Black lives don’t matter. That’s message of Beautiful Boy. It might be an outstanding film. Steve Carell might give an award-worthy performance. Or it might be a melodramatic pile of crap, afternoon-special fodder. I’ll never know. I refuse to see the movie on moral grounds.
We live in a country with the largest prison population in the world along with the highest incarceration rate per capita. We have more citizens behind bars than China, even though China counts for twenty percent of the world’s population and the United States less than five. More alarmingly, almost sixty percent of our nation’s inmates are people of color despite the fact that people of color make up less than forty percent of our population. Whites and non-whites use drugs at the same rate, but the drug-related imprisonment rate for non-whites is six times higher than whites. Most of those drug offenders serve time in federal prison. Tens of thousands of more people are arrested annually on local drug possession charges. These arrests destabilize lives and destroy communities, and the lives and communities they destabilize and destroy are predominantly non-white. Translated, that means when blacks or Hispanics have drug problems, we criminalize them.
Yet soon as drugs affect affluent white people, drug addiction becomes a disease and society gets all weepy-eyed. Parents and pundits start pontificating about treatment centers, recovery programs, and neurotransmitters in the brain. White addicts from the suburbs become humanized; they’re people worthy of our love, attention, and medical support, not super predators to be feared or losers to be discarded, forgotten, and left to rot in prison. This is reflected in our popular culture. There’s never been a serious mainstream Hollywood film about the human damage the crack cocaine epidemic inflicted upon African Americans and African American communities. By the same token, there’s nothing the Oscar-bait faction of Hollywood loves more than making movies about whities struggling to overcome their dependency demons, especially if they can film confessional support-group scenes where a person’s flaws are publicly aired, followed by reassuring hugs. They also get off on A-list actors crying, emoting, and, most importantly, bonding through shared hardship and familial pain. Let’s call this bullshit for what it is: addiction porn, be it addiction to drugs, alcohol, or — Yahtzee! — a combination of both. The latest remake of A Star is Born (2018) is a perfect example of this phenomena.
Again, I don’t know if any of that occurs in Beautiful Boy because I refuse to see the movie, but the publicity machine pushing the film sells it as showing the ripple effects of drug addiction — for white people. Judging by the trailer, the meth-addicted kid at the center of the story isn’t being locked away in some hellhole prison for twenty years because he fucked up. No, he’s afforded all the second, third, and fourth chances privileged Caucasian youth get in America. And that’s a crime. Not that a troubled white kid is being treated compassionately for his addiction, but that minority kids aren’t given the same opportunity. Coming from the producers of Twelve Years a Slave (2013) and Moonlight (2106), it’s shocking Beautiful Boy is so blind to the disparity between the way society treats white drug users and drug users of color.
That’s not to say a film like Beautiful Boy shouldn’t exist, but rather it shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. Hollywood doesn’t make feel good father-son weepies about black addicts and Hispanic junkies. So until the film industry balances the scales and starts making movies about families of color who lose loved ones to prison because of the ravages of addiction and our racist criminal justice system, Hollywood needs to stop making sentimental recovery movies about white people. Otherwise it’s enabling the divisions that are tearing America apart.