This month, two independent Black films, “We the Party” and “Woman Thou Art Loosed On The 7th Day,” opened on consecutive weekends. When these films entered the “gated community” of movie theaters they encountered a hostility and suspicion by film critics analogous to the experience of Trayvon Martin. Hollywood film critics “stood their ground.”
Mario Van Peebles‘ film, “We The Party,” presents a coming of age narrative about teens who just want to have fun in a society whose racial default setting is to send them to prison rather than college. Embedded with wall-to-wall music in this stylized teen “dramedy” is a complicated portraiture of today’s youth. On Metacritic, the film got a 50.
In “Woman Thou Art Loosed…,” director Neema Barnette deftly satisfies the conventions and expectation of both the faith based film and the thriller genre while weaving in a psychologically and culturally nuanced romantic triangle. Despite winning its opening weekend box office as the highest grossing film measured on a per screen basis of all films in release, its Metacritic score was a 29.
So why the hostile reception?
“Woman Thou Art Loosed…,” is independently financed by Bishop T.D. Jakes and distributed by CodeBlack Entertainment. “We The Party” is also independently financed and distributed. Could it be that Hollywood considers these filmmakers rabbits turned poachers? Or is it because these filmmakers challenged the heterodox of racial representation?
In 1918, critics hailed D.W. Griffith’s “Birth Of A Nation” as “history written with lightning” endorsing a vicious assault on Black people. “Birth” was a revisionist historical narrative that would set in motion a national consensus demonizing Black people and justifying the violence and disenfranchisement of the Jim Crow laws of the 20th century, a legacy that continues until this day.
Defining and controlling the Black image is central to the psychological power of white supremacy. It wasn’t until Booker T. Washington’s secretary, Emmett Scott, produced “Birth Of A Race,” that Griffith’s film was countered and we tried to re-mediate the Black image.
Similarly, Van Peebles’ film has the courage and insight to challenge negative Black imagery head on and the strategic sense to bundle it in a pop culture entertainment narrative. Barnette’s nuanced and culturally authentic treatment of black male/female relationships in her film is equally compelling. But for both, their achievements play on a frequency film critics could not see or hear. And unfortunately, “We the Party,” a film that is a must see for anyone who wants to understand the perception issues in the upcoming Trayvon Martin trial, is in a diminishing number of theaters.
Here’s the good news: According to the latest US census, white America’s demographic claim to represent the mainstream audience will expire by 2050 (if not earlier). In fact, White majority status has already expired for audiences under 5 years old. So while Hollywood film critics may never overcome their racial and cultural blinders, media companies who ignore or disrespect our stories and our audience, will do so at their financial peril.
About Warrington Hudlin
As the founding president of BFF (Black Filmmaker Foundation), Warrington Hudlin has been a pioneering community organizer in the black film movement for over three decades. He is best known as the producer of the landmark African American films, “House Party,” “Boomerang,” “BeBe Kids,” and the television specials “Cosmic Slop” and “Unstoppable.” Equally at home with online digital media as with film and television, Hudlin is the founder and chief of the online professional network, Cast and Crew of Color.