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2013 S&A Highlights: Are There Stories That Should Only Be Told On Film By Black Filmmakers?

by Tambay A. Obenson
December 31, 2013 2:21 PM
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Editor's note: As 2013 comes to an end, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the third of many to come, originally posted in January 2013, which drew lots of conversation, on and away from this blog. Happy New Year to you all! 

In light of recent news that Spike Lee has been replaced by Tate Taylor to direct Brian Grazer's James Brown biopic, and all the ire that the news was met with within the black community (not all of us, of course)...

The topic came up in a conversation I had with a friend this morning, and I thought that I'd pass it on to you folks to discuss, as I'm curious to read what you have to say about it, expecting a variety of responses.

So, as the title of the post states, are there any topics/subjects at the center of stories told on film that you think should ONLY be written, directed and produced specifically by people of African descent? Are there any that you feel are completely off-limits to non-black content creators?

As I recall, one of the reasons Spike Lee wanted to make Malcolm X sooner instead of later, was because he didn't want a white director to do it before he did - that director being Norman Jewison, who was Warner Bros' choice to helm the film, but who would later bow out (although he said it wasn't because of the protest against his directing it, but because he, Jewison, wasn't satisfied with the script penned by African American playwright Charles Fuller).

Although Spike himself faced the wrath of some from within the black community, like Amiri Baraka, who didn't feel Spike was qualified for the job at the time, and was vocal about it, telling Newsweek, "Based on the movies I've seen, I'm horrified of seeing Spike Lee make Malcolm X. I think Eddie Murphy's films are better."

But that's another conversation for another post.

And of course, we've all been privy to some of the push-back against Quentin Tarantino (a white filmmaker) writing and directing a movie about slavery.

As I recall, Steven Spielberg directing The Color Purple was also a point of contention. 

Back to the original question... Charles Fuller himself chimed in during the Spike/Jewison/Baraka/Malcolm X fiasco, adding, "To say some black or white person should not participate in an art form is inconsistent with being an artist."

So, piggy-backing that quote from Fuller, does he pretty much answer the question of whether there are certain stories that should be told only by members who belong to the same group that the subject of the story is a member of?

Note that I'm not asking whether only black people can tell stories about black people, but, again, whether there are certain specific stories of, or kinds of stories about black people that you believe should only be told by black artists.

And of course you could flip the question and ask the same thing about certain stories about women that women might feel only women storytellers should tell (you might recall some weren't too pleased with the fact that a man - a white man - told the story about a young black girl in Beasts Of The Southern Wild); also, some within the LGBT community might feel that certain stories about people from LGBT groups should be handled by artists from LGBT groups, and so on, and so forth...

You get the point, right?

But history is littered with examples, so clearly this is a point of contention, with some who believe that there are indeed certain stories that are off limits to storytellers that are outside the group that the subject of the story belongs to; and there are those who disagree.

It's a simple, yet, not-so simple question; but what I'm simply trying to find out is whether there is indeed a divide when it comes to this matter. And if there is (which history tells me), I'd like to hear arguments from both sides.

Dig in...

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  • CorrosivePoet | April 19, 2014 7:43 PMReply

    WI recently premiered a short story that i had written about a young lady i had known for years through her sister - her sister and i had dated in high school - that dealt with her being drawn into prostitution through a boyfriend she is seeing. At the reading i was instantly attacked by the african americans in the audience, particularly the women for my portrayal of the young woman as a stereotype of the black female as *ghetto* and *ratchet* and uneducated. As a writer, i consider it my artistic duty to portray reality, not write in idealistic, stereotypical or prejudicial terms. Having written the story completely as it unfolded in front of me, am i in the wrong?

  • turner | December 31, 2013 8:25 PMReply

    No- the same answer to the question: "Are there stories that should only be told by white filmmakers?"

  • anon | December 31, 2013 5:11 PMReply

    As much as I apreciate ray and like cry freedom alot of these blk movies made by whites are wishy washy they dont have that "oomph" there is something different something more powerful when a black person makes a movie about the blk experience. I'm sure malcom x would have been fine with a white director but with spike? wow! you know you are watching the real thing; a film with teeth and credability. The only movie i can say that had a similar feel by a white director was the colour purple and i believe thats because maybe spielberg could relate somewhat to the experience of being a oppressed beause of his jewish heritage other than that the blk movies especially the biopics made by whites to me are unnconvincing.
    12 years a slave is another example of a movie in white hands would have NOT had the same impact.

  • dl | December 31, 2013 4:47 PMReply

    its only "art" until its ready too be released then its business! when the distributor and producers get involved its no longer just an artisic statement. Many filmakers are making films that DONT get to see the light of day so the powers that be are the ones who pick what ART gets to be seen by the masses so I dont buy this "art" theory. It's a question of respect for me.
    Do white filmakes respect black culture and history judging from the nina simone debacle this clearly is NOT the case. When there are as many films made by blacks and other people of colour about the white american and european experince like the holocaust, the irsh famine and the french revolution as well as white "heroic" figures then we can discuss "art"

  • Vanessa | March 10, 2013 9:11 PMReply

    America has two nations in one country who have always been enemies. Only one of the two rules. You can be black in America but there is not such thing as a Black American. Black people own a lot of things. Manage and have influence. But control anything? No. That will never happen here. Fame and fortune is not ownership. Ask Oprah.

    If I advertised for some sisters to do a booty call in front of the lens of a camera. They would form a line around the block. Ask them to support something that does not involve lude behavior and hold your breath. Our problem is we do not understand our history is not immigrant. It's hostile. It is still hostile. Whites will never stop fighting against blacks being equal with them. Are you kidding.

    We need to understand what runs this country is old money, family money and power. And we carry their names but we're not their family. Oh that sounds hostile? Of course it does. That is how brainwashed we are. We can't even talk about it because it might offend them. Jeez louise!!! Their names are brands on us, that continue to tell us, they are in control. They owned and controlled our ancestors. Most of what Black people acquired after slavery is missing. Land, money, possessions. All gone. By who? The same system that is running things today. Imitating them has never worked for us. Yet every generation continues to do it. We buy their hair and put it on our heads. We dress like them. We talk like them. We are them---only difference is skin, hair and eyes. A people who have never known their own identity and settle for what they want that to be can never control anything.

    The Indians are still trying to tell their story. They thought they could could do it too. Just blend in and become like them. Has that worked? This is not a hopeless rant. It is a reality check. If our ancestors could get up and see what we've done, they would request to go back to their graves. Progress? Where? How do you progress when you don't know even know who you are? African, African, African. What the hell does that even mean? If it's home, why didn't we all go back there? Why do we visit and come back here with our 'African' American pride?

    Our BIGGEST problem is that we are always telling and boasting of WHAT happened to us but never explore WHY? That is our poverty.

  • David Coleman | November 13, 2013 8:29 AM

    @ Vanessa, I totally agree with your statement!

  • Keith | January 25, 2013 9:17 AMReply

    As an American writer of African-descent I find this question a challenging one. I certainly believe artists/writers should be able to do whatever they want... in an ideal, race-free world. However, we all know who has the power in Hollywood and theater (and we know why). We all know that many black (and brown) screenwriters and directors are pigeon-holed or overlooked (and we know why). With that said, I think if black and brown filmmakers were sought out for our own stories in Hollywood, well, the revolution will not have to be televised. Now here's my list of what [they] can't touch: slavery stories with central black characters, urban stories with central black characters, rom-coms with central black characters, any story with central black characters, well, unless, UNLESS the revolution is televised and the institution of racism crumbles, OR they admit that their privilege is a handicap and it's best to leave black narrative to those who understand it and ALL its complexities.

  • Alphonso | January 23, 2013 7:20 PMReply

    The words story telling really means point-of-view. Well I believe anybody can tell a story about any subject matter that they have a passion for and have done the proper research to hopefully capture the essence of the subject. Having said that from a so-called intellectual point of view, without the experience and or actual relative knowing-ness of a subject matter, how valid is that filmmakers point of view. Where are the little details, the magic of the time, the nuances of character and the sensitivity to the subject at hand? To cover a subject is to who's benefit or is it just for the entertainment value? There are many questions that need to be answered. Are the stories being told from the outside in or from the inside out? Stories about a legend who made his or her life and deeds historic is something interesting to document. ..and to what benefit is the question? They were once living spirits that no longer are amongst us. What made them so great and what makes their life worth making a movie about it. Hopefully the cause of making a movie about someone like this is of global benefit in today's marketplace. (Ray, was a good example) So my question is who can make the movie for the "greater good" benefit. One would think it be from one of it's own to be first in line...?

  • Larry | January 22, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    In a perfect world no, but let's deal with reality, black folks have everybody tell our stories more than us telling our own stories. Have you ever seen a Black Man direct a story about the holocaust, the answer is no, a black person would not get the funding to tell that story because Jewish people would feel uneasy about a Black Man telling their story. I'm just saying hollywood is hyprocritical in who's allowed to tell stories and how those stories are told, it's like the old racial streotype the whiteman got to come in tell black folks story to make it important, because we couldn't do it own our own or we need them to be shown the light about our own issues to do better and for them to create heros for us because we don't have the intellect to articulate it right. So Tambay what you are saying is stuck in fantasy land because in reality it's so lopsided that what you are asking doesn't make any sense because the industry is so unbalance when it comes to images and people of color allowed to tell their stories. You should be asking why are more and more films being funded about black people by white directors than black stories by black directors from the studio system. Django Unchianed would not have gotten an 85 million dollar budget and released if it was by a black director, every studio in town would have said no. So stop posting topics like this as if we are in a balanced and fair society.

  • dl | December 31, 2013 5:15 PM

    Pretty much said what i said but in a rawer fashion!

  • Agent K | January 20, 2013 1:22 PMReply

    I think the title should have started with "In the system we live in today..." then the answer would've been more clear at least.

  • GG. | January 20, 2013 10:00 AMReply

    People confusing black actors telling a universal story with the black experience being the center of the story being told through black actors. Two different things.

  • Libby | January 20, 2013 8:51 AMReply

    I find this conversation fruitless and not based in reality.
    It's not about if others can out stories, but do we have the access to tell our own stories.
    Giving examples of whites telling black stories only means something if black people had equal chance to tell the same stories.
    It's like having a room full of white directors deciding if they will tell the life of Nat Turner and then claiming which ever one was pick was the best when no black person was in the room.
    It seems people are quick to say race/ ethnicity means nothing when it comes to black storytelling, but how about other groups? I think Steven Spielberg directing shindlers list was shaped by his Jewish heritage. Do I think Martin Scorsese being Italian gives him special insight and nuances to write and direct about Italians? Yes.
    I think in certain stories who you are does play a role. So what? It's not a bad thing.
    I have often seen stories supposedly told about black people turn in white saviors films.
    So act as if race and ethnicity does have any pact in storytelling, it's a lie

  • Agent K | January 19, 2013 8:02 AMReply

    Am I the only one that get this gibe of white men can tell stories of black people better than black people themselves? A few people on here already admitted it.

  • Libby | January 20, 2013 8:54 AM


  • JMac | January 19, 2013 11:34 PM

    I certainly got that vibe Agent K. It almost seems like some are intentionally overlooking how black filmmakers/screenwriters/artists are treated in the mainstream industry. If one group has been and still is being coddled while the other is generally locked out, what results do you expect from the mainstream? When we go indie, the picture is much better. Guess some people don't understand that by making statements like "anyone can tell our story" or "some of the best black films come from whites" they are being complicit in the inequity. . . not just complicit in it but encouraging it. Why not have white actors play all black characters? It's all about talent and ability, right? Better to take the easy, politically correct road and let others tell our stories than to claim our ownership and improve quality.

  • Mark & Darla | January 19, 2013 2:58 PM

    Don't admit, that being said two white directors did excellent work story telling black experience Michael Roemer (Nothing but a man) John Berry (Claudine). Then you have Ossie Davis (Black Girl) superb work and Spike Lee (Crooklyn) great work.

  • Dee | January 19, 2013 3:44 AMReply

    Anyone with the right resources can make a film.

    Great film making requires empathy. Without it you can't tell anyone's story with conviction.

  • JMac | January 19, 2013 12:27 AMReply

    True -artists can and do tackle any subject they want to. However, I'll look sideways at any black artist who prefers to work on anything other than black themed movies. I will always prefer to see a black themed movie written, directed and produced by black artists (and hopefully major black film studios). These films will not always be hits - what film by any race or group does that - but I find when whites do these types of stories something often gets lost in the translation. It's missing genuineness or reality. The perspective is off or just wrong. Sometimes it can be as harsh a distinction as listening to Little Richard's Tutti Frutti vs. Pat Boone's version, lol.

    I would say just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. The argument assumes we're all on the same level playing field when we obviously aren't. America and the world is not postracial. Black filmmakers aren't given the same tools, respect, access, and freedom as their white counterparts. The only people truly benefitting from the "anyone can make art about anything" belief are white males. It'll be a cold day in hell when a black filmmaker/black studio does an epic, high budget fictional biography of George Washington.

  • Bee | January 19, 2013 3:59 PM

    You are exactly right! Especially: "I would say just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. The argument assumes we're all on the same level playing field when we obviously aren't." That seems to be the point that so many folks are missing or else refuse to see.

  • other song | January 19, 2013 5:39 AM

    Thank you! this is why this question is so stupid. In 2013, are we really still talking about whether or not Black stories can be told from another's perspective? I thought we'd be way past that by now and actually producing those stories.

  • Bondgirl | January 18, 2013 10:07 PMReply

    If you haven't learned anything from reading the numerous comments on S&A, know that a black person in charge doesn't guarantee the film to be told with ingrained cultural nuance. We all have varying opinions on the black experience. Not every black person working in Hollywood is progressing the black power movement, anymore than the folks working at the post office are. Besides that, it's hypocritical to have a "blacks-only" policy within the very institution who you accuse of doing it to you. Tit for tat is never gonna be to the black man's advantage; you won't win while cupping your hand to Hollywood.

  • CareyCarey | January 20, 2013 9:17 AM

    "Yes, the black experience is unique, but isn't it also better to make this claim on an individual basis?" ~ Bondgirl. Yes that's true b/c it's a fact that black storytellers/directors jack-up "black" stories, too. Sparkle immediately comes to mind, ugh. On the flip-side, who remembers the film Red Tails and it's director, ugh. But in defense and support of my position, I am reminded of the films Eve's Bayou and Daughter's Of The Dust. In the hands of a white director, would the final products been "better"? Which scenes in both films would resonate with the soul and experiences of a white director and thus form a vision in their mind that he or she could then ask of his black actors? I am suggesting that there's undoubtedly elements of the black experience that white people cannot relate to nor own, so it's highly questionable whether or not they can form a vision of that experience.

    Without a doubt, a black individual experiences life on a different playing field than a white skinned individual. I don't care if he or she is a suck-ass, Uncle Tom, Republican, Micheal Steele, married to a white person, gay, rich or a poor garbage picker, his skin color will or can dictate his reaction to a bevy of stimuli. Then, those events are etched in his mind for the rest of his life. Those memories will be different from that of a white person. Which leads me back to my position that some stories are best told by those who are speaking from experience. Hey, I've heard it said that if you're going to write a book... you should write about something you KNOW.

    I hope that gives a better understand of where I am coming from.

  • CareyCarey | January 20, 2013 7:31 AM

    Btw Bondgirl, Hunger had nothing to do with a person's skin color. So I believe the color of the director is irrelevant. The major themes of that story were politics, power and oppression. So I am sure Mr. UK Black Man could relate.

  • CareyCarey | January 20, 2013 7:15 AM

    Bondgirl, I love you. If I had your hand I'd throw mine away b/c you've captured the essence of what I've been trying to articulate --> "They intrinsically know what the character is feeling, or how they would naturally act/say as a male or female." Yep, that's it. But of course the standard argument against that belief is that we are all humans and therefore experience the same emotions irregardless of the events that precipitated said feelings. I can't argue against that b/c it's true, so I guess my argument rests in the hands of the fine details within the story-line. What were the events that caused the "reaction"?

    But here we go again. This argument has worn many faces ( i.e. Scandal "Ms. Pope is not a black woman, she's just a woman", Django, The Help, Gay vs. Straight, black comedy vs. white comedy) the color of the characters and the storyteller shouldn't make any difference, right?. Anyway, there are those who believe there are no distinct differences between a black women and a white women, only their skin color. The same can be said about the gay person and the straight individual... their differences rest solely with the sex of their mate, right? Okay, if one believes that to be true and frames their argument in those parameters, it's doubtful a consensus will ever be reached. However, since a story consists of a storyline -- that which ebbs and flows and takes on different forms as the story progresses -- I think it's important to address the small details within said story.

    Now, do I believe that Pariah would have been exploitative and/or defunct of "blackness" in the hands of Andrea Arnold? Bondgirl, you know I'm not going to step in that :-). I will say that since my step-daughter is a black lesbian and I've been around her friends and "wife", I believe some of the scenes in Pariah may have been a direct reflection and result of Dee Ree's involvement in the gay community. Since her vision is a direct result of her experiences, there's no doubt that the final product(that which we saw reflected on the screen), if put in the hands of Andrea Arnold would have been "different". But again, there are those who believe "black love".." a black vibe" "black swagger"... and a black vernacular are just words... so any ol' Betty Crocker can "do it". And do it better than the right black storyteller. I say hogwash.

    Although I am being somewhat facetious, I believe you see the gist of my argument. I am not arguing against what a white storyteller can't do, because as you've pointed out, they've done it in various forms a hundred times over. They are the masters of writing fiction and black characters. Any history book will tell us that. I am saying the devil is in the details/script/plot/story-line/narrative/small nuances. So maybe, sometimes, depending on the story and the goal of the film, the right black person could do it "better" than any ol' Joe Schmoberger who's only bringing his skin tone and white privilege to the table.

  • Bondgirl | January 20, 2013 1:22 AM

    "If the narrative of the film rests heavily on the "emotional" and "psychological" experience of a black person in America and that narrative is born from a vision of the director, I believe a black person might be the " better" choice."<<<---This is understandable, but I sure wish your filmic examples weren't lost.

    Of course it's difficult to Monday morning quarterback, but do you think that Pariah in the hands of Andrea Arnold would've been exploitative and/or defunct of "blackness"? What blackness did Dee Rees add stylistically? What about Middle of Nowhere in the hands of Patty Jenkins? You and I seem to be in agreement that the source material/screenplay will have a lot to do with the "black experience" being injected, right? A white man wrote Coming to America, and a white man directed it, yet our cultural nuances were definitely a part of the film. One could argue that said nuance was used as a device, however, it was a comedy.

    There are some who are simply interested in black directors because they are hardly used. I don't see your argument wrapped in that approach. Seems you are saying that black directors have a "shorthand" with a written black character borne out of their own pain and suffering. They intrinsically know what the character is feeling, or how they would naturally act/say as a black male or female? Am I correct?

    If so, I can see your point. Although, I'm surprised often at some of the projects I thought were written by a black writer, only to find out some Jewish guy wrote it. I'm not crying if they don't get to tell our stories, but it feels like a form of censure.

  • CareyCarey | January 19, 2013 9:33 PM

    @ Bondgirl, DAMN... what can I say.... I lost my comment so I'll just give what's left in bits and pieces.
    Do you believe white filmmakers face a similar "burden of representation" as black directors/storytellers? I am suggesting that since they are white, could they be conscious of how they will be perceived by their "piers". And thus, possibly shape their story to appease "their" crowd. I believe that's true, so I will continue to say, put my money on black.

  • CareyCarey | January 19, 2013 9:21 PM

    @ Bondirl, my comment got jacked b/c the system was forcing me to break it up. So if it makes no sense, blame it on the game :-) But the following 3 posts were part of my reply... disjointed as they may be.

  • CareyCarey | January 19, 2013 9:14 PM

    I agree, Training Day was not a film I would define as a "black experience". But one must agree that there are life experiences that are distinct to the black man. Therefore, if the narrative of the film rests heavily on the "emotional" and "psychological" experience of a black person in America and that narrative is born from a vision of the director, I believe a black person might be the "better" choice. But again, it definitely depends on the storyline.

    I feel that way b/c of what I posted earlier-->Without it [empathy] you can't tell anyone's story with conviction and "honesty". In other words, you can't give away that which you do not own.

  • CareyCarey | January 19, 2013 9:07 PM

    RE: Tyler Perry's films. Again, we'd have to consider each film. Case in point, there's not a white person walking on this earth who can do Medea :-). "For Colored Girl" was the creation of a black woman. Lee Daniels aside, no white person should get within 100 miles of that story. That story was definitely steeped in black relationships.

    In short, I guess we will stay divided on this--> to have a cultural edict on any biopic cannot increase the artistic merit and enjoyment of those projects."

  • Bondgirl | January 19, 2013 7:36 PM

    @Carey: Always good to hear your perspective. Now here's my question: using the same logic, should we believe that Slumdog Millionaire would've been better at the helm of Indians? Or Guillermo Del Toro was a better choice to direct Argo over Ben Affleck because he's Hispanic?

    Yes, the black experience is unique, but isn't it also better to make this claim on an individual basis? Would F Gary Gray or Kasi Lemmons make a better James Brown film or are we more comfortable with them trying?

    However, I don't think Training Day or Bklyn's Finest spoke to the black experience in America w/Fuqua. Isn't the casting of the right black actor and screenwriter more important really? And I'm having a hard time seeing what was so authentic about Lee Daniel's storytelling in Precious, or any of Tyler Perry's films.

    Black filmmakers should be in contention for a black film (any film!), but to have a cultural edict on any biopic cannot increase the artistic merit and enjoyment of those projects. I'd love to hear some examples of how it would, though.

    Btw, I thought that Steve McQueen's Hunger was a damn good film about Irish IRA's, but psst don't tell anyone...he's black. lol

  • CareyCarey | January 19, 2013 8:49 AM

    EXACTLY Bondgirl! This speaks volumes--> A black person in charge doesn't guarantee the film to be told with ingrained cultural nuance. We all have varying opinions on the black experience. Not every person working in Hollywood is progressing the black power movement, anymore than the folks working at the post office are."

    That funny but so true. In other words, I believe you're saying every person who wears black skin does not "necessarily" espouse the same cultural values. I agree. However, I believe a person's skin color (in this case black) may get them closer to the "truth". I am suggesting that in this world, a person's color is directly related to how they will be perceived, which shapes their experiences and reactions. Soooooo, I believe the commentors Tim, Dee and Jmac said something that shares my sentiments on the question "Are there stories any stories that "I" think should only be told by black people". Here they are. Tim: "I think it's less about who has the "right to tell what story than it is about how well a person can understand the experience of someone from another race. Having experienced life as a black person may give a filmaker a better understanding of their black character." Dee: Great film making requires empathy. Without it you can't tell anyone's story with conviction."JMac: I find when whites do these types of stories something often gets lost in the translation. It's missing genuineness or reality."

    Yep, again, I agree with all the above. So I am going to tweak the question. CAN A non-black person tell "my" story "better" than I? Well, using the above parameters/opinions, I have to say... ABSOLUTELY NOT!

    I wouldn't nor should I expect a "white" filmmaker to tell a story from something other than her/his perspective. Makes no sense. Black folks just need to tell their own stories in their own way, whatever way that is. ~ Walter Harris Gavin

  • Bondgirl | January 18, 2013 10:07 PMReply

    If you haven't learned anything from reading the numerous comments on S&A, know that a black person in charge doesn't guarantee the film to be told with ingrained cultural nuance. We all have varying opinions on the black experience. Not every black person working in Hollywood is progressing the black power movement, anymore than the folks working at the post office are. Besides that, it's hypocritical to have a "blacks-only" policy within the very institution who you accuse of doing it to you. Tit for tat is never gonna be to the black man's advantage; you won't win while cupping your hand to Hollywood.

  • Troy | January 21, 2013 6:03 PM

    How will black people win then? Anything positive to add other being like white people won't make you successful? What if more black stories are being told than ever before but NONE of them are directed by black people? Is there a problem then? would it be okay if no black person ever directs a Hollywood backed movie ever again does that just there is a lack of talent?

  • Mark & Darla | January 18, 2013 9:01 PMReply

    Slavery is an American story, it does not belong or own by Black American only. Any director have the right to write or direct movies regarding slavery. Two race was apart of the slavery, you can't split the two and say Tarrentino can only write about white slave owners and Lee can only write about the slaves.

  • VichusSmith | January 18, 2013 7:53 PMReply

    No. I think that stories should be told by capable storytellers. The end.

  • toexplain | January 18, 2013 6:24 PMReply

    Truth be told many Hollywood black filmmakers pass on black biopics/subject matters

  • getthesenets | January 18, 2013 5:45 PMReply


    idiot? Negro please? Didn't know that I needed your permission to challenge a (white) person, Stephen. I'm certain that he can respond for himself,Stephen.

  • Walter Harris Gavin | January 18, 2013 4:26 PMReply

    Whoever tells a story it's their story, their interpretation. Black folks rarely if ever tell stories about white folks from a "black" perspective. I wouldn't nor should I expect a "white" filmmaker to tell a story from something other than her/his perspective. Makes no sense. Black folks just need to tell their own stories in their own way, whatever way that is. As I continue to say there are as many ways of being black as there are black folks. And the same goes for "white" folks. We're all just humans be-ing after all. None of us have a patent on that.

  • Troy | January 21, 2013 5:57 PM

    So basically if a film is paid for by a big hollywood studio then it is their story. Move on people Hollywood's stories here nothin to see. These stories are only for the owners of the stories not the audience who create the market for these movies. The market is dictating that supply doesn't meet the demand. Greedy Hollywood moguls should recognize this and exploit it. If the masses want stories about people that relate to them directed by people who they relate than so be it. As long as they are willing to buy tickets for it make a movie about a woman being savagely raped. Oh they have and it was a box office success. Just give people what they want they are the ones buying.

  • Monique a Williams | January 18, 2013 4:00 PMReply

    I don't care the race of the person, just that the piece is good. If there is heart in it, its felt. Sometimes, though, the burden of representation can affect the writing and it might be better left in the hands of an outsider...

  • Troy | January 21, 2013 4:50 PM

    Interesting point of view. Do you not think the question at hand is really about limiting opportunities for minority filmmakers? I care about race to this extent. Most American born whites are the benefactors of slavery and injustice in America. If Justice was achieved most of the time it would be significantly less white people in America because their ancestors should have been locked away without the chance to reproduce. Similar injustices in business and property disputes have lead to generational wealth by some white families. Some of these families owe everything they have to slavery and racial injustice.

  • supercat | January 18, 2013 4:00 PMReply

    Yes. Colonialism and Slavery stories, should be an absolute hands off by any non black filmmaker.

  • Danta | January 18, 2013 3:13 PMReply

    Being black don't mean you can tell a black person story better. If that was the case then why was Mitacle at st Anna and Red Tails do awful. Look at movies like Glory, The Hurracain, What's Love Got To do with it, Bird, The Color Purple and A soldiers Story and Colors.All of those films were made by white film makers and all turned out to be great unlike Miracle and Red Tails.

  • Troy | January 21, 2013 4:43 PM

    Colors was racist as hell. Red Tails is George Lucas' film. Glory starred Matthew Broderick. Malcolm X was better than all of those movies to me.

  • Tim | January 18, 2013 2:27 PMReply

    I think its less about who has the "right" to tell what story than it is about how well a person can understand the experience of someone from another race (or gender or sexual orientation). Having experienced life as a black person may give a filmmaker a better understanding of their black characters (if race plays an important role in the story), but storytelling is obviously all about empathizing with and attempting to understand characters who have different backgrounds from their creators, so that's obviously not to say that a white filmmaker can't make a film that's true to the experience of people of another skin color.

  • Troy | January 21, 2013 4:39 PM

    A lot of black people from different socio-economic backgrounds don't think white people empathize with them. Some are also offended by white guilt and it as patronizing. Could this be one of the reasons minorities, women, and LGBT communities feel as if their stories can't be told by outsiders.

  • JanaSante | January 18, 2013 2:23 PMReply

    Does this question come down to a broader matter of cultural ownership? Do Black folk principally own projections of Black culture in the cinematic realm? Are Black folk owners of the principal means of distribution through which 'Black stories' are fed to the outside viewing world? Is this a distinctly American conundrum? In the battle between self-protective ethics and market forces, it appears that stories about Black people will be told by the highest bidder and by whomsoever aquires the rights to tell it their way first; be they Black or not.

  • FactChecker | January 18, 2013 2:22 PMReply

    It's difficult to say, because it's only been in the last 30 years that black filmmakers -- largely because of Spike's activism and speaking up for black artists -- have really had a shot at making any movies (indie or studio) that whites have sat up and paid attention to. And other than Malcolm X, what movie about a black icon, made by a black director, has had such a impact and resonance in our culture? The answer: None. I think if Hollywood were more inclusive, in general, in inviting more people of color to the table in every aspect of making movies (and television) -- both behind and in front of the camera -- we might not be having this discussion. Outside of Malcolm X, the made for TV movie about The Jackson's, which was helmed by Suzanne DePasse, also springs to mind as something that, I don't think a white person could have captured as genuinely and indepth as she did. Of course, Ms. DePasse was there during all the history making, so she knew the family on a completely different level, but still. ... I think Tate Taylor did a good job with the help, but it was his first feature film and it's not destined to become a classic. In 30 years people will have forgotten The Help. Just as they will have forgotten DJango. I actually don't think today's white filmmakers have a very astute awareness about race as they did between the '30s and '60s, when even fewer films with blacks were being made. The ways in which whites directing films about blacks were grounded in reality. The reality of how race was viewed, and being lived out, at the time. (Think: Pinky, The Imitation of Life, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Showboat). Those movies are classics that we still discuss and go back and watch. But aside from Denzel, and ocassionally Don Cheadle, what white filmmakers are making movies in which black people get to be viewed in contemporary terms and be three-dimensional? The answer: None. ... The majority of what's been put out in the last decade have harkened back to a segregated era. It's as if white Hollywood execs and filmmakers aren't aware that there are plenty of educated, qualified blacks who are NOW their equals in the world. ...I hope Spike can do with James Brown what he did with Malcolm X. And I do think, based not just on his experience as a filmmaker, but culturally, he does bring something to the filmmaking that a white director cannot. I think black filmmakers are much more sensitive to "outsider-ness" if they have whites on their team than the other way around. If one has never truly LIVED what it means to be in the minority or on the outside of something then I do think it's more difficult to really understand what that is like and how it affects one's psyche. And let's face it white directors and writers aren't conducting ethnographic field studies to get a sense of what that's like, so we can't expect them to bring too much authenticity to their direction of historical films. ...AND, even if they bring someone black onboard, as QT did with Django, he really didn't play up RH producing role in the project. In fact, I think QT, with his various outbursts during the pub tour shitted, many times over, on his cast and crew. In true QT style the movie and publicity centered around him and his fantasies and opinions. He's such a narcissist, that one. Finally, I also want to say that I'm so tired of black people, especially, shitting on Spike. He's a man of integrity and guts and a really good filmmaker who has done nothing, but try and lift the black race through the medium of cinema. Other than John Singleton, I don't see F. Gary Gray or Antoine Farquar or the Hughes brothers trying to help any black artists in Hollywood. All they care about is "getting mine." Meanwhile, you were able to "get yours" because someone kicked the f-ing door in for you. The latter three, in my never to be humble opinion are wussified one-hit blunders.

  • CC | January 19, 2013 4:15 PM

    One of the most thorough comments, Fact-Checker. You did a good job.

  • Deecreative | January 18, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    I think biopics are some. Look at Malcolm X, to me Malcolm is Spike's best movie. The Danny Glover Toussaint movie(if it ever sees the light of day) I feel like those stories are just too close and yes someone can feel it but to truly internalize it. I feel it's niche.

  • serpico | January 18, 2013 2:00 PMReply

    No. I'm white and I spent almost a year writing a screenplay based loosely off a real life black man. I'm hoping someone in the movie community will take notice as I shop it around. If it was ever financed, I would love my artistic input, because I feel a kinship with the black male character. I see this kinship because I don't see him as a black man, but as a Man. If someone called me out and said that I didn't have an artistic license to tell the story because I'm white, I'd say to them, "You should really leave this race issue at the door. You're part of the problem."

  • Troy | January 21, 2013 4:31 PM

    What is a man? Why is gender worthy of being distinguished? If your story lives in a world of universal traits, why should your story of a "real life black man" be told? You are not learning about yourself by writing about this man. You seem to think of yourself as sincere and righteous but if you have never considered yourself as the bad guy in a world where truly evil people a rewarded all the time, you are doing yourself a disservice. Your life maybe more interesting than this black man you are writing about. No matter how brief your comments on the subject was you show a lack of introspection. Introspection your voice depends on which seems to be depending on other people to propel you forward in life.

  • mawon | January 18, 2013 7:54 PM

    GETTHESENETS is right. He's not just a man. He's a black man. If you don't think about this race when writing the story, then you're doing a disservice to your character. White liberals are wrong. This isn't a colorblind society. Everything in this man's life has been affected by his race, and you're not more progressive or tolerant in forgetting this fact. I'm not saying a white man can't tell a story about a black man. I'm just saying you should never forget that you're writing about a BLACK man with BLACK experiences. Not a white man dipped in chocolate.

  • billy | January 18, 2013 7:11 PM

    Can't we all just...just...get along.

  • getthesenets | January 18, 2013 5:47 PM

    @ Carl

    what you've been writing the past 2 days sounds remarkably like "what's wrong ,massa..WE sick?"

    Serpico can respond for himself, Stephen.

  • Carl | January 18, 2013 5:08 PM

    GETTHESENETS...Never heard of RESEARCH. He could interview black folk, google, etc., to get all that info he doesn't know. That's how RESEARCH is done. Like in documentaries. Idiot. lol Who the fuck are you? The gatekeeper to folk who can make black films. Negro please!

  • getthesenets | January 18, 2013 5:04 PM

    @ Serpico

    If you had to just built a set of the character's wouldn't even be able to accurately name or find the grooming products that most Black men use to make it realistic.

    You wouldn't even be able to get THAT right, by yourself.

  • serpico | January 18, 2013 4:51 PM


    It's in America. If that's the way you want to go on interpreting everything, you go ahead and do that. I on the otherhand can see the universal traits in everyone, and that's where my story lives.

  • getthesenets | January 18, 2013 3:40 PM


    go spend a full year living in a mostly Black country in Africa or in the West Indies.and I think you'll become consciously aware that you are in fact a white man..(not just a man).

    that Black character that you are bringing to life, if he lives in America, lives his life as a Black man.

  • getthesenets | January 18, 2013 3:39 PM


    go spend a full year living in a mostly Black country in Africa or in the West Indies.and I think you'll become consciously aware that you are in fact a white man..(not just a man).

    that Black character that you are bringing to life, if he lives in America, lives his life as a Black man.

  • BLOB | January 18, 2013 1:52 PMReply

    What a sad, useless and ignorant question. The color of your skin should NEVER dictate whether you're qualified to tell a specific story. I mean, are we in segregation times here? Why are we dividing storytellers into racial-specific categories? The fact that this question was asked in the first place is part of the reason why there's so much racism in this country. *shake my head at this column*

  • Troy | January 21, 2013 4:17 PM

    Race shouldn't matter but invisible lines of demarcation that only exist on paper does matter. The country, state, county, and city you live in have no actual claim to the land that is demarcated for it but you pay state and federal taxes. The state of NY is a completely made up place that did not exist until someone of an existing race created it. Maybe we should only live virtually or vicariously through species non-specific, gender neutral, race-less avatars that are void of groups, communities, and also societies.

  • serpico | January 18, 2013 2:33 PM

    I agree with Blob.

  • Nadia | January 18, 2013 1:59 PM

    Oh shut up and get off your sanctimonious horse. Maybe you've had your head in the sand for the last 100 years, but clearly this is a sticking point for some people, based on how people have reacted to Malcolm X and Django and so many other films over the years (and not even just from black people, because you'll hear similar things coming from women who say men shouldn't be allowed to tell certain stories about women, or LGBT groups saying that straight people shouldn't be allowed to tell certain stories about LGBT people, and other minorities). SMH at Blob.

  • Bree | January 18, 2013 1:49 PMReply

    I wholeheartedly second Fuller. To say that anyone can't direct a certain movie because of their race is the artistic equivalent of blasphemy. That's closed-minded thinking and closed-mindedness is like asphyxiation for art. We don't need anyone telling us what kind of films we should or shouldn't be making based on our skin color or our gender for that matter.

  • Troy | January 21, 2013 4:11 PM

    Close minded is a key choice of words. Many black people and other demographics feel that people outside if their demo are indeed close minded to intricacies of the demo. Is this not understandable? Is the questioning of that unreasonable? Dumb people who liked Pacino's Scarface thinks he knows what it is like to be a Cuban American. Do we attribute this to Pacino's portrayal or the audiences ignorance of Cubans and their culture? You wouldn't think Spike Lee should direct a movie that is a compassionate portrayal of the Grand Puba of the largest clan chapter in the country who happens to be one of the best teachers in an impoverished minority school. Probably because Spike has been vocal about his beliefs and white directors you know nothing about have no prejudices that you know of so all good.

  • Curtis | January 18, 2013 1:43 PMReply

    The answer is simple. NO. This is a free world is anybody call tell a story. Some if the best black films have came from White Directors. The Coulor Purple, What's love got to do with, Ray, Beloved, Roots, Dreamgirls, Hustle and Flow and pretty soon 42 and so on. Just because you are black does not mean you will do a better job at telling a story about a black man.

  • CareyCarey | January 19, 2013 5:19 PM

    @ Agent K, how's it hangin'? So you caught that huh. Hustle & Flow may have been a vehicle for one of Terrence Howard's best performances but seriously... one of the best black films?! I think Curtis should define his definition of "best". I mean, best at what. Then again, maybe he's saying it falls in the top 200... ya think?

  • Agent K | January 19, 2013 4:50 PM

    @Curtis Seriously, Hustle & Flow?

  • CareyCarey | January 19, 2013 10:10 AM

    Curtis, way down here at the bottom, I found you walking on a very slippery slope. Do these names ring a bell --> Alex Haley, Toni Morrison, Tina Turner and Alice Walker? Curtis, oh what a tangled web we weave! I believe they -- respectively -- told the stories of "Roots", Beloved, "What's Love Got To Do With It" and "The Color Purple". So let's not get it twisted.

    But to be fair, the question is very ambiguous, not to mention highly subjective.

    What does "told by" mean? Are we talking about the director, writer(s) or the producers? Lastly, what makes Hustle and Flow and the upcoming "42" (In your opinion) some of the best black films? Really.. I'm just sayin'

  • urbanauteur | January 18, 2013 2:20 PM

    @CURTIS, we must also be [cognizant] of what WE(as a people), define as OUR HISTORICAL REALITY in these United Snakes of Amerika. and its sure not FREE nor does it rest on the back of a White Man's Burden or silk tongue Piccaninnies >director view finder<...peep the hustle not the game.

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