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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: I Care A Lot

If you’re a Rosamund Pike fan, just watch Gone Girl instead. This movie is garbage.

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1. Let me just be blunt right off the top: Y’all this movie is not good. Do not waste two hours of your life on it unless you are just absolutely obsessed with Rosamund Pike, who actually does put in a good performance.

2. But if you want to see Rosamund Pike put in a good performance like this, just watch Gone Girl instead because it’s the exact same Ruthless White Woman with a Severe Bob.

3. I’m biased against I Care A Lot upfront because it’s about guardianship, which is a weird side-interest I have. Anytime some news organization does a piece on it, I read it. If there’s a Dateline segment, I’ll watch it. If you send me a podcast, I’ll listen to it. I don’t really think there’s space to do a dark comedy about a subject that is A) So serious and B) So underreported on. I think sometimes there are serious topics that hit a point in national discourse where you can find humor, typically from the POV of the people challenging the power dynamic. I’ve seen comedy in movies about prostitutes, comedy in movies about the Black community’s relationship to the police — but these are topics we have actual conversations about. The conversations about guardianship over elders are so few and far between. We’re not talking about it enough, and older people are having their autonomy stripped away in the blink of an eye because of greed and neglect. We don’t care about older people in nursing homes the way we care about Black people and prostitutes.

4. So the topic is tricky already, and the entire focus of the movie is on the woman who is exploiting the victims. Do you want to watch a comedy about Black people and the police from the POV of the cops? Do you want to watch a comedy about the lives of prostitutes from the POV of abusive Johns? That’s what this movie is doing. It’s a movie about a subject where very real victims are struggling to fight their way out of the situation, but it’s from the POV of the abusers. I don’t want it! If I had known this was what the movie was about, I wouldn’t have bothered watching it.

5. Rosamund Pike plays her role (Marla Grayson) very well because that is a role she knows how to play very well. But I hate her. I didn’t hate Amy Dunne in Gone Girl because there was space to empathize with her motivations and there was space to hate her counterpart in Ben Affleck. I Care A Lot wants to build that same dynamic between Rosamund and Peter Dinklage’s character and make you hate both of them, which is exactly what happens, but that’s not the relationship that needed the dynamic shift. To have any investment in Marla, we don’t need to hate Peter — we need to hate the old lady she stuffed in an old age home, and we don’t. We are rooting for her, not either of the two leads. You cannot get me to care about two people trying to kill each other when one is a Russian mobster and one abuses old people. At one point Marla tells the staff to basically starve the old lady and screw with her medication — how am I ever supposed to care about that character?

6. The whole film feels like they gave a bunch of money to an amateur filmmaker in Brooklyn and said “hey, make a dark comedy thriller with panache.” The fight scene in the nursing home is so ridiculous and out of place I feel owed an apology.

7. So many things stretch belief. A Russian mobster can’t effectively kill anybody? The stairwell to the parking garage is conveniently by the front desk on the way to the bathroom? You get drugged and conveniently wake up just before you hit the water? Yes these are spoilers, and no I didn’t warn you because you don’t need to watch this movie.

8. The filmmaker himself doesn’t even know what kind of movie he made. He said the ending was a little unsatisfying because the only likeable character is crying at the end. He thinks the only likable character in the movie is one of the partners in the Abuse Old People Scam, and not the old lady who was being abused and fighting tooth and nail to escape. That kind of disconnect from the material is why this movie is trash.

9. I liked it less and less the more I sat and tried to figure out what exactly he was trying to do, so I guess on the surface it’s mildly enjoyable — I gave it a 5 after I first saw it. I’m taking away points for being more and more annoyed as the days pass.

10. Diane Weist was outstanding and I needed twice as much screentime from her.

Score: 3/10 

 

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Hot Takes: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin had me on his side right up until the end…and then spit in my face.

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1. Is Sacha Baron Cohen quietly one of the most underrated actors of our generation? He’s going into awards season playing an intellectual Vietnam protestor….and Borat. And he should absolutely be recognized for both.

2. Also, I understand Jeremy Strong as an actor a bit more I think. I love Succession (Team Shiv!) and I do think Kendall Roy is an interesting one to watch, but never having seen him in anything else, I’ve never been totally sure about his performance. I’m sure now. He’s playing that character exactly right, and he played the counterpart to Cohen’s character in Chicago 7 exactly right as well. Good job, sir.

3. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale is the real force though. He is so committed and I fully believe him as a Black Panther in the 60s. I’ve seen Kelvin Harrison Jr. in a few things (Luce is exceptional) and I have no qualms toward him, but his portrayal of Fred Hampton didn’t really pop to me the way I would’ve expected it to, but maybe that was a deliberate choice by Aaron Sorkin so as not to compete with Bobby Seale.

4. There really is so much good acting. I’ve never hated a judge more than I hated Frank Langella. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is completely believable as a twerpy little agent of the government. Michael Keaton makes the most of this limited time. Eddie Redmayne is very good at playing characters I have to root for, because of the story, but don’t really like. Great casting all around.

5. This is an Aaron Sorkin production. You either like Aaron Sorkin or you don’t. If you hate Aaron Sorkin, then you probably won’t love this movie, but I usually enjoy the way he puts dialogue together and I like the pace of his stuff, so it all worked for me.

6. I watched this movie with someone else and I got the sense that if you don’t know anything about the Vietnam protests or the 1968 election cycle or you’ve never heard about the riots in Chicago (or across the country really), you might be a little bit lost in the beginning when the players are being introduced. Sorkin does a good job of identifying everyone with title cards, but it’s a lot of names a lot of information if you’re completely unfamiliar with the political climate at that time. You can go into it blind (he knew what was going on by the end) but if you’re annoyed by being in a fog during a movie, brush up a little first.

7. I’ve only said good things! Which is rare! And that’s about to end now. If I stopped this review right here it’d get a solid 8 from me but I’m about to bust this foolishness all the way down to a 4 because the ending pissed me off to no end.

 

SPOILER ALERT!

 

At the end of the movie, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) is being addressed by the judge because Hayden is the least offensive of the defendants. He’s a clean-cut, stand-up kid who seems to respect the court, so the judge tells him to keep his remarks brief, respectful, and remorseful, and he’ll keep that in mind for sentencing. Hayden decides to read the list of Americans who have died in Vietnam since their trial began — almost 5,000 names. The music swells, the courtroom stands, and the movie ends.

THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN!

“Why are you so mad? Directors change bits of the story all the time!”

I’m mad because this particular bit of the story is the most obnoxious change I’ve seen to a true story in some time. First of all, David Dellinger (not Tom Hayden) attempted to read the names earlier in the trial and was quickly silenced by the court. What actually happened during sentencing is, the defendants (not just Hayden, but others as well) addressed racism in the criminal justice system. When I watched the movie I was like “wait…that doesn’t feel right to me” because I had briefly studied the Chicago 7 in high school and I thought I remembered some very pro-Black statements. I did. I just looked them up.

This is what Jerry Rubin said: What you are doing out there is creating millions of revolutionaries. Julius Hoffman, you have done more to destroy the court system in this country than any of us could have done. All we did was go to Chicago and the police system exposed itself as totalitarian. And I am glad we exposed the court system because in millions of courthouses across this country blacks are being shuttled from the streets to the jails and nobody knows about it. They are forgotten men. There ain’t a whole corps of press people sitting and watching. They don’t care. You see what we have done is, we have exposed that. Maybe now people will be interested in what happens in the courthouse down the street because of what happened here. Maybe now people will be interested.

David Dellinger said: Whatever happens to us, however unjustified, will be slight compared to what has happened already to the Vietnamese people, to the black people in this country, to the criminals with whom we are now spending our days in the Cook County jail.

Tom Hayden (who Sorkin has reading off Vietnam casualties): I have sat there in the Cook County Jail with people who can’t make bond, with people who have bum raps, with people who are nowhere, people who are the nothings of society, people who say to me, “You guys burned your draft cards. I would like to burn my birth certificate so they can never find me again.”

Why did Aaron Sorkin decide to scrap this?

Last year, the US saw protests against the establishment on a scale we had not seen since the 1960s when this movie took place. The conversation about Black people and the criminal justice system is at the front of everyone’s minds. Sorkin just made a movie set during the Civil Rights movement. He shows a Black Panther being beaten by law enforcement in the film. Fred Hampton is assassinated during the film and Sorkin shows its effect on Bobby Seale. But the end of the movie, when the white protagonists show solidarity with Black people, Sorkin decides to take that out??? 

I don’t get it and it pisses me off that it’s not in the movie. It’s a baffling decision that I don’t understand, so if anybody who has seen the movie has any insight into what happened, feel free to let me know and I can come back an add some additional information.

 

 

Score: 4/10

 

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Hot Takes: Soul

Soul made me feel better about my life, and that’s a big task for a kids’ movie.

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*** There are no spoilers about the overall plot of the movie, as in, I’m not giving away what happens to the main characters, but there are spoilers about certain aspects of the movie, because I couldn’t do hot takes without questioning some of the decisions that were made along the way.

1) A lot of Black people worked on this movie. I haven’t looked it up, but I just know they did because the hair in this movie is the best animated depiction of our textures I have ever seen!!! And the conversational beats are right. You cannot get that rhythm of a Black barbershop or that cadence of two old Black women chatting unless you are intimately familiar with the culture. Good job!

2) Props to Pixar for making Dortohea Williams a boss saxophone player as opposed to the usual Black Female Singer fronting a band. I hope more little Black girls pick up the saxophone…as opposed to the clarinet. Also, gotta mention the little girl who was a boss on the trombone. I’ve only met one female trombone player in my entire life, and I love that.

3) While we’re on gender…if you open the door for a conversation, you have to handle that conversation correctly. The world-building sets up the point, very clearly, that these souls have no gender, and yet 22 is “she” when they talk about them. It’s not something to hate the movie for, but it’s something to think about, because we are having these conversations with non-binary people about ways to make the public more receptive to they/them pronouns, and this was one of the only perfect instances I’ve ever seen in media, but Pixar dropped the ball. 22 is explicitly stated to be genderless, so why gender them? You could argue that 22 picked a white woman’s voice so she/her “makes sense” but voices have no gender, 22 can do many voices, and we don’t know who 22 will actually be once they’re born. There are far more reasons to use they/them which outweigh the one debatable reason to use she/her.

4) While we’re on opening the door…I understand the comedic effect of giving 22 a middle-aged white woman voice, a Karen if you will. They went for the slight wink-nudge-takedown because we’re in the middle of the White Women are Annoying zeitgeist and they decided to ride that wave. However, there was literally one moment of payoff, a set up for one joke, but we spend the rest of the movie with that white woman’s voice coming out of a Black man’s mouth. It didn’t make me hate the movie, but it just irked me a little because none of the plot would have been lost by having that voice be a young boy or an old Black woman or simply not pointing out that 22 has the voice of a 40-year-old white woman. It’s like Get Out, the animated version. I don’t really need a white woman riding around inside of a Black man for a whole movie.

5) Nothing I love about the movie is negated by the last two points I made, but they were casting and story decisions I wish hadn’t been made. Those two decisions don’t progress or affect the plot in any way while unnecessarily pulling you out of the movie to wonder why they went the path of least consideration as opposed to taking the more thoughtful, responsible route.

6) The little unborn souls are cute. Pixar never fails to make young tiny things adorable.

7) I love everything about the plot. I absolutely love the double-sided nature of The Zone, where such a thin line separates passion and obsession. I love what Soul has to say about purpose and life. I love the idea that a lot of our personality traits are baked in from birth, because I have literally been grumpy my entire life. I’m always teetering on the edge of Emotional Calamity, and Soul is that rare movie that made me breathe and feel better about everything. The flashbacks Joe saw of his life when we first meet 22 — the mundane, the rejection, the lack of fulfillment — is how I typically see my life.  The flashbacks Joe saw of his life when he was playing piano — the people he touched, the joys he experienced, the lasting impact he made — is how I never look at my life, but how I’m going to try looking at my life going forward.

8) Cast Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett in more animated films. I can recognize their respective voices anywhere and they instantly elevate any project.

Score: 8/10 

 

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