Muslim. If Muslims are rioting in France, call them Muslims, and not simply “North African immigrants” as CNN did.
In effect, tell Muslims and Islam: “Your hate is not socially acceptable, you must live peaceably with everyone; the Jews have as much right to exist as you do. Get over it. Quit hating, and move forward with the rest of Humanity, looking for Bluer Skies.”