Saturday, January 23, 2021

Movie Reviews: American Skin

American Skin
directed by Nate Parker
I have written before of how I despise sexual assault double standards wielded against Black men. Kobe Bryant hadn't even had a funeral yet before one white actress was calling the untried retired athlete a rapist while conveniently leaving out her gushing adulation of musician David Bowie, who allegedly seduced/raped a thirteen year old groupie. 
Similarly some people have trashed this movie by referring to Parker's acquittal from rape charges two decades ago when he was a college sophomore as a reason not to watch this film or as an argument that this is a bad film. Although we are free to believe anything we like I think that we should also try to judge art on its own merits as much as possible. I try to do that whenever I can. I will certainly do that as long as there are such racial double standards.
So, just going by the actual film itself and not what I might think of the actor, was this a must see movie? No. No it wasn't. It was uneven. It was a little bit of bait and switch. Ok, make that a lot of bait and switch. 
This might be the subject of another post, but as other people have pointed out, it is difficult to find many mainstream Hollywood films where the Black man is the hero, defeats his enemies, overcomes other internal/external obstacles, gets the girl, is not comic relief, and survives at the end. 
Also, and likely not unrelated to that phenomenon, many of the African-American heroes and great men or great women we learn about in school were those who turned the other cheek, suffered indignity after indignity, and generally went along to get along.
Unless you happen to have parents or teachers who go out of their way to make it so, you could reach adulthood and not know very much about African-Americans who refused to turn the other cheek and fought back, in ways small and great, against racism and racists. American Skin references that history but gets muddled and bogged down half way. I thought I was going to see the cinematic equivalent of James Brown's "The Payback" but somehow it turned into 12 Angry Men go to diversity training. 
The film is certainly timely. America's problem is that such films are always timely. 
Lincoln "Linc" Jefferson (Nate Parker--perhaps the  character name is designed to invoke American hypocrisy over race?) is a decorated former Marine who has done multiple tours of Iraq.  However those experiences left marks on Linc, leading to the dissolution of his marriage to Tanya (Milauna Jackson). The divorce has also negatively impacted the couple's only child Kijani (Tony Espinosa). Tanya and Linc have agreed that for now Kijani will live with his father. 
In order to get his son into a better (whiter and richer) high school, Linc has taken a job as a school janitor. Linc's job in the district, one for which he is hugely overqualified, allows Kijani a waiver to attend the school. Good parents, and Linc is one, will do anything to give their children a better life.
Sadly one night when Linc is driving Kijani home, he is stopped by two white cops who are clearly on a fishing expedition. When one of the cops, Officer Mike Randall (Beau Knapp), finds the unarmed Kijani's movements suspicious he shoots him multiple times, killing him. 
A year after the shooting a young low budget filmmaker named Jordin King (Shane Paul McGhie from The Last Shift) gets permission from Linc to do a documentary on the shooting and how the aftermath has impacted Linc, his family, friends and the local Black community. But the naysayers and cynics are proven correct when the grand jury refuses to charge Randall or the other officer with any crime. 
Shane and his film crew are caught unawares when a saddened and yet determined Linc and a handful of his war veteran comrades storm the police station where Randall works with the intention of carrying out a trial of their own.
This is not an action movie with bits of drama. It's an intense drama movie with bits and pieces of action. I was expecting the opposite. American Skin examines racial stereotypes from all angles--many of the cops are not white and have some different perspectives to share. I thought the movie was too talkative. The acting is top notch. Everyone brings across the raw pain of loss. I just didn't like where the film went in its second act.
You can make the argument that the lead character still believes deep down inside that if people just knew better that they would make better decisions. That is one idea. The other idea is that people have made their choice about where they stand on racism and won't change. The only question left is what are you going to do about it. 
Omari Hardwick is underused as Linc's cancer ridden and mostly silent best friend. Theo Rossi has a good role as a particularly vituperative and verbally adept police officer. Michael Warren is a police captain who thinks his job is to keep the peace above all else. The film references the famous pic of Malcolm X looking out of the window of his home. This was a nice touch.
blog comments powered by Disqus