The Talk. Darrin Bell. Henry Holt & Co. 352 pp. $29.99 hardcover.
Darrin Bell does a remarkable job with his new book, in fact, his debut graphic novel. Bell is best known for short-form work: editorial cartoons (won the Pulitzer Prize) and comic strips (check out Candorville). The graphic novel format opens things up in ways that Bell takes to with grace and artistry. The goal here is not only to sum up his life but to go backwards and forwards generations. This graphic novel revolves around “the talk” that Black families have with their children to prepare them to navigate a world of prejudice and racism.
Bell begins his book by sharing what “the talk” ended being like for him as a 6-year-old. His parents had recently divorced and so Bell received two separate, and very different, responses from his white mother and his Black father. Bell’s mother was prompted into it after having to explain her choice in fulfilling his request for a toy gun. She chose a bright green plastic water gun. She explained it had to be very obvious it was a toy in order for Darrin not to be mistaken for carrying a real gun by police who were predisposed to assuming he was a criminal with a weapon. What happens next is pivotal. Darrin runs out to play with his new toy and ends up being harassed by a police officer who uses the toy gun as a pretext to still give him a hard time.
Later, Darrin faces another challenge when a white schoolyard bully taunts him about his appearance, calling him, “big lips.” Darrin asks his father what he should do about it and this sets up the father’s turn with talking about race. Bell returns to this moment throughout the book to say that his father had let him down by turning inward, distant, and just staring out into space. However, that’s not exactly what happens. His father may not explicitly respond with a road map on how to deal with bigots but he certainly talks about his experience. It leads to one of the most compelling moments in the book with Darrin’s parents as a carefree mixed race young couple who are abruptly forced to deal with the fact that the local folk are not amused about mixed race couples. That said, Bell lets the reader decide if his father perhaps did the best he could with his more guarded response.
Overall, I think Bell appreciated the chance to spread out and follow various threads of thought over the span of many pages. I know it’s a balancing act in terms of expressing feeling and citing facts. Every time you present a specific, as opposed to a generality, you make your case that much stronger. Buried deep in the book is one such fact I know still gives many pause: the manipulation of the vote count in Florida that handed the presidency to George W. Bush in the 2000 race. As Bells states: “The Bush campaign’s Florida chairwoman (who also happened to be Florida’s secretary of state, in charge of the election) purged tens of thousands of Black voters from the voter rolls. Reportedly, she used a ‘felon list’ to disqualify them, even though it turned out they didn’t belong on that list.”
Bell speaks of “the aether,” what some believe to be the foundation of our very existence. Bell uses this as a metaphor to describe those in power, the dominant culture, the white culture, inextricably linked to money, power and authority. Bell runs with it in one of the most inspired passages in the book that follows a college workshop of elite white students with Bell, the only Black student, discussing slavery. The white students push the narrative that people simply didn’t know any better when it came to owning slaves leaving Bell to argue that actually, at least 10 million people did know better: the slaves! Later on, Bell is called in by a professor who is threatening to fail him because he must have plagiarized his paper. How could he, an undergrad, possibly write so eloquently about “the aether” and such things when her own graduate students aren’t as articulate?
I know that there will always be a certain number of readers unfamiliar with the world of graphic novels who are ready to complain that a long-form work of comics could be pared down to just a few pages but that’s not the kind of world I’d want to live in. A graphic novel inhabits its own world where it will expand in order to process and contract in order to highlight ideas in concise ways. I’m sure any experienced reader wholeheartedly agrees. This book is an opportunity to explore issues of race, how Americans have gotten it wrong for so long, what’s at stake, and how do we move closer to a better place. Bell has honed his skills of cultural observation over many years as a social commentator in comic strips and editorial cartoons. He’s refined his skills up to the breaking point and back. This graphic novel is a testament to his efforts.
Movie Review: ‘Get Out’
When I first saw the trailer for “Get Out,” I was hooked on the idea of a racially explicit horror movie. I had already written a script in my head of what I had expected to see. I took for granted that this would be a wry and revealing look at how African Americans can still be seen as the Other. And that is definitely there. We also have the opposite where it is those who are subjugating who are seen in the same way, as some menacing Other. And I expected some dark comedy mixed in. With all that in mind, I wondered, not if, but how far this movie would cross the line.
What “Get Out” does best is keeping to a true horror movie pace, gradually building up. Instead of a frog that is in a pot of water gradually set to boil, we’re all expecting a black man to be boiled alive, so to speak. No, there are no black men being boiled–just a metaphor. In fact, there are far more gruesome things up ahead. The remarkable thing is that there is a certain level of restraint that allows writer/director Jordan Peele to navigate deeper into our collective racial history than some of us out there are ready to go.
The opening scene alone is loaded with plenty of food for thought. An African American young man is walking through an upscale, and presumably white, neighborhood. He is talking on the phone and joking with his friend that he’s lost in what he calls with a whiny accent, “the suburbs.” As he proceeds down streets with tony- sounding names like “Peacock Street,” a white sports car pulls up blaring an old 1930’s song, “Run, Rabbit, Run,” a sly reference to the classic WASP novel, “Rabbit, Run,” by John Updike. The young man attempts to avoid the car by walking in the other direction. Ultimately, he can’t help walking towards the car whereupon he’s knocked out and thrown in the car’s trunk.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya)
We next see an interracial couple preparing for a trip. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), are about to meet Rose’s parents. Chris is hesitant and Rose asks him what’s the matter. Chris asks Rose if she mentioned to her parents that he’s black. Rose laughs it off and reassures him that’s it’s not an issue at all. It’s a tender moment. It shows that Chris is vulnerable while Rose is far more in control of the situation. The acting is quite believable. Rose seems clearly in love with Chris. But the focus leans towards Chris as we see events through his eyes. He’s convinced he’s entering the lion’s den and we easily sympathize.
The focus never leaves Chris and, once they arrive at the family estate nestled in the woods, the attention heaped upon Chris grows. It begins with the first meet-the-parents round. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener make for deliciously out-of-touch parents attempting to be hip. If only that was all that lay in store for our hero. Red flags go up one by one. There’s a quick aside by the dad, “Oh, that room leads to the basement. We closed it up due to a buildup of black mold.” Yikes, in the context of a horror movie, that says it all.
Things are gonna keep steadily getting freaky from here on out. And so they do, some artful and some more in line with standard-issue tropes. One horror chestnut, the comedy relief sidekick buddy, is given new life and put to fine use here. Lil Rel Howery as Rod Williams, one of TSA’s finest, adds another dimension to the narrative. While he may rob the movie of some of its more provocative and scary potential, that seems to be the right approach for a project that is unleashing so many racial issues. Overall, we end up with a number of compelling scenes and images without resorting to a heavy hand.
Filed under Horror, Horror Movies, Movie Reviews, movies, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Satire
Tagged as African American, Entertainment, Horror, Media, Movie Reviews, Movies, Pop Culture, Race, Race Relations, Racial Issues, Satire, Social Commentary