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Hot Takes: Crack (Netflix 2021)

Imagine if we had treated Black people on crack the way we’re treating white people on opioids. 

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1. America owes Black people everything. If you can watch Crack and not be completely disgusted with every politician who made this happen, from Reagan to Clinton, Biden to Rangel, Bush to O’Neill, we don’t have anything to talk about politically. Your fundamental understanding of America’s relationship to Black people is fatally flawed and there’s no middle ground for us to come to.

2. There’s no understanding of mass incarceration, the militarization of local law enforcement, cash bail, asset forfeiture, police brutality, or any other reform of the justice system without an understanding of how crack is the foundation for all of it. Every problem we recognize today that relates to the justice system was either created or hugely exacerbated by the crack epidemic.

3. I went into Crack with a basic understanding of the big building blocks of the epidemic. Cocaine was expensive. Crack (which is just cocaine without the salt, and that makes it able to be smoked) was cheaper and could be sold more easily. Crack was more addictive because the high was immediate. Cocaine made its way to the US from Central America. The system overpoliced crack because it was Black people doing it and left cocaine alone because it was white people doing it. I didn’t know the details. 80s US History isn’t my area, so I was honestly shocked that the United States government let cocaine into the country because they were more concerned with making sure Nicaragua had a government they liked than they were with Black and Latino families ripped apart by crack cocaine. Just when you thought you couldn’t loathe this country more, you find another piece of the puzzle.

4. I had no idea crack was that profitable!!! I knew a lot of people made a lot of money, but I didn’t know there were regular guys out here buying motels and movie theaters with their crack profits. How did they pay for it? With a bag of cash? When you hit millions of dollars a day, don’t you have to launder that cash? How is that much cash changing hands and no federal agency blinks?

5. I highly recommend listening to the episode of You’re Wrong About on crack babies either before or immediately after you watch Crack. Full Disclosure: You’re Wrong About is currently my favorite podcast because the topics are immaculately researched. The one on gangs also ties in well with this documentary, because “gang warfare” really exploded with the rise of crack in the inner cities. In case you couldn’t tell from the title, everything you think you understand about crack babies (or how gangs operate) is completely wrong, and the narrative you’ve been fed is based on racist white people using crack and guns to justify their irrational fears of Black people.

6. Black people have every reason to mistrust the healthcare industry in this country. We talk about the history of gynecology and the Tuskegee Experiment, but I didn’t know doctors and nurses were turning in mothers addicted to crack who were asking for help!! They really went baiting Black women into telling them they were on crack so they could lock them up for getting their babies hooked on crack in the womb (spoiler alert: those babies weren’t even addicted to anything).

7. There’s no smoking gun, and therefore, the US government doesn’t feel they owe us anything. This country refuses to take responsibility for anything, but we should add crack to the list of ills because America created the circumstances that led to crack destroying a generation of Black families. The Reagan administration concentrated wealth into the hands of few while unemployment soared (and Black unemployment was double the national rate). There were no jobs and no money in the inner cities, and then crack showed up. It was a fast way to make money so you could feed your family and keep a roof over your head. More crack showed up because the CIA either assisted or ignored the planes and planes of cocaine being brought up from Nicaragua, planes that had been full of guns and supplies we supplied to the Contras to take back the Nicaraguan government. More crack meant more money which meant more dealers which meant turf wars. Turf wars meant shootouts and deaths of innocent bystanders just going to the grocery store, all of which the police ignored because they were stealing from the dealers and selling crack themselves or taking payoffs from the kingpins…until a cop died and then it was war on our communities for an epidemic the US Government created.

8. Imagine if we had treated Black people on crack the way we’re treating white people on opioids.

9. It’s a short, brisk, 90-minuted documentary, but it could’ve used another 90, or perhaps a series to really dig into the chapters it sets up. The documentary doesn’t do enough to debunk the myths of crack babies who grow up to be superpredators. I want to hear more from the reformed addicts and dealers — how did they escape crack while so many others didn’t? How did that one guy make it out of the hood and become a neuroscientist while his friends were selling crack? The Iran-Contra Affair gets more detail than I expected and I can’t believe I learned that whole story in school without the added detail that we let drug dealers send planes full of cocaine here — I want more about that. I want more detail about how the media helped create this and I want more attention to the politicians who destroyed our community because they were trying to one-up each other to be toughest guy on the block. It’s a heavy documentary, but it’s a good overview of crack and how we’re still feeling the repercussions of America’s costliest war ($1 trillion and counting).

Score: 8/10

 

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Hot Takes: Malignant

Malignant is the funniest movie of the year, and that’s not really a criticism.

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1. This movie is so dumb. I strained an eyeball rolling them so hard. I’ve never groaned so much in my life.

2. This movie knows its dumb! I truly feel like every single person involved in the making of this movie, especially director James Wan, is winking at us and expecting us to wink back. From the awful dialogue to the awkward placement of dramatic music to the predictably stupid actions of the characters, anytime something stupid happened, I felt like Wan was looking dead at me giggling.

3. And I mean STUPID actions of the characters. Why would you go to an abandoned mental hospital on a cliff at night by yourself with no weapon? That’s not a spoiler, because that sentence will make no sense to you until you watch her almost drive off the cliff. But stuff like that felt like, “Yes, people behave in stupid ways in horror movies, so let’s make it super stupid.”

4. I’m quite sure the women’s holding cell at any local jail in the Pacific Northwest does not look like that. Those women were all prostitutes from the 1970s.

5. I went with a friend (who didn’t like it as much as I did and gave the movie a 6) and we both agreed that we didn’t accurately predict the killer. In some ways we were right, and in some ways we were wrong, but when the story is pieced together in the last act, it’s very much a groan/eyeroll/how didn’t I see that coming. I was hollering at the inventiveness though! I personally have never seen this kind of killer.

6. Speaking of inventive, the killer fights backwards. The massacre at the precinct is so much fun and I was howling the entire time. I think that’s where they spent all their money because the whole movie looks like a Cinemax production from 1994.

7. The commitment to bangs is admirable.

8. There are some genuinely shocking and frightening scares in Malignant, which I loved, but for the most part I was laughing the entire time at how ridiculous the whole thing was. I’m not sure who this horror movie is for actually. It’s polarizing, but not in the way a horror movie would typically be, where horror fans are of one mind and causal fans are of another. I’ve seen horror fans love this movie and horror fans hate it. I’m a casual viewer and I thought it was so much fun and so stupidly creative but my friend was “meh” on it. So I don’t know whether to recommend it or not because I don’t see any consistent trends for who likes it and who doesn’t.

9. So here are the PROS: the villain is a new take on an old trope, which I love.
The action scenes are excellent. They’re done very well and this fight choreographer really thought about how people move.
It’s fun! It’s a “talk to the screen” kind of horror movie. “Why are you doing that? Don’t go in there! Turn around!!”

10. Here are the CONS:
The dialogue is clunky! (which I found fun, because it made it feel that much more low-budget 90s B Movie)
The acting is clunky! (which I also found fun, because I felt like they were doing it on purpose)
The music is awful and almost always terribly misplaced! (which, again, I found fun! I laughed every time)
The twist ending leaves a VERY LARGE PLOT HOLE from the first act and I need somebody to explain that fight to me.

11. Bonus for Black Millennials and Gen X:

Michole Briana White plays the lead detective! I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything other than commercials since the 90s.

Score: 8/10

 

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Watch: Passing (Trailer)

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Netflix has another great story on their hands and we will definitely be talking about it when it comes out in a couple of weeks.

Rebecca Hall has made her directorial debut with Passing, a novel from a few years ago about two mixed girls who were friends as children and become reacquainted as adults. Tessa Thompson’s character still identifies as Black, while Ruth Negga is passing as white and is married to a racist.

I love it. I’m all in. I’m a little skeptical of a British white woman tackling a novel about Black people in America in 1929, but at the heart, I think Passing will be more of a character study than a treatise on race. And since it needs nuanced acting to pull it off, I’m ready to suspend belief for two hours and go with Ruth Negga being able to pass, because obviously she could not, but she’s a fantastic actress.

When I think of women who would be considered colored in 1929 if people knew her parentage but have the phenotype to pass for white with a little makeup and possibly a peroxide blonde hairdo, Ruth Negga isn’t on the list. Meghan Markle is.

Troian Bellisario would absolutely pass, even without going blonde.

Most people don’t realize Halsey has any Black heritage at all.

Sofia Richie barely has a trace of Lionel in her on first glance.

And Mariah wouldn’t have been nearly as big right out the gate if she hadn’t been assumed to be the white Whitney Houston.

But that’s the thing about movies. If the actor is right, we forget what they look like until the movie is over. The trailer is only two minutes, but if we just  acknowledge now that nobody would assume this was a white woman, we can all go ahead and get over it so we can settle into the performance when the time comes. Passing has Oscar-bait written all over it.

Edit 5:59pm.

I was so focused on Ruth Negga not being able to pass that I completely forgot Rebecca Hall is the daughter of a mixed-race opera singer. Rebecca herself would’ve been considered colored in 1929 and would’ve been a much better person for the role.

 

 

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Hot Takes: Black Widow

This isn’t Natasha’s story the way most origin stories would be.

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I don’t want to give spoilers in case you don’t want them, so we got three parts here.

The Good / Random (No Spoilers)

1. This is a good ass origin story! They’re so formulaic in superhero movies, but this isn’t that.
Captain Marvel  – accidentally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Spiderman  – accidentally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Captain America – intentionally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Iron Man – spends a bunch of money making superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Black Widow – a child trafficker gets tracked down by two of his former slaves/spies/assassins.

2. Where do spies be getting all this money? Natasha is an orphan. Did she just steal a few billion dollars and stash it somewhere to be spending on identities and jets and whatnot? It’s not like the Avengers draw a paycheck. Falcon could barely keep his little fishing boat in business.

3. Florence Pugh is hilarious and, no shade but shade, a better Black Widow than Scarlett. I’m so excited for her.

4. I want smaller Marvel movies. We have consistently leveled up the danger from saving a city to saving a country to saving a planet to saving the universe to now probably saving all of the dimensions of the universe. Where do you go after that? Let’s make it small. Black Widow is an exercise in taking the stakes down and I hope they keep moving in that direction. Every Marvel movie doesn’t need a huge scene culminating in hundreds of explosions where the universe is saved for another day. Let’s get the Marvel road trip buddy comedy, the Marvel bank heist, the Marvel family drama. Black Widow is a mashup of all three, and it’s done really well.

5. There are only like three men in the whole movie who have more than a minute of screentime and you love to see it.

6. For me, action scenes have a heightened sense of danger when it’s a bunch of regular people chasing each other in cars and kicking ass without flying through the sky or blasting out neon projectiles. In that way, Black Widow feels more like a Bond movie or a Bourne movie than a Marvel movie and I’m very much here for all of that.

The Annoying (Mild Spoilers)

7. Because these are real people who can DIE and those are my favorite kinds of action movies, it really takes me out of the film when these real, non-enhanced humans survive ridiculous things or put themselves in absolutely fatal situations with no regard to their own safety. If you can’t survive a gunshot, you’re not going to squat in the open door of a helicopter while it’s being sprayed with bullets — two bullet holes appeared on Yelena’s left and then three appeared on her right, but she’s right in the doorway getting hit by nothing? How many car crashes can Natasha not only walk away from but also fight an adversary immediately after? My dad has ten broken bones from a car crash he was in a couple of weeks ago, but she walking away from cars that rolled over? I don’t like that.

8. Atomic Blonde has some of the most realistic fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a female action movie and the fight choreographer talked about how they designed those scenes to accurately portray how a woman (or anyone with less muscle mass) would take advantage of their surroundings. Black Widow cannot pummel someone the way Captain America can because she’s not as strong. It doesn’t really matter though. It’s Marvel. We didn’t watch it for accuracy, and the fight scenes are all the same. However, when Natasha fights Yelena, they both utilize everything around them from dishes to curtains and it just made me wonder why they don’t always have Natasha fight that way.

9. Neither of these things would matter as much if the writers hadn’t made Yelena (hilariously) point out that Black Widow is a regular person compared to the other Avengers. If you’re going to highlight the fact that your cast is just humans who get shot, get broken bones, and then get ibuprofen, then you shouldn’t write action scenes for invincible heroes.

The Response to “It’s Too Late” Criticism (Mild Spoilers)

10. We watch movies about actual dead people all the time, so I don’t get what the big deal is. Tammy Faye Baker is so ridiculous she might as well have been written by Marvel and I’m gonna see that movie on opening night.

11. It’s right on time, but the marketing sucks, because it’s too focused on Natasha. Marvel has incorrectly assumed the public cares enough about Natasha to want this movie even though she’s dead, or that we like Scarlett enough to see this movie even though we know the resolution of the character. But Natasha and Yelena have the same origin story — it’s just as much Florence Pugh’s movie as it is Scarlett Johansson’s. This is the new Black Widow’s origin story, not the dead one’s.

Score: 7/10 

 

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