Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Great, Now I'll Never See Slumdog

I've always believed (since starting this post) that, when it comes to hype, you can split the world into two camps: bandwagoners and haters. All too often, I find myself in the latter camp, toasting marshmallows and gulping down s'mores. And I feel that my congenital hateration will stop me from seeing Slumdog Millionaire for years to come.

Now, this is in no way to belittle fans of the film. I'm sure it's a good movie, maybe even great. It's just that I've heard way too many people wax poetic about its greatness. I've seen countless features, heard numerous interviews, read tons of praise, and have even had friends and co-workers praise it to high heaven. And, in situations like this, I find myself reacting more to the praise than the movie, book, CD, TV show, itself. I can't trust my own reaction.

Ultimately, I can't even trust the praise. As a former music critic, music trade magazine publisher, and an unknown writer, I know all too well how the publicity juggernaut works. I know that those listening stations in Borders, etc., cost tens of thousands of dollars to populate. I know that table in the bookstore "randomly" place books there for the same amount of money (because people don't browse the aisle and basically buy off the table). That "Employee Picks," "Summer Reading," "Winter Reading," and "Recommendations" can also be bought.

I know that Hollywood pays for critics to go on "junkets" with the stars. That record labels get around payola laws by "sponsoring" special events for radio stations. That publishers can spend well over six figures in order to achieve a "word-of-mouth" hit (after all, how can that book you "just happened" to hear about "just happen" to be on that table in the front of the bookstore?). I also find it odd that, though advertising doesn't influence content, Top 10 lists at the end of the year look incredibly similar no matter what publication you're looking in.

Maybe it's sour grapes, but I feel that superlatives come cheap (or at a great price, depending on how you look at it). So, how can I trust it? Though so many things do deserve praise (and Slumdog may be one of them), so many things don't. And the same praise is used in both cases--if the price is right.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've been hooting and hollering on the bandwagon as well. I tattooed everybody with my love for City of God. I was actually scared and utterly creeped out by Blair Witch Project. Even though I hate everything James Cameron and was hell-bent and determined to hate it, even clowned the trailer, I actually liked Titanic. But, in all those cases, I saw those things as soon as they came out (in the last case, I was dragged). Who knows how I would've felt if I'd waited. After all, the mere mention of Forrest Gump throws me into paroxysms of rage. In fact, the very sight over the great, great, great Tom Hanks makes me wanna slug somebody. And the way we reverentially treat DeNiro, Pacino, and Nicholson as though they're still making Serpico, Raging Bull, and Chinatown makes me vomit up a testicle.

And that's my problem with Slumdog. I waited too damned long. I really wanted to see it--I love movies about slums (City of God), I've even worked in a couple, I loved Ghost Dog, the leftist in me hates millionaires but the American in me longs to be one, and I heard the opening scene with Elvis's "In the Ghetto" is quite touching (wait, I don't think that actually happens)--it's just with Poohbutt, I don't get to see many flicks.

I confess there were a couple things it had going against it in my mind. I hate the fact that the only way we coloreds can get a decent movie made about us is if white folks make it. And I hate Anil Kapoor, whose Mr. India features a heart-rending black face dance scene (I mean, if I want to see a bunch of colored in burnt cork, I'd turn on Fox News and wait for Juan Williams). But I was willing to overlook those things.

The Oscars, though, threw me over the edge. From the get-go I found myself pissed. The Great White Fathers brining the little brown babes to big, ole Hollywood. Their paternalistic, patronizing smiles. Their condescending, oh-so tearful talk about how they are all "one, big family." Really? I heard you barely paid your little brown sons and daughters. Am I wrong? Did you actually adopt the little buggers? Brought them back home with you? Sending them to Oxford? Marrying them off to your daughters?

And then that "exotic" best song medley. Hey, look. I like A.R. Rahman as much as the next guy. It was cool to see the Bollywood Randy Newman get Hollywood's top prize. But you could tell, by the glazed, self-important faces, that all those Hollywood honchos were looking at all those dhols and saris and were praising themselves for how "culturally diverse" they are. "Oh, daahhhling, we are soooo multicultural. Esperanza! Will you shut those kids up?!" Yeah, yall love Dev Patel now, but let's see how many scripts come his way. Don't let Kal Penn get all McLeod on your ass: "There can only be one!!!"

But then it did get all multiculti on us. I thought this was a South Asian spectacular. What were all those East Asians doing on the drums? Still reeling fromthat, I blinked and saw a whole bunch of black and white dancers in saris. Then, there was that weird, little step show in the middle, with fools flashing Omega Psi Phi "Q" signs.

And John Legend? I know Peter Gabriel protested and refused to perform. And why wouldn't he have? That song wasn't even in Slumdog, but yall acted as though it were. Why? Did David Byrne, Paul Simon, and Vampire Weekend refuse to show? Could you find no other white cultural appropriator to take Gabriel's place?

So, you decided to keep going with the Indian theme by going with John Legend? I mean, damn. Get your tokenism right! At least when yall had Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana mutilate "Al Otro Lado del Rio," you could nominally say it was all "Hispanic." So, why the brother? I know MIA's busy nursing, and Panjabi MC's star has come and gone. But what? Nora Jones was busy? Hell, you had Ben Kingsley backstage. Or were yall like, "Ah, fuck it. Close enough."

Breathe ... Breathe ...

Screw it. I'll just go put Slumdog on the queue, and, in two years, when it finally arrives in my mailbox, I will have forgotten all about this rant and enjoy what I've been told is a great movie.


RonStrelecki said...

I love a good rant! You sure can rant. How do you rant in essay form?

RonStrelecki said...

While I was watching the hypefest, I was thinking of how self-congratulatory the whole thing was. And... basically I was thinking, Oh! Everybody loves Mumbai now, great. Why don't you all go see how a gay marriage law would do in a referendum over there? You know what I mean? It's very easy to project some kind of fantasy onto a place you know nothing about, especially when that place is willing to accept that fantasy and use it.

Dan Rosa said...


I think I generally agree with you here, but Slumdog is worth it on the big screen. Yes, it's predictable, but it's a great story.

I'm glad you mentioned City of God! Love that movie...

Take care,

A said...

Meh. The movie was okay.

boukman70 said...


Ranting comes easy when you wake up on the wrong side of capitalism every morning.


The funny thing is my wife came home telling me her boss was telling her the same thing. I was actually quite fanatical about City of God. When I was in Rio a few years back, I was actually tempted to visit a favela until I heard the one place we were thinking of going was called "The Land of Lost Bullets." I figured I'd just get the DVD.

Phoebe said...

Great rant! I definitely agree about the hypocrisy of the whole Hollywood multiculti lovefest. But Slumdog Millionaire is good enough that it's worth waiting until you're in a frame of mind to enjoy it.