manderlay

MANDERLAY
Author: Huggy Bear
This is not Josh Wickett.This is a fan of the Wickett Ticket. I became aware of thecode.net a few years back. I was captivated by the counter-racist film reviews. Being a victim of racism and a film fan, the Wickett Ticket gave me an opportunity to do two things I love: catch some flicks and cultivate a conscious understanding as to the nature of my oppression. I think a lot of folks confine learning and thinking to a classroom; I feel like if my mind is present, I’m potentially in class. So I email Mister Wickett about Manderlay, requesting that he do a counter-racist review of the film. Mister Wickett responded by saying that he had not seen the film. He then asked if I could write a review. I was befuddled, challenged… kind of like asking someone to go get you cookies from the store, only to have them respond by saying that all the ingredients are in the kitchen for you to make cookies yourself and leaving you to decide. Well… I decided to cook.

Manderlay is film number two in the “USA: Land of Opportunities” trilogy from Copenhagen, Denmark film director Lars von Trier. I was unaware that Manderlay is the successor to Dogville, until I began watching the film. Dogville – like Manderlay – is a full course meal with the doggy bag. It’s mega-substance. As my four year old is fond of saying, you will need your thinking cap. The two films follow the main character, Grace, through no where towns of early twentieth century America. You can watch and enjoy Manderlay without having viewed Dogville, but I’ll give you quick idea of what happens in the first film.

Grace looks to escape her gangster father. She runs-away to a small town, Dogville. She requests help from the town-folk, but doesn’t fully explain her situation. The people half-heartedly take her in, but they ASSume she is a criminal. Because of this assumption, they increasingly, savagely exploit the fact that they are “helping” her. In seeking refuge, Grace gradually becomes enslaved. Her gangster father ultimately saves the day and liberates Grace from the people who were rescuing her from him. The town of Dogville watches its assumptions come crashing down upon them, and the film ends. Got all that? Hopefully, that ambiguous synopsis will motivate folks to check it out because Dogville is a work of art.

On to Manderlay. Now I had a high opinion of Dogville because there aren’t many films where I say, “Damn, I’m gonna have to watch this again and really think about what I’ve seen.” (Plus the acting is superb.) So when Manderlay began and I heard the narration – the narrator is kind of a trademark of both films, I was giddy. Put my thinking cap on and settled myself in for a treat. So Manderlay picks up where Dogville ended. Grace and her gangster father are riding through the 1933 American south. They stumble upon a town named Manderlay, where slavery is alive and well. Not slavery like: “ok apartheid is over. Everything’s hunky dory. All the white people will maintain their wealth, and the niggers can… work for the white people for a small sum as decided upon by their white employers.” Slavery like: no illusions, no compensation, “yo’ name is Toby” slavery. Grace, her gangster father and his cohorts disarm the slave holders – this disarmament constituted the “meager” findings of a “shotgun and an old toy pistol,” and encourage the negroes to enjoy their freedom and prosecute their former owners to the fullest extent of the law. There is no celebration, no jubilee, not even a word of thanks to God almighty. The negroes seem bewildered, stupefied. So Grace makes an executive decision to remain at Manderlay and facilitate the cultivation of the newly freed negroes and the former slave owners – to familiarize the negroes with democracy, justice and life in civilized liberal society and the whites with humanity and acceptance of all people. The film proceeds to show her fantastic failure.

Now I really want to get my hands dirty. This film provides an abundance of material to analyze the system, victims and practitioners of racism. While reading I would like everyone to keep the following passage in mind:

“If we do not have confidence in our ability to make independent Black observations, Black analyses and Black plans for Black action, why should we talk about or seek Black liberation? One should never seek independence from those upon whom one feels permanently dependent, for that would be an act of suicide. And, indeed, if that independence were won, it soon would be returned to the former state of dependence. Furthermore, if we believe that we are intellectually inferior to white people, as our distrust of our capacity to observe and make correlations would strongly imply, we simply should say this out loud for all the world to hear: ‘Blacks are genetically inferior in terms of their intellectual capacity as compared to their white counterparts.’ Then we should content ourselves quietly and politely to be totally and permanently dependent upon the white collective for all that we need, do, think and say.” Dr. Frances Cress Welsing The Isis Papers

Wilhelm, an elderly slave on Manderlay, has embraced the words of Dr. Welsing in his mind, soul and body. When initially presented with the notion of freedom, he is horrified, “confused and dependent.” As Grace bum-rushes the plantation and usurps authority from the white slave owners, the plantation master faints and dies shortly there after. To me, this represented the bewilderment, the incomprehensible notion of a world that is unresponsive to white rule. As slave master Mam dies, Wilhelm – played by Danny Glover – sulks with a genuine despair over the death of his master and the implications of her death on his future. Think of Halle Berry at the end of Monster’s Ball – sittin’ on the porch unable to fathom much of anything. That’s pretty much Wilhelm. This is the dialogue that ensues between Grace and Wilhelm immediately after Mam croaks:

Wilhelm: I’m afraid.
Grace: There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’ve taken all the family’s weapons [a shotgun and a toy pistol].
Wilhelm: No.  I’m afraid of what will happen now. I fear we ain’t ready… for a completely new way of life. At Manderlay, we slaves took supper at 7:00. When do people take supper when they’re free? We don’t know these things.

I’m actually remembering a line from the 1933 King Kong. They capture the “big fella”, and one of the crew members asks the white capturer how they are going to tame, domesticate, render Kong less powerful. He responds. “We’ll teach him fear.” I’m think I’m going to begin spelling “fear”: feer. I respect the power, the spell binding ability of words. I have noticed some enlightening things in certain words and the anagrams that can be formed from certain words. Example: garden of eden. danger of need. Anyway, it is my belief that feer is perhaps a key factor as to why black people do not make a greater effort to get free. Cats who are scared will probably have a strong desire for structure and laws and police and a lot of the elements that are essential to maintaining and enforcing the system of racism. Wilhelm has no desire, seemingly no ability to conceive of an existence that is not defined by white people – even when the terms his beloved white people supply, define and outline “the verbal technology of [our] conquest.” (Ayi Kwei Armah “A Mystification: African Independence Revalued” Pan African Journal, 1969 Vol. 2 This is a 5 star, 5 mic read for victims of white supremacy.) Wilhelm can’t even construct the concept of “supper” in any other format than what the his white master has supplied. Wilhelm has not the slightest inclination to seek independence from those upon whom one feels permanently dependent. For that would be an act of suicide. Wilhelm’s uneasiness after the death of his master implies that he is fully aware that the slaves’ dependence on a master might forecast a grave future for himself as well.

Anywho, Grace leaves Wilhelm and the other formerly-chattel darkies to pursue life, liberty and everything. She rejoins her father directly outside the plantation. Her father – who had no interest in liberating the negroes or meddling in “local affairs” – wants to leave not now, but right now! When Grace asks to postpone their exit, her father asks, “What are you waiting for? For them to come and thank you?” Grace responds self-righteously, “You are a bigot, Daddy.  We owe these people. We brought them here, we abused them, we made them what they are.” REMEMBER THESE LINES. This is Grace’s Manderlay reconstruction mantra; this refrain is sung to various people with sincerity, conviction.

Which brings me to my new term. White Redemption. I think this notion is mine alone. However, I’ve made an error or eight in life. So if Mr. Wickett or anyone else coined this phrase, I apologise. But until someone says something, I’m claiming it. White Redemption is present in many works where a white character confronts racism and the fact that they are practitioners of racism. The white person feels bad and looks to make amends – befriending as many darkies as possible, adopting an African child, committing the act of miscegenation or some other form of “reparations”. This act is supposed to reflect the Caucasian change of heart and the termination of their racist practices. You can find White Redemption in a lot of films – pretty much anything dealing with race. Driving Miss Daisy, In My Country, Cry Freedom, 48 HoursTrading Places, Monster’s Ball, Far From Heaven, GloryHotel Rwanda, Crash, Blood Diamond, A Time To Kill. There are a lot more. Notice the films I selected don’t exclusively deal with America. As racism is global, White Redemption is global. The casually perceptive negro will note that there’s little change in lives of or power held by the negro or Caucasian following the episode of White Redemption. Unarmed negroes are still being shot in the street at the end of Crash. The negroes in South Africa are still poor and without land at the end of In My Country. I reckon Morgan Freeman being able to feed pie to Miss Daisy in the state of Georgia without being lynched and castrated makes everything square.

So Grace embarks on her humanitarian effort, slash, act of white redemption. She jettisons the company of her father, although requesting a few armed toughs to maintain security at Manderlay. Interestingly, she also secures the services of Joseph, an attorney; Joseph’s talent is his ability to “draw up a contract so there’s only one possible interpretation.” [This had some resonance for me because my belief in the use of language in oppressing people. I’ve seen authentic examples of language being purposely vague and indecipherable to AUTHORize, grant the AUTHORity of one person or group over another.]

Actually, allow me to rewind. Grace and her father have a right interesting chat before they part company. As I said, her father has zero interest in fuckin’ wit’ these niggers. Grace, however, wants to linger and wait for the negroes to come out and join hands and sing a liberation hymn in her honor. But there is no exodus. She ponders aloud, “Why don’t they come out?”

Father: “That’s exactly what you said last time.” “Remember when you were six?  You thought it was so sad that your beloved Tweety was all shut up in a cage. And nobody could persuade you not to let him out.”
Grace: Tweety was a proud little bird.
Father: Well, his dignified exit didn’t do Tweety a hell of a lot of good. We found him the next morning underneath your window, -frozen to death!
Grace: I know! He’d been bred as an indoor bird. He really didn’t have a chance.
Father: And what do you think those negroes in there are? How many generations do you think those families made their homes behind that fence? I bet you most of them have taken up employment in their former jobs with the family, contracts and all. Of course, now they’ll get a few dollars for their efforts, but they’ll soon drink that up, and maybe borrow a bit more from their employers, who have, no doubt, opened a little store of colorful wares just for them. And of course they’ll never be able to pay back the money, and they’ll be trapped yet again. What you did was all very noble my girl, but… when push comes to shove, you’ve just made everything far worse, just as you did with Tweety. So all we can do… is hope there’s no frost.”

I’ll share a cute lil phrase I coined: “I’d rather be brutally honest, than gently deceptive.” Grace’s father is being brutally honest about how racism works and how the system of slavery and oppression will simply be RE-CONSTRUCTED – which is what followed “slavery”, RE-CONSTRUCTION. His analogy to Grace’s “beloved Tweety” fits beautifully with Dr. Welsing’s passage. It is my belief that freedom and independence are synonyms. The logical extension of that would be that slavery and dependence are synonyms. Niggers, “beloved Tweety”… pretty much anything that has been domesticated, tamed, rendered less powerful, will be dependent upon someone else for survival. As your existence is literally and figuratively in someone else’s hands, they can mold, shape… fondle any aspect of your life. Borrowing from Dr. Welsing again: “If we do not have confidence… why should we talk about or seek Black liberation?” Wilhelm’s tattered soul shouted loudly “BONECRUSHER DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME. I AM ALWAYS SCARED! I AM ALWAYS SCARED!” “I [feer] we ain’t ready [to be independent of white people].”

But Grace is unreceptive to her father’s undiluted commentary. She prattles on – naively, sincerely – about forty acres and a mule and litigation against the family for the atrocities committed against the negroes. Her father can only laugh lovingly. Think of a four year old black child telling his mother about how he’ll be a billionaire when he grows up; there’s no point in introducing something as vile as reality, all you can do is listen and chuckle.

Alrighty, so Pops splits – informing Grace that her endeavor will fail and that he will not be available to save her hide as usual. Grace’s reconstruction of Manderlay begins. She interrupts and nullifies contracts the former slaves were prepared to sign to solidify employment in their former jobs with the family, where they would be paid a small sum, have the opportunity to borrow a few dollars from their employers and possible access to a little store of wares just for them. [Insert snickering from Grace’s Pop.] Grace and Joseph construct new contracts which transform Manderlay into a cooperative effort where all profits will be evenly distributed amongst the whites and negroes. She informs the white folk that they will be manual laborers on equal if not slightly lower footing that their former pigmented property.

At this point, we begin to meet the various slaves of Manderlay. [I’m goin’ take a lil’ break for a moment. I got a non-black friend – she’s from Pakistan, but raised and educated in the America. She loves being around black people. I have heard non-black people express this before, and I always find it perplexing. I tend to ask them a lot of questions to get a better notion of what’s so appealing about blackness. I was discussing the matter with a negro friend of mine, and he remarked “Black people are some characters.” I was reminded of the late, great Negro entertainer Ossie Davis’ observation that “some of the best acting in the world happens when black people are around white people.” ] The niggas at Manderlay are some characters!

You know… I was going to invest some time in detailing some of the Manderlay slaves… but you already know them. Think of any other group of Negroes in a film. Now just slide them into Manderlay. Do The Right Thing, ATL, The Color Purple. It’s the usual suspects. The difference with Manderlay, is Mam’s Law. This would be the manual on how to subjugate and operate a system of racial oppression. Wilhelm states that the slaves were not permitted to view this book, but some of the slaves are aware of it and know bits of its contents. Mam’s Law has an explicit numerical classification system for the different brands of negroes. It reads “The Manderlay plantation… had been kept in an iron grip by these very numbers. They represented the psychological division of the Manderlay slaves.” There are “Clownin Niggas”: think Arnold from Different Strokes, JJ on Good Times, Rerun on What’s Happening!, Richard Pryor in The Toy, Charles Barkley any time. “Hittin Niggas”: Mister from The Color Purple, James Evans from Good Times, Andre Baptiste Sr. of Lord of War or O-Dawg from Menace II Society. “Losin’ Niggas” – Sams in Lean on Me,  Booger in He Got Game, Halle Berry’s obese child in Monster’s Ball. There are also “Talking Niggas” and “”Weeping Niggas” – John Coffey, like the drank, from The Green Mile – and “Pleasin Niggas” and “Crazy Niggas” and “Proudy Niggas”. Now the film shows the negroes socializing in groups according to their classification; one can observe these different brands of negroes in other films; you can also observe these categories of negores in real life. The system of white supremacy puts a lot of effort into branding non-white people. Hutu and Tutsi, looter, thug, urban, gangster rapper, refugees, aboriginal [the Australian nigger], evolves [the civilized Africans]. Perpetuators of white supremacy understand Wade Nobles contention that “Power is the ability to define reality and have other people respond to your definition as if it were there own.” Racists divide and define non-whites and benefit as those subjected to branding embrace and manifest definitions that are the foundation of their enslavement. But back to Manderlay’s classifications. I took some time and categorized the black people I worked with in a comedy club in Atlanta, GA. A negro friend of mine, who also saw Manderlay, did the very same thing. The interesting thing was that we had placed the real life negroes in very different categories, but we both were able to evidence examples of why we labeled the negroes as we did. It was then that we both noted how malleable these categories are. As racism denies non-whites the ability to control or define their reality, one is constantly having to shift to meet the demands of the master. This may mean being a “Pleasin’ Nigga” today, but a “Clownin’ Nigga” tomorrow.

My friend made another interesting point. He said that they had a distinct category of “Losin’ Niggas” as though the other “Pleasin'”, “Clownin'”, and “Crazy” niggers were not losers. As none of them are free and able to exist independently… they’re all losers. You just got varying degrees, different illusions of who is more of a loser. Like someone finishing 7th in a race shittin’ on someone who finished 10th. Ain’t neither one of y’all win shit. I sees a whole heap of this among black people. American black people shittin’ on black folks in Haiti or Africa or some other so-called “3rd World” area. As if the niggas in the USA free. New Orleans ain’t look much different from Dafur or Rwanda or Kingston or Port-au-Prince in my opinion. Sheeit, I was in New Orleans before Katrina; parts of that bitch where comparable to Jamaica and other poor black countries before the storm. I see this divisive mentality within the US as well. Nigga with a few nickles and a throw back jersey acting like a “broke” black person is beneath him. I’m going steal a lil bit from James Baldwin to make my point. He wrote in Evidence of Things Not Seen that black people had no interest in calling the police unless it was absolutely necessary. But if the “AUTHORities” must be notified, make sure it’s not a black cop. Baldwin went on to explain that black officers were far worse in their treatment of Negroes than white officers. He said the black officers sole purpose seemed to be to demonstrate that they were black, but not – thank heaven – black like you. To be black is to be subjected to white supremacy. To be assaulted by white supremacy is to be enslaved. To my knowledge there is no hierarchy of slavery. Either you’re free or you are not.

So Grace’s reconstruction at Manderlay basically operates unbenounced to the outside world until the character known as Dr. Hector notices that the normally closed Manderlay gates are open. Upon being asked about his occupation, Dr. Hector reveals that he entertains with party and card games. Grace asks if he plays for money. Dr. Hector responds that he does “more than play.” “I cheat.” Dr. Hector proceeds to outline a business proposal for Grace. He explains how the former slave aristocracy had a serious labor problem following the 1865 defeat in the war of Northern Aggression; they were able to contract employment agreements with their former property, “but they just didn’t have the same hold on the rascals.” “Quite a few of the nigras saved up and paid off their debts.” It would seem the frugalness of the “nigras” inspired Dr. Hector. With the full support of the plantation owners, Doc visits the newly freed negroes to “entertain,” as “they were sorely in need of diversion.” And so he came with a deck of cards. “And if anyone was close to repaying his debt, [He] would take the shirt off their back.” Dr. Hector is so gracious as to offer Grace 80% of his profits from the negroes. Now this conversation takes place with Doc Hector’s truck in the background. His truck reads: “Dr. Hector’s Wholesome Diversions and Distractions. Honest Pranks and Japes.” [“honest” is actually underlined on the truck!] I found this scene, this character fascinating!

Dr. Hector admits to Grace immediately that he cheats. He does not play the game fairly. But every dialogue with Grace is devoted to convincing her that he is indeed an honest human being. I feel like this is integral to this system of white supremacy. They spend a great deal of time persuading people – particularly potential victims – that they are trustworthy. White people are the good guys-  just here to help. While researching colonisation in Africa – which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in understanding white supremacy, I found it fascinating that they would coerce Africans to sign contracts which authorized White theft of land, by utilizing the language of brotherhood. Whites would call themselves protectorates. The Africans thought that meant that the White folk were reliable, moral people who would aid them if they ever required assistance. As with the police, the coloniser, the missionary… regardless of all the nice things they got to say, at the end of the day you tend to end up institutionalized. [Correctional Institution, Colonial Institution, Christian Institution. People who are institutionalized have been designated crazy; crazy people are defined as being not responsible for themselves, someone else has to be responsible… has to think for them.] Grace is repulsed by Dr. Hector and tells him that she has no interest in working with or seeing him again. Dr. Hector continues unabated. He tells her that he enjoys word games [how interesting] and proceeds to give her a thought for the day. He tells her that the best technique a card sharp can employ is to “take from the bottom.” He speaks candidly, admitting that: “taking from the bottom means something else entirely in social terms, but it is what I do. I take from the bottom.”

I relate Dr. Hector to Nike, all athletics, video games, television, BET, the music industry. Diversions and distractions which deplete resources – and I mean any and all resources from the oppressed: money, time, creativity. In fact I would prefer to utilize time as an example. The amount of time Madden football has leeched from the negro community is appalling – and this is just one game. I’m not standing in judgment of anyone. I’ve owned a PlayStation, a PlayStation 2, a Super Nintendo; I even had an Atari. But sweet Jesus I cannot think of a single game that offered any understanding as to why I’ve encountered such difficulty being Negro. I can’t say that I developed companions or any other skills as a result of my gaming experience. It simply diverted my attention – and consumed the lil’ bit of paper I had. My friend actually compares all diversions to narcotics. The Oxford Dictionary defines narcotic as “A drug which when swallowed, inhaled, or injected into the system induces drowsiness, stupor, or insensibility, according to its strength and the amount taken.” A narcotic can be more important to an oppressor than the whip or a jail. Maybe if they had an X-Box in Roots, Kunta would have never run away and lost a foot. Speaking of Roots. You can see how the diversion of “cock” fighting completely distracted Chicken George from any thoughts of breaking the bonds of slavery – he didn’t even think his master was that bad. I put all sporting events in the same category. My mentor from high school commented on how they do call a basketball “the pill” or the “rock”. Negroes shooting up them “rocks” in one way or another has not really contributed to our liberation or independence. In my opinion, that’s exactly what Jordan, Reebok, PlayStation, the music industry and so many other narcotic diversions do… they take from the bottom. And they cheat too! Nike purposely under-produces so that they do not meet the demand for their products, which artificially inflates the shoe price because it then becomes exclusive and difficult to obtain [Check out the documentary Just For Kicks]. I’d bet a nickel that PlayStation and company do something similar.

Oh, yeah. As we’re talking about card games, let me take a few moments to chat on the phrase “race card”. I find this terminology… dangerous. Especially now that I hear black people saying: “We need to stop playing the race card.” I make a consistent effort to challenge people when I hear them use this term. I ask them if the negroes in South Africa are playing the “race card”? Are the negroes in Jamaica playing the “race card”? Darfur, the Congo, Haiti, anywhere on the planet where you find oppressed black people, are they playing the “race card”? The metaphor diminishes the legitimate strife of victims of white supremacy; the terminology redefines the victims’ rage as the immature grumblings of a sore loser. I think it also implies a similarity to a “get out of jail free card”. As if victims of white supremacy can simply shout “racism”, and the world succumbs to the demands of black people. I have never experienced this. In my experience, episodes of racism are very similar to a Boondocks “Nigger Moment”; they’re unpredictable and tend to end poorly for the victims. Steve Biko, Anna Mae Aquash, the Katrinians. All these folks played their race card and I wouldn’t quite say they won anything. Again, I find this analogy extremely hazardous. Victims of racism are frequently subjected to overt,covert, direct or indirect acts of genocide and warfare. To diminish this reality by constructing it in the language of a card game, is tantamount to assisting in genocide.

Back to the film… So Grace gets rid of Doc Hector and the rehabilitation of Manderlay continues.  Now with regard to colonization in the Congo, I heard a bit of frank White Supremacy code: “Treat the Negroes well, but keep them stupid.” Apparently, they read the same manual on the Manderlay system because the devastating efficacy of this tactic is brilliantly demonstrated. Grace admonishes the negroes for not being productive with their free time. She suggests that they repair their living quarters. Wilhelm and the other slaves inform her that they don’t have access to timber. Grace quips that she sees a surplus of trees surrounding the plantation. The slaves remark in unison that those trees are a part of the sacred “Old Lady’s Garden” and cannot be touched. But Grace is unrelenting. She challenges: “Why can’t we cut down the old lady’s garden? Have you really spent that many happy hours up there on your knees weeding her romantic paths?” And with that… Extreme Makeover: The Plantation Edition begins. Negroes are a sawin’ and a choppin’ and “The Old Lady’s Garden” is reduced to sawdust and stumps. The quarters are refurbished; morale is high.

But apparently, there are yearly dust storms in this portion of Alabama. Even though annual, they have never harmed Manderlay. After Grace punishes the former slave masters for not progressing rapidly enough in their pursuit of humanity, one of them states conspicuously: “Here comes the dust. Then none of this will matter anymore.” An uncertain Grace responds that a dust storm has never damaged Manderlay. Without a hint of emotion, the former overseer informs Grace that the plantation was unscathed “cause the windbreak was still in place.” Soon thereafter… the dust comes. Much of the crops are ruined, and almost the entire food reserve is destroyed.

I viewed this as a brilliant example of the potency of ignorance. I equate ignorance with uncritical existence; I define this as “unreasoning awe or fear of something unknown, mysterious, or imaginary”. I generally tack on unreasoning adherence to, allegiance to, or acceptance of anything or anyone. Anytime there are actions or beliefs void of supportive reasoning, I define that as uncritical. It is my opinion that white supremacy has done a fairly spectacular job at constructing environments and cultures that produce an alarming amount of uncritical existence among black people. [I acknowledge that I see a lot of uncritical behavior in all people, but as a victim of white supremacy, I am more concerned with consequences of uncritical existence for the victims of white supremacy.] The negroes think “Old Lady’s Garden” is sacred simply because the whites have decreed it so. The whites know the trees are vital to protecting the life and livelihood of the Manderlay plantation, yet they make no effort to share this crucial information until this issue is mute. The legendary C. G. Woodson remarked, “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it.” I’d say this becomes exponentially more effective when you reduce a man’s thinking, when you actually condense the amount of thinking a person is capable of or willing to engage in… you have effectively – perhaps permanently – reduced their humanity.  Alley oop to Marimba Ani:

“Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse. In all cultures there is the taken-for- granted, assumed and habitual aspect that though generally less visible than others, and rarely explicit – exerts the most profound influence on its members. This is precisely because it functions on such a deep level. According to Edward T. Hall, these ‘hidden controls’ become habitual responses that are experienced ‘as though they were innate.'” Yurugu

This is an intensely effective means of generating generations of gullible, cog like, programmed, easily manipulated people. And it’s a low maintenance system to perpetuate. As evidenced with “The Old Lady’s Garden,” “the soothing power of habit” can be undetectable yet stifling. [V for Vendetta mentions the same point: “the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquility[tranquilizers are drugs/narcotics] of repetition”] Uncritical existence becomes more entrenched, less noticeable with time; people have no recollection of an alternate way thinking, it slowly becomes the only reference point for how people should think and behave. I think oppressed people make an effort to create structure, routine in their lives – as a sort of crutch. So they engage in a lot of repetition… we been doin’ this for generations type shit. The problem is that these behavior patterns become old habits that don’t die… they multiply, generating mechanism for coping with, tolerating racism as opposed to a means for ending oppression. These behaviors are often performed for no good reason at all. Like, I would love to ask a lot of black folks – my parents and grandparents particularly – why they attend church on Sunday? I imagine the uncritical/ pre-programmed answer would sound similar to this: “Communion with the spirit of God is important. Sabbath is the Lord’s day. Leanin’ on the everlastin’ arm… amen.” If I felt there could be a civil conversation on this topic, I would love to ask: “When exactly did you make a personal choice to attend church, that was not an extension of being forced, coerced, drug to church by your parents?” [Not to mention that I would toss Christianity and all religions in the narcotic box with PlayStation and Hypnotic, but that’s another chat.]

Uncritical existence can and should be avoided. Solution: ask questions; attack any and all assumptions. Be leery of anyone who has a problem with you asking questions or seeking information – this includes people who attempt to belittle you or make you feel unintelligent because you made an inquiry. I would even advise asking questions when you’re fairly certain you already have the needed information because you may get new, useful information. However, be advised that victims of uncritical existence tend to respond in an aggressive, defensive manner when asked to explain things they are dedicated to but fail to understand. If you’re not accustomed to running, the first time you do it, your legs may hurt, and it may not be fun. Not accustomed to being critical about your behaviors and being asked to do so… legs might be alright, but I bet it won’t be fun. I even got a fun example. I spent the night with a lil’ tenderoni. I hadn’t known her too long, but we had nice conversations. So we’re snuggling, enjoying a quiet morning together. I says: “Why do you trust me?” SHEEEIIT. The calm was over. Now, reflecting on that situation, I’d say hey… that’s a valid question. Perhaps she should have asked and answered this question for herself before gettin cozy with me. I think part of her eruption was because my question exposed her vulnerability; I don’t think people enjoy having their ignorance exposed. It can be embarrassing. But if you enjoy messin’ with people – lord knows I do, here’s another one: As opposed to asking people if they love you, ask “Why” do you love me? Better yet: Define what you mean when you say “love”.

Back to the film! With food supplies and a large portion of the crops decimated, things are looking right bad at Manderlay. Many turn to eating dirt as food has becomes scarce. A young child dies from pneumonia/ malnourishment – this is actually a rather dramatic point in the film, but there are other things I’d rather focus on.

Grace and company persevere through their tribulations and emerge with a plentiful harvest, which earns them a tidy sum. The former slave owners seem rehabilitated and accepting of the negroes as real, genuine human beings. And the negroes seem… well… they make democratic decisions as facilitated by Grace. But I can’t really say that they’ve evolved in terms of their thinking and perceptions of the world. They pretty much just follow Grace. But no matter, Grace perceives Manderlay to be a success. She feels vindicated, redeemed… her sense of moral obligation completed. She feels so certain of her success, she sends away her father’s gunmen – the threat of violent coercion no longer needed. They celebrate with a banquet, and Grace completes her act of redemption by having sexual relations with Timothy, a former slave.

Now this “relationship” has been building throughout the film. Timothy has a strong non-western accent, as if he’s only a few generations removed from Africa. He’s known as a member of the Munsi tribe – revered for their abstinence from gambling and drinking and their humble relationship to the land. When Grace first hears of the Munsi, she says she has never heard of this tribe; she indicates that she has heard of the Mansi. They inform her that the Mansi are different and that Timothy regards them as pure mischief. Grace’s infatuation with buck nigger Timothy, stems from the very beginning. At the start, Grace becomes aware of Manderlay because a slave runs to the car begging her to intervene and stop the beating of Timothy; he had been accused of stealing a bottle of wine. Through the duration of Grace’s renovation of Manderlay, Timothy remained ornery and objectionable to Grace. He rebuffs her repeated efforts to befriend him and candidly tells her that he is not fooled by or interested in her charity. But for Grace, this stubborn pride is an aphrodisiac. Former slaves even become aware of Grace’s lust for Timothy and openly tease her. There are many moments in this film where Grace’s obsession with the authentic “tall, DARK and handsome” take center stage: Grace longing and horny outside the shower area with “a strange desire to move… into where naked bodies were being washed in cheap soap. Black skin. Male and black manhood.” She scurries to bed – shamed by her undignified thoughts, only to dream of being pleasured by an assortment of negroes and finished off when Timothy’s “authoritative hands tested the size of Grace’s most intimate orifices.” Grace’s repressed lust for Timothy resurfaces when she hears a black hen being attacked by four white chickens. But the fowl’s cries of agony do not blunt her titanic craving for dark meat; rather her yearning is:

“intensified by it. Devastated, humiliated and overcome by fear for her sanity, she fled.  And in a fit of madness, or what others would simply call horniness, she threw herself on her tummy, and for a moment, forgot all about shame or political correctness, and did what she had not done since her childhood when she had not yet known it was so infinitely wrong. She pressed herself onto the knot she had rapidly and instinctively formed  by bunching her quilt. Whether it was pleasurable or painful is hard to tell, but she kept at it. It was beyond her control. With no regard for the sleep of the women around her or common decency in general, the pulsating explosions in her nether regions took over her world.”

Now bare in mind, this unbridled sexual eruption takes place in a bed next to two sleeping black women. Anyone with a casual familiarity with Frantz Fanon’s Black Face, White Mask or Marquis De Sade and sado-masochism could have a field day with this portion of the film. When Grace and Timothy finally get it on, it ain’t exactly sweet music. In fact, whether it was pleasurable or painful is hard to tell. Timothy covers her face with a white cloth and is certainly less than gentle when he smacks that. But they laid there sweaty and sex-funky… until a burning horse comes whinnying by their window.

From this point… you basically watch every illusion, assumption and incorrect perception thrown out… more correctly, thrown on top of Grace. Think Rocky III. When Clubber Lang and the Italian Stallion fight the first time. Slow motion, methodical, brutality. Truth might be the most potent force on the planet. The final twenty minutes of Manderlay is uncensored truth.

So a burning horse in the night… Grace gets up to investigate. She goes outside to find… a dead nigger. Actually two dead niggers. To borrow from Rerun: “What’s Happening?” Wilhelm is unable to speak. So they turn to Mark – a “Losin’ Nigger,” “notorious for never being able to give an intelligible answer to anything”- to break it down. What the deal? According to Mark, the gunmen stole the harvest earnings when they left; the former slaves felt that the gangsters were told where the money was hidden by a negro. So they resort to yelling and arguing and… you guessed it… Source Awards, Bad Boy and Death Row, Rwanda… black folks dead in the street. It seems Timothy was supposed to be keeping an eye on the money, but he was nowhere to be found – Grace has nothing to say regarding Timothy’s whereabouts. After some time, she acknowledges that she can’t seem to wake Timothy; Mark informs her that it’s probably related to the three bottles of “hooch” he drank before supper. “But the Munsi don’t drink,” responds Grace in defense of Timothy’s honor – and her own I suspect. “Well, maybe they do on special occasions,” says a gentle Wilhelm.

And just in the nick of time… the return of honest Doc Hector. Just when things are getting a little too crazy, a white man is right on cue to help us understand. Dr. Hector informs Grace that he has not come to make a proposal, but rather to conclude one – and in so doing evidence the fact that he is indeed “an honest man.” He hands Grace a stack of bills, which she immediately recognizes as the harvest earnings – minus a 20% fee. An angry Grace demands to know who he played for all this money, Dr. Hector explains that it was a negro fellow on horseback. Truth is walloping Grace at this point; she answers her own question: “Timothy.” Correctamundo. Grace is staggering, clutching at the ropes: “But he’s a Munsi. They don’t gamble.” Dr. Hector responds with casual brilliance. Plug in a Dr. Hibert (the Bill Cosby lookin’ doctor on The Simpsons) chuckle to get the full flavor of Doc Hector’s response :

“Well, I know the Munsi don’t gamble. I’m a bit of an expert in this field. [chuckle] You have a devil time gettin’ them to the gamin’ table. No. He’s no Munsi.”

Grace is on the verge of being knocked out. She’s simply being pummelled by the illusions she has created for herself. Out on her feet, she mumbles: “But he told everyone he was a Munsi.” Again, Doc Hector with the precision of a surgeon: “Of course. See all the girls were wild about the tales he told. All the Munsi tales. The proud African, the royal line. You know, all that old-fashioned morality. And the accent, of course. So on account of that, the girls was easy to bed.”

Down goes Grace! Down goes Grace! Truth has bludgeoned Grace senseless. But let me back up right quick.

Dr. Hector is a “bit of an expert in” the field of field niggers. I don’t think most negroes realize how much effort and analysis whites put into investigating and evaluating Negroes. I’m gonna borrow a short sequence from Terminator 2: Judgment Day to make my point. This scene takes place when the golden state Governor is stitching up Sarah Connors’ arm; her son is quite surprised at the cyborgs medical know-how.

The Terminator: I have detailed files on human anatomy.
Sarah Connor: Makes you a more efficient killer, right?
The Terminator: Correct.

Makes you a more efficient killer. We watch a lot of sports; there is no sporting event where the team does not thoroughly research tendencies and tactics of the opposition. I’m goin’ also lean on a personal anecdote, if that’s alright. My history advisor told me how when my Alma Mater was integrated, blacks thought they would have to protest and demand that the school acquire books on negroes. When they were finally allowed to enter halls of academia, they were stunned to find volumes and volumes and VOLUMES of material related to black folk. I do not think black people are aware of or fully appreciate the degree to which white people have methodically dissected every crevice of our being. They not studying you ’cause they like yo’ cornrows; they’re gathering intel to be utilized in tightening their clutches ’round yo’ throat. Ghananian author, Christina Ama Ata Aidoo, writes about Europeans insatiable appetite for information in Our Sister Killjoy:

For a few pennies now and a

Doctoral degree later
Tell us about
Your people
You history
Your mind
Your mind
Your mind

Tell us
Boy
How
We can make you
Weak
Weaker than you’ve already
Been

Okay, so Grace is staggered, on rubber legs and groping to make sense of reality. She makes her way back to Mam’s Law to consult the classification of that sly rascal Timothy – whom she had earlier seen listed as a “Proudy Nigger”. And the slave manual says: “Pleasin’ Nigger of the chameleon type. An expert in changing character according to whatever was opportune and what would titillate and enthrall the other person. [italics added]” “Caution. Diabolically clever.”  Grace “had only wanted” Timothy to be a “Proudy Nigger”.

Boondocks’ Huey Freeman remarked, ” ‘Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them.’ It seems to be getting harder distinguishing reality from the illusions people make for us, or from the ones we make for ourselves.” Grace had illusions, false constructs about how Manderlay and the world functioned. Much like The Matrix, the truth can be a hideous thing to accept – and can make you feel right foolish too; tricked out of  her white redemption and the pootie… dang!

No… that’s not an “A Game” explanation. Let me tap that one mo’ ‘gin.

“How often I heard the white man suggest: ‘I know the negro.’ Nobody knows the black man. Not even the black man because all our lives we have cloaked our feelings, bided our time” (Gordon Parks Visions). Oh yeah. Much better to lean on greatness. In fact… Ossie one mo’ time: some of the best acting in the world happens when black people are around white people. I don’t know about a natural born killer, but I’m fairly certain negro oppression has produced natural born Thespians. Grace and a gang of well intentioned white people, who read Cornell West or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, been to Africa, got a jigga record or ate at Popeys – and think they “right on” righteous – confident they know black and are mos’ definitely not racist. In fact, we’re here to help, bro’!  Most of these eraced caucasians have never observed the unmasked, unblacked black face truth.  Grace got the one night only performance – when the minstrel show ends, and niggas start being real. The Real World: Manderlay. Time for a house meeting.

As Grace has been made a fool, she decides to throw in the towel and wash her hands of the Manderlay niggers. But before her exit, she decides to inform them of Timothy’s treachery and Mam’s Law. She tells them about Timothy gambling away the harvest funds and how he had been lying about being a Munsi. She goes to find the page in Mam’s Law to confirm her accusations, when dear Wilhelm directs her to “page 104.” The hell?!?!?! Ain’t no slave ‘posed to know nothin’ ’bout Mam’s Law. Grace demands, “How do you know what’s on page 104 of Mam’s Law?”

What say, Wilhelm? What say? “Cause I wrote it.” [Down goes Grace! Down goes Grace!] “It’s all in my meticulous hand.” An unemotional, unapologetic, logical Wilhelm breaks it down. He explains how he and Mam were afraid and doubtful of the “freedom” promised at the end of the war. They didn’t trust that the former slave owners would be prompt in letting loose their 40 acres and a mule. So at Mam’s request, he wrote a detailed guide as to how the Manderlay slave system could be maintained.

Grace is not amused. She attacks Wilhelm for withholding “freedom” from the Negroes. She asks if they are aware of how he has betrayed them. Wilhelm – cool as a fan – informs her that half of the slaves were aware that he authored Mam’s Law, and it’s rather irrelevant as all of the slaves know now. Grace is a trooper to the end, a death grip on her “moral obligation” to liberate the Negroes. She speaks with rage when telling Wilhelm that Mam’s Law “is a recipe for oppression… and humiliation from start to finish.” Wilhelm informs Grace that she has probably not viewed this from the Negro perspective – which I think is a right common problem when having dialogue with white folks. He then proceeds to show how every aspect of Mam’s Law is constructed with an explicit acknowledgement that the negroes are not free, and as such, makes concessions for that. Mam’s Law “allowed anybody the privilege of complaining about their masters instead of having to blame themselves for the life of no hope that they would surely have to lead in the outside world.” “How the numbered groups were determined according to the behavior patterns that human beings resort to in order to survive in an oppressive community so that life could be made easier for each of them.”

The great liberator, Grace, has been reduced to passionate repetitions of “but they’re not free.” Wilhelm then reveals that although inexperienced with liberty, the negroes have carried out two votes, which may interest Grace. The first unanimous decision was in support of reinstating Mam’s Law. The 1933 negroes felt that “America was not ready to welcome us Negroes as equals seventy years ago [that would be 1863], and it still ain’t. And the way things are goin’, it won’t be in 100 years from now [that would be 2033. Seems Wilhelm and company were quite the prophets].” My codified interpretation of Wilhelms speech would sound like this:

White supremacy is as efficient and devastating as ever, and we are uninterested in pursuing the illusion of being “free,” only to be decimated by a highly refined global system of negro oppression. We feel our unillusioned acceptance of slavery, would be more psychologically and mentally healthful, than embracing the impotent words of liberation, while the potency of oppression bludgeons us mercilessly, all the while being forced to accept responsibility for our plight because we are perceived to have choices, to be “free.”

Grace – like most white people and many negroes I imagine – is not able, interested or willing to receive this truth. She attempts to leave and is suddenly barricaded by large black men. Wilhelm then begins to explain the second vote. As they lost Mam and frightened away the whites during the frenzy over the stolen harvest funds… they lack a white master. They have unanimously elected Grace to be their new Mam. Grace finds this prospect right revolting. And then… I feel like Morpheus could explain this portion of the film much better. Morpheus break down what’s bout to happen:

“Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are inert… so hopelessly dependent on the system… that they will fight to protect it.”

Thanks Morpheus. Yeah, the Manderlay niggers tell Grace they would feel right bad if they had to fuck her up, but they’ll do it! You ain’t goin’ free us, and you ain’t goin’ no where… “Mam”. I feel I have a firm understanding of how no one – slave or master – is free in a slave society. I think Roots was able to display this to some degree when the Whites locked themselves in their rooms during Nat Turner’s storm on Southeast VA. But this illustration is so clear. The white “master” – the only caucasian for miles – encircled by a large group of black people. Helpless.

At this point, Grace turns to liberating her own hind parts. She had been expecting her father to come view what a marvelous job she had done re-constructing Manderlay. But the “not so dumb” negroes have repaired the fence, so Grace would have to quickly think of a way to get out to dear old dad. Eureka! The one time a portion of the fence is removed on the Manderlay plantation… during a beating [I still find this metaphor fascinating.] So Grace plays the roll. She reminds them that Timothy did steal the harvest money and should be punished. We shall have a beating.

As everyone is quite familiar with the plantation script, they all perform their roles. A portion of the fence is dismantled, Timothy is bound and the whip is retrieved for Grace. At this point, Grace feels secure enough to reveal her disgust for the Manderlay negroes’ self-hate and unwillingness to walk to freedom:

“It’s that hatred, Timothy, and the rest of you bear towards yourselves that you’ll never make me accept! And Wilhelm and all of you who follow him are nothing but a bunch of traitors to your race. I hope that your fellow Negroes will, one day, uncover your betrayal and punish you for it! You make me sick.”

Grace throws down the whip in disgust… and moves to exit the plantation. But Timothy. “Diabolically clever,” Timothy:

“I’m sure you’re quite right, Miss Grace. Most likely it’s impossible to revile us niggers enough. But what I don’t get is, why it makes you so angry? Aren’t you forgetting something? …You made us [diabolical smile]”

I generally hate when I’m debating someone, and they end up bonking me on the head with something I said. Grace gets knocked the fuck out with her own slogan; her own truth pulverized her pride and last gasp at white redemption. What I see with white redemption in film and in life, is absolution. By acknowledging that racism exists, and that by being white I frequently and unconsciously benefit from and perpetuate this system, I am off the hook. I am no longer responsible for white supremacy. Imagine if I spilled red wine on your white carpet. Would it be enough for me to acknowledge that I did wrong? I’ve stained your carpet and that was not a good thing; Oh well, gotta be going. I think most would want at least an effort at removing the stain. Correcting the wrong. I see white redemption as a means to removing responsibility for white supremacy – I don’t have to make one iota of effort to do anything about dismantling white supremacy. By simply acknowledging its existence, I’ve washed my hands of the whole nasty affair. Timothy ain’t havin’ that. When he responds to Grace, he is only repeating what other negroes have said before. Louis Farrakhan on February 21, 1990:

“The nigger is the product of the workings of this social, political, economic, religious and judicial order. We didn’t make ourselves like this. So we are your product. So if you don’t like what you made, then look in the mirror and see your own bestiality.”

Grace does what you would expect a white person to do when they are confronted with their own bestiality and the brutal truth of white supremacy. Martin King, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Deden Kimathi, Fred Hampton and many with no name could tell Tim what’s about to happen… you ’bout to get fucked up.

Grace commences to whippin’ on Timothy like he stole something – which I reckon he did, her sanitized conscience… and the pootie. She ends up beating him so long that her father has come and gone, leaving Grace alone and on the run from yet another town “the world would be better off without.” [which happens to be her concluding opinion of Dogville as well]

As Grace flees in the night, the narrator informs us of Grace’s feelings about the failure of Manderlay:

“Grace was angry. Manderlay had fossilized in a picture of this country that was far, far too negative. But [America,] ‘not ready’ to accept black people? You really could not say that. America had proffered its hand, discreetly perhaps,  but if anybody refused to see a helping hand… he really only had himself to blame.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the end credits, which immediately follow the narrators remarks, would offer an indictment large enough to fill the Library of Congress. They show a photographic montage of human decimation. The Klan. The Freedom Rides. Dead Martin. Dead Malcolm. Lynchings. Abject poverty. Lynchings. Black soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq. Police beatings. Lynchings. Angry groups of white people with guns. Abject black poverty. Burning crosses. Inmates. In short, the relationship most black people have had to America. David Bowe’s “Young Americans” provides the contrasting melody for the snap shots of the negro and America. I think the two most powerful pictures for me were of a black man shooting heroine on a NYC rooftop with the twin towers in the far background and the final photo: a black custodian dusting the other great negro emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, at the Lincoln Memorial. Staring at the latter image, I could only recall what had been stated earlier in the film: “A body would only [do this] if he or she was totally ignorant… or if he or she really had no choice.”

If I had to sum up this film and what it means in relationship to white supremacy. I would say, the illusion of choice. I think that’s the theme of the film. Illusions in general, but most importantly, the illusion of choice. The fact that slaves consciously and rationally decline the illusion of choice, the charade of freedom, is powerful. They choose a reality free from illusion. They choose the reality where everyone openly acknowledges that blacks are slaves with no ability to define their own existence; they choose an environment where white supremacy is undeniable and visible to all. There is really no point in the film where the slaves take an interest in chasing “freedom” outside of Manderlay, where white supremacy is an unacknowledged, undetectable mechanism of annihilation. Oops, I lied. One slave actually does look to escape, and he is lynched expeditiously. I think he makes it about fifteen yards from the plantation.

As Dr. Welsing states, “We have been programmed: ‘Lie to me and tell me that you love me.’ You should only want truth.” I’ve heard it told that “The truth shall set you free.” Following that logic, “Lies will make you a slave.” The negroes at Manderlay prefer an honest reality, even if that reality is oppressive. They want no part of a false freedom where the illusion of freedom is verbalized within a debilitating reality that impedes the every impulse of non-white people globally. If I am correct, America is the only Western power to have slavery and apartheid on its home soil – the land of opportunity, land of the free. That should be a red flag to everyone that there is an alarming level of deceit practiced in this country, or that we need a new understanding of what “free” and “opportunity” mean and exactly who has access to these treasured commodities.

I highly recommend Manderlay. This is minimalist theater – very few props, and no special effects or computer technology, just a lot of solid acting and symbolism. I quoted a lot from this film because the language is so rich, there’s no other way to convey the power of the words. Being an astute film fan, I can say I have never seen anything even mildly similar to Manderlay- well, except Dogville. I recommend that victims of racism study this film. Bring yo’ thinking cap and doggy bag though.

http://www.counter-racism.com/analysis/moviereviews/manderlay/index.html

Cover of "Manderlay"
Cover of Manderlay

Leave a Reply