Denzel Washington’s latest has a simple message for inner city youth, and it’s far more empowering than what "The First Purge" offers.
The only question remaining? Which message will resonate louder with minority movie goers?
Washington returns as soft-spoken vigilante Robert McCall in "The Equalizer 2." McCall would rather crack a book than crack skulls, but when the bad guys hurt innocents, he’s stirred into action. One glance at his watch and it’s time for the villains to take a nap – on McCall’s terms.
We saw that routine play out in the 2014 original, but the sequel offers something more than the ageless Washington at work. His character counsels a young black man in desperate need of a father figure.
"Moonlight" co-star Ashton Sanders is Miles, a budding artist being courted by a local gang. McCall catches him at a critical time. He hasn’t embraced the gang quite yet, but its appeal isn’t lost on a teen who could really use some Benjamins.
McCall gently tells him there’s another way out of his current situation. You don’t have to blame the white man, your poor neighborhood or anything else, McCall says. You’ve got talent, desire and brains. That is your ticket out, not through the tatted embrace of local gang bangers.
The sequence drips with Washington’s innate decency. For all the action before and after, this scene sticks with you as you leave the theater. You’ll have to see the film to learn which path Miles takes.
And then there’s "The First Purge," a movie sharing a wildly different take on being a minority in the United States. Once again, the franchise revolves around a 12-hour period where all laws disappear. Rape? Legal. Murder? Legal. Looting? You guessed it, it’s legal for half of one day each year.
"The First Purge" lets the filmmakers attack President Donald Trump, right-of-center targets and, albeit briefly, the NRA. We also see members of a distressed New York community weigh in about the current state of affairs.
Black and brown people are under attack by a Nazi-like government keen on keeping them down. Watching that government in action in this "Purge" makes those instincts understandable. The theme is equally clear. Trump’s America has it in for black and brown faces. Never mind those historically low unemployment rates for minorities under Trump’s watch.
If you’re skin isn’t white, the American dream isn’t an option in "Purge" speak. It’s exactly the opposite of what Washington’s McCall tells Miles.
Now, which message is more empowering and productive? It’s not even close.
That gives audiences a stark choice. Will they cheer victimhood on steroids or McCall’s heartfelt plea to someone starting his adult life?
The answer just a few years ago might have been obvious. Today, with talk of universal incomes, Medicare for All and other programs no country can afford, the response is no longer certain.
Christian Toto is editor of the conservative entertainment site HollywoodInToto.com