Tag Archives: Brixton Ritzy

The surprising link between Black Panther and X-Men

14 Feb

Welcome to Wakanda: the key cast of Black Panther

Black Panther has tapped into an audience normally uninterested in superhero blockbusters. It was striking how, at the first night’s screening at the Brixton Ritzy, the usually overwhelmingly white crowd was majority black.

For my part, I went with my young niece (actually first cousin once removed, but that’s a bit of a mouthful, so we’ll just go with niece). She doesn’t know her Marvel from her DC, and thinks she might have seen Thor but on second thoughts maybe it was Troy, so you can safely say she’s not usually first in line for such films. Black Panther is different. Black Panther is a cultural event, the first mainstream, massive-budget superhero film to feature a largely black cast. As the joke circulating Facebook goes, the only other actors are Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, who both featured in The Hobbit, which makes them the Tolkien white guys.

Does it work? As a film, not altogether. There are huge gobbets of exposition shoved into the first act, all of it daft – a crashed meteorite has left a deposit of “vibranium” in the small African nation of Wakanda, a metal which somehow accelerates technological development and even heals wounds, creating a highly advanced civilisation hidden from view of the wider world. The special effects are occasionally hokey. The filming feels excessively studio-based. The pace lags in parts, as origin stories tend to.

On the plus side, the performances are top-notch, notably Letitia Wright as Black Panther’s sassy scientist sister, and Michael B. Jordan as Black Panther’s rival – more on that in a second. The production design, too, is magnificent. Some of the set pieces and battles are thrilling. Four stars, if I were to reduce it to a score.

But as a seismic cultural event, it’s a very big deal. It shows (hopefully!) that a black cast can find a mass audience. It presents a futurised ideal of African culture, without any attempt to dilute it for a Western audience: from the superb music curated by Kendrick Lamarr, to the fighting styles based on African martial arts, to the set design, costumes, hair and accents. It even has strong (if a tad one-dimensional) female roles.

Before the film, my niece pondered the irony that Hollywood, the biggest propaganda machine for the Western capitalist system, now seemed to be selling revolution. But notwithstanding Black Panther’s huge cultural impact, it seems to me to have a much less radical message.

The central conflict in the film turns out not to be between Black Panther and Andy Serkis’s pantomime villain with a plasma gun for a hand, but instead with a figure from Wakanda’s past who challenges Black Panther for the throne. Black Panther wants peaceful rule, perhaps opening up his kingdom slightly in order to help the poor and the oppressed in the outside world. His rival wants to smash the system, arming the disenfranchised with Wakandan technology to slay and overthrow their rulers across the world. The film clearly presents this as A Bad Idea, and a benevolent, non-democratically-elected king as A Good Idea – so not so revolutionary after all.

As my niece said, one is effectively Martin Luther King, while the other is effectively Malcolm X – which, intriguingly, is the same dynamic that powers all the X-Men films, by pitting Professor Xavier against Magneto.



Brixton Ritzy latest: we have our happy Hollywood ending

30 Oct

Ritzy victory

Whoooop! On Monday I wrote of the Brixton Ritzy that “Next time you see one of those nicey-nicey adds for Picturehouse Cinemas that run before every screening, with smiling staff tending to enraptured patrons over Stuart Hancock’s beautiful and elegiac score, you have my permission to vomit into your box of overpriced popcorn.”

This was in reaction to the shocking news that, having agreed to the Ritzy’s staff’s year-long campaign for something approaching the London Living Wage, management had then turned round and said they were to sack a quarter of the workforce to pay for it.

Yesterday I wrote of the swell of support for Ritzy staff, in particular the fact that Curzon Cinemas had announced the London Living Wage for all of their staff. I warned that Picturehouse and its parent company Cineworld were “sleepwalking into a PR shitstorm” and hoped, as in a Hollywood film, that this third-act twist might yet resolve into a happy ending.

Well… it has! The Evening Standard today reports that Cineworld has backed down, and that there will be no redundancies at the Ritzy – one of Picturehouse’s most profitable cinemas. Said chief executive Mooky Greidinger, “Group management was not aware of plans to enter consultations for redundancies at The Ritzy, which is managed by Picturehouse. I am now making this a group matter and I have decided together with Picturehouse management to put an end to the [redundancy] consultation process.”

This modern protest may have run via Facebook and Twitter and email instead of with picket-lines and placards, but it seems to have worked. Well done everyone who took the time, as I and many people I know did, to contact Cineworld and make our displeasure known.

Brixton Ritzy strike latest: Curzon announces London Living Wage for staff

29 Oct
Brixton Ritzy staff strike for London Living Wage

Brixton Ritzy staff strike for London Living Wage

The Brixton Ritzy strike is playing out like a movie. How long before it joins the miners’ strike film Pride, ironically still playing at the Ritzy, on the big screen?

We have the hero’s quest – the staff’s year-long struggle to be paid the London Living Wage. We’ve had the false dawn, where a few weeks ago they seemed to have achieved their goal. Two days ago we had the sudden reversal and the “all is lost” moment, where Picturehouse announced that, to pay for the wage increase, they would be sacking nearly a quarter of the staff. And now we have the intervention of the wise old mentor that gives new hope to take our protagonists into the third act.

The wise old mentor comes in the shape of Will Self in the Standard, Owen Jones in the Guardian, and, um, me in my blog two days ago, which has been Shared on Facebook more than any other I’ve written, proving to me the strength of feeling on the matter.

But much more than that, it comes now in an amazing twist from Curzon Cinemas.

Today, Curzon announced that it is introducing the London Living Wage for all its staff. Said Chief Executive Philip Knatchbull: “This could not have occurred without the support of our shareholders who will subsidise the cost of doing this in the short term until the cost is self-financing through the better quality of work we think paying people properly will engender.”

He was too polite also to say, “Yah boo sucks, Picturehouse, thanks for sleepwalking into a PR shitstorm and giving us all your disaffected boycotting customers.”

The third act of this drama is still unwritten. This isn’t Hollywood, so it may still not have a happy ending. But since entreaties to fair play are useless to a corporation that has a duty to its shareholders, I like the way Knatchbull has phrased it. Curzon is paying its staff because it believes that will pay off financially in the long run. What is true for Curzon is surely also true for Picturehouse.

Companies spend years and millions on building a brand. Picturehouse, under the relatively new management of Cineworld, is flushing all that hard work, money and good will down the toilet for the sake of a couple of quid an hour. It’s just bad business.

So come on, Picturehouse. If you won’t do right by your staff out of a sense of fairness and civic duty, do it because, in the end, it makes financial sense; because that’s what your customers want.

Give us our happy third-act ending.

LATEST NEWS: Protest works!! bit.ly/1wgUsC4