Eli Steele is the anti-Michael Moore.
Sure, both documentarians feature themselves in their work. Moore’s shtick showcases his ego and unwillingness to consider opposing views. He’d rather mock his foes by selectively editing them for comic effect.
Steele’s “How Jack Became Black” takes the opposite approach. His point of view on identity politics is clear. Still, he engages in a dialogue all the same. His documentary lets “woke” voices be heard without insult.
The results are calm, sober and often hypnotic. Compare that to Moore, a socialist who wants liberals to lay their bodies on the line to stop a duly elected president.
“How Jack Became Black” starts with a modest but maddening anecdote. The director and father of two young children, Jack and June, isn’t sure how to fill out the racial boxes on their school forms.
He’s white, black, Jewish and deaf. The children’s mother is Hispanic.
Their children are multi-racial. So what box should he check? More importantly, why should he be relegating his children to a racial box in the first place?
Young Jack and June aren’t alone. The film points to demographic trends showing the number of multi-racial children is growing. Yet society remains obsessed with identity politics, a thinking that collides with common sense while ignoring a person’s character.
Steele interviews several multi-racial Americans who share their frustration with the status quo. Why do they have to “pick a race?” Isn’t that the opposite of what this country expects of its citizens?
Steele isn’t just tackling one third-rail issue in “How Jack Became Black.” He briefly questions why blacks must vote for Democrats, something liberal America enforces with alacrity.
“Voting out of racial loyalty always seemed absurd to me,” he says in his soft-spoken manner. Cue a clip of President Ronald Reagan railing against the notion of gather people by groups.
Talk about subversive storytelling in this day and age.
— HowJackBecameBlack (@JackBecameBlack) May 9, 2018
The film does more than weigh in on subjects sure to make right-leaning voters cheer. Steele presses a an L.A.-based Republican leader as to why he won’t enter a progressive realms like Compton. The man smiles awkwardly, saying as a white Republican that wouldn’t be wise.
We know why. It’s Identity politics snuffing out any attempt to bridge a social divide.
Steele scores again while covering the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. The tragic confrontation became racially charged when media outlets turned Zimmerman into a “White Hispanic,” a term rarely, if ever, used before.
Voila! The media got the “white on black” narrative it craved, as did a bevy of activists. And a local news story became a national obsession which divided an already splintered nation.
Steele isn’t here to mock those who took the media bait. They’re given a voice, a chance to weigh in on the controversy. The film’s viewers can decide how to process their rage.
How very un-Moore like.
Like most documentaries, “Jack” doesn’t boast a large budget. The film is handsomely shot all the same with spare but effective animation to break up the interview segments.
“How Jack Became Black” doesn’t sugarcoat the nation’s racist past. Early segments detail just how pernicious racism was in our nation. A segment on Louis Armstrong, who created an inoffensive persona to avoid his era’s racism, is captured by a framed portrait missing his signature grin.
Steele even uses his own family’s bigotry to hammer home the point. He’s not arguing racism vanished like 8-track tapes, though. He’s simply wondering at what point we move on from the past and give full credit to a person’s character over their skin color.
Steele narrates much of the film, apologizing for his deaf accent. He shouldn’t. His voice is clear, and loud, as his intentions.
HiT or Miss: “How Jack Became Black” is essential viewing, a personal look at a pernicious cultural trend that shows little sign of slowing down.