The reign of terror in post-revolutionary France happened over a ten-month period (September 1793 to July 1794), and was marked by mass executions of “enemies of the revolution.” I don’t want to go out on a crazy limb but a distant cousin of this mentality is alive and well in Park City right now, and thriving among the general community of p.c. goose-steppers who are excited/delighted by the love shown for Nate Parker‘s The Birth of a Nation. Over the last 12 hours or so it’s been hinted a few times that my being a Birth disser (at least as far as the over-praise is concerned) isn’t good for my social, political or financial health, and that I should think about getting with the program.
The elite Sundance festivalgoer support of this film is an expression of liberal enlightenment as well as a pushback against the OscarsSoWhite mentality that has caused to much recent consternation. I’m mentioning the “terror” analogy because, as noted, I’ve heard from a few descendants of Maximilien Robespierres over the last 16 hours, or since I posted my negative review of Parker’s film. These people have hinted that my critique is possibly racist in origin (“What’s your real agenda, Jeff?”), and that I’m saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and that there must be something wrong with me not to want to join in celebrating this wonderful, Oscar-bound film, and do I want to risk missing out on a Phase One campaign buy from Fox Searchlight?
Steven Gaydos: “Of all the movies Jeff Wells has seen at festivals, all the politically correct tomes targeted to the ‘hipsters’ in attendance, all the overreactions to so-so pics and all of the rapturous sonnets to cinema that are far too generous to what’s on the screen, somehow THIS film made by an African-American about the African-American experience is the epic affront to his sensibilities, the bridge too far, and ‘one of the biggest self-congratulatory circle jerks and politically correct wank-offs in the history of the Sundance Film Festival.” Phew! That’s a tough honor to achieve. So glad the militia crowd is supporting your tough ‘stance’ on this clickbait Alamo.”
Sasha Stone: “When people say ‘thank you for fighting against the tide’ I wonder what they really mean by that.” Me: “Will you STOP with your bullshit racial-attitude baiting? You’re no different than the glee club that rose to its feet last night at the Eccles and went mad with delight.”
An email from a colleague came in a half-hour later: “Why would you want to be that guy taking down Nate Parker on this of all days?,” he asked. Me: “Listen to yourself! The entire liberal community up here is embracing Nate, kissing his ass, giving him $17.5 million dollars, toasting him at parties and giving him neck and foot massages. What difference could it make if a voice or two has another opinion in the face of all that?
“I am standing alone and calling The Birth of a Nation an ambitious Starz movie that tells a noble and necessary story with its heart in the right place but with way, WAY too much “acting” and spirituality and way too many halos, and a much-desired climax/release that doesn’t happen until 90 fucking minutes in. Why am I saying this? Because the movie FUCKING IS THAT & DOES THAT.
“Do yourself a favor and stream Zelig and then go lock in the bathroom mirror. Or better yet Andrzej Wajda‘s Danton? Right now I am the Danton of Park City, and you and Gaydos and some others are sounding an awful lot like Maximilen Robespierre.
“Show a little fucking backbone. Stop pre-judging me and hinting that I’m racist or not p.c. enough.”
From HE reader “Jeff”: “Come on, do you really think there is a big militia crowd on this site? Wells is far left on 90 percent of political issues. This flick probably stands out because its the one generating national buzz on social media. What is he gonna write about the tepid response to most of the films? Wells also doesn’t seem to be hating it as much as giving it like 6 or 6.5 out of 10.
“This is where too many folks lose their mind. If lots of people come out saying a particular film is socially important, a subsequent mixed review of the film isn’t the equivalent of donning a white hood, wearing a swastika or trying to end reproductive rights.
“If this film is a little too on the nose, overly emotional/manipulative, Wells’ criticism is EXACTLY in line with issues he has with plenty of non-minority directed films. Even in 2015, he thought Beasts of No Nation deserved Oscar attention and that Creed was a great popcorn movie and that Coogler was the spiritual successor to Sydney Pollack. He was all over 12 Years a Slave from the outset and has been the biggest supporter of Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Inarritu in the Oscar blogosphere. Folks are too quick to shout racist/sexist/etc on the internet without looking at someone’s body of work.
“This isn’t meant as a pure defense of Wells so much as a defense of critics being able to have subjective opinions about art without fear of ending their careers.”
“People weren’t anticipating Nate Parker as an actor/director, but they were absolutely anticipating this film in light of OscarsSoWhite. Everyone in the media is terrified to be on the wrong side of this issue. Look at Julie Delpy and Charlotte Rampling just days later.”
I’m just sensing there are more than a few Birth of a Nation lovers in this town and elsewhere who are on a crusade to hoist the banner of liberal understanding and inclusion, and to decisively topple the mindset that led to OscarsSoWhite. They’re out to get the witches, and if a John Proctor or two has to be hung in the service of that effort, so be it.
Are you now or have you ever been a closet racist? Have you ever discriminated against actors of color by not voting to nominate them for an Oscar? If you want us to go easy on you (and we will if you play ball!) just give us four or five names of any Academy members whom you suspect of being closet racists. Just do it.