It came as no surprise when the International Business Times reported that Toronto film goers walked out of the movie premiere for 12 Years A Slave. The IBT cited scenes of slaves being beaten, tortured and killed as the main fare of the movie. Toronto movie studio chief Harvey Weinstein says that the number of African American films being featured at this year’s Toronto Film Festival is due to the “Obama Effect”. He called it a renaissance for Black films as the movie 12 Years A Slave, directed by Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, is rumored to be a contender for major awards during the Oscar season.
It is always a pleasure to see brown faces on the big screen after years of being ignored and under served by Hollywood yet, are these movies really representative of “the Black experience”?
Why is it that when we see ourselves on television in high budget films, our stories are set against a backdrop of slavery, servitude, angst and unrest? Is the “struggle” the only story we have to share? Why are our most dramatic moments bathed in blood at the hands of racially motivated tormentors? Does our history really begin at slavery?
12 Years of Slavery and movies like it are the slow poison that is ruining our youth. The poison seeps in through the first introduction of “Blackness” during so-called Black History Month where our children are shown video clips and taught lessons that instill in them that our history begins just before the fight for civil rights. They learn that this country has hated them since before they were born and that they are covertly trained year after year that to believe that something is wrong with them because they have brown skin.
These lessons are rounded out by rote memorization of successful Black inventors yet by the time our children reach this point in Black history, the damage is already done. They already believe that they are less than. They already believe that “You’re Black!” is an insult. They already believe that they are cursed and no matter how much we try to teach them to achieve, they walk around with a chip on their shoulder waiting expectantly for someone of another race to mistreat them.
We instigate these ill feelings by passing along (and unknowingly celebrating) every racist remark or insult uttered by anyone with a pen or microphone, discussing at length the frustration we feel by our invisible tormentors that we want so much to appease and be approved by. It is this same US against THEM mentality that is digested by every Black 3rd grader and reduces him to a sliver of what he could have been had we not taught him that his skin color was a handicap.
Our Black history did NOT begin at slavery. Slavery was a significant part of our transition to this country but it is not the most pivotal part of our history. We are no longer slaves. We are no longer bound by anything but our own beliefs.
We owe it to ourselves and our children to cut the chord on movies that glorify a history that is far removed from our current experience. This attachment to self-victimization is the bane of our entire society. Every race, every face should distance itself from the ‘woe is me’ mentality that teaches us to define ourselves by our struggles. There is no honor in being a survivor. There is no honor in being a victim. When we define ourselves by the horrific incidents we have overcome we seek to prove our strength yet we are doing quite the opposite, we are clinging to our past wounds hoping for pity or a hand out.
Let us stand up like the movie goers in Toronto who walked out of 12 Years A Slave and demonstrate that we want stories that reflect the brown faces we see today. We want to see faces like Thessalonika Arzu-Embry, a 14-year-old girl who is finishing a degree in psychology. We want to learn how Spike Lee turned his ideas into an empire that has influenced Black cinema. We want the real story behind what it means to break the mold and achieve success in music and fashion on the level that Kanye West has. We need a firm explanation of what it took for our President to earn his way into office, achieving a dream that many of us never believed we would see.
We want silly romances like My Best Friend’s Wedding, with chocolate faces that make us laugh and cry. We want diverse casts of characters that interact without race being a factor in any conversation. We understand that life has adversities, yet once we realize that our racial differences are mental and supported primarily by the stories we share and the warnings we give our children, we can eliminate our racial differences and focus on the real adversities, the kind that appear out of nowhere like physical limitations and emotional mayhem caused by destructive decisions. We want the movie directors and script writers to lead us into a new revolution for film where race is not a prominent theme because the true complexities of life are universal across every race.
Do not go out and see 12 Years A Slave unless you are a fan of cruelty as entertainment or you have a desire to immerse yourself in the sob stories of yesteryear.
Our history does not begin with slavery.
Our history begins today.
What kind of stories do you want to pass on to your children? How do you want them feel about themselves? Let us create those kind of films to celebrate and ignore the horrendous flashbacks from Hollywood that pull us right back into the fire of mental subjugation that we have worked so hard to climb out of. Stop revisiting your past traumas. Stop celebrating your healed wounds. If it is not a part of your present life, then it is not a part of your life-period. You can’t feel the heat from last summer, you can only reminisce, if you choose to.
The past is over. What does your today look like? What is your “Black experience” today? Is it colored by your fear that you can’t move forward without permission? Relinquish that belief and move forward anyway. Show your children how to do it.
We can create a new beginning for our children when we show them that skin color is not a factor by supporting films with diverse casts that do not beat the race card over and over again. But first, we have to stop using our skin tone as an excuse for our own inadequacies, silently looking over our shoulder for an invisible man trying to stop us, when it is really not US against THEM, it’s US against US.
Heal yourself. No one hates you. No one is stopping you.
You are loved. You are worthy. The sky is the limit for you. No one can hold you back from the life you believe you deserve. No one has that power, but you.
To learn more about this author, please visit her blog at www.te-erika.blogspot.com.
PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.