I recently got into a Facebook 'tiff' with a friend of mine, over the 12 Years A Slave Trailer.
I am up for a good ol’ historical based movie but after watching Quentin Tarantino's ‘Django Unchained‘ and cringing at the trailer of Lee Daniel's ‘Butler’, I'm fed up. As soon as The Help came out, I was told in advance that there would be a wave of post civil right movement movies, along with a slew of slavery movies.
The Civil Right movement and Slavery story is important, it should be acknowledge and as Steve McQueen stated in the Tiff Press Interview, the story needs to be told more accurately. How a story is told is often determined by who is telling the story which will at some point, translate into the film. I guess he was referring to author of 12 years A Slave, on which the book is based upon, authored by Solomon Northup, despite the fact the script was written by John Ridley.
My friend didn’t understand why I had chosen not to watch the film and challenged my decision by defending Steve McQueen’s work as ‘art’. I understand that art can be subjective and open to different perspectives and opinions. I for one believe that we all have a choice to make and with those choices come consequences. So, if you choose to direct a slavery film and it happens to be released all in one go, along with other civil right movie films, you need to question why this is the case, which other observant individuals like myself did.
The issue isn’t the story so much, it’s rather the attention it gets. Why is it that when a black character is a slave or struggling to achieve something post civil rights movement, this is award winning material. When other stories are told, which explore a variety of black images or roles, normally positive stories, it is not acknowledged. If Steve McQueen really wanted to talk about an honest depiction of African culture/history, we have plenty of material that spans more years than the period Africans were enslaved for.
I respect McQueen’s craft, I am a huge fan of his work but as a black British director, I would have thought with all the struggling black actors out there, out of respect for the craft, you would acknowledge a huge problem in Hollywood and the British film industry. This problem is the typecasting of black actors and actresses, the lack of funding for writers and directors whenever they come up with projects that are far from the usual stereotypes. It is a difficult task to find a major film project that includes an all-black cast, without a lead white actor.
No doubt, this is changing. There have been ground breaking YouTube series, such as ‘Awkward Black Girl’ and the ‘Black and Sexy’ channel and the recent release of ‘Mother of George’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, which have done amazingly well at the Sundance Festival this year and for ’Pariah’, in 2012.
I am beginning to think that if I am going to see more of myself in film, I need to look for an indie movie, or possibly Nollywood, Ghollywood and so on. I do not consider slavery as my history. My parents were not taught about civil rights as they were brought up in Nigeria, whilst their child was subjected to a half-baked fallacy called ‘Black History Month’ in Eurocentric education system.
Fortunately, my parents were big of education and reading, so I quickly learnt that ‘Black History Month’ was utter rubbish.
Film is a great way to teach and tell stories and as much as it’s someone’s art form or a way to a express themselves, the audience is also important. Who is going to watch these films and what message is it sending? For the black community, it sends a rather grim message that our stories are limited and when positive, it doesn’t sell, it’s not important.
My friend also thought of my views as separatist when I stated, I would support my own when it came to film. I agree, it can come across as I would rather we were segregated in terms of film. Well, right now, that is what it is come to. And more power to them. I think a lot of people of African descent are tired of being used for a larger political backdrop, tired of pleasing an old white man at the top somewhere. We want to own our own shit. Is that too much to ask?
Orange is the new Black is a perfect example of when all nationalities are not used as tokenism, but the most recent introduction of OITNB’s star, Danielle Brooks in American TV series, Girls, is questionable. I’m sure a lot of people like myself will be on the edge of their seats waiting for something ridiculous to happen when Girls airs. I for one never campaigned for the characters to be more diverse, because this is an honest portrayal of Lena Dunham’s experience.
Is it wrong for an all-black cast to release a normal experience of themselves? No. Does it have to be dubbed as segregation? No. Have we not been watching all white casts for a lifetime? Yes. So why are my views so extreme?