film 92 of 103

The Watermelon Patch

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 28, 2015

Uh-oh. You look at that title and just shudder at what you imagine is coming. You’ll be right, but not only. Films, including films with unfortunate or objectionable components, are complicated.

That first frame is very effectively filled, or maybe infiltrated. Watermelons are good-looking objects! We should probably  make more movies about them. The revelation concerning those scarecrows is funny. Some of these black actors are clearly having fun as they run around, which is actually unsurprising. We see and we are concerned with stereotypes, as is right. But stereotypical content may cause us not to notice that there’s more, and better, going on. (I’m thinking about a terrific liner note that sorts out gender and race issues informing the Cookies’ great song I Never Dreamed. That’s in Rhino’s 2005 girl group compilation, One Kiss Can Lead to Another.)

I’m going to repeat a complaint here. Edwin Porter’s back to front mannerism is in real need of refining. Something happens, and then people take forever to chase each other through the frames. Also, grammatically, there’s some considerable, almost certainly excessive overlap with the exterior and interior shots.

Back to stereotypes. I am wondering—what’s wrong with liking watermelon? Put any of us in that two shot, and see what we’d do. Also, it has to be observed that dancing here, which may well seem and even be insensitive, is terrifically executed. The shuffle is a problem—like the watermelon/stealing for that matter—when it is seen as a totality and an inevitability. But caricature, and comedy of course, can be a reasonable part of a fuller, healthier ethnic self/representation. Exclusive caricature is objectionable, and painful. But not only!  People get imposed upon, but at the same time they also push back. (See that discussed in Richard Hoggarth,1957. On caricature, see our review of , The Ghost Goes West, q.v.)

We could take this either way. The white people hunt down the black people. But there’s no menace or peril; the fact that the culprits just run blithely past the camera suggests how seriously, or symbolically, the filmmakers are taking this. This means that a problem still remains, but of maybe of a different, more negotiable variety.