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August 15 2013

Harry Lennix takes on 'The Butler' calls it 'historical porn'. Harry Lennix refused to be a part of 'The Butler': "...Lee Daniels sent me the script for that film he's making now, The Butler, about the black butler at the White House. I read five pages of this thing and could not go any further".

"... he (Daniels) gives people these, stupid, luddite, antediluvian ideas about black people and their roles in the historical span in the White House and it becomes... well... historical porn. I refused."

NSFW language in here.

I thought this was particularly interesting:

"And people want to see these images so theyíll say things like: ďItís a very difficult movie to look at, but itís great movie.Ē Thatís a contradiction in terms. Thatís a paradox. It canít be that itís a great movie, but itís difficult to look at."

Obviously, the context is the portrayal of black men (or black people in general) in entertainment. But I wonder how he might apply that to entertainment in general, like movies that are "difficult to look at" because they deal with uncomfortable subject matter but are still great films (Schindler's List comes to mind). I wonder what he thinks of Django Unchained.

[ edited by the ninja report on 2013-08-15 16:45 ]
Django came in for its own dose of criticism. If I recall, Spike Lee among others took issue with it, and of course, while it plays with history, it is also a typical Tarantino mash-up. For myself, I cannot stand Tarantino, so I tend to agree with the criticism. I understand what Mr. Lennix is saying, though. it is more about historical representation, not about the kind of play-up that you see with Tarantino (though I bet if you asked, he would not have liked Django Unchained).
Interesting, I didn't realize the film was like that. Too bad.
Has anyone here read the script?
You might not want entertainment difficult to watch - art, on the other hand...

I saw Daniel's Precious. Extremely difficult to watch, but ultimately very hopeful.
And for another Whedonesque connection, isn't this written by Danny Strong?
haven't seen the film but I have read reviews that basically say it takes many deviations from the facts in order to be more dramatic, which would be understood and accepted but this movie in particular is a bit of a lightning rod because it's a) Lee Daniels and b) about the history and times of an African American man who was the subject of a very high profile newspaper article and c) died soon after President Obama's first inauguration.

I'm not looking for a documentary; but when it comes to historical movies that are based on true stories (and claim to be so) I do expect a little more care in making sure the deviations don't tarnish the reputations of people that audiences may mistakenly assume are based on real people. There's a fine line between historical fiction, "based on a true story" and revisionist history.

In this vein, I appreciate what I've read about Fruitvale Station, which I haven't see either (sadly), but almost every review I've read points out that this movie doesn't cast judgment either way. It's a dramatic retelling of the facts as they occurred, and it doesn't cast judgment on the people who are portrayed in it.
Reminds me of what many of the non-participants said about the film of the Color Purple.
How Lennix describes the film is actually exactly what I feared "The Butler" would be. Danny's comments about the script, as seen over in the other thread, made me feel more easy about it... but now Lennix's comments (and Lennix is, fairly clearly, more qualified to speak about race than Danny) are making me uneasy again.
@Dana5140: I don't find Spike Lee's "criticism" of Django Unchained to be worth taking seriously, since he admitted he hadn't seen the movie.

The only issue I have with Django is that, like all Tarantino's movies of the last 10 years or so, it has an utterly unrealistic "kill em all" ending that celebrates the ability of the lone hero to solve everything through violence, the way he did not at the start of his career. Up to that point, it's a harrowing portrayal of slavery, albeit with some humorous scenes such as one that mocks the KKK (and since when is that a bad thing? Charlie Chaplin mocked Hitler in The Great Dictator).

[ edited by TimeTravellingBunny on 2013-08-15 23:41 ]
It is still there, TTB.
Well I don't understand why his take is more authoritative than the other blacks involved in making the film, some if whom (like Oprah) clearly weren't doing it for the pay check.
So? Anyone who is criticizing something they hadn't even seen has disqualified themselves to start with. There's a reason why movie reviewers are required to actually watch the movie and why they don't start their reviews with "I haven't actually seen this, but..."
Guys, Spike Lee's issue with the film does not actually require him to see it. He is offended by the overuse of the n-word, and that is the basis of his criticism. I am not defending him or opposing him on this; it is what it is, but clearly he need not see the movie to take issue with this. I have not seen the movie either, for that matter, but I also have strong feelings on Tarantino's overuse of that word in many of his films.

See this, for another critic's thoughts: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/01/django-unchained-reviewed-tarantinos-crap-masterpiece.html

baxter, to what are you referring? I was speaking of Lee criticizing Tarantino, which is not the same as Lennix criticizing this film, which he clearly can as he was provided the script, which he gave up on after it so upset him.
Obviously meant Lennix (see Oprah reference). It wasn't about whether he had seen the script (well at least the 5 pages he says he read) but about weighing his negative evaluation of the characterization of blacks vs those actually involved in the film.

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