How Would The Blues Brothers Fare Today?

If you remember back to late 2016, the internet was hotly debating the topic of cultural appropriation. The conversation was centered around La La Land, the latest movie to signal a resurgence of musicals that’s failed to take off any of the last six times in the previous 15 years it’s been pegged as the next big genre because of one movie’s success. People were upset, often seriously but sometimes jokingly, that Ryan Gosling’s struggling club musician was being positioned as the savior of jazz, a traditionally black musical art form.

This debate came back to mind recently as I was listening to the radio and “Soul Man” from The Blues Brothers came on. It occurred to me that I’ve heard this version more often than I have the original from Sam & Dave and I started thinking about The Blues Brothers movie in general. The story involves two white guys from the south side of Chicago who, essentially, set out to save the blues. Yeah, they want to preserve the orphanage where they grew up, but that’s not because of the nuns who ran the place but the relationship with Curtis (Cab Calloway), who introduced them to the blues greats. Along the way they interact with characters played by some of those icons, including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. So black people are relegated to supporting roles in the story of a musical genre that they created and mastered, while we’re asked to root for the white guys who perform watered-down, overly-showy versions of soul classics.

It’s a mystery to me why this movie, which I still love and hold up as a classic in many respects, hasn’t come under more fire in the last few years. It’s a pretty blatant example of cultural appropriation, which as a recent NPR op-ed points out is never truly alright, regardless of intent. That’s going to be disappointing to many people, especially the millions of white guys who randomly drop Kanye lyrics into their Facebook posts or white girls who post “YAASSS QUEEN” along with an inspirational quote photo of Beyonce.

Were the movie to come out today – or even if it were to get some sort of substantial theatrical re-release (it will turn 40 in three years) – it would rightly get slammed for its depiction of the white savior who adopts black culture as their own and decide they are the best one to defend it. The way black people are portrayed as secondary participants in their own culture is…not great.

The Blues Brothers isn’t the only example of this by any means. But it’s a stark example of how the problem many people had with La La Land is by no stretch of the imagination new. There’s a place for white people to signal their enjoyment and appreciation for art forms that have traditionally been associated with other ethnic or racial groups and even champion them, bringing the attention of a larger audience to them. There’s a line, though, where that championing and appreciation crosses over into ownership and *that’s* where we, as white people, get into trouble. That’s the line The Blues Brothers crosses a bit too often.

This is not me knocking down the movie entirely. As I said, it’s absolutely a comedy classic and one of my favorite movies of all time. And I’m not taking the position of many who read Huck Finn or other novels and want to flush them down the memory hole because the society portrayed in them is no longer acceptable in polite society. I believe we need to view these cultural artifacts as what they are, snapshots of where we were at the time and reminders to not return to those mores and attitudes. The movie has value and we can enjoy it while not endorsing its attitudes and approach. But we *do* need to be aware of what it’s saying and view it with open eyes. Cultures change and art from the past needs to be reevaluated, not forgotten.

Celebrate National Sunglasses Day With These Movie Posters

Today is National Sunglasses Day and everyone on Twitter and Instagram is celebrating by sharing pictures of themselves – or their children – sporting shades. It may be happening on Facebook as well, but we’ll only know in two or three days when the News Feed surfaces those posts.

To mark the day let’s take a look at some iconic movie posters featuring not only the main characters from those films but shows them wearing sunglasses for whatever reason.

The Blues Brothers

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

The fact that Jake and Elwood Blues are perpetually wearing their sunglasses is part of the appeal of those characters, something that makes them look cooler than cool, to the extent that it becomes a joke in the final act of the story in that iconic line above. With that exception it’s never mentioned or pointed out by anyone, even when they’re still sporting them while wearing only a towel in a steam room. The only time you see either of them remove their sunglasses is when Jake is trying to stop Carrie Fisher’s character from mowing him down with a machine gun, and that removal is meant to signal just how sincere he’s being with his apology.

Almost Famous

The movie that first brought Kate Hudson to most people’s attention did so initially by making her face more or less the sole element on the one sheet.

An important part of that photo is the hippie sunglasses she’s wearing, the purple tint of which means you can’t see her eyes. But what you can see are the reflected images of the rock concert she’s apparently watching, with at least a couple performers visible in the reflection along with the adoring throng.

That worked to not just sell the time period – the sunglasses themselves should have told you the story takes place in the post-Summer Of Love 70s – but also the setting in the world of the rock music industry.

Reservoir Dogs

This poster immediately conveyed the anonymous but lethal attitude of the five gangsters who are brought together by Joe to commit a bank robbery in Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature.

Chief among those attitude-conveying elements are the sunglasses worn by all five crooks, which pair nicely with the white shirts and black tie and suits they all wear. Those sunglasses mean they’re keeping part of themselves hidden while also trying to look as cool as possible, not just that they want to keep the sun out of their eyes.

The Terminator

Again, the sunglasses are a key part of what we’ll learn about the character in James Cameron’s sci-fi action film.

On the poster Arnold Schwarzenegger wears them along with a leather jacket that’s unbuttoned down to, it seems, his knees. He’s meant to look as lethal as possible and the sunglasses convey a cool, detached, lethal professionalism that’s augmented by the fancy looking gun he’s carrying.

Importantly, those sunglasses also convey a bit of character information beyond his attitude, with what looks like a digital serial code seen on one of the lenses. That hints to the audience that this cold-blooded killer may not be entirely human.


It’s not the 1997 remake, which was more concerned with selling star Jeremy Irons, but the 1967 original adaptation of Alexander Nabokov’s story of teen seduction that sports the notable shades.

The title character is seen on the poster suggestively eating a cherry-red lollipop, looking over the heart-shaped sunglasses she’s wearing at someone in the distance. There’s nothing in the reflection to see, so this is all about establishing the character, with those heart-shapes conveying that she’s all about love in some manner or another.