Candace Owens In Minneapolis

It seems that Kanye West is not the only one who loves the way Candace Owens thinks. I and more than 500 other people attended a lecture today put on by the Center Of The American Experiment, a Minneapolis-based think tank. This was a major event, a luncheon that drew a large and energetic crowd at a downtown hotel. The last such event I attended was for a similar topic, also arranged by the Center, when Jason Riley came to discuss his book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed. Discussing conservatism from the perspective of black Americans and how it offers a superior alternative to liberal thought and policy has long been an interest of mine, but now it seems like it’s becoming somewhat of a mainstream interest just in the last few weeks, thanks mainly to Kanye for bringing it to light, and to Candace for bringing the issue to his attention.

I only became aware of Candace about six weeks ago, when I saw a profile on her from John Stossel shared on Facebook. I was intrigued, I thought that this is a smart, brave young woman, and she seems like a great voice for black people, for youth, and for conservatives in general. I thought “I bet she has a great future,” and immediately put her existence into the back burner of my political thoughts.

Then April happened.

In case you haven’t been on the internet in the last month, Kanye West broke it a couple weeks ago by tweeting a bit of qualified support for Donald Trump. He even dared to follow it up with a criticism of Saint Obama. Worse yet, another famous black rapper made an equally heretical statement that blacks don’t have to vote for Democrats. The left has spent the last two weeks melting down and trying to discredit both Kanye and Candace. To, how shall we say, put them in their place and teach them when to shut up and what they’re allowed to say and believe. Thankfully, neither is the type to do any such thing, and together they seem to be bringing us to what may be a watershed moment in black American politics.

It was with this backdrop that Candace arrived in Minneapolis. Her arrival would have been an “event” in any instance, but considering the absolute perfect timing, it was even more of a sell-out than I believe the Center originally anticipated. I just checked the date of the first invite I received from them about this event, and it was three days before Kanye burned the internet down in April.

Candace started her talk by discussing some of the things that have been said about her recently as she has come into her share of fame and notoriety. Insults about her personality, vile racial slurs, lies about how she grew up etc. She’s been called a white supremacist, a white supremacy apologist, an Uncle Tom, and Alt-Lite, among others. She said that she started to read these stories so that she could learn more about herself, and even made an alert on her phone so she could learn something she didn’t know about herself every day. From the beginning, it was clear that a large part of her charm is that she has a great sense of humor, even about herself. One very salient fact she mentioned is that not a one of these published reporters who smeared her has ever reached out to ask her about her story, and why she believes what she believes.

After starting with the lies people have been telling about her, she dug a bit into the truth of her story and her life. She said that, for example, some people have criticized her as an out of touch rich girl from Connecticut who doesn’t really know the black community. She made it very clear that she came from humble beginnings: “Some people ask me if it’s really true that most of my family was on welfare. It’s not that they were on welfare or have been on welfare, most of my family is on welfare right now.” She estimated that about 80% of her family is on welfare, and said that part of her experience growing up was going to see uncles in prison. She made a point to re-emphasize this, to make it clear that she’s looking at this from the street-level view, and not as an academic or talking head from an ivory tower.

She also discussed her political “awakening,” explaining that when she was younger and less political, she just sort of assumed she was a Democrat, because it was basically the default for her friends, family, and community. Similar to the experience of other black conservatives I’ve listened to and know, and as happened to me personally, when she started to learn more about economics and some of the failed social policies that have contributed to the difficult and impoverished state of much of the black community, she started to lean towards conservatism. She said she’s not even sure if she quite considers herself a Republican, which indicates to me that she’s a deep and serious political thinker, but she at least knows that the principles that appeal to her are conservative. She actually did not spend too much time relating the details of what led her to become conservative, but the general outline was clear.

She continued to relate the story of how she came to be a political commentator. She said that she felt this burning desire to get out there and be part of the conversation when she had her “awakening,” and to, and I love this phrase, “Start a civil war in the black community” in order to empower people individually, to take back black political autonomy so that one party can’t take them for granted, and to generally fight the war of ideas that she so passionately believes must be waged for the sake of black folks. So she quit her job, and decided to start making YouTube videos. Hilarious as always, she prefaced it by saying “I don’t recommend anyone do this, but I quit my job in order to do this full-time.” She said, predictably, that her friends and family thought she was crazy, and even the black Republicans she knew thought she was crazy. Nevertheless, she persisted.

She discussed her rise in popularity in wonderfully vivid and personal terms. She wanted to make short, digestible videos that would capture and hold people’s attention, and learned how to for example make jump cuts to keep the videos interesting. Her first video has become a bit of a modern classic among conservatives (I confess to having heard much about it, but not have watched it until now), but it was one of her posts that soon followed that put her on the map. She said that she posted the video, then took a nap (“I highly recommend taking naps”), and when she woke up it had 20,000 hits. The next day it had 80,000 hits. People were starting to notice her.

Soon thereafter, she was hired by the think tank Turning Point USA, and started to expand her audience and the scope of her videos. She thought it would be a fun idea to got to college campuses and challenge people to change her mind on topics like race and socialism, a la Steven Crowder. As we have seen so much of lately, she encountered a lot of venom and hatred, with white women unironically screaming in her face that she’s a white supremacist, and when she asks why, saying it’s because she supports capitalism. Her group encounters student protests against “white supremacy” when they appear on campus, and generally speaking what she calls “blue-haired white women” try to shame her for being black and conservative. “I don’t know why, but they always have blue hair.”

About half of the talk was about her personal story, and the other half was sort of conservative red meat on race, politics, and economics, discussing her encounters with the left and a lot of the data and history that most of the room was probably pretty familiar with. She discussed the role of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” welfare state in financially incentivizing black mothers not to stay with the fathers of their children, the stark jump in fatherless black families in the sixties from just over 20% to over 70% now, the fact that blacks have been voting over 90% Democrat for decades, so that the party no longer has to actually do anything for black people to compete for their votes, and how they can basically show up every four years to fire up black communities over marginal if not imaginary racial issues to bring out the vote, then go home and forget about them until the next election, etc.

Candace Owns is a major voice for our time that is on her way up. She spoke knowledgeably, forcefully, and with great verve and humor. You can’t help but be disarmed by someone who is highly intelligent, funny, and self-deprecating. One thing that I really like about her is that sense of humor, and the way it helps her interact with her critics, both directly and when talking about their criticism of her. This is a major weakness in both mainstream conservative and wonky libertarian personalities and commentary. Typically, commentators on the right come across as stiff, robotic, or needlessly aggressive when dealing with critics in person or discussing criticism in general. Candace has the brains of the best of them, but has the warmth, humor, and personality of an actual human being, something that has been lacking on the right for some time. She is someone who can discuss ideas with a political “opponent,” and still remain friendly and charming to that person, and to the viewer as well. I think she may be the best talent conservatives have in media at the moment, and her freshness and her background only add to her considerable raw talent. I’m looking forward to learning from her for years to come.

I leave you with a photo that brings together the present and the past of poweful black conservative women. Vive la révolution!

Black Panther: The Politics

So I’m a little late in posting something about this, the movie has been out for awhile now. But on the other hand, maybe that means that most people who wanted to see it in the theater have had a chance to, and so there’s less chance of me spoiling something for a movie fan. If you have not seen the movie, I suggest reading this after you have, although I actually am not going to reveal any major plot points or spoilers, except one that’s fairly obvious to anyone who’s been awake in the last two years watching electoral politics.

As someone whose politics lean sliiiiightly to the right of Hollywood, the blatant preaching and overt, ham-fisted messaging present in what seems to be an ever-increasing number of movies and television shows is a major nuisance to my viewing pleasure, and often detracts greatly from my ability to enjoy watching. It’s hard to lose yourself in the story and suspend disbelief when you can see a blatant, staunchly partisan message coming across in the dialogue or action like a banner behind an airplane, and always from the same point of view, of course. It doesn’t make it less odious to realize that most others who view it will not even notice, quite the opposite. It’s only extra aggravating to know that most of the viewing public will not consciously register it, and rather mentally bathe in it unnoticed, as a sort of background radiation of the social and political universe, the unspoken, unremarkable, universal facts, if you will. Which, of course, makes entertainment propaganda and indoctrination the most insidious of all. That propaganda works best which is not known as propaganda at all. At least in the 20th century, the propaganda had the “honor” and “transparency” of being out in the open, and publicly advertised. Now we pay lip service to opposing it, while it runs under, through, and out of literally the entirety of all entertainment we consume.

And quite quickly, just in case anyone’s wondering, no, I’m not wishing for the remedy of overt or covert political propaganda from “the other side” to balance it out. Frankly, I’m not even wishing it out of existence entirely, I’m not that much of a magical thinker. I just wish it was rare rather than common, good-humored rather than hissing, subtle rather than transparent, and maybe just once in a while only moderately to the left rather than from the dankest corners of the Social Justice Warrior cellar.

All that being said, I have to admit that Black Panther, despite its very existence having perhaps the most portentous and loaded political undertone of any movie I can remember, fulfills the requirements of my last sentence, if indeed political messaging must exist in a movie at all. It is rare, mild, good-humored, and subtle. In fact, the quiet politics of the movie only pop up all of three times that I can count. The first and most transparent time is when our hero is chatting with a close friend, and they are discussing whether or not to reveal the true nature of Wakanda’s existence to the world, which would necessarily entail putting themselves on the radar of some assumedly poorer and less developed African neighbors. King T’Challa’s friend warns him that if they do so, they will be sure to have refugees soon arriving at their door, and “Refugees bring their problems with them.” Before he even finished the sentence, I knew that this character was going to turn out to be a bad guy. And when a plot point like this is so easy to discern from one line of dialogue, you start to get an idea of how pervasive and blatant Hollywood’s messaging problem is.

But, this scene and dialogue flowed nicely and evenly after that line, so I was only happy that they didn’t belabor the point, only a trite cliché that “We must decide what kind of country we are to become.” Likewise, when the king’s love interest, who from the start has probably the highest moral position of the movie and is most likely the character that is supposed to be the vessel for the audience, says that indeed they must decide what kind of country they are to be, and they must be an open country that welcomes refugees, you know that she is the moral voice of the filmmakers and the moral anchor of the story. But again, the dialogue, while no Shakespeare, is good-humored enough and flows easily enough past this point that it does not grate much, if at all. It feels more like “Ok ok, I know you had to get it in there, whatever, not even mad.”

Finally, there is a scene at the end where the King is addressing the United Nations, and says that rather than continue their traditional isolationism, they want to open themselves up to the world. I cringed a little when an old white man says “But King T’Challa, what does Wakanda have to offer the world?”, because that’s a little obvious, but it’s not, how shall I say, more coarse or blunt than this boilerplate superhero movie is anyways.

I should step back and say the aggravation of political messaging in a movie seems to have an inverse relationship to the quality of the movie itself. In a movie that is really high quality, even of the superhero genre, moments like this might detract from otherwise high-level, subtle, even exquisite writing. Think about moments like this if they happened in The Dark Knight, or the original Avengers movie. It would have been jarring and taken me out of a movie that I was lost in. Here, I never felt elevated beyond the popcorn-level experience, so a handful of political messages of a subtlety on par with the rest of the movie is not very shocking, nor is it ruining what otherwise could have been a delicate artistic experience. That’s not to disparage this movie as a bad movie, but it’s not a great movie either, not even a great superhero movie. So there’s less to lose or spoil with these little pieces of the writers’ politics.

There is another reason I was pleasantly relieved at the manner in which the politics of this movie were displayed, and I’m not sure if it’s an objective measure, or simply a barometer of low expectations and how far we have sunk. But to me, the politics of this movie were, astoundingly, fairly moderately liberal, and better yet, fairly timeless. Should I confess multiple sighs of relief that this movie, near as I can tell, took no direct jabs at our current president, in any manner, on any topic? Is it objectively good, or simply that I expect so little, that there were no messages related to any of the polarizing identity politics topics that have been the focus of moral panic over the last few years, regarding race, gender, or trans-anythingism? Is it right to almost feel like I should applaud Hollywood movie writers, and, dare I say it, black Hollywood movie writers, producers and directors, for not throwing some dreary, obvious stones at Donald Trump or firing some quivers from the bag of racial identity politics arrows that have been filled to capacity recently?

Is there some kind of award for that? Maybe there should be…

razzie-award1

To restate it, I felt like the relatively mild and unobtrusive political messages in this movie could have, and very likely would have, existed and had meaning ten or twenty years ago, or twenty years in the future. They felt like very universal campfire feel-good sentiments that could be part of any movie Hollywood might have ever made. Again, context matters, and considering the political baggage around the very fact that this movie happened, not even to mention the time it happened in, I have to say I’m genuinely very, very pleasantly surprised with how the creators of this movie handled the politics contained in the story, and honestly very impressed that they did not succumb to inserting obvious, boring political messages that would no doubt have been hailed and huzzahed as “brave” and “resistance” to…..whatever.

So frankly I think that this speaks very highly of their artistic integrity, if not their business sense. I suppose there is some cynical possibility that they were chomping at the bit to do just that, but refrained for fear of alienating potential audience members, but I think this would have just as likely rallied those inclined to see this movie anyways, certainly the critics, and certainly would have given them some free media buzz and soundbite attention. And then there’s the fact that they did insert some politics anyways, so if there were cynical business motives involved, you would think they’d have the sense to scrub those as well. No, my sense is they handled this just the way they wanted to, and all-in-all, with the entirety of the context considered, including the social and creative world they live in, I think they handled it pretty impressively and with an admirable amount of restraint from where you can be virtually certain their political views lie.

So why do I write this? Because I think art matters, both when it’s political and when it is not, both when it’s intentionally or overtly political, and when it’s political only as an unavoidable consequence of context, such as the first virtually all-black blockbuster popcorn movie. (Isn’t it funny, by the way, that it took us ten years after the first black president to get such a movie? Perhaps a subject for another essay…) Regardless, I view art as meaningful and essential to the human condition (Rubinstein plays Chopin in the background as I write this), and how it gets created and what it conveys, overtly and indirectly, matters. It is important whether overt politics has taken over the fictional getaways of our storytelling, and whether and when it has not, or has not much. Thankfully, this movie, as well as the other comparable popcorn movie Wonder Woman, handled this pressure well, handled it with grace, and did not succumb to easy virtue and cheap praise for cheap shots in the midst of what is, after all, supposed to be entertainment. And I applaud all involved for that. I can only pray they manage to keep it up and resist the temptation to “be brave” and “resist” by scoring easy applause and points in their creations going forward.

But so far, as of now, we can say: so far so good.

Black Panther: Movie Review

As those who know me personally are aware, I am mixed race, half white and half black. There are some ways in which this matters a lot and brings some important meaning to who I am, how I feel, and to my views in life, and there are some ways in which this means nothing. My feelings about this movie are a mixture of both.

Another aspect of my identity and personality, probably far more significant to me than my race, is that I am a lifelong comic book geek, specifically a Marvel fan. As such, I have a heightened interest in and affection for Marvel movies and the Marvel universe, and a pretty solid understanding of the stories, characters, and themes of the comics on which these movies are based.

So for me, this movie connects two important aspects of my life in very exciting ways, and every since it was announced, I’ve been cautiously optimistic and hopeful that this movie would deliver.

So to get started, let me say this up front: this movie delivers.

It is exciting.

It is dramatic.

It is action-packed.

The characters are interesting and compelling.

And most of all: it’s just fun, which really should be the goal of any comic book movie.

The central theme of the movie is the internal struggle of the Black Panther, who is the king of the fictional Wakanda, over what kind of king to be, and what kind of kingdom he wants his homeland to be. It’s the ancient theme of the struggle to rule, both internally and externally. These themes are recognizable from Shakespeare and Machiavelli to Braveheart and Troy: what it means to be a just or effective ruler (can you be both?), what it takes to protect your people, how to defend your power within your kingdom, and the struggle between being a philosopher and a king. For a philosopher’s domain is Truth, and a king’s domain is Power. A philosopher can wax poetic about abstract, universal principles, while a king has the much more earthly concern with the welfare of his people, how they can sustain themselves, how they can perpetuate their culture, and how he can prevent or repel foreign invasion. The movie explores these themes on various levels, and it makes the viewer understand that these are not simple problems with easy solutions. It explores both king T’Challa’s internal struggles and his struggles with his enemies, within the kingdom and without.

But let’s not get too serious here. It is, after all, a comic book movie. While it does explore the themes I’ve mentioned, it is far more a comic book movie than a philosophical treatment of leadership. The characters are all fun, cool, and kick a lot of you-know-what. One thing that mildly and surprisingly pleased me was the scope of the powerful female characters in the movie. As a friend told me today, “I was expecting the movie to have strong black characters and to feel a sense of black empowerment, but I didn’t expect it to be so full of awesome female characters and have so much female empowerment!” And this is true. In fact, while I’ve only seen the movie one time, my sense is that there are actually more important female characters than male characters in this movie. And they are really cool characters that are fun to watch.

Overall, this movie really makes the grade, and I have to highly recommend that everyone watch it. There is a fair amount of politics and fanfare surrounding this movie, but I have to say it’s been handled pretty well and much more tastefully than I would have expected. I think there’s really no way to get around it, it is SUPER cool to see a movie comprised almost exclusively of black characters, and, but here’s the important part: a movie that’s NOT “about” black people, “about” black culture, “about” black struggles or history, or “about” black families and communities. It’s just a plain old super hero movie, about a hero who just *happens* to be black, in a kingdom that just *happens* to be in Africa. It’s just a story folks, it’s not about black people, and it’s not about being black. It’s just a cool, kick-ass story about heroes, villains, sword fights, cool hair, cool cars, and cool costumes. The black people in this movie aren’t one-dimensional. The hero is black. The villain is black, and he’s an evil S.O.B. (while also having a nuanced, understandable back story, “yay Marvel!”). The morally ambiguous spoiler is black. The people who support the hero are black. The people who betray the hero are black. Black people are good, bad, and everything in between in this movie. And that’s important. If a movie is going to be “for” black people in the marketplace, it has to represent black people as people, with every greatness, evil, virtue, and flaw of people. And this movie does that.

I was going to write a bit at the end about the politics contained in the movie, but I think I’ve said enough here about whether I recommend the movie or not, and that I should save that for a separate post.

The only thing that needs be said here is: go see Black Panther, as soon as you can!