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.


Jeneratorler said...

I was well impressed with Amazing Grace; the period was superbly captured, and the interplay of the main action (the fight of William Wilberforce to abolish British slavery) with the other great events of his time (the American and French revolutions) was well presented. The film stirs the emotions but informs the mind. Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce is believable and depicts the tenacious Yorkshire MP with both his bodily weakness and great spirit well. Albert Finney as John Newton renders a moving portrayal of the ex-slave trader turned evangelical minister who influences Wilberforce's decision to remain in politics rather than entering the ministry of the church. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a strong representation of William Pitt, and the overall impression of the film is one whose history has been well researched. Well worth a viewing.

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John Demetry said...

Armond White has a new book out!


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