Screen Media Films // 2007 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 3rd, 2009
The emotional fallout of prejudice within the cloistered walls of academia.
Moderator Clark Douglas: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for taking the time to join us this evening for this very special panel discussion forum. Tonight, the subject the panel will be discussing is a new film directed by newcomer Mark Brokaw called Spinning Into Butter. Based on a play by Rebecca Gilman, the story focuses on a college dean played by Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City). When an African-American student (Paul James, Greek) is subjected to handwritten notes featuring nasty racial slurs, Parker and her colleagues attempt to figure out who is responsible and how to deal with the inevitable media attention the story is going to receive. Parker is befriended by a television reporter played by Mykelti Williamson (August Rush), who has his own ideas about the situation. What results is a film that makes an attempt to examine some of the complexities of racial tension in America today. Due to the nature of this film, we have assembled an ethnically diverse group of individuals to discuss it. This evening I'm joined by four college professors: Michael Dawson (an African-American man), Susanna Esposito (a Puerto Rican woman), Richard Takana (a Japanese man), and Bridget Wilson (a Caucasian woman). Thank you all so much for joining us.
All: Thank you for having us.
Clark Douglas: Michael, let's start with you. Let's just begin with first impressions. What did you think of the film?
Michael Dawson: Well, I think it was an interesting experience. Even so, I couldn't help but feel that despite the fact it was admirably attempting to tackle some complex racial issues, ultimately it was just more of the same old, same old.
Clark Douglas: How do you mean?
Michael Dawson: Let me put it this way...far too often in Hollywood, when racism is tackled, it's tackled through the eyes of white people. Sadly, that was the case once again here. You have a white man directing this film, and the protagonist is a white woman.
Bridget Wilson: But Michael, wasn't it obvious that the film wasn't making the woman a noble hero? She was a very flawed individual who was eventually forced to confront and admit her own racism.
Michael Dawson: But don't you hear what you're saying? It was about a white woman being forced to confront and admit her own racism. That continues to be the focus, while other minorities continue to be nothing more than sympathetic, less well-developed side items to be examined by you and what will undoubtedly be a predominantly white audience.
Clark Douglas: Why presume that, Michael?
Michael Dawson: You really think that when most African-American customers are walking through the video store, they're going to say, "Hey, let's check out that Sarah Jessica Parker movie about racism." Yeah, that's going to be right at the top of their list.
Clark Douglas: I wouldn't presume to know what they would check out. Every person is different.
Michael Dawson: See, there you go, that's just you retreating into your own little corner of white guilt. Pretending like you don't stereotype us. Why is everybody trying to hide their insecurity? You are really terrible at it. For instance, why did you let me go first? Because I'm the black guy here?
Clark Douglas: I wasn't...
Bridget Wilson: I can understand both points of view here. While I don't believe that Clark was attempting to offend in any way, I can certainly see what Michael is seeing. There really is a serious problem when it comes to quietly making these stereotypes. And to be honest, I'm just so sick and tired of all of these white people pretending that racism is over and acting like they're fully capable of treating everyone equally.
Susanna Esposito: And you think that you're better than the rest of them? You think that just because you can recognize stupid white hypocrisy that you can just claim to have understanding on the matter? You'll never understand. You can never understand, because you are white. You will never know what it is like to be a minority and face racism and bigotry. You just want to be on our side and have us empathize with you so you can feel better about yourself. Nothing would make you happier than to have these minorities sitting here admiring you for your sensitivity. You should just stop trying to fit into something you don't understand.
Clark Douglas: Let's move on for a moment. Susanna, there is a scene in the film in which a Puerto Rican student receives a $12,000 minority grant thanks to the help of Parker's character. However, some of his other funding is pulled when the scholarship is received, meaning that the scholarship basically did him no good. What are your thoughts on this?
Susanna Esposito: I thought it was a very honest moment in the film that really touches just how poorly-planned out some of these things are. There are all of these white people trying to do things to feel better about themselves, but that's just the problem, they aren't thinking about the other people, they're thinking about themselves.
Bridget Wilson: But don't you remember what that one white student said in the film? At least the Puerto Rican student is eligible for that special minority grant. The white student didn't get that grant because he wasn't the right color. In attempting to lift up one group of people, you often wind up discriminating against another. But, because they're white people and white people have been the ones doing the persecuting for so long, I guess that makes it okay? Never mind that many of today's young white people have never done anything to oppress their fellow man in any way.
Michael Dawson: So are you suggesting that we should get rid of funding for minorities? That we should just let an all ready disadvantaged group of people become even more disadvantaged just because some spoiled white kid is unhappy? There it is again, more of the same narcissism.
Bridget Wilson: I think that every person ought to be treated according to their own individual merits. I believe in equal opportunity, that doesn't always mean equal results.
Michael Dawson: Yeah, no kidding it doesn't mean equal results. You know why? Because white people are still the ones controlling everything! The rest of us are given token positions, not so that organizations can become more diversified and racially integrated, but just so they can keep up that appearance. After all, one's actions can't be racist if one has a black man on their board of trustees, right?
Clark Douglas: Bridget, there is an interesting scene in the film between Parker and Williamson where she confesses why she stopped teaching at a mostly-black college to come to a mostly-white school. She talks about how she used to feel no racial ill will towards anyone whatsoever, but once she started teaching at the black college she began to feel more and more suspicious of other ethnicities. She hated herself for doing it, but she just started to develop a quietly prejudiced mindset. Do you think she was like that all along, or did it actually happen to her later in life as she said?
Bridget Wilson: I think it did happen to her later in life. I really think that the modern society we live in is to blame, because everything is so incredibly race-centered, it becomes impossible to even think about anything else. Everything anyone says or does seems to have some sort of racial undertone. I mean, I just feel like there are some people who look at everything through the prism of race, and after a while it becomes hard not to get caught up in that. For instance, the first thing Michael noticed about the movie was the race of the director. We live in an era where people are trying to ban using the word "dark" to describe evil because it supposedly has racial undertones. It's ridiculous. I just think we should try to see past each other's skin color and culture.
Michael Dawson: That's because you live an insulated bubble where everything is harmless. In the real world, almost everything is defined by some form of prejudice, bigotry, and hatred. I don't see the world through racially-tinted glasses; I simply see the world as it is. You just refuse to accept that.
Richard Takana: Also, let me just chime in and say that while I think we should try to look past skin color, we do not need to look past culture. Individual racial and ethnic cultures need to be embraced and celebrated, not suppressed or hidden away for the sake of some false sense of unity. We are who we are.
Clark Douglas: Pardon the interruption, but we do need to examine all aspects of this disc. Richard, what did you think of the DVD transfer?
Richard Takana: Excuse me? Just because I'm the Japanese guy means all I have to contribute is technical knowledge? This is outrageous.
Clark Douglas: I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that...I'll ask someone else...
Richard Takana: No, no, I might as well play my stereotypical role, you jerk. The DVD transfer is perfectly satisfactory. Colors are nice and vibrant, and the daylight scenes are aesthetically pleasing. Blacks aren't particularly deep, and the darker scenes seem a little murky. Still, the image isn't terribly important here, as this film is more or less a series of talking heads on simple sets. The audio is similarly low-key, but gets the job done. There are no extras of any sort on the disc.
Clark Douglas: Okay, this conversation has been derailed a bit, but can I get some closing thoughts on the film from all of you? Michael...uh, I mean, Bridget...wait...Susanna, we'll start with you.
Susanna Esposito: I think it was an interesting film. I think Sarah Jessica Parker was fairly good in the lead role, and it was something of a departure from the sort of part she usually plays. There were some moments that worked better than others, but I liked it.
Bridget Wilson: I liked it overall. I do have some mixed feelings about it...for instance, I think the college board members played by Beau Bridges, James Rebhorn and Miranda Richardson were very one-note stereotypes. I do think that latent racism is a problem among such people, but it's subtler than the film portrays it.
Michael Dawson: Aside from my aforementioned problems about the white-centric focus, I liked the film. Williamson's reporter is an interesting character who really manages to avoid the sort of B.S. that often accompanies a token role like that. I do have to agree with Bridget about the lack of subtlety among the college board...in reality, they're craftier and less explicitly racist than that. Those people just didn't seem to have the intelligence or demeanor of actual college professors.
Clark Douglas: Kind of like this group?
Richard Takana: Shut up, racist.
Clark Douglas: Well, on that note, let's conclude by saying that Spinning Into Butter is a messy, flawed, interesting dialogue that provides more questions than answers. If you were engaged the brief conversation we've had here tonight, the film may well be your cup of tea. If not, the film probably isn't up your alley. I'd say it's worth a rental.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Screen Media Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R