Saturday, August 11, 2007


Saw "Hairspray" a couple of weeks back. Didn't comment on it at the time because of other things going on and because I didn't have much to say that other reviewers didn't. It's not the original John Waters movie, which was as raw and campy and pointed as critics have pointed out, and, being a remake of a play, not the movie, this version didn't have all the social commentary and ridicule that Waters slammed into his story. That said, the movie was pleasant, the stars all good, Travolta completely acceptable playing a big mamma coming into her own. Despite all the silly crap "Crash" took from too many supercilious critics for its unsubtle messaging, it was a very good effort to reopen our minds and discussions to the importance of integration and racial acceptance in a functioning society, an effort that "Hairspray" continues.

In fact, what I've taken away from "Hairspray" in the days since I saw it were two frankly depressing realizations. One, of how awkward the civil rights movement and message are today when presented in the same basic terms they were in their heyday. All we do today is lip service, if we do it at all, and the attacks on "Crash" and "Hairspray" are just proof of how jaundiced our "superior" minds have become. As someone who long ago realized that a single civil rights worker showed more courage in a day than I will in my life, I lament what we've done to their legacies. Two, of Baltimore, the site of the hopeful acceptance of racial integration in the movie. Anyone who knows Baltimore now sees how ironic?, sarcastic?, painful? the happy integration turned out in real life. It's like finding out Cinderella and the Prince ended an abusive marriage in divorce and their kids in drug rehab.

Over the last few decades, with the support of both parties and the media, we've pulled the curtain down on the effort and the dreams and the lives of Dr. King and Bob Moses and Fanny Lou Hamer and all the others. The Supreme [sic] Court just reversed Brown, with a ridiculous rationale that being unbiased meant supporting white dominance, and we yawned (if that). We've turned incarceration into the third subjugation of blacks in this country after slavery and Jim Crow, the litany of tasks still to be done is as long as ever, and the SCLC and NAACP seems most worked up about defending a dogfighting quarterback. Still, you leave "Hairspray" revitalized about the hope and the promise. If we're lucky, people will also leave thinking "why aren't we still doing that?" Isn't it time to work up some signs and get back into the streets?

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