Just finished reading this great piece over on Buzzfeed that talks about the problems with labeling movies "black movies" or calling this the year of the black movie. The author also talks about a lot of the aspects of black filmmaking and the fact that this isn't the first time that there have been several successful black movies have debuted in one year. He also notes that nothing has changed because of it. Here are some of the quotes that stood out to me.
"[...] honoring the achievements of black filmmakers by declaring it "their" year does them a disservice. Lumping together heavy dramas with lighthearted romcoms simply because of the skin color of the actors or director prevents these films from being measured against the whiter counterparts that actually share their genre — inadvertently ghettoizing the former and protecting the latter from scrutiny. It's difficult to imagine pulling, say, Blue Is the Warmest Colour, The Great Gatsby, The Hangover Part III, and The Fifth Estate into a story declaring 2013 the year of the "white movie.""
This struck me because, well... it's true. 12 Years a Slave is nothing like Best Man Holiday, but because they both centre black narratives, RACE MOVIE.
"The thing that makes any "black movie" good is exactly the same thing that unmakes the "black movie" as a useful construct: A good "black movie" is a film that recognizes black people as humans — not symbols or vehicles for white enlightenment or redemption — and reminds us that it's the mainstream movie industry that doesn't get it, not audiences."
I really liked these two quotes because they tackle something I actually just happened to be musing about on twitter yesterday. Maybe two months ago I read a piece by an author saying that he wasn't going to see The Butler because he was fed up of black people only being depicted in relation to the civil rights movement, that was really just fodder for white guilt.
While I'm actually going to go watch The Butler in about an hour, I get his point. I think that for the most part, mainstream (read white) audiences only ever seem to be comfortable seeing black people onscreen when they are struggling. So we get movies about slaves, maids, and freedom fighters. Over and over, year after year. Every movie about a black person is about that person overcoming racial adversity. But we don't seem to be as comfortable seeing black people just be people. Not every black person is a revolutionary. Like with Best Man Holiday, some black people are college educated, and happily living their lives with their families, not actively trying to bring down the system. And that's okay too.
So while I think it's important to tell stories like The Butler, especially since our history has been white washed so severely that a bunch of white ladies thought it was just swell to "reclaim" a plantation, we also need to balance those stories out with ones about black people in a contemporary, present day context; being people and living everyday lives that don't have to involve crime, drug use, prostitution, welfare fraud etc. Like the quote says, we never seem to get depictions of black people who are actually doing pretty well.
I think the focus on period films encourages us to see black people humanity as a relic of the past. ("Oh weren't they so brave when they fought to end racism? How noble!") and we completely ignore that we deserve dignity now too, and that there are black people with multiple degrees and happy families and stable jobs etc.
In any case, I'm ranting now, but I just wanted to share. You should definitely go read the whole thing.