william steig drawing

April 30, 2013
Kartina Richardson

The White Default

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One more thing:

Here’s an article I wrote for Salon. “How Can White Americans Be Free?The default belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective one hurts both white and American culture.

I  also talk about Spring Breakers (great), and Girls (great and not great).

Fighting the Default has been the main point of Mirror in many ways.

Who knows what infamous commenter Max Oblivion will think.

How Can White Americans Be Free?

Measure, measure, measure.
We learn to measure first.
We spend our days measuring. And when we count we start at one.

Every number after is in relation to one.
Two is one after one.
Three is two after one. And so on.
Every child knows that one is the beginning from which all other numbers arise.

And every child knows that one is Whiteness.

The beginning.

In the beginning there was Whiteness. This is the glittering starting point. This is The Default. This is what we measure everything else against.

It’s clear that we as Black and Brown Americans, are still recovering from the racist indoctrinations of the past 500 years. Though laughable it sounds, white Americans, too, have suffered from this crime. As our country began and brown races were systematically denied the right to be human and so internalized the role of the savage, white consciousness bullied its way into objectivity. The white mind became the unbiased mind that objectively observed all the rest. This is called The Default: The belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective experience and white consciousness is the standard consciousness unless otherwise specified. White culture, and American culture as a whole, suffers from the tragedy of whiteness as the default setting.

Continue Reading…

 

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February 20, 2013
Kartina Richardson

Django Unchained

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I’m off to focus on my own films now.

Here is my last post, my thoughts on Django, completely unedited. This is what something I write looks like before it’s anywhere close to being finished. Before I’ve toned it wayyy down or toned it way up, all out of order etc. I better get out of here before I start making disclaimers up the wazoo.

***

Blood is so red. Thank god for its color. Thank god for blood’s redness and thank god for red blood in Django. In January. Its good to see guts in the wastelands of winter.

In winter, the exteriors of everything rub on the exteriors of everything else. Coats pass other coats. Gloves shake other gloves, and the sole of every shoe treads on the outmost layer of a sleeping frog’s bunker.

I’ve never before understood the beauty of violence in a film the way I have when watching Django in January next to a brittle Christmas tree. Django was guts, the insides. and pointed out how we’ve been skulking around the outsides of slavery.

In movies about race especially, the form of the film is now more important to me than the content. If a film comments on race but is traditional in terms of narrative structure, casting, aesthetics etc in one way it’s defeated its points already. Fighting inequality is about changing a way of thinking. It involves locating the systems, large and small, that support tradition, and smashing them. A movie’s worth is directly related to how effectively it disrupts ways of thinking. The less power you have in the world, the more necessary this disruption is for your identity.

I’ve never been called a nigger and I keep this in mind when writing in favor of Django. Though I’m half black most people looking at me see my Malaysian side, and so don’t immediately recognize me as a negress, or even, as an angry but eagle eyed commenter once put it, a “tragic mulatta”. But though my ancestors were Virginian slaves, my experience with racism is different than a dark-skinned friend of mine who walked out on the film. This might seem like a strange  distinction but it’s important to know whose immediate external character is on the line (how the outside world sees you immediately regardless of if its right or wrong). It’s certainly not the director’s.

Everything’s worth (friends, food, art, clothing) can be evaluated by whether it helps dismantle a constructed character or does it it coddle us into believing the process doesn’t exist or has been heroically, and most beautifully solved and soared beyond.

Hollywood allows black stories only in certain contexts. These are mainly historical dramas, comedies, or inspirational feel-good ___. Blacks are allowed to exist in our imagination in the appropriate places. This makes all these movies frustrating.

It’s frustrating that Django was made by a white director, someone who can play with black images at no risk to his own identity. White people telling black stories with black bodies is aggravating, unfair, infuriating, tiring, boring, and every other adjective. All are true. But maybe it takes Tarantino’s pulp aesthetic to revive slavery from the ‘ghost we handle with kid gloves’ way Glory, Lincoln, made us familiar with, to a real live thing that will be regarded as matter-of-fact.

It was a matter of fact reality for 400 years. Its that frankness that makes white audiences uneasy and causes black viewers pain. It is painful to remember that this brutality was a real every day occurrence. And that the threat of this violence was present every second of every day. Kerry Washington’s tiny perpetually rigid and tense frame communicated this so effectively, I cried nearly every time she appeared on screen. In Django no soaring music or somber negro spiritual plays while a slave is whipped or torn apart by dogs. We don’t have that magic carpet of emotional manipulation to come sweep us off our feet to hold us hovering at a safe distance from the horror. “Hush” the magic carpet usually says, “Yes, Denzel is being whipped, but he sheds a single tear in a way that’s dramatized just enough to allow you to feel deep sadness but not be overly traumatized. Hear the lone oboe play. Close..but not too close… now up up and awayyy!”

That famous scene from Glory was an extremely sad one to watch. If something is ancient history, long gone, and is presented in a way that respects its place in history (with all your traditional period piece trappings) we can feel sad safely and we can mourn safely. Time grants us that buffer. We feel “sad for” the slaves and maybe we feel “sad for” our country. We’re more than familiar with experiencing sadness when watching films about slavery, but in this context, Slavery Sadness keeps the viewer at a distance. Slavery Sadness, has always allowed us hold ourselves at bay from the subject, perhaps because it’s too horrifying a truth to face. If we are feeling “sad for” something that means we are not right there with them. Not only are we somewhere else, perhaps on the other side of the room, but we are viewing them through time, sadness is slower to manifest in the individual after receiving violence, and our sadness is informed by history. Ferris Bueller feels sad watching Denzel, we feel sad watching Denzel, but Denzel himself feels fear, number one, then pain, humiliation, and anger. Sadness is too small an emotion. Despair, grief, numbness.

But if slavery is suddenly wrenched from the holy bosom of history that Lincoln, Glory, Amistad, etc cling to, and the appropriate historical trappings and negro spirituals are discarded with, replaced instead with blaxploitation camera work, dialogue with the cadence of modern speech, and contemporary music, it instantly becomes more immediate and we’re faced with other unexpected emotions. In a flashback scene where Django and Brumhilda are captured attempting to escape, an Anthony Hamilton/Elayna Boynton song plays. With the sound of barking dogs behind then, Brumhilda’s face trembles with terror. She kisses Django hard on the mouth and they run on. Captured, Django pleads unsuccessfully for his wife to be spared the whip. She is strung up by each hand and as the whip meets her back her mouth contorts. She screams in pain and fear. When watching this scene, I felt not only Brumhilda’s terror, but in that hard kiss, the pain and helplessness of being parted with the one you love, and the inability to protect them. There has never been a depiction of slavery that has made me feel so immediately connected to the emotions of the individual slave herself, not of my emotions about “slavery”, as an institution.

The gruesome Mandingo fight scene may have been historically inaccurate, but it depicted the despair, grief, control, and animalization of male slaves in a way I haven’t previously seen on screen. If historical revisionism in a film about slavery produces emotions more truthful to the actual experience of slavery (fear, disgust and anger not sadness), then it succeeds in leading us closer to the truth of our history and to ourselves. (every historical film compresses and combines ideas, emotions, and conversations in order to convey them in a 2 hour film)

When a person from the group in power employs historical revisionism to tell a story about the group with lesser power, it should always be regarded with suspicion. America has difficulty in understanding the facts of it’s own crimes. Many people fight everyday for their experiences to be respected as legitimate. The most destructive effects of racism is not the blatant, but each generations inheritance of the micro effects of dehumanization. I think there is fear that a tale where a slave rides off into the sunset after blowing up white people, will allow white viewers to happily trot off with him savoring a history that assuages their guilt by applauding their aggressive liberalism.

There is concern, a legitimate concern, that White Americans will take any opportunity to look away. And if they look away, we continue to be invisible.

I’m sure that Django is an effective escape route for many white viewers, but I’m okay with letting them go because I suspect that for many others, the film re-introduces something they’ve intellectually long understood as “tragic”, to produce a truer more immediate emotional understanding of it.

January 25, 2013
Kartina Richardson

Prince Avalanche

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Paul Rudd walked by me on Main Street in Park City wearing reflective sunglasses so I couldn’t see if his eyes could see that my eyes saw him and were staring. I knew it was him from the way he walked. I can recognize a gait a mile away. But I didn’t know yet that “Prince Avalanche” was a masterpiece or I could’ve had a good conversation starter.

David Gordon Green’s new film opens with a piece of text that sets it up: In 1987, wildfires ravaged Texas and thousands of people lost their homes. The cause of the fires were never discovered. The story takes place the following year. In the film (Alvin) Paul Rudd, and (Lance) Emile Hirsch play two road workers who travel through the burnt woods of Texas in the summer of ’88, setting up traffic cones, painting yellow center lines, and pounding reflective signposts into place. Along the way they talk about things. They fight, they make up and they fight again.

Continue reading at rogerebert.com

January 21, 2013
Kartina Richardson

The Wandering Spiritual Nomadic Couchsurfer of Sundance

Why is it that the culture surrounding art is so far removed from the process of making that art? I suspect this week is hell for many filmmakers here. The world you have to exist in as a great artist (one that values the interior over the exterior, the spiritual over the corporeal) is directly opposed the world you have to exist in to get your movie made. I wonder how many other people here are wondering what’s wrong with them. How many people are pretending they love partying in order to not feel like a weirdo.

Continue reading at rogerebert.com

January 19, 2013
Kartina Richardson

Things at Sundance

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Today at Sundance I wandered aimlessly around a supermarket picking up different cheeses and putting them back down. I can never decide on a brie.

Cheese-less I journeyed to a bustling main street (a very steep hill) where altitude-acclimated rich ladies breezed by me in furry hats and sunglasses. They were having a good time.
Having spent a terrifying night gasping for air in Cuajimoloyas, Mexico (10,000 ft. elevation), I rang Doctor Singla. “Doc, I need some altitude sickness meds” I said, but before she could reply the call disconnected.

Dejected on Main Street with only a tidbit of oxygen left in my lungs, I glanced up. There, between me and death, was a coffee shop.

Then I drank an Americano, met a spiritual wanderer and felt totally fine.

Then I saw some movies…

Continue reading at rogerebert.com

June 12, 2012
Kartina Richardson

Wes Anderson’s Arrested Development

My immediate reaction to Wes Anderson isn’t hatred, love, or even annoyance. It’s jealousy. After scorn-filled years spent perceiving him as a threat to my personal identity, this is the unsophisticated truth. I am not jealous of the fact that his films exist, it’s not the envy of an artist to another’s success and popularity. Instead I’m jealous that I don’t belong to the group that’s thrilled and inspired by his work. I want Anderson’s anti-authority themed films to matter to me (an anti-authority themed person), in a significant, or at least delightful way, and I’m frustrated that they don’t. And though he has his critics, it feels lonely not to fall in love with Wes Anderson.

In his new film, Moonrise Kingdom, two kids, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) fall in love and run away in the summer of 1965. Sam is an orphan and a boy scout. Suzy is a redhead with blue eyeshadow. The adults in their respective lives chase after the two: Suzy’s parents (Francis McDormand and Bill Murray) and Sam’s scout master and town sheriff (Edward Norton and Bruce Willis). The young lovers do their best to evade capture and defend their romance on beautiful overly-crafted sets meant to look exactly like overly-crafted sets. Moonrise is an extremely good looking movie, and its mood is powerful and infectious, but for me it was never more than inspiration for new eyeshadow or the urge to more carefully coordinate the colors in my kitchen…

Continue Reading at The New Inquiry

May 9, 2012
Kartina Richardson

Be back soon…

February 17, 2012
Kartina Richardson

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie! (and more)

Ay dios dios dios mio. I’ve forgotten to post these links and you’ve been staring at Keira Knightley’s vagina for almost two months.

Below are some articles I’ve written recently for Salon. They’re TV related, but let’s not kid ourselves. You watch a lot of TV too.

Tim and Eric’s Comedy of Repulsion: In their new movie, the cult comics push the limits of human vulnerability — and generate laughs from nerves

TV’s Eerie New Race-less World: In an Obama age, shows like “Parenthood” flatter us into believing race no longer matters — and avoid hard truth.

The Great Sitcom Divide: Once you’ve grown used to adventurous shows like “30 Rock” and “Louie,” the traditional sitcom feels like a relic.

 

December 28, 2011
Kartina Richardson

Keira Knightley’s Vagina (A Dangerous Method)

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A Dangerous Method opens with the ominous notes of a cello, that, leading out of the opening credits, give way to a horn & string crescendo and the disturbing first scene: Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) arrives screaming, restrained by men, in a black carriage, drawn by black horses at the Burgholzli Clinic. And as our stomachs vibrate from the bass and the violence of the scene just past, a calm Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) greets his new patient in a beige paneled room with dark parquet floors and bounced light. This is Zurich. It is 1904. Sabina suffers from mental hysteria (with spontaneous orgasms provoked by humiliation). She and Jung eventually begin a sexual relationship.

In these early meetings between Jung and Spielrein, conversation occurs in total silence. That is, without any background atmospheric noise. No cricket or ticking clock gives the stillness form. This is a pure and unnerving silence. Chirping birds add texture to the air, without which the infinity of time and space and the whole weight of the universe weighs down upon you so that it is unthinkable to sleep without the whir of a fan. Hyperconsciousness promotes a focus of such stimulating intensity, it quickly becomes erotic, so at the end of the long road of observations that occur in the first moments of a movie, you find yourself contemplating the details of faces and bodies with growing arousal…

Continue Reading at The New Inquiry

December 21, 2011
Kartina Richardson

Pasolini’s Accatone

**Update: Accatone is a pain in the ass to see, but it’s on youtube right now. Great quality in one full video. Watch it before it vanishes (make sure to turn on CC)**

Ballila the Fat Thief to Accatone the Starving Pimp:

Did you sell your car? Is all the gold gone? You really look like a beggar. What a bad end!

Hai venduto la macchina? E finito l’oro? Ma tu mi pari proprio un dizgrazato. Che brutta fine!

Che brutta fine! Che brutta fine!

I watched Accatone for the first time eight years ago, and for eight years now I’ve recited those words “Che brutta fine!” with regular regularity. I say them out loud, not to myself, and I do this the most as I walk from one place to another. These days I walk two miles to the coffee shop and two miles back. This allows me thirty three minutes twice a day to call upon “Che brutta fine.“ It is a compulsive and calming habit, like chewing a piece of hair, or fondling the edge of t-shirt. Eva D’Andrea my oldest friend, will attest to this routine. She is an Italian just back from Italy and I especially enjoy saying the sentence around her. It is more authentic with an Italian around. Che brutta fine! The rolling R thrills my tongue.

But behind the seduction of certain phonetics, lies the other reason. The larger, less cheerful explanation behind my attraction to these words and why my mind returns to Accatone repeatedly: My soul, or a portion of it I have yet to resolve, is Accatone’s posture embodied. Shoulders hunched, head down, he stands heavy with the weight of his own immorality.

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