Jamie Foxx isn’t “poor” — he’s valued at $85 million according to celebritynetworth.com — but he is artistically impoverished. He resorts to portraying another stereotypical victim-villain in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. That dubious casting choice briefly sparks this latest, uninspired comic-book-franchise movie, but most important, it plays into current Hollywood political sentiments.
As corporate nerd Max Dillon, Foxx falls into a tank with fuses and electric eels and acquires lethal electromagnetic powers. Post-shock, Dillon-now-Electro channels his envy of Spider-Man (insipid Andrew Garfield) into destroying Times Square, a routine sequence of Hollywood’s video-game-CGI excess only inspired by peculiar pathos: Fox repeats the same sorrowful black-male oddity he used in his portrayal of a maladjusted musical savant in the mawkish 2009 race-relations drama The Soloist.
Electro’s menace and confused motives evoke still another black science-fiction miscreant, Samuel L. Jackson’s disturbed, merciless, outlandishly garbed comic-book villain in Unbreakable, which since 2000 has stereotyped the genre’s naive racial attitudes. Electro’s skin is tinted blue, like the Na’vi creatures in Avatar, but luminescent, as if teeming with SamJack anger. He cloaks his ferocity beneath a Trayvon Martin–style hoodie — a sly, fatuous political reference recalling Foxx’s awards-circuit appearances last year in a t-shirt emblazoned with Martin’s photo (commemorating the politically charged controversy surrounding the youth’s 2012 death). Foxx acts out Electro’s wounded ego to sneakily exploit the Martin case, but his role is disgraceful, silly in concept and shameless in performance.
I point this out to clarify how specious racial and political assumptions clog contemporary film culture; part of what mogul Harvey Weinstein praised as “The Obama Effect” among Hollywood elites.
Electro’s demeanor defines the limited, pathological range circumscribing Foxx, restricting his choices as with other black Oscar-rewarded actors. Some form of black pathology is always foremost in Hollywood’s current post-racial pretense, and this is what makes “The Obama Effect” so noxious. Even the action-based Spider-Man series ensnares a black character in sentimentality that allows Hollywood and the media to feel superior — a continuation of the self-righteous liberal fantasy that voting for Barack Obama vanquishes racism. All other blacks are patronized as, if not inferior to the Obama ideal, then, as Electro demonstrates, superpathetic. Outside the comic-book world, Electro would be seen as a freak. And freakishness — or Superpathology — defines Hollywood’s Obama-era view of black folk in Precious, The Help, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Captain Phillips, Blue Caprice, Django Unchained (Foxx again), last year’s 12 Years a Slave, and this year’s Belle.
Belle is not a bleeding-heart horror show like 12 Years a Slave but a gentler, history-based costume drama about an 18th-century mixed-race girl in England. Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is raised by her great-uncle, Chief Justice Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson). Dido’s consciousness is stirred when she endures subtle, strict protocol that blocks her from full participation in the household’s routines, her activities segregated at public functions. She becomes intrigued by her uncle’s grudging deliberation regarding a legal case about the execution of human cargo on a slave ship, which tilts this biography toward an anti-slavery treatise.
Although Dido shares President Obama’s own mixed-race heritage, Belle brushes by “The Obama Effect.” It doesn’t exactly congratulate white electorate guilt — which may explain its indifferent reviews so soon after 12 Years a Slave hit the white-guilt jackpot. Director Amma Asante isn’t a fetishistic race-hustler like 12 Years’ Steve McQueen. Her fish-out-of-water formula takes on a romance-novel aspect: Dido falls in love with white activist lawyer and vicar’s son John Davinier (Sam Reid), an optimistic resolution that soothes her anxiety as both an outcast and female chattel.