I can’t say I’m a movie buff. Not by a longshot, but I certainly enjoy them. I like a range of movies covering a wide spectrum of cinematography (real film gurus may be inclined to disagree, that’s fine). My Netflix queue might as well be a random collection of movies. I thought City of God was incredible and despite poor reviews I have thoroughly enjoyed every Transformers flick put out by Michael Bay. Inception made me wish that dreaming with in a dream within a dream was actually possible and I probably reference Black Dynamite at least three times a day. But with the thousands and thousands of movies that have been put out- I’m still waiting for MY movie to be made.
When I say “my” movie, I’m not talking about the story of my life (though, if anyone’s compelled to make that I’m happy to chat) but I’m talking about how movies that share a human experience have failed time and time again to even come close to telling my story.
Complex magazine ranked the movie Soul Food as one of the 25 Best Black Movies of the Past 25 Years. Cool (the list also has some films like Malcolm X and Coming to America which are high on my list also). It was a solid film but as I watch it and films that it “inspired” (am I the only one that thinks that This Christmas is the EXACT same movie with new characters and set during a holiday?) I have developed a problem. My issue with Soul Food and movies like it (read: all Tyler Perry Movies) is that people look at it as representative of the Black Experience in America. It is not.
-The crazy/ inappropriate Aunt or Uncle
-The one relative who went to an Ivy League school and then turned his/ her back on the Black community
-Cornbread, collard greens, ham hocks, mac & cheese
-From the south
-… andddd the one relative who catches “shade” for bringing home a white person.
As I kid and even now I can actually connect to exactly zero of these aspects of the “Black Experience.”
My mom absolutely REFUSES to be called mama, my aunts and uncles are pretty normal people, I don’t have a big family (my family is really, REALLY spread out), I was in youth group but certainly did not attend church very often, okay- maybe I do have that many cousins but most are scattered over Europe and Africa and I haven’t met many of them. I don’t have that one relative that “made it big” and forgot the rest of us. I love soul food- it’s delicious but it certainly was not part of my upbringing. I’m from upstate New York- a long ways from the south and my mom is white- I can honestly (and thankfully) say my parents and the rest of my family care absolutely zilch what shade of woman I bring home.
The problem is not the movies per se- they all have a level (some vastly more than others) of entertainment value. The problem is that they enter mainstream consciousness and become the narrative of what authenticity is.
People THINK that is what the Black Experience SHOULD be when in fact, that’s so far from the truth.
I’m willing to bet that when I was in high school if people didn’t think that’s the way it “should” be, I would have faced far less ridicule for “acting white” or being the “whitest black person” someone “knows.” I am willing to say that if diversity within my community was shown, people wouldn’t see someone like me as “different.” I’m not different, my story just hasn’t been told…yet.
Is there hope?
Recently, I saw the trailer for a film that gives me a tremendous amount of optimism for the future of Black film.
What the trailer shows (and what I truly hope is in the film) is what lacks in other movies. Diversity within the Black community.
We are not all the same; we do not all share the same experiences and values and it’s so important to showcase this as a Black experience and that there are many, MANY shades of an experience.
I truly and sincerely hope this changes my outlook and the way people view Black cinema.
Maybe this is my movie I’ve been waiting for? I’m waiting.