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Talking With David Walker

November 18th, 2008 by Anne Richardson · No Comments · 2000's, Interviews, Oregon critic, Oregon director, Oregon writer, Side Notes

Earlier this year I interviewed film writer (and director) David Walker about his take on the Obama campaign.

Anne: I am looking at this campaign and wondering how it looks to you as a pop critic. Hillary just got voted off the island. What do you make of that?

David Walker: Look, there was only one woman to ever play the president of United States, and that was Geena Davis in a television series that tanked. But when Morgan Freeman played the president in Deep Impact the general consensus was that that was the best part of the movie.

Anne: Yes, let’s have Morgan Freeman for president!

David Walker: People had no problem with it.  If we are to understand how Obama is going to win, you need to understand who Cassius Clay was. How he became Muhammed Ali. How he became the most hated man in American and how he became America’s most loved hero. All in his lifetime. But I wonder if the average American is aware of basic American history.

Anne: I think in a weird way that has worked in Obama’s favor. This is a generation which was watching a black president on television.

David Walker: No one is talking much about the impact that hip hop has had. With the exception of the war on terror, hip hop has shaped and guided this generation more than any other pop culture phenomenon. There’s a whole iconography , and whole mythology behind it which placed the black man’s validity at the forefront, in front of everyone’s face. Now that could be for better or for worse, because it is not necessarily the most positive representation. But when I was in high school, there were no hip hop videos on MTV, and no black performers. Now you look at it and they’re everywhere.

Anne: So has pop culture has been a positive force for change in our country?

David Walker: I think it is a symbiotic relationship, between pop culture and real life. In the 60’s, Stanley Kramer and a couple other smart producers were able to look at Sidney Poitier and see it was just a matter of time before Hollywood was going to desegregate. So you get your Lilies of the Field, your Raisin In The Sun. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was made in 1967, 40 years ago, and, when you think about it, that is where we are right now. We have finally truly caught up with that movie.

Anne: I remember reading in the Times that “Puffy Combs attended such and such party on Long Island”,  and thinking “Gee, Guess Who’s Coming to Southampton!”. But they weren’t reporting it that way. They  were reporting “Here comes this incredibly famous pop star”. They weren’t saying “This is a Sidney Poitier moment.” That wasn’t what was newsworthy. What was newsworthy was “This guy is gracing us with this presence.”

David Walker: Well, that is part of what pop culture has managed to do. It has managed to cultivate an illusion that you should look this way, we should all dress this way, this is what is cool…

Anne: And then if we make some of those records, WE will get invited to Southampton.

David Walker: Yes. It cultivates the illusion that in terms of questions of race in this country, that there is a more racially open and diverse power that dictates to American society now than there has been.

Anne: Now my question is: Which is more reality based? Our pop culture or our actual history of lynchings and Sundown Laws?

David Walker: The lynchings. But most people don’t know that.

Anne: But if the sense of what’s real is what is going to determine the election, if it is not going to be the memory of lynchings and the Sundown Laws, then they aren’t real any more. It is more real to people to say “That guy would make a pretty good president. I am going to go with him.”

David Walker: Yes.

Anne: So I guess the reality of racism – the imaginative structure of racial prejudice – is losing its followership?  It is becoming less real.

David Walker: Well, there are thousands of racists who have been around for generations and are raising their kids to be racists, and it is a family tradition, like a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Lynching did not just end with slavery. It still goes on. If it is not physical, there is spiritual and emotional lynching that still happens in this country.

Anne: But the attention span is not there to care about eighty years ago.

David Walker: Exactly! They don’t care about eight minutes ago. But I don’t necessarily think that pop culture is having more of an impact now than, say, when Mark Twain published Tom Sawyer. I think it is about the same, like adjusting for inflation when you compare the sales figures for a Beatles album against those for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The impact of pop culture needs to be adjusted for the ease of access by which it is available. I think the biggest marked change is that the internet has made us lazier.

Prove David wrong! Read his history of black presidents on filmat MSN Movies.

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