' ' Cinema Romantico: Quiet as Kept

Monday, June 29, 2020

Quiet as Kept

“They should have called Katrina ‘Gone With the Wind.’” 

Quiet as kept is a phrase implying not a willful silence but an unwilling one, as if circumstances have constrained a person, causing them to keep quiet, or simply shouted down when she/he deigns to speak, told their words don’t matter in the first place. Because director Charles Burnett employs the phrase as the title of a five-minute 2007 short about an African-American family of three, he is ascribing being Quiet as Kept as part and parcel to the Black American experience. Indeed, the family has been relocated from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to a place we don’t really see, just a kitchen and a front stoop, fenced in (the father deems it drive-by territory), the film’s title manifested, with no one to direct their complaints to but each other.

That’s how the movie begins, with the son in voiceover complaining of his father’s penchant for the phrase “little-ass” – upset at the “little-ass loaf of bread” his wife buys because it’s all they can afford with their “little-ass FEMA check.” His preferred expression is ironic because “Quiet as Kept” is a big-ass movie. You can hear Burnett speaking through these people. Maybe too much since all three actors not inconspicuous in heating their verbal marks, occasionally over-annunciating in a way that is not for effect but because they seem to sense they are speaking a line in a movie. Still, if the acting leaves you wanting, the words don’t, a deftly composed conversation segueing from the family’s displacement to Black representation at the movies, linking these ideas as a similar sort of erasure. The mother laments that a proper Black movie would have told them what would happen when Katrina hit, suggesting that siphoning the Black experience from mainstream Hollywood left them hung out to dry, evoking the lines from ESPN’s recent Bruce Lee documentary – “America is racist. Hollywood makes America more racist.”

Recently the new streaming service HBO Max made waves by pulling 1939’s “Gone With the Wind” from its catalog, citing its racist depictions, promising to eventually bring it back but only “with a discussion of its historical context.” What that discussion means and how it will be had, I don’t know, and whether this is merely an attempt to make white liberals like me feel comfortable, who’s to say, or if hiding it away will merely inflate its counterproductive impact, a la “Song of the South”, as Karina Longworth noted, heaven only knows. But perhaps when HBO does bring “Gone With the Wind” back, the additional historical context they can include is Burnett’s “Quiet as Kept.” Maybe they could just add it onto the “Gone With the Wind” streaming purchase, showing it first, like a Pixar short.

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