A Response to the Critics Who Hated UpTight!

Who has the authority to determine what one is allowed to use to describe their experiences? In class this week, we looked at how film critics slammed UpTight! for its choice to adapt an Irish story to the African American context. I’d like to respond to these critics with the argument that The Informer is not an exclusively Irish story, as it lacks the foundation in Irish history. Since the movie is not specifically Irish, anyone is free to adapt it. UpTight!, on the other hand, takes The Informer’s frame and develops it into a specifically Black story.

While the book that it is based on is clearly founded in its Irish roots, The Informer does not carry an effective amount of Irish identity and could be about any culture. The director himself was actually Irish American, not Irish. There is a vagueness in identity present from the very beginning of the movie, as the Judas reference fails to place the reader within a specifically Irish context. Judas has a clear connection to Christianity and works as a parallel to Gypo, but the movie’s main focus is not on that of religion. While it depicted some of the culture and suffering of the Irish people, it sacrificed the opportunity to make a larger political statement and tie itself more firmly in the Irish identity in the hopes of appealing to a wider audience. In failing to tackle the specific Irish history, The Informer allows a passive audience. Americans are not involved in Irish life so they may not know what is going on or make the connections. Being an Irish American, the director would also have been lacking in experience and understanding of the Irish people. The Informer truly could have been about any time period or any people; it did not seem specific to the Irish or educate the audience about them on more than a superficial and basic level. The movie and its structure actually reminded me much of old gangster movies, which I associate with a more Italian identity.   

If The Informer is not a specifically Irish film, then why isn’t it fair to adapt it to the African American experience? Through the African American’s use of this frame, they altered it in order to showcase their own specific identity. Unlike The Informer, it could not have been based anywhere. The audience’s first introduction to UpTight! is with real footage from MLK’s funeral and the African American response to it. MLK has a clear connection to the black political moment that is what the movie is focused on. By starting with MLK, the movie is committing to telling the story of a specifically and unmistakably African American experience founded in reality. As the movie continues, layers are added to more fully depict what life looks like for African Americans and their broader struggles. Those involved hoped to use this film as a way to educate and gain support for their cause.  It was produced by many people involved in the movements and you can really see their dedication to the project and drawing attention to the injustices and struggles. The film showcases a recognizable setting for Americans, as it takes place in the very real time and place that they are living. As a result of the layers and strong foundation in the history of African Americans, the viewers become more active and should have a response to what they see on screen and its relation to the world they are living in. Unfortunately, this film was never able to achieve the full glory and recognition that it deserved. 

The critics’ excuses for why the film should not have been made are cop-out responses. There are many examples of problematic comparisons that the Irish have made with the blacks that have been widely used and accepted, such as the phrase “wage slavery,” so adapting a film that’s arguably not even Irish should not be the thing that crosses the line. It’s not as if the makers of UpTight! were trying to ignore the fact that it was a remake, it was something they were upfront about. Even if one considers The Informer to be a strongly Irish film, the comparisons being made are not degrading to the Irish or their struggles. Therefore, the critics’ reasoning is faulty and seems to be more of an excuse to degrade the impact of UpTight!— a film that undeniably contributes to the African American story and it is a true shame that it has been mostly forgotten.

2 Replies to “A Response to the Critics Who Hated UpTight!”

  1. I love how you all enjoyed UpTight and thought it was a better film. I agree! However, you I feel as if I have to defend John Ford a bit.
    Yes, he was Irish American, but he was a first generation Irish American who had deep ties to Ireland. The Informer is based on his cousin’s novel! Yes, there are changes that remove some of the Irish history, making it more palatable for an American audience. Nevertheless, some of what is retained made it specifically Irish. The conflict between the IRA and the Black Tans opens the film, we are firmly in a depressed era Dublin with the advertisements for trips to America, and then there is the wake. Those are just a few examples that make the text specifically Irish. It is a great tragedy that UpTight was ignored, panned, and dismissed by critics that privileged The Informer over what they simply called a remake. Even Roger Ebert’s review, which is a slightly better than many of the other review, dismisses the comparison/remake attempt. One critic stated that “setting up an implicit comparison between the noble history of the Irish struggle for independence and such a paltry thing as black insurgency in America’s inner cities” (Patrick F. Sheeran, 2002. The Informer. Cork, Ireland: University of Cork Press: 32–34).

  2. I really like this analysis of UpTight! and The Informer. I liked UpTight! better of the two films, but I couldn’t quite articulate why — your comparison of the two puts it into clearer focus. You note that the movie layers elements to make a full and complex picture of African American life in a way that The Informer doesn’t do for the Irish. I wonder if part of UpTight!’s lack of success was this realism. Perhaps the harsh realities painted in UpTight! in such a violent and chaotic period of time were too much for contemporary audiences and our distance from them today better allows us to see the film’s true merits.

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