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Daily Reads: Why ‘Dear White People’s’ Lack of Answers is the Point, Michael Keaton Fits In By Playing Misfits and More

Daily Reads: Why 'Dear White People's' Lack of Answers is the Point, Michael Keaton Fits In By Playing Misfits and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. “Dear White People” Has No Answers, and That’s the Point. The new satire “Dear White People” tackles racism, but it doesn’t seem to have any of the answers on how to solve it. Jezebel’s Kara Brown argues that that’s largely the point, noting that there’s no real cure for it, and that the film has greater value in depicting different kinds of racism and the difficulty in dealing with it.

I imagine that a younger generation will heavily connect with this film: black kids who haven’t yet had in-depth conversations about race in America, who don’t yet know how to intellectualize and verbalize what they’re feeling and who are still recognizing certain actions and systems as racist. There is almost certainly a middle class black kid attending an all-white private school right now whose new favorite movie is “Dear White People,” and for her, the film is working as a way of better understanding issues that she’s likely experiencing but can’t yet articulate. Read more.

2. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” Is Funny When NYPD Decidedly Isn’t. 
The NYPD is unpopular as it’s ever been, with the death of Eric Garner looming large over the cultural consciousness. Yet “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a sitcom following NYPD cops, is as funny as it’s ever been. Will Leitch of Bloomberg Politics writes that that’s largely because the show avoids reflecting the reality of New York police work.

Also, another thing the cops of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” are that the actual NYPD is not? Diverse. Of the seven main characters on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” three are women, two are Latino, and two are black. The actual NYPD? Not so much. In the age of Ferguson, a time when 96 percent of NYPD shootings are of blacks or Latinos, the world of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” looks less like a bunch of police officers and more like a bunch of actors hanging out on a stage, pretending to be cops. Read more.

3. Michael Keaton Fits In By Playing Misfits. Not everyone loves “Birdman,” but even those who don’t have largely welcomed the return to offbeat lead roles for Michael Keaton. The Dissolve’s Keith Phipps (who didn’t like the film itself) writes that what makes  Keaton great is his innate strangeness, his ability to play madness, and his inability to completely fit in.

Though he’s first seen assuming the lotus position, and levitating, his Riggan Thompson is far from at peace with himself. Pressure mounts as the opening night of his play approaches, and Riggan grows increasingly unstable. The voice in his head—the voice of Birdman, the big-screen superhero he played—grows louder. Everyone around him becomes a target: his daughter, his lover, his manager. He’s performing an act of creation that doubles as an act of self-destruction…Keaton conveys that kind of haunted, something’s-kind-of-off-about-him quality better than almost anyone, even if there hasn’t been enough room for him to do so in Hollywood of late. “Birdman,” could, and should, change that, initiating its own kind of market correction. Read more.

4. Gary Webb Was No Hero, Despite What “Kill the Messenger” Says. Critics complained that “Kill the Messenger” tried too hard to lionize its subject, Gary Webb, at the expense of a more complicated story about journalistic ethics, the government’s involvement with drug smuggling, and a man overreaching in his investigation. Now, The Washington Post’s Jeff Leen, who also chased the CIA drug-trafficking story in the 80s and found Webb’s proof lacking at the time, writes about just how far Webb overstepped his bounds as a reporter.

Webb’s supporters point to a 1998 report by CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz as vindication, because it uncovered an agency mind-set of indifference to drug-smuggling allegations. Actually, it is more like the Kerry committee’s report on steroids: “We have found no evidence in the course of this lengthy investigation of any conspiracy by CIA or its employees to bring drugs into the United States,” Hitz said. “. . . There are instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the Contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity or take action to resolve the allegations.” Significantly, the report found no CIA relationship with the drug ring Webb had written about. Read more.

5. Wrong About Critics, Wrong About Movies, Wrong About Faith. 
A recent press release from an unnamed film company argued that film critics “don’t get” religious movies, citing the divide between critic and audience scores for films like “Left Behind” and “The Identical.” Writing for BeliefNet, Nell Minow writes that the release misrepresents critics and shows the kind of victimhood and superiority-perpetuating bad theology behind the films in question.

I love to see movies that inspire audiences to make a deeper connection with God or to live a more humble and compassionate life. But too many “faith-based” films have the shakiest of theologies and are more interested in perpetuating a narrow, claustrophobic, smug brand of Christianity than they are to exploring the teachings of Christ. I object to the notion that “faith-based” refers to only one segment of Christianity, but, if that is the case, the purpose of “faith-based” films should to challenge viewers to become better Christians. Unfortunately, instead too many of these films serve only to congratulate the audience for their superiority or promote a culture of victimhood. Instead of inspiring generosity toward others, they increase divisiveness and prejudice. Read more.

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