Fade to Black

Bewitched, Beloved, and Bewildered

Dauphin: Not a week goes by where I don't have to write about a Booty Call or some bullshit like that or some so-called indie movie, so I don't think I'm a famine victim, if anything I feel like I'm glutted with these crappy images. There are a lot of things in the film that are done sloppily but from the beginning it announces its intentions as a hybrid horror movie and I appreciate this image of Black people in the horrific.

Tate: The things that work best about the film are those moments that seem from a family album of abuse and molestation.

Blade Runners

Elise and Newton as Beloved's twisted sisters
Ken Regan/ Camera 5
Elise and Newton as Beloved's twisted sisters

TATE: Blade was hands down the most dynamic portrayal of a Black superman in the history of cinema.

Dauphin: The thing that I thought was most interesting about Blade was the whole battle between vampires who are born and vampires who are made. It wasn't even like a race thing but more a class thing.

Lee: It was like the jigaboos and the wannabes in School Daze.

Tamar-Kali: I liked the whole thing of the old vampires having become very saditty and drinking blood out of wine glasses and the young ones wanting to be on the hunt.

Reid: There's an amazing moment when Stephen Dorff's villain confronts Wesley Snipes and says 'When are you going to stop the Uncle Tom routine?' and you know he's only referring to the fact that Blade is a vampire.

Dauphin: I saw it not so much as a debate between races but as more about creolism, hybridity, and biraciality. For me, all the vampires are Black people and it's like a contest between new Black people and old Black people.

Jafa: The Uncle Tom scene is the quintessential African American dilemma of dual consciousness. Where do you fit in, and who do you identify with? And do you want your power?

Reid: The film really worked well as an allegory about Black people. And I though it was really well constructed in other ways too, because afterwards I thought about relationships that weren't spelled out—like Dorff's relationship with the CEO of the old regime. When the CEO tells him, 'You bore me,' I realized that they were probably ex-lovers and when Dorff yanks his fangs out, it's like a symbolic castration.

Dauphin: We talk about hybridity as being transformative and I don't like that idea. The thing that's always disturbed me about Octavia Butler is that she identifies with the new hybrid creature as a necessary cost of future living but at the expense of the original.

Tate: Well, she's an antihuman humanist turned alienist.

Belly Up, Hos Down

REID: The very first scene with DMX and Nas in the club is photographically amazing and from that point it starts to fall apart. It looks astounding but it's a really hollow film, a pastiche. There's stuff that happens, like when Nas says he's going to Africa, that makes the audience snort in derision.

Coleman: Did it have a pretension to be anything other than a vehicle to show how beautifully the director can shoot pictures?

Reid: Basically, it's ghetto trife-life: two guys—one has more conscience than the other—people get shot, and then more people get shot, and then at the very end DMX has a change of heart and Nas goes to Africa.

Jafa: Call me biased, but I think the way this film looks is a real breakthrough in terms of how Black people look on the screen. They don't go for something obvious like Essence magazine—it's hard and it's burnished and it's not slick.

Tate: I though it picked up where Menace II Society left off in terms of attempting a reflective gangsta film.

Reid: Menace II Society was a harrowing experience. That film left me shaking. And if that becomes the basis of comparison, Belly really loses.

Wilson: I think the visual definitely mediated the space between it being stupid and being worth consideration as a narrative. The visual was so rich it gave them a venue to reach you on other levels.

Jafa: When I see Beloved, I say, this is a Hollywood film based on a Black novel. I don't see its failure or success having anything to do with constructing possibilities for Black film. I don't see it as Black film in the first place. Just 'cause Leontyne Price is singing opera don't make it soul music. Whereas when you take something like Belly you are talking about the product of some Black filmmakers who are trying to construct something visionary. There is a way Black people occupy space in Belly. DMX has a roughness Tupac didn't have and he holds the space.

Hancock Rux: You could say the same thing about Lisa Gay Hamilton, Thandie Newton, and Beah Richards in Beloved.

Jafa: But my point is that there are certain failures that are more important than certain successes. There are ways Beloved could have succeeded that would have been less valuable than ways Belly failed. I give it a lot of points in going for this almost Castaneda moment at the end. And even though there's sexism and glamorization of violence, we haven't often seen films where the conflict doesn't orbit around Black self-loathing.

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