"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 June 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
White Man's Bulworth


[been having really odd dreams lately ]

Midway through his recently



lamentation, Warren Beatty - in

character as US Senator Jay

Billington Bulworth, shuttered

in the dark back seat of his

parked limousine - asks an

awfully big question. Why, he

asks, are there no great black

leaders left in the US? The

young black woman seated across

from Beatty/Bulworth wins the

senator's heart for keeps when

she provides the correct answer:

We have no great black leaders,

she says, because the

manufacturing base disappeared

from the inner-city as big

corporations shipped factory

jobs to the Third World. The

civil rights movement grew - she

adds for proof - out of the jobs

that white America was forced to

give to black America during

World War II. Turns out Warren

Beatty is a traditionalist - who

knew? Even ignoring the "without

factory jobs, what on earth

could black people possibly be

expected to do for a living"

angle, the notion advanced by

Bulworth's writer/director/star

is awfully familiar. Racism

ends, in the movies, because

brave white FBI agents go after

the racist mayor and sheriff,

because a brave white lawyer

passionately defends a young

black man the rest of his small

town would be perfectly happy to

drag outside and hang from a

tree - and because, in a bit of

back-story offered as obvious,

white America placed black

America's foot on the first rung

of the ladder and gave blacks the

idea to climb, even if it

happened to be an accident.


[so strange that they are hard to explain upon waking]

Assuming that Siskel & Ebert

haven't already dealt with this

one, a question: If the civil

rights movement happened because

of World War II and the jobs

given - and perhaps "given"

should be in italics, too - to

blacks by whites, what would the

US look like if there had been

no war? In this particular myth,

whites graced blacks with the

gifts of consciousness and

dignity; it occurred to blacks

to object to segregation and brutal

racism, or at least to

actually do something about it,

because whites slipped some

money into their pockets and

made them fully human.


And if there are no black

leaders in the US today because

white-controlled corporations

have shipped black jobs overseas

- if it's that simple to take

back the gifts, the

consciousness and the dignity -

then blacks are a toy for

whites, a sort of giant ant farm

to set free and re-imprison at

will. Hey, they can only have

leaders if we give 'em some

factories, right? Black power,

in this view, can be quickly

shut off at the main valve

whenever it becomes inconvenient

to whites.


Just in case we don't understand

the true nature of the black

soul, Beatty throws in a scene

in which his wealthy white

character is menaced, as he

walks around alone at night in a

movie-generic urban black

neighborhood, by a half-dozen

young gang members. One pulls a

gun, but Bulworth knows just how

to soothe his would-be

attackers: He buys them ice

cream cones. They dissolve into

giggling, happy children, and

the senator starts, unimpeded,

on his merry way. If only

Reginald Denny had known about

that ice cream thing, huh? What

happens to a dream deferred? You

give it an extra scoop, with

sprinkles, and skip away



[my quiet, brainless days are being]

Consistent with the idea of

people who are powerless until

given the impetus toward seeking

power by others, the notion that

a black man is really a giggling

child - deep down under that

gruff and threatening exterior -

shows up throughout the movie.

Bulworth starts, from the first

frames, as a lost soul; then he

discovers black America, and

spends a night dancing and, for

crying out loud, scratching

records. An old, homeless black

man speaks to him: "Don't be no

ghost," he urges. "You gots to

be a spirit!" Urged to sing,

imbibing deeply from a

rejuvenative well of blackness -

he buys a plate of barbeque ribs

for his uptight white campaign

aides - Bulworth recovers his,

um, childlike honesty. Black

people are just so much more

real, you know? Some much better

connected to the, uh, elemental

truths about life.


That is: A powerful man casts

off his whiteness, and becomes

authentic and direct. Take a

moment with that one.


Beatty's message from the heart

is completely unsurprising;

anyone who has worked in

Hollywood - we worked in the

mailroom - is well accustomed to

walking around an all-white

office with Tom Tomorrow

cartoons on the bulletin boards

and "Save Affirmative Action!"

stickers on the bumpers of the

Range Rovers out in the parking

lot. Just one problem: The

entertainment industry has a

friend in the nation's capital.


Shortly after his "Hey, sorry

'bout that - here's some new

programs" trip to Africa, and

while his dialog on race

continued back at home, Bill

Clinton got a nice boost from

The New York Times in his

continuing performance as Great

White Father. Not that he

appears to really need the help.

Back in April, while the

president was stuck inside a

stuffy old Chilean hotel with

other heads of state, working on

"a lofty declaration of

hemispheric cooperation," the

Times explained, his wife was

out in - well, you know, the

ghetto. The priceless headline:

"First Lady Visits Real People

in Chile." Visiting a "primitive

Mapuche Indian clinic," Hillary

Clinton learned about a native

healer who works alongside

"Western" (note to Times: look

at globe) medical practitioners;

the presence of the shaman, the

Times explained, gives the

natives "confidence to submit"

to the less quaint form of

medicine. Picturing David Niven

in a scarlet jacket yet? The

capper would have to be the

insistence, deep into the

section of the report that deals

with the first lady, that she

"deeply believes in the value of

her missions to bring aid and

comfort to the world's

struggling peoples." Plus we

hear she's kind to her native



[overly compensated by my vivid, creative and wild nights (at least in my head)]

Not that the white man's burden

only weighs on the Clintons in

Africa and South America; they

also realize that the little

people need a hand up from their

superiors the world over, and

the precise approach to offering

that hand can sometimes be

enormously revealing. In

Cambodia, for example,

compassion for the populace at

large demands that the mass

murderers who ended more than a

million innocent lives in the

notorious killing fields be

brought to justice; the

president, his spokesman insists,

won't rest until it's done.

True, the Khmer Rouge committed

its most heinous crimes against

humanity back in the seventies,

and Clinton made it through six

years in office without

mentioning the whole thing -

but, hey, you know, he's been

meaning to get to it. The

longtime leader of the Khmer

Rouge died a while back -

excellent timing on the getting

tough thing - but that won't

stop the US from punishing his

subordinates: "We're all going

to make major efforts to find

these individuals and bring them

to justice," said UN Ambassador

Bill Richardson, a couple of

days after Pol Pot's death at

the age of ... 73. Coming soon:

The US announces its ironclad

commitment to bringing Adolf

Eichmann to justice.


Thirty years after the Great

Society, Warren Beatty is a

damn-the-consequences risk taker

because he dares to make a movie

suggesting that blacks deserve

job programs; maybe in another

30 years some daring soul

will be ready to make a movie

that simply suggests that blacks

deserve plain old jobs. Or

maybe, better yet, someone will

make a movie suggesting that

justice can be actively sought

by the people who deserve to

seek it - and the powerful white

politician, the traditional

avatar of the weak and helpless

seeker, can be shifted quietly

to the side, properly irrelevant

to the efforts other people make

at living decent lives; perhaps

someone will make a movie in

which power actually shifts.


Now, how about some ice cream?

courtesy of Ambrose Beers