“Lakeview Terrace” Re-Investigated (Race & Power Struggles – What Could Have Been)

"Lakeview Terrace" Re-Investigated (Race & Power Struggles - What Could Have Been)

Produced by Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment company, and released in theatres in 2008, I recently watched Lakeview Terrace again, in consideration of some reasearch I've been doing on contemporary films and their handling of interracial couples.

But in watching it, and putting aside what inspired me to watch it again in the first place, I realized that the film actually had the potential to be significantly more valuable than what ended up on screen.

Let me explain…

The premise engages to start with: in its most simplistic form, a young interracial couple (white man/black woman) moves into their first home, right next door to an older black man a (single father) who despises interracial couples.

But it's much more than that! Or at least, it tries to be, and fails.

The screenplay introduces several themes, but, unfortunately, none is really, fully explored. If anything, the original race-based premise as I laid out above takes a back seat to a tale on masculinity, as psychological and physical confrontations between both men (the white husband played by baby-faced Patrick Wilson, and the black neighbor, played by the hard-edged Samuel L Jackson) dominate the film.

It becomes a kind of chess match between the two, with Jackson's Abel Turner having the upper-hand for much of the game; in essence, to put it simpler, we could look at it as a power struggle between a white man and a black man (reflecting everyday realities), with much more than just a house and a woman on the line.

Their entire world, as it exists in the film, and who controls it, is really what's at stake here. And it could be easy to choose sides based on racial solidarity; but Samuel L Jackson's character is so spiteful to the point of being somewhat unrealistic, that the audience really has no choice but to dislike him. There's no subtlety in Abel Turner. He's an asshole, simply put. There are moments when the film seems to want us to try and empathize with him, but it's difficult to, given how much of a disruptive force he really is.

Not that men like him can't exist in real life, but, I think some complexity in his portrayal would have made for a much more intriguing film.

One of those moments I mention was actually a pretty good one, and I think it summed up quite clearly what's at the core of the anger and frustration that impairs a lot of black men in this country. And the film would have been better for it, if the script further expanded on that moment.

In that scene, Jackson's Turner tells Wilson's Chris, the white husband, how much he hates the fact that, as a white man, he can arrogantly have whatever or whomever he wants, without pause, without concern, without having to ask, or worry how he might be received by the rest of the world. And, as Abel sees it, in his emotionally unstable mental state, Chris's marriage to a black woman exemplifies all of that, and he challenges him in ways most of us probably wouldn't so readily consider.

But Abel can do this because (and here's the conceit) he is a police officer. Of course! So, even if Chris toughened up and challenged Abel every step of the way, man-to-man, he'd still likely lose, because he's not just going up against another man (regardless of race), he's going up against a cop – a veteran at that, with many friends on the force. He won't just be going up against a man, he'll be challenging an institution – a very powerful one, that could make his life reasonably uncomfortable.

There's another reason for Abel's madness, which I won't reveal here, for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen the film. He clearly feels justified in his actions, and, in that single scene, he tells Chris everything he needs to know. And, as I said, it's actually quite an important, powerful scene; but instead of staying solidly on that course, the film falters – especially in the last act, when it tumbles, and becomes so absurd that whatever connections I'd made with the characters and the story were quickly shattered, and I found myself laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

It was a disappointment because, as I said, it had the potential to be so much more. It introduces several topical issues that I'd say really haven't been seriously and comprehensively tackled enough on film (despite attempts here and there) – notably, attitudes towards interracial coupling, specifically within the black community, especially when one half of the pair is a black woman; the so-called shortage of black men, and the plight of the single, black professional woman; the struggle for power and control between black men and white men; an examination of black manhood and black masculinity; psychological illness in the black community; and a bit more.

However, the film never really digs deep enough on any of those issues, instead choosing to hang onto the usual Hollywood story-telling tropes.

But in its defense, if I could come up with one, it actually had me asking myself what I would do, if I were in either situation – specifically, if I were in Chris's position. It could be quite emasculating, if not maddening, feeling so helpless, and not being able to protect your family (specifically your wife), as you've been socialized to believe is your duty as a man in this society we've created for ourselves – as sexist as that might sound. But sexism (and misogyny) is nothing new to Neil LaBute, who directed the film (see In The Company Of Men, his debut).

Kerry Washington is disappointingly more of a prop here, with really nothing to do; although she is present. However, as I already said, the film really becomes centered on this battle between men – one white, the other black; and we could say a battle that mirrors real life struggles.

The ending was inevitable, given the set-up and progression. But it was still laughable unfortunately, and, as already stated, could have been avoided with some tweaking in the screenplay, that would have improved the overall quality of the film.

However, overall, it's not as bad a film as I expected it to be; so maybe I went into it with low expectations, and thus my expectations were indeed met. But, there's clearly a brain behind this one (despite its flaws and lack of ambition), and I'd have liked to see this movie made outside of Hollywood, rated-R, instead of PG13, which was its original rating.

There's a heartbeat here; it just wasn't given, or should I say allowed, the kind of pump it needs to make it much more compelling.

If you saw Lakeview Terrace, your thoughts?

This Article is related to: Features


Comments

Orville

I don't think Kerry Washington has a white girl persona. Kerry is from an upper middle class family she went to the Spence School in New York City and her parents are educated African Americans.
Kerry is a beautiful black woman and she happens to prefer white men and that's her choice. I think one of the reasons Kerry gets a lot of grief especially from black heterosexual men is because she's not interested in them.

I think Kerry Washington is a proud black woman and she is very aware of racism and sexism in Hollywood. Kerry is a university graduate and she's spoken about not wanting to be seen as a stereotypical black woman in the media. Kerry has tried very hard in her career to steer clear of stereotypical roles. Kerry is trying I think in her career to show nuance and vulnerability as a black actress in her roles.

Orville

I agree and disagree with Tambay. I agree that the movie wasn't fleshed out enough I wanted to know more about Patrick Wilson's character his reasons for marrying Lisa. The movie focused a lot on the black side but ignored Chris's family and what they thought of Lisa.

I agree that Kerry Washington's character was not developed enough in the film she was just kind of there. There was a storyline about her character trying to get pregnant against her white husband's wishes but that wasn't explored.

I thought Samuel L Jackson is very unattractive and that's probably part of the reason why some people did not have sympathy for his character. He was too old and it did not seem like he was sexually attracted to Kerry's character.

Cherish

What is with people claiming that a movie about a racist Black man hating on wm/bw interracial couple being unrealistic or copout? Are y'all serious? You don't know or have seen Black men (particular older men) hating on BW/WM couples? Please. As for bringing up the KKK's hangings and lynchings – we're talking about power differentials here. But what Abel Turner did to Chris and Kerry Washington's character was classic – he f*cked with them. From ruining their housewarming to shining the bright lights on the bedroom. He wasn't violent, in the beginning. He just f*cked with them. Sometimes it was in that passive-aggressive manner many Black people used day-to-day to cope with White people. But more times than not, Abel f*cked with Chis "in his face" because of his badge. And it was all legal, in the beginning. Man, that movie was hilarious. Too bad it ran off the deep end towards the end. It was great and funny example of a Black man using his position of power within the social and cultural paradigms to try to bring down a White man, to get back at the system.

moionfire

I have to agree with the poster that said making the crazed racist a black man was a cop out. The truth is that when it comes to terrorizing black and white couples, it is 9/10 a white man doing it. I think they chose a black female-white male couple because it flipped the usual script. And to be truthful inspite of the content, the movie was funny(sometimes unintentionally) which probably couldn't have happened had it had a black male-white female couple given the seriousness and historical context of such pairing.

As far as who has it worse— as a black women, I can't lie and say black female-white males have it worse. For starters white men who are racist care more about black male-white female couples. Rarely do they dedicate time to attacking other white men. They only care about the "purity" of white women. But then again more black men are with white women than black women with white men(a ratio of 2 to 1 ). So that might be the reason.

Either way, black women with white men might be called a whore or whatnot- but relatively speaking they are not getting attacked physically.

CareyCarey

I do not believe I would frame Abel as an asshole, nor would I classify his behavior as "madness" (notwithstanding the last scene) and I DID empathize with him because I understood him. Imo, Abel was your garden varity cop, in such, he was a part-time arrogant prick, not a full time ass-hole. More importantly he was a protective father who did not like nor desire his children to be influenced by his neighbor's way of life. I do not see anything wrong with that. Needless to say, I agree with Tambay's statement—>"several topical issues that I'd say really haven't been seriously and comprehensively tackled enough on film (despite attempts here and there) – notably, attitudes towards interracial coupling, specifically within the black community". However, I don't waste my time trying to figure out if the black community disdains WM/BW couples more than BW/WM couples. It's a useless and pointless discussion. Now, my likes and dislikes. 1.) Kerry Washington's character (and her white girl persona) 2.) I loved Lisa's father. He didn't pull any punches. 3.) I actually liked Abel, and Samuel nailed the part. I laughed along with Able and his buddies, and I understood his need to run the neighbors out of the neighborhood. Would I have used the means he did? Not exactly but I understand that he did what he thought he had to do to protect his family. That's right, who loves neighbors exposing themselves (their naked asses and private parts) to their young children? And everybody does not adore the thought of their daughter sleeping with Billy Bob, nor being influenced to do so. 4.) The ending was bogus. Rating = 7 1/2 out of 10 stars. Today it's Bernie Mac time. I Ain't Scared Of You: A Tribute To Bernie Mac

AccidentalVisitor

Interesting choice, Tambay. If I may give an opinion or two I feel that Turner's rant about the white man and the availability of any woman to him rang hollow then and now. Or at the very least it seemed shortsighted. Maybe it was because his words were written by a white man or maybe it was because Turner wasn't all that much of an intellectual who could process things more thoughtfully. But if he thought about it that issue he had wasn't simply one regarding white men, but one regarding white people in general. Because just like with white men, white women also seem to have their pick of the litter in regards to men of other races. No, this isn't to say white people can woo all of what society may view as the most attractive and or successful of non-white persons. This isn't even to say they can woo most of them. But perhaps because of their unique standing of the world and because of the western media/arts/entertainment industry that has promoted the beauty of white people over all others, it is apparent that white people are typically looked upon as being desirable and suitable mates by a large percentage of folks of other races. There has been studies that bear this out, studies in which non-white people admit in questionnaires that they are more willing to accept white individuals marrying into their families than they would other non-white individuals (especially if that non-white happens to be black). Maybe it has something to do with the craving of light skin newborns being brought into the family circle. A lot of stuff is going on there that could keep psychiatrists busy for centuries. But that being said one group that is typically more resistant to putting white people on that pedestal, or at least won't admit to it, are African Americans . African Americans may have some of the same skin complex issues within their own communities, nevertheless they also date and marry outside their race (including whites) far less than anyone else. Is that all by their own choice? Maybe not. Yet that's how the numbers bear out. Furthermore black men by a relatively small margin date/marry outside their race than black women. Because of that this particular scene involving Sam Jackson's character ring false. If he was an Asian male and saw a disproportionately one-sided coupling between Asian women and white men, we could understand his anger seething underneath. But Turner is a black man and would have just as likely been exposed to seeing his share of black male-white female hookups as he would in seeing black female-white male hookups. His life experiences would have told him that it wasn't white men he was resenting as much as the white race in general. After all white people get what they want. So he shouldn't have lost his marbles over seeing the new couple move into his neighborhood UNLESS he was a racist asshole who also thought of black women as the sole possession of black men. The whole "conversation" between Turner and Chris would have played better if instead Turner's feelings came about as the result of feeling inadequate because he saw a beautiful black woman with a white male who was younger, more successful and, in his eyes, more attractive than him.

Vanessa

I couldn't take this film seriously, especially towards the last scenes, which like you said, were absurd. Jackson's character Abel, could've definitely used some more complexity. But so could've Chris, the White character. I also didn't really care for Chris and Washington's characters as a couple. They had zero chemistry; so, that in itself was a problem for me. Abel's character was REALLY unlikable, being that none of the reasons he gave Chris for being against his interracial releationships were valid, especially to go absolutely psycho. The scene you pointed out, when Abel tells Chris that "he can arrogantly have whatever or whomever he wants, without pause, without concern, without having to ask, or worry how he might be received by the rest of the world," is one that I can't really relate to and was layed out there to really make Chris more sympathetic. First of all, a White man embarking in a serious relationship with a Black woman, in which he wants to marry etc..is no walk in the park with no worries, quite the contrary. That's pretty much the reason why many White men don't even consider dating Black women. I think White men definitely don't want to feel the scorn from Blacks and Whites alike, ESPECIALLY from black men; they are intimidated. I do see where you're coming from with that mentality though. There's been studies that the actual WM/BW relationships seem to last longer than others, which tells me that there has to be some real connection, love, and that they must both really want it in order to deal with people's prejudices from both races. Anyways, like I said, I didn't really get the connection between Chris and his wife, so that aspect didn't work me either.

MFAScreenwriter

White dude is racist, an innocent black man dies for his sin and we're made to feel sorry for the white dude (The Green Mile).

Black dude is racist, a cop in this instance, and he gets shot up brutally… by other cops, after the audience being bludgeoned with the idea that Samuel L has color on his side, "blue."

In that sense, Lakeview Terrace is actually unintentionally insightful. Speaks to the difference between white prejudice (institutional) and black prejudice.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *