Friday, March 2, 2007
New York Press Review: "Amazing Grace"
"Christianity Trumps History": this should be the headline for Armond White's naive review of "Amazing Grace." Coming only a week after White's review of "Norbit," in which he unforgivably misses the racist overtones of Eddie Murphy's unfunny "comedy," our man's analysis of "Amazing Grace" is remarkable for never addressing the film's noticeable lack of African characters, the very people the film should somehow represent by directly imparting their stories and struggle. For how much time director Michael Apted and screenwriter Steven Knight spend on Pariliamentary procedure and behind the scenes political maneuvering they certainly could have found the room to do so. But instead "Amazing Grace" is a film about the slave trade that features just one African character of any note -- and he's shuttled to the background so that William Wilberforce can stand centerstage in his noble crusade to end the horrible institution in Parliament. Christian ethics fuel that crusade, and White applauds the film's emphasis on Wilberforce's faith. But White should have been clued into the whitewashing of history that supports this Christian hagiography. Whenever an historical film raises its protagonist to the level of infallibilty (see JFK) we're always suspicious. And lo and behold, the story of William Wilberforce and his convictions, it seems, isn't as rosy as the film suggests -- the worst part is that Wilberforce's Christianity contributed to a condescending and dehumanizing understanding of Africans, who were, because of it, only offered partial emancipation. Granted, we don't expect Armond to be an expert on British history (or the history of the slave trade), but just the slightest critical skepticism toward the film's gross negligence of the African experience and/or its halo-crowning portrayal of William Wilberforce might have prevented this lapse. White's desire to champion "Amazing Grace" as a corrective to cynicism -- "What could be bolder than a film that insists upon virtue and dedication today -- an age ruled by political distrust?" -- has fostered in his critical skills yet another blind spot.