|Oscar and Tatiana.|
The film is fairly simple in structure, following Oscar’s day in flashback as he hangs out with his family and tries to get rent money without breaking the law or losing face. But this is no easy thing for a poor kid with a conviction record—even if he has a naggingly loving mom and a sweet disposition. Writer/director Ryan Coogler shows how, even if the shooting itself is the result of a butterfly-effect bouquet of circumstances, it’s part of a pattern that poor young black men experience every day.
Oscar faces what I think of as the Catalina Problem. To put it in middle-class white-person terms: When you go to Catalina Island, there’s an ice cream store on every corner, with two or three gelato shops in between. They all smell like burnt sugar. They all sell chocolate-dipped waffle cones. You ignore the first one because your boat has just arrived and it’s only ten a.m. You ignore two more because you don’t want to be another dumb tourist with an ice cream mustache getting sticky in the sun. But eventually the dam of your willpower will burst, and you will eat a thousand-calorie snack, and your body and society won’t give you any credit for the five ice cream cones you didn’t eat.
Oscar’s girlfriend doesn’t care that he chose not to sell weed that day; she cares (understandably) that he rolled in late to his grocery store job and got fired in the first place.
The character I related to most was Oscar’s mother, played with warmth and worry by Octavia Spencer. She’s constantly telling him to use his headset in the car and avoid getting a DUI. She knows that Oscar lives in a world that has declared him dangerous, and this puts him in danger. The fact that I identified with the mother of a twenty-two-year-old confirms that I’m old. But I’m also thinking about how to raise a black son in America.
AK and I are back on the adoption market after being on hold for a year. First we had some emotional shit to sort through. Then AK decided to try to get pregnant (she didn’t). Then I got cancer. Theoretically, we could get a call or an email from an expectant mother any day now. It’s such a big deal that I felt blissfully hopeful for a minute, then mad at myself for hoping—because I’m trying not to live in the future; I’m trying to remember that having kids won’t make me more of a real person; and, on a less healthy note, I have a superstitious belief that exciting news is always followed closely by terrible news. So of course I proceeded to imagine being handed a baby one day and some sort of You Have More Cancer certificate the next.
I know this is unlikely. I know they don’t make You Have More Cancer certificates.
|They do make T-shirts and tote bags, though.|
“So, if we adopted a little black boy baby, how do we tell him that there are certain ways he has to act to hedge his bets safety-wise, while still sending him the message that he shouldn’t have to do those things?” I asked AK. “Like, how do we let him know that it’s the world’s fault, not his, but still encourage him to be strategic? Especially since I’m some white lady.”
AK reminded me that Barack Obama was raised by some white lady and said, “I think you could relate as a woman. Even though there’s no justification for rape, there are still precautions we take—places we don’t go at certain times, that kind of thing.”
The old me tried to run from uncertainty. The new me doesn’t exactly embrace it—see paragraph about how much I hate hope, above*—but I don’t bother trying to preemptively worry my way out of it either. I can’t just shoot my anxiety in the back. Also, I know I can handle shit. I think I can raise a kid who will be able to handle shit. At least, I’m going to have the audacity to hope so.
*And see episode of my/Emily Nussbaum’s/everyone I know’s new favorite show Orange is the New Black, in which Miss Claudette—a stoic Haitian woman rumored to be a voodoo practitioner and murderer—lets a ray of hope crack her OCD shell for the first time in decades. I can’t even describe the way her face transforms, but it pretty much sums up all of human experience.