I recognize that one couldn’t have two more opposite films than the Award winning and Oscar nominated “I am Not Your Negro” and the potentially Razzie Award -sweeping “50 Shades Darker” but that’s what I saw this week. My only excuse is that I like variety in my film viewing and these two films couldn’t be more different!
I am Not Your Negro
“I am not Your Negro” is an Oscar nominated documentary that is based on a thirty-page unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin which focuses on his relationships with Medgar Evans, Martin Luther King and Malcom X. The documentary, directed by Raoul Peck, explores not only Baldwin’s view of the world at the time in his written word (read eloquently by Samuel L. Jackson) but as articulated by the author in an interview on the Dick Cavett Show. Not only does Peck capture Baldwin’s views but he intersperses historical footage from the sixties with that of modern day Ferguson and the Black Lives Matters movement to provide a chronology of how American history has created the racial divisions so fundamental to our everyday existence.
Personally, I found the footage of Dick Cavett to be fascinating. For those of us who remember the show, Cavett was the intellectual liberal of the talk show circuit at the time. He invited many authors and scholars to dialog with him and to hear him asking Baldwin about “the Negro” was disturbing. For those who are unfamiliar with Baldwin, he was a brilliant author and paragon of the Civil Rights movement in the sixties. I read several of his works in high school along with many of the authors referenced in the film. He was also gay as mentioned briefly by J. Edgar Hoover in the segment where we realized that the FBI was building quite a file on Baldwin. While “I am not Your Negro” provides a short glimpse into his life, this film made me wish for a more comprehensive biography.
As American navigate through the serious racial divides in this country, “I am Not Your Negro” reinforces why despite Civil Rights gains and an African American President, the history of Black enslavement, suppression and racism can’t be forgotten nor minimized in the Black psyche. The scenes of segregation and violence towards African Americans in this film won’t allow the viewer to think that it can. The film won’t let whites be oblivious to the history and focus only on their perceptions of racism in today’s world. This history defines we are and every white American should watch it to help understand the current environment. It is timely and important.
50 Shades Darker
The original “50 Shades of Grey” wasn’t horrible. It had a female Director (Sam Taylor-Johnson), a professional screenwriter who could work around the book’s dreadful dialogue and the emergence of a fresh new face (Dakota Johnson) who gave the lead character some unexpected gumption. The end result, while dominating the Razzies, was that the film did well at the box office and maintained its credibility with book fans. This occurred despite a distinct lack of chemistry between the two leads and one-sided nudity (all Johnson) and no orgasms which in a sex movie was more than peculiar.
None of that occurred with 50 Shades Darker. The female Director was replaced with a male with an undistinguished set of credits. The professional screen writer was replaced with author E.L. James’s real- life husband (not a professional screen writer) and Jamie Dornan was still in the film. Let’s talk a minute about Dornan. In the first film, his Christian Grey was pretty much the same serial killer that he played in the TV show the Fall (which by the way, I thought he was really good in). There was no chemistry between the two leads and Dornan, although boring, probably played Grey relatively closely to the book description. In the 2nd film, Grey is smiling all the time, has day old facial hair and seems totally relaxed. This is in stark contrast with the character in the books who remains incredibly intense, dominating and would never laugh and smile let alone not shave in Book 2.
Bottom line, the movie is missing the only redeeming qualities of its predecessor and is boring with a weak script that goes nowhere in the middle of the film. The leads continue to lack chemistry despite being clearly more at ease with each other and Dornan again has sex with most of his clothes on although this time with a ripped torso. It is hard to believe a movie could win more Razzies than the original 50 Shades but this movie certainly deserves to. Even for the most ardent book lovers, the film is going to be a disappointment. Don’t think the third movie will be any better as it was filmed at the same time as this film with the same Director, Screenwriter and actors. Run don’t walk away from this film that is running about 8% on Rotten Tomatoes.