Ta-Nehisi posts a video of Gene Siskel (still deeply missed) and Roger Ebert critiquing Clueless when it came out:
He adds: “Poorly drawn movies tend to depend on poorly drawn characters. And poorly drawn black characters almost always descend into stereotype and cartoon. Not that I’m an expert on Teen Movies, but I can’t really think of another one–pre-Clueless–that had African-American kids in strong supporting roles, looking like we look, which is to say, like human beings. ”
I think he’s right. Dionne and Murray were Cher’s friends who were black, not Cher’s black friends. And it was crystal clear to me why Cher and Dionne were BFFs — they were similar. And yet, Dionne’s and Murray’s blackness was imbued into their roles through the writing and Stacey Dash’s and Donald Faison’s performances.
But more than this, what Siskel and Ebert’s review reminds me is that Clueless was really good. Cher was intelligent, even if she couldn’t pronounce “Haitians,” and the characters in the film were all really well written (aside, perhaps, from villainous Elton). Warmth and strength and kindness and sharp quips were threaded throughout the film. As quadmoniker wrote below, female directors bring perspectives to filmmaking that are invaluable. I certainly think Amy Heckerling made magic with Clueless that very few men (or women) could have made.
And on the impetus for this post — the death of actress Brittany Murphy, who was Tai to the point that I can’t imagine anyone else in that role — check this essay from Alyssa Rosenberg, who writes: “Onscreen or off, she never quite surpassed the role that launched her career: the endearing and genuine newcomer who rises to the top simply by being herself.” I think Alyssa is right.