George Clooney says his new film about racial division in the 1950s mirrors racial strife today, but the two are hardly alike, and Clooney’s reckless rhetoric and politically charged production will only agitate conflict—which might be the actor’s ultimate goal.
“Suburbicon,” which Clooney describes as an angry movie for an angry nation, is the true story of a black family that faced months of harassment and violence when they moved into an all-white neighborhood in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Clooney says he came up with idea for the film while watching Trump’s campaign speeches “about building fences and scapegoating minorities.”
“I started looking around at other times in our history when we’ve unfortunately fallen back to these things,” he said. “And I found this story that happened in Levittown, Pennsylvania. The idea of juxtaposing these two was to say, you’re looking in the wrong direction if you’re blaming this African-American family for all your woes. Some of us are able to speak to the idea of white men feeling that they’re losing their privilege and blaming it all on minorities. And of course, it has nothing to do with that.
“When you talk about ‘Making America Great Again,’” he continued. “America being great everyone assumed was the Eisenhower ‘50s, and it was great if you were a white, straight male, but other than that it probably wasn’t so great. It’s fun to lift up that curtain and look underneath that thin veneer and see some of the real problems that this country has yet to completely come to terms with.”
More Comparisons Between the 1950s and Charlottesville
Lynda Myers, whose parents were the ones who moved into the idyllic northern neighborhood and faced violence as a result, said, “I thought that race relations had improved quite a bit until, unfortunately, President Trump became president. People felt they could now say out loud what they really felt and not hide it. Now they feel open and free to do what they want to do and hate the way they want to hate. It’s almost like there was a bandage on it, and now it’s been ripped off.”
Stephen Galloway wrote in “The Real-Life Racial Battle That Inspired George Clooney’s ‘Suburbicon’” that the parallels between the 1950s riots surrounding the Myers’ family and the recent protests in Virginia are “haunting.” The film “could not be better timed, coming soon after the Aug. 12 events of Charlottesville and the uproar following President Donald Trump’s apparent defense of the white supremacists who had demonstrated there.”
Matt Damon, who stars in the film, agrees, saying, “We couldn’t have predicted obviously when we were filming these race riots that we would have something like Charlottesville. It does speak to the fact that these issues have not and are not going away until there’s an honest reckoning in our country.”
Clooney says he once thought “segregation was going away,” but it hasn’t. “We still have a lot of work to do from our original sin of slavery and racism.”
Reaction to the film has been one of anger as viewers compare the 1950s riots to those today, but Clooney said this is the point. “It is an angry film,” he said. “If you go to our country, depending on which side of the aisle you sit on, it’s probably the angriest I’ve ever seen the country, and I lived through the Watergate period of time. There’s a dark cloud hanging over our country right now.”
“People are angry,” he continued. “A lot of us are angry, angry at ourselves, angry at the way the country is going, and angry at the way the world is going. This seems to reflect that. I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. I think that’s a fair thing to do. We didn’t want this to just be this polemic that’s a civics lesson. We wanted it to be funny. We wanted it to be mean. But it certainly got angry and it got angrier as we were shooting.”
‘Make America Great Again’ Is Not About Race
Clooney is right: there is a lot of anger, but he fails to understand the root of it—at least on the Right—and thus is fueling it. He thinks Trump rallies, Trump policies, and the impulse behind “Make America Great Again” are all rooted in white privilege and racism. He couldn’t be more wrong.
People like Clooney mistakenly fixate on a minority of racists who don’t reflect Trump’s base of support. They ignore the wide swath of Americans who are concerned about our nation’s strength on the global stage, the encroachment of socialism, the silencing of free speech by political correctness, the bludgeon of white guilt that has been repeatedly used to advance big-government policies, and the deaf and dumb career politicians who refuse to respect American citizens of all creeds and colors—their needs, interests, hopes, and dreams.
“Make America Great Again,” for these people, has nothing to do with whitey in the 1950s and everything to do with our current national crises that are rooted in aberrant political ideologies, not racism. There is a severe danger in superimposing the past on the present for political opportunism, especially when there aren’t real parallels. Racial unrest in the past is nothing like the conflicts we’re seeing today. They’re not the same in form or substance.
The 1950s Were Nothing Like Charlottesville
America’s history of racial violence is bloody and rooted in hatred. Lynchings in the South, violent mobs dragging innocent blacks from their homes, hangings, murders, burnings. Post-World War I, race riots in northern urban areas increased as blacks migrated from the South. Displacement of whites by blacks in housing and employment heightened tensions and violence ensued.
The summer of 1919 was called “The Red Summer” as 26 race riots swept across the country—Chicago, Washington, Charleston, Omaha, to name a few. Hundreds of blacks were killed, and thousands were wounded and left to struggle in the streets as their homes were burned and destroyed.
In Atlanta in 1906, white mobs reacted violently to the media-fueled perception that black crime was rampant. They murdered blacks and looted their businesses and homes. After four days of rioting, ten blacks were dead and hundreds injured.
In 1921, when a white girl in Tulsa accused a young black man of attempted rape in a public elevator, he was dragged off to prison. A group of armed black men showed up to protect him, and violence broke out between whites and blacks. A mob of thousands attacked black neighborhoods with bombings, machine gun fire, and brutal fighting. The National Guard was called in to control the situation. In the end, 50 whites and nearly 200 blacks were dead. Millions of dollars worth of property was destroyed.
In 1943, as the black population increased in Detroit, rioting broke out when whites and blacks clashed in a recreational area. Whites traveled by car to black neighborhoods, shooting and throwing homemade bombs. Federal troops were called in, but not before 25 blacks and 9 whites were killed.
There are many others, but this gives us some real perspective. Charlottesville was a small group of wannabe neo-Nazis who were protesting the removal of a Confederate statue. They were exercising their free speech rights when violent anarcho-communists who oppose capitalism and democracy showed up and attacked them. A single individual reacted to the violence with more violence, driving his car into the crowd and killing a young woman.
The protest in Virginia was between two politically motivated, mostly white groups who have been vying for power for decades on the domestic and global stage. It wasn’t a mob of whites beating up blacks because they don’t like them moving into in their neighborhoods or taking their jobs.
Stop Smearing Basic Conservative Policies as Race-Related
As bad as Charlottesville was, it was nothing like the race riots between whites and blacks that have plagued our country in the past. Trump campaign rallies where voters cheered upholding our immigration laws for the sake of safety, peaceful assimilation, and economic solvency can’t even be remotely compared to the hateful rhetoric that led to death and mayhem on the streets of America’s cities in the first half of the twentieth century.
White mobs are not invading black neighborhoods, bombing their houses, looting their businesses, murdering their children, and destroying their property. If any group is doing this today, it is black-on-blacks in urban areas, black protesters like those in Ferguson reacting to a false report of a police killing that had no racial component, or anti-Trump protesters like those in San Jose who attacked innocent white people at a political rally.
Clooney’s effort to characterize political conflicts today as the same as those blacks endured in the past is foolish because it creates a false impression of danger. It stokes anger over imaginary injustices and incites conflict between groups that are living together in relative peace across the nation. It also makes a mockery of the real suffering blacks endured during a turbulent time in our history.
To say “segregation” is still a problem and that the violent racism of the past is alive and well is to create a false narrative that plays on the fears of the gullible. It is irresponsible at best and demonic at worst. Clooney says a dark cloud is hanging over our nation. He’s right, but it’s not the cloud he thinks it is. It’s a cloud created by people like him who are agitating natural tensions and stoking anger to create cultural chaos and cause political disruption.
His rhetoric and propaganda should not be indulged or legitimized. It needs to be called out for what it is—a threat to the stability of our nation and to the peace of civil society.