Luce, A Black Female Perspective

An expository essay sits at the core of Julius Onah and JC Lee’s drama Luce. The title character Luce, a high school senior, lauded as a scholar, athlete, and debator, tackles a new path when he writes a paper in the voice of black revolutionary Frantz Fanon. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon asserts that decolonization is an inevitably violent event. Though Luce argues that his expository paper reflected the assignment parameters, he pursues a Fanon-like attempt to decolonize, an attempt distorted by assimilatory expectations set for him—expectations he gives into. Luce enacts a form of violence that proves counterproductive to his blackness, but necessary to consummate his status as American. Luce illustrates that to Americanize an African, is to niggerize a human. Thus, though pegged as a psychological drama, Luce illustrates niggerization as a psychosis that results from assimilating an African into America. 

The film succeeds in featuring a discourse where Fanon holds hands with Ralph Ellison and black male protagonist Luce. Luce pays the price of assimilation in a disappearing act that manifests in the patriotic speech that ends the film. The speech, delivered to an audience basking in his assimilatory performance, delineates his transition from patriot to person. I contend that the black man turned patriot, or American, inevitably becomes an invisible man.

This assimilatory tale, though somewhat nuanced in this film, is not a new narrative. Ralph Ellison delineates a similar battle in “The Battle Royal” or what would become the first chapter of his masterpiece Invisible Man. In his canonical piece, Ellison introduces readers to a nameless protagonist who, in almost all regards, proves a lot like Luce. The film evokes “The Battle Royal” in the tension Luce has with other black people seeking to make something of themselves, despite lacking Luce’s crossover appeal. This is perhaps most evidenced in a scene Luce has with a white teammate who distinguishes between Luce and his friend DeSean, where Luce’s teammate references DeSean, the caricatured inner-city youth, as “black black.” This distinction indicates that Luce’s blackness is physical, whereas DeSean’s blackness encompasses his essence. This distinction delineates that black male invisibility is pseudo visibility. The most visible black men, those lauded and celebrated for epitomizing American values, epitomizes the essence of invisibility.

To consummate his invisibility, the black male protagonist eliminates his resources. His overachiever status alienates him from his classmates who realize that they must fall so Luce can stand. Specifically, though all the members on Luce’s track team smoke marijuana, it is DeSean, a black man not coveted by white vestment, that loses funding for a collective recreational habit. DeSean comes to encompass a stereotype because the stereotype must exist for there to be a black token. The Stereotype and the token are two sides of the same coin, as both the stereotype and the token veil black identity behind a caricature. Nevertheless, while Luce and DeSean’s detachment composes a core component to his assimilatory narrative, it is Luce’s detachment from the black woman that consummates his road to invisibility. 

Harriet Wilson, who shares a name with the first black person to write a novel, occupies a similar space to her foremother in the Virginia high school where she works. Particularly, Wilson is one of few black teachers at the school, a dearth that fosters a maternal attachment to Luce. This attachment manifests in the high standards she holds him too. Wilson’s expectations for Luce are not unlike the expectations his white parents, and white teachers have for him, yet Luce’s rage, despite uttering a few harsh words to his white mother, remain anchored in Wilson.  

After learning that Ms. Wilson has informed his parents of his essay, Luce begins a series of carefully executed incidents that result in Wilson’s dismissal and Luce’s eventual rise to the top of an assimilatory mountain. Luce’s “rise” and Wilson’s fall are both rooted in their reliance on the white woman. Wilson initially reached out to Luce’s mother to report Luce’s essay and even hands her the explosives found in his locker. Her actions, while stern, reflect care, as Wilson could have easily reported Luce to the principal, as she did to his friend DeSean. Luce, however, cannot understand Wilson’s actions due the psychosis that results from being adopted by a white family and infiltrated into a white country. 

Ms. Wilson treats Luce with same regard to which white men or white boys encounter globally, when they exude similar behavior before fatal acts. This treatment enables Wilson to act as a white woman who though seemingly protecting the youth, protects her matriarchy. Through this dynamic, the film explores institutionalization as duplicitous. Specifically, Luce’s adoption into a white family and a white nation both remain contingent on an assimilation to which everyone in his life, his parents, teachers, and even his girlfriend, contribute. Harriet Wilson battles her duplicity through what the contemporary world calls intersectionality. Wilson battles her femininity and race in the interactions with her students and their parents. This intersectionality proves a farce as Wilson eventually encounters an invisibility that causes her to disappear from the institution to which she devoted her life.This invisibility, though fomented by Luce, comes full circle because of the white woman. 

The white woman occupies a similar space and place in Ralph Ellison’s “The Battle Royal.” In the short story turned introductory chapter, white female victimhood chronologically precedes the narrator’s fate, but though both occupy the same stage, the two do not hold hands. What I mean here, is that in both Ellison’s novel and the film, the white woman is an omen for what becomes of the black protagonist. 

Given that Luce the character and film derive from JC Lee, a white man, Amy Edgar, Luce’s adoptive mother, most likely exists to consummate the white savior role. Whether the result of a black director and screenwriter Julius Onah, or just how the characters manifested in relation to one another, Luce’s adoptive parents delineate white narcissism. When Luce began to fade from perfection, Mr. Edgar clearly becomes uncomfortable with his proximity to Luce’s flaws; Mrs. Edgar, however, appears unrelentlessly espoused to her maternal role. Her seemingly unwavering love for Luce, though, reflects her devotion to her investment. Amy Edgar, therefore, does not love Luce; she loves the parts of herself she has poured into him. Similarly, there is a a moment in the film where Mr. Edgar appears to choose his family, whereas he too chooses his white male vestment in his white wife and adopted son. This narcissism is most evident in the moments where Luce practices his final speech, where he laments on his parents changing his name because they “could not pronounce it.” To the casual listener, this proclamation appears innocuous, if not funny. To those who last name marks an oppressive familial link, this information illustrates the rudimentary steps in Luce’s institutionalization process. The name change, like acquiring a new language, seemingly marks Luce as a family member and an America; whereas, this process actualizes his status as captive. Thus, this “familial” dynamic reveals white narcissism as often misconstrued as white affection.

Narcissism, projected as affection from the African-adjacent woman occurs countless times throughout the film. However, the only true affection Luce does experience is from Harriet Wilson. This affection is distorted and doused in white ideals, but it is as pure as any institutionalized sentiment can be. Luce welcomes and manipulates the narcissistic affections of his African-adjacent admirers because doing so affords him a pseudo power that will not question or cure his trauma. Luce’s engagement with the African adjacent superficially fills a void resulting from his absent maternal and continental mother. 

Luce’s detachment from the black woman is perhaps most pronounced in a scene where Ms. Wilson’s younger sister has a public episode. During this episode, Ms. Wilson’s sister Rosemary strips off all her clothes in hopes to make her sister feel the shame she felt when Wilson put her out. Luce uses the footage of Rosemary’s nude body tased by police in front of numerous white students and staff to substantiate why Ms. Wilson is not to be trusted. A young black woman publicly humiliated and harmed, does nothing to Luce, a young man taken from Eritrea where he likely witnessed similar trauma firsthand. This marks Luce as mirroring a captive’s disposition toward the captured—that institutionalization is a necessary means to tame the uncivilized beast, or as he spray0painted in Ms. Wilson’s house, the “n*ggerb*tch.”. 

This detachment from the physical and continental mother maintains an integral role in Luce’s assimilation. It is only a motherless child that becomes what Richard Wright called a Native Son and what Ellison called an Invisible Man. Bigger Thomas, separated from his family and displaced into the Dalton home, becomes what the white world always destined him to be. The invisible man marks this detachment in his nameless state. His unnamed state mirrors the African abductee, stripped from his name, and ripped from his physical and continental mother, becomes subjected to his colonizer’s plans. Though perfected in literature, his story delineates this narrative with the George Stinney’s and the Emmett Till’s, the native sons turned invisible men by a white supremacist wrath. 

Luce encompasses a different form of invisibility, not consummated in a jail cell, in a wooden box, or in an electric chair. Rather, Luce consummates his invisibility at a podium delivering his highly anticipated final speech. It is not, however, Luce that delivers this speech; rather, it is an invisible man who delivers this speech.

As an invisible man, Luce’s abduction is an adoption, Mrs. Edgar is “Mom” and not “Amy,” and his “favor,” speech, and ways mark assimilation, not the assassination of a culture.

To place Luce in conversation with the pivotal novels that archive a similar experience, the following phrase comes to mind: “He who has never been born can never die, and he who was never born, does not truly exist.” Detached from the black mother and mother continent, Luce is a native son to white narcissism, or an invisible man.

To embrace the black woman, or Ms. Wilson, as a maternal figure and not a “n*gger- bitch,” is to acknowledge the psychosis that results from a child ripped from both his mother and nation. To put it bluntly,  this psychosis imbues an invisibility that makes Luce a canvass for white ideals. A canvass for white ideals, Luce personifies what the Invisible Man’s grandfather says to him in a dream: “Keep that n*gger boy running.” The final moments of the film capture Luce doing just that, except he is not guided or haunted by a forefather. Thus, Luce’s final act symbolizes him running away from blackness, towards whiteness, and into a bottomless invisibility veiled by the applause and accolades that accompany assimilation.

It may be too easy to deem the moral of the film as follows: white parents should not adopt black children. Rather, the film provides cause to question the ways in which all black people have been viciously adopted into a white culture, and made into Luce-like beings. The film provides cause to question the ways in which all black people are forced to forget their mothers and embrace an invisibility hidden behind the word “American.” 


Assaulting the Archive: The Cultural Damage of The Black Biopic and “Historical” Film

The eighties were a turbulent period. The crack era personified a violent wrath that intentionally tore apart black families. The multi-talented Jackie Wilson, a trailblazer in black entertainment, lay robbed, abused, and neglected in a nursing home. Tawana Brawley, a fifteen-year-old black teen from Upstate New York, was raped and systemically lynched, and five young men were falsely accused of rape simply because they were young, black, and male. Yet despite these milestone moments, much of the eighties archive remains shunned to silence. These moments compose the portion of black life that does not warrant popular reference; rather, the eighties encompassed aspects of black life that an anti-black world needs black people to forget, and what, in this selective amnesia, we are destined to repeat.

It appeared an act of remembrance when Ava Duvernay debuted her Netflix series When They See Us in the Spring of 2019. Many rejoiced that the unsung stories of the Central Park 5 were finally being told. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, who were previously all marked by four words: The Central Park Five, composed the core of Duvernay’s series which presented a telling and realistic portrait of the American (in) justice system. Though many credited the talented Duvernay with vindicating those those who remained guilty in the court of public opinion, the series proved hard to watch.

I cringed and crawled through the series. My attempts to Netflix and chill proved challenging, because I felt as though I should have been doing something. I felt as though I should be creating a solution rather than consuming a fictionalized version of a very real struggle—and this truth is, this sentiment does not reflect sanctimony, but what should be a reality. The Central Park 5, a testament to the low regard America holds black people, illustrates the low of a so called “elevated” or “civilized” society. The story of these young men delineate a shared experience of what it means to be black America. Specifically, the story of the Central Park five illustrates that black is synonymous with criminal. Yet, what appears most criminal about the docu-series is its destiny. Specifically, the series is destined to become the means of reference to this critical period in the black narrative. 

This illustrates a persistent problem with regards to the black collective and the black archive, because contrary to popular belief, films about the black experience, or notable black figures, do not constitute the black archive. Those of the black collective should only attend the movies to learn as a means of survival, and by learn, I mean learn the ways of white folk, not to meet an oppressor-approved version of our ancestors and elders.

Unfortunately, for many, Malcolm X remains confined to a Spike Lee caricature, and the Africans abducted centuries ago, reduced to images suitable for White America. The new Harriet Tubman film promises to fulfill a similar function. The controversial, yet highly anticipated, film resurrects the slave film that functions to appease white guilt and satiate white leisure. While 12 Years a Slave (2013) garnered rave reviews for its “accurate” portrayal of America’s forgotten past, it was its white savior figure, played by Hollywod-hearthrob Brad Pitt, that warranted its positive reception. Aside from transitioning pain into entertainment, the slave narrative remains the sole means many will come to know the ancestors and elders that enable present possibility. These films, however, encompass a neutered story where truth remains optional. The slave-film genre, therefore, assumes misplacement as the black archive.  

It is worth mentioning the subjects and topics that remain too contentious for exclusion into the visual archive. Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation, for example, debuted amidst personal scandal to deflect from the film’s potential power. This delineates that slave films are fine as long as black people are portrayed comically, homely, or helpless, but not hopeful or rebellious. Similarly, I have yet to see any films about the Tawana Brawley story, an omission that illustrates that the white world wants to make sure the black woman says #metoo to a westernized femininity and not to black female systemic asphyxiation.

These omissions underscore just how important archives remain to the collective African experience. The archives do not encompass entertainment, but exist as an integral component to emerging from the margins of our own mind into the center. 

I recently heard of filmmaker Ava Duverney’s plans to make a film for activist and self-proclaimed contemporary runaway slave, Assata Shakur. The news, much like the news of of the upcoming Harriet Tubman film, incited a generally positive response, marking those who feel vindicated in the visibility aligned with a big-screen feature. This desire to be seen, marks those irretrievably wounded by a world whose narcissism engenders the marginalized to search for their reflection in their oppressor’s eyes. The word narcissism, of course, derives from Narcissus, who in the ancient myth, drowns after attempting to kiss his own reflection. This is the exact future that awaits black people who view their reflection in the visual medium presented as the archive. 

Just like the river that became Narcissus’s acquatic grave, the visual archive enables vanity not value. To drown pursuing excellence is a worthwhile cause, but to drown in disenfranchisement, which is the fate of the visual black archive, marks yet another win for whiteness at the expense of the black collective. 

Everything should not be a movie. Movies only exist to create an idle consumerism in a collective the United States works tirelessly to convince of their cultural deficit. This truth substantiates that it is not art to compartmentalize vital components of the black narrative to a film, but cultural assasination. The “historical” film or black biopic constitutes “his” story not our story. Therefore, these genres do not encompass black culture; the historical films or black biopics are what colonizers want the black collective to see so that we do not see ourselves.

Productive consumerism remains consummated by reading books and in the oral archives that transcribes what time or racism cannot take away. Books, letters, notes, and word-of-mouth represent the stories that will not become films because they teach black people a potency American culture incites them to unlearn.

The visual medium is another way to stall the black collective. Now, instead of saying “wait,” our oppressors tell us to watch, watch as our truth becomes mutilated in who and what this country needs us to be–misinformed, dazed, and distorted.

How The Lion King Shows Us Who’s Still King

Claims that reference Disney’s The Lion King as visually and thematically violent, will prompt many to see King Mufasa hanging off a cliff before falling to his death as his young son Simba watches in a youthful confusion. However, to assign the film’s violence to one fictional scene would be a grave oversight. The Lion King is anti-black, and therefore potentially fatal for black viewers and detrimental to repairing the perception of black people. Repairing the black collective, or dare I say reparations, is, of course, not an American or Disney objective.  

The film’s violence stems from its racist and colorist discourse. Scar, the film’s villain, and the Hyenas, who maintain consistent and literal placement in the film’s shadows, prove particularly problematic. Their physical blackness, Scar’s trademark dark hair, the hyena’s dark skin, full features, and dialect often paired with those relegated to the societal margins and the inner city, reflect the very qualities and presumed inferiority that corresponds to the black collective. 

Similarly, Pride Rock, the story’s core, proves identical to nearly any suburban environment. Though white people do not inhabit all suburbs, all suburban environments maintain a proximity to whiteness and are often inundated with white versions of success and achievement. Pride Rock’s literal and figurative placement away from the literal shadows  that Scar and the hyenas occupy, encompass the very binaries that separate the suburbs from the “slums,” the affluent from the impoverished, and the black from the white. The film’s conflict, therefore, lies in its subtleties. Viewers who consume the film’s content as children, consume its racialized discourse and subconsciously compartmentalize it’s content as an ideology. Thus, by the time black Lion King viewers who first visually consumed the film in childhood approach adolescence, they will be ready to take their place in the shadows of a society that hates them. 

While the story remains the same, Lion King, like many contemporary adaptations of Disney films, have overtly embraced physical diversity to display its contempt for the black collective in color. Specifically, the 2019 adaptation of the Lion King employs pop-superstar Beyonce to play the film’s heroine and to sing the film’s soundtrack into the minds of its targets. Beyonce’s placement on Pride Rock as Nahla seems a testament to her popularity and vocal ability, yet Beyonce’s film placement mirrors her function and positionality with regard to the black community. Specifically, the white media casts Beyonce as a heroine for the black race who must fight the hyenas, or avert black stereotypes, to assume a position “in the light.” She is suburbia and all other symbols of whiteness, masked behind physical blackness, or politicized diversity. Beyonce as Nahla, a lioness who emerges from the shadows into the “light” associated with Pride Rock, symbolized Beyonce’s emergence from a niggerized blackness into a larger than life figure that speaks to the black collective using her oppressor’s language. This language is not only in songs, a point I will return to momentarily, but in the long blonde hair and light brown skin, that remain the apex of a black female beauty written in whiteness. 

Beyonce’s strategic casting is perhaps most evident in her song “Brown Skin Girl,” a reggae-inspired song that features daughter Blue Ivy Carter. The song quickly became an anthem for black women who, like Destiny Child member Kelly Rowland, are too often rendered invisible when juxtaposed to their fairer-skinned counterparts. The song proves a testament to the beauty of those born with the kiss of the sun. Admittedly, the song has a catchy rhythm, and Blue Ivy’s closing solo, which embodies the goal of generations to come, would bring even a racially neutral black person to tears. However, the very brown celebrated in this popular tune, proves a catalyst for the film’s evil villain whose darkness must be overcome to restore light back to the kingdom. The song’s irony is multiplicious, as Beyonce would not be “Beyonce” without the “brown skinned” woman of whom she sings. Specifically, the brown skinned girl, or who Alice Walker calls the “black black woman” who sits at the start of Beyonce’s genetic lineage, literally birthed the superstar, as did the black black woman’s generational disenfranchisement. Beyonce’s serenade also delineate another continuous conflict cast onto the browner-skinned black woman. 

Fairer-skinned black women are often cast to tell their more sun-kissed counterpart’s narrative, an arragement that has become normalized in anti-black culture. As seen with the recent Nina Simone movie that starred Zoe Saldana, and series like GreanleafGrownish, or the new Netflix series Family Reunion, the sun-kissed black woman with full, African features is too often excluded from her own story. These examples, along with Beyonce’s serenade to her sun-kissed sisters, illustrate that the black woman cannot play herself in her own story, nor sing her own glory.

Thus, the cognitive dissonance Beyonce imbues in her Lion King role remains lost to many who seek only superficial representation. This superficial representation grants a vile inclusion to the progression of oppressed peoples. Specifically, Disney’s diversity is not about including black people in that self-esteem surge that white viewers experience when consuming media, but including black people in their own detrimental portrayal to ensure the fate of the darker-hued in the Lion King becomes real life. 

So while Simba, played by Donald Glover, resumes his throne as “king” by the film’s end, the Lion King is not a black man, nor does the film mark a black victory. The white man remains king with the sometimes-victim white woman beside him on a throne build by black bones. 

The Lion King, much like beauty standards and the perception of the black collective, remains unchanged.  Though black faces occupy positions behind computer-generated lions and even assume seemingly central placement in beauty campaigns, this does not negotiate the anti-black power structure. Casting black bodies in an anti-black powerplay, the white world has festered the wound of anti-blackness. This casting encompasses what the mainstream world calls diversity, but this”diversity” translates to variety in appearance only and proves disastrous to the black collective.  

In conclusion, the magic of Disney, as seen in The Lion King and the upcoming Little Mermaid film, illustrates the magic of white supremacy in a constituency that believes in the possibility of a good oppressor more than they believe in their collective good. Therefore, The Lion King delineates whiteness as the reigning monarchy presiding over a constituency bound to an inevitable obliteration masked by faulty inclusion.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, A Review

San Francisco native Jimmie Fails is the force behind The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a film about his experience in the gentrified Fillmore District.  The film follows Jimmie Fails, a character Fails’s names and molds after himself.  Literally equipped with only the clothes on his back, Fails is  a young black man seeking to re-acquire the home his grandfather built in 1946. Fails’s grandfather, who is also named Fails, built the home that would house his family. Once the property falls from the grasp of Fails’s descendants, the familial ties dissolved shortly after. The loss displaces Fails’s father onto the street, his mother into obscurity, and his aunt outside the city. Fails’s displacement anchors the story in a tale of brotherhood conveyed by his relationship with best friend Monty. Monty becomes his brother’s keeper by taking on his friend’s struggle. Monty, who houses a displaced Jimmie, illustrates that no one is without a home when encased in true friendship. Fails seizes his own space when the white couple who occupies the Fails’s former family home loses the property following the loss of their matriarch. Fails then moves into the vacated home to resume a narrative to which his grandfather literally laid the foundation. 

Jimmie Fails, architect and executor, exacts the black man in America whose bodily labor birthed what would become a contention in their oppressor’s estates. Credited as the first black man in San Francisco, Jimmie Fails the first proves that Africa is not a place but the spaces created by her descendants. In a world that only made a space for black people at the foot of a pseudo pedestal, Jimmie Fails made a place for himself. Grandson Jimmie Fails takes on a similar stance in seeking to re-claim this space.

Rather than wait for the very system that abducted his familial property and collective personhood to give back his grandfather’s house, Fails takes what has been taken from him. This act provides an interesting conversation surrounding reparations in structure and content. 

Fails, as the author of this project, also takes ownership of his collective narrative, well at least partly. Fails pairs with white childhood friend Joe Talbot who directs the movie. This appears more than ironic as white direction appears to be the catalyst for criticism within the film. This irony proves bothersome as the film’s conception reveals only a partial retaliation. Namely, the film’s conception suggests that there are parts of white supremacy that Jimmie Fails dislikes. To dismember white supremacist conflict into parts is to individualize both the systemic struggle and the solution. Our systemic disenfranchisement and systemic solutions as black people was never about individuals and nor should our solutions. In proceeding toward progress, it is imperative that we do not individualize a collective epidemic, and it is even more imperative that we as a collective view non-black roles in telling our narratives as an opportunities taken from a black person.

This individualized approach to a collective conflict correlates to a recurring line spoken throughout the film. Particularly, white characters consistently state that they “do not want to call the police” on Fails. This statement alludes to the direct threat the soldiers of white supremacy pose to black people, but this line also supposes that calling the police is an extremity to which they desire to remain estranged. Here, “calling the police” equates to lynching,cross-burning, or any conspicuous b act connected to terrorizing black people, but as evidenced in the contemporary displacement that conspicuously follows gentrification,  calling the police is not the sole way to pose a threat to black people. Here, viewers also witness an attempt to individualize a collective demon. Commonly, those who individualize white supremacy and its many manifestations downplay its pervasive evil, and almost always revel in individualized solutions that do virtually nothing for a larger issue of racism that remains unsolved. 

The film attempts to illustrate the black collective by intertwining themes of the black experience, homelessness, self-medication, premature death, and severed familial bonds. These themes all come crashing together in Monty’s one-man play that functions as a wake for a fallen friend and an intervention for what Monty views as his friend’s myth-making. Because documents omit Jimmie’s grandfather as the brains and muscle behind the revered Victorian home, like the black families evicted from communities built to nurse their systemic wounds, western documentation erases Jimmie Fails the first. To clarify, Monty states, in front of his audience, that the first Jimmie Fails did not build his family home. The announcement results in upset and an pervasive sour reaction from Monty’s audience. It does not, however, matter whether Fails’s grandfather built the familial home. Individual achievement garners clout, but obscures the collective contribution made by black people. What I mean here, is that slaves did not build this county; black people build this country. Therefore, the victorian home in the film, represents a constructural contribution black people collectively consummate. 

So while Fails’s title revises the “first black” honorable mentions that continue to suggest a progress yet to arrive, The Last Black Man in San Francisco appears a cautionary tale. While Monty’s grandfather, played by veteran actor, and San Fran native Danny Glover, exudes a physical blindness that obscures the changing reality around him, The Last Black Man in San Francisco exposes that others remain equally as blind to gentrified spaces. It is perhaps Grandpa Allen that provides the breadcrumbs to contest the general consensus that this film is about gentrification. Gentrifcation correlates to the countless attempts to spatially and biologically remove black people from the white hegemonist’s “pinky and the brain” attempt to take over the world. Moreover, this systemic disappearing act that the contemporary climate banally references as gentrification is not gentrification at all but genocide. 

As Neely Fuller Jr once stated: “If you don’t understand Racism/White supremacy, what it is and how it works , everything else you think you understand will only confuse you.” –Neely Fuller, Jr.. Dr. Francis Cress Welsing resumes Fuller’s teachings in The Isis Papers, with the bold assertion which informs the systemically asphyxiated that this lack of understanding could very well lead to our collective genocide.

So for now, it’s the last black man in San Francisco, Brooklyn, Oakland, Atlanta, or Washington D.C., but if our conflicts remain individualized or a systemic oversight, it may very well be the last black man (or woman) in America, or period.

Ma, Revenge of the Mammy: A Black Female Perspective

Ma, presents a nuanced mammy figure in leading lady Octavia Spencer, who uses complacency as a means of entry to implement her retaliation. Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer) is a psychologically scarred girl inside a middle-aged woman’s body. Sue Ann, in love with a popular white male, believes she is to perform oral sex on him but services a random white male as part of a cruel joke to which her entire cohort is privy. The cruel joke, though an element of Ellington’s past, makes its way into the present through flashbacks seemingly invoked in the company of her adversaries’ children. Ellington, named Ma by the sole black boy in a class of middle-class white children, comes into contact with her adversaries’s children in their plight to access alcohol. Ma does the underage drinkers one better than their initial request and not only supplies them their requested poison but provides a setting for their indulgence. The space becomes a hyper site for Ma to reenact her revenge.

Viewers eventually learn that there is someone absent from Ma’s parties, her daughter Jeannie. Ma convinces her daughter that she is too ill for school, forcing Jeannie’s detachment from her white peers. Ma drugs her daughter to maintain a control that ultimately detaches Jeannie from Ma as well. It becomes clear throughout the movie, that while Ma is not overtly kind to her daughter, her actions do reflect the love that she professes every time she leaves her child. Ma loves Jeannie but her commitment to protecting her daughter from the crippling horror that haunts her into a vengeful stupor complicates her motherly love. Ma, of course, creates trauma in trying to circumvent its wrath, illustrating the fickle space black victims of trauma experience in reactionary attempts to self-medicate.

Ma appears to heal past wounds in what seems the opportunity to live a second youth through her newfound friends, but it is not long before the apples begin to resemble the tree from which they fall. Specifically, Ma maintains her position as the sole black female amongst an all-white group that sees her as a means to an end. This abusive dynamic appears countless times throughout the film. Ma works as a veterinary assistant, her boss is unkind and unprofessional, using expletives and a dismissive disposition to address Ma. Ma takes her frustrations out on animals—mirroring abuse as cyclical, but also illustrates that the dehumanized are often place in similar proximity to the non-human oppressed. The film, like countless other films like Fruitvale Station (2013) and even The Intruder (2019), juxtapose black people to animals to illustrate a systemized dehumanization. Unlike Fruitvale Station that delineates a gruesome comparison between pit bulls and black men, and The Intruder which uses white male brutality toward a helpless deer as foreshadow for the doom that awaits a young black couple, in Ma, whites treat their dogs with more decency and regard that they do black people. Ma’s classmates visit the clinic, which institutionally requires Ma to show their pets more respect and care than they have ever taught her. It is also worth mentioning that Ma is called a bitch twice in the film by two white women. Though the term bitch, which means “female dog” is said to encompass a general insult to women, the film’s use illustrates the black female as embodying this pejorative term. Mainly, though Ma cares for female dogs, she is the bitch.

Though a victim to white cruelty, Ma uses her increased proximity to the next generation of white youth to negotiate her victim status. However, the reasoning behind her actions complicates her alignment with the term “villain.” Ma, who exists as both entertainment and experimentation for her peers, illustrates that to be black is to be inhuman, yet her characterization delineates blacks as more human than their oppressors. Specifically, Ma’s rage and retaliation are highly reactionary. She is traumatized, and there is a reason for her behavior; however, her white classmates lack proper motivation for their callous actions. Though Ma’s past assailant uses the excuse that he was a child when he mistreated her, Ma reminds him and the audience that she was a child too.

Ma’s statement not only brings her seized agency to the forefront of the film but illustrates that white childhood imbues an innocence that black childhood does not. Just as serial killers often torture animals to precede their attacks on humans—the white children use the black female body as a hyper site for dehumanizing black people to the status as “other,” an ideology they will pass on to their children. While whites pass their spoiled seeds onto their children, Ma does not harm Jeannie in the same way. In fact, it is Jeannie who enables the white youth to escape the literal burning house set ablaze by Ma’s wrath. Jeannie does not socially reproduce her mother’s sins because Ma is not evil, she is hurt, yet the opposite reigns true for her adversaries.

The literal burning house that concludes the film aligns with the burning house Dr. King aligned with integration in a conversation with Harry Belafonte shortly before his murder. Ma, the token black female, illustrates the issue with black children attending predominately white schools. Ma tells Darnell, who is the sole black person in a white social circle, “there can only be one of us,” as she paints his face white. As haunting as this depiction was, the opposite is true. Black presence at a predominately white space enables white people to possess a whiteness only illuminated in the presence of other. Just as a master isn’t a master without a slave, whites cannot be white without a black to “niggerize.” It is essential to note that the opposite is true for those of African descent; black people do not need white people to culminate their identity. To paraphrase theorist Frantz Fanon from his book The Wretched of the Earth, whites must dissipate a black national consciousness to create and stabilize white supremacy. To encounter a white person in an environment where they are the majority such as America or one of its smaller institutions that mirror its imperialistic intent, is to ensure the black individual does not develop and cannot nurture a national consciousness. White dependency on the oppressed other depicts power as starting at the bottom. The film mirrors this dynamic through flames that begin in the base of the home and work their way up. Ma’s climb from the bottom to the top of her home with the flames following her, personifies the heat that accompanies those charred black by white supremacy as rising, not evaporating, with upward mobility.

The burning house, in which Ma willingly remains, mirrors the prison or capital punishment that awaits her on the other side of the flames; specifically, Ma’s fate does not vary whether she literally or figuratively burns in a white supremacist institution. The burning house illustrates what the institution strives to make of blacks who take their justice— a nigger. The black person, therefore, can never integrate into white society as anything other than another, personified through the term and ideology encompassed by the word “nigger.” Ma, however, seeks to negotiate what for so long functioned as the inevitable, a negotiation that falls flat due to her white conception. Specifically, the film’s conclusion actualizes King, and every black freedom fighter’s worst nightmare– a niggerized black who, with her head affectionately placed on the source of her suffering, seizes a niggerized version of freedom in which the fate the oppressed envisioned for their oppressors, becomes their own.

The Master’s House: The Intruder, A Review

The Intruder marks the latest edition in the predictable suspense genre perpetuated by attractive non-white actors. The film casts Meagan Good as Annie, a leading yet color blind role alongside a similarly colorless Michael Ealy who plays her husband, Scott. They play a young couple seeking to start a new chapter of their lives and marriage outside of the city. However, their purchase, a large home in Napa, comes at a cost. Charlie, a middle-aged white man, embodies this cost. Charlie, the home’s original owner, appears to give Scott and Annie a reasonable price for the large property; however, Charlie never actually leaves the house he sells to the young couple.
The film proves an allegory for racialized space. In Audre Lorde’s essay “The Master’s Tools,” Lorde employs a house to symbolize the systemic paradigm white hegemony constructs, and uses tools to represent its various manifestations. The house in The Intruder represents a colonized white space that encompasses both white sin and white status. Charlie’s house symbolizes his status but also houses his sin. The sin, viewers learn, is that Charlie murdered his wife, a white woman, who sought to take his house. This failed acquisition on the part of Charlie’s late wife places white male anxiety as a catalyst for thwarting a feminist agenda. Charlie’s late wife attempted to very upward mobility Scott and Annie seek in attempting to purchase Charlie’s home, yet Scott and Annie’s move into Charlie’s home actualizes their movement into a white hegemonic core. This transition disrupts the upward mobility narrative that many falsely believe carries the systemically disenfranchised away from their oppression. Instead, the film depicts blacks who adopt this ideology as becoming further immersed into systemic oppression through what appears to be an upward climb. For this reason, the film illustrates a unique intrusion represents in both praxis and theory.

Though Scott and Annie do illustrate a unique form of invasion, the Intruder in the movie is not Charlie. Scott and Annie, colorblind roles brought to life by black actors, represent intrusion, not inclusion. Inclusion would reflect tasks that take into account the black experience. Intrusion marks imposing a white hegemonic agenda onto a black body at the expense of black personhood. Hollywood, like the many institutions that compose the Americas, have implemented initiatives that only appear to revise its overtly racist origins. Now, as seen in films like When the Bough Breaks, and Collateral Beauty, black actors more avidly appear in starring roles, but not as black people. Specifically, Hollywood employs physical blackness as a means to superficially encompass diversity in image without bothering to include variety in script or characterization. This act functions stealthily for the viewer just seeking to see his or her reflection and encompasses a violent invisibility that foreshadows a colorless world that creatively implements a racist methodology.
Another important dynamic that the film illustrates, is the white male pursuing a second chance or second life through the black male. Charlie, who murders his estranged wife, loses his children and his business as well. He seeks to rebuild his life through Scott, a black man who possesses a promise that he no longer does. Scott, in this instance, represents the black space white realtors seek to perpetuate white hegemonic power. These investments prove a means for white franchisement by abudting black spaces to rebuild their lives. It is also worth mentioning that Charlie wishes to replace Scott in a life he has built with Annie, a black woman. Annie, initially unaware of just how much anger and danger lies beneath Charlie’s seemingly innocuous behavior, encompasses a means for Charlie to reappropriate his white masculinity in the contemporary climate. Here, I reference the number of white men who exude their white hegemonic placement in interracial relationships with black women. These relationships convey a dynamic identical to Hollywood’s relationship with black actors. Notably, in these interracial relationships, the white male appears to appreciate black people and culture, just as Hollywood appears to appreciate blackness through what seems to be inclusion. However, these white men, like Hollywood, intrude on the black narrative by using the black body, or blackness in general, to appropriate a common white agenda manifested in individual solicitation of black bodies.
It is the coercion to ignore what makes us different that makes this solicitation successful. In her essay “The Master’s Tools,” Audre Lorde confronts the white hegemonic pedagogy that instructs the oppressed to adopt this dangerous ideology. She writes: “we have been taught either to ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change” (Lorde 112). Though Lorde speaks specifically of women in her prose, this statement proves true for the black collective. Blacks are too often subject to the idea that we must ignore our blackness to enable progress. This statement ignores that the western world literally burned blackness as a pejorative contruct into our flesh. To ignore our blackness because it is inconvenient to our oppressors does not change anything, it merely neuters our collective power. Lorde goes on to bluntly state that “ the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about positive change” (Lorde 112). The Intruder illustrates this very dynamic, as Ealy and Good personify the master’s tools as black actors in a colorblind roles, and characters Scott and Annie illustrate this dynamic as black people seeking upward mobility by acquiring a white man’s space in a white country. The coupled performance Scott and Annie/Ealy and Good provide both on and off the big screen appear to beat the master at his own game. However, though Ealy and Good appear to hone leading roles in a widely distributed film, and Scott and Annie kill Charlie, they commonly embody the master’s tools whose actions paint the master’s house white. Scott and Annie, like the black actors who portray them, remain lost in a labyrinth of white supremacy who culminate the master’s victory in believing they attained a freedom they never truly attempted.

It’s Not ‘Us’ it’s Them: Jordan Peele’s Us and the Social Reproduction of the Invisible Man (Spoilers)

In its contemporary context, blackness assumes a violent coupling. Filmaker Jordan Peele (Get Out) tackles this coupling in both a literal and figerative sense with his latest release Us. Peele depicts humans as “coupled” by a being who mirrors their exteriority. In challenging the presumed singularity of identity, the coupled being obscures reality, simultanously inciting the following query: Are humans replaceable? 

Well, according to the film’s doppelgängers, who wear red jumpsuits accessorised by gold scissors, the answer is yes. Viewers meet Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) as a child who goes to a mirror house and encounters a girl who looks exactly like her. After this encounter, Adelaide is never the same, and later viewers learn that Adelaide is never the same because she and her doppelganger switched places on that faithful day.  Though Adelaide’s parents noticed a difference in their child, this difference, viewers learn, with therapy, could be negotiated. In no time, Adelaide resumes the nurture of her parents and becomes the girl they raised. 

The original, for lack of a better word, Adelaide grows up to lead an uprising where the different or the othered, kill their counterparts. Us features a battle between those who reside behind the mirror—at society’s peripheral, and those who look into the mirror and reside at the center. Peele never makes it clear who or what these beings are. The sole reference to identity the film gives is Red’s proclamaition that they too are “Americans.”

Red (or Adelaide depending on your perception), to ensure that her initial plan remains in motion, eventually kills the girl whose place she took years. Her son is the only one who knows her secret, a connection she hints at with the early line “stick with me kid and I’ll keep you safe.” Here, Adelaide foreshadows the choice her son will eventually have towards the end of the movie, to share or remain silent. Red/Adelaine’s offspring is also coupled, as he encompasses both the center and the peripheral. Thus, the secret is a gateway to his understanding of self, a gift obscured from the realities of his sister and father.

The film as a whole exhibits a coupling distinct from what it delineates in part. Peele couples black actors with their American counterparts. Specifically, the media exhibits black bodies by way of representation, but the exhibited blackness remains superficial.

For example, though Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o, who occupy the film’s lead roles, encompass a physical blackness in their melanin-dominant appearance, both play roles that could easily be played by white actors. Black actors in race-less roles, marks what the western world calls progress; however, this colorblind casting depicts the violent seizure of power from black people. Colorblind casting extracts black personhood from the black body. Specifically, colorblind roles attempt to circumvent the presumed problem of race. Race in this context also functions superficially; as color is a part, not the whole, of racism. Yet, Peele’s film attempts to showcase those often eliminated from lead roles because of their complexion in a role where their complexion is merely a coicidence. Us eliminates race in a world build on this falsified concept made real in the systemic disenfranchisement it continues to afford black people.

Thus, US makes “us,” or the black person, invisible by casting melanin dominate actors as coupled with an American identity that has never truly been theirs.

US and Social Reproduction of the Invisible [Wo]Man

Though I do not think it was intentional, Peele presents a diasporic discourse with Us. Particularly, the coupled identities that dominate the film illustrate the black individual as coupled by a collective identity. The envy dynamic present between Adeline and Red illustrates the envy many blacks within the diaspora have towards the black displaced in America, or what I will call the “invisible man.” The phrasing “invisible man” alludes to the Ellison novel where a nameless protagonist struggles to see himself in a world built on his invisibility. My use of “man” does not cite gender but references “human.” This invisible man remains largely invisible to his diasporic brethren who often view him or her as a “favored child” in the disillusion of black disruption. Us, in its depiction of black persons as the invisible man, depict the coupling of the black body and personhood as crippled by disallusion.

By the film’s end, Adeline loses her life because her diasporic doppelganger (Red, who eventually becomes Adeline) wishes to be her; so, Red assumes Adeline’s space and takes her place. This is very much the reality for black people throughout America who have witnessed the perils of racism and prejudice, perils strategically aggravated by immigration. Buried by the fantasy that is American idealism, the invisible man remains invisible to many of their diasporic brethren who are often unable see to past this veiled reality. Instead, this invisible man becomes a hyper-site for a social reproduction that affords white hegemony its violent stagnancy.

In Us, Adeline encompasses the “invisible man” ideal that her counterpart seeks to socially reproduce. Red sees the space Adeline occupies as a bridge to a better life. She (Red) deems her position in American’s peripheral as inferior to the central placement of her doppelganger (Adeline). This notion is particularly complicated by Peele’s colorblind roles, where the black actor remains in the periphery despite seemingly central placement.

Nevertheless, I digress.

Red believes that she is more derseving of the space Adeline occupies and thus would occupy said space “better.” This is often the ideology many Africans in America face with our diasporic brethren who become “model minorities” in seeking to occupy the American space “better” than their kidnapped kinfolk. America, for the being of black form, is a site of physical and mental abduction perpetuated by the continued pressure to assimilate. This assimilation, despite its societal perception, does not mark achievement but cultural compromise. Thus, it is Red’s desire to socially reproduce the invisible man that drives her sadistic and physically violent attempt to take-over an exclusive space. It is this desire to socially reproduce the invisible man that makes the mentally enslaved black predisposed to attack those who look like them and not their true oppressors. As long as the oppressed see themselves as the enemy, the narrative remains focused on the oppressors. Thus, Red/Adeline and her diasporic counterpart cannot co-exist because then the narrative runs the risk of becoming “us,” and within this global paradigm of white supremacy, it must always be about “them.” 

Peele’s colorblind casting alludes to the Duboisian notion of double consciousness in his depiciton of the black person is physically split into two selves. So while viewers physically see black actors, the main role remains reserved for white cultural hegemony. What I mean here is that viewers see black actors but are forced to engage with the white space these black actors wish to occupy rather than the black actors themselves. It is the desire for American-ness, or to exist beyond blackness, that makes Us’s viewing experience a visual engagement with the invisible man. Specifically, with “Us,” black viewers witness what will become of them if espoused to an American identity. The film functions as a visual illustration of the “black American” or “African-American” concept that the abducted Africans in America must detach from as a rudimentary step in our collective liberation. 

Buried under the American fantasy and entombed by the fiction of progress, there is no “us.” This fact is perhaps best illustrated when Red kills another black women to aid in a white plight to assume a space.

It is Red’s desire to socially reproduce the invisible man that drives her sadistic and physically violent attempt to take-over an exclusive space. It is this desire to socially reproduce the invisible man that makes the mentally enslaved black predisposed to attack those who look like them and not their true oppressors. As long as the oppressed see themselves as the enemy, the narrative remains focused on the oppressors. Red/Adeline and her diasporic counterpart cannot co-exist because then the narrative runs the risk of becoming “us,” and within this global paradigm of white supremacy, it must always be about “them.” 

The singularity Red seeks and attains ensures that there is no “us,” if there ever was an “us.” Her actions represents the inevitable end for a group who remains disrupted. As a product of a festered disruption, the black collective, in part remains what they made of “us.” The black representation seen on-screen and throughout politics, education, and every other field, is not us and has never been us. It’s them.

Conclusively, as evidenced by his latest film venture, Jordan Peele also fails to represent us; rather, he remains vested in “them.”

Black Power ❤

The Third Killing of Sam Cooke: Thoughts on Netflix Documentary Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke

There are some things in life that are simply once in a lifetime experiences. Sam Cooke the singer is a once in a lifetime experience for anyone who loves music. Sam Cooke the activist and black nationalist is a black treasure lost in the media mutilation of his body and legacy. The Netflix Documentary Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke seeks to place singer, songwriter Sam Cooke in a contemporary context of “Black Lives Matter” by highlighting Cooke as a political activist. While clearly the efforts of white producers who seek to steer contemporary fervor stealthily in their favor, the documentary scores in implementing black celebrities and black scholars to tell the untold story of a man who was not just a singer or songwriter but a legend.

Realistically, aside from the stamp of time that has claimed many close to Cooke, like his family who have since transitioned, the documentary deviates little from previous documentaries on the singer. Though the documentary references the death of Cooke’s son Vincent, the film remains largely focused on Cooke the businessman and activist rather than the personal elements of his life. This focus makes the comment about Cooke’s “womanizing” from a white female former colleague appear deservingly crass.. Her comment also reeks of an upset that sounds reminiscent of a woman scorned, but I digress.

The documentary tackles black conspiracy in a manner that appeases the white gaze. The featured black scholars and celebrities bring integrity to the project and the black archive with their commentary on the following.

Black Brotherhood

The brotherhood with Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Jim Brown, a colloboration Jim Brown (featured in the documentary), called “defying second class citizenship.” Brown also delivered the most resonating line in the film, stating that “hit records didn’t do it for him like touchdowns didn’t do it for us.” Brown’s line renders a poignant denouncing of the symbolism too often used tp attain black satisfaction.

II. Posthumous Releases
Sam Cooke’s live concert at the Harlem Square (1963), not released until 1985 because it was deemed “too black” and “too soulful” for universal circulation

“A Change Gonna Come” was also not released until after Cooke’s death.
This reminds the masses that in addition to what we wear, what we hear is systemically influenced to impair our ability to fight back. To release Cooke’s mergence of soul and activism after his tragic and bizarre death is to change its functionality. After Cooke’s death, the music serves as a warning of what consequences blackness imbues, yet to those who know and love Cooke’s craft, the song and album capture the immortal status of the black archive.

III. Sam, The Black Nationalist Businessman

Sam the Businessman:

The documentary also makes a significant comparison between sharecropping and the music industry. Money, fame and material continues to obscure the oppression that remains aligned with the music industry.
Sam didn’t wish to be a sharecropping singer, he wished to own the crop.

Sam desired economic and creative ownership over his talent. Thus, he was not only affiliated with black nationalism but espoused to its praxis.

IV. The power of black influence

The film notes that Sam Cooke, unlike most of the singers of that time, refused to conk his hair. Rather, Cooke donned a natural look that inspired many to go natural. He would go on to inspire feelings of black empowerment in others throughout his career, something that would eventually lead to his untimely death at 33.

V: Just Another N*gga

One of the most significant aspects of the documentary was the revelation that Cooke’s death was initially not investigated because he was thought to be “just another n*gga killed in Watts.” As delineated by history, Cooke’s murder would never receive an extensive investigation because the details that surrounded his murder painted him in America’s image of the black man.

VI. Once in a Lifetime Voice
The most touching component of the documentary was watching those who loved and admired Cooke listen to Cooke’s once in a lifetime voice, that though physically silenced, continues to sing the notes of the black experience from the grave.

The Critique

The beauty the black scholars and black celebrities bring to this documentary, however, does not negate the reality that no documentary can do this for us. By “this” I speak to a black quest for truth. Yes, in placing Cooke in a contemporary context, the documentary reveals information previously stated but not attached to the singer’s legacy. However, there is still a lot that remains unsaid. To laud this documentary as presenting the whole truth is to issue Cooke a third death.

This documentary puts forth information surrounding Cooke’s murder like a good suspense film. Remastered leaves audiences intrigued and with good talking points for superficial engagement with a serious topic. Simply put, Remastered barely scratches the surface of what lies beneath this tragedy.

Sam Cooke’s battered and bruised body tells a vastly different narrative than the tabloids– a narrative not even a seemingly radical documentary will tackle. The documentary, while it does feature footage from Cooke’s funeral, does not give readers a close view of Sam’s beaten face. The parallel between Cooke and Emmett Till is made early in the documentary but retires to the back of viewer memory by the time the film revisits Cooke’s murder. The murder of black people does not just happen to the individual, it continues to happen to all of us. These mutilated bodies, as heartbreaking as it is to see, remains necessary in affording a portrait of oppression. These images showcase what racism looks like upon the canvas of the black body. This omission is a means to ensure that the white audience remains comfortable with the conflict of race, which is inherently racist.

The black community has never believed Sam Cooke died how the media said he died. This documentary appears to be for those who did. Cooke’s death delineates the normalized mistruths that sew together the displaced African’s experience in America. If the Sam Cooke story does not inspire one to adopt the praxis of black nationalism fearlessly, or to question every component of “truth,” then his legacy remains tragically reduced.

Cooke is an archive of what celebrity should mean and the fear that enables it to function as it does. He remains a testimony to the high price paid for not only desiring to stand upright as a black man, but seeking to create and own a platform to empower the black creative .

Mr. Cooke, may you rest in the peace you strove to give your people in life.

You’re still the best Cooke in town.

Black Power ❤

If Beale Street Could Talk, A Review 

I always desired to see a black love story on screen. Not a rom-com, or later-in-life love (though this would be nice too), but an authentic love story with young, black lovers. I know this could never be The Notebook, that though there would be a happily ever after, it would not be conventional because it couldn’t be. If Beale Street Could Talk captures this love between two young black people that though undying does not go without adversity.  BealeStreetposter

The film and book delineate the courtship of Fonny and Tish, Harlem youth who become lovers after a lifetime of a familial-like affiliation.  Their adversity manifests in the systemic forces that puppeteer the action and ideologies that inundate the film. Fonny’s female relatives, for example, detest Tish, and Fonny for that matter, due to the poison of color and class under racism’s umbrella. Additionally, the film delineates how a crooked law system that hunts black men like prey, poses a challenge to the black community at large. So while Barry Jenkins’s rendition of James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk seeks to fill the dearth of black people loving each other on the big screen, it is of great detriment to the communal service Baldwin performs with If Beale Street Could Talk, to label the conveyed narrative merely a love story between a black man and a black woman. It is the relationship between black people and a flawed justice system that anchors the film/novel.

The Good

Director Barry Jenkins succeeds where he always does—the visual. As a viewer, I always wonder how much of the visual is superficial and how much is substance. I would place Jenkins somewhere in the middle—his showcase of “black love” seemingly the muse for his career. Contrary to what Jenkins depicted in Oscar Award Winning Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk places cisgender love in its center.  Jenkins imbued extensive praise for featuring ebony-hued black stars loving one another on the big screen.  Though necessary I could not help but view this feature, of a black couple not immersed in drug or street life, as somewhat of an apology for the caricatured images that gained him his tishandfonnysnuggleOscar. In the novel, James Baldwin states the following   

“It’s a miracle to realize that somebody loves you” (Baldwin 42). This statement is also a summation of Jenkins efforts of a curator of the black experience. Etched in his portrayal of black love, is Jenkins attempt to prove that he loves black people. 

Jenkins illustrates this love through the focus on the “brownness” of black culture. Specifically, the color line between Tish and Fonny’s families is greatly emphasized in Baldwin’s novel. However, in the film, the actors are varying degrees of “brown” which make the insult “yellow c*nt” more figurative than literal in Jenkin’s film. Given that Jenkins’s choice employs actors who would encounter more limitations than opportunities making this change a significant stride in the right direction. As far as symbolism goes anyway…

The movie, like the novel, features the testimony of a Puerto Rican woman as the nail in Fonny’s systemized coffin. Though both the novel and the film present the Puerto Rican woman as systemized through physical and mental rape, her victimization cages a black man like an animal, depicting the person of color battle as not only incongruent to the black experience, but harmful.

The Critique 

In juxtaposing If Beale Could Street Could Talk the movie with the book it becomes tishndfonnysnuggleobvious that Barry Jenkins has a vastly different agenda than James Baldwin. This agenda is perhaps best illustrated in three distinctions from the book and the film:

  1. The Jewish Landlord 

In the film, Jenkins features a moment where a Jewish landlord remarks that he “just appreciates people who love each other.” This portrayal projects the white savior figure that has seemingly become customary in black films about race, ie Black KKKlansman (2018) and The Hate You Give (2018). In this depiction, the landlord seems fixated on Tish and Fonny as sexual beings. Yes, the reproductive factor of black love is imperative to survival, but Baldwin’s portrayal depicts the Jewish landlord as subjecting his prospective tenants to a racialized (and sexualized) gaze that counters what his deed seems to suggest. It is also remiss to not acknowledge that the landlord is, in reality, a businessman, not a good person. His actions only appear “good” because they are encased in a racialized frame. 

2. Obscured Oppression 

danielandfonnybealestreetDaniel, brilliantly played by Brian Tyree Henry, is perhaps the most compelling character in both the book and the film. Yet the film robs Daniel of his depth. Daniel, a childhood friend of Fonny, comes back into Fonny’s life after a prison sentence. Daniel is broken and traumatized, the details of his trauma left to the imagination of the viewers.

In the novel, Baldwin does not rely on the imagination of his viewers. Baldwin, through Tish’s voice, reveals that Daniel had been framed by police and raped in prison. Daniel’s sexual assault, however, does not correspond to sexual orientation—but the power vested in sexuality. The sexual violence cast against Daniel symbolically captures a mental attack of emasculation cast onto the black man through a physical act. 

I was personally disappointed by this omission, as black men and sexual assault are rarely acknowledged /discussed with regard to black men at all, specifically, cisgender males. Additionally, Daniel predates the individual and collective tragedy of Kalief Browder— a young black teen criminalized solely because of his blackness. Both fact and fictive manifestations of the black male scapegoat appear in homage to the Jesse Washingtons of the world—the projected villains of white hegemony. 

Though arguably a ripple in a larger pond, Baldwin’s depiction notes that the war against black men is not new nor evaporating in the facade of change. If Beale Could Street Could Talk exposes the war on black men as a war on the black community. Specifically, that these attacks complicate black love. Complications however, do not equate to impossibility. 

3. Fonny’s Father 

Another distinction between the movie and the film is the ending. The film leaves tishandfonnystareviewers with a portrait of the black family violently severed by the injustice of the law. Viewers learn that Fonny takes a plea and he is to love Tish and his son with the tight grip of the penetentirary system around his neck like a noose. The film’s ending, like Daniel’s obscured abuse, ensures the audience a comfort level that allows them to see some components of black life but not to be disturbed by it. This is the bold line of demarcation that separates Jenkins from Baldwin. Baldwin writes in a manner to scorch his reader into a discomfort that mimics the black experience. Baldwin seeks to capture the black world in a coarse realism that renders over concern with reader comfort a casualty of the colonized. Jenkins, on the other hand, seeks to create American films starring predominately black casts. tishandfonnybealestreet

So while Jenkins ends his movie so that the viewer, not necessarily the protagonists, can see the light at the end of the tunnel, Baldwin’s novel ends so that the reader sees the darkness and light at one time.

Baldwin paints a vivid picture of what becomes of Fonny, how his deterioration from within a jail cell becomes a certainty when his case’s sole witness refuses to recant her story. The news pushes Fonny’s father over the edge and he is found dead in his vehicle.  The ending, though unexpected, depicts clarity in hindsight. Fonny, though hated and targeted by White America was deeply loved by his father. This depiction is a significant one as America frequently portrays black youth as unloved by their own to deflect from the hate experienced in America. The unloved black youth is perhaps most persistently perpetuated by white America’s fixation and perpetuation of the fatherless black child.  Baldwin counters this portrayal in the most heart wrenching and soul-stirring depiction of a father’s love and obligation to his son. This paternal love crippled in the violent blow of being unable to or the inability of a father’s to protect his offspring, drives Fonny’s father to his death in the same way Fonny’s lovebealestreetumbrella for Tish and their unborn incites their desire to survive. This portrayal is as beautiful as it is necessary, depicting black love as encompassing many forms that yield a similar function. 

The intertwining of life and death proves true to a Baldwin form most pronounced in 1955 work Notes of a Native Son. Here, I reference Baldwin’s frequent linking of death with life, suggesting that the simultaneous occurrence of life and death are intrinsically linked with black life. This contention in mind, Baldwin’s writings capture both his life and death—but its film adaptation mark the death of a black male prototype whose race superscedes sexuality. So while Jenkins garners praise for depicting black love on the big screen, his efforts illustrate the abridged and neutered version of Baldwin’s pursuit of justice through literature.  

Black Power ❤

Nappily Ever After, An Assimilatory Tale

Pegged as a bildungsroman or a rom-com gone wrong, Nappily Ever After marks the latest of inclusionary narratives that afford black actors a check and the black collective the illusion of progress. The Netflix rom-com appears to include the black woman into the fairy tale genre. What happens, of course, is that black characters remain anchored in European caricatures.

NEA tells the partial story of Violet Jones, a beautiful ad executive relentlessly pursuing nappilyeveraftercroppedhaiewestern standards of personal validation in  beauty and romance. After her boyfriend fails to propose, Violet shaves her head and embarks on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Well, this is  what the film would have viewers believe has taken place by the time the credits roll. In fact, little to no self-discovery actually takes place. What Violet does discover by the film’s end is a new way to exist in a white supremacist system in a black female body.

Violet’s western influence offsets her espousal to the western concept of woman as well, a concept consummated in what she desires most—marriage. Though Violet seemingly comes full circle by the film’s end, what the film never articulates is that Violet sought marriage to assert her worth to the world. The film ignores that for the black woman this worth is less about asserting their value as women and more about asserting themselves as women.

The same praxis of oversimplification and oversight dominates much of the reviews surrounding the film. NEA exposes white publications as putting their black writers to the task of acknowledging a film white writers simply cannot tackle without unveiling their own racism and ignorance. These black writers are a lot like Violet in their espousal to western influence and desire to occupy hegemonic space with a pseudo-revolutionary flare that possesses just enough seasoning to fulfill their employers’ diversity initiative. These reviews acknowledge the film’s shallow portrayal but fail to pose the necessary critical queries to move blackness beyond superficiality.

neapurpledresslogoNevertheless, the premise of the film is a provocative one lost in Netflix’s demands for black portrayal. These demands are of course that blackness remains incidental and not central enough to deter white viewership. Netflix, like every other white platform, proceeds with the objective to ensure whites remain entertained by those who enable their privilege.

Thus, the film illuminates a general issue in representing the black body. Aligned with a shallow portrayal that aligns the black person with superficial anecdotes to detail their systemic influence, the film’s characters approach depth in what escapes the casual viewer. For example, viewers get a glimpse into Violet’s childhood in an opening scene where her pressed hair reverts to the amusement of her white playmates. This single scene functions as the film’s core despite providing little context. What this scene does is  project Violet as raised in vanity and not amidst the violence of white supremacy. This is, of course, deliberate, as to layer the black person is to expose the non-physical violence of white influence.

Can Nappy ever be Happy?

The film’s espousal to western influence is also evident in the film’s title, “Nappily Ever After.” Though I acknowledge that many within the black collective now claim “nappy,” the term reflects a European gaze on black hair. Black hair isn’t nappy, its hair. So in order to attain the ending the film’s title references, it is essential to move past this crippling western gaze that consistently douses black portrayal in various manifestations of anti-blackness. To place “nappy” in the film’s title reveals that the objective is not to move blacks from the western gaze, but cast black bodies on a visual plantation that manifests on the big and small screen.

Men In Black

Though pegged as condescending by some viewers, Will is the most enlightened character in the film. Viewers first meet Will when he is confidently praising the natural beauty of a black woman reluctant to accept this truth. His attraction to Violent grows after she shaves her hair as her hairless state reflects his ambitions for the black female collective.

nappilyeverafterclintIn fact, all the enlightenment in the film comes from black men. After Violent shaves her head, it is her father that refutes the idea that this was something that she “did on a whim.” This is one of the film’s few redeeming moments but it operates without development. Interestingly, the two black men who prove a bridge to heightened consciousness though utterly lonesome throughout the film.

Richard Jones, Violet’s father, recently left her mother and his career to pursue a career as a print model. His new career gains him a list of female admirers but a series of scornful looks from his estranged wife. Will, on the other hand, is espoused to the black female experience both professionally and personally as a single father to daughter Zoie and professionally as a salon owner inherited from his mother. Though both men seem to “get the girl” by the end of the film, the film’s portrayal of the good black man espoused to the background is ironically pushed to the film’s background. This discourse connects to another fact the movie glosses over: your hair affects who you attract.

In Violet’s case, both men she attracts are highly feminized in their portrayal. Violet, with long, straight hair attracts a vain Clint, who though a doctor, proves to be unapologetically shallow. Specifically, he complains that Violet is too perfect, but demands this perfection upon their reunion. Perfect, a term used throughout the film means “whiteness.” Clint’s vanity depicts him as highly effeminate, as does Will’s espousal to conventionally feminine rolls as a mom and dad, gardener, and his profession—a hairdresser.

neawillandvioletViolet with a shaved head or short new growth, attracts Will, a rugged black man who has dedicated his life to a natural black aesthetic. Will’s mission to change the world “one head at a time,” reconciles the false linearity between unprocessed hair and unprocessed mind—illustrating his plight to heal the soul of a lost queen through her crown.

Will’s character possesses a sort of gender hybridity that in analysis proves revolutionary. Specifically, Will depicts an espousal between the black man and woman, depicting racial evolution as transcending western gender constructs in necessity.

However, under the conventional umbrella of gender, under which this film operates, making this depiction another attempt to portray the black man as effeminate.

The Diabolical Black Female Dame

Though seemingly a narrative about black female liberation, the depicts its enlightened black male as birthed from black female scorn. This praxis counters the film as an ally to black feminity and exposes the film as stealthy assassinating black female character. After Violet shaves her head, her father remarks that he knows what she’s going through “probably better than anyone.”  Mr. Jones, who goes from insurance to modeling, and Violet who goes from long-haired to bald—appeared as victims of Mrs. Jones. Similarly, Will, though enlightened, functions as a victim of the black woman who left both him and his daughter. This depiction though buried in the film’s background, depicts the black woman as diabolical and the catalyst for black pain. This is, of course, a false notion that is most poisonous in its attack on the black subconscious. 

Waiting to Exhale Part II?

Violent’s head shaving mirrors what viewers witnessed in Terry McMillan’s Waiting to nappilyeverafterblondeExhale. The scene to which I refer is where Bernadette cuts her long-thick mane into a short, sleek cut after her husband leaves her for a white woman. Like Violet, Bernadette assisted her significant other on his rise to the top. Both women chop their locks in response to the disappointment engendered in their dealings with black men. This depiction portrays black men and women as inharmonious. Additionally, given that both disappointments occur with regard to marriage–there is a violent implication that black women are incompatible with marriage. This hair removal process also implies that whether vows are broken or taken, the black man will fail the black woman and ultimately prompt her to shed her vanity. Vanity, of course, composes the core of western femininity; thus, the black woman’s detachment from conventional beauty is not about beauty at all. Rather, this depiction subtly proclaims the black female as less than a woman in her involvement with black men. Conclusively, the parallel between the film adaptation of Terry McMillan and Trisha Thomas’s books reveals that the black woman is still very much waiting to exhale.

Mother Daughter

Perhaps the most disappointing component of the film is the underdeveloped lynnsanaa.pngmother-daughter relationship between Violet and Mrs. Jones. Although viewers learn from Violent’s aunt that Mrs. Jones’s mother did not straighten Mrs. Jones’s hair out of exasperation, this does little to alleviate her from the role of this film’s villain. NEA portrays Mrs. Jones as unrelentlessly superficial and preoccupied with what others think. Mrs. Jones as irretrievably vain throughout the film rather than indoctrinated with an ideology chosen for her by the systemic forces that dictate her path.

This is also what viewers witness with waiting to exhale with Savannah’s relationship with her meddling mother. Savannah’s mom pushes her daughter into the arms of a married man because, in her mother’s eyes, to be with a married man is better than being alone. Similarly, Mrs. Jones pushes her daughter into a life of western perfection to ensure that she receives the best of the white world. What both women fail to realize is their espousal to western standards sets both them and their children up for failure. Western standards are for western women, not women westernized by colonialism. The issue I have with both portrayals is that they attempt to Americanize the displaced African. Most portrayals of black women in popular culture are of “women” who happen to be black. This is perhaps most obvious in Violet’s relationship with Clint, where they both observe a Negropean lifestyle—or are black people living a western/white lifestyle. Thus, Clint’s desire for Violet to straighten her hair at their engagement party illustrates that his proposal was not for Violet to marry him, but for them both to marry western standards/ideals.

Zoie, Picaninny Caricature

When viewers first meet Zoie, she is dressed in oversized clothes, her hair tossled with zoe.pngspeech and knowledge way beyond her years. Though a beautiful young girl, her image is reminiscent of the picaninny caricature which depicts the black child as unkempt to reflection the discordance of black upbringing.  Viewers soon learn that Zoie is motherless and her appearance reflects a single-dad household. Her appearance seems Mitch-matched to a male hairdresser and gardener who takes pride in natural beauty but struggles to do his daughter’s hair until the film’s ending.

As viewers learn more about Zoe, it becomes obvious that her appearance reflects that of a young girl who has accepted her “unprettiness,” not that of a young girl who exists beyond vanity. This also appears mitch-matched, that a precocious black girl groomed by a father espoused to natural beauty would be only superficially confident.

Zoe reflects what happens to little girls in deficient of a female role model. This portrayal ignores the communal reality that no black girl or boy is ever truly mother or fatherless. Again, the movie showcases the detriment of single-parent households, overlooking the power of the black community.

A Processed Mind

The last scene in the film when Violet pitches Will’s natural care line to a businessman neaclosecutwho sells to the unnatural woman, functions almost as an apology to the black female viewer. This scene seems to state that after a visual discourse on a black woman’s journey to natural “it doesn’t matter how you wear your hair.” It of course does matter how one wears their hair, as whites and non black persons of color accumulate generational wealth in capitalizing off this implanted insecurity.

The film’s ending also delineates what lies at the core of all black female hair styling—money. When asked why sell a product that seems to “undercut” what they already sell, Violet says, “Women can wear weaves if they want to, they can straighten their hair… its a choice.” Choice is an interesting word choice. If the film does nothing, it depicts the marketing world as a tool of white supremacy that makes choices for its targeted consumer. Whether the black woman wears her hair natural, straight, dyed, or opts to purchase a weave or wig, she is a target of a white world who wishes to capitalize on her consumerism. Even as an ad executive, Violet is a consumer—depicting that the core of colonialism is being a product of consumption while being collectively consumed. So while the oppressor’s eating of the other remains a topic of contention, the film illustrates the other’s conception of its collective corpse under the guise of representation.

Closing Thoughts

NEA is a nuanced assimilatory narrative that appears to embrace blackness but neasanaaactualizes black exploitation. To be completely honest, this film seems about fifteen to twenty years late. The epidemic of wigs and weaves that dominate much of black female styling today makes the straightening of natural hair a far lesser evil, if not nearly obsolete.

neapinkdress NEA portrays black women and hair straightening as dimensionally. Violet and her mother’s relationship remains solely vested in superficiality and her natural best friend remains restricted to the film’s background. The portrayal attempted in this film would greatly benefit from a layered portrayal of black beauty that encompasses the reality that many black women wore braids as children and straightened their hair as a right of passage. Hair straightening in the black community often occurs with the cognitive dissonance of “adulthood” or “practicality” that personifies a stealth alignment American beauty standards. In another breath, I do look at films or social commentary that challenge black behavior with the query: why are there are little to no films/novels about white women and tanning, dying, limp plumping,  or hair straightening? Or better yet, why are white and “mixed race” women who for centuries were praised for their distance from black aesthetics now praised for paying for the curves many black women are born with?  I ask these questions not to compare the black female and white woman experience, but to note that much of western society critiques black women for behaviors performed in a cult-like fashion by our oppressors who though functionally beautiful are on a quest to have what the black woman is born with. The crooked path of white and non-black woman to possess black beauty remains an untold story, because the myth of black female insecurity or “ugliness,” is necessary to uphold western ideology.

Nevertheless,  NEA, though a dissonant display of black female consciousness, does not tackle the complexities that veil the black pursuit of beauty as encompassing a functional ugliness. Instead, its portrayal is as vain and shallow as its characters. Whites and other non-black persons of color are able to extract symbolic profit from a film that implies black female insecurity and ignores the reality that beauty world remains anchored in the white woman’s quest for color. Black audiences feel “Seen” through a visual narrative that consummates victory in showing viewers what mediocre storytelling and direction cannot incite viewers to feel.

Black Power ❤