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David Poland

By David Poland

Why Racism Still Thrives…

Nikki Finke did a piece, full of “inside scoop” so mundane that a blind guy with a monkey could have seen it coming a mile away. (“L.A. Weekly has learned that Rock has earmarked a segment of his standup to joke about George W. Bush.” I mean, really…) And as usual, she twists a story about something that everyone else has written to death into something about George Bush for some mysterious reason.

But what really struck me was the headline of the piece…

“Will Chris Rock Be Oscar Dyn-O-Mite?”

And she wants to say that the conservatives are dangerous!

Chris Rock’s comedy is very stuck on being black in America. And it’s funny. And sometimes, it is too much. But when the nice white lady from Brentwood who is trying to support your right to freedom of speech can’t seem to help but to ghettoizre you by making a not-to-unclear comparison to the last great “ofay nigga” character on TV…

I don’t think Nikki is a racist. I think she is, while quirky, a serious, sincere and warm individual.

But when L.A. Weekly is running headlines like that (and they may well have written it instead of her) and it sits there… it makes me wonder just how far we have come and whether Chris Rock is race obsessed enough.

I mean, what other subtect can on atribute to that headline?

I guess some tortured logic could be that the vast right wing conspiracy wants to bend black intellect Chris Rock into Jimmy “JJ” Walker… I guess. But they did hire the guy. And Nikki herself reports that he is not being restricted in any way. So where did the headline come from? And how can the undertone of racist, in the name of being clever, come so easily for a hard left publication?

I’m a little amazed.

31 Responses to “Why Racism Still Thrives…”

  1. Joe Leydon says:

    With all due respect, it’s been my experience during 30-odd years of professional journalism (yes, some of them very odd indeed) that writers very, very seldom, if ever, have any say over the headlines that accompany their work. In fact, I’ll argue that most journalists have horror stories about how this or that story was misrepresented by a “imaginative” headline writer.

  2. Joe Straat says:

    I think you’re reaching a bit. I have worked on two newspapers and one magazine, and I only have ever written headlines for web content. Headlines are eye-grabbers, are usually not written by the person who wrote the article, and are usually limited by space. In my experience, they’ve been handled by copy editors because they’re on a deadline and simply trying to make the news fit. On the Internet, it’s a little more open, but it’s never good to have a large one.
    My point is it may have been made by someone who was thinking off the top of their head, made a connection between two black comedians, and it fit. Granted, it’s a poor connection, like saying “Billie Jean King Adds Kournikova Flavor to blah blah blah…” and that could bring up a valid point, since that comparison fails on many levels, but I don’t think it means “Rock to be token black man to laugh at.” If it was “Rock to Add Colored Commentary at Oscars,” that would be pushing some buttons, but to me, it’s a non-issue, much like the article itself. A GEORGE W. BUSH JOKE! DODGSON, DODGSON, WE’VE GOT DODGSON HERE!!!!!

  3. Lota says:

    Boy I don’t like Nikki Finke’s writing at all. But, yes how one is edited or headlined is often out of control.
    Sam Kiley, one of the better journalists to go to Central Africa and the Middle East had such battles with Rupert Murdoch on editing that he resigned in protest which was pretty noble of him. But Rupert Murdoch is an extreme case for an editor.
    If NF didn’t have a say in that headline, she should object to it quick. Not so sure a ghettofabulous J.J. headline is appropriate or kind and just furthers some misconceptions about Rock that others are trying to perpetuate.

  4. Mark says:

    She can’t write anything without trying to blast the right wing. Its a lack of talent on her part. It hurts her stories too because they become real boring. Rocks going to make a Bush joke??? No way!

  5. DP says:

    “But when L.A. Weekly is running headlines like that (and they may well have written it instead of her).”
    Just sayin’…

  6. Ray Pride says:

    I have had many journalists, especially at metro dailies, tell me they were shocked, shocked, when I told that at one of my jobs, I always wrote the heds and subheds of my own pieces, and found them changed only a handful of times over the course of several years. Territory and all that…

  7. lazarus says:

    David didn’t say that Finke was responsible. But it’s either her or the L.A. Weekly, and someone made a foolish choice. I don’t think it’s acting too PC to suggest that the headline is offensive. It’s almost as if the white liberal media feels that only THEY can help minorities reach positions of power or point out inequalities in today’s society. When someone like Rock is able to do it alone, they take him down a notch by slapping a nearly 30-year old minstrel sign on him.
    I’m not saying Good Times was Amos ‘n’ Andy, but it’s just such a sad attempt at humor. You’d think the L.A. Weekly would be over the whole “ghetto is COOL!” crap anyway.

  8. Eric says:

    Lazarus, I really doubt it’s part of the white liberal media’s grand conspiracy. Somebody made a dumb, insensitive choice of wording, and that’s probably the whole story.

  9. JoeLeydon says:

    Two comments:
    1. Why are we automatically assuming that a white person wrote the headline? I mean, I have no way of knowing for certain, since I have no connection to LA Weekly. But why are we so quick to assume there are no black people employed by the paper as headline writers?
    2. I’m a white guy, so I’m probably not the most authoritative voice in this area. But with an 18 year old son in my car on a regular basis, I spend more than a little time listening to “urban” radio stations that specialize in rap and hip-hop formats. And trust me, not only is the “ghetto fabulous” mindset still prevalent in a lot of pop culture — the term “Dy-no-mite!” is used by DJs now and then.

  10. Joe Leydon says:

    Oh, and a third comment. Could someone please tell me what Dave means by the term “ofay nigga”? The slang “ofay” (Pig Latin for “foe”) has been used by black folks to describe unfriendly white folks for many years. But even after a Google search, I have not uncoveerd any “ofay nigga” references anywhere. Is this an attempt to refer to Chris Rock and Jimmy Walker as, well, Unlce Toms of some sort?

  11. lazarus says:

    Yeah, some black guy at the L.A. Weekly chose that headline to go with some white woman’s column. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even if a black editor thought it was funny, I don’t think he would put it somewhere that it might reflect poorly on the writer.
    also, I’m not saying there’s a white liberal media conspiracy, I’m just saying it’s part of the subconscious mindset behind the people that make decisions like that. somewhere in the back of their heads they want to be the ones to make everything right, and Chris Rock takes that away from them.
    Also Joe, a DJ barking “Dy-no-mite!” is a COMPLETELY different thing from using it as a headline in an article about a controversial black host hosting a historically minority-unfriendly awards show, the Foxx/Moreno/Okonedo/Freeman nominations notwithstanding. By association it dumbs down any kind of message Rock has in his comedy–no offense to Jimmy Walker. As a writer you should know it’s not the same thing.

  12. L&DB says:

    That headline at least to me reads as someone trying
    to be a bit too clever. Situations happen like this
    all the time, but no need to call someone racist
    about. Yes it’s in bad taste. Yes there are
    a million better headlines out there. The thing
    is; this just turned out to be one of the times
    where some editor tried to reach for something
    outside of his or her’s grasp.
    Racist, prejudice, still do exist in this nation.
    Just look at Mark and bicycle bob; I KID. I kid.
    Calling this out as a sign of racism does not
    make any sense in comparison to what Drudge pulled
    last week. Even that could be a personal grudge
    between the two due to Drudge not liking anyone
    threaten to shove things in his arse.
    Just do not go labeling people for one dumb headline
    that they did not even write, possibly.

  13. Mike says:

    Well, I hardly think this headline is any worse than Dave’s lead in his column over at MCN asking why everyone is trying to lynch Chris Rock. Making an allusion to all the hate spewed out by white supremists that led to the deaths of innocent men and women is hardly the same as Matt Drudge taking Rock’s quotes out of context. Sometimes it seems that the only one trying to make this about race is Dave.

  14. bicycle bob says:

    how can u even say white supremacists lynching is the same as rocks quotes?? he actually said them! what context do u want them in? read the whole interview. i don’t think hes apologizing

  15. Mike says:

    Bob, that’s not what I said. What I said was Dave went way overboard when he said in MCN the way people were responding to Rock’s quotes was like a lynch mob forming. There’s a lot of hostility and emotion tied into the image of the lynch mob, and to make that comparison seemed completely overboard to me.

  16. Terence D says:

    The whole world is racist. In both directions. Why have a Black Entertainment Network? Black award shows? Imagine if whites did that? Who cares what Chris Rock does as long as hes funny. My guess is he chickens out and goes bland.

  17. lazarus says:

    That’s the oldest argument in the book, Terence. I guess the United Negro College Fund should be disbanded too, huh? The reason that BET exists is because network television, over the years, has not been very welcoming to minorities. These days it might not seem as bad, but the majority of the minority-driven shows are still on UPN aka Mainstream BET. A couple are on FOX.
    Things might not be as bad as they used to be, but consider how long BET has been around. I don’t think they should close up shop just because the chasm of inequality has moved an inch..

  18. bicycle bob says:

    see upn’s ratings and ask them if they’re minority driven. blacks don’t watch tv. otherwise u would have a black on friends, etc. its economics. if everyone wants to be equal why should any group get special privileges?

  19. Lota says:

    “blacks don’t watch tv” huh? MAybe hispanics and Indians don’t either?
    well maybe they stopped because after the positive advances started with Good Times, All in the family/The Jeffersons, Sanford & SOn, Chico & the man etc and all the decent cop shows with mixed casts kinda fell by the corporate wayside by the roaring 80s. People won’t watch after awhile if they aren’t represented and the stories aren’t relevant somehow.
    Chris Rock shouldn’t have to do the same comedy stuff that Flip Wilson and others did in the 70s but maybe things are going slightly backwards and he feels he has to. There shouldn’t ‘have to be’ a BET. The mixed background casts are getting a little more colorful on TV finally (gee just like real life) in the last few years at least.
    How many people of all backgrounds watch normal network TV anymore anyway compared to the pre-cable/satellite? Is there any real data?

  20. Terence D says:

    I still don’t see why blacks need beauty pageants, tv stations, there own sitcoms, etc. What happend to equal rights? Affirmative action ruined a generation of african americans. Making this Rock thing a black white issue does the same thing.

  21. Stella's Boy says:

    I love it when a white person bashes affirmative action and BET, etc. And you know what about being a minority in this country? Oh, right, absolutely nothing. But keep it up. You’re good for some laughs. And of course black people watch TV. Anyone who says otherwise is insane and wrong. What would give you the idea that they don’t watch TV? So I guess they don’t go to movies either? Or buy music? Or read?

  22. Mark says:

    Typical Liberal response. ‘We know whats best for minorities.’ ‘They need more money.’ ‘They need more advantages.’ ‘They’ve been persecuted.’ ‘They live in poverty.’ ‘The white man is the devil’.’ ‘they need to get into schools ahead of mroe qualified candidates.’ Blah Blah Blah. What happend to hard work? You don’t hear lowly italians, jews, irish, russians, etc that came over at the turn of the century complaining about the lack of advantages, schooling, etc.

  23. Stella's Boy says:

    Mark, if there is anyone in the world who understands race relations and race issues less than you, I would be shocked. You say “typical liberal response” over and over and over again here, but all you ever do is spout typical conservative bullshit, over and over and over again. You’re like an O’Reilly or Limbaugh puppet with no thoughts or ideas of your own. You have no idea what you are talking about, so why even bother? Or are you actually a black man?

  24. tkbowman says:

    There’s also the tiny fact that those “lowly italians, jews, irish, russians” came here on their own accord and most blacks were brought over in shackles to be slaves. Your last sentence Mark is one of the most ignorant things I’ve read in a while.

  25. Lota says:

    I’m only half caucasian. When I don’t ‘pass’ by white people it’s embarrassing in this day and age, so I can see why colored folks AND immigrants have their own shows and stuff if they feel like they’re still on the outside, even though ideally NO, it isn’t progress.
    And whites/anglos DID have their own shows and award ceremonies for decades and decades. Inclusion of anyone else is a pretty recent event in US history.
    Are you kidding Mark? You think immigrants didn’t and don’t complain about being treated like shit? They complain all the time, just not in English. “Ya neecheevo n’yeh znayoo.” That’s what my Russian relatives say. They opened their own stores and businesses…just like enslaved-then-segregated blacks and chinese railroad slaves had to do or they’d still be ‘in the back of the bus’.
    Chris Rock will be the showman of the year for starring in Much Ado About Nothing. Maybe someone will make a reality show about it SURVIVOR HOLLYWOOD: RUN UP TO THE 2005 OSCARS.

  26. David Poland says:

    I acknowledge that I was pushing the envelope by using the word “lynch” in refering to the Chris Rock situation. But what struck me most about this headline was not that it was so horrid… but that I am betting that no one saw that it was a double-edged reference.
    As I wrote, I think that Chris is a little too race concious for my tastes… though I am in a much less oppressed minority (jews) and am not always tagged for that group, so maybe I am judging unfairly.
    But “Dy-no-mite” is definitely JJ and JJ is definitely seen as “cooning” in retrospect. And whether it should be seen that way or not is a different discussion. When I used “lynch,” I knew exactly what I was doing. When I wrote a headline today – “Hiltzik Can’t Handle Deep Throat….” – I was not innocent of intent.
    Associating Rock with Kid Dy-no-mite could be a slap at the white establishment as well… it could be used in a way to say that the white men who run the Oscars used this black comedian to draw attention, knowing he’d put on a controversial show. So if the headline was “Hiring Rock For Dy-no-mite Effect Blows Up In Face” (or soemthing more clever), I’d be fine with that.
    My point is that racial issues are insidious. And the fact that my personal best friend is black doesn’t make me unsuceptible. Moreover, he is Haitian and has real issues with Black Americans, so he probably has less respect for that culture than I do. There are all kinds of slippery slopes.

  27. Joe Leydon says:

    >>But “Dy-no-mite” is definitely JJ and JJ is definitely seen as “cooning” in retrospect.<<
    Er, seen as “cooning” by whom? You? A white dude?
    Sorry, this sounds more than a little, shall we say, presumptuous. Worse, it also sounds like the “deeply concerned” white folks who were bitching about Shaft, Coffy, Super Fly and others back in the day.
    I mean, if J.J. was cooning, what was Anthony Anderson doing in “Kangaroo Jack,” pray tell? Minstrel showing?

  28. L&DB says:

    He was being funny Joe. He was being funny. Jay
    Mohr and Anthony Anderson in a movie together? I
    really need to start lining up for that one!
    I love how this place goes from inane to serious in
    a little less than .3 seconds.

  29. bicycle bob says:

    i don’t think jimmy jj walker ever once complained about dyn O mite. the guy made a career off one line and a crappy sitcom. isn’t most good comedy skewed from stereotypes?

  30. Terence D says:

    This isn’t the right forum for race relation questions. We should be celebrating the fact that two blacks are best actor nominees. Not going through tired old questions.

  31. Rage says:

    An important study on racism in Utah has just been posted for free on a Western Publisher’s website. It deals with the evolving perception of racism specifically in Utah but would be an interesting comparison to the larger American religious sanctioned racism problem. Have a look.

The Hot Blog

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin