Monday, July 22, 2013

Big Words

Big Words
seen @ AMC Empire 25, New York, NY

On the night of November 4, 2008, I was in Columbus, Ohio, watching the presidential election on my roommate Max's laptop computer. I had cast my vote weeks in advance. It was Max's idea and I thought it was a pretty good one. I was still relatively new to the city and I guess I believed it would be better than voting on Election Day itself, especially since I was living in a so-called "swing state" and every ballot would really count, more so than in a traditionally pro-Democrat state like New York.

I had the privilege of seeing Barack Obama speak in public. I think I may have talked about that here before, but basically, it helped solidify my vote, which was leaning toward Obama anyway. Max was always for Obama, whereas until that point, I only knew I didn't want John McCain. I felt fairly confident that Obama would win, but come Election Day, I was still nervous. Max, by contrast, never had a doubt. Max worked nights (probably still does), so we only watched a little bit of the CNN coverage before he had to leave, which was a little disappointing. If indeed history was going to be made, I didn't want to experience it alone.

I did, however, and considering how emotional I got once the results were made official, maybe it was better that I was alone! I don't remember how much celebrating there was in the streets outside our apartment, though I'm sure there was some. It did feel odd, experiencing such a major turning point in American history in a strange city, a place that wasn't quite home yet. Living in New York, it becomes so easy to think of it as the place where everything happens, the place everyone pays attention to...

...but if my time in Columbus taught me anything, it's that New York is not the be-all and end-all to American life. While in Ohio, I got a taste of Midwest politics. I met and spoke to quite a few conservatives - Max's parents, for starters. I saw how the media there differs from that of NYC, and through my involvement in livable streets activism in general and bicycling in particular, I saw what Midwesterners value. It was a valuable education, one I wouldn't trade for anything, and one I definitely wouldn't have gotten had I stayed in New York.

Big Words is a film set in Brooklyn on the eve of Obama's election to the presidency. I didn't think much about my memories of that night while watching it, mostly because outside of the event itself, it wasn't that memorable for me. The story centers around three friends who once formed a rap group before breaking up, and how time and tide has changed them in the intervening years. I had expected more of a balance between the micro story, the three friends, and the macro story, the election - perhaps how one reflects on the other, or something like that - but as it turned out, the "micro" story was the "macro" one all along. I found that a little bit disappointing, but not much.

I've written before about growing up with hip hop music. The era Big Words references is the early 90s, and by that time I had already grown apart from the music. Hip hop had already grown into something I didn't recognize and didn't enjoy as much, so I didn't feel any sense of nostalgia while watching the film.

I liked Big Words well enough, but it didn't strike me as being as great as other AFFRM-distributed films such as Restless City and Kinyarwanda. There's a fair amount of cynicism expressed about the music business (and rightly so, perhaps). Two of the main characters are gay, so that alone adds an extra layer of dimension to a film like this. The film rambles a bit before it gets to its big confrontation at the end. 

If this doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, well, maybe it's not, but only because the AFFRM films have set the bar for black films so high. Big Words is better and smarter than most black films put out by Hollywood - hell, most Hollywood films, period - and I'd recommend it for that alone, but in a year which includes the incomparable Mother of George, plus Fruitvale Station, which is touted as a major Oscar contender, this one can't help but pale in comparison a bit.

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