Sunday, October 2, 2016

Queen of Katwe and Luke Cage

Searching for Bobby Fischer had been my favorite sports movie since I was a child.  It remained my favorite sports movie until today.

So what happened today?  I saw Queen of Katwe.

So this should tell you two things.  One is that if you want to make a great sports movie, chess is where to look.  The second is that (assuming you can given the various constraints placed upon you by life) you should totally watch Queen of Katwe.

At some point when I've come down off of the "EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!" high that this movie has left me with I might have more to say about the movie, but at the moment I want to talk about something else.  It hit me after they showed the real people next to the actors who played them, just as the ordinary credits started to roll.

You see, two days ago I watched the first two episodes of Marvel's Luke Cage.

Something that's inescapable when you watch that show is how different it is from the movies Marvel puts out.

If you're an able-bodied white dude you get to live in a wonderful superhero world where there may be horrible things, possibly even to the point of leaving you suffering from PTSD, but overall it's fun and action and life-affirming and so forth.  It's not soul-crushing.  It's not about how being bullet-proof means that life will just come at you in ways that hurt you more than any wound ever could.

It's not dark and gritty.  It's not hampered by a need for realism to bring it down.

Able-bodied white dudes get to play in the fun and floaty unrealistic world where problems can be solved by punching them in the face (or shoving a nuke up their wormhole) and reality never need bring you down.

Now I've avoided Marvel's take on women because I've been warned that Jessica Jones will destroy my ability to feel joy ever again.  I haven't caught Daredevil so I don't know how they handle white dudes who aren't able-bodied.

But what I do have is a very clear contrast between able-bodied white dudes and black people in general and  it's not one that speaks well of Marvel.

But Marvel is hardly alone in this.

If I should turn on a TV and see a lot of white actors it could be anything.  If I turn on the TV and see a lot of black actors then it's an extremely safe bet that I'm looking at either a dark gritty soul-crushing drama, or possibly a comedy.

And after Luke Cage hammering that home as I watched hope die and the fridged woman's dad get fridged too and . . . pretty much everything else in those two episodes, it suddenly hits me two days later that I've just watched the very thing Luke Cage reminded me was missing.

Now, let's be clear here.  Queen of Katwe goes to some dark places, it goes in directions Luke Cage is only willing to hint at.  However it does so in the context of a story that is uplifting and life-affirming rather than soul-crushing.

You know, the kind of story that able-bodied white male Marvel superheroes are able to get.  Just better and also based in truth.

It so happened that there was only one preview worth seeing, Hidden Figures, and it happened to be appropriate to this topic.

So, as near as I can tell, what it takes to have a non-soul-crushing story of black people is for it to be a true story of a damned prodigy in the real world.  But you might have to wait 40 years.  (Queen of Katwe demonstrates that you also might not.)

It doesn't have to be this way.  There's no reason that Madina Nalwanga's next film couldn't be her playing a superhero who lives a life every bit as comfortable as Tony Stark in which the only problems are ones that can be solved by punching them epically in the face with high budget special effects.

There's no reason that we couldn't have drama series that aren't fucking soul-crushing about people who aren't, you know, white.


  1. I loved Queen of Katwe. So excellent.

  2. Hail! I love Luke Cage, and it's more like Daredevil and Jessica Jones in flavoring, but I fully admit that it's got that particular problem badly.