Tuesday, January 6, 2015

mama says policemen shoot black people

Let's just start with a frank, honest truth. Roger Murtaugh is not black. And, I don't mean to be a smartass about the color versus the race, that "black" people are generally shades of what we'd call brown or whatever. I mean that, in Shane Black's script, race is not mentioned. Except for the title of today's entry (and one other instance I'll get to in a moment). Alfred says that to Murtaugh. And, the line may resonate a little more in the script because Murtaugh is not said to be black. He's just... Murtaugh. In fact, race is not an issue at all in the course of this film. Murtaugh just happens to have been cast black. Burke--the guy who tells Murtaugh he's breaking in a new partner--is only described in the script as "Rail-thin, nose like a beak." The actor cast as Burke just happens to be black.

Okay, maybe not "just happens to be." Maybe the casting director, Marion Dougherty, deliberately chose to cast black actors to make a point, to normalize race in a story where it wasn't a factor. I don't know. The list of movies she worked on don't scream "racial" subject matter. She does cast a lot of movies involving Mel Gibson. Michael Keaton, also. She also cast Doc Hollywood, which I wrote about before. European Vacation as well. HBO's documentary Casting By suggests Dougherty's casting of Danny Glover here as an example of what made her a brilliant casting director. I haven't seen the documentary but Bryan Abrams at The Credits argues that she was a "risk taker who could credibly claim (although she never would) a good chunk of the credit for pulling an entire industry into a new, challenging, and ultimately creatively freeing direction where you didn't need to look like a pin-up or a male model to carry a picture." "She was responsible for giving James Dean, Paul Newman and Warren Beatty their first speaking roles." She suggested Carroll O'Conner and Jean Stapleton to Norman Lear when he was casting All in the Family, and she "helped jumpstart Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Brooke Shields and Robin Williams (in his first dramatic role), to name a few." The point is, she did have power. Casting Danny Glover meant something. Ultimately, Abrams argues that she is the reason Lethal Weapon is "more than just exercises in explosions or style."

(Didn't expect to get sidetracked by a casting director. By statistics, maybe. Like the ProPublica stat that suggests "young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed than young white men" (CNN). Or FBI numbers that indicate that "between 2005 and 2012, a white officer used deadly force against a black person almost two times every week... Of those black persons killed, nearly one in every five were under 21 years of age. For comparison, only 8.7 percent of white people killed by police officers were younger than 21" (Bustle). Or the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement's study that concluded in 2012, a black man was killed by police or vigilantes every 28 hours (AlterNet). That kind of thing could have been an obvious distraction.)

The question then, is what does the casting of Danny Glover mean?

In light of that parenthetical, maybe Glover's casting was a step forward. It's a little more progressive than, say, 48 Hrs. five years earlier. As Roger Ebert argues, in his review, that Glover's job is "to supply the movie's center of gravity, while all the nuts and weirdos and victims whirl around him. He's a family man, concerned about those gray hairs he sees in the mirror, not interested in taking unnecessary chances. Maybe it was a step forward, putting the stable center of the film in a black man and his family while the white guy is crazy. White guys, actually, if you consider Joshua or the General as well.

Of course, then you get to (K)Endo--he's Kendo in the script, Endo in the movie. Of course, Shane Black also calls him "the Oriental" and Riggs, in the movie, calls him "the Chin." He is introduced in dialogue first, then he's "KENDO, an Oriental mercenary." Riggs calls him (in the script) "the pleasant Oriental psychopath." Not, in more recent nomenclature, particularly politically correct. In 1980s terms, probably not that bad. But, it's strange that there is such casual racism in a movie where racially blind (or deliberately racially progressive) casting suggests an advancement in Hollywood race relations.

And, there's always more to say about such things, but, well. that discussion will come up with the next movie all over again.

Tomorrow, we move on to a new movie. The next day, I head out of town and take that movie with me--I've already loaded it on my iPad. I figure on giving it seven days as well, save the six-days-only thing for another movie this month. The next movie will have some things in common with this one--not just that it's an 80s action movie. In the meantime, we leave this movie behind.

I don't get to talk about why the Murtaugh house is already partially under construction long before the police car crashes into it. I don't get to talk about how Gibson's delivery on "I miss you, Victoria Lynn," with the framed photo pressed up against his face actually plays more realistically because it's so awkward (actually, that sentence may have covered that one). I don't get to talk about why Riggs thinks two women being in bed together is "disgusting." I dont' get to talk about the reports of a Lethal Weapon reboot a few years back. Or why Carrie Murtaugh calls her father "Roger" at one point (when he gets home with Riggs in tow for dinner). I don't get to mention Alfred's chaps or his 3D glasses... well, I guess I get to mention them, but not suggest meaning to them. I won't get to give Riggs another point on the Christ-Figure scale because when he gets shot in the street, he flies (in a pseudo cruciform pose, for which I already gave him a point) through the name Christ on the window... actually, it says Christmas, but I am working on weakening the idea of the Christ-Figure, not strengthening it, so every character needs all the points I can get him. I don't get to point out how it took me seven viewings in one week before I noticed that the polaroid and the note are in the movie. I guess six times in a row I just happened to not be looking at the screen right then, thought it was only in the script. Should have mentioned it yesterday. In the script:

... On the other side is a message in block capitals.

YOUR DAUGHTER LOOKS REALLY PRETTY NAKED

Murtaugh tears open the envelope, afraid to breathe. Inside is a polaroid snapshot. The audience may get a glimpse of it, or they may not. Either way, the effect it has on Murtaugh is devastating. He drops the snapshot like a live snake. Backs away, stumbles into the wall. Shakes his head. (p. 83)

There is always something left worth talking about. Just like I never got to mention that Bob Clark directed both A Christmas Story and Black Christmas.

A lot of what I've been talking about with this movie will extend right into talk of the next one. And the next. And the next. Then again, that's kind of the point.

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