Today, as US political campaigns take on communities of color—whether trying to win or suppress their votes—we might remember a time when Black Lives were not on TV. This changed with the Black Panthers. Indeed, as The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution observes, the Panthers were a spectacle made for television. They knew it, played to it, and built on it.
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Organization has never been Michael Moore’s strong suit. Rarely one for building a slow and steady argument via a lattice of damning and interlocking factual revelations, he more often goes for the shotgun approach: let it fly and hope something sticks. The serio-comic conceit behind Where to Invade Next—opening in select theaters February 12—wouldn’t seem to augur well. The title makes you think Moore is taking on American military adventurism. The gag is that Moore is tasked by the Pentagon to fix America by finding out what other developed nations do best. Moore says that this means, “I will invade countries inhabited by Caucasians,” steal their best ideas and bring them home. In practice, that means Moore goes from one European country to the next, asking variations of “Why are you so awesome?”, planting an American flag, and announcing that he is stealing this concept for America while Europeans look on with bemused half grins. Time after time, the film is just starting to get into something interesting, like Norway’s shockingly gentle prison system or France’s appealing workers’ vacations, when Moore intervenes like an insecure talk show host to toss a gag grenade. If he could just have more confidence in his material and audience, movies like Where to Invade Next might have the impact that their hair-raising subject matter deserves.
“It’s unbelievable.” The first words spoken in Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story sum up the horror about to unfold. Directed by Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim and released in 2006, the film tells a story that is alarming to this day. In 1977, 13-year-old Megumi was walking home from school in Nigata, Japan, and disappeared. Her mother, Megumi’s younger brother Tetsuya says, “Even though I was just a kid, I knew something big was happening.” Sakie, recalls worrying but not quite absorbing the profound loss before her. The camera hovers over the sidewalk where Megumi walked, looks up at tree branches that likely cast shadows over her. The sun sinks into a distant horizon, and a percussive soundtrack pulses, pushing forward, ever faster. The sea laps the shore, ominously.
Three years ago, Jordan Davis was shot and killed at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. He was 17 years old.
The man who shot him complained that Jordan and his friends played their music too loudly. When he pulled out his weapon to shoot at the boys’ car, the killer claimed self-defense, saying he saw a shotgun. No weapons were found in the car.
SPONSOR: Five of Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known stories are brought to life in Extraordinary Tales. Inspired by sources as diverse as classic black-and-white monster films and the pulpy feel of EC Comics, this animated anthology is narrated by genre legends Sir Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi. Now available on iTunes. Playing in select theaters.