Last weekend I saw the Best Man Holiday. I was very excited. I remember the original movie came out right when I graduated from college and it was nice to see a movie about a group of Black college graduates, just like me. I of course told no one of my excitement because well…race-themed movies (thanks USA Today!) are fraught with unsolicited commentary. I’ll happily admit that I am a movie snob. I like intricately plotted, well written, superbly acted movies and silly romantic comedies (my guilty pleasure instead of the usual reality shows). My quibble is that a lot of popular movies directed at Black audiences or with Black characters as the lead rarely possess those four elements I prefer. See Tyler Perry.
But there’s another problem with telling people about my excitement about the movie. Black people hate seeing themselves on the screen. Is this harsh? Yes. Am I over exaggerating? Probably. The endless commentary surrounding movies is exhausting. No other artistic endeavor is dissected so deeply.
I remember when Brown Sugar came out. It was after a slate of films such as The Best Man, Love and Basketball, The Wood, etc. came out. A lady in my book club stated that she was tired of attractive, educated Black people in love movies. She wanted to see more movies with “regular” Black people. Here’s the issue: she was a pretty, college graduate with a white collar job living in Montgomery County. So I told her, if movie was made about her, she would be closer to Sanaa Lathan, than say Maxine in Soul Food. Her idea of regular wasn’t even who she was. This reminded me of another conversation we had in college, but I digress.
With the growth of social media, people who hate everything finally have a platform and can form partnerships with other people who hate everything. It is awesome for them and terrible for everyone else as they suck the joy out of everything. This strong vocal group of everything haters spend a lot of time disparaging movies with predominantly African American casts. So much so, you feel bad for even seeing certain movies, let alone liking them.
The vitriol aimed at The Help forced me to filter the term out of my twitter feed. The socially serious Black folks (see I used W.E.B DuBois for them) really hated the fact that Blacks were once domestics. This same group had similar reactions to The Butler. They say they disliked the movie but I knew the truth. I felt it was actually insulting to our ancestors who served as domestics. As someone with two out of three grandmothers as domestics, I really didn’t like how the arguments against The Help were framed. I actually challenged a well-known blogger on it.
The everything haters also feel that the actor is a reflection of the character, so that becomes a complaint. For example, folks really hate Terrance Howard–not for the crazed marital issues but because he commented on baby wipes–and thus his presence negates the quality of all movies that he is in. And there are a lot of actors people simply don’t like, so movies with those actors are trash. Jennifer Hudson and Terrance Howard made a movie together that I knew would never prosper. Amazingly people really like Nia Long though she is truly a meanie in real life.
People don’t like Black people being unhappy in movies, so slave movies are awful (12 Years a Slave). However, if the slave isn’t sad enough or has too much power then that makes slavery look too good (Django Unchained).
Apparently romantic comedies must be rooted in realistic situations or shouldn’t be made (Baggage Claim). These people obviously never see White romantic comedies, which don’t follow that rule at all.
Black characters cannot be too nice to White people or they are not down with the struggle because we all know in reality African-Americans are always holding meetings to discuss how to rise as a people.
Comedies may lead to cooning. Romances may cause people to think we are overly sexualized. Dramas only highlight our problems. We can’t be impoverished because there are so many middle class African-Americans. We definitely shouldn’t be lower class teenagers being helped by a dedicated non-Black teacher through the use of chess, dancing, hockey or writing. However, if the teacher is also Black then no one will go see it. We cannot make all the African-Americans affluent because that it not realistic. Historic dramas are bad because once the details are scrutinized, someone always gets something wrong. “She had a brown pocketbook, not a black one!” Women can’t be the lead because that makes the movie boring. But if a woman is the lead, she must have a nice boyfriend or it is man bashing.
There are basically two pretty safe movie genres. Christian movies: this is why I have counted a dozen movies in the last 5-7 years where the congregation is trying to save the church through a choir competition or a bake sale. Okay, I have only seen two of these movies and chalked the rest of them up as the same plot. And impossible Black man movies: Denzel, Will (not After Earth though, which looked terrible), occasionally Jamie (No Django!), etc. Hopefully, a pretty Black woman will play his love interest. I think this is how most Black actresses keep their mortgages paid. Salli Richardson and Kimberly Elise are the queens of this.
So in hindsight, I didn’t see anything last weekend. No commentary please.