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Class Warfare


The 2022 Academy Award nominations are in, and sadly the films we watched and streamed reflected our reality.

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Jude Hill in Belfast

What does a misogynistic rancher in Montana, an impoverished 9-year-old boy in Belfast, and a 15-year-old prince from the planet Caladan all have in common? They’re the darlings of 2022 Academy Award season with a whopping 29 nominations between them.

A revisionist Western that uses a careworn genre to examine toxic masculinity, “The Power of the Dog” dominated the 2022 Academy Awards with 12 nominations. It was followed closely by “Dune,” a sprawling adaptation of a popular sci-fi novel which earned 10 nominations. “Belfast,” Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story about the Northern Ireland conflict received seven nominations. Finally, “King Richard” (the father and coach of famed tennis players Venus and Serena Williams) trailed behind with six and "The Tragedy of Macbeth" (A Shakespearean tragedy about political ambition) just three. These five new spectacular films were released by the new streaming studios — Netflix, HBO Max, and Apple TV+ — and each and all spoke to a singular theme: A War Between the Classes.

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Serena and Venus Williams in Compton circa 1991.

The Class Struggle

The Class Struggle refers to a tension that exists in society in consequence to socio-economic competition. The forms of class struggle and conflict have a wide arc that includes;

Economic Coercion; is the threat of unemployment or the withdrawal of investment capital. Based on the autobiography of Richard Williams — the father and coach of famed tennis players Venus and Serena Williams — “King Richard” follows Williams, played by Will Smith, from boyhood where he experiences racial discrimination, racial profiling, even the lynching of a boy his own age named “Lil Man.”

The film chronicles how Williams’ grooms his two daughters to dominate the competition in suburban country clubs, national championships, and specifically the white world of tennis in the 1990’s. Here, the world is beset with stereotypes that have a twinge of satire; including a succession of scenes in which every one of Venus’ white competitors’ storms off the court after losing. The country clubs with their pools and high-end burgers, the Rick Macci tennis camp, the home the Williams' live in while they train all substantiate, not inaccurately, the whiteness of the entire sport and the ease with which money is both the barrier for entry and the expectation for winning.

Sex Discrimination; The great New Zealand writer-director Jane Campion has long been acclaimed for her films about the complex inner lives of women, notably in 19th-century dramas like “The Portrait of a Lady,” “Bright Star” and “The Piano.” Her tense and gripping new movie, “The Power of the Dog” marks something of a departure.

It stars a superb Benedict Cumberbatch as a 1920s Montana rancher named Phil Burbank who's the very picture of rugged American masculinity. "What's really fascinating about bringing a character like Phil Burbank to life," Cumberbatch says, "is that you're really looking under the hood of it. You're examining the causality behind that toxic masculinity."

Direct Violence; includes wars for resources and cheap labor, assassinations and revolutions. The Troubles in Belfast, for example, are often misunderstood as a religious war between the Irish Catholic and Protestant of Northern Ireland. However, the conflict is in effect a national dispute within the United Kingdom over labor and independence. According to the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), 3,532 people have been killed as a result of the conflict between 1969 and 2001. *A series of riots in Northern Ireland re-ignited on 30 March 2021.

Indirect Violence; includes poverty, unsafe working conditions, illness and starvation. If “Dune” is set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society controlling planetary fiefs, its primary theme is a warning to society about giving over every decision-making capacity to a charismatic leader. When Frank Herbert completed the trilogy he warned, "Beware of heroes.”

Political Coercion; includes forms of class warfare such as legal and illegal lobbying and bribery of legislators. Joel Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Macbeth" is so starkly modern as to evoke the bleak simplicity of the original stage production.

Convinced by a trio of witches that he’ll ascend the Scottish throne, Macbeth and his wife (Frances McDormand) plot to see this prophecy come to fruition. Director Joel Coen returns, sans his brother/collaborator Ethan, with this dramatic re-telling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Denzel Washington starring as the eponymous mad king.

Macbeth himself, a nobleman who takes the Scottish throne after murdering the king he had bravely served, embodies this nihilism as he is destroyed by it. The evil he does — ordering the slaughter of innocents and the death of his closest comrades — would echo in nationalist leadership over the next 400 years.

But stripping away the fancy sets, costumes and scenery, Coen feeds us the text, the original Shakespearean prose, as though it were unfolding at the Globe Theater in London in 1606, where we come to understand why the ambition and paranoia of Strongmen are patently inconsistent with governing.

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Denzel Washington as Macbeth

Uneasy Lies the Head that wears the Crown

It was with bitter sarcasm that Jean-Jacques Rousseau — a preeminent philosopher of the Enlightenment — outlined the class conflict prevailing in his own day between masters and their workmen:

You have need of me, because I am rich and you are poor, and therefore we come to an agreement. I’ll permit you the honor of serving me, in return for which I’ll take pains to command you.

Rousseau argued that the most important task of any government is the class war between the worker and their master. Left unchecked, he argued that future employers would engage in the exploitation of labor under the pretense of serving society. Specifically, he held that government should actively intervene in the economy to abolish poverty and prevent the majority of wealth falling into the hands of a few. To the extent they fail, a rancher, an impoverished boy from Belfast, and a prince from the 2022 Academy Award season had something to say...

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