Magic Mike XXL

Magic Mike XXL ★★★★

"In the history of photography and film, getting the right image meant getting ones that conformed to the prevalent ideas of humanity. This included whiteness, of what colour—what range of hue—white people wanted white people to be....Movie lighting assume, privilege, and construct whiteness" —Richard Dyer, "Lighting For Whiteness"

The history of Hollywood in many ways is the history of the construction of whiteness. This goes beyond simply films that have depicted African Americans in stereotypes or margnizaled their roles in cinema but its material essence: celluloid was developed to favor light skin tones to dark skin tones. "In black-and-white films, cinematographers usually took white skin as the norm, employing lighting and laboratory practices that could reliably produce a certain image of whiteness," Patrick Keating argues. When Technicolor came along, its three hues were designed to capture white actors who had makeup to create "exotic" depictions of race than those with naturally darker pigmentation. When Lena Horne appeared in her first film, MGM developed a special "Light Egyptian" makeup to push her toward whiteness, and thus "beauty" as cinema's own materials had determined. As Genevieve Yue's work on the "China Girl" phenomenon has shown, whiteness is in the DNA of 35mm.

There are numerous stand out sequences in Magic Mike XXL, which on its surface is a cash grab sequel that abandons the more clinical approach to social milieu that thoroughly distinguished it as a Soderbergh film; the Gregory Jacobs directed (with Soderbergh as DP/Editor) sequel takes a more celebratory approach to both male and female pleasure. Its choreographed dance numbers and use of several distinct set pieces are reminiscent of The Band Wagon, especially during its final sequence, which crafts individual non-related set pieces for a end all triumph of spectacle (all razor sharp edited by Soderbergh that breaks every rule of cinema while always remaining spatially coherent).

But no sequence feels more revelatory than a long digression into a Southern mansion run by Jada-Pickett Smith. At her mansion, female "queens" line the rooms as strippers improvise their balletic choreography, occasionally picking women from the sidelines to indulge in the feeling of truly being pleased. However, this sequence is probably most notable that beyond Mike and his gang, all the strippers and clientele are black. And they are beautiful. Shooting on RED, Jacobs and Soderbergh scale the entire sequence on a blue and red color grade, eliminating the yellows that were key to distinguishing whiteness in 35mm (and which Soderbergh has used to distinguish blackness in the race-conscious The Knick). Everything in the frame takes on purple qualities, making each man and woman look gorgeous. Digital photography has often been spoken of as a medium better for capturing night than day, but rarely have I seen it used for the way it can correct the injustice of 35mm's treatment of black bodies (the only other example that pops to mind is the "Diamonds" sequence in Girlhood). The ability to use lighting to highlight the beauty of black bodies returns in the finale, as Tatum and African American Stephen Boss create a mirror image on stage—these bodies are entirely equal in talent and sexuality. Everyone is beautiful in Magic Mike XXL, regardless of sex, gender, race, body type, orientation. This is perhaps the most revolutionary act of a mainstream summer movie in years.

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