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Netflix's 'The Old Guard' Gives Us A Dose Of Black Magic We Didn't Know We Needed

This film might not be the definitive "it" we're looking for, but it is a damn good start.

Culture & Entertainment

"I've been here before, over and over again, and each time the same question: will this be it? Will this time be the one? And each time the same answer. I'm just so tired of it."

This is the first piece of dialogue offered from Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron), also known as Andy; and with this piece of dialogue, we are pushed in the world of Netflix's latest original, The Old Guard. Nevertheless, ten minutes into the film, I find that I cannot stop repeating those lines, word for word, in my head:

I've been here before, over and over again.

Over the past 20 years, the film industry has been saturated with movies of outsiders turned heroes, mutants turned heroes, villain turned heroes, and people with supernatural abilities—you guessed it, turned into heroes. So, when I watched the trailer for The Old Guard, I found myself intrigued, but disappointed in the possibility of this being yet another hero's journey poorly handled.

The Old Guard | Official Trailer | Netflix www.youtube.com

I asked myself: will this be it? Will this be the movie that finally understands that Black characters are more than sidekicks (excluding Black Panther, that was the exception, not the rule)? Will this movie finally offer characters that produce more than one line of dialogue, despite their comic book characters being vital to the story at hand (looking at you, Ororo "Storm" Munroe)? Will this be the movie where the black woman is more than her race and her ability? Will this time be the one?

I know that if not, I couldn't bare to discover the same answer, because like the film's protagonist Andy, I'm just so tired of it.

Yet, when the two-hour-and-five-minute movie relinquished its final second, played out by Ellie King's Baby Outlaw, I found a new answer to the question posed over and over again. This film might not be the definitive "it" we're looking for, but it is a damn good start.

In 2017, renowned comic book creators Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández debuted The Old Guard, a comic book series about immortal soldiers who have been fighting for centuries. Within months of its debut, Skydance Media picked up the rights to the comic. By Summer 2018, the film gained momentum with its landing of the acclaimed director of Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees, Gina Prince-Bythewood. A year later, the film would cast an all-star cast after teaming up with Netflix.

Aimee Spinks/NETFLIX

The story of The Old Guard follows a ban of mercenaries led by Andy, a woman who has been alive since ancient Greece. The mercenaries have lived through many wars. Two of its members fought as enemies in the Crusade and another fought during the War of 1812, but now they have encountered a real threat to their survival: a businessman with a God complex. Which cues in two of our most important Black characters: James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne).

Meet James Copley

Played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Copley requests the reactivation of the group of mercenaries after the kidnapping of girls in Sudan. It is through his request that the movie unravels, and it's through his actions that the characters are inadvertently placed within harm's way. Throughout most of the movie, James Copley regresses and progresses as a character should. His biggest issues lie within himself and his misguided good intentions, which we all know paves the road to hell. The best part of Ejiofor's character lies within what he is not. In the last twenty years, characters similar to Copley have not been lacking in media.

Hollywood loves having a black leader, only for them to become speed bumps in the hero's journey or the overall story's plot line.

Aimee Spinks/NETFLIX

This was seen with both versions of Amanda Waller (Arrow and Suicide Squad) where despite her importance in the creation of the Suicide Squad and Argus, she became a means to an end for the hero, without much substance other than the fact that she was meant to be the villain. The same can be said for Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, who hasn't been developed much within the Marvel cinema world. With the arrival of Ejiofor's James Copley, there is a chance for him tor remain an essential character throughout the series.

A chance for him to be important beyond the world of the heroes, as well as a chance for him to actively be one himself.

Meet Nile Freeman

Nevertheless, despite Copley's character growth throughout the film, he is not the hero we're looking for. Instead, our hero can be found in Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne). It is through Nile that we are introduced into the world of the immortal mercenaries, and it is through Nile that we choose whether to stay. Written as a strong, hero's journey, Nile finds herself becoming the newest member of the Guard. Unlike most superheroes, she was one before she gained abilities. And unlike most superheroes, Nile wanted nothing more than to return to her normal life.

It is interesting seeing a character come into herself and it is even more interesting to see the limitless possibilities they have with this character introduction.

Aimee Spinks/NETFLIX

A lot of Nile's journey is handled with care. What can be the most bothersome thing about movies with heroes is how quick they are to give up the life that made them, for a life of uncertainty and gore. Yet, Nile doesn't agree to the life so quickly. Instead, she approaches it cautiously, even rejecting it outright when it doesn't correlate with the beliefs that made her who she is. It is refreshing to watch KiKi Layne as Nile Freeman. She does well with balancing between a fierce immortal soldier and someone worried about the erasure of their old life. Throughout the film, she is easy to root for, but this is due largely to Layne. Nile's character's inability to just go along with the mercenaries could be frustrating.

Yet, Layne shows a balance between what Nile is willing to give and what she isn't. This is best shown within her scenes with Theron and Ejiofor, where she has to decide to be the hero she was meant to be or return to the life she has always known.

Another enjoyable thing about Nile's character is the room for growth. Throughout the film, Nile's character experiences exceptional character growth. Still, the audience can see that she isn't fully developed and has a way to go. Which is fine because her development within this film is enough for now. Nevertheless, it will be exciting to see what Nile can become in the future, should Netflix and SkyMedia choose to make a sequel.

NETFLIX

Overall, The Old Guard tells the ending of a hero's journey while birthing another. It has strong female characters, strong characters of color, positive representation for all communities, and provides a hero worth believing in. This movie understands that Black characters are more than sidekicks, because without Ejiofor and Layne's characters, this particular story wouldn't exist. This movie offered characters that are essential in the comics and kept them essential to the film—they even elevated Nile from the comic book for the movie.

This movie is one where the black woman is more than her race and her ability, because it cemented itself in who she is and what she believes in.

This movie, like the comic, is step in a new different direction I, for one, am excited to see.

And who could get tired of that?

Notice Me Noticing:

      • Similar to Luke Cage, there is a beauty in seeing Black characters rise after being shot. Same for gay characters.
      • Dudley from Harry Potter grew up to remain an ass.
      • The soundtrack was impressive. Highlights: Frank Ocean - "Godspeed", Marshmello ft. Khalid - "Silence", Active Child - "Cruel Word", and Ruelle - "The World We Made"
      • There are four main characters of color: Nile Freeman, James Copley, Joe, and Quynh.

      The Old Guard is now streaming.

      Featured image by NETFLIX

      ACLU By ACLUSponsored

      Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

      But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

      To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

      Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

      What is Systemic Racism?

      A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

      Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

      In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

      To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

      Voting Rights

      The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

      These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

      We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

      Student Debt

      Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

      We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

      Postal Banking

      In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

      The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

      Fair Housing

      Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

      Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

      Broadband Access

      To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

      Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

      The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

      To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

      Reparations

      We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

      The Long View

      For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

      Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

      In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

      What you can do:
      Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
      Sign up

      Featured image by Shutterstock

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