Tuesday, May 21, 2019

a belated thought on Jordan Peele's new film after reading a particularly harsh review of it by Armond White

I often disagree with the perspective of Armond White ... and I think he goes too far in claiming that Jordan Peele is a charlatan.  That seems too over the top.

And yet, in a limited way, White's complaint that Peele finds the blackest actors he can find, the folks with the darkest skin, as brutal as it is, got me wondering ... what is it about Peele's new film that necessitated casting African and African American actors?  I enjoyed the movie while I was watching it. Nyong'o and Duke put in fantastic performances but White's criticism got me thinking ... what if the leads were Constance Wu and Henry Golding, for instance?  Or Michelle Yeoh and Chow-yun Fat?  Or Erika Toda and Takuya Kimura (because, let's face it, Peele's movie conceptually moved in a direction that wouldn't be completely out of the realm of stuff Takashi Miike "might" do).  What about taking Peele's script but making the leads Jill St. John and Adam Beach?  Or for that matter we could ask if Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas could have played the leads, or even Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. 

Despite the acid way in which Armond White put his criticism of Jordan Peele as a storyteller the point about casting isn't something I think can be just brushed off or ignored.  Peele's newer film is, so reviews have put it, a parable about class so there's perhaps nothing inherent or essential about Peele casting, as White put it, the blackest actors he could find.  But Peele, perhaps, didn't have to cast white actors as we could colloquially understand that term.  He could have cast, I don't know, Chloe Bennett (since Bennett is her stage name, taken up because if she used her birth name Wang, she's felt she's lost out on some roles due to having an Asian background).  I can imagine any number of Asian and Asian American actresses having been able to tackle the role of Adelaide pretty well.  Gong Li would have done a great job, for instance.  That's not to say I don't love Nyong'o's performance, but this little thought experiment is inspired by Armond White's rather scabrous remarks about the ways and whys of his thinking Peele is a charlatan and part of that allegation is predicated on White's implication and statement that there's a kind of stunt casting to which sorts of actors Peele finds for the roles he writes. 

I was talking about Peele's new film with some friends who said he's great at first and second acts but he kills the plausibility of his stories with his sci-fi last act reveals.  If he just stuck with magic or refrained from explaining the backstory to how his stories work, if he didn't pull M. Night Shamalan twist endings, he'd have stronger horror/fantasy stories but because he's insisted on sci-fi twist endings that raise questions that destroy the plausibility of his world-building he's still making movies that depend on fantastic performances from fantastically cast leads which, fortunately for Peele, he's shown he can do!  But as a story-teller playing with genre it might be Peele needs to commit to the horror being horror in ways that don't depend on last act gotcha twists that resemble M. Night Shamalan at his worst. 

Us is still a fun ride of a movie but I could not for even ten seconds suspend my disbelief about all the ways the Tethered would have succumbed to food poisoning, scurvy and other food borne ailments over the course of thirty years.  I couldn't ignore that any mass of people who could afford to get silky red jumpsuits that matched across all human sizes and body types and could all get a hold of golden sets of shears ... surely they could arrange for things like broccoli and cooked meals and orange juice, right?  The logistical planning it would have taken for the Tethered to go above ground and kill off their originals could have been put to some other use like figuring out how to replicate above-ground culinary practices. 

The last act plot twist and reveal doesn't make the film more powerful, it retroactively raises questions fatal to the suspension of disbelief the first two thirds of the film were mainly pretty good about pulling off.  Even the final revelation that the Adelaide we've seen all this time is the double or imposter rather than the original Adelaide, that last Shamalanian twist, destroys the plausibility of why no other clones in the tunnels couldn't have done the same thing.  There's one special kid down there who can switch places?  A chosen one, but somehow vaguely evil?  That's a horror cliche if there ever was one ... but there's no explanation for the most important twist of all being the way it was.  It's not the kind that opens up mystery but, to give Armond White's criticism some serious consideration, raises the question of why the one in countless clones who could switch places with her original was the one who didn't just so happen to be played by Nyong'o. 

This comes full circle back to an observation I made about Peele's film-making approach reminding me of Sam Raimi's, where bravura performances and well-crafted shots conspire to make us forget as we're enjoying the movie that a whole lot of stupid is actually sitting around in plain sight if we get out of "the moment" and start thinking about the mechanics of what needed to happen for the scene to emerge as it did and how that didn't really occur ... but, well, we're having fun so we can forgive this.  Now that I've read Armond White's rather stern take on Us I can't help but wonder about all the other actors of color Peele could have cast. Maybe White's going too far in claiming Peele is a charlatan ... but there might be something to the idea under the verbiage, and if we imagine Peele's latest film as working with a Native American or Asian cast there's nothing I can think of about the film that would be that profoundly different.  Did only black kids find the video for "Thriller" creepy?  Wasn't Michael Jackson pretty strongly appealing across just about all color lines in the 1980s?  If the film was supposed to be a parable about "redlining" it was both too on the nose and too esoteric for that point to be of lasting significance in the overall scope of the film. In other words, it doesn't seem like a rebuttal to the question implicit in White's criticism as to why Peele couldn't have cast other people, and even going so far as to cast actors who aren't black or white.  If he'd cast Jill St. John and Adam Beach, for instance, I still would have gone and saw it. 

more reports of alleged curious behavior and conduct from James Macdonald, who served on the MH BoAA and endorsed Driscoll's Spirit-Filled Jesus,

James Macdonald has been a topic of consideration at this blog over the years inasmuch as he was listed as a member of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability. So there are by now enough posts to warrant a tag for them.

A few particular posts that may be of interest


Macdonald's most noteworthy public activity in connection to Mars Hill during his membership on the BoAA was ... probably ... being with Mark Driscoll when Driscoll crashed the Strange Fire conference to promote his then new book A Call to Resurgence.


He resigned from that board around the time Paul Tripp did.  The contrast between his departing statement and Tripp's was interesting, for those who remember those.



That Macdonald reportedly gave $50,000 to Mark Driscoll's efforts to launch The Trinity Church has already been reported.  That Macdonald made a point of writing an endorsement blurb at the front of Spirit-Filled Jesus can also be confirmed by anyone who has picked up a copy of the book.

Now in light of Driscoll's memorable claim back in 2008 of having spiritual discernment, as he put it "I see things", whatever comes to light as having been said or done by Macdonald there's a persistent question that remains open to consideration regarding Mark Driscoll's self-described discernment.


Spiritual Warfare
February 5, 2008
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Christus Victor (Part 3)


On occasion I see things. I see things. Like I was meeting with one person, and they didn't know this but they were abused when they were a child and I said, "When you were a child, you were abused. This person did this to you, physically touched you this way." They said, "How do you know?" I said, "I don't know, it's like I got a TV right here and I'm seeing it." They said, "No, that never happened." I said, "Go ask them. Go ask if they actually did what I think they did and I see that they did."  They went and asked this person, "When I was a little kid did you do this?" and the person said, "Yeah [slowly], but you were only like a year or two old. How do you remember that?" They said, "Well, Pastor Mark told me." I'm not a guru. I'm not a freak. I don't talk about this. If I did talk about it everybody'd want to meet with me and I'd end up like one of those guys on TV, but some of you have this visual ability to see things. [emphasis added]

What is striking about the above passage is that when Driscoll described all the stuff that he would see it was sexual abuse or physical abuse.  The sins were sexy sins, so to speak.  Whether Driscoll in his visionary moments saw stuff like wire fraud or embezzlement or ... plagiarism ... we'll never know.  But what we do know is that in 2008 Mark Driscoll said that the belief that the executive elders didn't really love the people of Mars Hill was a demonic lie.  Of course for the many who left Mars Hill in the 2007-2008 period the question was not really so much "do the executive elders of Mars Hill Church love the people of Mars Hill Church?" because even abusers think they love they people they abuse in many cases.  The question was whether or not the level of power that had been consolidated to the executive elders during the controversial course of events in 2007 was proper was the question. It would eventually transpire that the executive eldership team was not, taken as a whole, necessarily being very honest or truthful about the nature of what happened in 2007.  
Here in 2019, about five years on the other side of what was Mark Driscoll's late 2013 plagiarism controversy and the associated controversy about the use of Result Source to promote Real Marriage to a #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, a germane question about Mark Driscoll's self-described spiritual discernment is how and why, if he had such discernment, his citations were so sloppy as to lead him into a plagiarism controversy to begin with.  Now, perhaps, it should be said that whatever spiritual discernment may be described as being it doesn't automatically entail scholarly competence.  In light of Driscoll's documented account of how great his long term memory was for books ... it would seem he didn't have much of an explanation for how so many of his books had citation errors and in the course of later 2013 it was made clear by the Docent Group that the PR move of implicitly blaming Docent research assistants was not on the table.

What has been reported about Macdonald and Harvest Bible Chapel in connection to the now dropped defamation suit and more recent reports of allegations of ... well, it remains to be seen what the results of investigation are.  It's conceivable nothing will come up or things could come up. 

Without access to documents of what was discussed at Mars Hill BoAA meetings it's not possible to establish that James Macdonald did anything as a part of the BoAA that can be established for the record besides being with Mark Driscoll at some point during the time Driscoll decided to crash the Strange Fire conference. 

Whether what has been alleged about Macdonald recently is true and can be backed up is still seeming like an open-ended issue at the moment, so the point of interest here is not so much directly what turns out to be the case with respect to Macdonald but a character question regarding Mark Driscoll's self-attested history of "I see things".  If it turns out that some things said and done by James Macdonald were bad, and bad enough to entail some kind of investigation, it wouldn't be the first time that people at some point willing to endorse Mark Driscoll books turned out to have some vices that led people to conclude they were not fit to remain in formal, employed ministry in the settings where they were well-known.  For a review of some other folks who endorsed Driscoll books who ended up in scandals ...