It has been announced that Jay-Z and Will Smith will team up to produce an HBO miniseries about the death of Emmett Till.
For those who are not familiar with Emmett Till’s story, Emmett Till was a 14 year old Black boy living in Mississippi. He was brutally murdered after flirting with a white girl. The most horrifying thing about Till’s story is the condition that his body was in when it was finally retrieved from the Tallahatchie River.
Emmett Till’s story is a well known one and was definitely a milestone in Black history in that it was one of the few stories of that time to recent national coverage exposing the egregious acts of racial violence that Black people were experiencing.
I began speaking to this point in a previous post where I discussed 2 of the most successful Black themed movies of 2013, which were The Butler and 12 Years A Slave. My point there was that The Butler was the 25 in the list of top grossing movies for 2013 and 12 Years a Slave was 81 on the list; however, a movie such as Fruitvale Station was number 130.
I am not suggesting that Fruitvale Station was a better movie or better made or had better performances than the other 2 movies. And I’m also not saying that more well known names associated with the other two movies didn’t clearly give them the advantage of drawing more people to the box office; that’s clear. What I am saying is that we have to think critically about what we are seeing happen. What we are seeing happen is a dominance of stories drawn from Black life as it was over 30 years ago and those stories are being promoted, praised and appreciated much more than say the story about the last day of a young Black man from Oakland. There’s nothing malicious about this but it bears some evaluation because those stories that are told shape the narrative of what Black life in America is and if the majority of the stories are decades detached from the current cultural climate then we are missing the opportunity to share our stories and lives as they are now (which is not a whole lot better than it was then; but it is different).
The overall struggle for equity has not changed for Black people. We are still wanting, needing and fighting for the same basic civil liberties that have been denied to us; however, the methods and tools being used to deny them to us have changed. And that has changed the game. So the stories we need most right now are not necessarily ones about running away from plantations, transcending menial employment or fighting to sit and eat beside White people. The stories we need told are about battling white privilege, navigating white spaces, transcending the school to jail pipeline and learning to define our blackness.
I am not sure I want to see this miniseries. I have noticed a trend occurring in Black films that achieve mainstream recognition and success. All too often the stories that are told are about tragedy and/or historical drama. Black history is vital and we must never forget the stories that remind us from where we come and how far will still have left go, but I would like to the same celebration over stories of success, love and achievement. In this day and age those stories are more necessary. We have to start changing the national narrative about Black people in America because we are more than our painful past and we are more than our current struggle. We are human and like anyone else we share universal needs and desires that in the context of our culture may manifest themselves differently but are the same as any other human being. Our past cannot define us, our struggle will not define us, because we are more than that.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man