In her essay Rankine discusses the reactions of black mothers to the murder of their sons. By requesting an open coffin and allowing photographs of Emmett Till’s disfigured body to be published after he was lynched in 1955, his mother was defying the tradition of whites posing in front of hanged black bodies, Rankine observes with passion. Michael Brown’s mother was kept from his body after he was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Tamir Rice’s mother moved into a homeless shelter rather than live near the scene of her twelve-year-old son’s killing by police in Cleveland the same year. The Black Lives Matter movement is, for Rankine, “an attempt to keep mourning an open dynamic in our culture because black lives exist in a state of precariousness.”
But as the civil rights era, along with its violence if not reverberations, moves deeper into the past, the distance required for turning history into cinematic art may at last be upon us. “The Butler,” in its mostly unflinching examination of the nation’s recent racial history, marks an important contribution to reinvigorating this dialogue in the present. With more subtle portraits and a greater depth of characterization for the film’s minor roles, “The Butler” might have been a masterpiece. Instead, it will have to settle for being the most important movie ever made about the civil rights movement’s heroic period.
Nazi cultural official Hans Severus Ziegler curated a “Degenerate Music” exhibition in 1938, directed against “Jewish” and “Bolshevik” influences, and argued in the accompanying brochure that “Cultural politics calls upon us to care for the soul of the people, to foster its creative powers and all the values of character and conviction that we gather under the general term, ‘the folk.’ The politician and the cultural politician have the same goal: the creation of a strong nation and the securing of its material and spiritual well-being, the safety of its external existence and the nurturing of its inner existence.” The Jews, Ziegler claimed, had been hard at work attempting “to infiltrate all German thought and feeling, and to palm off on the Germans all kinds of novel ideas stemming from the Jewish race.”