STOP-LOSS: Film Review and Commentary by Wajahat Ali

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Stop-Loss: In the United States Military , it is the involuntary extension of a service member’s enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond the normal end term of service.

The new MTV-produced movie Stop-Loss directed by Kimberley Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) could also be called “Deer Hunter” for the Generation-Y, post internet, digi-cam crowd. Following a string of commercially unsuccessful yet underrated “Iraq war” movies such as In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Redacted, Lions for Lambs, and Home of the Brave, Peirce and company hope young, handsome actors accompanied by a contemporary soundtrack will entice the jaded, war weary audience dollar. Unlike some previous titles, Peirce’s film manages to construct incisive and human character studies of Texan soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in this powerful albeit maddeningly inconsistent movie.

Literally, the title “Stop-Loss” refers to the Military’s contractual policy allowing the government to retain soldiers beyond their contractual obligations per the orders of the President. John Kerry, along with many critics, refers to the policy as a “back door draft” unfairly forcing unwilling soldiers back to the maddening theater of war due to low enrollment rates and sparse combat units. The movie portrays the devastating effects of the policy on U.S. Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillipe), his best friends and fellow soldiers Steve (Channing Tatum) and Tommy (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and their Texan community.

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Figuratively, the title “Stop-Loss” refers to what happens when soldiers abruptly return home for a brief “leave” after witnessing the harrowing carnage of the Iraq war. When the soldiers “stop” and relax outside the chaotic theater of war, the downtime reminds them of oppressive, terrifying memories of “loss,” death, carnage, guilt and remorse. The brutal, unrelenting pulse of war when juxtaposed to the idyllic calm of normalcy exposes inner demons and frustrations far more painful than bullet wounds and facial scars.

Before we are formally introduced to the characters, the movie offers us one of many “digi-cam” montages, a pastiche of homemade movies shot by our protagonists documenting their daily life in Iraq on cell phones and digital video cams uploaded on to the net with a overbearing rock-metal soundtrack.

After the montage, we see our soldiers manning a “security checkpoint” in Tikrit, Iraq. They unwittingly follow a highly armed insurgent vehicle, which bypasses the security measures, straight into an inner city ambush. “The Hadjis” fire from the rooftops, behind cars, inside alleyways and even from windows of second story buildings. Brandon’s unit suffers heavy causalities as best friends die suddenly, others are wounded and disfigured, and the rest forever bear the torment of a vivid, guilty memory. The sequence, unlike the one in the simplistic and racist Kingdom, neither glorifies nor exploits as it documents the combat without a soundtrack and gratuitous, pulse pounding beats. The first ten minutes color the characters’ psychology for the rest of the movie.

The first half of the movie, its strongest, chronicle the soldiers’ return to their hometown in Texas where they are met with a parade and a grateful throng of family and friends. Peirce, like she did with Boys Don’t Cry, works her best when tightly focusing her microscope on the day to day lives and behaviors of small town folk confronted with horrors beyond their comprehension [In Boys, Peirce quite effectively portrayed a vicious hate crime against transgendered teen “Brandon” Teena born Teena Brandon.] The movie unfortunately loses its narrative engine and thematic focus in the maddeningly inconsistent second half when Brandon, having just learned he is stop-lossed, goes AWOL and drives cross country for Washington D.C. with his best friend’s finance [Played realistically and without pretension by talented newcomer Abbie Cornish] to plead his case with a Texan Senator.

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Tommy, played with a brilliant understatement by Joseph Gordon Levitt, on the other hand conceals his conflict with alcohol and flashes of anger at having failed to save his best friend in Iraq. When a well intentioned man naively asks his wife for a dance at the community festival, Tommy – having just discussed his desire to go back to Iraq and kick “Hadji ass” – explodes with fisti-cuffs. Brandon’s best friend Steve, preparing for “marriage with the Army” according to his fiance, digs a man hole trench on his front lawn drunkenly thinking he is back in Iraq.

After Brandon’s AWOL, the movie from this point onward, until about the last 15 minutes, meanders with plot contrivances and forced situations prompting unnatural character reactions. Brandon, played well by Ryan Phillipe, brutally attacks a group of muggers who, conveniently, break into his car and steal valuables. Mistaking them for “Hadjis,” Brandon forces them to sit execution style as his tortured mind takes him back to Iraq, blending reality with distorted PTS-memory. He also quite fortuitously and again, conveniently, bumps into another AWOL, Stop-Lossed family describing the hellish consequences of living “on the run:” one of the few options for those that ignore the policy and abandon their return to duty.

The last 15 minutes, in which Brandon returns home due to an inevitable and foreseen tragedy, narrow the focus on the devastating effects the war has on the soldiers and their loved ones. If Peirce had only kept her camera trained on this piece of the narrative, the movie would be tighter and more emotionally resonant. The quiet, subtle moments expressing repressed rage and shame shine more vividly than the bombastic “confessional” scenes Ryan Phillipe has towards the end. For example, when Phillipe’s character is urged by his superior to do a “rah-rah-rah” recruitment speech in front of his community, he stumbles, stutters, and then simply recalls he could only remember how the smell of onions reminded him of home.

Small scenes like this humanize the suffering of these young men – boys really – forced to project a superficial, inflated and unrealistic “hyper-masculine” exterior masking all their internal pain. For those quick enough to spot it, Peirce intelligently places a “John Wayne” image in one of the montage sequences to comment on this society’s unhealthy projection of a fake and exaggerated notion of “masculinity,” in which remorse, sadness and tears are signs of weakness and cowardice. “John Wayne,” that celluloid vision of rugged, American manhood, was in reality a U.S. Navy reject who fell into films after his football career was destroyed due to a body surfing accident. [Yes, a body surfing accident.]

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Movies like Stop-Loss, although not perfect by any means, can at least show a society that – indeed – boys and even men do cry; especially those serving our nation in Iraq.

STOP-LOSS (Playing nationwide) *** (Three Stars)

Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” (www.domesticcrusaders.com) is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at https://goatmilk.wordpress.com/. He can be reached at wajahatmali@gmail.com

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“The Crazy Rev. Wright” by Ishmael Reed

The Crazy Rev. Wright

By ISHMAEL REED

Nothing is more uplifting than watching MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” where wealthy Anglicized Irish Americans like Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews, Tim “Little Russ” Russert and Pat Buchanan hold forth on the topic of race. During the week beginning March, 17, 2008, the talk was all about whether Barack Obama should distance himself from Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Presumably in the same manner that they distanced themselves from Don Imus.

Buchanan has been awarded more time to discuss race and the bigotry of Rev. Wright than the scores of black intellectuals and scholars, who could provide some insight, combined. According to U. S. News & World Report (1/16/92), Pat Buchanan said In 1977 that Hitler was “a political organizer of the first rank,” a man of “extraordinary gifts,” “great courage” and elements of “genius.” Yet there was his sister, Bay, debating Roland Martin, one of a handful of token black commentators with any kind of bite. This was on CNN, March 21. She was in a tizzy about the Rev. ‘s anti Americanism, yet Hitler, her brother’s hero, was responsible for the deaths of 120, 000 Americans.

Why doesn’t Dan Abrams at MSNBC just go ahead and offer Minister Louis Farrakhan a commentary? Why isn’t the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress, so quick to pounce upon blacks who say silly anti Semitic things, all over MSNBC for Buchanan’s position as Dan Abram’s resident authority on race.

Tim Russert, his colleague, was employed by the late Daniel Moynihan. Moynihan’s report on the black family has guided public policy and been cited in hundreds of Op-eds and editorials. Black intellectuals who opposed Moynihan’s report have cited the fact that the majority of women on welfare at the time of the report were white women. In fact it was a Nazi, Tom Metzger, who told Larry King that the average welfare recipient was a white woman whose husband has left her, while Neo-cons and black tough lovers ignore this possibility. Isn’t it ironic that one can gain a more accurate picture of welfare in this country from a Nazi than a Neo-con? Most of those white welfare recipients were probably Celtic, members of Moynihan’s tribe.

It was Daniel Moynihan who accused black women of “speciation,” of reproducing mutants, the kind of thing that the Nazis use to say about their victims. Did Russert disown the Senator after this remark? Some of those in the media who are now criticizing Senator Obama’s pastor are Irish Catholics. They dominate the panels on “Morning Joe.” (His token black guests are passive participants, grateful-to-be-on camera types).

Have these panelists, who are so critical of Rev. Wright, disassociated themselves from a church that had to pay 2 billion dollars to people who’ve been sexually abused by priests? Both the last pope and the current one attempted to cover up the scandal. Would they fly to Rome to scold the pope which is what they demanded of Obama who wasn’t even present when Rev. Wright preached about 9/11. Have they had a one on one with their priests during which they criticized the church’s cover up of the epidemic of pedophilia infecting the church?

The classic indicator for racism has been the double standard applied to blacks and whites. This still exists for blacks in everyday life. In the criminal justice system, the mortgage lending industry, and the treatment of blacks by the medical industry, etc. Why is Rev. Wright crazy for citing racism in the criminal justice system? The infamous three strikes law where poor people might receive a life sentence for stealing a pizza pie? Even the Bush administration has documented racial profiling. MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson flew into a rage when Marc Morial of the Urban League mentioned racial disparities in the criminal justice system. I sent Carlson documentation, including data from the Sentencing Project. He still probably denies it, and his misrepresentations go out unchallenged to millions of viewers. It’s appropriate that he and his colleagues dance on variety shows. They’re entertainers, not newspeople. Could you imagine Edward R. Murrow appearing on “Dancing With The Stars?”

When Rev. Wright talks about AIDs being an ethnic weapon, those critics who denounce him haven’t examined the speculation that it might have originated in the Koprowski’s polio vaccine experiment that was conducted out of Philadelphia. Those who embrace this theory might find some support in the book, The River A Journey Back to The Source of HIV and AIDs by Edward Hooper ( Penguin, 2000). A white man wrote this book.

I did a considerable amount of research for my recent off Broadway play, “Body Parts,” which was dismissed by The New York Times as “angry.” I found that the pharmaceutical companies use Africans to test drugs that might have bad side effects without the knowledge of those being tested. The Washington Post did a series about this scandal. A series written by whites. they mention the Tuskegee experiments. According to Harriet Washington in her book Medical Apartheid, such experiments that date back to the days of slavery continue. Tuskegee was just the tip of the iceberg. Unequal Treatment; How African Americans documenting how unwitting victims of were used in medical experiments was reviewed in The Washington Post on Jan. 7, 2007 by Alondra Nelson. She wrote:

“J. Marion Sims, a leading 19th- century physician and former president of the American Medical Association, developed many of his gynecological treatments through experiments on slave women who were not granted the comfort of anesthesia. Sims’s legacy is Janus-faced; he was pitiless with non- consenting research subjects, yet he was among the first doctors of the modern era to emphasize women’s health. Other researchers were guiltier of blind ambition than racist intent. Several African Americans, including such as Eunice Rivers, the nurse-steward of the Tuskegee study, served as liaisons between scientists and research subjects.

“The infringement of black Americans’ rights to their own bodies in the name of medical science continued throughout the 20th century. In 1945, Ebb Cade, an African American trucker being treated for injuries received in an accident in Tennessee, was surreptitiously placed without his consent into a radiation experiment sponsored by the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission. Black Floridians were deliberately exposed to swarms of mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and other diseases in experiments conducted by the Army and the CIA in the early 1950s. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, black inmates at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison were used as research subjects by a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist testing pharmaceuticals and personal hygiene products; some of these subjects report pain and disfiguration even now. During the 1960s and ’70s, black boys were subjected to sometimes paralyzing neurosurgery by a University of Mississippi researcher who believed brain pathology to be the root of the children’s supposed hyperactive behavior. In the 1990s, African American youths in New York were injected with Fenfluramine — half of the deadly, discontinued weight loss drug Fen-Phen — by Columbia researchers investigating a hypothesis about the genetic origins of violence.”

With this kind of record, is Rev. Wright paranoid when he speculates that AIDs might be the result of an experiment gone wrong or even as some black intellectuals assert a ethnic weapon? Given these recorded instances of abuse by the government and private groups, would anybody put it pass them? The New York Times has carried a series about Eli Lily’s role in distributing a drug called Zyprexa. Seems that the company knew about the dangerous side effects of this drug before they put it on the market .”Eli Lilly, the drug maker, systematically hid the risks and side effects of Zyprexa, its best-selling schizophrenia medicine, a lawyer for the State of Alaska said Wednesday in opening arguments in a lawsuit that contends the drug caused many schizophrenic patients to develop diabetes.”

J. B Reed of Bloomberg News wrote:

“Eli Lilly has faced legal problems over evidence that Zyprexa, a top-selling medicine, tends to cause weight gain and diabetes.

“The lawyer, Scott Allen, said that memorandums from Lilly executives showed that the company knew of Zyprexa’s dangers soon after the drug was introduced in 1996. But Lilly deliberately played down the side effects, Mr. Allen said, so that sales of Zyprexa would not be hurt.”

“Lilly’s conduct was ‘reprehensible, ‘Mr. Allen said. In the suit, which is being heard in Alaska state court before Judge Mark Rindner, the state is asking Lilly to pay for the medical expenses of Medicaid patients who have contracted diabetes or other diseases after taking Zyprexa.”

Of course when I read that the drug was also used on “disruptive” children, you can imagine where my mind went; probably the same place that Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s went.

My oldest daughter, Timothy, a novelist, author of Showing Out, has been suffering from schizophrenia since the age of twenty-eight. Every day for her is a challenge. Her psychiatrist only stopped prescribing Zyprexa for her when I told him to stop, having read about the Zyprexa scandal about a year ago. Now Eli Lilly’s offering her $2500. 00, her share of a class action suit, a pittance when compared to the complications from type one diabetes that she contacted as a result of taking this drug. And The New York Times calls me “angry” for taking on the subject of corruption in the pharmaceutical industry? Also, what am I suppose to make of a report that dangerous anti-psychotic drugs are prescribed to black patients suffering from mental illness while white patients are steered into talk therapy.

Rev. Wright proposes that crack was deliberately brought into the inner city by the government. The CIA admitted to having knowledge that US allies brought drugs into the urban areas. The late Gary Webb was ridiculed by the American press for his “Dark Alliance,” yet as Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair disclose in their book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press, two years after Webb’s series ran, the CIA’s inspector general confirmed that the agency had in fact been aiding those very same Contra drug-runners (and many more).

Even before the publication of “Dark Alliance,” in The San Jose Mercury, Senator John Kerry found that other Government agencies knew about their allies drug peddling and didn’t do anything to stop it.

Don’t blacks have a right to ask why? These crack operations may not be effecting the neighborhoods of the rich pundits who dismiss Wright as an anti-American nut but they effect mine and probably those served by Rev. Wright. We had our latest shootout on my block on March 17. It took the Oakland police at least twenty minutes before they arrived. In a Playboy article (Dec. 2007), I described my neighbors and me as being among the marooned. We don’t receive the kind of police protection or services that white neighborhoods receive. Rev. Wright knows this. Maureen Dowd doesn’t. She referred to him a “wackadoodle,” the typical way in which black grievances are treated. We’re angry. Paranoid. Politically correct. We’re wack jobs. Foreign leaders who complain about American foreign policy are routinely described by the inbedwith press as peculiar or crazy. Jokes are made about them on comedy shows.

Wasn’t Wright conservative when he mentioned just two of the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the American government? Nagasaki and Hiroshima, attacks that were unique in the history. because the Japanese are still suffering from the damaging genetic effects of the war. He could have gone all out as Ward Churchill does in his book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present (Paperback). He could have reminded them that the West has been bombing Muslim countries since 1911(see The History of Bombing by Sven Lindquist. ) Wright didn’t blame the three thousand casualties world trade center on the victims( nor did he say that it was an inside job, MSNBC’s Willie Geist’s lie). The fact that people abroad might be enraged by the country’s policies is a difficult message for the American public which has been kept in a bubble of ignorance by the media and the school curriculum. Three thousand lives were lost as a result of the American invasion of Panama alone. Rick Sanchez of CNN said on March 21 that some Hispanics warmed to Obama’s speech on race because they remember invasion of Panama and the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. They might also remember the Reagan administrations support of Contra death squads. While white commentators and politicians were cynical about Obama’s speech on race another Hispanic, Gov. Bill Richardson, said that he endorsed Obama as a result of the speech. Sanchez also stepped away from his CNN comfort zone by adding that there were few Latinos represented in the media (during this week, “historian” Tom Brokaw, called Hispanics, people who’ve been here since the 1500s,”latin Americans”). He’s right. The few Asian-Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and Native American journalists remaining are being bought out or fired according to Richard Prince. And so what we had last week was a white separatist media criticizing a black nationalist preacher. Multi deferment chicken hawk types criticizing a Marine. All you have to is pick up a copy of The Washingtonian to see photos of these commentators and op ed writers partying with and smooching up to the people whom they cover.

Air America’s Rachel Maddow seems to be the only MSNBC commentator who views the double standard being applied to Obama and other presidential candidates, when she’s not interrupted bullied and screamed at by Joe Scorborourgh who has to carry on like a maniac in order not to meet the same fate as Tucker Carlson. His show was cancelled. If two CNN reporters on the show Ballot Bowl surmised on Sat. that Obama’s association with Rev. Wright hurt him, why doesn’t Hillary Clinton’s association with Billy Graham, her spiritual advisor, hurt her? In a Time interview, Hillary Clinton reported that the evangelist “fulfilled a pastoral role during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and helped the First Lady endure the ordeal.”At that time, Clinton said,”Graham was ‘incredibly supportive to me personally. And he was very strong in saying, ‘I really understand what you’re doing and I support you. ‘ He was just very personally there for me.'”

Billy Graham in a conversation with Richard Nixon described the Jews as “satanic” and offered that they owned the media and peddled pornography. If Ms. Clinton denounced and rejected Billy Graham, of whom the editor of Newsweek John Meacham likened to god with his blue eyes, etc. her poll numbers would decline over night. John Meacham was on a Sunday talk show, March 23, 2008, criticizing Rev. Wright and taking some jabs at Obama, part of It laced with sarcasm. He said that now people have found that Obama doesn’t “walk on water,” maybe because for Meacham only Billy Graham can perform such miracles.

And if that weren’t enough, On Saturday, C-Span’s guest was Donald Lambro, The Washington Times’ chief political correspondence who joined in the media’s running loop devoted to criticizing Obama’s relationship with his pastor. The Friday before, Diana West, a reporter for the same paper, appearing on the Lou Dobbs show, criticized Michelle Obama and Rev. Wright for their “anti-Americanism,” and quoted Victor Davis Hanson a far right columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Their boss is Rev. Sun Myung Moon who warns Korean widows that their husbands will go to hell if they don’t give him money. If, for them, Obama should disown Rev. Wright, why are they still working for a religious shakedown artist? Why don’t they step away from Rev. Moon’s anti-Americanism reported by Robert Parry of consortiumnews: Moon’s jingle of deep-pocket cash also has caused conservatives to turn a deaf ear toward Moon’s recent anti-American diatribes. With growing virulence, Moon has denounced the United States and its democratic principles, often referring to America as “Satanic.” But these statements have gone virtually unreported, even though the texts of his sermons are carried on the Internet and their timing has coincided with Bush’s warm endorsements of Moon.

“America has become the kingdom of individualism, and its people are individualists,” Moon preached in Tarrytown, N. Y., on March 5, 1995. “You must realize that America has become the kingdom of Satan.”

In similar remarks to followers on Aug. 4, 1996, Moon vowed that the church’s eventual dominance over the United States would be followed by the liquidation of American individualism.”Americans who continue to maintain their privacy and extreme individualism are foolish people,” Moon declared.”The world will reject Americans who continue to be so foolish. Once you have this great power of love, which is big enough to swallow entire America, there may be some individuals who complain inside your stomach. However, they will be digested.”

During the same sermon, Moon decried assertive American women.”American women have the tendency to consider that women are in the subject position,” he said. “However, woman’s shape is like that of a receptacle. The concave shape is a receiving shape. Whereas, the convex shape symbolizes giving. . . . Since man contains the seed of life, he should plant it in the deepest place.

“Does woman contain the seed of life? [“No.”] Absolutely not. Then if you desire to receive the seed of life, you have to become an absolute object. In order to qualify as an absolute object, you need to demonstrate absolute faith, love and obedience to your subject. Absolute obedience means that you have to negate yourself 100 percent.”

Diana West and Donald Lambro are applying a double standard for their boss and for Rev. Wright. And why does CNN keep on as a regular the employee of a man who hates our country so much? Does Lou Dobb agree that the United States is satanic?Does Jonathan Klein, CNN’s boss? Where is NOW?

When Richard Cohen appeared on television on March 21st, he joined the media chorus in taking offense to the remarks of Rev. Wright. This is the columnist who defended the practice racial profiling by Washington shop keepers.

On March 20, the Dali Lama was the subject of gushing praise by a writer for Time magazine where Rev. Wright had been roistered all week on cable. From Jameswagner. com: “the Dalai Lama explicitly condemns homosexuality, as well as all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers find embarrassing and prefer to ignore. His American publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his book, ‘Ethics for the New Millennium, ‘ for fear they would offend American readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced.”

Also, why isn’t there a running loop about John McCain’s relationship with controversial ministers? Are those who control the media easy on him because he plays the father in their fantasies?

What about these Waco doodles? The late Jerry Falwell Pat Robertson and Rev. John Hagee. About 9/11, Falwell said “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For The American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen. ”’

And Pat Robertson: “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you, this is not a message of hate-this is a message of redemption. But a condition like this will being about the destruction of your nation. It’ll bring about terrorist bombs; it’s bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteror.” This was Robertson commenting on “gay days” at Disneyworld.

John McCain’s spiritual advisor is Rev. John Hagee. He says that the Roman Catholic Church and Hitler formed an alliance for the purpose of exterminating the Jews. Hurricane Katrina for him, was God’s punishment for a gay rights parade that occurred in New Orleans.

The double standard applied to Obama, the Clintons and Senator McCain and their relationship to controversial pastors is the result of a media gone wild. (On “The View,” Elizabeth Hasselbeck even compared Rev. Wright to Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibal). A media that, since the O. J. trial, has found that it can make more money from the racial divide than by any of the other fault lines in American life.

While Obama talked to Americans as though they were adults, the media treated the controversy as though it were a video game in which Rev. Wright was the heavy. They O. Jayed Wright for cash.

Martin Luther King. Jr. had a dream. Here’s mine. What would happen if all of the whites holding forth in Op-eds and on cable about race- both in the progressive and corporate media- the middle persons who interpret black America for whites( when they are capable of speaking for themselves), the screenwriters and TV writers who make millions from presenting blacks as scum, and the authors of the fake ghetto books would just shut the fuck up for a few months and listen. Just listen. Listen to blacks, browns, reds and yellows, people whose views are ignored by the segregated media. Listen, not just to their meek colored mind doubles like an Obama critic, Rev. Rivers, who nobody’s ever heard of, but people who will level with them.

In 1957, Doubleday released Richard Wright’s White Man Listen. In it, he wrote “…the greatest aid that any white Westerner can give Africa is by becoming a missionary right in the heart of the Western world, explaining to his own people what they have done to Africa.”

Nobody expects the media to educate the public about Africa. The current coverage is consistent with the images found in the Tarzan movies. It’s not going to change. I’ll settle for missionary work among the American public. Free them from entrapment by the corporate media, which are causing their brain cells to atrophy. Teach them the other points of views that are smothered by the noise, and trivialized on You Tube. Then maybe they’ll understand where the crazy Rev. Wright is coming from.

Ishmael Reed is a poet, novelist and essayist who lives in Oakland. His widely-accalimed novels include, Mumbo Jumbo, the Freelance Pallbearers and the Last Days of Louisiana Red. He has recently published a fantastic book on Oakland: Blues City: a Walk in Oakland and Carroll and Graf has recently published a thick volume of his poems: New and Collected Poems: 1964-2006.

He is also the editor of the online zine Konch.

Copyright 2008 Ishmael Reed

FIRST OF THE MOHICANS: A MUSLIM IN CONGRESS

AN EXCLUSIVE CONVERSATION WITH KEITH ELLISON

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Wajahat Ali

March 24, 2008.

Keith Ellison, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is the first African American ever elected to the House from Minnesota. Oh, he’s also the first Muslim Congressman in history [The second Muslim American, Andre Carson, was recently elected to Congress on March 11, 2008.] By virtue of his racial and religious identity, a minority within a minority, Ellison bears the unenviable burden of representing one of the most misunderstood, feared and mistrusted identities du jour: Muslims. Ever since his election, notoriety chases Ellison often and unsubtly, most memorably after his 2006 appearance on Conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s CNN show, where the host asked Ellison point blank: “Prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.” With calm and patience, Ellison answered the question head on and reassured his constituents and the American public that his religious values do not compromise or lessen his patriotism.

Regardless, his critics, including those in Muslim and Right-wing circles, continue to project their doubts about not only his political credibility, but also his loyalty to both Muslims and America, respectively. Despite the controversy, in the past 2 years Ellison has emerged an influential and popular figure winning over a vastly diverse constituency in Minnesota and even gaining supporters and silencing initial skeptics across the nation.

Here is a rare and exclusive conversation with the Congressman, where he bluntly addresses a gamut of issues including his critics, Obama’s candidacy, racism in America, Muslims entering politics, the fear of Islam, the smear campaigns, and how his faith helps him become a better American and Congressman.

ALI: We’re all hearing and seeing the speech by Obama’s pastor Rev. Wright and the response by Senator Obama. Some say Obama’s “race” speech is historic, others say he is ducking the race issue. What do you think Obama’s response, as well as the fierce criticism of Wright’s speech, says about the state of racism in America today?

ELLISON: I think Obama’s speech was a transcendent speech. It actually moved us forward in the dialogue for national reconciliation. The fact is that Rev. Wright is coming from a perspective of over 200 years of slavery and 100 hundred years of Jim Crow. Also, he’s been a witness to some of the awful devastation that has happened to the South side of Chicago where his church is located. He has seen the awful human toll and how it affects the African American community. That’s the perspective he’s coming from. That perspective is obviously going to be informed by frustration and anger, and obviously he is a leader in that community and his speeches and sermons are going to reflect that frustration and anger. But, as a Presidential candidate, I think Obama is bringing us all together: helping us transcend; helping us go further.

The truth is the racial dialogue in America does need some updating. It does need a new way forward. Because so often, we are locked in a cycle of blame and shame; we are locked in a cycle of, you know, just really not getting anywhere. But, the fact is this dialogue does get us somewhere. It is not informed by anger, it is not informed by past wrongs or anything like that. But, it is informed by facts as they exist and it is informed by a need to heal and pull us forward. So, I was really impressed by Obama’s speech. I think it will go down in history.

ALI: Let’s talk about Geraldine Ferraro and other individuals who commented that Obama’s meteoric rise is due to his campaign playing the “Race card” for his benefit. What’s your thought on this “Race card” being used to help Obama – is this simple, superficial political correctness?

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ELLISON: Well, it’s been used against him. In fact, his Democratic opponent has been trying to narrow his reach and appeal based on racial grounds from the beginning in my opinion. But, it just doesn’t work because he is truly a candidate that reaches out to all segments of the community. It just doesn’t work, because he truly is somebody who has the best interests and common good of all in mind. He doesn’t play old-line politics. That’s why you see him able to reach out to literally thousands of people. When he was in Minneapolis he drew 22,000 people in the Timberwolves auditorium. And the Timberwolves would’ve loved to get the numbers Obama drew on that day! He is pulling people who are senior citizens, kids, college students, and people who are middle aged, working adults. He’s pulling on Blacks, Whites, Latinos, people from Asia, South Asian background: everybody. He truly is a transcendent candidate. Now, he’s not a perfect candidate. Obviously, no one is. But, Obama is one candidate who I’ve seen that is able to reach across those issues that divide us and pull everybody in. I just think he’s phenomenal.

The fact is – before he gave that speech – I didn’t know. I was wondering if he was going to be able to deal with this challenge. It did look like the folks who were beating up his pastor were gaining ground – you know, causing doubt. But, you know what, he rose to the occasion as he has many times before.

ALI: Let’s tackle a question that has dogged you and Obama: The Muslim question. Many people say the label “Muslim” is used as a smear tactic, a Scarlet Letter of the 21st century. Do you think the fact that many people look at Obama as a Muslim and thus judge him detrimentally is a reflection of “politicking” in America or is it really reflective of an overall prejudice towards Muslims in America?

ELLISON: Well, the fact is that the people who are attacking Obama because of their incorrect belief he was Muslim were assuming that the American population is religiously bigoted, and they were trying to get political gain by appealing to that religious bigotry. But, it so happens Americans come from a long tradition of religious pluralism. We elected a Catholic President in the 1960’s. Mitt Romney’s meteoric descent is not due to his religion; it is due to his failed candidacy. In the 109th Congress, which was the one before the one I was in, there were no Muslims ever, ever before. In the 110th congress, you’ve got two. Two. [Andre Carson won the Democratic nomination for Indiana’s 7th congressional district recently.] I’m not the only one anymore. So, the fact is that America is a very tolerant country, and if you make an argument for the common good then people will support it. The funny thing about this latest flack about his Christian Minister is that it makes it pretty clear that he isn’t Muslim. (Laughs.) If anything, it can dispel that ridiculous rumor.

One thing I will say for Obama is that there was a temptation for him to strenuously and vociferously disassociate himself from being a Muslim, and he didn’t do that. He just said nope, in fact I’m not a Muslim, but there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim. I actually liked the way he handled that. I think what they were trying to do was to falsely identify him as a Muslim which they thought would hurt him. Or, they were trying to get him to vehemently deny and therefore alienate millions of Muslims in America and put him in a “Can’t win” situation, but I think he’s gotten out of that one pretty well.

ALI: Let’s talk about your own personal experiences. Some are very infamous like your moment with CNN’s Glenn Beck who had you on air and pretty much straight up questioned your patriotism and loyalty to America based on his assumption or fear regarding your Islam. So, how do you confront that daily reality where you, Keith Ellison an African American and Muslim, are seen as unpatriotic based purely due to your religious beliefs? This must get frustrating.

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ELLISON: Well, the thing is you have to face these kinds of challenges with patience. Quite frankly, the barrage of taking hits everyday has made me a better Muslim. I find myself returning to my faith just to be able to deal with this kind of stuff on a regular basis. The Quran says, “The struggle is ordained.” Well, certainly it is. But, we have to deal with these challenges with patience, with confidence. We cannot let one person’s bitterness turn us bitter. We have to overcome evil with good, right? That’s how you do it. You can’t overcome evil with evil. You just get more evil. My thing is to try to urge people who are Muslim and not Muslim to understand America is a country that has deep roots of tolerance and religious inclusion. My message to the Muslim community is keep on doing good works like building clinics, building literacy sessions at the masjid, work with non Muslim, fellow Americans to try to improve things. And keep putting your best foot forward, because if we start going tit-for-that with those putting out religious bigotry, then we end up just like them.

ALI: Lot of people are saying that Andre Carson’s election to Congress along with yours is a sign of the end of times: The Muslims are taking over! The Muslims are taking over!

ELLISON: (Laughs.) Two out of 435? I don’t think we’re taking over.

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ALI: So, how do you respond to that fear that, look in 2 years, Muslims and immigrants are helping elect Muslim people, ethnic people, and soon enough Congress will be run by radicals?

ELLISON: (Laughs.) You know, we are elected by the majority of the people. So, if we are seeing more people of Muslim background in Congress and more people from diverse backgrounds in Congress, and we of course have a woman speaker in the House. That just means that Congress is looking more and more like America. It’s looking more and more like the rest of the country. That’s what democracy is, isn’t it?

ALI: Why the Democratic Party? Suppose you’re talking to Muslims – and you know they voted for the first time in a block for Bush in 2000; Muslims are not too savvy but we are getting there. How do you convince the Muslims that the Democratic Party is for them and for America?

ELLISON: Well, the first thing I want to say is that civic engagement is something I urge all Muslims to engage in. One of my most effective fundraisers in the state of Michigan, a brother by the name of Asad Malik, is a Republican and a dear friend of mind. He and are I are tight and good friends. My brother is a Republican, my dad is a Republican. So, I don’t want to urge the Muslim community to get locked into a political party even if it is my party. What I’d urge them to do is do good works, promote fair dealing in business, help America overcome this tremendous number of people who are uninsured and don’t have any health care insurance. I think in this time, 2008 to well into possibly 2012 and 2015, the Democratic Party offers the best opportunity to express their commitment to civil and human rights for all people. To express their commitment for health care for all, to express their commitment to economic justice for everybody, and to express their commitment for peace around the world. Republicans will probably figure this out in 5 or 6 years that embracing bigotry and promoting fear is not a good thing. I think they’ll probably figure out they will need to change their positions to attract votes. And, they’ll be offering something worthwhile as well.

But, two points. I urge the Muslim community not to get locked into one political party. And two: do good works, engage politically, and get involved: can’t change anything sitting on the sidelines. The last thing is that, for now, the Democratic Party is the best vehicle to give out good values; values of peace, values of economic equity, values of family, values of civil rights. Today, the Democratic Party is the best vehicle for that.

ALI: Some of your critics in the Muslim community say that Ellison is a charismatic self-promoter. He’s a sell out. He promotes abortion rights and gay marriage. So, how can he also be Muslim and be liberal and promote a system that engages in a post 9-11 Iraq War and pro-Israeli polices?

ELLISON: My position for people who say that is if you don’t like my position, then you get involved and offer an alternative vision for the country. I believe it is shirk; it is religiously forbidden for one Muslim to tell another Muslim he is not Muslim. Because you don’t know my heart. You don’t know what Allah has inspired me to understand. Just because you disagree with my political position, I believe it is shirk for you to tell me I’m not Muslim because you disagree. Why don’t you just disagree? Offer your position. Convince the people that you are the one who’s right. Maybe convince me that you’re the one who is right? But, I do disagree with those Muslims who try to determine for themselves who is Muslim and who is not: that’s for Allah to decide. I’m a strong opponent of this takfirism [One declaring another an unbeliever], you know, people who think it’s ok for them to decide who is Muslim and who is not: that’s only for Allah to decide.

On the other part, I am a person who believes in civil and human rights are for all people. I’ve never been ashamed to admit that I think America needs to have human and civil rights for all people, particularly unpopular groups. Unpopular groups like the Muslim community, unpopular groups like Latino Immigrants. Unpopular groups like the gay community. How in the world can I argue that America has to have rights for Muslims, who are unpopular, but not gays? That is a hypocritical position! I’m not asking people to embrace homosexuality. I’m saying it’s wrong and immoral to kill them, beat them, or exclude them from working. You don’t have to like them. Leave ‘em alone. Let them live their lives and let God decide if He will judge them, as He will judge us all. That’s all I’m saying.

Also, I said in terms of abortion, of course I’m not in favor of abortion. But, the question is: do I want to have police arresting women who do? The answer to that is no. I think we all have to come together as a society to prevent abortion. We need to all promote sex education, we need to promote more knowledge about the human body, we need to promote pre-natal care so women don’t feel they need to get an abortion because they fear they won’t be able to feed their other children. This is what we need to do as a society to make abortion exceedingly rare, but also, we don’t want women using coat hangers and killing themselves to abort the pregnancy. We certainly don’t want to use our police force to make arrests on these women. The question is not whether abortion is bad: I think it is bad. And let me be clear: I think abortion is wrong. But, I will also tell you I’m not ready to criminalize it, because I think it is a personal decision that people should make for themselves, but we should promote a society in which people wouldn’t have to make that choice

ALI: It sounds like you’re very passionate, Congressman. There’s a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his Companions recommending one to not try to seek leadership or positions of power. Usually, people running for Congress or the Presidency have to run on the ticket of convincing people to vote for them. So, what inspired you to run, to take this leap, to be a trailblazer knowing you’re a Black man and a Muslim running for Congress?

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ELLISON: Well, you know, part of my involvement in politics is really rooted in my desire to try to promote unity among people, trying to promote unity with the Earth and creation, and trying to promote justice. That’s really the origin of my activism. We are also, as Muslims, urged to engage in shura, consultation, with what the community should do. So, I think my involvement is just to sort of try to help them do what’s best for the community and the world at large.

I do agree that ambitious pursuits of power acquisition are wrong. But, I’m not trying to accumulate power for my own sake. I’m not trying to accumulate power for my own sake. I’m trying to accumulate some power to improve the lot of all people and improve the common good. So, that’s the origin of my activism. You know, I have a family that was involved in the Civil Rights Movement. My grandfather was organizing Black voters in the 1950’s in rural Louisiana in a time that would seriously get you hung and it was dangerous to do it. My mother promoted that as well. It’s something I’ve always been associated with, and it’s a kind of thing I’ll continue to do and urge more people to do. So, that’s kind of where I’m coming from.

ALI: Can you talk about the spiritual and emotional transition of Keith Hakim [Ellison wrote columns in his law school paper as Keith Hakim in 1990] to modern day Keith Ellison?

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ELLISON: The thing is the Muslim name my friends and community know me by is Keith Muhammad. And that name is still my name. It’s still what I go by; it’s still what my brothers call me. But, the thing is, from what’s on my personal birth certificate, what I’m admitted to Bar in because I’m a lawyer – the legal name is Ellison. So, I run by the name that is on my birth certificate. But, the truth is I do have a Muslim name, and I am known by my Muslim name by many of my fellow Muslims. So, there’s really no transition.

But, let me also say that it’s important to point out there are lot of people around the world who are Muslim who do not have names that are Arabic in nature. It’s not unusual at all. It’s nothing in the Quran, the Sunnah, or the hadith of Prophet Muhammad that says that if your name is a legitimate name, if it is not a bad name, if it isn’t a name promoting something wicked or evil that you have to change it. I think the essence of Islam is not about a name or a form, or anything. It’s about going beyond forms and going beyond names and getting to the essence of the fundamental and Divine unity that connects Allah with all of us – and that Allah “is.” So, it’ really not about a name. It’s really about what you do, how you behave, how you treat people, how you face adversity, and how you connect with the Divine.

ALI: You’ve traveled the world and you’ve been all over America. What’s the greatest misconception and question about Islam directed towards you? And, how do you respond in either defending your faith or affirming your faith?

ELLISON: The greatest misconception of Islam is that it is a religion of violence. That’s a very incorrect position, and I have to constantly help people understand that even though you have Muslims who may do things that are violent, it does not make Islam a violent religion. I have to tell people that Christianity and Judaism have many, many examples of people committing atrocious acts in the name of their religion but we should not judge the religion by those individuals. I have to point out on so many occasions Prophet Muhammad was attacked, abused, mistreated, and yet, he always responded with patience, often with non-violence. And when he did have to resort to warfare it was strictly defensive and designed to preserve and protect life. Whenever he could try to work it out, he always did. So, I don’t understand what some of our Muslim brothers today are thinking. Who did Muhammad ever bomb? What suicide mission did he ever order? There are no records of these things. So, that’s a misconception that I continually have to clear up.

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ALI: Everyone is interested in the “conversion story.” What is it about Islam that inspired you to take that figurative and literal “leap” of faith?

ELLISON: It was really a lot about going to the masjid and seeing the Blacks, the Whites, the Latinos, the Asians, the Arabs all together – all one. The unity among the people connected in an effort to walk as one and be in harmony with God’s will. It was this unity I thought was so important. It was rational. It made sense to me. It has done a tremendous amount to help me negotiate life – quite frankly.

ALI: Do you think we’ll ever see a Muslim President of the United States of America?

ELLISON: Inshallah [God willing.]

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ALI: If a Muslim becomes President, do you think he or she can ever truly make peace with their Islamic values and the burden of the duties required by the position?

ELLISON: Let me just say this. Let me say this: there’s not one single Muslim on the planet today that has walked perfectly. All of us need to do better. So, if there is a Muslim president I’m sure that individual will be forced to make compromises but, hopefully God-willing, they will continue to return to their faith and do what the faith requires and do what is expected by Allah. Do I believe that somebody will face fundamental challenges? I mean, we’re talking about human beings here! Remember, Muslims aren’t perfect. There’s a big difference between Islam and Muslims.

ALI: Will you ever run for President?

ELLISON: I have no desire to be President. When people say, “Hey, Keith, you’re gonna’ be President!” I’m like, “Hey man! I thought you liked me? I thought we were friends?” (Laughs.) I do not aspire for the Presidency. You know what I want to be? I want to be the best Congressman I can possibly be. I want to be effective. I want to encourage people to run for Office. I want to get people to come together around a common humanity, and I want them to stop focusing on false divisions. That’s what I want to do.

Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, journalist, writer, humorist and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” (www.domesticcrusaders.com) is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at https://goatmilk.wordpress.com/. He can be reached at wajahatmali@gmail.com

10,000 B.C. – Movie Review

10,000 B.C. (In theaters) 1.5 stars

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Wajahat Ali

Movies like 10,000 B.C., directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day and Day After Tomorrow) assuage the hearts with the knowledge that even without a writer’s strike, movies this inane, ridiculous and stereotypical are still written and mass produced by Hollywood. Before the script was even finished, I’m sure the producers and studio heads convened and decided the following: Apocalypto + Gladiator + a dash of Spartacus + a topping of A Quest for Fire + $110 million = 10,000 B.C.

If you’re seeing this movie for any other reason than the CGI “money shots,” then surely your artistic and intellectual outlets need immediate and urgent reexamination.

Let’s discuss the “money shots” (The reason you all will see this movie) before we talk about “Why Hollywood is Crazy.”

Money Shots:

1. The Mammoth Hunt:” The first epic money shot depicts a right of passage for our protagonist D’Leh (Steven Strait of Sky High), the conflicted and prophesied “redeemer and savior” of the tribe who will emancipate them from bondage and shack up with the hottest girl, Evolet: the only blue eyed, White woman in the entire movie (That is an important plot point – I kid you not) whose future, yet undetermined partner – hmmmn I wonder who? – is destined to save the oppressed people. Do you think D’Leh is that man? Do you think D’Leh will save the tribe? Do you think D’Leh and Evolet will hook up? You don’t have to think of an answer – the movie tells you within the opening 5 minutes – nay, it “prophesizes” it. Back to the “Hunt:” whoever nabs the large, furry CGI animal will inherit the legendary “White Spear” and claim his honor as a mighty warrior. Who do you think bags the Mammoth? The integration of digitally created mammoths side by side with the actors probably represented the best and most costly use of the movie’s numerous special effects. A reviewer sitting next to me remarked, “They blew most their CGI budget in that shot.” And, he was right.

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2. Ostrich-Raptor Attack:” While writing notes during this intellectually stimulating movie, the most profound challenge for me was deciding what to name the killer, CGI birds: “Ostrich-Raptors” or “Peacock Raptors?” The former won after a hard-fought and agonizing mental battle. Imagine the original Jurassic Park raptor attack scene, but replace those impressive, nearly 15 year old effects with mediocre, 21st century violent ostriches living in the heart – of what seemed like – a South American Jungle. A gratuitous scene that pales in comparison in delivery, presentation and special effects to Spielberg’s 1992 movie. (The mammoths ate up the Ostriches’ budget.)

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3. The Vegan Saber-toothed Tiger:” D’Leh, now on his journey to save his tribe who have been abducted by men on “four legged demons” (See: Arabs, Muslims and Darkies – more on that later), encounters the fabled “Spear-tooth,” a behemoth, awkwardly constructed CGI Saber-toothed Tiger. D’Leh, in a misplaced moment of benevolence, does what no sane human being would do: he frees the trapped Tiger, who for all intents and purposes should have turned around and eaten D’Leh like a tasty appetizer. The tiger stares down D’Leh, leaps away, only to return, for really no reason except to unsubtly reiterate a plot point, 5 minutes later in the “African desert” in a completely unrelated scene. The tiger circles D’Leh much to the shock of the African tribal folk, protecting D’Leh from the tribe’s initial hostile behaviors by bellowing a couple of growls, and then the Tiger disappears – for the entire movie. Why did the Tiger do this? One of the movie’s three minority “elders” immediately informs us that “he” who is protected by the “Spear-tooth” is prophesized to be the savior. There is also an “ancient” illustration on a large rock of a man who looks like D’Leh being protected by Spear-tooth that reminds the characters and the audience that verily this prophecy is now true! The two other minority elders are “Old Mother,” a stereotypical Mexican-Indian soothsayer with a large role in the movie, and the other one I’ll simply refer to as “ Random Blind Black Albino Man” who reiterates, for what must be the sixth time, that D’Leh is the destined savior of his people.

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4. 300 – but with a happy ending – and more Mammoths.” The final money shot occurs at the ending of the movie where D’Leh, the Neanderthal Maximus, has managed to successfully lead a motley crew of UNICEF allies in a mass rebellion against the tyrannical despot, fake “god”, who sports 9 inch long nails and a screeching voice. The Mammoths, making a glorious CGI comeback, stampede against the “Axis of Evil” – the minions, aka Arabs, Middle Easterners and Darkies – allowing D’Leh and his United Nations crew ample time to stage their coup.

WHY HOLLYWOOD IS CRAZY

Movies like 10,000 B.C. reaffirm the fear and assumption of most non-White, European people that Hollywood’s casual, and most likely unintentional, panache for stereotypes and racist caricatures is alive and well. Before one dismisses this claim, let’s please review the evidence.

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D’Leh, the protagonist of the movie and leader of the United Nations rebel army, is the Whitest, if not the only White male, member of the rebel squad. His most trusted advisor and trainer is Tic’Tic (Yes, that’s his name) played ably by Cliff Curtis, a fine New Zealand actor, who has the unenviable and burdened task of playing every minority in Hollywood. Curtis, a man of Maori descent, has so far played the following: Colombian (Collateral Damage), Arab (The Majestic), Shiaa Iraqi (Three Kings), and Cholo Latino Gangster (Training Day.) To Hollywood’s credit, they’ve also let Curtis play a New Zealander: Whale Rider and Piano.

Curtis plays the “Djimon Hounsou role,” (Blood Diamond, Gladiator, Amistad, The Island, Four Feathers) the token minority, but ultimate badass, who for all intents and purposes should be the lead due to his professed kick-assery, but nonetheless either sacrifices his life or considerable time and talents in assisting an inferior, inexperienced and far more mediocre, yet Whiter, protagonist.

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The convenient mythology, religion, and metaphysical mumbo jumbo explaining the supernatural prophecies of the movie should be called “Plot-ology:” Hollywood’s ethnic religion of choice when depicting Native or indigenous (Or, one can even say “Eastern”) cultures. “Old Mother,” the tribe’s token elder, soothsayer, and “medium,” dances around mumbling random gibberish and every once in a while is overtaken by a “vision” of the future. She predicts the entire movie in the first 5 minutes. The movie, randomly and inexplicably, cuts back to “Old Mother,” one of the few people who escaped the war lord’s attack, staring comatose into the camera experiencing D’Leh’s torments. D’Leh, by now, is thousands of miles away on his journey towards freeing his people. When D’Leh freezes in the mountains, the movie cuts to “Old Mother,” sitting comfortably thousands of miles away, also freezing and so forth. Her “gift’ is used as a redeeming plot point at the end that won’t be revealed in this review.

The United Nations allies all consist of dark skinned, either Black or Brown, ethnic warriors who unite under D’Leh’s none too charismatic, but reliably White-skinned leadership. In order to cover up the script’s inability to provide D’Leh with memorable dialogue or rousing characteristic traits that would naturally inspire men of different tribes and faiths to follow him into battle, the movie conveniently and repeatedly reminds us that D’Leh is the “prophesied” one – so they must follow him: D’uh!

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The major villains of the movie consist of the Emperor “god” (The one with 9 inch long finger nails living inside a pyramid), an “Arabian War Lord” and his henchman, “One Eyed Arab,” those 2 who rode on the “four legged demons” and initially enslaved D’Leh’s tribe and kidnapped his blue-eyed woman. Unmistakably, the characters are meant to represent either Muslims or Middle Easterners – or both (Note: not all Middle Easterners are Muslims.) First, the actors playing the roles are Arab, but never mentioned as such outright – again this is 10,000 B.C. where apparently “the Axis of Evil” not only existed but was also all brown. Second, their wardrobe and headdress is distinctly Arab, reminiscent of Bedouins or centuries-old depictions of Saracens. Recent blockbuster movies such as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and 300 have unsubtly employed similar, crude Arab-esque villainous caricatures; 10,000 B.C. follows the dishonorable tradition. After decades of celluloid “Arab” and “Muslim” stereotyping, I yearn simply to see a “Middle Eastern” villain who at least has a sense of humor and charisma. Is that too much to ask? Can’t he have a quip or witty repartee with the protagonist reminiscent of the Hans Gruber and John McClain relationship in the original Die Hard movie?

In a fitting throwback to that racist movie of yore, D.W. Griffith’s infamous “Birth of a Nation,” the War Lord Darkie becomes smitten with our blue-eyed heroine, much to the chagrin of his One-Eyed henchman: Divide and conquer! Towards the end, as D’Leh’s uprising is successful in freeing all, including the villains, from the clutches of the “Emperor god,” “The Arab War Lord” has a glorious opportunity to escape and free himself. What does he do instead? He kidnaps the blue-eyed White girl, throws her on the back of his horse, and tries to escape. Following the ideology espoused by White nationalists like Thomas Dixon and the makers of Birth of a Nation, the first thing Darkies do when given freedom is abuse that freedom by molesting White women. Since miscegenation is unacceptable even in 10,000 B.C., the “Arab War Lord’ earns his bloody and well earned demise.

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Speaking about violence, this reviewer amusingly observed the audience cheering three times during the movie; each time after a character was speared to death. In order to increase approval ratings for the Iraq War, perhaps the Administration should think of equipping the soldiers with spears.

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Movies like 10,000 B.C. are mindless, pre-Summer popcorn fluff. They neither warrant nor merit this lengthy of an analysis. Their job is to maximize global revenue and DVD sales to ensure some semblance of profit. For the audience, we just expect to see people being eaten by cool looking, computer generated, prehistoric creatures. However, the stereotypes and caricatures were glaring and too inviting for me to pass this excellent opportunity to rant.

1.5 STARS OUT OF 4 STARS (DVD Rental while Multi-tasking)

“Drillbit Taylor” Movie Review

***(Goatmilk in conjunction with Altmuslim will now start posting Movie Reviews.)***

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DRILLBIT TAYLOR” (PG-13, Opening March 21st)

Reviewed by Wajahat Ali

The Hollywood Pitch: Ok, imagine 3 O’clock High meets a netuered Superbad. Throw in Owen Wilson and Judd Apatow’s name as producer – voila! Hit, baby, hit!

Unfortunately – not.

The latter movie was a runaway 2007 hit and DVD sensation showcasing the madcap, profane, vulgar yet all too real dilemmas of sexually frustrated, geeky hormonal teenagers worldwide (Realistically played by Michael “Juno” Cera and Jonah “Accepted” Hill). The former (For those old enough to remember it) is a 1987 childhood classic starring Casey Seizmako (Remember the 80’s?) as the protagonist geek preparing for an appointment with death at 3’oclock in the high school parking lot: a fight with the school bully.

Drillbit Taylor is the ungainly, well intentioned yet mentally challenged bastard progeny of those two movies. A labored, disjointed and straining comedy with a few chuckles; but, it’s a lighthearted, amiable and quickly forgettable cinematic affair.

Owen Wilson plays the charming and perpetually lackadaisical protagonist who cons his way into convincing our trio of nerd Freshman to hire him as their highly trained, professional bodyguard protection against the sadistic high school bully.

In reality, he’s a army deserter and a homeless, beach bum, whose mean spirited, derelict friends convince him to take the job so they can rob the children’s suburban home.

Will the kids find out about Drillbit’s real identity? Will Drillbit have a change of heart? Will the dorky trio have a climatic throwdown with the sadistic bully? If you need help answering these questions, then I have a lemon to sell you for $5,000.

With a creative team including writer Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), producer Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin) and Owen Wilson, we expect more than stereotypical, mainstream Hollywood fluff. This is a pure by-the-numbers flick that never cataches momentum and seems assembled out of bits and gags that never materialize into comedy gold.

The geek story stars the lanky, skinny, bespectacled dork, Wade (Played by Nate Hartley) with the hots for the brainy Asian American girl , and his foil, the smack-talking, freestyle rapping “fatty” Ryan (Played by Troy Gentile.) They are eventually joined by a garralous, wunderkind nerd – the hobbit – played by David Dorfman (The freaky kid from The Ring.) The group is likeable enough and you root for them to one-up the inexplicably violent and relentless bully.

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For the first half of the movie, there’s no real sense of pacing or tone, just a collage of jokes and plot points hoping to stick. There’s Wade’s insensitive jock of a stepfather with his two Alpha-male twins who goes out of his way to demean and belittle Wade. One wonders why his mom would ever marry or remain married to a jerk like this? Then, we have the bully who drives a baller ride to school, lives in a mansion, is legally emanciapted from his wealthy, out of the country parents, yet somehow never gets penalized or reprimanded for cruel, malicious acts of violence by the school authorities. Also, the root of his anger is never developed or explained. He’s a bully. He picks on Wade and Ryan. He gets away with it. Ok? Great. Plot moves forward.

Then, throw in a sad-sack yet lovable Drillbit as the unlikely hero who forms a bond with the children and inspires them to fight the bully on their own terms. The story finally gets cracking when Drillbit poses as a substitute teacher and infiltrates the school to protect his clients. How does he con his way inside the school as a respectable teacher, you ask? He shows up in a jacket holding a coffee cup and is directed to the teacher’s lounge. Yup – that simple.

By posing as Dr. Illbit Taylor, Wilson charms the pretty and naive teacher, Lisa, played by Leslie Mann (Judd Apatow’s wife and so good in Knocked Up) within 2 minutes of meeting her (literally) , thus establishing her as the naive, gullible love interest. Mann’s role is a throwaway part, which is a shame because she shows great comedic timing when asked to play sassy, wise- ass intelligent women.

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The “training” sequences where Drillbit pretends to teach the kids lethal and deadly combat movies (such as the “bear hug”) are amusing. The kids themselves are believable in appearance and behavior, thus lending them some credibility; unlike the 30 year olds playing high schoolers in Beverly Hills 90210.

There isn’t much to say about movies like Drillbit. Even though they are dumb and cliched, they are harmless and do manage to inspire a few chuckles. And the audience, in the tradition of Karate Kid and Teen Wolf, always roots for the inevitable, ultimate nerd comeuppance. In Drillbit, we have a hardcore, violent final throwdown with fisticuffs, body slams, karate kicks, and even a samurai sword.

The nerds, once shamed and humiliated, emerge triumphant and respected. And who doesn’t like an ending like that?

TWO STARS out of FOUR. (DVD Rental.)