It takes a lot to convince me to pay money at a cinema for a film when I know the DVD will be released in a few months. Some movies must be seen on the large screen to get the maximum enjoyment. While I do highly regard classic cinema, foreign-language films and the works of the masters, sometimes a simpler storyline satisfies my need to be entertained. The modern action film [or popcorn flick] fits the bill nicely.
I am not expecting a life-altering, transformative experience when I see a flashy, loud, often violent fight-to-survive movie. Combating corrupt rogue government agencies, paranormal adventures, dodging aliens, avoiding a serial killer or besting kidnappers are not everyday occurrences. It’s the heightened display of emotions and distorted reality that draws us in to begin with.
I was perhaps mildly interested in seeing “Colombiana”, starring Zoe Saldana since the revenge aspect was being heavily promoted. The last thing I wanted to see was some convoluted story about a damaged woman. Yet, I couldn’t help but notice the disproportionate negative backlash against the movie. My skepticism meter went into overdrive considering all the other crappy releases that had barely registered a blip. It convinced me to take a chance. You do realize you can ask for refunds at movie theaters?
Most importantly, how many movies do you see with a black woman — kicking butt?!!! I had to judge for myself. So should you! **I’m not going to discuss plot specifics so as to not spoil it.
I can guess why there’s a concentrated effort at tanking “Colombiana”:
1. It A’int “The Help”
Which has been “critically acclaimed”. In much the same way “The Blind Side” and all movies that feature do-gooder upper middle class whites with shiny hair, pearly teeth and hearts of gold. They either want to rescue, mentor or adopt some non-white kid [be it from the ghetto or the third world, orphaned or abandoned, show them the way and teach them how to be civil [writing, dance, etc.] because they clearly weren’t if they were ripe for rescuing. It usually involves removing them from their culture entirely because you know it’s so dreadful [ok, sometimes it is] and theirs is so much better.
Obviously there are nuances, but the key issue is superiority, paternalism and appropriation.
#2 This Is An Action Movie Not High Art
See my opening statement. I’ve laughed at the complaints about the plot being unrealistic. How often do movies ask us to suspend belief? Umm…every day! No one’s gonna convince me Rambo or Predator or The Hulk are even remotely possible. Oh wait..those movies starred male actors. White male actors. I see a trend here….
#3 The Unspoken Matter Of Race..and Ethnicity
Quick – name one film or tv show that features a Latina as the lead? Of African descent? Oh you’d never know it but there are millions of black Latinos. Whether they comfortably identify as black is another story. You’d certainly be hard-pressed to find anyone a darker shade than Taupe #1 in Spanish-language media, so I don’t blame an outsider or less observant person to not connect the white-washing. It happens in India, too.
#4 If Angelina Jolie Had Been Cast, No One Would’ve Batted An Eyelash
She’s been cast as Cleopatra afterall. Like Elizabeth Taylor before her, that’s some real color-blind
wholly inaccurate BS casting!
#5 There Is Something Oddly Fishy About the Concentrated Effort To Tear the Film Down
Let’s see, you’ve got drunk guys in Vegas, Bad CGI primates which is a derivative of a mediocre movie to begin with, a comedy about an ex-con who looks like a serial killer [Manson] mooching off his family, comic book plot laziness and the aforementioned movie about a plucky white girl who’s the Mammy Whisperer.
Well, I liked watching a plucky brown-skin girl use her wits to dodge a team of killers. The young actress who portrayed the lead character as a child, Amandla Stenberg was amazing!
6. Real-Life Fight Scene
While movie action scenes require the expert input of stunt professionals they are staged to get the best camera angles. They are also not based in reality based on the physical capabilities of combatants and defendants. The only fight sequence that made any sense to me appeared in “The Matrix” and that’s because the fighting was technically in their head.
If male-to-male fight scenes defy gravity, physics and logic, then how much more-so for a woman being able to take on men who have more brute strength naturally? Colombiana’s female lead did not engage in direct hand-to-hand combat against her male aggressors (with one exception) but that was a plot resolution.
As a child she ran away from the death squad and employed elusive strategies (namely parkour) to avoid capture. As an adult she used whatever objects were available when she had to subdue her would-be killer. She used her wits and kept calm – she was not trying to be a super woman. The audience cheers her success because the scene was thrilling without being over-the-top.
7. Male Love Interest Flips The Script In More Ways Than One
These movies have women adapting traditionally male behaviors (being sexually aggressive, elusive about relationships, etc) so it follows the male romantic partners adapt traditionally female behaviors (asking for disclosure, openness and being available). It should also be noted the lead’s love interest is a different race and ethnicity.
Does anyone else think Michael Vartan is hot stuff? Way back in the day he made Drew Barrymore swoon. Lately it seems he’s the go-to hunk for interracial couplings with black actresses. Hot Shots – Nia Long, HawthoRNe - Jada Pinkett Smith [who may be back on the market soon]. I’m sure he’s just acting folks. The way Julia Styles was in the beginning of her career, totally clueless about the real-life implications of her playing opposite black male actors. This is different. Michael’s character is the “girl” role.
It isn’t a blip in the film, but it was definitely nice to see on screen – especially for every young black woman who sees it. Yah for love!
8. The Luc Besson Connection
The esteemed director co-wrote this script, which piqued my interest immediately. This is a role that could have easily gone to a white actress. I’m certain Ms. Saldana was pleased to be able to play a role closest to her ethnic heritage for a change.
For those of you unaware, Besson created the iconic character Nikita and it’s one of my all-time favorite films. I’ve even managed to stomach the latest incarnation American television series based on the film (because I loved the USA Network series from the 1990’s so much more – even as they adjusted aspects and took the plot in a new direction).
Besson is not afraid of women and offers the audience three-dimensional characters. They often have crises of conscience as the main conflict and it’s enjoyable to see them overcome past traumas after making tough decisions in order to change. Most people do everything they can to avoid such discomfort, but miss out on the interpersonal development that makes them better people.
9. One More Observation
It’s a little bit of a plot divulge, but our heroine is offered a choice at a pivotal moment where she’s advised to pursue education, the ability to navigate social circles and be fully-rounded. I wish I could show you this scene, but that was a profound message and far deeper than expected. I’m certain it will go over the heads of most. If the expectations for this film are that it’s supposed to look like others in its genre, people will be disappointed even as the assumption is presumptuous. I analyzed this film very critically and while I certainly don’t agree with every aspect, I still thought it offered something of value disguised as a simple popcorn movie. The criticism is trite and misses the mark completely.
As always, you should decide for yourself. If you want better roles for women, put your money where your mouth is!!
P.S. I’d like to a trilogy!!! We want a franchise.