By Ben Pensant
Every now and then I worry that progressives are going soft. Leftist Mick Hume disputes the view that ordinary people are too stupid to vote; liberal pundit John Harris points out we should listen to why people supported Trump rather than dismiss them as racists; so-called socialists demand Jeremy Corbyn resign simply because he’s about as popular as white dog-shit and less likely to make a comeback. Fortunately, when faced with such madness, all I do is remind myself that Owen Jones and Kerry-Anne Mendoza exist and all my concerns evaporate.
See, Owen and Kerry-Anne prefer the regressive tactic of refusing to entertain an opinion without first checking the privilege of the person expressing it. Because as all students of identity politics know, the value of what someone says is entirely dependent on their gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religion. So when Sunday Times film critic and professional gobshite Camilla Long wrote a 3-star review of acclaimed indie hit Moonlight, Owen and Kerry-Anne deemed Camilla’s opinion invalid because she’s not a gay, black, working-class teenager: a brave move for two of the whitest, most middle-class 30-somethings stealing a living in media today.
That 90% of Camilla’s criticism was actually related to the script, casting and performances was immaterial to Owen and Kerry-Anne, neither of whom appeared to have read beyond the first two paragraphs of her review. And because Camilla didn’t love the film as much as them – instead making a prejudiced and entirely accurate assessment of Moonlight‘s likely audience – she was dismissed by Kerry-Anne as a ‘white woman with privilege’. And a racist, obvs.
Owen was similarly hysterical, framing her critique as indicative of her failure as a human being: ‘Camilla’s review of Moonlight isn’t a review of the film at all. It’s a review of herself and the results aren’t good’. The message to straight white hacks was simple: either A) gush about this movie as much as two people whose understanding of film criticism is flimsier than their faith in St Jezza. Or B) get back in your lane, chalky. As Owen bleated on Sky News after the Orlando massacre just before he stormed out rather than admit that the religious ideology he’s spent his career defending isn’t keen on blokes kissing blokes: ‘You don’t understand because you’re not gay’.
That Owen wrote a book about the working-class despite not being working-class is unimportant. Because anyone can see he had to write that book – it’s not as if actual working-class people are intelligent enough to write one, is it? Hence Owen’s glee at informing Camilla that Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is black and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney is black and gay. A disappointing half measure from Baz, but we’ll let him off this time.
Owen’s rebuke was in response to Camilla’s claim that Moonlight is a film ‘for a non-black, non-gay, non-working-class, chin-stroking, self-regarding, turbo-smug audience’. Which, if you take out the ‘non-gay’ bit is exactly what Owen and Kerry-Anne’s entries say in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I jest, of course: neither would risk upsetting their loyal and uptight fans by appearing in something that celebrates colonialism. Owen saw what happened when he suggested leaving the EU in 2015. He won’t make that mistake again.
But he was on firmer ground this time and shocked even his harshest critics by making the sensible point that regardless of who ends up watching the film the team behind it were documenting their own experiences therefore it is inaccurate to say it was written for the middle-class and turbo-smug. Despite the fact that those crying because a reviewer didn’t like it as much as they did are indeed middle-class and turbo-smug. At which point Camilla summoned her inner SJW and accused Owen of ‘mansplaining’, an attempt to discredit his point which actually discredited hers, a neat trick regularly pulled off by Laurie Penny. It was all very confusing but luckily on the rare occasion Owen talks sense it’s sandwiched between two statements that are utter rubbish and this was no exception. On the plus-side, if Camilla ever fancies coming over to the left she’ll be a perfect fit judging by her Ditum-esque deployment of the most idiotic cri de snowflake around
No such confusion where Canary editor Kerry-Anne was concerned, as her hysterical condemnation of Camilla’s review achieved the impossible and made Owen Jones seem reasonable. Indeed, unlike Owen she eschewed valid points about the talent behind the camera and cut straight to the chase: ‘You’re not imagining it. That review by Camilla Long isn’t just stupid. It’s racist’ she raged, confirming Kerry-Anne’s grasp of what is and isn’t ‘stupid’ hasn’t changed much since her days as a 9/11 truther.
She then accused Camilla of disliking the film because it’s ‘too black and too gay’, cleverly deducing that Canary readers won’t have read the whole review and be aware that her main issues with the film were actually a ropey script and poor casting. But Kerry-Anne has never met an opinion she couldn’t misrepresent and if Camilla is serious about joining the light side she should take note: using powerful phrases like ‘mansplaining’ is a decent start but it takes more than just borrowing words from The Left’s Big Book of Made-Up Terms. Which, by the way, is available from all good vegan coffee-shops and features such classics as ‘Islamophobia’, ‘Misogynoir’ and ‘Gender Pay Gap’.
No, if Camilla wants a transfer she’ll have to learn that the only kind of racism the left tolerates is The Racism Of Low Expectations (and anti-Semitism), not The Racism Of Not Liking A Film As Much As Owen & Kerry-Anne. Which is unfortunate as Camilla would fit in like a glove if she stopped saying what she thinks and started doing what she’s told: she’s posh, she’s educated, she earns a crust writing about something she knows bugger-all about. What’s not to love? The modern left was invented for people like Camilla. Until then she can expect more daggers the next time she dares criticise a film about gay black men. And remember, Camilla has form when it comes to not loving a film as much as Kerry-Anne, as anyone who recalls her disgraceful review of Ken Roach’s masterpiece I, Daniel Bloke knows.
Back then she made similar observations about target audiences, accusing them of getting off on Ken’s ‘povvo safari’. The left retaliated, pointing out that Camilla and Toby Jones – another critic of I, Daniel Bloke – were the last people who should pass comment on a film about poverty and unemployment as they both went to Oxford. The fact that Ken also went to Oxford was irrelevant as most of those screaming for Camilla and Toby’s heads were blissfully unaware that he did.
But as a born-and-bred North-Easterner I can safely say Camilla’s criticisms – which, like Moonlight, were mainly focused on the script and performances rather than the fact that she hates people from Newcastle as well as black homosexuals – were way off the mark. In fact, the grim world created by Ken was almost as authentic as the one Jimmy Spender brought to vivid life in Crocodile, Pet. And clever casting played a key part in the film’s success too, particularly in contriving to tell the story of the first Byker chippy to sound like a gay grief counsellor who’s spent twenty years living in Islington.
Because the sheer wholesomeness of Daniel renders any criticism of the film’s flat direction, amateurish performances and sledgehammer subtlety null and void. Look at Daniel: he misses his dead wife; he makes toys for the kiddies; he has a black neighbour who he actually gets on with. Indeed, it’s a measure of how realistic the film is that the same liberals who would be horrified if you so much as hinted that some unemployed folk are scroungers and occasionally black people commit crime are happy to laud a film whose only black character is a benefits cheat who sells stolen goods.
Of course, this was no doubt down to ‘colourblind casting’ as an auteur like Loach would never indulge in identity politics, despite the fact that – from his recent whataboutery-fuelled Question Time appearance to that crowd-pleasing BAFTAs speech – he indulges in identity politics every time he opens his mouth. But who can blame him, when his roasting of the government’s ‘callous brutality’ towards refugees received such a response from a roomful of wealthy imbeciles with more spare bedrooms than brain-cells? Plus, Ken’s moment of glory showed what a tolerant bunch the film & TV community are, as until recently many still refused to forgive him for knobbing Wendy Crozier behind Deirdre’s back.
Understandably there was no update on when the rich liberals present will open up their mansions to the refugees they’re desperate to help. But fear not – there are plenty of Byker Walls up and down the country. Ken and co may care about refugees but that doesn’t mean they want them in their bloody homes. Have you seen how some of them eat? No, far better to let people like Daniel deal with the effects of immigration. The same Daniel who principled liberals nationwide pledged solidarity with last year, despite the fact they’ve spent eight months calling people like him uneducated racists.
Still, film discussion long ago ceased to be the preserve of people who enjoy watching films: Owen and Kerry-Anne have appointed themselves the regressive left’s Siskel & Ebert and they’re not gonna let a little thing like knowing fuck all about cinema stop them telling people what to like. Indeed, it takes someone who’s spent their life writing about politics to truly understand popular culture. Because while less-precocious teenagers were dancing in front of the mirror pretending to be Nigel Gallagher, Owen and Kerry-Anne were channelling Benn and Castro, fantasising about selling badges at rallies and stringing up dissidents with barbed wire. That they’d probably shit their tank-tops off if they watched five minutes of a Tarantino film just proves that when it comes to cinema, right and wrong is as easy to define as it is in politics.
However, as Sunday night’s Oscars debacle grimly demonstrated, there’s a long way to go. Because while the Academy’s attempt to make up for last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy by patronisingly shoehorning as much black talent into the nominations as possible is commendable – especially giving August Wilson a Best Adapted Screenplay nod despite the fact he’s been dead for twelve years – the pathetic attempt to deny Moonlight its Best Picture Oscar was a stain on an otherwise joyous, life-affirming, utterly superficial event.
Apologists have claimed the climactic mix-up happened because the wrong envelope was handed to crumpled fanny-rat Warren Batty, already somewhat confused that former squeeze and co-presenter Faye Dunaway had been replaced by Annie Walker out of Coronation Street. But a man on a flying horse can see this was a last ditch attempt from Trump to sabotage Moonlight’s success by giving the grand prize to white supremacist propaganda-fest Lulu Land. Which, needless to say, Camilla Long adored. Hmm.
Happily, Hollywood held its nerve and Moonlight rightly triumphed. Whether it actually was the best film of 2016 should only be debated by those weirdo cineastes who enjoy listening to opposing views and wouldn’t know intersectionality if it reported them for eating a Burrito. For the rest of us, if Owen and Kerry-Anne say it was a worthy winner then there’s no reason to disagree. In fact, there’s no reason to see the film at all as their blessing proves it’s the best thing ever and anyone who says otherwise is racist. Instead let’s comfort ourselves with the knowledge that Camilla and Trump awoke on Monday with egg all over their furious, fascist faces.
Now THAT’S the power of cinema.