Please, Stop Complaining About Black Movies and Hollywood and Actually Support, Mobilize or Make Some Shit (If You’re Not Doing So, Already) A Very Open Letter
A rant meant to respond to certain trends that I’ve seen in social media, recently, particularly with respect to online discussions of African-Americans involved in the film industry, Black movies, movies about Black people, movies about Black people that people think should feature or be directed by other people, or whatever.
To be specific, I’m discussing the vitriol surrounding the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone and the alleged replacement of Tate Taylor “over” Spike Lee for the upcoming James Brown biopic to be produced by Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger.
There are a number of people who (for various reasons) are discussing these talent attachments (or detachments) throughout social media as though they are further emblematic of Black people/Black images/Black voices being slighted/downplayed/diminished in the America entertainment industry.
Not only have there been a slew of complaints but there has also been an UPROAR:
- People that (purportedly) feel like Zoe Saldana is not dark-skinned enough or “authentically Black enough” to play Nina Simone.
- People that (purportedly) feel that Spike Lee “deserves” to direct the James Brown biopic because of the fact that he was reportedly attached to helm the project with Brian Grazer, first.
Whether or not such opinions/discussions are valid, the question that always lingers in my mind whenever such spirited conversations take place, (particularly for the bevy of Black bloggers that love to engage in them) is, well, to what extent are you, yourself, supporting and providing forums to UPLIFT Black filmmakers, actors and other talent, that actually have work out, and actually have work coming out?
Whenever one of these stories breaks (e.g. Zoe Saldana, Spike Getting Passed Over, etc., George Lucas being lame for allegedly watering down “Red Tails,” BET just sucking in general), it always seems as though all this fuss is directed at Hollywood, but I can’t help but wonder why it seems that we comparably have so little grassroots/social media energy being directed toward actually UPLIFTING shit that is ACTUALLY IN the movie theaters, at present (or is actually coming out) particularly from bloggers that are such purported champions of Black culture.
A Critical Aside: I'm not at all suggesting that Hollywood shouldn't be taken to task as a result of its ongoing (and arguably increasing) lack of diversity with regard to who is being hired, who is working in the industry and who is getting to helm/star in certain kinds of stories, but for how long have we known that this is the case?
How long have we known, collectively, that Hollywood is largely disinterested in developing movies that are about, featuring or portraying certain people of color? And I'm not just talking about Black people, but anyone that is non-White. Like, how long have we known this? Again, I'm not suggesting that we should not complain, or that criticism of the industry is wrong, but if you look at the film industry as a business and as a market, I think it's fair to say that, particularly within the past several years (5-12 years), the American film industry has largely grown tired of:
- movies featuring casts that are largely Non-White
- films that aren't directed toward young males, aged 18-24
- non-franchises, or anything that's not a horror-suspense-thriller
- films that are made for adults.
Knowing this, I wonder if we, the complaining people (and particularly, the outspoken Black Bloggers, with 5-10K+ Twitter Followers and huge social media followings) could take some different routes in the spirit of effecting change:
(Side Note: These suggestions are offered with the presumption that many of the more interesting Black movies of today are being developed within the American independent film community.)
My Suggestions for Being Proactive and Effecting Change:
a) Make a movie of your own. Do it. If Tyler Perry does it, you can do that shit, too.
b) When an Independent Black movie does come out (however you want to define “Black movie”) maybe you’ll want to provide an “open letter” on your Blog to actually highlight the release of that film.
Maybe you could even do a write-up on the talent (director, producer, actors) attached, how the film got made, or other pertinent and interesting details related to the background of the production.
b) Maybe you, yourself, will reach into your vast network of viewers/listeners/supporters and make a concerted effort to develop an institution/group that is interested in cultivating new, Black films, particularly of the ilk that you would like to see.
There is a shit ton of money in the African-American community and there are a hell of a lot people that actually want to see authentic stories about Black people and other people of color. Maybe you could ask yourself, “gee, might there be any way that I can dip into my tremendous network of online followers and see if I can suss out some people with disposable income that might be interested in getting involved in crowdfunding efforts for independent films, making investments or doing other things to get some of the stories that I want to see made?”
c. If your social media brand has some kind of event component, maybe you could even organize an event in which you highlight a film (or films) that people might not have otherwise heard of.
One of the biggest obstacles to getting Independently-Produced African-American films out to prospective audiences, in this day and age, is the fact that, when these films are released to theaters, often times they are done in the form of a limited theatrical release (500 theaters or less at a time) in cities around the country where only a small, heavily-aware, urban audience (e.g. L.A., NYC, ATL, PHIL, etc) can go and see them. At the same time, there are a hell of lot of Black folks across the country that might actually be interested in seeing these very same movies, but might be unaware that they exist or who might live miles away from the theaters that actually play them.
Are there ways in which your social media brand might be able to be used to continue to cultivate buzz for such films throughout various stages of their release (theatrical, video-on-demand, DVD/Netflix/iTunes, Hulu, etc)?
Furthermore, are there ways in which you, yourself ,might actually be able to organize events in which people could have access to seeing these movies, across the country?
d) Right now, there are a number of independent “Black movies” (featuring, directed/written by, funded by and or dealing with issues relating to Black people) that are in various stages of release that you might actually want to highlight. (If I’ve left your film off the list, my apologies. These have just been on my mind, recently, but you can often find many more on Shadow and Act).
Beasts of a Southern Wild – dir. Benh Zeitlin (in theaters, right fucking now)
The Girl is In Trouble – dir. Julius Onah (playing various festivals, not yet released)
The House I Live In – dir. Eugene Jarecki (in theaters, right fucking now)
The Interrupters – dir. Steve James (currently playing, online)
The Last Fall – dir. Matthew Cherry (currently playing in L.A.)
Luv – dir. Sheldon Candis (coming soon)
Middle of Nowhere – dir. Ava Duvernay (in theaters, right fucking now, across America)
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – dir. Terence Nance (playing various festivals)
Pariah – dir. Dee Rees (on DVD/Netflix, etc. right fucking now)
Red Hook Summer – dir. Spike Lee (likely coming to DVD/Netflix, etc., soon)
Slavery by Another Name – dir. Sam Pollard (currently playing, online)
Soul Food Junkies – dir. Byron Hurt (coming soon to PBS, probably going to air online, simultaneously)
Wolf - dir. Ya’Ke Smith (limited screenings, nationwide, right fucking now)
Yelling to the Sky dir. Victoria Mahoney (coming soon)
In summation, I’m not saying that we should NEVER complain about the industry, but got damn, when we have known for the longest time about the state of Hollywood, why are we not doing more to take some of the energy that we use to complain about the status quo and direct/invest it in alternative solutions that might actually be more productive?
Just be the change you wanna see. On some lofty shit.
“This industry is not made for us” – (paraphrased from Idris Elba)