In 2013 two movies were released that Black cultural themes: The Butler and 12 Years a Slave. The Butler told the story of a White House butler who served 8 presidents over 30 years. The critics called the film gut wrenching and emotionally affecting. The Black community seemed to be in full support of the story. And then there was 12 Years a Slave that was a historical recounting of Solomon Northup, a free Black man during the era of slavery who was born free and forced into slavery. The critics called that film unflinching and brutal. It also was well supported by the Black community. Currently playing is the movie Selma which takes an angle on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that focuses on the civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama. Critics have cited this movie’s inspirational look at the work of Dr. King and it’s stark contrast to where we are today in American race relations and civil rights. I had intended to see The Butler and 12 Years a Slave but didn’t make the effort and I feel just as un-enthused about Selma. The fact that I feel this level of indifference to these movies despite their very obvious positive reception and declared significance to the plight of Black people led me to introspect as to why it is that I seemed to feel this way.
One of the major reasons I could think that made me somewhat indifferent is that it seems all too often – especially in Hollywood – the only movies that tell Black stories and receive critical acclaim are usually based on a true story and/or revolve around the Civil Rights Movement or Slavery. This bothers me because it suggests to our children that the only great accomplishments that we have made as a culture is surviving slavery and Jim Crow. We rarely hear acclaims for films that center around Black life when they are not humorous, graphically violent, or historically nostalgic. So to hear that in 2014 we will, yet again, have another box office smash about the prejudice against Black folks, I am just not enthused.
I can understand that making these kinds of film was – once upon a time – cathartic and revelatory for the world to see the inhumanity and injustice that we have suffered. But now it seems more like we are perpetually painting ourselves as the victims and it seems we have little else to say to the world about whom we are and who we are becoming besides shoving our pain suffering down its throat.
Perhaps some of this is that there are not enough young voices leading the discussions, producing the films, and writing the scripts. Perhaps the older generation has held the reigns of leadership long beyond their prime or the younger generation hasn’t taken enough initiative to take leadership.
The point is that we are more than victims of slavery and Jim Crow. We are more than victims than survivors of prejudice, discrimination, and inhumanity. We are more than Black faces weeping in the struggle. We are more than angry scowls leering at the power structure. We are human beings with the potential for as many stories, interests, passions, and any other culture. So, no I’m not really impressed with another Civil Rights narrative, another heroic slave story, or another graphic factual tale of violence and brutality. I would like to see characters that look like me with the struggles that I face because God knows even though we aren’t picking cotton and being shoved into Black only establishments, we are still struggling and we are freeing ourselves from prisons and slavery (mostly mental). What is happening right now before all of our eyes are hundreds of stories of heroism and perseverance that should one day be counted among the historical narratives of our culture that serve as markers of our evolution.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man