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May 23, 2003

The Color of the Future - Ask Your Mother

I'm not going to create a category for the Matrix Reloaded, but I'm going to continue to talk about it. The Pedant strings together some interesting paragraphs, and finally these:

And - in a turn that really deserves an award for audacity - the 'hood is the salvation of humanity, the one place free of the Matrix. It's those white folk back in the Matrix, with their big houses and office jobs, who are all screwed up. Or is it so simple? At the end of the movie, we are led to believe that Zion is not so free of the Matrix after all, just like the ghettos, where rap CD sales and Nike shoes send corporate bosses' kids to prep school and fund Republican presidential candidates.

I like that symbolism. It makes me want to reread Guy Debord's La Socit du Spectacle. It's daring and honest about our world in a way that few big Hollywood names are able to manage these days. I'm sure if somebody hasn't decided that it's racist by now, they no doubt will in the next few days. But I don't care. It's a hell of a lot more interesting than the bridge of the Enterprise, where diversity means different skin colours instead of different kinds of lives.

There are ugly and there are comfortable stereotypes. These are the comfortable liberal ones. It's nice to indulge ourselves in them for a while, because as twisty as the Matrix is, life is much more complex. Such complexity, some of it dangerous, compels us to make things simple for ourselves and others by conforming to that which is simple to communicate - stereotypes.

While one is likely to regret making any predictions about a character as complicated as Cornel, what indeed could be more curious than Professor West playing a wise man on the Zion Council? Why indeed does it require a real honest-to-goodness Ivy League professor to act as a black man leading the world? Because people like me don't run Hollywood. I'm not complaining, just observing. A cameo is always nice, and who better than America's most popular philosopher? But that doesn't stop the queer feeling I get that this Matrix is overburdened with too much symbolism.

The multiculturalist movement won. The ethos is real, triumphant and mainstream in spirit if not substance. That doesn't change the fact that there are cheap imitations of multiculturalism that bear more weight than they deserve. The symbolic multiculturalism of the Matrix is such an overburdened vehicle. That is because the multicultural point is made in passing. The Matrix Reloaded is a fun and somewhat pretentious entertainment that invites dormroom bullsessions (and blog chatter), but it's not a full blown social commentary. So I don't expect it to hold up well under close scrutiny. In that regard, its archtypes, which are filled with an un-Hollywood-like variety of nonwhites are a secondary effect and not a primary point. I reserve the right to change that observation upon parsing the DVD this next winter.

In terms of coloring up the joint, the original film did quite enough with Morpheus, Tank and Dozer as key leads in a liberation struggle. But among them all, the Oracle was the topper. While it's interesting to note that her stock must have risen a great deal since the first installment given her new kung fu bodyguard, her understated yet central presence was just marvelous in both films. If someone wanted to make the case for the greatness and centrality of people of color in the Matrix, they should start with Mom, not the naked party. Although the Architect regards her with some measure of contempt she is unambiguously central not just to the plot, but to the whole of the Matrix itself. She is, after all, never wrong. She is godlike. That's saying something.

Something is not everything. In the end you should say it's nice some nice black actors got some work in an excellent film. You should also admit that even people who are full of themselves had a lot of fun watching and chatting about it, but spare us the world-historical exegesis in symbolism for the people of color.

Posted by mbowen at May 23, 2003 11:13 PM

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We've Mary Alice to look forward to in "Revolutions," I think.

Posted by: George at May 24, 2003 08:56 PM