hood rats April 3, 2007Posted by Melissa in class, Set it off.
I finished watching Set it off a few hours ago, and I am still bothered by the movie. Many things were troubling to me, but the most bothersome were 1) the condemnation of the black race by Keith, 2) the use of the token black female police officer, and 3) the transformation of Frankie from a respectable bank teller to a “ghetto thief.”
First, there is a scene in the film in which Keith states the problem with Stony and her feelings of being “caged” is a result of the lack of planning within the Black community (“we don’t plan for the future as a people”). Though the film attempts to address racial and class issues, I feel having Keith in the film (the “good” Black role model) only services the larger social agenda against poor Blacks in the 1990’s. The film was made in the late 90’s, around the period Bill Clinton was making serious cuts into social programs. There was a major misconception in society that the majority of people who prescribed to social welfare programs were black or Hispanic (the truth is that well over 60% of mothers on welfare are white), and a national dialogue centering on personal agency emerged (also seen in the attacks on affirmative action). There was the belief that all one needed to do to succeed was to work hard, pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Like Keith said, all one needed to do was to plan ahead. In having that line in the film, I think the greater message about the vicious cycle of life in poor neighborhoods is overshadowed by the possibility of success as embodied by Keith and his belief in a good plan. Though Stony shoots down Keith’s theory (with the mention of her murdered brother, and later with their discussion at the bankers reception) I think having a black character place blame on the black community for their own problems- completely ignoring the larger societal and institutional factor involved- is unfair.
The second problem I had with film, along the same lines as the problems I had with Keith, was the black female officer. What was her purpose? To take orders from her white partner? Or to simply give the audience another example of the “good” minority? She did nothing in the film other than repeat Det. Strode’s orders and curse the four other black women whenever she got the chance. I found her to be distracting and completely transparent (she was only in the film as a token figure to offset any criticism of the negative portrayal of Black people as criminals).
Finally, what I found to be one of the more disturbing aspects of the film was Frankie’s transformation. She began the film as a “normal” person, she spoke and dressed well. Her demeanor changes when she is fired from her job, no longer is she just a workingwoman, she becomes a “hard” thug. From the way she changed her usage of language and her aggressive attitude, it’s hard to believe that the woman we saw in the beginning is the same woman that was shot dead in the end. Was it necessary to change the character so much, or would it really have been too hard to believe that a “well-spoken and well-mannered” person could commit the crimes Frankie would devise?
I may have looked too much into some of the issues I have brought forth, but I do think they are interesting issues that should be discussed. Though the film made great strides for black actors in Hollywood, I don’t think the poor development of the social context of the women’s poverty is excusable- what could have been a strong social commentary turned into the run-of-the-mill Hollywood film.