Sunday, February 13, 2011

Black History Month Heroes: Councillor West from "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions"

So where are the suburbs of Zion?
In 1999 a movie was released that took America by storm. The Matrix would not only be a critically-acclaimed hit, but a financial titan that would go on to spawn two sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (it should be noted that SBDPL walked out of the former film during the rave scene). 

The anticipation for these movies (released in 2003) was reminiscent of the desire by Star Wars fans to see The Phantom Menace. It was only after these Star Wars fans saw the abomination that could scarcely be called a film that they had to seriously question their allegiance to all things George Lucas.

This is the exact same response that fans of the The Matrix had to the two sequels. Black people, however, were glad to see a science-fiction film that finally included Black actors playing the heroes and primary citizenry of the future:

Instead, Crews, an African American, marveled over something she had never seen in more than 20 years of moviegoing.

Black actors, lots of them, playing characters of authority in a movie not tailored primarily for a black audience. And in futurist science fiction - a genre once so white that blacks wondered if filmmakers assumed their race was headed for extinction.

"I was like, 'I cannot believe all of the black folks in this movie!' " said Crews, 33, a Philadelphia writer. "Every time you turned around, there was a black person in charge."

Despite the running joke among African Americans, not one of the black characters gets killed in the first half-hour of the movie. In fact, most are guaranteed a reprise in the trilogy's final installment, The Matrix Revolutions, due out Nov. 5.

With at least eight black actors in significant roles, The Matrix is the buzz among black moviegoers who hope that directors Andy and Larry Wachowski have set a new standard for diversity in science fiction.
"This movie is certainly a move forward," said film historian Donald Bogle, author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. While noting that Keanu Reeves, The Matrix series' star and messiah character, is white, Bogle added that "the sci-fi drama may not be the same after this."

The Wachowski brothers have a United Colors of Benetton vision of the future, with Asians and Latinos also well-represented in The Matrix Reloaded. But it is African Americans who hold the positions of power in the blockbuster, which has earned almost $500 million worldwide.

The world of Zion, spoken of reverentially in the first Matrix film (but never shown) appears to be a city as vibrant as Detroit, Birmingham and Los Angeles with people of color as the primary heroes and the conspicuous few white people roaming around seemingly safe behind locked doors. Or perhaps they reside in the suburbs of Zion?

The Matrix Reloaded does bring us the glorious casting of Cornel West as Councillor West, a member of the vaunted Zion Council of Elders. It is through his impressive intellect, leadership and philosophical strength that Zion has held together and overcome white privilege for so long:
In some really nontraditional casting, the Wachowskis hired philosophy professor Cornel West, of Princeton's African American studies department, for a small but significant role as Councillor West on the Zion Council of Elders. And champion boxer Roy Jones Jr. adds gritty, round-the-way flavor as Captain Ballard.

The last humans on Earth, residents of the underground city of Zion, are mostly nonwhite. Reloaded was shot in Australia, where Aborigines of all hues were used as extras, most prominently in the sensuous dance scene.
"When I first appeared on the set, I thought, Good God Almighty, this looks like a party in Harlem!" said West, who recorded a hip-hop album in 2001. In terms of diversity, "I thought, [the Wachowskis] must be a hundred years ahead of the Ivy League."
West said Larry Wachowski called him two years ago and said the professor's books had influenced him to write the original Matrix.
"I said, 'You got to be kidding, brother,' " recalled West, author of Race Matters. During long conversations with the Wachowskis, West learned the roots of their racial sensitivity: Their parents were civil-rights activists who took a stand against Jim Crow laws and worked to integrate Chicago's public schools in the 1960s.
As Councillor West, West has exactly one line, but a provocative one: "Comprehension is not requisite for cooperation."
The Wachowskis' multihued vision of the future was not initially shared by studio brass. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Fishburne said that Warner Bros. asked the filmmakers to consider casting a white actor as Morpheus. The directors said no, it was "me or nobody," Fishburne said. "They wrote the role with me in mind."
"One of the things I applaud Andy and Larry for is their affirmation of the fundamental humanity of black people," West said. "Black humanity usually scares [white filmmakers] to death. They don't know what to do with it."
 Here is what The New York Times wrote about the movie:
More important, ''Reloaded'' has one of the most excitingly subversive and radical points of view ever seen in a major motion picture: a postmodern purview that accords equal weight to philosophical ideals from people of color. One example is the warmhearted spotlight on Gloria Foster, who returns as the grande dame Oracle, the source of all knowledge for Neo. And few actresses have ever been as luminously photographed as Ms. Pinkett Smith. Even Mr. Reeves's pan-Asian exoticism lends itself to this ideal of the future.
Cornel West is considered one of the top academicians in America, a constant conference and keynote speaker who has little time for actually teaching students or pursuing serious scholarship but instead goes around attacking the pillars of a fundamentally racist nation, though those pillar collapsed long ago. They have since been replaced with the shaky foundations of Black Run America (BRA).

West derides BRA though, believing:
West has called the U.S. a "racist patriarchal" nation where "white supremacy" continues to define everyday life. "White America," he writes, "has been historically weak-willed in ensuring racial justice and has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of blacks." This has resulted, he claims, in the creation of many "degraded and oppressed people hungry for identity, meaning, and self-worth." Professor West attributes most of the black community's problems to "existential angst derive[d] from the lived experience of ontological wounds and emotional scars inflicted by white supremacist beliefs and images permeating U.S. society and culture."

Cornel West is considered a member of the ruling council that governs intellectual thought in America, attacking a system that continues to believe that Black people are the victims of a white indifference and white supremacy and steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that the entire system is now governed by BRA.

Only in a country dedicated to the retardation of progress would someone like Cornel West be considered an intellectual luminary and one who should sit on any dignified council or receive any serious platform to espouse his views. That country is Black Run America (BRA).

Fictional Black History Month must include Councillor West, a man who apparently has distinguished himself as a beacon of truth and penetrating analysis that can provide hope for a world on the brink of collapse. In BRA, Cornel West is taken seriously only by Disingenuous White Liberals who find his philosophy and ability to speak extemporaneously a sign of Black intellectual hope.

The problem, though, is obvious: Cornel West is considered a member of BRA Council of Elders and through this position he is able to exert an influence on the course of allowable discourse.

Race Matters is one of West's most cited tomes, for all the wrong reasons.


Hirsch said...

If you want to experience pain, like slamming your testicles in a car-door pain, do yourself a disservice and watch this video extract from Cornell West's rap album:

Harvard dropped West because he enjoyed celebrity and being a (self-described) "prophet" more than actual scholarship. He averages about 15 honorary degrees for every real one. He's very big on vaudevillian riffing, both in his writing and in speeches, and it sounds good as long as you don't actually take it seriously.

If his political dreams for America were ever actually enacted, he would live a Papa Doc Duvalier lifestyle, basking in his celebrity until he was finally deported executed by one of his enemies or underlings. Stanley Crouch is a much better writer and black intellectual.

Anonymous said...

Nothing turns me off to a movie like a black character in a white role.
During the movie "Batman, The Dark Knight" when they showed Morgan Freemans ugly face I said aloud so the whole theater could hear "There is no such thing as a nigger scientist."
The Matrix should have been a good movie but it was ruined by casting a black as Morbius.

Anonymous said...

As someone who is a fan of both films, and who noticed the stylistic similarities between Blade and The Matrix before reading this, I wholeheartedly agree with this post. Blade was much more "transgressive"/"subversive" than any of the Matrix movies. The only reason that the buffoonish Matrix sequels received so much praise was that they, like the equally buffoonish Cornel West, had already acquired a certain level of cultural cachet. Blade laid the foundation for The Matrix, but the pop-adaptation will as usual be remembered better than the truly revolutionary original.

Anonymous said...

Cornell West: an excellent example of why "black intellectual" is the ultimate oxymoron.

Anonymous said...

"(it should be noted that SBDPL walked out of the former film during the rave scene)."

Probably the single-worst scene in the history of film.


Anonymous said...

I remember thinking while watching that rave scene in the second Matrix, "if THAT'S what they're fighting for, I'd rather stay plugged into the Matrix." I mean, that whole massive f*ck scene looked like Hell to me. Just a bunch of animals. It's hard to take those brothers who made the film seriously if that's some tranquil vision they have for humanity.

Incidentally, the one black party I got invited to and went to in college looked a lot like that rave scene in the Matrix. This was a college party too. So "day wuz sum putty smat niggas up in dat shii." It stank pretty bad. Literally. At white gatherings, people dance and have fun but are also social. They introduce themselves like people and talk about books they're reading, classes they're taking, the happenings in their life and also "get wild." At the black party, it was one gross malt liquor invested, sweaty ass orgy fest. *shudder*

And not one person acknowledged my presence or the guy who I came to the party with (who was Hispanic). But I did learn more about the world that night than I did in any of my liberal classes.

Anonymous said...

I remember when I saw this before I could see (lol, I just realized what I typed), even then I thought to myself, "Sure are a lot of black people, I'm not so sure if I like this very much."

Anonymous said...

The person or persons who made the posts here, and I use the term "person" loosely is a closed minded bigoted asshole. I didn't know they let people like you go to college, figured you'd be too busy screwing your first cousins and working in the family meth lab.