Friday, February 06, 2015

Racism in BOYHOOD is the Worst Kind

Roland Ruiz, who has two significant scenes, is billed
under "Barber," "Bully #1 and #2," and "Make Out Girl."

I propose to you that a film with the subtle racism of "Boyhood" is worse than a film with the overt racism of, say, "Birth of a Nation," for example.  When we see "Birth of a Nation," after returning from the bathroom because of becoming sick to our stomachs, we know without a doubt what the problem is and we can easily criticize the film - despite its merits in editing - for its horrendous content.

A film like "Boyhood," on the other hand, has been praised universally for its "life-like" dialogue and visual realism, largely due to the fact that it was shot over the course of 12 years.  Much like "Birth of a Nation," it is being praised for its innovative technique and will likely be shown in many a film school, just like "Birth of a Nation" often is.  However, unlike "Birth of a Nation," the racism depicted in "Boyhood, " I suspect, will not be seen as clearly as the racism in the former film.

Let me explain.  "Boyhood" is a film about a family.  Truth be told, I'm not sure why the film is called "Boyhood" because it seems to be more about the entire family than just the male child in the family.  Nonetheless, the film follows the growth of the family over 12 years in Texas.  The family is white and everyone around them is white, except for one character, who is a migrant worker.  We only see Enrique, the migrant worker, twice in the film.  There are two problems with this dynamic: 1) the idea of "reality" which the film is clearly trying to convey; and 2) the problematic Enrique storyline.

1) "Boyhood" is a film that will be praised for years to come for its techniques in presenting "reality."  If you are only looking at the family in an isolationist kind of way, the film does seem realistic.  The characters are not polished, their dialogue is awkward with believable levels of emotion, and the difficulties and joys they face are ones we are familiar with.  HOWEVER, the setting is completely unrealistic in the sense that anyone who lives in Texas KNOWS that you cannot walk five feet without encountering people of Mexican descent.  We see Patricia Arquette's character, simply known as "Mom" (which I think is a bit reductive), travel throughout the state, have various jobs - including one as a professor at Texas State University - and at no level in her life do we see friends who are of Mexican descent, co-workers who are of Mexican descent, or even people in restaurants who are of Mexican descent.  I was LOOKING.  As someone who lived in Texas for five years, and whose parents lived in San Marcos, where Texas State University is located, I know for a fact that this is an impossibility.  The bulk of people in these areas are of Mexican descent - some of them are White Latinos/as (which can pass for plain, ol' White), but many of them are not - and you can see these folks in everyday life.  Furthermore, you simply cannot avoid having them in your own everyday life.  If you somehow manage this task, you must be trying very, very hard, and the Mom character is not depicted as that kind of person.  She would literally have to stay in her house 24/7 and shoo people away from her door who are delivering her mail.

The reason this type of racism, by elimination, is so insidious, is because in such a supposedly realistic film, it implies that deleting reality is normal and even wholesome.  When we see a hard-working family being real and caring toward each other, and oddly removed from a state that has a majority of people of color, we think that this kind of removal is understandable and normal.  We simply don't think anything is wrong.  It's like watching "Friends" (which showed NYC homogeneous instead of realistically multicultural) except you are convinced that it's not a bad TV show; no, you are actually watching art, art that deserves awards, but which does the exact same thing as "Friends," in terms of our perception of the world/reality.

2. The actual storyline that actor Roland Ruiz was forced to bring to life - bless him, we all need work - is the horrific "save me White person" trope that has been depicted in countless films, from "Dangerous Minds" to "The Blind Side."  A simple Google search will bring up many criticisms of this pervasive form of racism.  Not only does his presence in the film stand out more because of the lack of other Latinos/as throughout the film, but the interaction he has with Mom is so ridiculous that one simply cannot ignore how it underscores the deletion of reality/brown people throughout the film.

In the first scene Enrique and Mom are together, he is fixing some plumbing issues and Arquette says that he's smart and should go to school.  I cringed and hoped that was the end of it.  Unfortunately, years later, we see him coming towards Mom in a restaurant, beaming, and the friend I was with knew the words before they came out of Enrique's grateful mouth: "You changed my life!"  Mom's brief statement had inspired him to turn around his life.  Ugh.  Both of us were furious.  I met hundreds of Latinos/as in Texas while I was there and the majority of them were extremely educated and capable people - even the ones who ALSO, not ONLY, knew how to do physical labor.  You cannot go to Texas State U. and not encounter Latino/a professors.  There are overachieving, type-A Latinos/as everywhere!  At every level of society!  I should mention that I was not in some Ivory Tower when in Texas; I lived in a variety of neighborhoods, including the working class West Side of San Antonio, and taught everywhere, including a juvenile detention center.  So to think that Enrique needed this woman, who was struggling herself, to give him advice and introduce education as a "novel" concept is more than condescending.  Furthermore, people who talk to you for less than one minute do not change your life.  If Linklater wants a realistic film that spans years, he should know that.

Some folks will argue, "Well, what's wrong with the Mom character being nice?"  You must look at the overall structure of the story.  If you delete all people of Mexican descent from the imagery onscreen, then only have one interaction with a person of Mexican descent, and that one interaction is one of a white savior uplifting the Mexican, THAT IS RACIST.  But, because it is cushioned in the decade-plus depiction of a warm, interesting family, we will accept it.  We will say, "Oh, but it's still such a wonderful film."  We will say, "Oh, but didn't Linklater really accomplish something with this." We will say, "Look at how brilliant we can be."  We won't say, "Damn, we made a really racist film."  Ever.  I mean, it's not like we have the KKK running around lynching people, right?

No, there is no lynching taking place.  Only sweetness abounds in this film.  And for us Latinos/as, it's the kind of sweetness that places us in the same category as a dog, who you teach tricks, who makes you happy when he does said tricks.  Or perhaps the same category as wallpaper, lovely wallpaper you only notice when you want to admire your interesting-looking surroundings.

But the truth is we are not dogs or wallpaper.  We are like keratinocytes, which make up the main part of your skin, Mr. Linklater.  You don't think of us much, but we are very important to everyone's existence.  We build, we protect, we are flexible, and those of us in the know are very aware that if we went missing, the world would be exposed to all kinds of dangers.  I can tell when we are missing.  When will you be able to?

Con carino,
Dr. GYA

UPDATE: Salon.com asked me to write an expanded essay on the topic of Whiteness and Latinidad in film. It can be found here.

NOTE: Anyone who trolls the site or posts in an anonymous, spam-like fashion will risk having comments deleted.

42 comments:

ouchcomics said...

I have to confess that when I saw the title of your article, I sighed the sigh of someone who was expecting to feel annoyed and defensive. I generally prefer to give artists a wide berth, politically. But, you are correct. It is ludicrous and inaccurate to show Texas without showing who actually lives here. I live in San Marcos, where there is a fantastic mix of people. It is sad that the director missed an opportunity, both politically and artistically, to represent the blend of cultures that makes this part of the country so wonderful.

Grisel said...

Thank you, Ouchcomics. As someone who loves Linklater's "Slackers," it was hard for me to write this. But I also love the variety of people who I met in Texas while there, so I felt I had to speak about that. Thanks for understanding.

Tim Collier said...

Second paragraph comparison to a KKK film? Are you serious right now? I literally see no difference between this style of argument and saying that Obama is just like Hitler. Completely absurd and uncalled for.

The term mom in a film about a boy growing up is reductivistic? The perceived lack of race is racist? Is this a parody? It's like this author completely missed the whole movie, because they were busy crusading.

This is seriously one of the worst artistic critiques I've ever read. What has to be done to satisfy you? Clearly verity isn't what you want. The truth of the situations of people's lives is never and will never be a clean and PC as you would like it to be. This is the sort of perspective that kills art. It misses the message because it doesn't fit into its own nicely enough. Maybe you need to step back from the moral crusading for a little while so you can enjoy life and art and its imperfections.

Grisel said...

Sorry you feel that way, Tim. By the way, your response proves my thesis.

Oh, and apparently others feel differently. Here are some responses (after the article was widely shared) on FB...

Gabriela Diaz: Vi la película, y parecía que había sido filmada en otro planeta, much less TX... The ENTIRE movie parecía like they worked at avoiding Latinos...
4 hrs · Unlike · 4

Erin Ploss-Campoamor: YES! I was also really bothered by the lack of Latin@ characters and that stupid "white savior" scene. It's a shame, because otherwise the film as a whole is excellent. Reminds me a lot of Girls, a really well-written, "hyperrealistic" TV show that is completely devoid of POC.
2 hrs · Like · 1

Michael Morley: Very interesting. The interactions with the mom and Enrique stood out to me as well when I saw the film. Makes me want to watch Fast Food Nation again with fresh eyes. I've been learning a lot from the articles you've been sharing. Keep it up
19 hrs · Like

Trinidad Escobar: It's a terrible movie. What's weird for me is that the daughter in the film was one of my students last fall, and I had no idea that she was in this movie until I watched it. There's no good acting in it either-- ick, and the racism. Gawd.
19 hrs · Unlike · 1

Michael Smolinsky: I seriously laughed in the theater when he comes up to her in the restaurant. I felt bad for the actor, but that part of the movie made me cringe.
19 hrs · Unlike · 2

Rachel Jennings: Thanks, Vincent! This erasure of people of color is very common and really unforrtunate. Boyhood is a perfect example of such erasure Thanks for sharing!! Great piece. Yes, I'll have to draw the attention of my students to the film / blog.
19 hrs · Like · 2

David Beltrán Romo: To me, Texas wasn't even part of the storyline. Boyhood could have easily been Pennsylvania. Were the migrant scenes necessary? Not at all. It did not add or remove anything from the mom's character development. However, it did create an idiotic perception of "you did your best as a mother, but at least you saved a Mexican"
47 mins · Like · 2

Fanny Palumbo Veliz: Thank you for this Sara. This also took me out of the film. It was a great movie but I was wondering the same thing, and when they finally had a person of color it was the illegal alien who needed rescuing. Look at the other films nominated this year, it's almost always the same thing. Even Birdma a film by a Mexican filmmaker that takes place in NYC! No person of color. No Latino. Even our own filmmakers when they "make it" they cast ALL WHITE with maybe a token minority actor. This is not because of a lack of talented actors, but because we have all grown accustomed to only seeing white people in films. It's become normal. But to me, it takes me out, every time. And many people are starting to feel the same way.
22 mins · Like · 1

Ann Hudspeth: This. That Enrique storyline really pissed me off. I didn't notice the whitewashing of the restaurant scenes etc, but it doesn't surprise me. Austin is so segregated though - I actually can imagine going to a restaurant like Matt's El Rancho and it being all white. We are progressive on paper but not in real life.
1 hr · 1

Susanna Guzman: Yep, my thoughts when I saw the movie was 'White World' with 'White Problems' = BOOORING!
19 hrs · 1

Typhaine Leclerc-Sobry: Good piece. I have to say that i really enjoyed Boyhood despite the completely unrealistic story-line of the Latino laborer having his life changed by Patricia Arquette's character. But i didn't notice as much the absence of people of color in the movie -- which i find totally fucked up, in retrospect.
15 hrs

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Or maybe you still don't, and that's okay.

Toropoet said...

Aside from the general lack of insight and eloquence in Tim's comment, the most telling thing about it is his inability to be a good reader.

Dr. Acosta's article does not ever make a blanket valuation of Boyhood as being "worse" or "more racist" than Birth of a Nation. Rather, she is analyzing the films omission of Latinos from the film in a state that is majority Latino and saying that this omission is in many ways more dangerous than Birth of a Nation because Birth of a Nation is overt in its racism. The viewer has a clearer understanding of the racism. Boyhood's racism is subtle and sophisticated so that the viewer is complicit in consenting to the racism without having to confront their own consent. They can just consent to the absence of Latinos as not necessary "to the story." In this way it is psychologically and culturally more damaging. But this is not the same as saying Boyhood is more racist than Birth of a Nation, which Dr. Acosta, a well respected scholar in her field, would never imply.

Anonymous said...

Those damn gringos and their racist movies. We need to create a regulatory agency to require that all movies contain at least 70% POC to make up for past racism. Or just ban white people from making movies. I like that idea more.

Anonymous said...

Not to take away from the overall astute analysis here, but the caption accompany Roland Ruiz's photograph is a bit misleading. The cast in "Boyhood" is billed by appearance, not in terms of screen time. That is why, for instance, the young actress playing "Elementary School Girl" is billed above Ethan Hawke.

Grisel said...

Ah, good point about the billing.

Desiree said...

You go! SO tired of being invisible--

less is more said...

Some good points here. The Birth of a Nation comparison is a bit over the top but most of the other points are valid or certainly deserve discussion. That said, you missed one of the film's other sins, it's really boring. The only real trick to it is that it was filmed over 12 years. Nice challenging piece. Thanks

Tim Collier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Collier said...

I don't really feel like using posts from an echo chamber like Facebook as any demonstration of legitimacy. So people who like you already liked an article you're writing? What is this, proof that the choir agrees with the preacher's damnations? A comparison to the KKK is flat-out irresponsible.

Clay Olmstead said...

The fact is, Texas is a segregated state - and there are a lot of people who are proud of that. Austin is a segregated city - but it sees itself as progressive, so that's mostly ignored. This movie reflects that, but the movie isn't worth getting angry over; what we should be talking about is the underlying reality, and what to do about it.

Grisel said...

Actually, Tim, those comments were mainly from strangers. As I said, my essay was widely shared (that means that people who I know initially shared it, but then the branches grew and went to variety of places I don't know). Only one of the posts I placed here is from someone who I have met personally.

And Clay, sorry, but the deletion of a race of people from the cultural landscape within our most awarded works of art is something I will always find problematic. As a scholar, I believe reflecting an accurate cultural landscape in our works of art IS the way to deal with things like segregation.

Anonymous said...

Hm. Seems like someone's upset he wasn't born white.

omar Semidey said...

There is a scene in the movie Boomerang where Martin Lawrence develops a ridiculous, eye rolling explanation as to why the game of Billiards is inherently racist (i.e.the game is won when the white ball knocks the black ball out of the game). I bring up this scene because reading this blogpost is like watching that scene over and over again in slow motion. I will start by saying two quick things: 1) the boogie-man (racism) is very real and very deadly - but he's not hiding under every single bed in every house, and 2) much like lawerence's character, a person , when determined and imaginative, can/will imbue racist notions on to anything (after all we all know that vanilla chocolate chip ice-cream represents white culture swamping and overwhelming and appropriating black culture).The film does a brilliant job of depicting how seemingly huge moments in one's life actually have very little influence in the long run, and how seemingly trivial moments will stay with us as fond memories or truly important moments for the rest of our lives (themes that most adults can relate with regardless of the racial composition of the cast).

Anonymous said...

I also grew up in the west side of San Antonio but now live in the middle of a west Austin neighborhood in wich I can go for days with out seeing another person of color. I've worked in west Texas for a number of years and can tell you one can eat at a restarunt in Marfa in which most nights only white people will be present.

My doughter had a scean in Boyhood as the sassy school mate and she's of Mexican descent just like me. But I do understand what your saying. It's our fault for not supporting our own artest more. We support a Latino director who uses the same B Latino actors over and over again in order to make a buck. We pay to see these movies over and over again.

I don't think the intent was to show racism in the directors part. Or any one else's. The comond experience of raising a young man hit home on all who have had that experience. Aside from the parent actors, the bad acting of the kids is what amazes me got by the critics.

Mexican-Americans are getting there. Support our filmmakers so we can give our own stories a chance.

Me.

Sick of White Privilege said...

Not sure what is more sickening and exhausting, the hate filled comments drenched in white privilege, or the completely lack of fundamental reading skills expressed by the hatred of the white privilege possessed comments.

The essay NEVER implies that racism is "under every bed." It actually does what a strong essay is meant to do, analyze a specific moment/ object/issue and unpack what might not be seen on the surface or at first glance. The "under every bed" argument is what is called a straw man: you can't find fault with what is ACTUALLY said so you invent a fake argument of what you WANT the essay to say so you can poke holes in an argument the author never made. That's some English 101 logical fallacy work at play.

And to equate some lowbrow scene with Martin Lawrence with the work analytical work of a renowned scholar is condescending and rude.

If you think the erasure of a population from cultural artifacts that have a wide reach is not a big deal I think you should be evaluating your own colonized/white privilege infected mind and not misread someone else's work so you can protect the racist status quo of American mainstream media.

And to post that “someone's upset he wasn't born white” is racism at its most blatant, not to mention completely ignorant to say, as well as it is ignorant to get the gender wrong of the author you are responding to. Ad hominem attacks only reveals a lack of intellectual rigor on the part of the person making the attack.

Anonymous said...

I guess it is my white privilege which forces me to say, "Golly, look at the mountain made from that molehill."

Peter Culver said...

Um, nope.

You're looking for racism when racism does not exist. One person in one situation is not a statement on an entire ethnic group.

Sick of White Privilege said...

White privilege by definition is white men assuming they have the right to speak for all people of color and everyone by claiming that racism does not exist.

Thank you white men for letting us know we are unable to decide for ourselves what has been done to us.

And how poor of a critical thinker are you, and how blind to history are you, to not be able to see that the article is focusing on one, just one, of ten thousand films made with a white male imperialist point of view. Because 100 years of scholars talking about the issue are ALL wrong.

Unless you actually have something to say about what is actually in the essay, keep your racist comments to yourself, stop attacking experts when they share their expertise just because you live in denial.

Carolina M Hinojosa said...

The same people upset about your article are probably the same ones upset that Chicano Batman opened for Jack White. I was really taken aback by the reaction of Austin-ites. It's like Austin had never seen a Chicano rippin' up a bass guitar. It was truly maddening. We busted out in cumbia and then rock n' rolled the night afterward. People are still giving Chicano Batman flack (publicly, in awful articles- including the Austin Statesman) . I rarely notice when I'm missing in a film. And I need to take notice because we are more than maids, janitors and construction workers. I know you don't live here in Texas anymore, but I'm grateful that you wrote this. That you noticed for us. We need to be noticing for ourselves. Thank you for writing this.

Anonymous said...

"Sick of white privilege" just laid down the law up in here... Consider yourselves slain. Now take them troll ass home and put some peroxide on that butthurt.

Wow... Talk about being taken out to the back of the woodshed. LOL

Anyway, I really enjoyed the essay and thought it was a magnificent statement on the insidious nature of racism. Especially of the institutional variety where it's so common place that you actually have to have a clue to be able to discern it.

Thank you for writing this Dr.Acosta. You are brilliant and we are proud.

Anonymous said...

Same scenario with movies shot in San Francisco vis a vis the Asian population (who, in reality, comprise more than 33% of the total).

Anonymous said...

Make your own films

Anonymous said...

As I watched the movie, I too wondered why there were a lack of Latino/as in the movie. It was similar to the feeling and observation I had in the 90s about"Friends, " -if this is NY, why aren't there more people of color? I have never been to TX or NY, but it doesn't take much to conclude White people take up most of the screen time. Weather we do it consciously or not, we need to be more culturally sensitive otherwise, what is the point in "fighting racism."

Anonymous said...

the comparison to birth of a nation is way over the top!! that director was blatantly racist. i see nothing of that sort in linklater's work. he was shooting on a small budget and even cast his own daughter. maybe the extras were people he knew? do you honestly think he went out of his way to ensure that there were no people of mexican descent in the film?! this is rather different than griffith's intent in his film no?

also your claim that there is only one non-white person in the entire film - are you sure? what about the bullying scene in the garage? is there not a person of colour involved and in fact singled out and picked on, therefore both showing and critiquing racism? maybe the person isn't mexican but he is not white either.

Grisel said...

Other readers have tried to explain, but apparently the words have failed: I do not say BOYHOOD is like BIRTH OF A NATION. In fact, I write that it is different because one cannot see the racism in it easily and the erasure of an entire culture of people from the landscape isn't even bothersome to the viewer. I write that it is more difficult to criticize this kind of covert racism. That is the very premise of my argument, but I suspect people will continue to misconstrue.

Also, if we are to continue to examine the Latino/a presence in the film, Linklater's daughter, who has a non-Hispanic white mother, was born in Mexico, but her bio calls her an American actress. I don't consider her Latina.

If you look at the full cast, there are very few actors with Latino/a surnames, those who do have them are all white, and they are given character names that do not suggest any Latinidad. In other words, just as Zoe Saldana is often cast to play an African American in films, these folks were cast to play White. I have no problem with that, in and of itself. I do have a problem with not portraying a cultural landscape accurately. If it were a film set in Nebraska, it would be different.

Furthermore, I would be horrified if every Latino/a character were depicted in a gross, stereotypical way in order to obviously include suggestion of a Latino/a presence in Texas. That said, why couldn't one other character, other than the Enrique one, be given an obviously Latino/a name? That one little difference would have made it clear that a variety of Latinos/as exist in Texas and they do not all need the main character's help. If a minor decision like that had been made, it would have changed everything.

In the end, you don't have to agree with me. I do ask, however, that you make sure you understand what I've actually written.

Carolina M Hinojosa said...

I'm still sitting here reading comments and wondering why people have to be anonymous. Such bravado stems forth from an unnamed entity. Dr. Acosta, I think you've made some folks upset because it starts to ring a bell that's uncomfortable to listen to. It's like the people who stood up to dance to Pharell's (un)"Happy" and completely missed the point of the production. When you have a stage (and a budget) to produce something grand, you use that voice to break the tarmac that is paved on top of us. Mr. Linklater set his film in Texas where we are as brown as me and as white as my son. Texas is so diverse. A lot of people (including myself) get upset that Texas is only depicted as tumbleweeds, cowboys and yeehaws when there is so much more than that. We are a state of Germans, Mexicans, Spaniards, Africans, and Native Americans and we're still not in Texas movies unless a student or someone is doing a low budget film. It's not fair to exempt us from Texas films. If even one of those white people had a Latino/a name and did more than fix pipes, then it would have changed the landscape of the film (specifically because it's in Texas) and I think that's Dr. Acosta's point. No le costaba nada incluirnos.

Grisel said...

Thank you, Carolina. Eloquent, my dear.

Sam J said...

omar Semidey-- Wow, you got it! That's all.

I think to tie in a Latino (is that the right term? I don't want to offend anybody) story line might have seemed contrived, given the story was about a white family from the outset. It was supposed to be a very focused narrative... I mean, what exact scenes did you want? The Mom having a drinking night with her Latina teacher friends from school? The son speaking a little Spanish at a taquiera? I don't know what you want-- what would right this "wrong"? The fact is, non-English-speaking migrant workers DO work on home projects for white people. Clearly, the mom did NOT have a life which involved a close affiliation with any Latino people. But, in the case of the migrant worker, it IS a real situation... She saw the spark in his eye, that he could do better. This is the same for anyone-- she might even say it to a white person!

This movie is not purporting to be anything else than the life of a slightly boring, white, Texas family. I know this, because I'm in one. And that's probably why I'm not as offended. But, it IS a sad fact that many social groups tend to stick to themselves... It ticks me off, because it's still like high school-- everyone still sits at their safe little tables. It's not the same for all-- plenty of people are truly willing to enter the cultural melting pot. But the ones who don't-- leave an impression.

Ironically, it's when people take offense and shout "racism" in much a manner as this article did, that pulls us apart.

Grisel said...

The Mom, whose name I discovered is Olivia (whoohoo - she has a name!), eventually becomes a psychology professor at Texas State University, which is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which means that at least 25% of the population has to be Hispanic. According to the 2013 calculations, TSU is 1/3 Latino/a (32%). Furthermore, some of its most prominent faculty are Latino/a, as the link below reveals. In other words, the Olivia character most definitely would have encountered Latinos/as, and many of them would have been educated and amazing.
http://www.txstate.edu/news/news_releases/news_archive/2013/March-2013/TopHispanic032613.html

Anonymous said...

"Dr. Acosta's article does not ever make a blanket valuation of Boyhood as being "worse" or "more racist" than Birth of a Nation." - Toropoet "I propose to you that a film with the subtle racism of "Boyhood" is worse than a film with the overt racism of, say, "Birth of a Nation," for example." - The first line of this fantastic piece of racebaiting gibberish...

Toropoet said...

(Cont.) “Is worse” is followed by “a film with the overt racism of, say, ’Birth of a Nation,’ for example.” So “a film with the overt racism of…” is structured to parallel the earlier part of the sentence in which she writes “a film with the subtle racism of ‘Boyhood’” A high school graduate reader should be able to see the entire sentence and now realize that there is a dichotomy being set up, as the only word that changes “subtle” becomes “overt,” meaning the author will be contrasting modes of subtle racism as opposed to modes of overt racism. THIS is the core of her argument, NOT “Boyhood” and “Birth of a Nation,” which the author makes clear are merely EXAMPLES she uses in order to make material her argument.

How do I know that the subtle/overt opposition is the substance of her argument and that the two films are not? Because even after she has written in the first part of the sentence her use of the word “of,” which merely notes that the film possesses the characteristic of subtle racism, but by no mean IS the totality of subtle racism, she goes on to use the phrase “a film with the _____ of” a SECOND time. And if that were not enough the reader to be able to discern that the films are merely examples and not the complete embodiment of racism, she lets the reader know a third time that these are merely examples of a single characteristic of these films, not even the ENTIRETY of the films, when she uses the word “say.”

The use of “say” as she uses it- “than a film with the overt racism of, say, ’Birth of a Nation,’”- is the third time in A SINGLE SENTENCE that she lets the reader know she is not in any way shape or form saying that “Boyhood” is more racist than “Birth of a Nation” Any high school educated reader knows that the way in which “say” is used is a transparency of thought the explicate that a choice is being made, that she could have chosen other examples for films, but for reasons later articulated in the essay, she chose that one. Why can she, say, use another film in her argument? Because her argument is about subtle vs. overt racism, NOT “Boyhood” vs. “Birth of a Nation.”

Moreover, NOWHERE does the sentence, or the essay for that matter, discuss the KKK. “Birth of a Nation” is not the KKK, anymore than Rene Magritte’s painting of a pipe IS a pipe.

If we are to have reasonable discussion about issues, be they trivial or of the utmost importance, we must adopt not only habits of respect and generosity, but we must also be willing to actually hear/listen/read what a person is saying before we attack them and/or their personality just because we FANTASIZE that they disagree with us and that makes us mad. If something is unclear in what Dr. Acosta, or ANYONE, write or says, you have the right to politely ask them what they mean. Encourage them to clarify. Be humble enough to admit your own inability to read or listen and ask for help. You will be surprise at the willingness of others to meet you halfway to make something clear and to have an amiable discussion that benefits all. Or is true open dialogue something you don’t want, because you are in fact racist and prefer to tell a person of color whether they have been privy to racism, exerting your white privilege by deciding what is important for all and what isn’t, what someone should be trouble by and what they shouldn’t. Sound like fascism to me.

Anonymous said...

There's a song in the movie by Yo La Tengo. That's a Latin band, right?

Michael Newman said...

I completely agree with the writer’s issue with the Enrique storyline. It bothered me that the one Latino in the movie was completely defined by being a struggling immigrant saved by a white person.

I hesitate to call Boyhood racist or even subtly racist because of a dearth of Latino characters (main, supporting, or extras). Perhaps call it unenlightened, because yes, there are a LOT of Latinos in Texas. Calling the movie racist suggests some agenda as if Linklater wanted to say: "there are no Latinos in this section of Texas." Do you REALLY think that is an issue that Linklater is trying to illustrate? Uninformed yes, a little ignorant, yes, but it doesn’t feel racist to me.

I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas and Houston, Texas. I live in Queens, New York, one of the most diverse areas in the country (and perhaps the world). Honestly, it is possible for some people to go about their day/ their week/month/life without interacting with other cultures. Do not underestimate the ability of white people to avoid minorities – they are pros at it! I joke, but I think that extends to any culture.

It is possible for a family to stay in just their neighborhood and just interact with their fellow Indians, Peruvians, Romanians, etc. I mean, my family wasn’t like that, but I knew families with that experience. Sure there are a lot of different cultures that would be in the background of a story of a Pakistani family in Queens, but it is possible to remain insular in even the most diverse areas.

Also, WHO is it that is praising Boyhood for its “’life-like dialogue’” and “visual realism” as the author notes? A lot of critics praise the realism of time (from the novelty of 12 years of filming [http://www.vulture.com/2014/07/movie-review-boyhood-richard-linklater.html]). It felt “real” to me in that it was about a family that was broken, but not necessarily tragic.

Grisel said...

Great ideas, Michael N.

Nick G said...

I think maybe this article overstates its point, in the sense that it singles out Boyhood for this criticism.

Pretty much all mainstream American films are presented through a white (usually male) perspective. So it's just not clear why Boyhood is singularly racist when, more or less, the entire film industry suffers from the same issue.

Also, as a Mexican-American and lifelong Texan (34 years and counting), I can say that it's really not that hard for white folks to only be around white folks in Texas just as it's not that hard for Mexicans to hang out with only Mexicans. I'm not sure my grandparents have ever had a white person in their house who wasn't a friend of mine. And I'm one of the only or the only "minority" friend many of my white friends have.

So if Boyhood is the story of a white child raised in Houston and San Marcos and who's mother is a college professor, it's really not that surprising that this story would involve pretty much all white people. That strikes me as a plausible and common outcome. Nor is it implausible that the only meaningful interaction with a minority is paternalistic. For plenty of white people, their only interaction with working class Mexicans is when those Mexicans work on their house or as a janitor at work. It's just what many (by no means all) white people know.

So I guess Boyhood could have been told differently, but ultimately it's a film directed by a white director from Texas. What else is he going to do but present what he knows? Have you seen Dazed and Confused? Great movie. Insanely white. Based on Linklater's high school experience. It's what he knows.

Really, the problem is that the only stories we only get are white (male) stories, not that those white (male) stories don't have enough Mexicans, African-Americans, etc. You can't really slight people for not presenting parts of life they don't know about.

Kat said...

On the evening news the other night they had a piece about pianos- more specifically one piano store in a town that once had six, hanging on.
What was remarkable was that they had images of a kid taking lessons-- white kid, black female teacher and then another boy playing the piano on his own. He was black. Remarkable. Just happened to be the people in town to use for the story.
A few nights later they were up to the usual tricks-- a story about black kids in a drumline culled from those with "behavior problems" who have pledged to stay out of trouble and keep their grades up. I suppose it was nice that the drumline leader was black, but it still was the usual helpless kids need to be whipped into shape narrative.
I won't be seeing Boyhood from what I've read here. I've never even been to Texas, but I'll take your word for the glaring omissions. I can imagine that Linklater thought the movie would be about "something else" if he had accurately reflected the population of San Marcos. That is too bad.

AZB said...

I haven't seen the movie yet (2 young kids = no time for movies other than Frozen. Again.), but I found this and your Salon piece fascinating. I'm white and have lived in Austin for more than 15 years. I am still struck by how segregated this town is and how I have to make an effort to broaden my social circle beyond people who look like me. That said, pretty much anywhere in Texas, you DEFINITELY interact on a daily basis with people of all races. The fact that the Boyhood casting gang somehow used only white faces for all (but one) the background/supporting roles is kind of astonishing. As you said, I'm sure no one had an intent to be racist. They might not even have noticed what they'd done b/c it's a subconscious impulse to be drawn to people who look like you. But it's strange that no one ever noticed in reviewing their years of footage, especially since Linklater lives in Texas and the crew spent a good amount of time here over the 12 or whatever years. I'm sorry to hear this about the movie, which sounds quite lovely on all other fronts. And when I finally have three whole hours to dedicate to movie watching, I will probably be so distracted by all the white faces that I will miss some of the beauty of the movie. Too bad.

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