Tag Archive: j edgar hoover


J. Edgar

 

I heard a lot of mild criticism when J. Edgar came out so I didn’t have my hopes real high when I finally got a chance to see it.  It’s not a bad film by any means, but against the best work of either Clint Eastwood or Leonardo DiCaprio, this film definitely falls into both men’s second tier.

The film tells the story of the rise of the F.B.I. and its controversial figurehead, J. Edgar Hoover.  This film isn’t an action flick by any stretch, so the sections about the Bureau (like the Lindbergh case) aren’t dramatically interesting until a third act revelation.  Like most character studies, this film revolves around the relationship the main character has with others.  In this case it’s Hoover’s relationship with his mother (an icy Judi Dench), and his ‘right hand man’ at the Bureau (played by Armie Hammer).  The real Hoover was supposedly a closeted homosexual, and where Eastwood’s film really shines is in exploring both why J. Edgar was repressed in his sexuality and even more telling, how living a secret life possibly opened the door to an obsession with other people’s secrets.  If you want to go all the way with it, does selling the world on one big lie make it easier to sell others (including yourself) on a hundred other smaller lies over the course of a lifetime?  It’s an interesting thought.

You can add me to the chorus of those who think Leo was miscast in this role, but can’t say it was a bad business decision.  Even with Clint’s pedigree, I doubt Warners would have signed off on Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the title character (but that would have been something!)

 

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Stokely Carmichael. Assata Shakur. Angela Davis. Bobby Seale. Huey P. Newton.  For my generation, if you grew up around a certain dynamic those are all names you knew and heard about often, without living through the Experience.  “The Black Power Mixtape” is a well-edited documentary that casts an eye on what those times were like in the Movement and the connections that have resonated with the next generation.

Narrated in sections by artists Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and Questlove, “The Black Power Mixtape” is visually made up of archival news footage from Sweden(?!?), as a group of young journalists came to this country during that time to try to grasp what the Civil Rights Movement was all about.  At the time where this film begins, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers had already been killed, and the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy finished the job of wiping out the optimism of the country.  With Vietnam’s unpopularity on the rise, the climate was rise for a more radical approach.

(On a side note, I believe it was Questlove who conspiracy theoried that the reason King was killed when he was killed was because he was the first outspoken leader against Vietnam AND, as he was doing in Memphis, he was now marching less against race and moreso against class with the Poor People’s Campaign.  I’m paraphrasing but the quote was ‘You want to ride in the front of the bus, OK. You want to cause a fuss for the military and financial institutions?  Nah… Interesting to think about in light of the “Occupy…” movement that’s going now.  Maybe today’s movement is better off without a ‘leader’?  Back to topic…)

The Black Panthers are probably the best known group to emerge out of the 70s discontent.  When J. Edgar Hoover declared their Free Breakfast Program the greatest internal threat to national security (God I hope this is portrayed in the movie about to come out), the lines were clearly drawn.  The incarceration of Angela Davis covers the second act of the film.  The first ‘must see’ clip of the film is when a reporter goes to visit Professor Davis in prison to ask her about the situation. The poor guy was probably sincere in his naivete (being from another country), but Angela Davis’ incredulous response to someone not knowing the history of violence against Blacks in this country is highly entertaining/motivating.  I know without researching it that’s there no way in hell that interview played on American television at the time (if ever before now).

The second must see clip the film provides is of a babyfaced Louis Farrakhan.  Seriously I barely recognized him before he started talking.  Only a few years after Malcolm’s assassination, the young minister shows the ‘polish’ that would soon after reunite the factions in the Nation and begin his own ascent on a larger scale.  It’s another of those interviews that I guess I should have known existed somewhere; it’s interesting to see in the context of this film.

In a sad ‘full circle’, the film begins with the communal depression from the murders of every national leader, and the film ends with the seeds being planted for the drug epidemic that would cripple the black community in the 80s.  I’m a little surprised the film didn’t mention how Huey Newton himself was a casualty, but they probably didn’t have any footage of it.

“The Black Power Mixtape” is available On Demand on many cable outlets.

King

 

Like most black kids of my generation, I had the idea that Dr. King was ‘somebody’ before I had any real concept of who that ‘somebody’ was.  It was his picture and Jesus on the back of our church fans.  At my grandfather’s house, there were two pictures in the house that weren’t family: John F. Kennedy and MLK.  There wasn’t a ‘King Holiday’ in the early years of my childhood, for awhile he was just the ‘black hero.’

When my sister and I were still in our ‘kiddie’ stage, we made the family road trip to Walt Disney World.  My father decided one of our pit stops would be Atlanta, which struck me as a little odd since I knew at the time we didn’t have any family on either side in the ATL.  As it turns out, he timed our pit stop on the weekend of some type of “King Fest.”  My mother still has a picture of herself with Yolanda King that she treasures; we stopped by Ebenezer, we went to the Center, we visited Dr. King’s tomb.  It was the first time I went to the gravesite of someone outside my family.  It wasn’t a morbid thing since it’s right there with the museum, but it made me think.  In retrospect, it was probably the beginning of my interest in Black History.

Once I got to an age where I could understand race and America, I started with Dr. King’s life and works.  All of them.  His own words (“I have a Dream,”, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”) some of the well written biographies about him and his crusades (Selma, Chicago, Birmingham, D.C., and Memphis), his allies and his adversaries (the Kennedys, Malcolm, Sammy and Brando, Hoover). I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I’d say I’d know “more than average.”  It played a large part in shaping my identity and what I value.

In practical and satirical ways, people often ask a) has Dr. King’s Dream been fulfilled and b) what would Dr. King be fighting against today?  The answer to both questions of course is that we’ll never really know.  Even in his eerily prophetic final speech, he said “I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promised land!”  For better or worse, part of the practical nature of giving your life over to a larger purpose means you will not see the ‘end result’ of what you’re fighting for.  In the cynical times we live in, it’s something of a minor miracle that anyone does something knowing their good deeds can and sometimes will be taken in vain.

But as the man himself wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  (That’s also my single favorite quote of his.)  As a child looking at his final resting place, I had no idea what ‘injustice’ meant.  As a man, I understand it too well.  I don’t have the hero complex I had as a teenager, but I will always care enough about the world around me to do what I can.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.