As I head to the National Race Amity Conference this weekend in Norwood, Massachusetts, I am thinking more about my place, the “where I’m coming from, the “why this matters to me,” and the “how can I be open and give and receive” when connecting and being part of the dialogue on race and race relations.
In reading writer Stacia Brown’s piece for The American Prospect, The Seven Stages Of Important Black Film Fatigue, I am drawn into her conversation on Hollywood made movies considered to be important black films. Films that she feels are sending her the message that she, and other people of color, should feel compelled to see them. It is interesting to hear her take on going through the stages of feelings of doubt, guilt, self-preservation, annoyance, anger, vulnerability, and acceptance.
And, yet I have to ask myself what I as a white person get from being so interested in viewing what are considered to be black historical films or simply, “black films.” Is it as a black film-goer, Orville Lloyd Douglas says in Brown’s article:
“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.”
Brown goes on to reflect on Douglas’s thoughts:
Douglas’s sentiments speak not just to our doubt, anger, and annoyance, but to the vulnerability we feel when our history has been commodified by Hollywood. Will it be viewed with pity or empathy? Will it account for the realities of black Americans at all, or are these films really, as Douglas asserts, all about evoking white liberal guilt? The mystery of motive drives so many other stages in our fatigue cycle and, ultimately, determines whether we’ll be able to trust the story and the team who’s telling it enough to head out to a screening.
Stacia’s article helped me understand her point of view and feelings on the stories in black films and her worries about whether they will be told right, or even be films she will want to tolerate viewing because they might anger or sadden her.
I do have thoughts of my own as I go to what’s considered a “black” movie. Am I going to be the cool white person that’s politically correct and wants to be up on racial justice issues, or with a “lighter” film, simply hip to black culture? Am I going to have, as Stacia says, feelings of pity or empathy? Or am I going to truly learn as much as I can since I have to consider I am witnessing a Hollywood made film about a person’s or a people’s story that I have not learned enough about because I was born white, and only learned so much, or more like, so little, from my schools’ history books? And, why, really why do I want to see them?
I wish this paragraph held all the answers for you–and, for me. I know that these questions are all a part of this journey I am on to explore what connecting with others that are different from me means. It’s about the now of finding our way through this together, even during the uncomfortable times when the matter of race, and the history and construct of race and racism enters into the conversation.
I also know that the injustice of people being treated differently because of their skin color has been bothering me since I was a little girl at my friend Thalia Hick’s birthday party in elementary school. The only other two things I know is that, first, I have always been attracted to people, places, and things that are different from what I am and what I know, because my life seems richer when I connect across the lines of those differences.
And, second, because I was always so quiet growing up and didn’t feel like I had a voice, and because of that often felt unnoticed, I am always seeking out voices that I know are not being heard enough from; voices that get lost in the mainstream, predominantly white-driven society.
I suppose I connect with black films to at least honor a story that is different from mine, to learn, and hopefully be able to discern through dialogue with others, what is Hollywood, and what is truth.
For more WJSS blog posts on black film, I invite you to read:
What Say You? 2012 Films With Black Characters/White Directors
I Was Wrong: Some Black People Laughed At Django Hood Scene
Read Stacia Brown’s article, The Seven Stages of Important Black Film Fatigue here.
www.prospect.org, The Seven Stages of Important Black Film Fatigue, by Stacia Brown, October 21, 2013