Larry got it Right in Mystic River

salonlogo.gifAn open letter to the author of an otherwise good review of Mystic River in Salon:

Hello Ms. Zacharek,

I did enjoy your review of Mystic River, and am looking forward to seeing it this weekend. I especially enjoyed your observations on conceptions of neighborhood, and on the film’s sense of place.

While it’s true that Boston’s many neighborhoods are more self-contained than most cities’, I think it’s a leap to assume that this clannishness is total. It’s equally true to argue that all of Boston is insulated from other parts of the country. There is a distinct common Boston culture, which includes things like language, values, and traditions (red sox).

And while there may be an evident us vs. them dynamic between certain groups in the city, there is always a circling of the wagons when Boston is facing outward to the rest of the country. So there must be more to this place than the sum of its parts.

Which leads me to ask you about this:

His partner is played by Laurence Fishburne, who wasn’t told, unfortunately, that black people in Boston don’t speak with a Boston accent.

I know it’s a minor bone to pick, but what experience or knowledge did you use as basis for that comment? An assumption that only Irish-Bostonians drop their Rs and As? Michael Dukakis certainly would debunk that statement.

Visit an elementary school in Chinatown, and you’ll see the children of Chinese immigrants saying cah and pahk, just like many of their teachers. Maybe not to the exaggerated degree that you’d find on the South Shore or in the Kennedy family, but it’s there.

Would you similarly argue that blacks born and educated in Chicago don’t speak with a Great Lakes Mid-West accent?

The Boston accent originated in East Anglia, when the first English colonists came from. It’s been refined and extended by a immigrant groups of all kinds (not to mention a few of us transplants from other parts of the country). I think there is a mistaken assumption here, and I’d hate for non-Bostonians to get the wrong idea when watching this film.

Respectfully,
Ned ned.suckahs.org

Now, I’m not a native Bostonian, but I have been here for nearly a decade — and I know many people that grew up in this town, and share the local accent– be they from hispanic, black, or other backgrounds. Does anyone disagree? Am I overreacting to a small bit in an otherwise good review?

UPDATE: Ms. Zacharek kindly responded to my letter:

Hi Ned — Thanks for your letter. I actually took great pains to make it clear that the clannishness shown in the movie isn’t total — the neighborhood of the movie seems to me very much like South Boston (though plenty of people are writing in saying, “No, it’s Charlestown!” or “No, it’s Dorchester!”) I think the point is, there ARE pockets of Boston that are particularly clannish, and Lehane’s story is predicated on that.

And the L. Fishburne line…I just went in and cut that from the piece, because it seemed to be a bone of contention with several people. I lived in Boston for 15 years (it was only four years ago that I left), and I never heard a person of color speak the way Fishburne does. Then again, all of Boston is set up so that a white person (like me) never needs to come into contact with a person of color unless he or she makes a great effort to do so. So it’s entirely possible that there are African Americans in Boston who speak like Mark Wahlberg and I just never heard them. In any event, it did seem like a misguided acting choice to me.

Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to write in with your thoughtful comments, and best wishes —

Stephanie Zacharek

I’m humbled that she responded so generously, but now that I think about it, I’m feeling a bit like the PC Police. I didn’t want her to self-censor herself, but I thought that I should say something.

3 Responses to “Larry got it Right in Mystic River”


  • If only we could get responses from ANY author. Of course, then they wouldn’t have time to actually write.

  • what’s up with the suckahs site?!!
    haven’t been updated for ages!!!!!

  • I have to agree that I never heard a black person in Boston speak with that strong accent. I lived there for 20 years and had plenty of interaction with all races. The accents are very localized–kids don’t pick up their accents from teachers, they learn to speak at home. The thickest Boston accents come from the blue collar white communities. Upper middle class communities and african american areas have no detectable accent (at least in the dropping and adding of the letter R).

Comments are currently closed.