In the age of “There’s no dense opinion not worth sharing,” I came across one of the most frustratingly stupid articles of all the time. The Guardian’s Orville Lloyd Douglas has officially upped the ante in his misguided and dumb essay over his exhaustion with slave narratives on the big screen along with a call for Black people — presumably Black Americans in particular — to just “get over” slavery already. Ad hominem attacks aren’t always ideal, but neither is the asinine advocation for the erasure of such an integral part of history. As irony would have it, Douglas wants Hollywood to stop making White people “feel bad about slavery,” but is peddling this nifty form of nonsense in a mainstream paper for major White consumption.
Referring to movies like the box office hit “The Butler” (pictured above) and the much-buzzed about “12 Years A Slave,” Douglas (pictured at right) writes:
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?
I, too, share the longing for more contemporary portrayals of Black lives being told on the screen. That is to say, more than the ones that require Tyler Perry donning a dress and informing some uppity, educated woman to lower her standards, get her some Jesus, and ride off in to the sunset with the blue collar supermodel-looking boyfriend the Lord just blessed her with.
But a-ha, Douglas! That’s already happening if you bothered to pay attention.
Earlier this year, the New York Times highlighted a new wave of Black films spanning a number of subject matters, including musicals, romantic comedies, social dramas, and holiday-themed comedies. Such is my issue with lamenting a point that could easily be debunked if one managed to waste precious seconds using that magic, information finding product called “Google.”
Even if that was not the case, though, that point has nothing to do with the significance of continuing on with slavery-focused films.
Would Douglas tell the Jews to get over the Holocaust and other instances of anti-Semitism? Should Americans get over their obsession with presidents like Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy? What about our past wars? Do Asians not have a right to bring greater attention to America’s own dark history of concentration camps? What about those flicks focused on the Roman Empire? Cleopatra?
I could go on, but by now you should get the utter silliness of suggesting that historical works stop being made because some people are exhausted by them. As simple as it sounds, if you don’t want to watch works that fall under the historical genre, don’t watch them. However, don’t suggest that that every story has been told or that no one can learn anything else from films made about past events.
If you want to be that intellectually lazy, so be it, but spare the world of your projections.
Slavery is an integral part of American history and contrary to the beliefs held by Douglas, not enough attention has been paid to it. In fact, one reason why a film like “12 Years A Slave” is garnering so much attention is because it is depicting slavery in a way not seen on screen, i.e. as ugly and horrific and reprehensible as it was. Moreover, it’s telling the relatively unknown story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841 and sold in to slavery.
You can’t even sell Douglas’ ignorance about the importance of the continuous examination of America’s history with slavery under the notion that he’s a Black Canadian, and therefore, somewhat removed from our experience, because the director of “12 Years A Slave” is the London-born Black director, Steve McQueen. This is more of a matter of education and empathy and one unfortunate person lacking all of the above.
What white people and their Black friends like Orville Lloyd Douglas must understand is that entire nations across two hemispheres were built on the free labor of millions of Africans.
No matter how “uncomfortable” that might make anyone feel, these stories are worth telling to freaking infinity and beyond.
The damages of slavery continue to impact Black Americans today, and if we’re not going to get reparations, I’ll be damned if anyone whines about a few race-conscious movies.
It’s a pity that sentiment continues to be disputed, but it’s frustrating beyond belief to know that a person of color needs to have that reality smacked upside his ignorant and smug head.