Kidnap, A Contemporary Narrative of Black Motherhood

Kidnap appears to be yet another action-adventure.suspense film starring a household name. Yet, Kidnap mirrors historical slave narrative in capturing the maternal stress of black mothers. Namely, much like Harriet Jacobs in The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Frederick’s Douglas’ mother who traveled by foot in the dark of night to see her son, Berry (Carla in the film) proves that she will stop at nothing to save her child. Therefore, black maternity is the portrait of conditional love, as this love strives to overcome a lifetime of hells and high waters.

To be a black mother is to struggle to be a parent, a provider and protector in a world where you are not even thought of as human. To be a black mother is to bear cyclical disenfranchisement as an individual and as a mother of offspring thrust into this system the moment they emerged from the black female womb. It is the sub-story, or what the film fails to verbally articulate that makes Kidnap worthy of conversation. The film itself is utterly unoriginal, lacks development, and performs in the contemporary pattern of colorblind-casting that visibly implements blackness but fails to acknowledge race beyond superficiality. kidnap

When the credits rolled, I found myself asking:

“That’s it?”

and waiting for that moment that would allot clarity to the previous ninety minutes.

Senselessly displaying a Senseless Crime

 This moment of clarity never came. But as I contemplated the film on the ride home, it occurred to me that while unintentional, this senseless ending was exactly the point. Black child abduction is senseless. In traditional and contemporary settings, the abducted black child occurred for no real reason, other than a means to exercise power. Enslaved black children were abducted by white settlers and transformed into laborers, and breeders for the white man’s plantation. Once transported to the states, children were often abducted from their mothers and sold like dogs to families seeking domestic servants and concubines. Contemporary black children continue to go missing, and if found their bodies are often hollowed out—their organs sold to what I’m sure is the highest bidder.

Axing the White Savior Figure

 The film succeeds in deviating from the white savior halleberrykidnapfigure that dominates much of black portrayal. At the end of the film, Berry attempts to remove her child from a locked attic and a white man walks in pretending to be the neighbor. He puts on a convincing show, pretending to be surprised that his “neighbors” are child abductors. But it is his seemingly omniscient knowledge of the gender and quantity of the abducted children reveals that he is not a savior but a villain. This is probably the most suspenseful part of the film, and it functions because of the positive connotation of whiteness. Globally whites are viewed as a savior figures, despite direct and indirect evils that populate their history. In alleviating the white savior figure, the black woman emerges as her own hero— a depiction generally withheld from black female protagonists.
Accidental Hero

 What is unstated and noteworthy in Kidnap’s portrayal of a black mother searching for her child, is that Berry becomes an accidental hero for two abducted white female children. Does my assertion suggest that the two white children do not deserve to be saved? Absolutely not. My assertion does function to state that far too often when working to elevate the black collective, blacks become accidental heroes to others who benefit from our efforts. For example, many of the shows and movies authored by black women to supposedly narrate the black experience, become opportunities for white actors and actresses, producers and artists, proving once again that nothing is done for blacks that does not benefit another demographic—whether directly or indirectly.

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Solitary Mission

An image that dominates the film is Berry’s singularity. Namely, much of the film is Berry alone searching for her son. Interestingly, this solitary dynamic is also depicted when Berry does go to a police station for help. When Berry arrives, there is a single black woman answering the phones and managing the office. This depicts the black female body as habitually made to juggle with multiple responsibilities, with the systemic implication that she will drop one or two to her detriment.

Yet, a critic referenced Berry as a vehicle operating on “four flat tires,” overlooking that black motherhood is an imperfect solitary dynamic not intended to entertain the white male gaze. Separated from spouses and children as enslaved Africans, black motherhood began its tenure in this country as a complicated product of white evil. The contemporary environment is not much different, as the surging amount of black males incarcerated, dead, underemployed, or under-educated leaves many black women alone, and many black mothers inevitably single in one form or another.

Furthermore, although an imperfect film, Kindap is a perfect illustration of contemporary black motherhood as a nuanced manifestation of a historical dynamic plaguing the black collective. So despite figures like Michelle Obama, Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, Beyonce, etc that seemingly symbolize black female potential, to the critical gaze, Kidnap illustrates the black woman as still fighting to save her children, her dignity, and her sanity from a systemized abduction orchestrated by white evil.

Black Power ❤

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The Dark Tower: A Black Female Perspective 

The Dark Tower seemingly solicits a “dark” viewership in casting esteemed black actor Idris Elba (The Wire, Takers, Luther). The placement of a black body in a role authored for a white person is a common act of the contemporary world. This act, while a pseudo act to diversify a still predominately white industry, never fails to betray the racial context that dominates the world. 

A Story About Sex

The Dark Tower is no exception. The film predictably portrays its black protagonist as a being caricatured by a white gaze. As Roland, the film compartmentalizes Elba as a “gunslinger,” a portrayal that dismembers the black male body to a phallic object that bears an inadvertent reference to the stereotypically oversized black male sexual organ.  Roland– the “black” man, a sexual beast in the eyes of his oppressor, is masterful in the craft of swinging his phallic instrument around for all to see. Thus “gun-slinging” or phallic mastery is not talent but a testament to the presumed beastality of blacks. 

The bestial black controlling image is also developed in Roland’s ethereal strength. Roland’s strength is not magical like a Superman or Batman, but a natural ability to withstand pain and fatally penetrate the bodies of his enemies in the adept release of his phallic instrument. Let’s analyze both representations. 

  1. A gunslinger’s natural ability to withstand pain corresponds to the racist perception  of Africans abducted from the coast of Africa by white settlers centuries ago. This fictive ideology rationalized abducted Africans as sources for scientific experimentation. So the part of the film where modern doctors diagnose Roland with multiple ailments and marvel at his ability to carry on as he has, is not funny, but a portrayal of blacks as non-humans whose enslavement and murders were necessary to maintain a fictive civility. 
  2. The ability of the gunslinger to tune into nature and fire his weapon is a metaphorical representation of black male ejaculation. This is once again a depiction of masterful phallic handling. Namely, this depiction suggests that the black man is more than able to handle an oversized phallus with ease, and cast his seed not with his hand but “with his mind.” So in the repeated phrase:

I do not shoot, aim or kill with my hand 

I shoot with mind 

I aim with my eye 

I aill with my heart 

the film illustrates an animalistic black sexuality that operates internally and in tune with the jungle and not with a fabricated comity. 

The Innocent White Child 

Jake, the central character of the film functions to depict the innocence of whiteness. Namely, The Dark Tower illustrates white innocence as the gateway to eliminating white supremacy or what the film depicts as sorcery. Despite the film’s effort to depict Jake as anti-racist, the white child is not innocent but a product of said sorcery. This dynamic becomes overt as Jake becomes interested in the plight that has dominated Roland’s life only after  experiencing personal tragedy. Roland’s plight is lead by loss and the desire to gain by destroying the source of global destruction. Although hurt by personal loss, Roland uses his individual hurt to perform a collective good seen in saving multiple lives, including Jake’s, throughout the film. 

Jake on the other hand tokenizers Roland the gunslinger as a form of escapism from his own troubles. Roland’s pain is not real to Jake. What is real to Jake, and worthy of marvel, is the size of Roland’s gun. Jake’s fascination and subtle fetishizing of Roland’s phallic instrument functions to capture white objectification of black sexuality.   It is only when he feels othered by a single instance of loss, does Roland become somewhat of a person to Jake. This slight evolution prompts Jake to become more than a spectator to Roland’s journey. Jake’s involvement, while seemingly beneficial to Roland, is actually a selfish act used to avenge Jake’s personal tragedy. This dynamic illustrates a global truth–that nothing has been done for blacks that has not benefited whites. Furthermore, even the implied  innocence of the film’s child protagonist is unable to escape the pervasiveness of a white supremacist ideology. 

The White Supremacist Sorcerer 

White supremacy in The Dark Tower is depicted in  Matthew McConaughey’s character “The Man In Black” or “Walter.”  The name “Walter” interestingly made me think of Walt Disney, a racist whose supremacist gaze foments anti blackness in the films that dominate so many childhoods throughout the world. It is the white supremacist sorcery that offsets Roland’s plight, and ultimately prompts the union between the outcasted white child and the black man–an indirect act of sorcery where a white individual rejected from a system designed to work for them, finds sustenance and purpose in accompanying an “othered” individual or faction on their journey to confront a common enemy. Viewers have seen this depiction countless times in the past, and given the trajectory of global film and television, viewers will surely see this dynamic for years to come. 

In summary, The Dark Tower‘s implementation of a dark lead, illustrates yet another white attempt to not only narrate the black story but appoint a white hero. It is worth mentioning that this particular road to a white savior does not intertwine the black female body. This omission could be due to a conceptualizing of black people as gender-less, much like how blacks were regarded in their coerced journey over the Atlantic. The omission could also be a desire to appease a silent demand to choose whether to focus on the black man or black female, to avoid depicting blacks as three-dimensional. 

Either way, The Dark Tower is unoriginal, and authors yet another page in performing the very racism a black actor or actress is hired to conceal. 

The Dark Tower or Ivory Tower?

The most interesting portion of the film for me was the moment at the end where Roland informs Jake that he has to “go back.” This part in the film was quite instrumental in illustrating how past black suffering is essential in creating contemporary white privilege. The white youth however, can exist in either realm–his privilege a timeless constant.

 Yet despite afforded a timeless privilege, this privilege does not correspond to piety. Namely,  the ivory tower alluded to by the film’s dark tower aligns whiteness with an impertinent and evil darkness rather than an illusive purity.  The movie prompts the inquisitive gaze to see that although the gunslinger is physically dark and sullied by the sexual portrayal of an oppressive gaze– he is altruistic, whereas white characters “Walter” or the “Man in Black,” and “Jake” are stained by the true darkness of self-serving deeds that compose the context of the film and the world.

Furthermore, despite actor Idris Elba being a marvelous portrait of blackness, The Dark Tower is far from a conventional success. The film however succeeds  in exposing the construct of darkness as reflecting the incantation of imperialism, not the melanated hue of African people– ultimately, proving that constructs do not reflect the creation, but the architect.

Black Power ❤

 

 

The Incredible Jessica James: Extracting the “black” from Black Femininity

The Incredible Jessica James debuted to an audience eagerly awaiting its next piece of seemingly antiracist media where an bothered body occupies central placement. To most The Incredible Jessica James is a coming of age narrative where a black female twenty-something finds her way past a breakup an through her struggles as a striving artist. What is most incredible about this film is that it resumes the contemporary colorblind initiative. This contemporary initiative is not to tackle the totality of the black experience, but to move past blackness by ignoring it completely. Moreover, what is most incredible about Jessica James is despite her skin color and natural hair—there is nothing black about her. The word "black" is gracefully omitted from the film—a pattern consistent with contemporary portrayals of black people.  Instead, viewers hear James reference her statuesque height quite a few times throughout the film–suggesting that it is her height not color, is her most defining attribute. jessicawilliamsap

In early portrayals of black femininity, the black female body operated in extremes—she was either unmistakably black, a "mammy-like figure" like Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind, or a racially ambiguous "tragic mulatto or  jezebel" as seem in Dorothy Dandridge's 1954 performance in Carmen. The racially ambiguous woman stirred two pots in her ability to strategically provide blacks a fictive representation, without challenging European aesthetics. bell hooks notes this point in Black Looks:

When black women actresses like Lena Horne appeared in mainstream cinema most white viewers were not aware that they were looking at black females unless the film was specifically coded as being about blacks (119).

Contemporary black leading ladies perform a similar role, except not through aesthetics. Instead, the black female body functions to visibly suggest a diversity her portrayal functions to downplay.

maxresdefaultThis is important for black women to acknowledge prior to celebrating representation seemingly granted in portrayals like The Incredible Jessica James, portrayals strategically implemented to work against the black woman. By this I mean that while actress Jessica Williams is beautiful, witty, and talented, as Jessica James, Williams encourages black women to exist beyond blackness—an act of mentacide that will eventually foment black female oblivion.

Black female oblivion is the ultimate result of anti-blackness, a shared theme of past and present black female representation. The Incredible Jessica James enforces anti blackness with a common pairing to the contemporary black female body—a white man.

The white man rides in like a white night following James’ breakup from Damon, her black ex-boyfriend. 4533The film introduces viewers to protagonist Jessica James after a recent breakup from a man of whom she was with for two years— a decision that haunts her in a series of comical dreams throughout the film. Her ex-boyfriend, a young and handsome black man, appears kind and supportive in the flashbacks of the couple. His portrayal prompts viewers to question why the two parted ways— a query that James seems to serially ask herself throughout the film but answer in the giant steps towards whiteness she takes afterwards.
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Namely, these failed black romances birth two interracial romances as viewers see Damon out on a date with a non-black woman as James also meets up with a non-black date. I am intentionally focusing on the color of characters to illustrate that blackness, while never acknowledged, also does not visibly frequent the film. James, a black woman from Ohio, flees her hometown for a better life. When James does fly back for her sister's baby shower it is blatantly obvious that she does not fit in with the small town environment that nurtured her early years. Her transition from small town to big city  also symbolizes a step away from blackness as James' “better” life in Bushwick is overwhelmingly white. This running away from home, much like her breakup, illustrates black conflict as preceding or offsetting the black body’s journey to whiteness.

Deadline Hollywood Portraits at Sundance Presented by Applegate, Day 2, Park City, Utah, USA - 21 Jan 2017This journey to whiteness is heavily veiled in what the film tries to pass of as chemistry.  James' artistic chemistry with theatre leads her to the big city, and her chemistry with the concept "woman" leads her into the platonic embrace of a white female friends. The film vehemently tries to present James' relationship with Boone as oozing with rebound chemistry. James and Boone though have zero chemistry. They have a good conversation, mainly because James’ honesty will not allow for much else. They become sexually involved shortly after meeting, and their sex scene is cringeworthy and seems to exist solely to provide visible proof of their consummation. Their sexual encounter is hard to watch, hard to hear, and disappointing to the black female gaze who would probably have taken better to a love scene between two gorgeous black people rather than a middle-aged white man and a young black woman. Jessica is the bridge Boone uses to get over his personal trauma—a recent divorce from a thin, blonde woman. By the end of the film, Jessica replaces Boone’s ex-wife as the object of his affection, transforming from an escapist route to a national treasure—-objectified yet symbolic.

The romance between the two, also serves as a platform for Boone to become the film’s white savior figure. After James receives an overseas offer to teach theatre and lead a production of one of her plays, Boone funds the trip through his frequent flyer miles. This ruins what should have been the most touching moment of the play–the black girl magic between James and her black female student.

Netflix-Releases-Teaser-For-Jessica-Williams-The-Incredible-Jessica-JamesThe scenes with James and her students are touching, and function to add dimension to Jessica James the character. Nurturing the young versions of ourselves as they work to find themselves in a world designed for their destruction is something all black women should prioritize. James and her black female student connect in talent and a displaced hurt—their writing a means to iron out the wrinkles in their lives. However, with blackness lying in the film’s background, this connection between two young black females is only on the surface. The portrayal, in omitting blackness, depicts a teacher taking a “troubled” student under their wing—oversimplifying the shared experience between black women to a shared experience between women. Thus, Boone, the white savior, illustrates the white man as a prize who literally and figuratively funds those culminating their journey to an illusive whiteness.

Furthermore, the “incredible” in The Incredible Jessica James, unintentionally functions similarly to the “great” in the The Great Gatsby—providing a satirical feel to a seemingly complimentary term. What is in fact incredible about the film is its mastered technique diminished by underdeveloped critical thought. In an unpublished essay, esteemed scholar W.E.B. Dubois said the following:

Technique without character is chaos and war. Character without technique is labor and want. But when you have human being who know the world and can grasp it; who have their feelings guised by ideals, then using technique as their hands they can get rid of the four great evils of human life. The four evils are ignorance, poverty, diseases and crime. (Dubios 252).

The Incredible Jessica James  succeeds in method displayed in its writing and comedic genius, but lacks character in its anti-blackness. The characters lack the racial depth that paint them in the image of black viewers of a shared experience. Therefore, the film promotes ignorance, moral poverty, and disease in performing the greatest crime cast onto the black diaspora—racism.

Black female portrayal must begin, contain, and evolve pedagogy. We must learn the entirety of our oppression to avoid furthering our systemized state by creating images that tackle the acumen of African identity.

In closing, The Incredible Jessica James is not a bad movie—it’s just not a black movie. It is a sense of escapism for those who fantasize about a apparent utopia where where color is not discussed. This utopia eventually proves a dystopia as it operates with the same racial subtext of slavery and the Jim Crow South. The film proves that racial neutrality is inherently anti-blackness, something the contemporary world presents as evolution.

To evolve is to move past the seduction of colorlessness in a word established on color differences. To evolve is to uncaricature blackness and stand in a truth defined by a collective understanding. To evolve is to see blackness as a glory to be shouted from the mountaintops, not be subjugated to an elephant in the room, series or film. maxresdefault

As the late but great author James Baldwin once said “Nothing can be changed unless it is faced.” The Incredible Jessica James, is another example of art functioning to deflect black focus away from blackness. Any step a black person takes away from blackness is a step towards anti-blackness into the flaming pit of white supremacy.

Let us face the entirety of our blackness without fear, or shame, and create art that is not vouyeristic for whites but a means for blacks to hold a looking glass to the complexities of our existence.

Black Power ❤

Detroit: A Systemized Suffocation of the Black Narrative

In recent months, I have written extensively about Dr. Christina Sharpe and the wake work initiative ignited by her book In the Wake: Blackness and Being. The book epitomizes Afro-demia, where blackness is placed in the forefront of formal discourse. Although difficult to point to a single moment in the text as more significant than the rest, Sharpe’s discussion of black aspiration, or the black struggle to aspire, proved quite significant. Sharpe uses the term “aspire” in the most elementary sense–which simply means to breathe. To illustrate the concept, Sharpe references the physical and systemic suffacation of Eric Garner preceded by eleven exclamations of the clause that would become his last words– “I can’t breathe.” maxresdefault

Garner is the epitome of the figurative chokehold that encapsulates black life. Not all blacks will personally experience a physically fatal embrace. All blacks are however born into a system designed for their suffocation. One of the most persistent manifestations of a cholkhold is appropriation, namely, the metamorphosis of the black struggle into a white narrative.

In 2011, the world rejoiced in Katherine Stockett’s novel The Help’s film adaptation.help3face   Despite elevating black actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer from obscurity to center-stage—the film is an ode to white female supremacy—casting the white female outcast as the saving grace for black female oppression. To some, the film proved ground-breaking in featuring a white female gaze that scrutinized her own kind. The conscious gaze, on the other hand, sees the one-dimensional black female characters as the backs to which the black female castmates stand in their three-dimensional portrayals. This book and film, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, function to humanize white evil at the expense of dehumanized images of blacks in moments of heightened oppression. The black female potential stifled in the domestic demands of the segregated 1940’s and 1950’s, forced many black women away from their own homes into the homes of whites to resume the mammy role established in slavery. As a domestic worker, the black women encountered unfair wages, emotional and sexual abuse and long hours. Similarly, Henrietta Lacks, a physically ill woman, would die while two of her children were still in diapers. Most problematically, Lacks would be robbed of the  pearl-like cells that took her life, but in their abduction would save countless others. Telling these stories from a white gaze, compromises the integrity of the black narrative.  These white productions function as an antiracist effort to some, but in execution perform the very racism they seemingly denounce. These abducted narratives, and others like them, suffocate the black narrative, resurrecting incidents essential to black advancement as appropriated stories of our oppressors.

Kathryn Bigelow’s upcoming film Detroit, is no different.

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The upcoming film has garnered abundant press from black and white media for its coverage of the the Twelfth street riots and the cold-blooded murders of teens Aubrey Pollard, Carl Cooper, and Fred Temple at the Algiers Motel in the summer of 1967. Lost in the media coverage of this upcoming film is the actual story. Instead, director Kathryn Bigelow basks in a media glory for her Oscar-nominated culturally appropriative film. The film does not function to provide context to contemporary murders that mirror a tragedy that seized the lives of these young men. Nor, does the film discount the contemporary murders of black youth as isolated incidents.  No, this film exists to permeate American culture with yet another white savior image.

White abduction of black stories poses a conflict to the black narrative for many reasons—the most prevalent being that this appropriation epitomizes racism. In Black Power Kwame Ture states the following:

Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: Individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism (Ture 4).

Bigelow’s Detroit, like Katherine Stockett’s The Help, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and every other adducted page of the collective black narrative, illustrates institutionalized racism. A system existing solely to attack black esteem and control black action.

Institutional racism relies on the active and pervasive operation of antilock attitudes and practices. A sense of superior group position prevails: whites are ‘better” than blacks; therefore blacks should be subordinated to whites. (Ture 5)

Abducted black narratives appropriated by whites desperate to consummate their own journey to conventional success is an act of anti-blackness in its promotion of racist ideologies. This abduction and appropriation of black narratives suggests that because whites are “better” than blacks, only they are capable of accurately and appropriately rendering the black narrative.

Instances like these often prompt the query as to whether it would better if these books, and films were never made–the stories destined to obscurity. In response, I fail to see the difference between a black narrative appropriated by whites and an untold black story as both fail to reach the demographic to which this narrative is essential. “Untold” simply conceptualizes the relationship to mainstream media, or white access. A black narrative is essential to black consciousness. Thus, our stories need not be mainstream, but made available to those spiritually and physically elevated in acquiring knowledge of a shared experience.

The black experience is a compilation of stories shared by those across time and circumstance. Black stories are like air to a black people, providing a means and context to physically aspire. Moreover, the abducted black narrative is not only appropriative –it impedes black aspiration.

To see this film is to smother black aspiration, to toss dirt on top of the black body buried alive by a veiled anti blackness, better known as white supremacy.

As W.E.B. Dubois once said:

Through history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness.

Detroit is yet another means for the white female body to illuminate in the glow of white supremacy. It is yet another means for the white female body to aspire, and indulge white supremacy in the same manner as her male counterparts.  In contrast, the light cast onto the black body has often blown out too quickly, if illuminated at all.

Rather than provide yet another platform for whites to shine in our glory, let us support our own art, written, produced, and brought to life by us. Let us breathe life into our collective identity. Let us aspire the only way we can, as Africans.

Black Power ❤

 

 

Girls Trip, a “Trip” to Feminism

The rise of the black female leading lady remains a consistent topic of discussion in the contemporary world. Once solely assigned supporting roles, black female portrayal has seemingly shifted. Or has it?

Girls Trip  depicts four black female stars: Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish. To the casual gaze, the black female stars in her own narrative. However, considering there is only one black female writer credited for this project, it seems the black female collective is still a product of those lacking complete knowledge of the black female experience.  girlstrip_animatedgif_753x278.gif

Perhaps this is the reason for the one-dimensional portrayal of these black women. Yes, viewers gain a peek into the protagonist’s past as college friends and adult woes but little information is given to understand why the characters are they way they are. This may seem extensive, but for a demographic demonized globally context is a necessity.  These omissions seemingly reflect the restrictions of time, but paint the four protagonists as blacks in the wake of their global perception—beings born into conflict, their narrative abridged in the expediency of racist caricaturing.

The four protagonists are however heavily doused in sex— aligning the black female body with the same sexual appraisal established in slavery and still ever-present in global black female identity.

Dina (Tiffany Haddish): The Jezabel Sapphire Medley       dina

Dina, perhaps the most memorable of the protagonists for not-so-positive reasons, embodies what the contemporary world offers the now central black female presence—an image that encompasses a medley of past controlling images. Her conspicuous love for sex paints her a jezebel type figure, and her quick, chastising wit depicts Dina as a sapphire as well.

Dina appears created in the image of “Terry,” played by actress Eve in the Barbershop, mainly in her petty anger. For Terry it was apple juice and for Dina it was her lunch. This scene made the audience chuckle, but I cringed in my chair at yet another depiction of the black woman as an uncivil beast. In addition to her careless rage, Dina is also sexually careless. In fact, one of the first images audiences are given of the young woman is her coming out of a clinic, where she has just been diagnosed with Chlamydia—to her excitement. This depiction, while intended to be funny, finds its humor in villanizing the black female body, depicting the black female body as unclean, unchaste and without the modesty of shame.

Girls-Trip-Movie-Stills-3Sasha (Queen Latifah):  The Asexual Mammy 

Despite being a physically gorgeous woman, Sasha  is placed in the backdrop of the film. This is seemingly a purposeful effort to depict her as on the sidelines of Ryan who is the group leader, admired by Lisa and Dina. This depiction, aligned with Sasha’s aesthetics, depicts the plus-sized woman as alienated and underestimated. She is the sole character not given a love interest, aside from the man her mind conjures in a hallucination episode. Thus, she is depicted asexually like the mammy of our past who is confined to romance only in her dreams. Moreover, in a film that should underscore black female intersectionality, not only is the fullness of our identity neglected, but the film plays into the racist perceptions of black female identity.   pinket_latifah

Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith): The Asexual Mother Figure

Recently, divorced, Lisa is now married to motherhood and conservative clothing. Once a hyper sexual black female youth, Smith is most aligned with the traditional standards of womanhood— submissiveness, chastity, piety, and purity. These attributes quickly dissolve, when Lisa meets a younger black man who reverts her back to what the white gaze perpetuates as her innate hyper sexual state.

Girls-Trip-Movie-Stills-19Ryan (Regina Hall): The black female “over achiever” who emasculates her man

Ryan, the film’s central character seemingly has it all. She is gorgeous, smart, educated, and conventionally successful. Ryan appears in the image of popular prime time protagonists, Olivia Pope, Mary Jane Paul, and Annalise Keating, successful black women, who are all north of thirty, fashionable and admired by all whom they cross paths. Also, much like these women, Ryan bears an incongruence to motherhood. While Pope aborts her child, Mary Jane and Keating have fertility struggles, as does Ryan. Fertility struggles acts as an achilles heel to the prodigious black woman who despite her exceptionalism does not have the opportunity to pass on her excellence biologically. Beneath the surface, this appears to suggest that conventional success is incongruent to the black female body. Thus, the hyper fertile black female body is compromised in acquiring what was traditionally reserved for white men. Thus, the transition of the black female to assume a pseudo whiteness, paints her the barren state afforded to those not aligned with the presumed hyper fertility of the African woman.

Race and Raunchiness

The film functions as the black female version of the Hangover, where friends who could not be more different unite for a memorable vacation. The difference is both race and gender, thus the film’s raunchiness functions to substantiate societal claims of a caricatured black female identity.

So when Lisa accidentally pees on Bourbon Street onlookers in a zip line pursuit gone wrong, most viewers find humor in its accidental nature. But when Dina comes to “rescue” Lisa from her short stop, she intentionally showers onlookers with the golden trinkets of her bladder.

This scene prompted hysterical laughter from the audience in its vulgar and goofy humor. Beneath the surface, this is funny because it is this vulgarity that most instantly align with black female identity that makes the scene funny to most. This is because humor functions on the presence of a subtle truth. This would not be generally funny is most people did not perceive the illustrated action as in tune with the nature of black female identity.

This scene also offers a unique way to hyper sexualize the black female body. Although urine expels from the bladder out of the genitalia, the scene highlights the release of fluid from the black female sexual organ. Lisa, the asexual black woman, expels these fluids involuntarily whereas the Dina, hyper sexual black woman, expels these fluids voluntarily and without shame. This resumes the narrative of the black female body as oozing a sexuality that renders her immune from sexual violation or rape.

The fact that this happens in New Orleans, a setting linked to superstition and black magic, portrays the black woman in the image of her voodoo past. Namely, it depicts black girl magic as a black girl sexual magic.

Marketing Black Love

The film succeeds in steering away from the contemporary obsession with black women in interracial relationships. Implementing black love does not function as a conscious effort. After all, the target demographic of the film is not only black women, but all women. The comedic structure of the film allows both the black and non-black viewer to view the black woman in a way that does not challenge how the global perception conceives the black woman–frivolous, gauche, and masculine. The exception in part would be the film’s protagonist, Ryan who as a superwoman, encompasses the ambitions of countless women throughout the glove. In rooting for Ryan the superwoman, the white or non-black viewer is able to find inspiration and feel less racist in seemingly rooting for a black woman to win. Ryan of course symbolizes the superwoman–a colorless figure, who is tanned solely to solicit black female consumers. As the superwoman, or women freed from the conventionality of a caricatured black female identity, Ryan becomes a gateway for the film’s central means to unite women through gender.

To unite the female demographic, Girls Trip depicts the black man as a sexual object.

Hyper-sexualizing the Black Man: The Over-sized Phallus v. The Over-Used Phallus Girls-Trip

Stewart, Ryan’s former NFL player husband is tall, dark and handsome. On a surface level, he is also a devoted husband. Beneath the surface, he seeks a younger woman, whose sole ambition is to become pregnant by a baller. In juggling (at least) two women, the film depicts Stewart as bearing an overused phallus, unable to handle the prodigious black woman—so he finds a less “intimidating” black female model. It is also worth mentioning that Stewart’s mistress is also visibly more sun-kissed than Ryan and more voluptuous. This illustrates “the blacker the berry the sweeter the fruit,” but perhaps more disturbingly, that the blacker the berry and the rounder the derriere, the more primal the sexual appetite.

Displacing the physically dark man, or magical negro as bearing an hyper active libido is an image commonly perpetuated throughout the media. We’ve seen this with Kobe Bryant, OJ Simpson, and most recently with Carmelo Anthony. As a physically dark man, Stewart portrays African blood as not only birthing his NFL worthy talent, but his overactive phallus. Thus, Stewart is symbolic of black men, depicting them as possessing a wandering gaze and a narcissistic and animalistic desire to plant their seed in any empty womb.

Lisa (Jada Pinkett), a divorced mother of two, who has not been intimate since splitting from her husband two years prior— has relations with a man twenty years her junior while away at the Essence Festival. This man is also a very sun-kissed man, whose phallus is not over-used but oversized. It’s prodigious state initially intimidates Lisa, but she eventually succumbs to its allure—illustrating the sexual magic of the black man as seductive but bound to operate in excess. It is this excess, whether in urine, sexual partners, or size of the sexual organ, that functions to caricature the black body as closer to an animal than a human.

Sexualizing the black man, works to reverse objectification from female to male, but due to the prime characters of this film being black people—both the black man and black woman function to display a caricatured hyper sexuality that shows their Hollywood setting as not far away from the plantations of their past were the black man and woman were perceived in a similar manner.

The hyper sexual relations between black men and women, do not present black love as powerful, but limited to a lustful pleasure. This portrayal illustrates black love in the same manner in which it is perceived by western society—animalistic, aimless, and shallow.

It is also problematic that Ryan and Stewart, who at the start are a black power couple, spend the majority of the movie seeking validation, or endorsement from white women. In seeking this validation, Ryan even overlooks her white female publicists’ tasteless and aggressive flirtation with her husband. Ryan and Stewart, the Ebony power couple eventually part ways in the aftermath of Stewart’s infidelity, depicting black love as temperate and bound to dissolve in the hyper sexuality of one of its parties. After leaving Stewart, Ryan is still granted a generous salary for her “brand” as a single black woman. This is an obviously a plug for feminism, depicting black love as incongruent to feminism, but the black female as a worthy recruit. So when Ryan brings Sasha along for the deal, this seemingly a sisterly moment depicts two beautiful and skilled black women as taking their talents to work for a white woman.

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Sisterhood, The Sweetest Love

While the majority of the movie made me wince,  the final scene of the movie was poignant and honestly brought tears to my eyes. In the final scene, Ryan delivers the Essence Keynote Speech that anchors the film. The speech deviates from its original intention to portray Ryan as the woman who “has it all.” Instead, Ryan spoke as a member of the black female collective. Her speech spoke to every black woman throughout the diaspora who has been haunted by a loneliness. The most resonant portion of the speech was

“So many of us believe that it is better to be disrespected than to be alone”

I’m sure that every black woman has been in a situation where she has “looked past” a misdeed, hoping that her good is better than any bad. So, while black love is a huge component of our advancement of a people, this love is not limited to romantic love. The love we have for each other as family, friends, colleagues, mentors, employers, caregivers, is enough to culminate a collective self-determination. .

Although touched by the movie’s final scene, this scene also betrayed the biggest conflict in its film. Despite casting a predominately black cast, the word “black” is thoroughly omitted from the film. Thus, blackness becomes a backdrop that comforts the “women of color” in the audience, but is not too present to ward off the white female gaze. Thus, my interpretation is what I was supposed to see as a black woman, but is not actually what the film depicts. The film depicts a woman speaking to a group of women who happened to be black, about the woes of womanhood. Thus, it only makes sense that the film ends with an Essence Performance by Mariah Carey, a racially ambiguous woman whose cross-over appeal afforded her a career spanning nearly three decades. Carey symbolically represents goal of feminism, to convince women that gender is their most prevalent attribute, and race is only a problem if they make it so.

In short, the purpose of this movie is not to speak to the specific conflicts that await the black woman throughout the global epidemic of racism, but to all women struggling to “have it all.” To address the privileged woman as one does the woman who will never have said privilege is detrimental, because it is the woman lacking privilege who is lost in this process.

The premise of having it all also speaks to privilege, as the plight to having it all is a vast expansion from the struggles faced by black women who often struggle to have something— that something being respect, dignity, equity, or simply peace.

The Wrap-Up

Girls Trip illustrates that black women are indeed still on a trip. This journey is not simply culminated by finding strength in one another, but in realizing that the trip to womanhood is still very much a work in progress. The road to womanhood is not paved in stepping on our men, but in acknowledging our blackness, and not limiting our most primary attribute to a mere subtly.

In closing, our trip as black women is not to exist in two places at one time, but to find a means to simply be black in a three-dimensional manner that encompasses the multitudes of our beings.

Films like Girls Trip function to remind the black woman that she is indeed under attack by the smiling white female feminist, seeking to drive us from our men, and even our black female friends into a systemized sisterhood.  It is also films like these that remind me that I personally have no desire to be a woman in the global sense. I much prefer the diversity of blackness. For black is not only beautiful, it’s enough.

Black Power ❤

 

 

 

 

All Eyes on Me, A Review

On the surface, Tupac was a young man with big dreams who wished to find a way out of a dead end street where so many black families and individuals dwell indefinately. To those that looked more closely, Tupac was a black man on a mission to be heard, a black man with a story to tell, to which fame was merely part of the bargain.

I did not grow up listening to Tupac’s music, although I was very much familiar with his voice  due to his consistent radio play. But after acquainting myself with his interviews and public speaking endeavors, I grew to love and respect Tupac the man. I now see music as his outlet of greatness, for he was a great musician but a formidable product of a rose well watered by the strength of a black woman.

His story is not a narrative of consciousness, but a black man dedicated to exposing the intricacies of systemic truth.  His flow is flawlessly captivating, appealing to those who do not have a preference for hip hop. He’s charming, handsome with a smile that softens his sometimes callous lyrics. He’s one of a kind, but of a kind shortchanged and intentionally misread by much of the imperial west.

The film succeeds in resurrecting a young black artist slain at the ripe age of twenty-five. Despite his untimely death, Shakur accomplished more in a quarter of a century then some do in a lifetime. His music continues to inspire those who wish to look beneath the exterior of this acquired land. Directed by the esteemed Benny Boom and Producer LT Hutton, the film shows what we need to see more–black people telling their own stories. Together these two men honor Tupac’s understanding of collective and step outside of themselves to remember a fellow black man who never got a chance to stand at the height of his success. Here are some of the stand moments/depictions from the film.

  1. If Tupac is a king than its because he came from a Queen

The stand out portrayal in this film was not of Tupac himself, but of his mother, Afeni Shakur. The movie begins with Afeni Shakur’s acquittal—which she obtained through self representation months before she would give birth to the man known as Tupac Shakur. Afeni Shakur encompassed the courage, strength,and brilliance of her ancestors, making her maternal roots bound to bear superior fruit. Perhaps the most resounding line from Afeni Shakur during the film is “Your body is in prison, but your mind is not.” This line personifies the essence of blackness. From the physical penitentiary, to being forced to strive for western conventionality, the black body faces various manifestations of imprisonment-to which they can solely overcome with mental liberation.

This mental liberation definitely come at a price. The film depicts Afeni Shakur’s liberation from legal troubles as preceding a self-medicating process where the former black panther seeks to ease her losses and impoverished state through drugs. Though she overcomes her addiction, Shakur faces the unspeakable pain of having to visit her child in a maximum security prison and ultimately bury him months after his twenty-fifth birthday. Afeni Shakur illustrates the detriment of black femininity and black strength in a world that only seeks to extinguish the flame of black originality through various manifestations of misery.

  2. “Vanity asks if its popular”

The film shows a passionate Tupac salvage song “Brenda’s Got a Baby” from omission by record executives. Tupac informs the record executives who initially labeled the song “depressing” that the song derived from truth. Namely, the song came from a news story that grew fainter and fainter. This depiction functioned to illustrate that Shakur did not pursue music as a mean to obtain popularity, but to give a voice to those silenced due to their exposure of an unsettling reality.

 3. Two sides of a coin?

The juxtapositions in the film were also quite noteworthy. The film depicts a conversation between Shakur and  late rapper Biggie Smalls–which embodied a conversation between a negro and a melanated man on a journey to consciousness. Smalls wanted to inspire the masses to purchase his album, Shakur merely wanted to inspire. Though this depiction is not harsh or judgmental, their prompts viewers to consider the motives of artists blinded supported with an often undeserving loyalty.

  4. Humanizing the Black Rapper

I do appreciate how the film functions to soften the hardened image of the black hip hop artists. Namely, the film humanizes the bellicose nature of the East coast v West Coast feud, showing Smalls attempt to visit Shakur after the shooting. Even prior to the shooting, Smalls admonishes Shakur’s friendship with the man who will ultimately implement the action that lands Shakur in jail. This portrayal is essential in reasserting the black male narrative, replacing a fictive brutality with brotherly love.

5. A loyalty to the people

The film takes viewers back to the shooting in which Shakur comes to the defense of a black man being physically assaulted by two white men later revealed to be undercover policemen. This was perhaps my favorite moment in the entire film, because it illustrates the true gangsters of America as white not black men. This scene also affords Shakur the necessary depth to perceive him as a man bound to justice, not limited to his lyrics.

6. The blame game

The film features the extensive criticism Shakur faced from black feminist groups and the then-Vice President Dan Quale. This depiction demonstrates a strategic misunderstanding of the victim and villian. Do I condone vulgar, violent, and or mysognostic lyrics?  No. But the conscious gaze understands that these lyrics are reactionary and reflective of a society founded on these very attributes.

 7. Love without sex

Although Jada has since expressed her dissatisfaction regarding the film’s portrayal of her treasured friendship, the film’s depiction of this friendship is one of its most poignant portrayals. The bond between Shakur and the then Jada Pinkett is genuine, instant, and timeless.

But most important is the rewritten page this portrayal allots the black narrative. In depicting a loving relationship that exists outside of sex, the film counters the hyper sexualized image of black men.

8. Black Women as a pawns

The movie revisits the sexual assault accusation that landed Tupac in a maximum security prison. This case illustrates a move mastered by white oppressors–using the black woman against the black man. We’ve seen this most recently in the Rihanna/Chris Brown case, and even the R. Kelly scandal, where the western world appears to care about the violated black body, but in actuality solely cares about finding a means to incarcerate the black male. The white supremacists placed Tupac in prison with ambitions to poison his pride and purpose. They hoped it would destroy him, and when it did not, they found another means.  This violence would aid in the Shakur’s scripted murder, suggesting his violent ways merely “caught up” with him. But the conscious gaze knows it was the white supremacists who caught up with the young black artist.

9. Cory Hardrict! 

While Demetrius Shipps’ portrayal of Tupac definitely feeds the rumors of Shakur’s faked death in his physical likeness to the late rapper, Hardrict’s portrayal of Nigel is a standout performance by a highly underrated actor–an opportunity granted by a black production. 

Honorable Mention: Jarrett Ellis’ portrayal of Snoop Dogg. The voice is eerily spot on. 

While the film overall succeeds in its portrayals, there are three things that did not sit well with me. Well four, but I’ll use the honorable mention to issue this post a proper closing

  • One thing I did not like about the film was the quoting of Shakespeare by both Tupac and Afeni Shakur. Quoting Shakespeare, a covert racist, discounts the the intellect and black liberation agenda central to both Shakur and his mother’s personal ideology.   It just seems odd not to quote Dubois, Booker T. Washington, David Walker, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X,  Huey Newton or anyone directly linked to their collective plight.
  • I also did not like the hotel scene where women were placed like furniture ornamenting a caricatured rapper lifestyle. This scene functioned identically to a scene in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton. Now, I understand the pressures and sexist standards of wealth and testosterone make this a reality–so for this reason it is the act that sparks my criticism not the portrayal.
  • Although the act does positively portray Shakur as both humble and open-minded, I did not like Pac retracting his statement regarding Quincy Jones’ interracial unions, I do realize that he was drawn to Kidada, but his comment, although accompanying specific people, was a collective critique on a behavior that belittles the black collective. PAC should not have to apologize for having high standards for himself and his people.

Finally, my honorable mention.

The movie shows the last scene with Kidada and Tupac as a longing goodbye that occurs as if both know the fate that awaits the young superstar. This heartbreaking depiction also layers the often shallow figure of the black rapper as one half of an unfinished black love story.

As Shakur enters a car with the infamous Suge Knight, viewers know the end is near and I couldn’t help but wonder if Shakur did too. The film ends with Tupac cast along the driveway of the Emergency Room, bleeding from multiple wounds. The scene brilliantly portrays his final minutes as an eternity as Shakur— a son, artist and beacon of hope for so many- slowly meets an unfortunate yet predictable end.

It bothered me to watch the film end with Shakur dying in the street—but in this moment Pac lay in a position occupied by countless black bodies—male and female—since our abduction centuries ago. From the black men and women who felt the cool summer breeze seconds before their death by hanging, drowning, or stoning in the nineteenth century, to Michael Griffith who was run onto a highway by a group of abrasive white teens in the 1980s, to Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown who lay bleeding in the street after being mortally wounded by cowards protected by western fiction. The film ending separates producer LT Hutton from contemporary producers like Emma Asante, Tyler Perry, Jordan Peele etc in a refusal to romanticize the American Horror story that intractably cast their eyes, their wrath, their deficiencies, and psuedo superiority onto the black collective .

Furthermore, while this is certainly not the kind of film I’ll watch over and over again, and is far from a “must see,” I give it an 8/10–mostly for its bravery and overt dedication to reasserting the stigma of black men through one of the black collective’s most treasured figures.

Why I Will Not be Seeing Wonder Woman 

I almost did it. I selected a theatre and even looked up showtimes. As I began to mentally assemble my outfit and rework my schedule to accommodate viewing the film, I realized that I was all too familiar with this story.

Wonder Woman is yet another page in the consistent white female narrative designed to portray white beauty intertwined with an earthly anglicism. I need not see this film to know that it will portray the white Woman as the catalyst for all things good in a “bad” world.

Contrary to the ideally nurtured in the western world, the bad is seldom blatant. Both the individual and the collective have a fair chance at combatting that which they can see. The true “bad” in the world lies in Wonder Woman-like figures, whose embedded message seeks to uplift through depicting the very exclusivity that dominates the western hemisphere.

Wonder Women debuts in a climate that veils this exclusivity with the implication of “change.” Seemingly every film and television series has adopted the feminist agenda, avidly if not aggressively, feeding this fictive utopia to the masses. The film exists to promote feminism as the cure to all worldly evils, omitting of course that feminism is a worldly evil. Clad in a form-fitting costume with long and silky dark hair, Wonder Woman encompasses the conventional sexiness of a blonde with the rarity of a red head to project feminism as the height of femininity. Wonder Woman is a dark haired, dark- eyed white Woman–the pseudo “every woman” in seeming to encompass lightness and darkness simultaneously. What the casual gaze may fail to see, is that Wonder Woman resembles her target audience, and encompasses all her acquired audience wishes to become.  Her dark hair provides a strategic contrast to her fair skin, painting the “Wonder” of wonder woman as encompassing the figurative light to societal conflict or darkness.

The wonder in Wonder Woman is that she embodies the antidote to all the world’s problems. She’s Helen of Troy mixed with Hilary Clinton–a savior to white women but a mortal enemy to the woman of a darker hue.

Western childhood functions similar to this film, painting the white Woman as Wonder Woman in far less attractive variants. From the abundant white female school teachers, to the tooth fairy, Mrs. Claus, every princess from Cinderella to Snow White, the white female body is a consistent figure of humanity to the western gaze.  These figures function to embed into the black female psyche what “Superman” and “Batman” seek to implement into the general western psyche–that if you are white, anything is possible.

But as the young girl who reads these stories, attends these schools and watches these figures on television grows up, the fantasy of Wonder Woman vanishes into reality.  Instead the harsh world eventually prompts the once naive black body to wonder what was ever wonderful about these pristine figures of their childhood. Although portrayed as the hero in fictive and real scenarios, the white woman is gradually unveiled as an inevitable villain to the black female body.

So, as a black woman, I know this film functions as erasure. I know this film functions to seduce me into a amnesiac state where I falsely separate white female action and intention from white male supremacists. From the white women who chase our black men than scream rape when it goes sour, or objectify our wealthy black men as cash registers, or reduce the quotidian black man to his genitals, to the white women who abrasively target black women at work, back to the very white women who tormented the black female slaves—this movie functions to force the black psyche to accept a white hero, despite centuries of white female villainy.

White heroes, whether male, female, trans, or what have you, are never capable of saving anyone but themselves. For healing is incompatible to the autocrat, who decorates their lives with the blood of the oppressed.

Therefore, the true wonder woman will never occupy a leading role in mainstream film. She probably will never make six figures and is unlikely to rouse a shallow gaze on the street.

The true wonder woman has probably yet to arrive home from her twelve-hour work-day, her twenty-four hour job as a mother, or full- time victim of white supremacy. The true Wonder Woman sleeps at night with a six-figure debt heavy on her conscious from daring to dream outside of the confines of systemic oppression. She walks through a neighborhood of businesses owned by any and everyone but those who look like her. She faces ridicule for her skin tone, her nose, and curvy body and faces countless queries if her beauty or attributes are deemed outside the scope of blackness.  The true wonder woman is literally and figuratively raped, never respected, or rewarded. She is frozen in time, pieces of her flesh still floating throughout the Atlantic Ocean, or concealed in an unmarked grave beneath a skyscraper. She is dismembered by a system who uses her limbs to assemble their privilege and writes their laws in her blood.

She is the unspoken gospel of this poached land—the original statue of liberty—the feminine mold to which every race, ethnicity, and creed stealthy covets.

The Wonder Woman film exists to place the “wonder” into the woman concept. As a being excluded from this concept, I replace wonder with “black.” For the black woman does not need wonder, she is wonder. Furthermore, members of the black female collective need not go to the movies to view this fictive wonder woman—they must simply look in the mirror.

 

Why the “Get Out” Alternative Ending is Better for Blacks

Yesterday, a number of sites featured the alternative ending for box office smash “Get Out.” The current ending features film protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) choking his once girlfriend (Alison Williams) when a cop car pulls up. Chris raises his hands in surrender, but the body that emerges from the car is Chris’s TSA employed friend Rod (Lil Res Howery).

This ending succeeds for the following reasons:

  1. It allows the unashamed intellect to assume central placement in a scenario he predicted. So, in short, this depiction brings the story full circle.
  2. It is both realistic and fantastical: Realistically, we know that the police department is not going to over-extend themselves in search of a young black man—so Rod embarking on a one man journey to find his friend is an unfortunate truth. This is also fantastical because it is unlikely that Chris would not face charges for his actions to free himself.
  3. This brings me to the third reason why the current ending is function. The current ending is functional because it does not require any contemplation beyond the credits. The current ending provides the readers with a “feel good” moment so resounding that the historical allusion to antebellum bodies used for medical experimentation fades in feeling like the odds have shifted to favor of the oppressed.

In contrast, the alternate ending shows an incarcerated Chris conversing with Rod from a maximum security prison. Rod visits his friend to uncover more details about the case, but Chris is rigid and accepting of his fate. Chris’ behavior proves eerily reminiscent of Bigger Thomas—the protagonist of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son. As a black man who accidentally murdered a young white woman in a grisly sequence of fear-induced events, Thomas shunned all fictive hope and accepts a fate that seemed to follow him his entire life.

The alternative ending possess a similar darkness to Wright’s novel, yet exposes a rare light seen in few black bodies throughout western trajectory. This rare light illuminated in blacks like Nat Turner who incited a rebellion against southern slave owners in 1831. In this alternate ending, Chris, like Turner, knows the consequences that awaits a black man who attempts to improve the lives of his collective, and takes said consequence as an informal trophy of his achievement.

This alternative ending’s omisison results from a failure to appease a preconscious audience in the same manner as the current ending—illustrating that the film’s primary purpose is not to familiarize audience with an under-discussed horror of slavery, but to present audiences with a “happily every after.”   .

Blacks who covet the western dynamic of a “happily every after” are easily controlled because they seek a conventional reward for their actions. Any action that will lead to the liberation of African people solely constitutes western consequence- and that is what the alternative ending illustrates to an audience filled with those seeking to escape realities they believe to encompass the world outside the movie theatre. This suggests that maybe it is not Chris that has to “get out” of a contemporary plantation, but the contemporary mind that must abandon a dependency on a fantasy.

This dependency leaves many blacks disappointed and disillusioned proving the alternative ending is better for blacks. Although the western world benefits from beliefs of the contrary, black life is not about that “feel good” feeling. The quest for this “feel good” feeling imbues physical and materialistic gluttony, fueling the contemporary enslavement of black bodies.

The film paints its protagonist in the image of a contemporary “hero,” whereas the alternative ending paints Chris as a traditional hero. The contemporary hero gains where the traditional hero lost, but it is the traditional hero that possessed the height of black existence. The height of black existence is not found in conventional gain but realizing that freedom is not free, but worth any an all consequences it might incur.

So director Jordan Peele can state that because “the world shifted” and the world “needed a hero” he had to change the ending, but the conscious community knows Peele changed the ending to thwart any chance of the black world having a hero, or even finding a hero within themselves. Instead he choose to cash out, and appease his master. The outcome? A number one movie and bragging rights due to Get Out being Peele’s  directorial debut.

However, what Peele could have done with this moment and his obvious talent,  was so much more.

Check out this link to view the alternative ending: http://decider.com/2017/05/30/get-out-alternate-ending/

What are your thoughts?

Everything, Everything: A Review

I always liked Amandla Stenberg. As Rue from The Hunger Games, she was convincing, sweet, strong and cute. Her beauty was and is both striking and comforting. So when she blossomed into what appeared to be an intellectual and activist, she seemed a stroke of hope for the post-millennial generation. But in hindsight, I see that I was supposed to feel this way. Stenberg, functions as a mulatto cast to play both sides— to reel in black woman convincing us that she is “one of us”—to convince us that we are seen, heard and thereby represented. Stenberg is a strategy of the white world–designed to do exactly what she’s done –change up when we’re not looking.

Therefore, it seems only fitting that her first starring role feeds the contemporary fascination with interracial romance and biracial women. What makes the feature a tad more interesting is that Everything, Everything, a film designed to pollute the young black female’s mind with thoughts of interracial romance, is an overt product of black women. Namely, the book is written by Nicola Yoon, a black woman of Jamaican descent, and the film is also directed by Stella Meghie—a black woman. The black female presence associated with the film is undeniably a plot of the western world designed to validate the portrayal of a young black woman in her coming-of-age tale by suggesting the ones pulling the strings are black women themselves. This however is false, because the depths of systemic oppression program the black psyche solely with self destructive thoughts and images. It also imperative to note that the black author and producer, much like Stenberg, value visibility over the quality of portrayal. Their role is not to incite the masses to change the world,  but to convince an oppressed people that the antidote to their cyclical disenfranchisement is opening their heart to a white man.   Thus, the “everything” referenced in the film’s title has little to do with the actual story and everything to do with the carefully selected ingredients mixed together to feed the black female collective a poisonous cake designed to diminish the power of black love.

Amanda Stenberg, stars as Madelyn (Maddy), in the film adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s novel Everything, Everything. The novel and film function as a nuanced Rapunzel, where the sheltered princess longs to know the world beyond her window after falling in love. The twist on this age old story is that “Rapunzel” does not have long blonde hair, but 4a curls, because Rapunzal is a biracial black girl. The film predictably ends with the princess running into the sunset with her white prince—freed from her controlling mom—the story’s villain.

The film is an interesting “coming out” film for young actresses Amanda Stenberg, who in recent years has become a sort of contemporary activist. Her 2015 Youtube video “Don’t Cash Crop on my Cornrows” made waves for calling out white appropriation of black culture. Despite its resounding and well articulated thesis, Stenberg’s purpose was lost to many that could not get past her straight style worn during the video. These days Stenberg is natural and has seemingly traded in her processed locks for a processed mind. As the star of yet another means to incite interracial romance between white men and black women, Stenberg, a body that once seemed an ally to the black female plight to liberation, is now being used against us—a pattern entirely to familiar to the black collective. Namely, Stenberg as the film’s protagonist— a “kind of” black girl “freed” by a white man, paints her previous acts as reactionary not revolutionary. Her current actions are undoubtedly ones of survival, but demonstrate that she wishes not to be the artist but the art—open to be molded and interpreted as desired.

In the film, Maddy tells her beau that “I cannot think when I am around you.” To which her white lover states “Thinking is over rated.” This bit of dialogue was most likely an attempt at wit, but unveils the true nature of interracial dating. To date outside of your race is to suspend yourself into a thoughtless state, where the same subconscious inundated with ideas of black inferiority guides your body to America’s fictive prince.

The Maddy’s mother, Dr. Pauline Whittier, (Anika Noni Rose) is perhaps the most fascinating character in the film. After losing her husband and son in a car accident, Pauline shields her daughter from the cruel world by confining her to their house. Pauline is a wealthy doctor who has the means to craft this fictive world where she controls with whom her daughter interacts. The mother is portrayed as obsessive and delusional— attributes that are not untrue but incorrect in application. She is not mentally unstable for attempting to shield her daughter from the hurt she believes exists in the world. She is mentally ill for misunderstanding the depths of her oppressed state. As a wealthy and accomplished professional, it seems the mother either forgot or perhaps was never aware of how white supremacy hypnotized her into believing her conventional success alleviated her status as a white supremacist victim. The world was not its most cruel in seizing her loved ones, because the sole promise in life is death. The world was cruel in nurturing this black woman to fall in love with this white man and conversely fall out of touch with the world around her. In the end, the mom shields her daughter from the world, but can not shield her daughter from herself. Namely, Pauline still manages to breed her daughter in the image of her subconscious enslavement. Just as she sought to free herself from the cage of blackness, her daughter was simply not fulfilled in the world of black femininity where just she and her mother co-existed.

The film portrays black femininity as the dark, lonesome, restrictive tower to which Rapunzel is confined in before setting eyes on her prince. Similar to Ariel in The Little Mermaid’s wish for legs when she sees humans on the shores, when Maddy sees pale skin and straight hair she eventually develops a longing to be where the white people are, for even her latin caretaker’s olive skin and dark hair does not supplement the desire to pale skin and blonde hair.

Color plays an interesting role in the film, as the fictive prince dons nothing but black and our unconventional princess wears nothing but white-to illustrate the dichotomous desire of the film’s protagonist to be in each other’s worlds. This aligns the film with the teachings of the late Dr. Francis Cress Wesling. For example, Dr. Wesling asserts the following in The Isis Papers:

Acutely aware of their inferior genetic ability to produce skin color, whites built the elaborate myth of white genetic superiority. Furthermore, whites set about the huge task of evolving a social, political and economic structure that would support the myth of the inferiority of Blacks and other non-whites.

In short, the black plight to an illusive whiteness operates as a means to distract blacks and keep them consumed with a fictive inferiority. By programming the black psyche to internalize a fictive inferiority,  whites remain free to bask in  racial envy–desiring to be like those who they’ve hypnotized to be what they do not even want to be: themselves. Thus, it is not Olly that saves Maddy but Maddy who saves Olly.  Notably, Maddy enables Olly to exist in a fictive superiority by way of binary opposition. What is a prince without a princess? What is good without the bad? Up without a down? Black without white? Or power without the powerless? Freed from the protection of her mother, Maddy is free to take her place as the back for which her white lover will stand for the duration of their relationship.

In totality, the film incites a series of images depicting binary opposition as producing “a happily ever after,” simultaneously luring the contemporary slave back to the plantation with the promise of romance.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, A Review

The story of Henrietta Lacks is the narrative of black femininity. Lacks mirrors the exposed and dismembered Saartje Baartman in life and death exploitation, embodying the dehumanization and carelessness faced by countless black female bodies in traditional and contemporary settings.

Yet, to some, the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a resounding work of non-fiction that reveals a hidden truth. However, this read proves challenging in the ambivalence it provokes. On one hand, the book paints a portrait all too familiar to the black collective. It validates  theories that have blossomed in our minds, homes and communities for centuries, stories commonly labeled “crazed conspiracy theories.”  Simultaneously, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks seizes a prevalent story from the black collective and renders it an American secret. The film proved equally as problematic, to the extent that I was unaware if the hot tears that stained my cheeks were out of anger, sadness or hurt. Countless ideas crossed my mind while watching. The first was prompted by Oprah’s presence in the movie, which made me wonder why the film was not on OWN? Surely, if the supposed black-owned network can air Greanleaf,  a white created drama starring black people, it can tell a prominent piece of the black female narrative. This question corresponds to the most prominent question on my mind while viewing:

Why are we not telling our own stories?

The easy answer is capitalism but the covert explanation is cowardice. It seems that many feel that the story is better off told by any means necessary than not be told at all. While I understand this logic, it is careless to place our treasures in the hands of those who oppress us–directly or indirectly.   Skloot indirectly benefitted from the horrors cast onto the Lacks family, and all blacks, until given the opportunity to directly benefit from their tragedy in authoring this book.  Furthermore, Rebecca Skloot is not a hero, she is an intruder-and a thief.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a disgrace to the African art of story telling, a task to which the black collective has always demonstrated mastery.   This book takes a story connecting thousands of indigenous Africans and places it in the mouth of a white woman, who took the wheel of a ship to which she has no right to be a passenger. In short, while I appreciated the family input,I despised the white savior role played by Skloot a predictable and insulting role functioning to humanize whites In a story supposedly about black female dehumanization. The results, are of course counterproductive and ultimately surrender to elevating white female portrayal and abandoning black female truth.    For these reasons, my expectations were extremely low for the movie.

The film, like the book, focused entirely too much on Skloot. In article “Nina Simone’s face” Tanehesi Coates states the following:

There is something deeply shameful in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic.

Shameful indeed.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks film portrays a similar shame.  Namely, although her name is in the title, Henrietta Lacks is a supporting character in what is supposed to be her story, her medical injustice a backdrop to Hollywood’s attempt to illustrate the black and white woman as allies in overcoming systemic imbalance.

The dichotomy between Skloot and Deborah Lacks (Henrietta’s youngest daughter) demonstrates that white women solely take interest in the perils of black femininity when there is something in it for them. Deborah Lacks died of a heart attack in her sleep after learning the totality of her mother and sister’s exploitation and demise. The truth undoubtedly traumatized her and affected her in a manner that did not quite translate to Skloot. So even in process, the black female body dies of a broken heart and a shattered reality where the white female body rides high on revere and success made possible by a string of black female sacrifice.

In watching the film, viewers see three generations of Lacks women gone too early, sacrificed in the western revelation of power. Images of a beautiful woman with an even more beautiful smile charred like pernil over blazing flames then scraped in her most intimate area, tear through my eyes, body and soul while watching. Viewers watch as Henrietta’s demise becomes the fate of her daughters, illustrating the horror of cyclical disenfranchisement  While oldest daughter Elsie met similar physical mistreatment to her mother, Deborah also faced exploitation and experimentation behind the veil of a friendly white female face. All Lacks women casted an invaluable jewel into the western world much like their enslaved ancestors– a jewel pawned, poked, and prodded solely to profit those of the majority.

Similarly, Lack’s story demonstrates that beneath the polish and prestige of the American university is the hollowed black female body, gutted as a Western sacrifice. Lack’s posthumous dismemberment and objectification substantiates why no black body should aim to attend any of America’s premiere institutions like John Hopkins, a university that has earned revere from between the legs of a prematurely deceased black female body.

These troubling images intensify when viewers see the abusive picture of Lacks’ eldest daughter Elsie. Elsie, a purely beautiful but handicapped child, was a patient at a mental institution that would later be revealed as performing experiments on their patients without consent. The picture of Elsie in her file captures a white hand aggressively holding her tearful face towards the camera. The picture was taken only months before she died at the age of fifteen. This component of the story illustrates that for every systemized black female body, there are at least a dozen more in the fold.

Moments like these are not brilliantly portrayed but resonant simply in fact. The portrayal of the black people in the movie is both degrading and insulting. Every black body given significant camera time appears unstable and overzealously pious. It is true that religion is a central component of blackness, however, these portrayals occur without dignity and portray real people almost comically if not bizarre.  These portrayals, caricatured by a white gaze, reveal the persistent issue with black representation not only in Hollywood but in America.

The film and book epitomize the essence of a white savior. This role takes full form in revealing that  Skloot’s publisher instructed her to “eliminate the family.” Skloot writes extensively about this in her book and it is of course a prevalent component of the movie. This information surfaces to establish Skloot’s credibility as a journalist and has nothing to do with telling Lacks’ story in its entirety. Alienating blacks from family is a central component to oppression, as it not only dismembers the black collective as a unit, but renders our conflicts as isolated rather than interconnected.  If  Skloot truly desired to deviate from the conventions of white supremacy,  she would have omitted herself entirely from the prose and placed Deborah’s name on the book. She did neither.  Skloot does donate SOME of what she earns from the book, movie and speaking engagements  to a foundation established in Lack’s honor, but had the Lacks family only allotted some of their story Skloot’s project would have never become a reality.

This brings the conversation back to sacrifice versus contribution. Skloot arguably made a contribution to journalism and nonfiction by authoring this book. Henrietta Lacks and her family made a sacrifice to this project, yet just as Henrietta’s name is not on a tombstone above her grave, the name of her family, who contributed extensively to the cause are also invisible in the products of their beloved Henrietta’s legacy.  Yes, despite her contributions to science, Lacks laid in a muffled plot with her mother and other relatives with no grave marker for decades. This may seem like a reflection of poverty, but the nameless black female body in death depicts her faceless and otherwise insignificant status in life.

Elsie also lies in an unmarked grave near her mother, those sad brown eyes referenced in the film seemingly cognizant of how her story would end. These sad brown eyes are present throughout the black diaspora, beautifully tragic and still. The conscious brown eyes cast among this HBO film were also sad, because this story does not resurface to publicize our suffering but as yet another effort to dispel whites as inherently racist. Ironically, in execution and process this film is  racist.  The film casts every black body into the role Henrietta Lacks—except it was our cells that were abducted but our story.   Thus, in short the film fails in telling Lacks story with dignity but authors an essential page in the black female narrative, a page that reads

“There is a photo on the wall of a woman I never met, but I see her at work, on the television. In the characters I encounter while reading. I see her in the mirror, and hear her unspoken voice when I speak. She is me and I am her.”

Every member of the black collective has a face that hangs on their wall or in an abandoned photo album. While this face bears a vague familiarity it is one never seen in life because this once vivacious body died prematurely.  The details around their death is foggy, but most family members have buried their queries and suspicions with their loved one. Henrietta Lacks embodies all these family members across the black diaspora who were used, abused and left for dead. She embodies the temperate beauty of someone who generally wishes to do good in a world that has solely handed them everything bad.

Black women are all connected, and thereby all abducted, systemized, raped, objectified and dismembered. We are also all story tellers, so it is imperative that we tell our own stories. Like Harriet Washington does in Medical Apartheid and Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, it is time that we resurrect our murdered and cyclically disenfranchised elders and youths to breathe life into those left lifeless by western systems.

In famed poem “Harlem” Langston Hughes considers all the possibilities of a dream deferred. However, the query the Lacks story prompts is “What happens to a story untold?” It doesn’t stink like rotten meat, it doesn’t explode… it’s stolen. Just like our native tongue, our last names and indigenous culture, our stories are constantly abducted and sold for profit just like the bodies seized from the coast of African centuries ago.

In closing, blacks in America often do not tell their own stories because we are not taught to be groundbreaking. We are nurtured to aim merely to walk above the ground. There is a moment in the film where Skloot and Deborah Lacks are in the place where Henrietta and Elsie are buried and Deborah stands above their graves and reflects. This scene, while the creative liberty of the producers, illustrates what blacks have been told to do. To go against the grain is to be ground-breaking, to break the ground beneath you and unveil the buried and forgotten atrocities destined to resurface in ignorance. It is easy to forget about the ugliness that has consistently befallen us as a people in moments of temperate happiness, but the exploitation of Henrietta, Elsie and the millions of other black female bodies that lay cold beneath the ground, compromised by Western greed and cavalier disregard reminds us that as a collective we forgive and forget far too easily.  Those beneath the ground hold the answers to our questions and the key to our future, and those above the ground solely seek to seize and clone not Lack’s cells but her anguish for their own advancement.

Thus, if viewers take anything from the Henrietta Lacks story let it be the importance of learning our stories in their entirety as unlearned history is bound to repeat itself. Furthermore, despite the urge to look forward, we must never forget to look back.

Be aware. Be careful. Be wise. Beware.