Thursday, March 21, 2013

Recasting "The Exorcist" With Non-White Actors

[Two more days for our informal fundraiser. I am very pleased and surprised by the wonderful generosity of the regular readers of We Are Respectable Negroes, and also those who have just found us because of my critical essays about The Bible TV series. I am so flattered. 

If you are moved to throw some change into the donation bucket, be it one dollar, two, ten, or what have you, I would be grateful and appreciative. I do this for love. I learn so much from all of you and am only encouraged forward by your generosity. I appreciate all of you. I truly do.]

My grandma--really my great Aunt--lived to be about 95 years old. She did not have a birth certificate. Our guesses were approximate. I think she may have been older.

She had a fifth grade education and raised doctors, lawyers, and accountants. At age 75 or so, she moved up north to New Haven, Connecticut from Shelby, North Carolina. Aunt Eloise was a great woman. She was kind and wise. She was good. And she could tell a story.

My favorite one was about a man who was half-goat from the waist down, and chased people late at night who dared to walk down the rural street near his farm. Fire and sulfur lit his heels. Was he alive? Was he dead? I do not know.

I just remember being scared when my grandma would tell me this story late at night, and do all of the neat voices that 7 year old kids love. I thought I was too smart to be taken in by ghost stories. When Aunt Eloise told me these tales I was scared. I could hear his voice, the ground moving, and the gunshots of the free black folks who made him run back to his spectral farm.

She was also descended from Obeah men and women, those who carried the magical traditions of Africa to the New World and could read the bones, tea leaves, make poisons, and abort an unwanted fetus conceived by rape between master and slave, or illicit love and lust between bondsmen and bondwomen.

Aunt Eloise would use these powers to pick lottery numbers or offer up cryptic predictions of the future. My mom tells me that when I was born she said I would be a difficult child who liked books and would be a teacher. I would also love animals; they would love me.

When I feed the pigeons on the "L" stop here in Chicago, and they sit on my shoulder looking at me, heads turned, letting me pet them, smiling--I am sure sure they are--I think she could perhaps be right.

I do not know if the powers of Obeah, or other types of "magic," followed down from her to me, but I do have a healthy respect for the science that most do not understand.

Aunt Eloise taught me about the power of found objects. Sometimes they find us when we need them. Alternatively, a found object can be sought out by us, on a subconscious level, and we find it as necessary and needed. The logic here is simple: we must be open to the various and wonderful powers of the universe.

Fate is a teacher, trickster, guide, friend, sometimes enemy, a lover, and a mentor. When Catholics and others use prayer beads, or the process through which those prayed for heal faster than those who are not, we are witnessing "magic" at work. We are all just energy. If we can focus it, then amazing things are possible that often defy the explanations of "normal science."

I am open to all the help which I can get in life; thus, I listen and try to pick up on the many energies common to our plane of existence and shared reality. Rarely, have I been done wrong by being open-minded.

Better safe than sorry? No?

I found a copy of the book The Exorcist in the refuse/gifted object pile of my apartment building yesterday. I love the movie. The book is even better. The latter is a great lesson in pacing, rhythm, showing as opposed to telling the details of the emotional lives of one's characters, and simply taking a story to its end, whatever that may be.

Found objects teach. As such, I learned that the zombie novel I am work-shopping is going to get much better after reading The Exorcist. I admire a master of their craft; I try to learn from them. Even if I fail, all things are better by the effort. The Exorcist novel is also an aid to my thinking about the politics of race and representation.

How? I have been looking for an example of a masterwork, with an all white cast, where race is seemingly not present as a variable, in order to work through a simple premise.

To point. As Stuart Hall has so deftly pointed out, "race matters":

Like gender, it is one of the dominant categories of representation and identity in the media. Consequently, it is so powerful a lens for perceiving and processing the meaning of a text that we, all of us, do not generally reflect on the unstated assumptions which come with it.

The body is not a neutral site relative to Power. Rather, the body and our gendered, sexual, racial, and class identities, are impacted by Power in both subtle and overt ways.  Moreover, Power works on and through us. Many of us, because of a slavish devotion to the power of the conscious mind, and resistance to the concept known as a "collective subconscious," may be quickly and instinctively loathe to acknowledge such a dynamic.

Yet, it remains true.

I love counterfactuals and thought experiments. Thus, my questions. How would the meaning and interpretation of The Exorcist be different if the racial and gender identities of the main characters were changed? Yes, Brother Richard Pryor did his SNL skit which highlighted how racialized black masculinity impacted the public's interpretation of The Exorcist.

Push that harder if you would.

What if the possessed child were black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American? Alternatively, what if Father Damian were a black man, and Chris remained a white woman? How about if the investigating police detective was a man of color, probing into the mysterious murder mystery of a class affluent white family?

There are many possibilities available for remixing The Exorcist with people of color. The narrative remains the same. The lines of dialogue do not change. I would suggest that the meaning would be transformed by a change in the race and/or ethnicity of the actors in the film because perception is reality, and the racialized and gendered body is not neutral.

Your thoughts?


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Renna Shesso said...

"Aunt Eloise taught me about the power of found objects. Sometimes they find us when we need them..." Thanks! I was working with this over the weekend with shamanic students (take a walk with a question in mind and find three objects that shape an answer) and it's a treat to see the found-object here in your family tradition. As for "The Exorcist" re-cast, yes! intriguing.

chauncey devega said...

Power and inspiration is everywhere...if we listen to it and seek it out.

I have several objects in my bedroom for focusing energy. Those include a samurai sword, the ashes of my passed away pet and several other objects...never giving away what they are as you know that can be dangerous. I also carry with me a St. Christopher's medal I found on the street...and I think found me.

Very, very powerful juju. They have never failed me. It took me time to listen to them and acknowledge what my own spirituality actually entails.

What traditions do you honor? Nice to hear from you.