Shame Meter: Oscar Nominated Best Pictures: The Green Book and BlackKlansman
Welcome to another podcast in our series Shame Meter: Oscar Nominated Films. I am Dr. Bill Senyard, the keeper of the aforementioned shame meter. What are we hoping to accomplish here? The Gospel Rant is here to shake things up in the nation and evangelicalism. Enough of tepid Christianese that plays less and less well with those who huddle inside our narrowly framed walls. The Gospel is huge and powerful and is more than a Heaven that all Jesus Followers get to go to by and by. Jesus’ death 2000 years ago means so much more than that for Christians. It should be noticeable. Not perfect, that’s Heaven, but noticeable. One of the areas that the Gospel should be making an observable dent is our shame. Shame is epidemic in the US. It has begun its disintegrating work in our families, our politics, our relationships, our race relations, issues related to sex and sexuality, our religion, and of course our media. What is shame? Listen to Curt Thompson from his helpful book, The Soul of Shame,
“Researchers have described shame as a feeling that is deeply associated with a person’s sense of self, apart from any interactions with others; guilt, on the other hand, emerges as a result of something I have done that negatively affects someone else. Guilt is something I feel because I have done something bad. Shame is something I feel because I am bad. In fact, when in its grip, it is quite difficult for us to separate our self from the shame that we are feeling…Shame…separates me from others, as my awareness of what I feel is virtually consumed with my own internal sensations…One way to think of this is that we can experience shame without guilt but are unlikely to experience guilt without shame.”
So we thought that it would fun and eye-opening to look at some of the top films of 2018 and see just how much they reflect shame. Do they acknowledge it? Is it an open antagonist? Or is it a silent killer? Is there something that diminishes shame? Don’t get me wrong, I am not picking on these eight films because I believe that they are exaggerating shame more than others. Not at all. I am suggesting that they are to one degree or another top films because they mirror the very same shame that we feel every day. We get it.
This podcast looks at two films nominated for Best Picture that we haven’t talked about yet–both dealing with racism and the fractured shame culture of the 60s and 70s in the US. The Green Book and Blackkklansman.
The Greenbook has five academy nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best supporting actor, best original screenplay, and best film editing. Blackkklansman has six including best Picture.
The Green Book is a historic-based story of one of a little known episode of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. A Brilliant black musician, in fact a world class, classically trained pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, heroically takes a music tour through the deeply entrenched racist south that is culturally just not prepared to give him the respect that he is due. Nevertheless, he is willing to risk his life and career to show audiences in the segregated south that Black artists are as capable as white artists. And they deserve equal respect.
But it is also an unlikely bro-film. Rolling Stones calls it Odd-Couple Dramedy Is Timely Feel-Good Movie Meaning. Right? It could be portrayed as a story of how two very unlikely men become friends through a lot of harrowing episodes. Don chooses a loudmouth Italian bouncer strongman Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) to be his chauffeur and body guard for his trip.
But for our purposes we will take a look at how shame is one of the key narrative drivers of the story. To be black in the early 60s was to be exposed to the ugliest of shame and shaming. Even for men as accomplished as Dr. Shirley. Time and time again you would experience shut doors or those critical looks that communicate that it doesn’t matter what you do, you are not good enough. That’s shame.
I would suggest that in addition to the heroic motivations toward racial equality, Dr. Shirley is also motivated to risk his life and career to get rid of shame’s nasty accusing voice in his own head. This is not weakness or evil. It is human, not a black or white issue.
“I’ll show them, all of those people who held me down, who didn’t recognize what I could do or be. I’ll show the world that I am valuable. I’m a black man and as talented and successful as any white person. I’ll show myself too.”
Arguably, we can see signs of shame, early on in the film as he meets Tony Lip while sitting on an African tribal throne. Not even subtle contempt or attempt to prove oneself worth and superiority. Clearly it was unnecessary. His resume speaks for itself.
As their journey limps along particularly at the beginning, his innate shame (I would suggest) takes on a critical judgmental façade as he treats Tony with unnecessary contempt and disrespect. Dr. Shirley is not a happy person at all—another tell-tale of shame’s disintegration of our joy.
Here is what Curt Thompson says about the shearing that happens when a person is blindsided by shame. Again, this is not a white or black thing. This is a human thing. It is a bit of a long quote but if you’ve seen the film, you will get it. I am putting the entire quote in a blog on my website (www.gospel-app.com).
“When an individual, relationship or community is touched by [shame], the mind moves toward a more disintegrated state. Sensations, images, feelings, thoughts and behaviors have a more difficult time flowing as a coherent whole. The Prefrontal Cortex cannot easily bring together the various functions of the mind, which are kept separated by the dividing energy of shame. In the same way that a destructive weather system (e.g., tornado, hurricane or flood) disrupts the connected infrastructure of power supply and people, so shame does to the mind and relationships…For instance, when I experience shame, I find it virtually impossible to turn my attention to something other than what I am feeling. I can become overwhelmed with the activity of my brainstem, and my Prefrontal Cortex goes offline. I am not able to think coherently, and my logical thought processes, which usually help me make good choices, are unavailable to regulate my right brain, from which all of the emotion is pouring.
Furthermore, my memory is inundated with old, implicit network activity, recollections of other times I have felt this, and I am unable to marshal the necessary memories of strength and confidence I desperately need at the moment. Shame is overtaking me. I then begin to construct a narrative that predicts a bleak and pessimistic future. I am unable to tell the whole story, certainly not one in which I am loved by God unconditionally and life, in the end, will be okay. My state of mind is fully disrupted, and transitioning back to one of coherence and peacefulness requires enormous effort. I can only see myself as being intolerable to others…and I sense the impossibility that this feeling will ever end.
The process of disintegration therefore follows a predictable, inevitable trajectory, one that begins with separation and ends in the hell of utter isolation. It begins with physically turning away, which takes place upon shame’s activation. In the same way that we turn our gaze down and away, so as to not see anyone seeing us, so also different functional parts of the mind turn away, so to speak, and are disintegrated from other functional parts… Certainly, with minor incidents we sense little in the way of disintegration. But with overly toxic events, it can feel as if we are literally going out of our minds.
This movement toward virtual infinite separation is our desperate attempt to deescalate the awful emotional sensation that we are enduring at the moment. For instance, in turning our gaze and body away from someone, we seek as expeditiously as possible to reduce the acutely painful feeling of being exposed. We are not aware that we simultaneously reinforce the deeply felt notion…that we are in fact shameful.
…With disintegration and isolation comes another feature of shame that we don’t at first recognize. When shame appears, especially in malignant forms, we are often driven to a felt sense of stasis. Our mind feels incapable of thinking. We may feel literally physically frozen in place when experiencing extreme humiliation, and if we are able to move, we feel like going somewhere we can hide and remain hidden without returning to engage others…This general idea that shame leads the world ultimately to a point of paralysis, vis a vis the movement that is required for creative engagement.”
And so, a deeply dug shame culture, impenetrable by reason or compromise. Shame has done its disintegrating work and now it just continues to spiral. Don’t get me wrong, I am not letting anyone off any hook. We are accountable for our actions and choices. The bar is that we are to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and love others (regardless of skin color) in the same manner. Shame works against us deep in our subconscious. If we want real lasting healing, honor and freedom for all who are treated with contempt, prejudice and abuse, it will require a miracle from God and muscle groups that we do not have.
If you’ve seen the film, you probably can recognize shame’s role in the lives of every one of the characters. Again, no judgment. This is not black or white thing. This is a human thing in a broken world. As said in previous podcasts, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real power that can disintegrate shame in our being. We can commit to changing—and should. We can legislate change-and should. We can get counseling—and should. But none of those things is more powerful than our deeply entrenched and rooted shame. The Gospel is that powerful. Want to know more about how to preach the Gospel to your shame? Check out the website www.gospel-app.com. We created prayer cards to help us out. On the prayer cards are four “preaching the Gospel to Yourself Prayers.” The idea is that if we said these aloud twice a day for thirty days, we begin to create a Gospel habit of asking for God’s power to work against guilt, shame, relational attachment wounds and addictions in our deeper inner being. These prayers have helped many people. You can order them at (https://gospel-app.com/product/ga-prayer-card-50-pack). Here is the Preaching the Gospel to Your Shame and Guilt Prayer.
Shame and Guilt Prayer
God, my shame and guilt are pretty deeply rooted. I messed up again. I am a mess. What is wrong with me? I don’t feel right. I have given You a thousand reasons to be disappointed, or to turn Your back on me. However, 2000 years ago You poured out your anger, and justice, and disappointment, and criticism upon Jesus, Your own Son, in my place. So now You can’t be critical of me, or disappointed in me, ever again. Make me really get that in my head and heart so that my guilt has less power over me right now.
I see again that Jesus’ record of doing everything right is now, for some crazy reason, put into my biography, my resume—and everything His life earned—heaven, eternal life, Your love, forever. You can’t ever love me more than You do, as much as You love your Son and He loves You. You can’t love me any less, ever. You have to like me, no matter what I did or didn’t do last week, no matter what I suspect that others feel toward me. Your gaze can never be Still-Faced toward me. It may feel like it. Yet the messiness is on my end not Yours.
Give me power to undo my fear that I am not lovable, or likeable. Give me, through the Spirit of Christ in my inner being, the power to be able to overcome my shame, guilt and fear. Quick, before I go and mess up some other relationships, falling short of mine or other’s expectations again. Simply put, make me feel loved by You. Make me see Your smile and hear Your voice. Fill my beat-up, emptied cup. Now please. (2 Cor 5:21, Eph 3:14-21)
Order some cards. Set them around your house or apartment. Hand them out to friends and family. Remember twice a day for 30 days. You might just notice a real difference. Not perfect, that’s Heaven.
Brief word about our second film. This cultural disintegration is also clearly evident in BlackKlansman. So, for now I will just say ditto to all of the above.
Shame Meter for both? 9+. What else can be said about a culture that has been so historically disintegrated, so spiraling out of control, that real people, image bearers of God are treated so poorly? Thirty years later, we still need the Spirit to daily break into the lives of Jesus-Followers, powerfully, noticeably until there is deeper awareness and repentance of the many crimes committed against so many people of color.
Oscar nods? OK, guilty, I confess. I have clearly dissed BlackKlansman in this podcast, barely giving it even a passing notice. Honestly, I think that is all that it deserves artistically. In my opinion, this was nowhere near Spike Lee’s best work. Not even in the same ball park. I am surprised it was given any Oscar notice at all—except for musical score. But I don’t even think it will win that. I had high expectations for the movie. I am disappointed. That’s my opinion. I may be proven wrong.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum, The Green Book was amazing, insightful, great acting, great directing—I liked it all. It could easily win Best Picture. In fact, I believe it will give darling Roma a real run tonight. Mahershala Ali will pick up best Actor, unless Bradley Cooper sneaks in. Both are worthy. This was one of Viggo Mortenson’s best roles in a long time. Worth seeing a couple of times.
See you at the next Gospel Rant. We will be looking at the popular Enneagram and figuring out how we can preach the Gospel to each number. Take Heart Child of God.