Saturday, November 29, 2014

About Ferguson

It's been a few days since the "no indictment" decision was announced. I like to reflect on things before I comment, but I think that I'm ready to comment. 

First, I don't understand why anyone was surprised by the grand jury decision. The writing was on the wall from day 1. I never had real hope that it would end any other way and when the governor called in the National Guard and issued a State of Emergency, I became 99.9% sure that I knew the outcome.  Now, let me stop here and explain for those of you who are rationally challenged that this does not mean that I think Darren Wilson is guilty or that he should fry for what he did. This means that I think there was enough evidence to have a trial and that McCulloch tanked the grand jury (I base this on what prosecutors have said about the way McCulloch handled the grand jury). My assumption is that the trial would have ended with a "not guilty" verdict because I can't see McCulloch trying very hard to get a conviction. That said, I guess in the big picture, McCulloch saved us all a lot of time and energy.

I was not surprised by the rioting and looting that occurred after the verdict, but I was upset with the way that it was handled. I try not to be a conspiracy theorist, but someone has to ask the following questions: If you are afraid that people will react violently, why do you make the announcement at night? If you called a State of Emergency the week before and you have the National Guard troops at your disposal, why don't you station them in front of all the stores on the main strip? Why leave the mostly minority owned stores unprotected, but have police stationed in front of the mostly white owned stores? I'm not going to bother answering those questions, but I do want you to think about it.

Now for the media. I can't help but wonder why the media focused so heavily on the rioting and looting and virtually ignored the peaceful protestors and the residents of Ferguson who tried to stop the looting. I'm sure a few residents from Ferguson engaged in looting, but the consensus seems to be that the majority of the looters were anarchist who came to seize the opportunity to loot. I saw lots of the violence on television, but very little of the kindness. I had to go online to see people trying to take a stand against the looters. I support peaceful protests, but I don't support rioting or looting and while we're on the topic, I don't support walking on a highway and stopping traffic. I'm fine with protestors shutting down certain streets because people can always take an alternate route, but shutting down the highway, while dramatic and attention grabbing, is also annoying as hell to many of those stuck in traffic.

Now for the online trolls. I saw one person make a joke that if the police wanted to scatter the protestors, all they had to do was drop job applications. Clearly, the person has not listened to the residents of Ferguson. One of their top complaints is that the jobs have dried up. The people want to work, but there aren't enough jobs to go around. If the government dropped legitimate job applications for open positions, the people would probably knock each other down trying to get their hands on the applications.

The unrest in Ferguson has been bigger than Mike Brown since the beginning. The residents of Ferguson have aired their grievances on multiple occasions, but it appears that most people have not been listening. The Mike Brown incident was the final straw in a long string of perceived injustices. I've heard the residents complain that there are few job opportunities in their area. I've heard them complain about subpar schools. I've heard them complain about over policing in their area and tell stories about being mistreated by the police, but not once have I heard them say that they want to be unemployed and living off the government. I hate when people try to perpetuate their biases on a group of people. Most black people  are not lazy. Of course there are exceptions, but there are lazy people in every race. I've heard since I was a child that "black people are the last hired and first fired." Job statistics seem to support that. Before you complain about the number of black people on welfare, try looking at the unemployment rate for black people and remember that the unemployment rate only counts those who are actively seeking employment.

Now back to the Mike Brown shooting. Pretty much everyone agrees that some sort of altercation happened at the vehicle. I for one am impressed that a "five year old" was able to win a wrestling match with "Hulk Hogan," but hey, stranger things have happened (yes, that's a little bit of shade). I wasn't there. I don't know what happened, but I do know that the aftermath wasn't handled properly. The Medical Examiner didn't take any photos at the scene because the camera didn't have batteries. Are you kidding me? Even if the camera didn't have batteries, why didn't anyone go buy some batteries? Mike Brown's body laid in the street for four and a half hours. What's another few minutes if it means that there is more evidence? I've seen reports that Darren Wilson was allowed to keep his gun and to drive himself back to the precinct, I haven't been able to confirm that, but if it is true, then what the hell? Is a police shooting that normal, that it's literally business as usual afterwards? The surveillance video of Mike Brown robbing a store was released at a press conference that was supposed to be about naming the officer. The prosecutor sounded like a defense attorney when he announced the grand jury decision. McCulloch discredited the witnesses (way to make people want to come forward), condemned the media (yes they deserved it, but that was neither the time nor the place) then shaded the victim (because nothing says you were a worthless thug like the prosecutor reminding everyone that you were no angel). A simple reading of the decision would have sufficed.

McCulloch's speech left a bitter taste in my mouth, but one thing that he said stuck out to me. He made a point of mentioning that white people have also been killed by police. Few people latched on to that statement, but it was the one that caught my attention. For starters, black males are killed by police at a much higher rate, but that is neither here nor there for the argument I am about to make. How can you defend the shooting of a black man by reminding people that police shoot and kill white men too? Why did no one care about that comment? To me, it says everything that is wrong with our system. We've created police forces that are trigger happy. Unless someone is shooting at you, your gun should be one of the last things that you reach for, yet here, in America, it is often the first thing. What's the point of creating mace and tasers and letting police have batons if their hands are going to go for the gun first? Why bother with all the extras?

By Wilson's own admission, he thought, "Do I have the legal right to shoot?" He thought he did and the grand jury agreed. That isn't his fault, that's the system's fault. Let's say that everything happened exactly the way that Wilson said it did. I think if Darren Wilson would have shot Mike Brown multiple times at the vehicle, none of this extra stuff would have happened. More people would say, well, Brown shouldn't have touched the gun. What did he think was going to happen? The officer was trapped in the car, of course the officer shot him. The argument stems from the fact that Mike Brown was running away but Darren Wilson got out of his vehicle and started firing at him. It has been found that Darren Wilson was well within his rights as a policeman, so any anger directed towards Wilson is misdirected. He didn't break any laws. If you don't approve of his actions then you need to try to change the laws. Speaking of which, I think that the Mike Brown Law should be passed because cameras eliminate the questions. If Darren Wilson had on a body camera, no one would wonder about what happened, because everyone would know for sure.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Beyond the Lights

I saw an advance screening of Beyond the Lights two weeks ago. I've been waiting to post about it because what good is a movie review that's done two weeks before the movie is released? By the way, Beyond the Lights comes out on Friday, November 14, 2014. Should you see it? 


If you loved Love & Basketball, then this movie is a must see. Beyond the Lights is the exact movie that it appears to be in the trailers. It's the story of a pop star, Noni, who has tired of pretending to be someone she's not. If you've seen the preview then you know that Noni jumps from a balcony and is rescued by a policeman named Kaz (aka, my new crush, Nate Parker). You also know that they fall in love and her mother and his father do not approve. Noni and Kaz's relationship develops in a very sweet and endearing way. It's clear that Kaz wants to help Noni face her demons, but he understands that he can't force her hand, so he sits on the sidelines and encourages her to be herself. Eventually, Noni hears him  and begins to find her own voice, which, surprise, surprise, is not the voice that her record company or her mother want her to have. While helping Noni, Kaz loses sight of his life goal and his father is quick to tell him all the ways that Noni is ruining his life, but this is a love story, so you can pretty much guess how well that conversation played out in the movie. At its core, Beyond the Lights is a classic love story set against a music back drop.

Overall Grade: B-.  I give the movie a B- because there isn't anything special or surprising about the movie. The movie is what it is and in this case, that was enough to keep me entertained. There were some weak moments in the writing, but the superb acting made me quite forgiving.


MGK (rapper Machine Gun Kelly for those who aren't in the know) plays Kid Culprit, Noni's boyfriend for publicity purposes. I understand that MGK was pretty much playing a variation of himself, but as a Clevelander, it was nice to see a hometown boy doing big things and actually holding his own as an actor. Kid Culprit is all about image and it becomes clear during the movie that his image is far more important to him than Noni could ever hope to be.

Minnie Driver plays Noni's "momanger." I have loved Minnie Driver since Good Will Hunting, so I wasn't surprised that she delivered as Macy Jean. Macy wants the best for Noni, but it's clear from the beginning of the movie that Macy never really listens to what Noni wants. In the beginning, Noni was all about pleasing her mother. There was one scene in which the photographer at a photoshoot asks Noni to take her top off and Noni looks to her mother so that her mother can make the decision for her. I thought that moment was particularly poignant in terms of conveying the dynamics of their relationship. Macy was okay with pushing the limits and playing up Noni's sexuality as long as it made them money, while Noni wasn't really comfortable with it, but understood that she needed to play her part.

Danny Glover plays Kaz's father, Captain Nicol. Like Macy, Captain Nicol has helped mold his child's life. He wants Kaz to go in to politics and it is implied that he has groomed Kaz for politics since Kaz was a young age.

Now for the stars. Let's begin with Nate Parker. This movie marks the first time that I have looked at Nate Parker as a man. His portrayal of Kaz was well done. I enjoyed his acting. I enjoyed looking at him. I enjoyed the way he looked at Noni and the way his character only wanted to protect Noni. I enjoyed that his character accepted Noni as she was and even though he didn't understand everything about her life, he wanted her to be happy because her happiness dictated his own.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Noni. I loved her! Her acting was very good. She was just as convincing as a sex pot in the music video scenes as she was when she showed how vulnerable her character felt on the inside. She was undoubtedly the star of the movie and there is little need for her to worry about scene stealers, because no one was able to take her shine. I believe that she felt trap and that her love for Kaz helped set her free.


First Shout-out: This movie made me fall in love with "Blackbird." That song is depressing as hell. Nina Simone sure knew how to be a dream killer.

Second Shout-out: Darryl Stephens plays Quentin in this movie. I have loved Darryl since Noah's Arc.