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Double Whammy: Hollywood & Sports
By Rob Bell

It's a rare occurrence when the plebeian reflections of white superiority converge in the public arena.   Interestingly, and regrettably they have in two recent Hollywood films – "Million Dollar Baby" and the "Cinderella Man".    In both movies the filmmakers attempt, yet again, to revive the myth of the inherent goodness and nobility of the average white guy; one who confronts the collective evils of the world and rights its wrongs, against all odds and in spite of government constraints or public conventions.


With our first film, we have a product of Clint Eastwood, the cherished, impervious former Army Ranger who epitomizes the American hero.   The "take the law into your own hands" vigilante was the first in American fantasy lore to extol this concept in film and as a result became a millionaire many times over (and predictably, a brief stint as a politician).  


I recall Clint lecturing Negroes at the NAACP Image Awards when he received some type of commendation for his film, "Bird".   He reminded us that there should be opportunity for everyone to participate in the Hollywood dream, as long, of course, as you don't prevent someone else from participating.   Translation: who needs affirmative action?   This is perhaps the first tenet of the average white guy's American philosophy: know nothing and respect nothing of anyone else's history, especially that of African American's.  


Clint's latest take on this American life is a predictable yarn about a fictional white, female boxer (warrior).   Terribly overrated, the movie meshes two of Clint's treasured interests – boxing and film.   In many ways the film epitomizes what is wrong with Hollywood, in particular its treatment of people of color.


First of all, the two protagonists are white, as are 99% of those who appear in feature Hollywood films.   The colored folk are stereotypical: Morgan Freeman, Eastwood's sideman is the quintessential house negro, continuing the American film industry's parade of black, lifeless alter-egos, from Hattie McDaniel to Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.   Their own existence of no consequence, their only importance in the film is to serve as a sounding board for the main character, in this case, Eastwood.   The other colored characters are even less favorable: Eastwood's best boxer who appears in the beginning of the movie (a brother), has little or no honor, and leaves Clint for a more lucrative contract; another promising young black boxer at the gym is an arrogant, ignorant jerk with no manners or respect.   Finally, the Latino woman who fights Eastwood's female contender is little more than a vicious animal, whose illegal punch causes Hilary Swank (Eastwood's co-star) to suffer paralysis and a life confined to a bed or wheelchair.


I won't dwell on the specific scenes of the movie, too many of us have seen it anyway, but it comes off as typical Eastwood.   Anti-hero, dark and brooding, upset over God knows what.   All that is important is his way, the way of the individual - the vicissitudes of life and society, the needs of the community, the struggles of the masses – be damned.   It's about my life, my reality – the individual white, Anglo-Saxon, American male reality.   Eastwood delivers, and we swallow, another incredulous tale of Joe America, a regular guy.   Despite dubious character flaws and imperfections (thuggishness in Mystic River , sadistic cruelty in Unforgiven , disloyalty/unfaithfulness in The Bridges of Madison County )   Mr. America reconciles and triumphs over daunting universal questions, and sets things right.


Hero worship comes in a slightly different form in the other bombastic Hollywood opus, "Cinderella Man".   Again, the white male superhero is cast in the role of sportsman, and again, as a boxer.   This time we retreat back seventy years to a more "honest" time during the great depression; a time when the "greatest generation" was just coming of age and every man knew his place – especially if he was black. The film is, according to its own hype, "the quintessentially American story of a man who was not so much a great boxer as a great man who boxed his way out of darkness and defeat and into the stuff of immortality."


The story is about former heavyweight champion J.J. Braddock, played by another self-consumed actor, Russell Crowe.   (I have to concede I couldn't bring myself to go see the flick. I can't take much Crowe these days.) Braddock, according to the movie promos, helped lift the nation out of the financial doldrums during the '30s.   He saves America by beating then heavyweight champ Max Baer, a feat none thought possible.   This type of story is just what former Andy Griffith Show star Little Opie (Ron Howard) was looking for: "Cinderella Man is a true American story about what it's like to cope in the moment, facing life's daily hardships, and to continue to passionately strive toward a goal-even a simple one like putting food on the table-no matter what the outcome turns out to be. It's that kind of story, that kind of cinematic journey that has always intrigued me as a filmmaker."


All of this is prime rib for Joe America.   And, as you would expect, that frighteningly ignorant soul of Joe America, today's sports talk show hosts, just can't handle the excitement of yet another great white hope on the scene.    One   "great American" sportswriter, Ian O'Connor, of Fox, lamented in a story on June 7 th , "Boxing in Desperate Need of Another Braddock".   The article is too convoluted and ridiculous to seriously consider, but the implication is quite clear: boxing needs a white champion.


You can bet Little Opie nor Ian O'Connor will not recommend a sequel to Cinderella Man.   Certainly not one that describes Braddock's years of ducking fights with Joe Louis.   Prior to finally accepting a fight with the Brown Bomber, Braddock demanded a deal that pledged 10% of Louis' earnings to himself.   It's unlikely you will see that film, or any other about the legendary, incredible black pugilists, e.g., Henry Armstrong, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jersey Joe Walcott or Archie Moore.   With Ali and Jack Johnson, Hollywood has filled its quota for the next few decades.   Can't prevent white folks from their heroes, can we?












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