Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

 

As a kid, I didn’t realize just how much my favorite TV show, Quantum Leap, ripped off plots from famous movies. There’s the episode about a boxer who has to decide whether to throw a fight for the mob and let a church go bankrupt. Then there’s the episode where Sam leaps into a guy who looks like Humphrey Bogart and has to stop a murderer (and, incidentally, runs into a young Woody Allen along the way, there’s a two-fer). And, of course, there’s the episode where Sam leaps into an older black man who chauffeurs an elderly white woman around in a small Southern town in an atmosphere of racism. It’s practically the same damn story, even down to the incidental music (which, granted, was an intentional homage, like the story itself).

And I’m going to say something daring here: I like the Quantum Leap episode better. If nothing else, at least the old lady in that one brings her chauffeur to eat in the whites-only café with her by the end. Miss Daisy leaves Hoke in the car while she goes to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at an event. That’s quite a burn.

I don’t know; I found this movie dull. It feels like a play, which is fine, sure, but if you’re going to turn a play into a movie, why not do a little more with it? Like, maybe there can be more than three characters, or Hoke could talk to somebody other than Miss Daisy, or even give us some sense that he doesn’t just walk out of Daisy’s house and cease to exist until he walks back on stage again. And surprisingly, in comparison to the earlier film In the Heat of the Night, this feels much more quaint in its attitude toward prejudice. All of our race problems can be solved if only we can share a slice of nursing home pie. And by share, I mean, allow our driver to feed us pie after years of just barely tolerating his existence.

Tolerance. That buzz word that sounded so good to my generation as kids. Yes, we’re all about tolerance! We’re willing to tolerate all sorts of different people – not just the standard litany of skin colors, black, brown, red, but also the ones that don’t actually exist, like green. We’re just that tolerant!

In Morgan Freeman’s character Hoke, I see a stereotype that seems just as dangerous as the lazy slave or the matronly house servant: the irrepressibly cheerful black man. In the face of all prejudice, he simply smiles and carries on, willing to wait it out until the world comes around to his side. This is how you fight racism, apparently: wait it out. Until what? Well, either until the racists are won over by your charms, or maybe until they die off (assuming new racists don’t take their place).

I really wanted to see more moments where Hoke speaks with other black characters, and for longer stretches of time than a line or two in between the white person entering the room. Or maybe we could have seen him outside his official duties, with family or friends. But instead, we only see him in the context of Miss Daisy, forced to be always infallible and unemotional.

I don’t mean to be such a critic of racial portrayals in these posts. In real life, I’m certainly not so vocal about political or social issues, in part because I don’t feel it’s my place to decide on behalf of black people what’s offensive. I’m white, and what I’ve learned is that people who are not white have generally heard plenty of white opinions about everything. But then, here in my little corner of the internet, I can parse through all the perspectives I’ve had an opportunity to hear and work out my own thoughts on the matter. If you’re willing to listen, you don’t need to apologize for saying your piece.

Bottom line: I don’t dislike this movie because I’m disappointed in its race relations or anything like that. I dislike it because it’s boring.

 

Theme: Race Relations

First Time Watching? Yes, unless you count Quantum Leap

Final Verdict: Didn’t drive me wild

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