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Armond White On Samuel L. Jackson's Career: 'He's Been The Ultimate Uncle Tom'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
June 16, 2013 9:12 PM
31 Comments
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Armond White

I think we all know by now that Armond White isn't exactly one to be shy with sharing his thoughts on just about anything and/or anyone. He certainly isn't here.

The question is whether you think his argument is valid or not.

I'll say no more, and just let you listen to the clip below, published last Thursday. It's quite damning I think, but, if Samuel Jackson was asked to respond to this, I can only imagine his reply would be something like, "Man, I don't give a f*ck about Armond White," having interviewed him myself last December, for Django Unchained, and the general vibe I got from him, and his POV on what he feels a black actor's job and obligations are (questions I did ask him).

The ongoing conversation about the so-called "burden of representation" continues.

Thanks to our friends at Africa Is A Country for alerting me to this:

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31 Comments

  • Melvin Harris | June 21, 2013 2:01 AMReply

    I'm sorry, I meant Armond, not Armand... Spell checker

  • Melvin Harris | June 21, 2013 2:00 AMReply

    None of you has any idea what Uncle Tom's Cabin is about, do you? Has no one read the book? Please stop using the phrase Uncle Tom. It shows a huge amount of ignorance from everyone! Armand White is a two bit hack who has no real film chops and just pontificates on farts. His pseudo intellectual contrarian garbage isn't even good for a chuckle and annoying at best. Stop feeding him and he won't eat.

  • Small Town Loner | June 18, 2013 6:09 PMReply

    When it comes to Armond White, you have to understand the phrase "don't feed the trolls."

    Take whatever movie is released. If the general consensus is that it's a good movie, then Armond White has to take the opposite opinion to make a stake for himself. That's his modus operandi.

    Did you like "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?" No? Armond White did...
    "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is more proof [Bay] has a great eye for scale and a gift for visceral amazement.”

    Did you like "The Dark Knight?" Yes? Armond White didn't.
    “The generation of consumers who swallow this pessimistic sentiment can’t see past the product to its debased morality. Instead, their excitement about The Dark Knight’s dread (that teenage thrall with subversion) inspires their fealty to product.”

    Did you like Pixar movies? Yes. Armond White doesn't...
    “Toy Story 3 is so besotted with brand names and product-placement that it stops being about the innocent pleasures of imagination — the usefulness of toys — and strictly celebrates consumerism.” Or “All this deflated cinema and Pixarism mischaracterizes what good animation can be (as in Coraline, Monster House, Chicken Little, Teacher’s Pet, The Iron Giant). Up’s aesthetic failure stems from its emotional letdown.”

    Take it as a compliment that Samuel L. Jackson isn't liked by Armond White, because his only way of surviving is by being diametrically opposite of whatever the popular opinion is. He wants to piss people off because that means that people are paying attention to him.

    If I made movies and Armond White didn't like them, I'd take it as a badge of armor and use it as a pull quote on my posters way above Oscar consideration or festival palms any day of the week.

  • GLENN TURNER | June 18, 2013 8:17 AMReply

    MR WHITE:

    YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT SHOW BUSINESS! ABSOLUTLY NOTHING!!!
    If you're so gaddam concerned about "roles," then DO SOMETHING to help create BETTER OPPORTUNITIES for ALL BLACK ACTORS!

  • Milton McGriff | June 18, 2013 12:35 AMReply

    I neglected to note that Jackson played the hell out of the Stephen character, used his skills of excellence to take it to another level. I saw his interview where he acknowledged that he was being asked to play the most reviled character in film history and that he was up to the challenge. Jackson may be a lot of things but he's no Tom. Shut up, Armond White.

  • Milton McGriff | June 18, 2013 12:28 AMReply

    I know little about this Armond White but his comments about Samuel L. Jackson feel strange and rooted in some subjective mess we don't know about. Even if I'm wrong, the 2/3rds I heard before the clip froze are off base.

  • TAZ | June 17, 2013 10:48 PMReply

    I have thought about this for a minute or two. And using the definition Armond gives, sure....it can be said that Sam is an Uncle Tom....along with every Black man and woman who has worked for a white person as the definition is so generic.

    I also don't believe his definition of an Uncle Tom is correct....he modified it to fit his bias, something that happens to all of us, many of us most of the time. Armond is also vilifying a person [Sam Jackson] because of the movie roles they play, direct, produce, or write. He is labeling Sam an Uncle Tom. This is something many on this site do all the time in order to put someone in their place in the barrel. Here are some labels I have read recently: Clown, light-skinned, half white, moron, Latina, the help, junkie, dark skinned, insert all words for Oprah and TP here:_____________

    Armond seems to hate the majority of the roles Sam picked because he thinks those roles are racist stereotypes. Sound familiar? That is not an Uncle Tom. Opportunist, perhaps, but Uncle Tom, no.

    If you put down another black writer, producer, actor, director.....artist of any kind simply to get traffic on your website or to court the favor of a studio, or get lots of comments - well, we are entering Uncle Tom territory. (and is it me or are the actions and consequences similar to crabs in a barrel mentality?)

    I think it is funny that no one is really commenting on the stereotype angle. I can't help but to think it is because its Samuel Leroy Jackson, Morehouse man, radical black panther, unparalleled work ethic - is smooth, cool, 100% real and will get in your face and say screw you.....so you have respect for him. Only you guys can individually explain why do you not do that with others.

  • CC | June 18, 2013 2:03 AM

    "Armond seems to hate the majority of the roles Sam picked because he thinks those roles are racist stereotypes. Sound familiar? That is not an Uncle Tom. Opportunist, perhaps, but Uncle Tom, no."

    There it is. Armond White doesn't have a personal beef with Samuel Jackson, imo (for those who don't know or have not read his reviews /critiques) plain and simple, Armond is an intellectual snob. And I agree Taz, Armond shaped the definition of an Uncle Tom to fit his position. I am not saying his definition is "incorrect" ( Although "thin", it did have some characteristics an Uncle Tom might exhibit).

  • Anti-believer | June 17, 2013 8:54 PMReply

    Armond... I don't agree with you as regarding Samuel's career. I don't know what personal "vendetta" he has against him. Jealousy? Emotional? Sexual? Not sure what it is. I do know one thing is Samuel likes to work continuously. Now what is wrong with that in an industry where it is dominated by white males? I don't know. Why didn't Bill Cosby just start his own network instead of trying to buy NBC? I don't know.

  • EnigMaa | June 17, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    I Can Totally Understand This Frame Of Thought...I Actually Agree with 75% of his Summary
    ...HowEver When the Pursuit for Bigger money Drives You There...many Many, MANY Have Chosen to Ride....What OPTIONS You Got... What Would YOU Choose? To EACH His OWN

  • BluTopaz | June 17, 2013 12:22 PMReply

    Agreed with everyone. White is grouping all of Sam's career under the Stagger Lee, big bad black dude stereotype which is unfair. While I think Sam has phoned it in for a few of his roles, some of his performances could have been buffoon-ish displays in the hands of a lessor actor. Gator could have been a cliched street junkie but he was comic and heartbreaking at the same time, which is one of the toughest things to pull off as an actor and Armond White should know this as a film critic. Actually some of my fave Jackson roles are his more subdued characters; like from One Eight Seven and Eve's Bayou.

    Uncle Tom is such a loaded phrase, I wonder what Mr. White has to say about "safer" actors like Will Smith and Denzel Washington.

  • CC | June 17, 2013 11:52 AMReply

    STOP THE PRESSES! **NEWSFLASH**.... Armond White Is Right!

    "The original meaning of an Uncle Tom is being somebody who works for for the man, who works for the white massa and does things for the white massa's benefit and approval and delight" ~ Armond White

    That clearly IS the definition of an Uncle Tom and where was Mr. White when I needed him?

    I am reminded of the many conversations/debates on Will Smith's After Earth. You know, that post in which nearly 40 different visitors came out to apologize for white folk's movie preferences. What... y'all don't remember the sing-along crowd saying "Earth's" low box office had nothing to do with race nor the actor's skin color? Well, before we go back to "Uncle Toms" and the ways of white folks, I present a few words ( Armond White's words) on After Earth. Be forewarned that this may hurt a few folks but stay tuned and keep an open mind.

    "Boys without fathers are the target audience for Will Smith’s After Earth. Its story of a boy Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) trying to live up to his father Cypher Raige's (Will Smith) survivalist code [...] What Black moviegoer or Fresh Prince of Bel Air fan can't imagine where this comes from or what it means? The theme of a youth seeking to bond with his macho military father by emulating his masculine strength is set a thousand years in the future but suggests more than the usual Summer comic-book-movie fare... It's exactly the unusual hybrid one might expect a thoughtful Black filmmaker to initiate" ~ Armond

    Hmmm... now here's the kicker: "Smith fans who are unaware of how adolescent life lessons were taught in rich, earth-bound movies like Sounder, The Yearling, National Velvet, The Human Comedy may yet respond enthusiastically to After Earth–less as entertainment than as a matter of need"

    MY-MY-MY, it seems like I've heard those words before.

    "The overwhelming majority of white people do not need nor love black folks, and Will and Jaden Smith were charged with acting while being black. There was little in the Smith's movie for white folks to wrap their arms around... esp those things they can acquire somewhere else" ~ CareyCarey

    So now we've arrived back at massa, Hollywood/the white audience, uncle toms, black actors and how each of them fit in the big picture.

    When I look at films (black films in particular) that are not hugged by the general white audience, I clearly see messages that do not support their need to feel superior to the black man, nor are the movies filled with Uncle Toms and Uncle Tomettes (types), who works for the white massa and does things for the white massa's benefit and approval and delight". You know, like running around showing their asses in various forms of misbehavior.

    So yes, Samuel Jackson, for the most part, has been a great Uncle Tom who has delighted his boss man and put money in their pocket, as have many other black actors.

  • Eric A. Smith | June 17, 2013 11:23 AMReply

    I can't believe that someone would take a small portion of a person's career and make a broad statement. Yes Samuel has played the "scary black man", but he also played educators, leaders, fathers and educated people. He is what we call an ACTOR! Actors take on all types of roles; some for fun and some to tell a true story. It sickens me that black actors are believed to only portray characters of substance. Not all people are of substance and not all acting jobs need to be so serious.

  • Lori | June 17, 2013 10:34 AMReply

    Sam Jackson is nobodies Uncle Tom. He is a fantastic actor and a Hollywood great. Chris Rock, The Wayans brothers and Cuba Gooding. Those are Uncle Toms. Excuse my French but Get The Fuck out of here with that. Who is Armond White And why should I care who he is?

  • stefan verna | June 17, 2013 9:46 AMReply

    I've lost all respect for Armond White. This man has reduced the body of work of a very talented actor to a very skewed definition of what being an Uncle Tom is. A sad day for film journalism.

  • Daryl | June 17, 2013 9:38 AMReply

    I disagree with Mr. White comments about Samuel L Jackson. This right here is the problem with black film and the black audience. Black filmmakers and actors are expected to be social workers instead of telling stories or taken on roles they want to play out of fear of backlash from the black community when they play in black films if they decide not to put theirselves in a box, so they play to sterotypes of what a black film should be to be sucessful. I call a black celeb a sellout when they make it they don't want to have nothing to do with black people or when they do come around it's to exploit black people, or a black person ain't good enough to write or direct them in a movie to be a big sucess or black director that believe they need a white actor to have a blockbuster, or black celebs that feel like they havn't made it yet until they are shown favor by the fake white mainstream establishment, These are the sellouts not a black actor deciding to play roles he want to play. To many of us think like Mr. White and it ends up boxing actors and filmmakers in to play sterotypes or try and be social workers instead of being artists. It's different subcultures in the black community, it's no one way to tell the black experience or be black , we are not a monolith people. That's a sellout a person that thinks black people and their experiences and stories are all the same.

  • Patric | June 17, 2013 6:36 PM

    Amen!

  • Fortune27 | June 17, 2013 6:46 AMReply

    I'd be interested to know what films and portrayals by Black actors Mr. White deems culturally appropriate enough to be graced with his approval. His comments remind me of the West/Smiley rants against President Obama.

  • GetOut | June 17, 2013 6:41 AMReply

    Samuel Jackson is a fantastic actor and has played some of the hardest n*****s ever seen on the big screen...and his portrayal in 'Django' was not a joke...there were plenty of n*****s like that back in the day...that was their version of game, getting over...it kept them from getting their ass whipped, or worse.

  • James | June 17, 2013 6:15 AMReply

    facilitated conflict.. always exciting.. something like a prize fight.. watch the two nigra-boys slug each others brains out.. so exciting!

    I would tell Armond to wake up and recognize the game, but I don't get the impression it would do any good.

  • Max Zumstein | June 17, 2013 4:45 AMReply

    When Justin Lin premiered BETTER LUCK TOMORROW at Sundance, a man in the audience stood up and berated him and his team for making a picture about Asian Americans that was so morally bankrupt and volatile, and portrayed Asian Americans in such a harsh light. To which Roger Ebert stood up and rebuked:

    "What I find VERY offensive and condescending about your statement is that no one would ever say to a bunch of WHITE filmmakers, 'How could you do this to your people?' This film has the right to be about these people, and Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to 'represent' their people!"

  • Renee Bess | June 17, 2013 3:24 AMReply

    Armond who? Samuel L Jackson is one of the leading Character Actors. I hope and pray that before he leaves the planet that he gets his Oscar!

  • Africameleon | June 17, 2013 1:23 AMReply

    Aaaand, who in the hell is Armond White??? Really, who is he? That says it all.

  • ALM | June 17, 2013 12:28 AMReply

    So portraying edgy roles a la “Pulp Fiction” now makes an actor a discredit to his or her race?

    The interviewer even tries to give White an out at 2:27 after he mentions Carmichael, etc., but White doesn’t back down.

    Why call out Sam Jackson specifically? Is there more to this interview where he calls out other actor’s names, because if this is White’s argument, then there are other actors that he should also be upset with.

    White is supposed to be a film expert, but he can’t do something so basic as to be able to separate an actor from the characters that he portrays.

  • CareyCarey | June 17, 2013 12:02 AMReply

    OUCH! William Shakespeare's King Lear has spoken... "Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man (Samuel Jackson that is). Be he living, or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to mix my bread"

    Now I don't know if Armond White has performed Shakespeare's tragedy, nor if he has 3 daughters that lead him to madness, but I know he makes his bread off the backs of film-makers, actors and such. So taking pot shots at him would be an act of killing a defenseless messenger whose only crime is being paid to deliver the bad news.

    But wait a minute, I thought the mailman's job was was to simply deliver the mail, not pimp slap the recipients? I mean, did I miss something or didn't Mr. White just kick every black actor dead in their ass? Sure he did, didn't he.

    Well, let me go back. I agree, Samuel Jackson's "Stephen" was the best and ultimate Uncle Tom I've ever seen on the big screen. And, Django was written as a joke, not to be taken seriously, and certainly not a history lesson. However, my side-eye got real wide when I heard Armond's words/definition on the consummate Uncle Tom and how Samuel Jackson fit "his" mold.

    "The original meaning of an Uncle Tom being somebody who works for for the man, who works for the white massa and does things for the white massas benefit and approval. And I think the kind of roles that Sam Jackson has played has always... has been that of a depraved, violent, scary black man, and this suits the racist perceptions that underlie American culture to this day... and he's gotten rich off that. And probably if playing a Uncle Tom, making a living off funny violence was not popular today, he wouldn't do it. It's probably like many actors... like many people he goes with the flow" ~ Armond White

    Well hell, hasn't practically every black actor danced for the massa (read Hollywood)? Should I list the ways Viola, Wesley, Halle, Morgan, Denzel, Forrest, Kerry, Will, Jamie and countless other black actors have played characters who killed, used dope, drove Miss Daisy, toe-tapped, hucklebucked and fu*ked for the delight of massa? Surely we all can agree those actors were working hard for their money, in some of the most compromising positions, so were they really Uncle Toms? Well, I asked an independant source (my lady) what she thought about Armond's remarks. She's not a movie nut or as verbose as I am, so she kept her answer short--> "If all of Samuel Jackson'r roles have been that of an Uncle Tom, what does that say about us?".

    Damn, I had to think about that. If most of us have paid to see Samuel Jackson over and over again, what are we, some kind of weird voyeurs of Uncle Tomism?

    Well I'm gonna take the fifth 'cause I've seen every Samuel Jackson movie.

    On second thought, I think I'll borrow that line from The Big Chill where Kevin Cline says to William Hurt... "you know, fk'em (and Armond too) if they can't take a joke".

  • Ronald T. Jones | June 16, 2013 10:57 PMReply

    Idiotic I tell you!!

  • Ronald T. Jones | June 16, 2013 10:56 PMReply

    Armond's comment is so way off balance it needs crutches to compensate. Samuel Jackson has played a range of roles, from heroic to villainous, positive to negative, simple to complex. Armond clearly has an ax to grind in regard to Samuel Jackson, because this Uncle Tom accusation makes absolutely no sense.. Now if the only roles Jackson played were similar to the crackhead he portrayed in Jungle Fever, then I might accord Armond some merit in his accusation. But you can't toss an Uncle Tom label at a man who played a powerful Jedi in the Star Wars sequels. You can't get anymore anti-Uncle Tom than that. I'm sorry, I'm just not buying it. Armond's statement is idiotic.

  • Troy | June 17, 2013 9:18 AM

    The crackhead he portrayed was himself. He had only been clean for awhile before playing that role.

  • August Wasoba | June 16, 2013 10:42 PMReply

    sigh......hmm.......huh.......NIGGA Please!

  • No | June 16, 2013 9:53 PMReply

    White -- Wow, notice the irony -- has been caring on a vendetta against Jackson for years.

  • Gator from Jungle Fever | June 16, 2013 9:18 PMReply

    The tea pot called kettle a black man.

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