Friday, August 17, 2012

Red Hook Summer

Red Hook Summer
seen @ AMC Magic Johnson Theaters, New York NY

In the book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, the noted scientist and outspoken atheist devotes an entire chapter to the way organized religion can be harmful to children's development. He makes a strong case for giving them the opportunity to think for themselves while they're still starting out in the world:
...I thank my own parents for taking the view that children should be taught not so much what to think as how to think. If, having been fairly and properly exposed to all the scientific evidence, they grow up and decide that the Bible is literally true or that the movements of the planets rule their lives, that is their privilege. The important point is that it is their privilege to decide what they shall think, and not their parents' privilege to impose it by force majeure....
We think we're doing our kids a favor by bringing them up in religion. After all, if the end goal is heaven, or paradise on earth or what have you, why wouldn't we wanna share that with our kids? They'll thank us for it one day.

So we indoctrinate them. We get them to study the holy books, observe the proper rituals, and never once do we let any doubt or uncertainty enter their heads, because just like eating vegetables and getting vaccinated, we tell them, "It's good for you. We know best. Just have faith."

And so these kids go out into the world with this new information - that our way of life is right and everyone else's is wrong - but often times, it clashes with what the world thinks, and they're marked as a result. They sense that the rhetoric they've been trained to believe (without a choice in the matter) makes them outsiders. Weird. Different. They can't do things other kids can and that bothers them. They don't wanna be different; that's the worst thing you can be at a young age. But Mommy and Daddy say this is how it must be if they wanna reach the end goal, even if the end goal may never be eclipsed in their lifetime.

So the kids double down and try harder, but the pain of being laughed at, of being a freak, is too much to bear. And then they get older and learn other beliefs, and suddenly they wonder how they could've ever grown up believing the things they did. But our indoctrination is strong. They may decide they don't believe the things we do anymore but are unable to articulate it properly. Why? 

Because of fear. Fear of disappointing us. Fear that we won't love them anymore. Fear of abandoning a lifetime of religious dogma, even if that dogma has stunted them emotionally and intellectually. But we can't see that because we're still convinced that we are right and everyone else is wrong. Why? Because of faith.

Blind faith, one could say.

Let's just say that this is a situation I know something about and leave it at that.

I thought at first that Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer was gonna be about the dangers of blind faith. Then I thought it would be about the dangers of religious fundamentalism. But then [SPOILER] happens, which I have to admit was a plot turn I figured out back in January when I read about its Sundance debut and people wrote that there was a dramatic third-act twist. It struck me as a kinda cliche route to go down, especially since it comes so close to the end. I would've preferred it to come a half-hour earlier, so we could see more of the fallout and more of how the preacher character deals with it. (And that's probably all I should say about that, but if you know the movie's basic premise, it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out.)

It's no spoiler to mention that Lee reprises his role of Mookie from Do the Right Thing here, but to what purpose? He appears only twice in the narrative and both times in passing. He's not part of the story at all and his appearance seems gratuitous. I suppose Lee wanted to draw some sort of thematic comparison between the two movies, but they're nothing alike.

I've already talked about Red Hook (though if this movie is any indication, then I must've been in the more gentrified part of the neighborhood), so I'll briefly say a few words about where I saw Summer - Harlem! I don't make it up there very often, but I've certainly spent some time there. The main drag, 125th Street, is always jumping. Street vendors of all types line the corridor's sidewalks, selling a variety of Afrocentric products, including books, CDs, DVDs and clothing. The Studio Museum is well worth a visit, but I'm afraid I've never been to the World-Famous Apollo Theater. I hope to go one day. And of course, almost every major street and landmark is named for a black historical figure. There's no place in all the five boroughs like Harlem: the history, the culture, the food, the people. It's truly one of a kind.

The Magic Johnson is like any other AMC theater, with a few exceptions. In the hallway leading to the auditoriums, there are black-and-white photos of black entertainers and historical figures from the 20th and 21st centuries that is quite inspiring to look at.  In addition to posters for new and upcoming movies, there are also posters for black movies from the past, such as What's Love Got to Do With It, Jungle Fever, and Poetic Justice, among others. And of course, they played trailers for black movies, like Django Unchained. You never forget where you are when you're at the Magic.

There was a middle-aged woman on line ahead of me and another guy who couldn't decide what movie to see and kept asking questions about other movies to the clerk. She either saw what was currently playing or didn't have any interest in the others, and right when I was about to  tell her to either decide or move on, she moved on. Some people...

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