Oliver Stone (pictured) is the kind of person, who when speaking freely, can either make you throw one hand in the air like you’re listening to 1992 Mariah Carey or throw your entire face in to that same hand in an effort to escape the ridiculousness you’ve just heard. It really all depends on the day.
For example, Stone had a bit of a point years ago, when he argued, “Israel has f*cked up United States foreign policy for years,” but completely ruined it by saying that the “Jewish domination of the media” had caused the stories of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust not being told “in context.” Stone is as divisive a figure as they come, although everything he says ought to be taken as if he was waving a ring of fire in your right eye and daring you to fight back.
Case in point:
Admittedly, it is a bit jarring to read a White man complain about the “respectable” Black community given he’s not in the club or even a frequent guest at our meetings. Still, I don’t find Stone’s recent “controversy” to be that greatly offensive. If anything, this lends credence to the belief that the King family is more in to the idea of painting King as nothing more than a martyr than what he was: A great man with some nominal level of flaws — you know, like lots of other human beings.
We have a habit of doing this with many of our noted historical figures. Just this week, I wrote about the outspoken Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has not minced words when it comes to Abraham Lincoln and this notion of him as the “great emancipator” who helped raise America’s consciousness about race. You would think Lincoln had a magic cape and flew around the South freeing Black people from slavery — without his top hat ever slipping off, of course — based on the way he’s depicted in many history books. Yet, as Wright explained, “Abraham Lincoln liked to tell darkie jokes, he liked to hear darkie jokes, and he used the N-word incessantly.”
Does that completely tarnish the man’s legacy? No, but it does add context and highlights that despite the fairytale floating around him in American history, he was certainly a White man of his time. And if memory serves, John F. Kennedy‘s personal transgressions have been exposed, yet he maintains a pristine image.
Does a movie made about Dr. King need to be solely about airing his dirty laundry? No, but based on Stone’s comments, that wasn’t the movie he was trying to make. We don’t need a “Love & Hip Hop”-inspired spin of Dr. King’s life, but we also don’t need Dr. King made out to be Santa Clause either.
And that point doesn’t just speak to his personal life either. Just yesterday, Aviva Shen at Think Progress wrote “4 Ways Martin Luther King Was More Radical Than You Thought.” In it, Shen highlighted King’s call for a government-guaranteed right to a job, his support of Planned Parenthood, his deep resentment of the Vietnam War, and constant criticism of capitalism.
If Dr. King were alive today, Bill O’Reilly and his band of conservative circus clowns at FOX News would probably be berating him as some Allah-loving Marxist who stole Jesus’ hoodie after he walked on water to deliver him a fish sandwich. They don’t deviate from the King-had-a-dream-for-racial-harmony-and-that-was-it narrative because that would be a threat to what they represent.
It’s that great dilution of his progressive politics — particularly in the last years of his life — that allows even the third tier of the right wing to misrepresent what he stood for. Take for instance Sarah Palin, a cartoon posing as a politician who owes her entire career to the joys of White privilege and the lowered expectations they help facilitate, posting the following on Facebook on Monday:
Happy MLK, Jr. Day!
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card.
The nerve. Even if Sarah Palin is nothing more than the herpes outbreak on the top lip of common sense, she’s not the only high-profile Republican to do this. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also used King to tell Black people and other minorities to stop bringing up race all the time. It’s as if they think Dr. King was some jolly Black man who marched through the Jim Crow South taking away every person of color’s “race card” while singing, “No, no, no.”
I can’t be certain that Stone’s movie was the perfect representation of Dr. King either, but I do know if he was trying to make him more substantive than just a saint, that’s a lot better than a lot of other people’s current presentation.