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.

“Sufficient Ground for Understanding and Absolution:” Thinking about Violence in Light of Our Reading This Week

This week, we’ve talked about a lot of violence. We read Heaney’s poetic descriptions of the bog bodies and witnessed death at the hands of the state and at the hands of the revolutionaries in The Informer and Uptight. We’ve also learned about The Troubles and three Bloody Sundays, two in Ireland and one in America. For anyone interested, Wikipedia acknowledges twenty “Bloody Sundays” around the world in the last century and a half.

This week, we also encountered Ciaran Carson’s reading of Heaney’s bog body poems, where he says, “It is as if he is saying suffering like this is natural; these things have always happened; they happened then, they happen now, and that is sufficient ground for understanding and absolution. It is as if there never were and never will be any political consequences of such acts.” At the very least, the assertion that “these things have always happened” seems to make sense in light of what we’ve seen.

Additionally, in her post on Uptight this week, Professor Kinyon highlighted two cases in 1963 where African-Americans were murdered and justice was not handed out until decades later. The INCORE article similarly noted that, in an attempt to heal the wounds still open from the Troubles, the police force in Ulster created a team in 2005 to investigate many unsolved murders from the time period. While justice was eventually served out in both the African-American and Irish contexts, the tremendous delay justifies Heaney’s perspective that there never would be any political consequences of violence and suffering.

Thus, the only question remaining to determine whether Heaney’s perspective, specifically in Punishment, is correct is whether the continuity of suffering and violence and the low consequences for it are sufficient grounds for understanding the side of the perpetrator and absolving them. Is the idea that violence just happens enough for us to understand and then absolve people from it?

I would disagree with this idea: the continuity of violence does not justify it. At some point, Heaney did not agree with this assertion either. In his article in the Listener, he castigates the Black Panthers for their openly violent rhetoric. To Heaney, it is grotesque and uncivil; the Black Panthers’ violence is not understood or absolved. Plainly, he sees it as wrong.

While the difference between his characterization of violence in The Troubles and violence in the later stages of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States could be explained by an outsider’s view of the Black Panthers, I would argue that the difference, instead, shows a lack of understanding of revolution. Revolution is based on the idea that the suffering and violence afflicted on the oppressed are not natural or justifiable. While the IRA and Black Panthers may have believed that the path to ending this suffering was inflicting suffering on the opposition, the core of any civil rights movement is an understanding that violence is not natural and understanding violence is not a reason to absolve the enemy, but rather to seek to end that suffering. While “these things have always happened,” the continuity of violence does not excuse the crime.

Discussion Questions 4/1

I hope to talk about the effect of the opening credit scene with the biblical reference to Judas in The Informer vs Uptight‘s opening reference to MLK’s assassination. Firstly, what are these openings attempting to do? Are they trying to accomplish the same thing?

Similarly, I think there is much to talk about in regards to the displays of the cultures in both films.  How did you see the black culture being portrayed vs. the Irish?

In both films, the informer was a character that was portrayed as drunk,  poor, and betraying their partners in order to gain the means necessary to escape from their current situations. Were their characters entirely unlikable though? Did one film seem to give more sympathy to the informer than the other?

Finally, I have a question about the reception of the films. What was the audience’s response to these films? Was one more popular than the other? Did the audience find the adaptations to be appropriate and well-done? What were the biggest criticisms surrounding them?