Alex Kellogg

Alex P. Kellogg is a reporter for The Detroit Free Press.

Recent Articles

How American Gangster Reinvents the Black Villain

For most of the history of American cinema, the black bad guy has been a caricature, not a sophisticated villain. Denzel Washington is changing that.

Before the opening-weekend box office returns even came in, it wasn't too hard to tell how American Gangster would do. The gritty crime drama, starring Oscar-winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, was in high demand almost a month before its release and available on high-quality bootleg DVDs. Superbly crafted by director Ridley Scott, the movie garnered acclaim most everywhere and, predictably, grabbed the box office 's top spot too, pulling in a whopping $46 million-plus and making Gangster the most successful debut of a crime drama in history. But Gangster is more than a critical and commercial success. It's a sign of an important progression in American cinema. There is, of course, nothing new about gangster movies with Oscar aspirations. But a gangster film starring an emotionally complex, flawed but redeemable, African American character? That's almost unheard of. By taking on such a role, Washington is reinventing the conventional villain, and the black villain in...

Trial of the Century

Bamako is an uneven but memorable meditation on Africa and the follies of Western aid.

There's a scene in Bamako that captures what director Abderrahmane Sissako hopes to convey better than any other moment in the film. It's when Mamadou Kanoté, a poor, elderly Malian man, belts out an impromptu song in front of a courtyard full of stone-faced lawyers and judges holding a mock trial in a middle-class couple's backyard. It's the film's powerful scene, and it's shown without a translation -- a commentary, perhaps, on what it means to say something that no one will ever care enough to take the time to understand. Bamako , which has been showing in theaters across the United States since the spring and is now available on DVD , is named for, and set in, the capital city of Mali; it is mostly an effort to examine how the West continues, unintentionally or otherwise, to pillage Africa and call it "aid." The film shows that, amidst the problems and misunderstandings besetting the continent, an ocean of humanity goes ignored. Sissako's father is Malian, and he grew up there, so...

Unquiet Americans

The dissolution of Somalia into further violence thanks to Ethiopia's invasion of it in the last few weeks is a horrific development for East Africa. It's devastating to the perception of the United States abroad as well. Ethiopia said that, beyond a concern for the integrity of its borders, tacit U.S. support led it to invade Somalia. That support became even more explicit when the United States tried to capture Fazul Mohammed and two other alleged high level al-Qaeda terrorists Monday with military strikes in southern Somalia. A State Department spokesperson told The New York Times that the Bush administration, in the Times 's paraphrase, "was concerned about reports that the Islamists were using child soldiers and abusing Ethiopian prisoners of war." Thus the U.S. backing. It ought not require spelling out that the use of child soldiers and abuse of prisoners of war in Africa have never been much of a concern to the United States. In fact, Ethiopia's relationship with the United...

That's Affirmative

Though it perhaps plays a more positive role than ever before in American popular culture, race has played an unmistakably divisive role this election season. The Republican leadership showed its true colors with the instantly infamous ad it funded in Tennessee playing into the lingering aversion among Southern voters to interracial sex. Americans shouldn't quickly forget that though the ad attacking black congressman and Senate candidate Harold Ford was pulled by many Tennessee TV stations late last month, it wasn't pulled everywhere . It's received less national press attention, meanwhile, but this year's ballot measure proposing to ban affirmative action in Michigan is similarly racially tinged. At the core of both political campaigns is an appeal to lingering racial biases. In both cases, something significant is riding on the public responses -- and thankfully, in both cases, there are hopeful signs. As affirmative action's latest and perhaps last battleground, Michigan is...

The Wild Bunch

Those who still think of OutKast merely as a pair of hip hop artists may have failed to notice the spaceship these two young Atlanta natives have been flying around since well before 2003. That's the year Speakerboxxx/The Love Below , which had even the most vehement hip hop antagonists swooning, was released. The hard-to-compare, even-harder-to-define double disc won the Grammy for album of the year and sold 11 million copies. It's safe to say that, with the Tuesday release of Idlewild , their sixth album, and the opening of a film by the same name today, OutKast's André Benjamin (André 3000) and Antwan Patton (Big Boi) have secured themselves a distinct place in the pop pantheon -- even if it is a very, very bohemian place indeed. Idlewild the film is widely being described as a musical set in a speakeasy in the Prohibition-era South, with the album as its soundtrack. That's not exactly right. The film was held up for years, so most of the music is from Speakerboxx/The Love Below ...

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