To be honest, Breaking In did not even bear much of a promise in its promos. By this, I speak specifically to the banality of the promotional images, not the talent of the featured melanated actors.
Nevertheless, the allure of a black leading lady was enough to fill theatre seats with black women and black families over the mother’s day weekend. What the film offers is a reinforcement of what our racist society continually presents as representations of black bodies.
Shaun Russell’s (Gabrielle Union) estranged father recently passed. In preparation to sell the estate, Shaun visits his Wisconsin home with her two children and encounters four white men seeking to rob her late father of his millions. In just under two hours, viewers endure the tried and tested storyline of No Good Deed (2014) and Obsessed (2009) where a black woman is placed in the face of danger to save her children. A product of a white female screen writer and white male director, Breaking In is seemingly representative of “color blind casting,” a displacement of black bodies into white names and a story line that is insultingly superficial in its refusal to acknowledge race.
Though nearly two hours long, the film does nothing with the black bodies placed before viewers on the big screen except use them for pure entertainment. Though not dancing or singing, these actors and actresses are employed for a similar purpose that lacks substance. What is both obvious and obscured–depending on the level of viewer engagement–is how the catalyst for the robbery and familial visit to the Wisconsin home, fades into a background. Though we see an elderly man prepare and proceed to jog in a picturesque setting, the story of the black man is not developed. The word “criminal” is placed in a sentence that references his estrangement from his daughter, but he is insultingly underdeveloped. Like the protagonists in Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, and James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues, Shaun’s father is nameless. He is only ever referenced as “the old man.” In fact, his value becomes limited to the four million dollars he has stored in a safe. He becomes a catalyst for an attack launched on the black female body and her offspring, a depiction that symbolically represents what white supremacy has yielded the black collective— a family “broken” by a system that needs the physical or psychological absence of the black male to ensure that what blossoms from a tree is the product of tangled roots.
Thus, the film does not rob a black man of his money, but robs a black family of security in excommunicating the black man. So when the white robber says to Shaun that she “is an impressive woman” to which she responds “No, I am a just a mom.” They both have it wrong. Shaun is neither “woman” or “mom.” She is collateral caught in a crossfire. A crossfire resulting from the white man attempts to itemize the black body in a commerce needed to actualize his fictive world dominance.
Though issuing emasculated men in contrast, the film does succeed in representing the black female body as integral to the survival of the black family. This is an image the film personifies through mother Shaun and daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus). This one-sided portrayal, illustrates the often unstated expectation of black bodies granted visibility or attention. Blacks granted visibility or attention, are expected to exhibit one or all of the following:
- Individualism: Investment is singular, without regard for the collective, except for marketing purposes.
- Intersectional: Blackness is incidental and not central. The black body is present and obvious, but the featured black body is solely vested in an intersectional label
- Oppositional: In action or image, the black body is opposed to its counterparts. For example, a black person seemingly vested in black issues and black people with a white/non-black spouse, or one who has married within blackness (physically) and is vocal about black issues, but is a pseudo elitist who polarizes and demeans their collective either directly or indirectly (Ben Carson, Henry Louis Gates, Franchesca Ramsey)
This film exploits in opposition. In depriving the black male of a strength embodied by the black woman, black portrayal embodies that of a seesaw where the two sides are unable to elevate simultaneously. This depiction is of course untrue, but a ubiquitous psychological assault on the black collective, implement to cripple strides towards black advancement.
Verdict? Support Gabrielle Union’s producing feat, but approach with little to no expectations due to the white “forces” that surround her.
Black Power ❤