Welcome to the inaugural entry of Distraction’s Deep Dive, a weekly, introductory column of diverse filmic content authored by an aspiring cinephile. Devour my public journal to discover and rediscover some of the most mind-bending, thought-provoking and evocative motion pictures out there. Prepare to be shocked, enthralled and mystified by newfound compelling productions each week! (Disclaimer: I am not a professional entertainment critic.)
Because #BlackLivesMatter and Pride Month have never been more topical and intertwined, it’s imperative to remind ourselves that simply a day or month of cultural honoring will not suffice. We must commemorate the musical, literary and visual arts of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities all year. In an effort to fully understand and sympathize with the plights of such populations, we constantly strive to learn about, empower and engage with them. This entry applauds virtuous cinematic depictions of LGBTQ+ and Black communities — some newly unearthed, others hailed as timeless.
dir. James Ivory / 1987
via YouTube (free!)
“I’m an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort.”
If you’re a fan of Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name,” you’ll enjoy “Maurice,” not just because the writer of the former is the director of the latter. Both are adaptations of fantastically moving novels and share an exquisite tendency to purify love stories. Many sensual scenes in “Maurice” can be discerned as sources of inspiration for CMBYN, notwithstanding the fact that both are set in western Europe with countryside advantages of luscious gardens and sparkling rivers. Set in early-20th-century England (think: Downton Abbey minus the wits of Dame Maggie Smith), Maurice Hall, a wealthy student in Cambridge, finds himself falling in love with his equally rich friend/schoolmate, Clive Durham. Over a few years, Hall (James Wilby) and Durham (Hugh Grant) come to terms with the passion of their relationship, process the societal implications of homosexuality and learn to adopt romantic ventures into their lives together. Whereas in CMBYN we are taught to wholeheartedly embrace our sexualities, “Maurice” rings true of the historical social repercussions following such personal assertions. An embracement of sorts constituted potential imprisonment and losing one’s name, fortune and career. The film intimately channels the leads’ inner doubts, concerns and temptations. Hall and Durham are starkly different men, but their unwavering desire to be near each other and tend toward each other’s needs drives the relationship to its peak. Actor Grant offers a superbly tender and fine performance, one that is hugely overshadowed by his succeeding soapy romantics. Likewise, Wilby’s interpretation sucks you into every raw emotion. You’ll smile, suffer and cry with him. The director doesn’t part ways with his more familiar, traditional style, providing a complete and thorough examination of the story’s twists, turns and intricate characters. All of Ivory’s films are eloquent and this one is no less. You’ll find yourself debating sensibility as dangers lurk into their lives persistently. Love and personal freedom are the story’s poignant, prominent themes, making it a major precedent for raw sentiments like “Brokeback Mountain,” “Carol” and “Moonlight.”
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
dir. Raoul Peck / 2016
“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty one.”
Probably one of the most in-demand documentaries of the present, “I Am Not Your Negro” is a classic illustrating the deep-rooted schism of racism in America. It’s narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and uses the elegant prose of James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript “Remember This House” as structure. It’s an earnest portrayal of the lives and deaths of Baldwin’s three closest comrades: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. IANYN is divided into chapters concentrating on witness, purity and heroism to encapsulate the vision of Baldwin’s book. Excerpts of his words are embedded with cultural references of racist oppression. From advertising to TV, Baldwin’s argument is realized beyond social context. Tableaus of police brutality, systemic discrimination and overt and vile racism no longer seem to be an enduring plague, but rather a perpetuating state of permanence.
MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE
dir. Stephen Frears / 1985
via Prime Video
“In my experience, it’s always worth waiting for Omo.”
It’s a shame that this movie lost to Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” at the 1987 Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, because in my opinion the restless unraveling of Frears’s plot supersedes the unnerving existential crises of Allen’s. This subject is multifaceted and holds back no punches. It’s a witty, tenacious script of family and racial relations, social mobility, struggle and love. What does it mean when you’re greedy for money? How far will you go to prove yourself in an avaricious household? You’ll see in “My Beautiful Laundrette.” Omar, a young Pakistani living in a run-down corner of London, lives with his curmudgeon, inebriated father. At his bequest, Omar soon takes up a car-washing stint for his uncle, but upon revelation of his skill and loyalty, he is bestowed to take over a discarded laundromat. Figuring he’ll make a name and life of himself, Omar accepts the challenge, but soon runs into a neo-Fascist Paki-basher named Johnny who happens to be his former lover. When Omar offers Johnny to join him in repurposing the laundromat, the two enter a whirlwind testing their friendship and ultimate success. The whole piece merits recognition, but Daniel Day-Lewis’s role is a prophecy of his becoming career. He is reserved in intimate scenes, revealing Johnny’s bashful side, but boldly fearless when divulging the complexities of his persona. MBL is heartwarming, scintillating and at times comically raunchy.
dir. Spike Lee / 1992
via Prime Video
“You are not an American, you are the victim of America!”
There aren’t many biopics out there that don’t feel like documentaries, but this one is pretty modest. Director Lee is astute in scribing Malcolm’s life as one might tell a bedtime story: by honing in on surprising and intriguing details. We see Malcolm as a pivotal figure of the Black community in 1960s America and his ascent to Islam through an inspiring pilgrimage to Mecca. It moves steadily, building tension and charm and never missing a beat to visualize the suffering African American man. Denzel Washington is an enchanting force to portray the star. It’s as if he was made for this role. Lee develops Malcolm as an African American generational leader, allowing the audience to live and breathe with him and witness a tracking of his thinking. As movie critic Roger Ebert once put it: “To understand the stages of Malcolm’s life is to walk for a time in the steps of many African Americans and to glimpse where the journey might lead.”
THE WATERMELON WOMAN
dir. Cheryl Dunye / 1996
“Sometimes you have to create your own history.”
All hail the power of Black queer female directors! Dunye walked so the rest could run. “The Watermelon Woman” is a testament of truth to all queer Blacks in search of a seat in a theatre of queer artists and creatives who have yet to address the significance of a Black lesbian. Representing her younger self, Dunye wrote, directed, edited and starred in TWW, the tale of a young Black lesbian who doubles as a filmmaker and part-time video vendor. In creating a docufilm on one of her favorite Black actresses of the ‘30s popularly known as the titular Watermelon Woman, Dunye explores the relegation of African American actresses to the stereotypical “mammy” roles while revealing a parallel between her life and that of the elusive Watermelon Woman. Don’t underestimate the humor, wit and lightheartedness of TWW because it won’t sell itself short when attacking serious issues such as minorities in media and the paramount history of Black women — whether in cinema, the LGBTQ+ community or Cheryl’s native Philadelphia. But you’ll definitely get a kick out of the outfits because it was the mid ‘90s and, hell, we’ll never get enough overalls.
words_sharon beriro design_jess morgan