Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Claudia Puig and Tim Cogshell review this weekend’s new movie releases including: the fantastical legend of “Kong: Skull Island” starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson; Julia Ducournau’s cannibalistic-thriller “Raw;” “Personal Shopper” starring Kristen Stewart in the underground fashion world of Paris; and more.
You don’t need to wait for the local art house to put on a themed film festival. Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC’s Filmweek and Alt Film Guide, and who blogs at CinemaInMind, is producing a series of DIY Film Festivals for Off-Ramp listeners to throw in the comfort of their own homes.
This DIY film festival is about miscegenation. Don’t know or remember what it means? Good.
Miscegenation is sex or marriage between people of different races — usually whites and blacks. It was illegal in much of the U.S. until the 60s, and was also either taboo or forbidden in cinema. This DIY festival, including a documentary, a short silent film, and even a few TV episodes, is inspired by Jeff Nichols’ new film “Loving,” which is about the 1967 miscegenation case that changed the law and the movies.
1. “The Loving Story” 2011
“Loving” was inspired by the HBO documentary, “The Loving Story,” which is the first film of our festival. Mildred and Richard Loving were an interracial couple who married in 1958, despite Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws.
As good as the new narrative film is, the 2011 doc is better.
The Hays Code, the rules the movies were governed by, stated explicitly: “Miscegenation (sex-relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.” When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings, the 1930 Hays Code was replaced by the Classification and Rating System Administration. But before that, miscegenation was still fodder for Hollywood.
2. “What Happened in the Tunnel” (1903)
The earliest film to take on miscegenation may have been Edwin S. Porter’s very short 1903 film “What Happened in the Tunnel.” It was considered funny in 1903, but the film probably contributed to the earliest rules on the miscegenation.
3. “Imitation of Life” (1934)
In the first “Imitation of Life,” Fredi Washington plays Louise Beavers’ fair-skinned daughter who rejects her black heritage — and her mother — in favor of passing into the white world and landing a white husband. It barely made it past the censors, but today it’s in the National Film Registry, and Time called it one of “The 25 Most Important Films on Race.”
You might also want to check out Douglas Sirk’s 1959 “Imitation of Life,” which is still popular among African American women of a certain age.
4. “Pinky” (1949)
In “Pinky,” Jeanne Crain is a young woman who slips into passing as white almost by accident when she goes away to nursing school. She feels guilty, but yet so aware of what being white could mean to her life. Pinky doesn’t hate being black, she just wants what life being white could offer … including the white man who wants to marry her.
5. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” (1967)
Next on our list, Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” from 1967, in which a white girl falls in love with a black man, played by Sidney Poitier, and when the families meet for dinner, they hash it out earnestly. This film took a beating from the left and the right from the day it was released, as we saw in “The Butler,” when David Oyelowo’s young Black Panther disparages Sidney Poitier. It’s problematic for any number of reasons, but I defend its intention — fervently. Before the change in the movie code or the Loving decision, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” faced down the nations’ bigots.
6. “Movin’ with Nancy” (1967)
After the Loving case, the notion of miscegenation in film and television evolved. Soon we saw the first kiss on American prime time network TV when Kirk and Uhura kissed in a 1968 episode of “Star Trek.” The suits from the network resisted the interracial kiss — but the tepid peck made it to air and is said to be the first such kiss on network TV.
Or maybe it wasn’t:
The December 1967 episode of “Movin’ with Nancy” features a kiss between Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. more than a year before that “Star Trek” episode. The easy, friendly kiss comes at the very end of the photo session scene. A few years later, in February of 1972, Sammy would go on plant the kiss that sealed the deal for anti-miscegenation attitudes in America once and for all.
When Sammy kisses Archie Bunker, it was effectively the first kiss between a Protestant-white-male-bigot and a black-male-converted-Jew on American television.
It was on the cheek, and in many ways is reminiscent of that original kiss in Edwin S. Porter’s short silent film. Only this time it’s not racist and is actually funny. It left the nation a little stunned and ended the issue of miscegenation in American media — forever — although the state of Alabama would not repeal its miscegenation laws until the year 2000.
On the heels of our two major party political conventions – I’ve been considering a film or two to suggest to the politically minded. Something to set the mood or inform the electorate, in a broad way, about the issues of the day.
To that end – the disparity in the diversity of the two major conventions was the thing that was most stark (all other content notwithstanding) to me. Since the election – and before – of the first African American, sometimes known as Black – President of the United States, this disparity has been, ironically perhaps, most stark.
It is also ironic, that as the nation has nominated the first woman to be President of the United States in a major party – that race, not gender – is still the driving prevalent issue of our nation, even beyond domestic and foreign terrorism.
To that end, I was reminded of director Scott Morris‘ 2013 documentary White LikeMe, featuring race-educator and author Tim Wise. The film explores race and racism in the U.S. through the lens of whiteness and white privilege. Or, in other words, most of the people at one of those conventions as opposed to some of the people at the other convention.
The things that Wise speaks to in White Me, explains those distinctions lucidly.
As it happens, the book Black Like Me (from which this film takes its cues), by journalist John Howard Griffin, was published in 1961 – the year I was born. The corresponding film was released in 1964 – a year of landmark civil rights legislation. Fifty plus years later our two primary party political conventions suggest that while changes abound – much as stayed the same. Little “d” democrats were often southern and racist in 1961, while republicans were still rich and privileged and – well – republican. And race is still a central issue in the republic. Whether we want to think so – or not.
You only had to look at those two conventions. You could even turn the sound down. Which, occasionally, I did.
Scott Morris’ film is clear, concise and full of fact and example and history. As is Wise’s presentation, in whatever format. The movie is neither placid nor inflammatory (unless you’re already a little inflamed). It’s also not – not angry – yet not angry.
It even manages to be funny every now and again.
Like all contemporary documentaries it’s advocacy. Such is the nature of docs these days. That’s said – it’s accurate and well done advocacy that is most relevant to the politics and the zeitgeist of the very political – race conscious day.