The Obama Effect strikes twice in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Belle


Belle’s genre pedigree includes romantic mixed-race precedents such as Jean Rhys’s novel Wide Sargasso Sea as well as Merchant-Ivory’s 1995 Jefferson in Paris, wherein Thandi Newton’s portrayal of Sally Hemings explored much of the same racial angst as Belle. Thus Asante’s genteel approach avoids any pointed, Hogarthian political critique of its period characters. Within costume-drama decorum, Asante finds as much pathos and political resonance as Foxx, yet she comes up with a more challenging expression.

The sisterly relationship between Dido and her white cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) repeats the female inequality cutesified in The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s 2009 animated entry in the race-hustling race. “We are but their property is how Elizabeth describes England’s patriarchal system to Dido, whose deepest misgivings are roused when she is made to pose for a family portrait. Dido fears that being depicted on canvas in a subservient position will confirm her misfortune, bringing her predicament to the fore.


Dido’s concern for her artistically rendered image — concern with posterity — raises the issue of how race, identity, and politics are handled in art. It’s an original approach that Asante essays better than she outlines events that preceded Great Britain’s 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act (so beautifully dramatized in Michael Apted’s Wilberforce biography Amazing Grace and referenced in Spielberg’s Amistad).

Belle’s art-politics motif helps further expose Foxx’s trite fantasy/Trayvon Martin act. Electro personifies freakish victimization — unlike Dido’s too-human dilemma — for a cheap rhetorical effect satisfying political fashion. Asante and delicate Mbatha-Raw go deeper, revealing the uneasiness of someone who’s objectified as a totem of racial condescension. (At one heartrending point, Dido anguishes over the mystery of her own flesh.)

Through Belle’s closing image of the actual portrait of Dido as playmate to her cousin, Assante questions our culture’s visual exploitation of racial politics. The painting’s superficial charm (its quaint depiction of historical disparity, painted by Johann Zoffany, currently hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland) is in contrast to its camouflage of genuinely appalling custom — and that’s the very problem of Foxx’s flashy-pathetic Electro. His overexplicit bitterness, rancor, and destructiveness are glorified through the cartoonish F/X destruction but amounts to a moral and esthetic disaster.

Belle’s historical romance is too decorous to be truly moving, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 offers the worst kind of “Obama Effect” escapism since it actually keeps viewers remote from the emotional turmoil of historic suffering and its social impact. Jamie Foxx’s moneymaking political stunt leaves us the poorer.

— Film critic Armond White is author of The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook the World and the upcoming What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About the Movies.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The teenaged webslinger returns in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, opening in theaters May 2. Here’s a look at the new film, and a look back at the history of the character from the comic-book pages to his adventures in Hollywood.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the saga of Peter Parker as he adjust to life with his strange super-powers, obtained from the bite of a genetically-altered spider. He tries to live out the admonition of his Uncle Ben: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
English actor Andrew Garfield returns as Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man.
Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy, Parker’s girlfriend.
Jamie Foxx plays Max Dillon, an engineer at Oscorp Industries, where a terrifying industrial accident turns him into Electro, a man who can transform into electricity.
Dane DeHaan plays Harry Osborn, the scion of Oscorp Industries, who transforms into the villainous Green Golbin.
Paul Giamatti plays Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich, who will become the villain Rhino.
Sally Field plays Aunt Mary, who raised Peter Parker after his father’s death.
Spider-Man creator Stan Lee continues his streak of cameo appearances in the movies based on his comic-book characters.
Dillon gets a little too close to a vat of electric eels.
Electro shows off his glowing personality.
Electro gets a grip on things.
Spider-Man and Electro tangle amid the power transformers.
Harry/Green Goblin rides the Oscorp battle sled. Like the earlier Spider-Man films, the new entry treats the military-industrial complex as a source of inherent moral danger.
Green Goblin makes the case for regular dental check-ups.
Sytsevich powers up in the Rhino armor.
Rhino will definitely not be drinking any merlot.
Spidey is just trying’ to hang on.
Spider-Man meets a mini-me fan.
ORIGIN STORY: Spider-Man debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 in August 1962 and has gone on to become one of the most successful and well-known comic-book superheroes ever created. He remains Marvel Comics’ flagship character.
Spider-Man was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, and captured the sense of alienation common in teen comic-book fans. Prior to his arrival, teenage characters had traditionally been sidekicks. Spider-Man also lacked an adult super-hero mentor, and had to find his own way.
THE SHOWBIZ WEB: Spider-Man has had a long, at times troubled, history in Hollywood. Peter Hammond played Spider-Man in the primetime TV series The Amazing Spider-Man from 1978 to 1979.
Spider-Man appeared on the 1970s childrens' educational program The Electric Company in a series of Spidey Super Stories skits. He never appeared as Peter Parker and communicated only through comic-book word balloons.
Takuya Yamashiro played Spider-Man in a short-lived Japanese series that also ran from 1978 to 1979. Though he wore the same outfit, the character’s origins and backstory were completely different from the American version.
Spider-Man has also had numerous animated incarnations in syndication and on the Saturday-morning programming blocks popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
MTV aired the short-lived computer-animated outing Spider-Man: The New Animated Series in 2003.
Tobey Maguire played Peter Parker in the 2002 feature film Spider-Man, directed by Sam Raimi. The film capped years of delays and failed attempts to bring the character to the big screen involving such filmmakers as James Cameron.
Maguire shared a famous upside-down kiss with Kirsten Dunst.
Maguire returned for two sequels, Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3. The three films were huge box-office successes and widely lauded by critics and audiences. The films introduced the villains Green Goblin, Doc Oc, Sandman, and Venom.
Demonstrating the enduring appeal of the character, amateur Spider-Man costumes are also a frequent site at comic-book conventions.
Female webslinger outfits are quite popular (especially with the male fans).
Updated: May. 02, 2014