Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.


Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality


Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.


Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.

FILM

The 5 Worst Movies of the Decade All Starred Will Smith

He's one of the most charismatic and entertaining people in Hollywood, so why does he keep making awful movies?

"I, Robot" (2004)

With a new year and a new decade approaching, the endless retrospectives cataloging all the most powerful and lasting works of cinema are piling up. But in looking back at how the art and industry of film making have evolved since 2010, I've found it more instructive to consider the worst films Hollywood has produced. Because, to badly paraphrase Tolstoy, while each good film of the last decade has been good in its own way, all the worst films have had one big factor in common: Will Smith.

After Earth, Collateral Beauty, Suicide Squad, Bright, and Gemini Man.

I doubt most people will agree with me that these five films are the absolute worst of the decade. That's a subjective measure, and there are obviously different metrics by which to measure the quality of a film. Purely in terms of box office failure, none of Will Smith's movies of the last decade can touch the disastrous US premiere of Playmobil: The Movie, which opened at 2,337 theaters on December 6, and made less than $700,000 its opening weekend. And if we focus purely on critical reception, there are dozens of worthy contenders, from The Snowman, to Slender Man, to The Bye Bye Man—actually, all the awful horror movies with titles that end in "man" probably deserve an article of their own.

What makes these five movies special is that they have everything going for them, and they still manage to be terrible. They have big budgets, major marketing pushes, respected writers, directors, and studios backing them, along with the immense, international star power of Will Smith—the star of Independence Day, and Men in Black; the lovable, charming, funny, handsome, and talented man named by Forbes in 2014 as "the most bankable star worldwide." The fact that all those elements can consistently come together to produce sloppy, dull, and incoherent movies poses a mystery. While other movies fail pathetically, movies like this fail on an epic scale. So what the hell keeps going wrong?

​"After Earth​" (2013) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%

Coming just one year after 2012's Men in Black 3­—which was generally well received—After Earth was hardly the first bad movie Will Smith ever made, but it was, according to Smith "the most painful failure" of his career. It was also the first in his current cold streak. Since that year, no movie that Smith has starred in has scored above the 60% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There are a number of factors that came into play for the production of After Earth that may have contributed to his current jinx.

For a start, he made the movie with M. Night Shyamalan, a man who takes himself so seriously, and is so certain of his own genius, that he continues to write his own movies even after 2006's Lady in the Water. Bringing in Will Smith for After Earth was part of a big studio effort to rehabilitate Shyamalan's deflated career, but perhaps it merely spread the curse that Shyamalan finally escaped with 2016's Split. Shyamalan and Smith wrote the screenplay together with a man named Gary Whitta, so it remains unclear who was ultimately responsible for naming Smith's character "Cypher Raige."

Another prominent factor that sets After Earth apart from most of Smith's movies is his co-star, Jaden Smith—reprising the father-son pairing you might recognize from The Pursuit of Happyness and, you know, real life. Will has expressed vocal, emphatic support for his children's creative endeavors, but After Earth came out at the height of Jaden's "eyes aren't real," white-batman-suit-at-Kim and Kanye's-wedding phase. If Jaden was trying to take an active role in the film's creation, it's possible that Will may have been too supportive. Whatever the cause, After Earth's slick sci-fi visuals couldn't prop up its flat characters and the dull, dragging pace. While the Smiths' performances didn't necessarily bring much to the movie, it's hard to see how much they could have brought to such self-serious material.

"Suicide Squad" (2016) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%

This is another case of Smith jumping on-board an existing curse. With the notable exception of Wonder Woman the DC movies have consistently failed to capture the spark of the Marvel Cinematic Empire. But Smith can be forgiven for not realizing this issue, as Batman Vs. Superman and the "Martha" debacle and the "Martha" debacle didn't shake out until well after Suicide Squad had wrapped production.

Still, it's hard to imagine a screenplay for this movie that could have enticed an actor to sign on. Will Smith's Deadshot is undoubtedly the most developed character, but the story is a mess of conflicting visions, with a wild excess of character introductions and either not enough or far too much of both brooding darkness and irreverent "humor". Director David Ayer and the studio seem to have been pulling in multiple directions, with the rest of the production struggling to hold itself together through reshoots and multiple competing cuts.

While 2015's iteration of Fantastic Four may have been a slightly more absurd mess of studio development, the blow in that case was cushioned by a storied history of awful Fantastic Four movies. Suicide Squad takes on the task of trashing its source material all on its own—and does a thorough job of it. The jokes are lame, the action nonsensical, and the attempts at heartfelt drama are clumsy and self-serious. Perhaps the movie's worst sin is the badly disjointed editing that only starts to make sense when you learn that it was done by a third-party firm known primarily for cutting together trailers

Despite all this, and the film's dismal critical reception, Suicide Squad actually performed pretty well at the box office—which is as damning an indictment of the movie-going public as I know.

"Collateral Beauty" (2016) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%

It's hard to know what to say about Collateral Beauty that it's trailer can't say more succinctly. Never has a teaser tried harder to convince you that a movie deserves an Oscar. The sweeping orchestral music, the cast of former nominees and winners making vague philosophical pronouncements in dire tones. The film's entire concept seems to follow the same ill-conceived Oscar-bate model—attempting to tap into the weighty challenges and lessons of life while bypassing the basic reality of human stories.

Instead of simply struggling with questions of mortality, of love, of the passage of time while navigating the course of real and difficult personal events, Will Smith's character, Howard Inlet—Howard Inlet—meets and interacts with the concepts of Death, Time, and Love—all of them actually actors hired by Inlet's business partners—all of whom lecture him into sorting his life out. "I'm Time. I'm a gift. And you're wasting me!" All of this while a private investigator follows their interactions in an elaborate plot to prove that Howard Inlet has lost his mind. And if you can follow that plot, you too have lost your mind.

The movie's self-serious tone cuts against the wild absurdity of its premise, and ends up continually reminding the viewer of how hard it's trying to be award-worthy. Trying and badly failing. Also, Edward Norton's character is named Whit Yardsham—Whit Yardsham—and it sends me into a Cypher Raige every time I think about it.

"Bright" (2017) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%

Bright was Netflix's first attempt at a big-budget blockbuster, and Will Smith's second attempt at making an awful movie with director David Ayer. After the baffling box-office success of Suicide Squad, I guess they decided not to mess with a formula that had churned out popular dreck once before. And Bright certainly would have been a commercial success—if the millions of viewers had actually paid for tickets. With 11 million viewers in its first three days, ticket sales would have paid off the movies budget almost immediately. Of course the fact that few if any of those viewers had to spend a penny of their money to see Bright does undermine that success a little bit. As do the generally terrible reviews.

The film's attempt to build a modern fantasy version of LA was sloppy and incoherent, with inconsistent rules that undermine its slapped-together plotting. There's a tired chosen-one prophecy, and a wand that is an all-powerful weapon, but also generally useless, and also the key to lazily fixing everything, and it's just generally one of the loudest, dumbest MacGuffins in cinematic history. Meanwhile, the movie tries hard to push a self-serious racial allegory, despite the fact that, early in the film, Will Smith casually smashes a creepy little humanoid out of the air and announces that "fairy lives don't matter today!" Just awful.

"Gemini Man" (2019) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%

Gemini Man is the spiritual successor to After Earth, in that it stars Will Smith and a younger version of Will Smith in an action-packed sci-fi scenario, and that it flopped hard. Released in multiple formats to showcase the cutting edge tech that went into its production, Gemini Man relied heavily on the draw of its expensive visuals, without much concern for its shoddy story. When a hitman goes rogue, his own clone is sent to kill him, but in the process, both Will Smiths must confront a crisis of identity and a self-serious philosophical and moral struggle that plays out self-seriously while they self-seriously try to kill each other in elaborate, self-serious chase sequences.

Have I given away the ending yet? All of these movies—even the ones that try to be goofy and fun—have a core of affected drama that asks the audience to take it all in like it contains some profound, life-changing message. But none of them do. They are all formulaic, studio messes with directors, writers, and "bankable" actors slotted in with an eye on indirect goals—something marketable, with a big box-office draw or a shot at winning an Oscar.

These movies exist less as attempts to tell stories than as elaborations of high-concept elevator pitches. And that can be fine. Men in Black and Independence Day were produced by similar studio processes, and those are classics. The differences is that at some point either the studios or Smith himself decided that it wasn't enough for these movies to be fun ways to help the audience turn off its collective brain. They had to really be saying something—to have an important message at their core. And the lowest-common-denominator Frankenstein process of rewriting, reworking, recasting, and focus-grouping is just not conducive to that goal. Instead of eye-opening, these attempts at serious messaging come across as preachy, flat, dull, and pretentious. Self-serious. They undermine the fun that these movies can otherwise deliver.

With all of that said, the live action Aladdin recently became Will Smith's best performing movie. Whatever else you can say about Smith's role as the genie, he certainly doesn't seem to have been trying to play it too seriously, and the movie wasn't half-bad. The upcoming Spies in Disguise, set for release on Christmas, likewise looks wholly playful and silly, and the early reviews are good. So maybe, with the decade coming to a close, Will Smith has finally escaped his self-serious slump, and gotten back to his lovable, goofy roots. Here's hoping.