Shooting Michael B. Jordan

03 Dec
December 3, 2013

What follows is from this month’s GQ Magazine, which named actor Michael B. Jordan — who we first victimized in “The Wire” — for the breakout performance of 2013.  His fine work in “Fruitvale Station” is wholly deserving and the film is an important one.  I was honored when the magazine asked me to write something for the year-end issue, and it’s reposted here with the magazine’s kind permission.  Congratulations, Michael.  We knew you when.

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Perversely, we are at the edge of creating a hard-and-fast rule of film narrative in which the one assured means by which we can get America to care about young men of color is to shoot Michael B. Jordan.

Not Michael, to be fair. But any character portrayed by Michael.

The drug war? Stop and frisk? Racial profiling? Black-on-black violence? Our separate Americas? All that is commentary. If you need white folks to actually feel something, it pays to aim a handgun at Michael B. Jordan’s delicate and nuanced humanity and pull the trigger. Suddenly the risks of being young and black on an American street are apparent.

A decade ago on The Wire, we put Michael in the path of a bullet, knowing we were breaking hearts. Not merely because the kid was a fine, careful actor playing a grandly sacrificial role. But that smile—the open, adolescent warmth that filled Michael’s face in ordinary moments—God, the smile alone was going to wreck anyone watching as Wallace’s story played out.

We started him sweet and foolish and playing with action figures, and we finished him in a vacant public-housing unit, with a high-caliber bullet in his chest. On that last day of work, even the Baltimore crew—veterans of all manner of cop-show savagery and betrayal—were sullenly setting up the shot.

“I can’t believe you’re killing Michael,” said the makeup lady.

No, we’re killing Wallace.

“It’s just wrong. It’s evil.”

When J.D. fired the prop gun and the squibs spurted and Michael dropped onto the stunt mat, the script coordinator started crying.

So now, a decade later, comes Fruitvale Station, a quotidian, last-day-in-the-life account of Oscar Grant, another young black man—this one shot to death by a transit officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 at the Fruitvale stop of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

Now, again, a few earnest souls in our film industry are taking steps from the beaten path to present the human-scale cost of our racial pathology. And the right actor is again required to take a bullet in such a way that we will feel the loss in all of its intricate detail.

No surprise who gets the call. Now Michael B. Jordan, an actor honed by a decade of meaningful work, turns in a performance that surrounds the doomed Oscar Grant, making him seem idiosyncratic yet average, ordinary yet precious. That’s the power of Fruitvale.

It’s easy to say as much, but to feel it? And it’s harder when we are obliged to consider those who wear hoodies, who smoke a little weed, who text the wrong thing to a girl, who ever make a single mistake in their short lives. Harder still if the dead man can’t win us with his smile.

And there’s the lesson.

If we shoot Michael dead a few more times, there’s a small chance we might actually learn it.

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At GQ, online:

http://www.gq.com/moty/2013/michael-b-jordan-men-of-the-year-breakout#ixzz2mS7Nq3X3

 

And now my emphasis added. (Emphasis mine.)

15 Nov
November 15, 2013

Maybe it’s because I’ve just journeyed through the funhouse of Brietbart.com where suggesting that the Constitution and the original intent of its authors might not always yield moral perfection is quickly labeled a trashing of the document and all that is American, but I’m beginning to look upon the internet as a place where  any thought so conceived as even a paragraph can not long endure.  It certainly can’t be tweeted.

I awoke this morning and chased the coffee with this:

David Simon, the creator of The Wire and the author of two of the best pieces of book-length journalism ever written (Homicide and The Corner), really liked 12 Years a Slave. I mean, he really liked it. He liked it so much, in fact, that he thinks it’s literally beyond criticism. Wrote Simon:

 [O]nly two kinds of folk will emerge from theaters [after seeing 12 Years a Slave].

The first will be at last awakened to the actual and grevious horror in which the black experience in America begins.  Efforts to achieve this in the past — The “Roots” miniseries on television, or a few halting and veiled attempts in feature films to imply the desperation of terrorized human chattel — came down the road a piece, but none dared the entire emotional journey.  For ordinary Americans willing to confront our history without equivocation and vague allusion, this film will prove a humanizing and liberating journey. This much truth can grow an honest soul.

And for those still desperate to mitigate our national reality at every possible cost, this film will be an affront.  It is not intelligently assailable by anyone. [Emphasis mine]

He then goes on to talk, at some length, about the intellectually dishonest people who would criticize this film because dead white men and the Constitution, or some such.

Read more →

Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2013: Some People are More Equal than Others

14 Nov
November 14, 2013

Caption contest, though I believe Mrs. Simon has already won.

10 Nov
November 10, 2013

Photo sent to me by an Australian friend at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas there, where I spoke at the Sydney Opera House and the following day in Melbourne.  The unbalded gentleman onstage with me is Michael Williams of Melbourne’s Wheeler Center and a genuinely charming, generous and quick-witted man.  My quick-and-dirty entry would have been, “Simon In Concert.”  Subhead:  “How many opinions can one lumpy Jew have?”

Mrs. Simon thought for a moment and bettered that with:  “Simon In Concert.” Subhead:  “The I’d-Agree-With-You-But-Then-We’d-Both-Be-Wrong Tour.  2013.”

She also declaimed:  “Your most dangerous idea is what time we should leave for the airport.”

 

A rugged individualist punches into the Disney compound.

10 Nov
November 10, 2013

Three year old daughter acting up in a restaurant this afternoon.  Child extricated before meal arrives.  Time out on the sidewalk bench in front of the bistro.  Three year old pouting, arms crossed.

“You know, you can’t be a princess if you don’t use your manners.”

“Why I can’t?”

“Because princesses are nice to everyone.  Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella…they always use their best manners.”

“Well, Daddy, I am a mean, mean princess.”

“Princesses are good. How can you be a princess if you are mean?  There’s no such thing.”

Three year old thinking hard for a long beat.  Then, softly, wearily, as if sad for me:

“Silly, Daddy.  You just don’t know princess things.”

Oy.

In for a bumpy ride with this one.

 

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