Dear T.S.P. Reader,
May this day bid you peace and joy.
The hit blockbuster “Get Out” was released in theaters this past February 2017, and it had countless black and white critics alike singing its high praises.
It even had the distinct honor of being dubbed a 5-star rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which–and, I don’t have to tell you–is no simple feat. Stephanie Zacharek, the film critic for TIME, had this to say about the movie’s director and co-producer Jordan Peele: “Peele succeeds where sometimes even more experienced filmmakers fail: He’s made an agile entertainment whose social and cultural observations are woven so tightly into the fabric that you’re laughing even as you’re thinking, and vice-versa.”
Positive feedback from my readers and writing colleagues flooded my Facebook timeline after its release, and even a few of the black social commentators whom I adamantly follow were chiming in about how the movie masterfully combined elements of horror and comedy to symbolically depict the reality of covert racism here in America.
But, in spite of the movie receiving such high levels of critical acclaim, in spite of my peers, black and white, who were strongly urging me to see the film, and in spite of the fact that I love seeing a brother or sister get paid–“$175,484,140” paid to be exact–for doing what he or she is passionate about, I have zero plans to see the film when it comes out on Blu Ray soon.
In fact, I didn’t have any plans to see it even when the riveting and suspense-filled promotional trailers dropped, pre-release. And, my lack of desire to do so was spawned by the same reasons I’m not interested in seeing shows like Netflix’s series, “Dear White People” (I thought the series would cover the important topics that the movies didn’t have time to) or movies like Hidden Figures.
My Reasons? Well, quite frankly…:
1. As a black man, me continuing to watch movie after movie consisting of black people being in positions where they’re subjected to enforced inequality and extremely dehumanizing oppression and in positions where black people are constantly trying to prove to white people that they’re equal to them is an act that has very detrimental effects on me and other black people psychologically:
A. It’s very demoralizing in the sense that constantly seeing movie characters, who look like me, portrayed in roles as maids, butlers, slaves, being trapped in the ghetto, people who were never given credit for their contributions to the betterment of America, etc. continues to convey the notion that “Black people have only and always been in positions of submissiveness, helplessness and are incapable of any kind of self-sufficiency,” even if, at the end of the movie, there is a resolution (temporary) in the plot line to a specific instance of prejudice, AKA a “happy ending.”
B. Also, the underlying theme of movies about black people trying to overcome the adversity of oppressive institutions, such as the movie 42, is one that insinuates to black people and white people that black people have an obligation to prove to white people that they must achieve the same level of excellence or surpasses them–when, in many areas we have surpassed–in any field of expertise before we’re worthy enough to be accepted as complete human beings and that we NEED white acceptance in order for us to consider ourselves as successful, accomplished, and validated.
2. Why would I keep watching these types of movies when they just keep telling us over and over again what we probably already know about how bad racism was/is, and why would I keep watching them when I don’t think they’re very effective in the way of abolishing the systematically imposed disparities black people are facing in America?
Bottom line, I began to realize over the years as I watched movies like 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, The Color Purple, DJango Unchained, and Precious that they were depressing and demoralizing me completely, even if the intention of the ones making the movies was to inform me. Those movies were NOT as empowering, uplifting (except in small spurts), useful as they might be collectively considered to be, when you incorporate some critical thinking into judging their quality. And, in a sick way, the depression and demoralization they evoke is quite addicting. Because it’s easier for white and black people to contentiously watch movies about much damage racism has done and to feel bad about it (the pain)–and to feel that by feeling this pain that they’re helping contribute to some kind of solution–rather than having to actually deal with the force, itself, that is causing the trauma.
I, as many black people do, was allowing these types movies and documentaries to be catalysts for my black emotional cutting rather than putting forth the effort of educating myself on solutions. I became used to focusing on and magnifying the trauma rather than placing the emphasis on what specific types of efforts were and still are needed in order bring about ethnic justice here in America.
The immense financial success and the high number of award nominations accredited to movies like The Help and/or Get Out are prime pieces of evidence that most of us are fanatical about black oppression and that this same oppression is trendy and very profitable (money that mostly goes to white people). When, the history of black people in America and what encompasses what it means to be black modern-day is comprised of infinitely more elements than just oppression and suffering, and, therefore, being that those black experiences are part of American history, they need to be examined, showcased, and exalted, not just the stories about black pain.
Heaven forbid they ever make a blockbuster about the black people who fought in the American Revolution–when, if you let our history classes tell it, it was all a bunch of white guys–and if it ever actually was a financial success and got nominated for an academy award.
I would love to see a movie about the rise of the Negro Leagues in the 20s which would showcase black entrepreneurship and ownership here in America–something you typically don’t see associated with “blackness” in entertainment.
I would love to see a movie about Elijah J. McCoy, one of the greatest inventors of all time and definitely the greatest inventor in America history. How about a movie showcasing black people as creators and innovators for a change, like how white people get portrayed?
When it is asked why there are very few black people participating in NASCAR, you typically hear “Well black people just aren’t that interested in race cars.” Well, I wish there were a movie about how black people had their own racing circuit, the Black American Racers Association, which shows that notion is complete bull crap.
It would be awesome if someone made a movie about Madam C. J. Walker, the first self-made, black woman millionaire in America, and her rise to financial power.
And, as it personally pertains to me as a writer, I just saw that a movie was made about Emily Dickinson. A movie about Langston Hughes, a black literary genius, that connotated “blackness” with some of the most beautiful, sophisticated, and deep literature that ever existed would be something I would pay good money to see.
Now, one might read up until this point and ask the following:
1. “Well what if a movie like “Get Out” is a white person’s first wake-up call, in beginning to gain an understanding of the nature of racism. What if they’ve never had to really deal with the concept of racism and a movie like The Bulter was their first introduction to it? They might have, otherwise, never have been exposed to it.“
2. Or, “We need to always remember the torture and the suffering black people experienced in this country, and we need to keep re-visiting the horrific and mutilated images of our ancestors to pay homage to their sacrifices.”
Well, to the first point, if you’re a white person and a movie like Get Out was your first exposure to the true ugliness of racism, I would have to ask, now that you’ve seen the movie, how are you going to be a part of the solution? Now that you’ve seen that your skin comes with certain privileges (which I hope the movie effectively portrayed, because I have not seen it myself, obviously) and that there are customs, policies, and institutions in place, which need to be abolished here in America, that keep those privileges in place at the detriment of black people, how are you going to be devoted to the much-needed resolutions?
Are you going to just keep watching movies and documentaries about black suffering, cry your tears of sadness, and just carry on with life as usual, or are you going to devote time towards studying solutions to the disparities black people face and consistently devote your energy and resources to the cause? Because, if Get Out was your wake up call, then it should be respected as such. You shouldn’t be falling back to sleep, so to speak.
The choice to fight for ethnic justice is a choice you should come to on your own, because you are good human being, not because a movie was “entertaining” or “heartwarming” enough to provoke you to do so. Plus, you shouldn’t have to always be “entertained” for you to be perceptive to a message. Learning about racism is not supposed to be fun, exciting, heart-warming, or romantic. Learning about what it takes to fight for ethnic justice and unlearning covertly racist customs is a life-long commitment.
To the second point, my ancestors were tortured and mistreated beyond brutal. I’m fully aware of that. My grandmother can tell me about specific family members that were murdered by white supremacist before more time. I totally get it, and we definitely never need to forget that happened. But, we also have to remember that we, ourselves, are still human and that we’re bound to the rules of humanity.
Certain imagery and messages, especially ones of violence and gore, do have an effect on our psyches, whether we want to admit it or not. Even strong black men and women have to be careful about how often they expose themselves to certain tragedies of the past and the present.
We don’t need to keep revisiting the image of Emit Till’s mutilated face over and over again to know that we need to be out here making a difference.
I don’t need to keep watching news videos of unarmed black men being unlawfully gunned down by law enforcement officers to know that the wickedness of police brutality still exists and that it must be abolished.
I don’t need to keep seeing pictures of my ancestors hanging in trees to get the point.
The more we keep seeing these types of movies and, in some cases, documentaries that showcase how bad things are/were for black people and the more we just keep horrifying, demoralizing, and depressing ourselves, the more unorganized, scattered, divided, and dismayed we become, and the less effective we are, individually and collectively as black people, in creating any kind of sustaining change-for-the-better. I don’t think that is doing a service to my ancestors. If anything I think it’s doing a disservice in that it’s making me less effective in avenging them and bringing them justice, and I don’t think they would want us to do that to ourselves.
I can’t tell anyone not to watch movies like Get Out or 12 Years a Slave; I can only say that I will no longer be supporting such films. I feel there are already enough stories out there about black oppression, and, if people want to learn how they can be a part of the solution, there literally thousands of books and presentations out there, written and produced by people who are deeply invested in the cause, one can go study on their own accord, not because movie was enjoyable enough to convince them that doing so is their moral obligation.
It’s up to YOU to do the legwork.
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