I watched my first film at the movies in some time the other day – a mainstream film to boot. It was Inside man directed by Spike Lee. Not being a film guru, rather looking for the means through which to pose questions/contrast things in society without overtly doing so (as a number of my blogs relate to), I found two events in this film to be very well done.
I came across the trailer for this film whilst putting together a list of mainstream films for students to watch and write a commentary on about the presence of unmarked structural violence in society. It seemed to be focussed on making you think – which I like in films – so I decided to take a break from writing as it was playing at the local old school cinema. It had nothing to do with Spike Lees involvement. I have heard a lot about his movies, though off hand do not really have any knowledge about them. I think this will change after watching inside man though.
The story of the film, in itself, is irrelevant; it is based around ‘the perfect bank robbery’, the aim of which is to expose a Fortune 500 who got rich of the nazi’s. The morals of the main character – the lead bank robber – are presented throughout as sound despite the contrast with the robbery (and not to mention to violence implicit in robbery – wait for the twist though). It is the actions of society and the police, and what this says about society that, for me, is both the basis for the film and its most profound commentary.
During the film, hostages are released on a number of occasions and it is in this context that the societal comments are located. Both are equally profound. The first involves a bank employee who is released (hands tied, hooded) with demands. As he is released onto the street and the throngs or riot police, armed to the teeth, converge on him, they become aware that the employee is not a whitey, rather I Sikh. The first comment is something along the lines of ‘holy shit, he’s an arab’. Instantly he is accused of having a bomb, people, is violently assaulted, etc. Need I say more?
The normativity of racism in this film is not portrayed as simplistic as this may imply. Its pervasiveness and hegemony is implied very well during the film through actions of the police. Perhaps the question, we as whitey’s should ask, is why does the (only?) direct challenge to this in the film come from Denzel Washington (i.e. not from a whitey).
The second event that I think was both well portrayed based on the representations of the US I see in the mainstream and alternate press – generally without questioning or reflection on it as problematic, at least in the mainstream press. It is the actions of the police in the eventual ‘release’ of the hostages. You will need to watch the film for context, however, as the implicit violence embedded in US culture is grounded via numerous comments during the film. I will not go into these here…
As the hostages spill out of the front doors of the bank, panic-stricken, the police open fire on them. Whilst they may be using rubber bullets, the base assumptions and the culture of fear illustrated that is so critically visible. My first reaction was ‘what the fuck’. This is the most overt illustration of how fucked up such assumptions are and how they are so deeply entrenched in the police state (and we all generally live in police states, I am not just having a go at you patriots, despite how fucked patriotism is). Nothing like surviving a violent situation to be rescued by the machinations of the benevolent dictatorship and shot by those apparently existing to protect you!
Whilst this is an overt illustration, the entrenchment of this systematic violence as permeating through society and its tools of the state is present throughout this film. And it is perpetuated by Denzel Washington’s character – thus illustrating that class can transcend (to a level) radicalised/institutionalised norms…
Writing this has led me to think a lot more on this film, and now I want to view it again. For me, it very successfully criticises many aspects of society we need to change, and things present most of the people watching the film were horrified to witness. I viewed this in Canada, and thus the questions that emerge are: will people actually think on this beyond the initial reaction against the systematic and structuralised violence? Will mainstream US audiences note this, or will their self-absorbed ignorance and arrogance – that those of us in the rest of the world not on a day-to-day basis – lead to this being un-noted and thus unquestioned.
This second question can be impacted upon significantly is there are more films that implicitly include such critical comments on society. This is the where the strength of mainstream flim lies…