Political Film Review #107

BABY BOY NOMINATED AS AN EXPOSÉ ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICAN FAMILIES
Baby Boy begins with a voiceover that quotes a psychological theory that racism has made black men into babies, citing three reasons: (1) They call their spouses “mama.” (2) They call each other “boy.” (3) They call their home “the crib.” However, no such terminology emerges in the film, which is directed and written by John Singleton, who won two previous Political Film Society awards – for Boyz ‘n the Hood (1991) and Rosewood (1997). Instead, Baby Boy conjures images of the famous Moynihan Report of 1965, which argued for the War on Poverty on the basis of a finding that the Black community has a fragile family structure. Whereas the Moynihan Report was attacked for racial stereotyping by many scholars at the time, Baby Boy brings to the screen the most vivid portrayal of dysfunctional Black families ever. The setting is Los Angeles, and according to Singleton Baby Boy is a “companion piece” to Boyz ‘n the Hood. Jody (played by Tyrese Gibson), the central character is the baby boy of the film. He is an irresponsible, anomic 20 year old, has served some time, lives with his Mom Juanita (played by A. J. Johnson), has no proper job, has fathered a child with Yvette (played by Taraji P. Henson) as well as Peanut (played by Tamara LaSeon Bass), refuses to marry either doubtless because he has no legitimate income, fools around with other women, and his best male friend, Sweetpea (played by Omar Gooding), is a punk. From time to time he visits his son and Yvette, whom he drives to work and picks up from work in exchange for fixing up her car; but she is unhappy that he cannot settle down with her. Along comes Melvin (played by Ving Rhames), who carries on a love affair with his Mom and moves into the house, causing Jody to fear that he will be evicted. There are plenty of conflicts, in other words, especially when Melvin keeps telling Jody that his a “baby boy,” and Yvette refuses to see Jody and let him use her car because he is fooling around with other women. The conflicts are expressed through a range of behavior from verbal profanity to hysterical scenes to brutal violence. Restricted to using a bicycle, Jody goes to a convenience store one day for some wine, only to be roughed up by a gang of teenagers, and his revenge comes when he teams up with his punk friend, gets guns, and terrorizes the gang members. Strangely, Yvette admits former boyfriend Rodney (played by Snoop Dogg) to stay with her after he is released from jail, and Rodney is eager to rape her. When Rodney realizes that she will not submit to his authority because she loves Jody, he administers a drive-by shooting to the “baby boy.” The shooting traumatizes Jody, so he and his punk friend go after his assailant. Jody does not have the indecency to kill Rodney, but his punk friend does, and Jody is again traumatized. After Jody goes home, Melvin sees him in shock and pries the gun from his hand. Thereafter, Jody grows up. He makes his peace with Melvin, and he has the maturity to marry Yvette. Most reviews of Baby Boy appear after a press screening, but I preferred to attend at a cinema where a substantial number of African Americans were in the audience. Clearly, they saw themselves accurately portrayed in the film, confirming the genius of John Singleton. Among the themes is the fact that every single African American male in the film has either been in prison, is in prison, or would be in prison if police, absent in the film despite many violations of the law, were more prevalent; all are what Eldridge Cleaver called “supermasculine menials.” All African American men and women are starved for love, often solving strident lover’s spats articulated with a lot of profanity through the tenderness of sensual and amorous sex. However, the homeboys at the cinema not only cheered whenever brutal violence appeared on the screen but also laughed at some of the saddest scenes, which they considered to be exaggerated or mushy. Clearly, another film could be made of how homeboys view Baby Boy, one that would be far more surreal than Baby Boy’s message. If Singleton were to write a third film to complement both Boyz ‘n the Hood and Baby Boy, the focus would doubtless be on how the African American men in both films receive their real education in prison, as LA public schools nowadays provide neither textbooks nor homework nor job skills for them to become grown-up, income-earning adults. Meanwhile, the Political Film Society has nominated Baby Boy as best film exposé of 2001. MH

GOOD AND EVIL PRESENT CLEAR CHOICES IN ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE
Atlantis: The Lost Empire, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, is yet another Disney cartoon story for kids, with fantastic beauty and a simple story, though the plot is aimed at teenagers more than toddlers. When the film begins, a quote from Plato alludes to the fabled existence of a superior civilization, Atlantis, that was submerged and lost in a day. The hero, Milo James Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox), is a nerdy but brainy museum employee who resembles Bill Gates. It seems that Milo’s grandfather found a journal that tells of the location of Atlantis, but in the Atlantan language. Milo, a linguist, has translated the journal and thereby formulated a theory about where the lost continent is located and how to get there. Accordingly, Preston B. Whitmore (voiced by John Mahoney), a philanthropist, secures funds for his project, and Milo goes with a captain, crew, and ship for the journey in 1914. However, Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke (voiced by James Garner), a retired military officer, has an agenda of his own—“adventure capitalism,” that is, to plunder Atlantis of its treasures. When they arrive at Atlantis, dying Kashekim Nedakh, king of Atlantis (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), receives the visitors in a court that resembles the outdoor swimming pool at San Simeon. The king rules that they are not allowed to enter Atlantis. When Commander Rourke pleads that his crew is tired after a long journey and in need of overnight accommodation, the king relents, permitting the group to camp overnight outside the gates. Princess Kidagakash (voiced by Cree Summer), however, believes that Atlantan civilization, which has lost its knowledge of its advanced technology, will be saved by the technology of the newcomers, so she goes outside the gates to befriend Milo and to show him around Atlantis. The visitors then gain access to Atlantis, and Rourke reveals his wicked motive as he begins his looting regardless of how many Atlantans must die. The rest of the film deals with how to stop Rourke. As a film that demonstrates by analogy the greed and brutality that the West has perpetrated by exploring and then colonizing non-Western peoples, the Political Film Society has nominated Atlantis: The Lost Empire for three awards–best film in raising consciousness of the need for democracy, human rights, and peace in the year 2001. MH