Why I Won't Bother Seeing "The Butler" or "12 Years a Slave"
Lee Daniel's new film The Butler is a box office success, already generating Oscar buzz, but I am not interested in seeing it. I'm also skipping British filmmaker Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, another movie about black people dealing with slavery.
I'm convinced these black race films are created for a white, liberal film audience to engender white guilt and make them feel bad about themselves. Regardless of your race, these films are unlikely to teach you anything you don't already know. Frankly, why can't black people get over slavery? Or, at least, why doesn't anyone want to see more contemporary portrayals of black lives?
The narrow range of films about the black life experience being produced by Hollywood is actually dangerous because it limits the imagination, it doesn't allow real progress to take place. Yet, sadly, these roles are some of the only ones open to black talent. People want us to cheer that black actors from The Butler and 12 Years a Slave are likely to be up for best actor and actress awards, yet it feels like a throwback, almost to the Gone with the Wind era.
I am not against revisiting the past, but there are already numerous black films that have covered the civil rights era and slavery. The quandary with black movies is they are overly fixated on the past, only depicting black suffering in relation to race, which is bizarre and peculiar.
Can a black film be created about black people not focusing on race? Is race the only central conflict the lives of people of colour?
I don't know about other black people, but I don't sit around all day thinking only about the fact I am black. I think about the problems in my life: the struggles, the joys, the happiness, most of which don't involve the issue of race. As a black person, I can honestly say I am exhausted and bored with these kinds of "dramatic race" films.
I might have to turn in my black card, because I don't care much about slavery. I've already watched the television series Roots, which I feel covered the subject matter extremely well. Of course, I understand slavery is an important part of any black person's history, but dwelling on slavery is pathetic. It ended in North America over 100 years ago, yet since Django Unchained made over $400m last year, more slavery movies emerge.
These movies present a false narrative that life is so much better for black people now. It is true that progress has indeed taken place. Black people don't have to sit at the back of the bus and are no longer slaves. However, there are so many stories that need to be told about the black life experience beyond two specific eras in black history.
Another film I won't be seeing in the fall is the biopic about Nelson Mandela starring Idris Elba. How many biopics can be made about Nelson Mandela and the Apartheid era in South Africa? Honestly, I have lost count. I'm not saying there aren't reasons to celebrate Mandela, but surely having just about every black actor of note play him isn't the way to do it.
Another problem with these race movies is they also focus exclusively on the lives of black heterosexuals. The vast majority of Hollywood movies released are about straight black folks, not black LGBT people. Why aren't there more movies about the struggle of black gays and lesbians in the western world or in the Caribbean or Africa?
Rodney Evans, a gay African-American filmmaker, does have an indie film out called The Happy Sad about a young black, gay couple. How many people have heard about this film?
I'll celebrate when Hollywood starts telling the stories about people of colour that have yet to be told. Now that would be Oscar worthy.