"I hate seeing us constantly shown as slaves and maids." This is what my Harlem Renaissance professor at Columbia College said one morning. He was a Morehouse alumnus and his class was one of the most challenging and memorable ones I've taken. There are many people who share his exact sentiments, but I am not one of them.
In the last two months I have watched Queen & Slim, Malcom & Marie, Judas and the Black Messiah, and The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Two out of four of these films are biopics, and all of them are traumatic in some way, especially for Black people.
And while I don't recommend anyone watch all of these movies back to back, they should be watched because they are valuable. Valuable because they are are us. From slave narratives to Black love stories, all of our stories are important.
Just like my professor, many argue that movies like The Help and 12Years a Slave satisfy the white gaze while reinforcing negative images of Black people. This is probaby true. But as someone who is process oriented and greatly appreciates historical context, I hold the evolution of African American culture in high regard.
Someone might say to this: Why do we need so many stories of Black trauma?
The necessity and value is less about the trauma and more about diversity. No two narratives are ever exactly the same. Just like each human life is unique, so is our pain and suffering. But I get it. Roots, Amistad, and Underground feel like similar stories told in different formats. In actuality, they are similar but they each give a different perspective. And new perspective is a new story all together. Schindler's List and The Diary of Anne Frank are different perspectives therfore both necessary. Just like Rain Man and Radio are both about men with disabilities but two very different stories.
Speaking of diversity, what I think is also equally important is balance. Like I mentioned, I don't recommend anyone watch all these movies in one sitting or even one weekend. I repeat: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Take in the heavy stuff slowly. Cut it with some comedy, or a little (not-so) reality tv. This is what I mean by balance.
Recently I've started reading Toni Morrison's, Beloved. About half way through the book I watched a documentary about her life and legacy called The Pieces I Am. Toni Morrison is known for depicting Black life unapologetically. Beloved can be considered a slave narrative about the ghost of a baby who haunts the home of the story's protagonist, an ex-slave.
I bring this up because some critics of Morrison's novels have argued that her work is unrealistic because it does not revolve around whites. However, reading her work, her characters are deeply and beautifully human. She often uncovers the sorrows of the Black experience, but the juxtaposition of the content and her syntax is masterful to say the least.
Again, it's all about balance. Just like Toni Morrison's poetic words balance out the darkness in her stories, I can appreciate Black trauma films when the cinematography and directing is A1.
And I'll be sure the next book I read is a little more light hearted.. No matter how painful a story is, there is usually a meaningful takeaway...if you have an open heart and mind. And if nothing else, we can learn.
Since I've been home, I've been cleaning my old bedroom. Unpacking new clothes and throwing away old clothes. Throwing away junk and making more space for myself. Keep up with my Instagram & Facebook pages in the next week to see what I'm reading, watching, and listening to!