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

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act December 31, 2013 at 2:21PM

2013 S&A Highlights: Are There Stories That Should Only Be Told On Film By Black Filmmakers?
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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In light of recent news that Spike Lee has been replaced by Tate Taylor to direct Brian Grazer's James Brown biopic, and all the ire that the news was met with within the black community (not all of us, of course)...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...

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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