Remember that lumpy older brother bully who made life hell for Macaulay Culkin’s character in the holiday classic “Home Alone”? I didn’t think so. Former child actor Devin Ratray is hoping to reprise his bullying ways, or at least become a gadfly or find some newfound publicity. This time his attention is turned toward the current (and outgoing) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Courting Condi” is a new film by Brit Sebastian Doggart that depicts Ratray’s quest to get close to the Secretary to get her attention and declare his love for her. Fiction? Documentary? I haven’t seen it yet, but the trailer has made its way around the Internet and I guess that Doggart wants to do both: create a Michael Moore-style documentary and also imbue it with some snarky satire, because, well, it focuses on a woman who has apparently been part of the evil “vulcans” that took us into a fraudulent and costly war in Iraq, let’s see, approved of torture methods, ignored terrorist threats before 9/11, um, hold on, kowtowed to the hawks like Cheney and Rumsfield and let the henchmen call the shots, etc.
According to the film’s website, “Courting Condi” is “the first musical docu-tragi-comedy ever! Part Borat, part Fahrenheit 9/11, part Chicago — the film follows a love-struck soul’s hilarious, emotionally engaging, and ultimately shocking quest to woo Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”
Moreover, the film “tells the life story of one of our era’s most inspiring, enigmatic, and controversial figures. This film is both timely and a classic love story, punctuated by timeless songs. It is now ready for theatrical release, broadcast, and digital distribution.” You would think that both “timely” and “timeless” in the same sentence do not an Oscar winner make. Then again, it’s hard to figure out what the film’s purpose or plot is –besides the director’s asking Devin, a “portly musician” who is traveling across America, to compose “love disks”, or love songs that he hopes to present to Dr. Rice. You know, when she isn’t so busy flying off to world capitals. The website also displays some dubious or questionable honors, such as “Official Selection New Beijing International Film Festival 2009” and “Official Selection Havana Film Festival 2009” –two locales that probably wouldn’t mind watching a “satire” about Rice, but also two cities that aren’t exactly film capitals like Cannes, Berlin or Toronto either.
I’m all for satire, and I’m somewhat curious as to what’s in “Courting Condi”, especially as the main character Devin ends up meeting some figures that may or may not have some scores to settle with the Secretary of State, including some D-list cameos such as redheaded hothead and professional Republican gadfly cum pollster Frank Luntz, has-been “Rocky” composer and Oscar winner (32 years ago) Carol Connors and “cult comedian” Jim Norton (who?). Also, according to the trailer, there appears to be some contact Devin made with Rice’s friends in Palo Alto and the vicinity of Stanford University. I guess we’re supposed to be on the edge of our seats when Devin exclaims “There she is! There she is!”, and the possibility that Rice herself is driving right into view. Panic and hilarity probably ensue.
So I wonder why the Stanford Film Society (SFS, though probably less prestigious than the Cannes jury) decided to cancel the December 2 showing of “Courting Condi” last week after having booked it. When the SFS had announced the movie showing, SFS President Kerry Mahuron said:
I have seen the movie and am interested in showing it. However, as you are probably aware, Condoleezza Rice is a current faculty member of the Political Science Department at Stanford, and starting next February will be returning to the University as our Vice Provost. Showing a film that paints her in such a negative light is not only controversial, but also potentially inflammatory and a violation of Stanford policies. I have seen the movie and am interested in showing it. However, as you are probably aware, Condoleezza Rice is a current faculty member of the Political Science Department at Stanford, and starting next February will be returning to the University as our Vice Provost. Showing a film that paints her in such a negative light is not only controversial, but also potentially inflammatory and a violation of Stanford policies.
Sounds like the august SFS is bowing to pressure from Rice’s friends and supporters to can the film or else it’s engaging in a bit of censorship. If it had already booked it once, why suddenly pull it at the last minute? Even Mahuron had responded to this point before, arguing that “to prevent us from showing the film would violate our right to free speech”. What makes this especially odd is that the SFS had actually scheduled a virtual smorgasbord of events for the December 2 showing at the university’s Cubberly Auditorium, including a post-screening debate in which conservatives from the Hoover Institution were invited by e-mail, along with members from the Stanford Daily, Stanford College Republicans, the Stanford Conservative Society, Stanford Review, Stanford Amnesty and the Stanford Iraq Coalition. Yet Mahuron cancelled this because of “logistical reasons”. She then backpedaled on the idea of having a post-screening debate, asserting that “we are now convinced that any debate following the film would not be balanced, and that this event would not be a forum for open and bipartisan political discussion.” Finally, the San Jose Mercury reported that Mahuron, the person who organized the whole screening in the first place, now felt this: “Put simply, the film is bad.”
Ugh. Talk about lame. The director didn’t take this lying down, as he responded to the Mercury News story in his own ingratiating way, calling Rice “Stanford’s most sacred cow”: “Come on Stanford Film Society, step up! We all know Condoleezza Rice is an expert on Stalin, but do you really not have the cojones to not stand up to this blatant violation of free speech?” Doggart should be pissed because this isn’t the first time the film’s been thwarted. Early on, after a call from former Bush White House strategist (and Condi friend) Karl Rove, his original funders, Discovery Communications, were told that the film could damage “their good relations with the government”, forcing it to cancel funding. (The UK’s Channel 4 ultimately came in later.) Also, it was reported that State Department operatives raided the producers’ guesthouse in Washington in 2007 and planted a bug under a coffee table –all of which were documented on the Internet:
So what’s all the fuss about anyways? If the film is so bad or inconsequential, what’s wrong with showing it once and for all and figure that it probably won’t be all that memorable anyways? After eight years of public service and at the center of some of American foreign policy’s biggest and deadliest blunders, does Condi Rice (or her supporters) possibly have more to worry about in this innocuous movie? Also, for his part, why doesn’t Doggart just come clean and say that this is a satirical hit piece because he may have some kind of personal score to settle? His protestations to the SFS and whomever doesn’t want to show “Courting Condi” make it seem like we are all being deprived of some kind of Rosetta Stone, some epic work along the lines of “Lawrence of Arabia”, or even something of historical merit. Let’s see –yeah, it isn’t. I could probably tell you what Condi Rice truly thinks about all this: that we are in this country and the free speech to criticize is what this country’s all about, but try doing this in the countries where the film will be projected, Cuba and China. The people there aren’t expecting great art either; they want to see the Secretary of State (and the US) embarrassed too.
In fact, Condi Rice the Public Official has long been a vicious target of males who purport to be “artists” in their work. Several years ago Aaron McGruder did an arc in his comic strip “Boondocks” in which this premise was covered: that Rice’s evil ways and uptightness were due to the fact that she needs a man to settle down with. A few years back, on BET, the cartoon “Fridays”, an offshoot of the same-named 1995 movie with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, did an uproarious send-up of Condi Rice hanging out “in da hood” for those moments when she wants to escape the hectic Washington DC life. Once again, she was demonized from everything from her split between her teeth to her expected disdain for poor Black folk.
I have not seen “Courting Condi” yet but I’m wondering if the attack on Rice is somehow more personal and, therefore, misplaced. It would be hard to imagine another recent reality-based documentary or program in which a Black woman is being stalked by approaching her friends and family, all under the disingenuous wraps of a “satire”, as if we are all supposed to divorce ourselves from the fact that we are all dealing with human beings here. Satire is satire; it helps us laugh at ourselves. But to claim that this is not anything less than a gentle nudge or humor, and then fan flames of moral outrage when things do not go your way –well, I’d say it says more about the finished product, a “musical docu-tragi-comedy”, than about the preening sense that this is all about publicity anyways. With a Myspace and Facebook page already dedicated to the film, which will be finally released to the world next month, I’d say any publicity is always good publicity. And alas, one more plug —here’s the trailer: