Can A Serious Film Be Made About American Slavery?

by Sergio
June 23, 2011 4:48 AM
36 Comments
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I've been meaning to get to this topic since it was bought up briefly on last Weds (June 15th) podcast and I thought right now I would throw it out there to hear what you say. But seriously could a serious film about slavery in the U.S. be made?

Of course there have been a few attempts in the past such as: Beloved (which was a massive box office flop), Charles Burnett's Nightjohn (a truly excellent, but little seen made-for-TV movie) and...oh yes there's my favorite guiltiest of all guilty pleasures Mandingo (but that's another subject for another time...) which was a big success in its day. But no doubt that taboo of forbidden lurid sex bteween the massa' wife with her slave played a lot into the success of that film .And I don't include Halle Gerima's Sankofa on the list because it dealt with slavery in the West Indies.

But to get to the subject at hand, the answer to my question would have to be a responding NO!

And the reason is that simply that we, even in this day and age, still have way too much psychological and emotional pain and baggage still associated with it. The wounds are still too fresh, too raw. Or to put it bluntly there's simply no way you can get a black audience to watch a film in which black people are dehumanized, degraded and brutalized by white people on the big screen.

And just as well there's no way you can get white people to watch themselves dehumanizing, degrading and brutalizing black people on the big screen. It's too painful, too disturbing, too many old hidden scars to be dealt with. Best that we ignore it and pretend it was all just a bad nightmare. But perhaps even worse, pretend that slavery really wasn't all that bad as they say it was. And besides it gave full employment to black people so how could it have been as awful as they say?

It reminds me of when I attended a screening of John Singleton's Rosewood a few days before it opened to zero business at the box office. Watching the film and the grim response of the audience in the theater, which not surprisingly included a number of walks-out, I wondered who would want to see a 2 and half hour film of black genocide? (Aside from the fact that it was badly made and written film as well with a cowardly so-called hero who cuts out on his people right when they needed him the most)

No surprise therefore that practically all films that have dealt with slavery in some aspect from Birth of a Nation to Gone with the Wind to Song of the South to Raintree County to the TV mini-series Queen have totally distorted or eliminated completely the brutal realty of slavery altogether making it instead look rather romantic and quaint. Just a good time with happy devoted slaves.

Like, for example, that scene in Mel Gibson's film The Patriot in which he played a South Carolina plantation owner who somehow had no slaves, but instead a lot of really friendly black neighbors always willing to lend a helping hand. As one black character said in the film that he worked Gibson's land "willingly" . You know out of kindness of his heart because it's the neighborly thing to do. Boy, those Southern plantations owners really had it good didn't they? All those good black neighbors just helping out

Of course I can hear some saying about what about the 1977 TV mini-series Roots one of the most was watched TV programs ever in the history of television? True it was a huge success though keep in mind that it was broadcast in the midst of a brutal winter when everyone stayed home and this was before cable TV, computers, and video games. It didn't take a lot to get an audience back then.

And many historians and scholars attacked the show afterward pointing out its glaring inaccuracies and criticizing the show for being basically just another Horacio Alger story of a poor guy doing good though hard work and luck, which was basically true. And of course the fact that at the end the lead character forgives his white master when he's about to take his revenge on him for he had done to him and his family (maybe the greatest bullshit climax ever in a film or TV show) was intended to soften any rage and bitter feelings and especially to the appease the white viewing audience that everything was going to be fine

So I still stand my belief that there's no way that a serious, thoughtful film on American slavery could be made, especially in these very timid times, and be a success.

Then again if you disagree, please we would like to hear what you say. The floor is yours.

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36 Comments

  • Neziah | June 24, 2011 4:39 AMReply

    Who should direct Black Runner? Tyler Perry? Billy Woodruff? Or better yet, Jessy Terrero? Lol.

    Y'all know I'm kidding, let's get the black Orson Welles to do it, Wendell B. Harris. Or we can just get Ridley Scott to do it. Lol

  • Kia | June 24, 2011 2:06 AMReply

    Although, I do agree, a pure honest depiction probably won't get greenlit in the US. Just as well b/c I personally don't want to see a film about slavery, good , bad or honest. If one were given the go ahead, I'll bet all the money I have, which isn't that much... Spielberg or someone of that status would get first dibs on that project over say... Spike Lee. There's no way, a black filmmaker would get distribution for a true to life display of the horrors of slavery.

    With that said... sign me up for the Blade Runner remake with Idris and Naomi. :)

  • BuffaloSoldier9 | June 24, 2011 1:15 AMReply

    How are a people kept down? ‘Never know' their history.

    "If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."

    Dr. Carter G. Woodson 1875 – 1950


    “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

    Marcus Garvey 1887-1940


    "A tree without roots can bare no fruit, it will die."

    Erich Martin Hicks 1952 - Present


    Keep telling that history, our history:

    Read the novel; Rescue at Pine Ridge, "RaPR", a great story of Black military history...the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers.

    The 7th Cavalry was entrapped again, after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry.

    Read the novel, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, 5 stars Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the youtube trailer commercial...and visit the website http://www.rescueatpineridge.com

    I know you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote the story that embodied the Native Americans, Outlaws and African-American/Black Soldiers, from the south to the north, in the days of the Native American Wars with the approaching United States of America. This story is about, brutality, compassion, reprisal, bravery, heroism and gallantry. Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, the story of the rescue of the famed 7th Cavalry by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers.

    The novel was taken from my mini-series movie of the same title, “RaPR” to keep my story alive. Hollywood has had a lot of strikes and doesn’t like telling our stories…its been “his-story” of history all along…until now. The movie so far has attached, Bill Duke directing, Hill Harper, Glynn Turman, James Whitmore Jr. and a host of other major actors in which we are in talks with.

    When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; http://www.alphawolfprods.com and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for the United States Postal System in Montana, in the 1890's, “spread the word”.

    Peace.

  • R.E. Mason | June 23, 2011 12:27 PMReply

    I am one person, among droves of others, who is passionate about keeping OUR Holocaust alive to remind us of how rich and powerful our legacy is to our people and to our nation. William Grimes wrote the first fugitive slave narrative in American History—yet only a few ever heard of this man. He didn’t have the latent genius of the well known runaway slave autobiographer, Frederick Douglass, but he had the nerve to write his own story—20 some years before Douglass—without help from the hallmark white establishment. In fact, his is the first slave narrative to boldly proclaim: Written by Himself. I know this because I’ve done the research, republished his narrative and am now working on the documentary—Gina’s Journey: The Search for William Grimes. You’ll find information on this man, his book and my search for him at http//:www.reginamason.com.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 23, 2011 11:19 AMReply

    It would have to be a TV miniseries, or a multi-volume movie like that one about Carlos the Jackal.

  • Tamara | June 23, 2011 10:34 AMReply

    re: blaxploitation flix, weren’t most of these movies written/directed by White directors?

    I think so.

    And to add, the books upon which Mandingo and Drum (and others not made into film) were written by whites: Lance Horner, Kyle Onstott, Ashley Carter... "The Falconhurst Saga".

    I own these books. At one point in time had planned to formulate some sort of thesis on why these works were written in the 'time' they were written and how that time coincides (if at all) with the making or with the era of Blaxploitation.

  • T'Challa | June 23, 2011 10:28 AMReply

    Just to echo previous points, I only want to see Black films where we KICK ASS.. without being "saved" by some benevolent White character.

    No more degraded, emasculated, dehumanized, Black portrayals. No more "misery porn" (a la Precious).

    Truthfully, I only mess with foreign Black films nowadays, cuz American Black folks seem to have no power to control their own images.

  • MsWOO | June 23, 2011 9:56 AMReply

    @ Lynn:

    "Oh and Hollywood would rather create films that show whites in a positive light like in the film “The Help”, “Manderlay” or “Invictus”.

    Um... Granted, "The Help" does have its white saviour but, if the book is anything to go by, most of the whites don't actually get portrayed in a positive light at all.

    And did you watch "Manderlay," or are you just relying on hearsay (from people who didn't see it either)? If you did see it, then please pinpoint the white person that comes off positively. Seriously.

    I agree with Sergio's assertion that America cannot deal honestly and painlessly without its shameful history, and might explain why von Trier's "Manderlay" was boycotted by African-American actors (except for Glover), never mind audiences, and thereby give white audiences a repreive, and reason not to see it.

    A Danish director, a largely Black British cast, along with Isaach De Bankolé, who put in a sterling performance... Now THAT's a movie that very cleverly, and honestly, covered a lot of grey. When I say "honestly," I don't mean authentically - none of us were there to be able to give an account of the acccuracy of the time. However, it goes some way to explore human behaviour, conceit and survival instincts in difficult times. And nary a white "hero" in sight, unless your idea of heroism differs vastly.

    Actually, the idea of the white heroine who wants to be seen as saviour is turned upside down and shown, instead, to be the self-centred egotism of a virulently destructive force wanting to prove its worth by making believe it's THE creator of constructive good for all.

    Like any good story, the themes (in this case race and slavery) were wrapping paper torn back to reveal the underlying workings of the human psyche. And that's why America won't be making a serious slave narrative film any time soon... Too difficult to go there. Too deep to explore without drowning in the shame and pain of it all.

  • CareyCarey | June 23, 2011 9:49 AMReply

    Now this is a very interesting topic. I’ve read all the comments, in which many I agree with, but others... not so much.

    “Carey, which ones do you agree with”

    Well, I can show you better than I can tell you. Come on, I'm gonna take you by a friend's house. He's actually a turtle but we are going to listen in
    on a conversation between him and The Wizard. There they are over there, over there by that Wishing Well.

    *whispering* Hush up, be quiet, listen

    Wizard: "Twizzle Twazzle Twizzle Trone, time for this one, to come home"

    Little Wannabe Turtle: *yelling* "Help me Mr. Wizard... Mr. Wizard, MISTER WIZARD!"

    Wizard: "How many times I tell you? Be just what you is and what you is not. Those that do this, are the happiest lot"

    See, the turtle had a propensity to venture off into journeys that could be called a "Fool's errands". He once found himself defenseless in the face of a fire breathing dragon. All his fantasies sounded REAL sweet, and in the books, they looked REAL good. But he soon found out there's nothing like the real thang.

    Wizard: "Come on good buddy, we're taking a trip"

    Little Tudor Turtle: "Where are we going?"

    Wizard: "We are going to Black History"

    Little Tudor Turtle: "Wait, I already know about the peanut and the spook who sat by the door. I mean, last year, during Black History Month, we learned about Lorraine Hansberry and Adam Clayton Powell."

    Wizard: "Well my bumpy shelled little friend, Lorraine Hansberry did not write, "The Spook That Sat By The Door". "So come along, I think you and a few other people (Negroes) need a little schooling... I think you need the real thang"

    Little Turtle: Wait, I know that song, that's by Marvin Gay & Tammy Terrell... "ain't nothing like the real thang baby"

    Wizard: See, that's what's wrong with some Negroes. They know all there is to know about sport and play, and can sing like the birds, but are they passing down the real thang?

    Turtle: But Mr. Wizard, what is this real thang that you keep talking about?

    Wizard: Shut your mouth and you might learn something. Look at those happy-go-lucky Negroes over there. Down there sitting at that round table.

    The scene shifts to a room full of black faces. It's an auditorium filled with youth and their parents. On the stage, at a chalk board, a young black kids hurries to write a name...

    He can be heard saying the letters as he meticulously forms their outline.

    Black kid: "T.H.E T.U.S.K.E.G.E.E A.I.R.M.E.N."

    The Crowd: "That's right!" "That's my son!" "Tell the truth Boy" "That boy is smart!"

    After a series of questions, another black youth is seen standing at the chalk-board.

    He begins: "W.I.L.L.I.A.M W.E.L.L.S B.R.O.W.N"

    The Crowd: "SAY IT LOUD BOY!" "Oh shit, we gotta battle now" "Oh lawd, dem boys knows what they talkin' bout"

    The little turtle is excited because he had never heard of many of the championed black heroes. But the Wizard had seen enough. The Wizard had seen history in all it's ugliness. Consequently, he thought those jovial Negroes, those image conscience leaders of the black race, needed a taste of the real thang. With a crisp move of his magical wand, he appeared on stage in front of the mesmerized and stunned crowd.

    Cont....

  • CareyCarey | June 23, 2011 9:47 AMReply

    Cont...

    Wizard: "Hear Ye, my mislead black friends. Black History Month should be just what it is and not what it's not. Negroes that know the real truth, is the happiest lot. And, btw, that's a lot"


    Crowd: "Get outta here you crazy white man. We are free to do as we please"

    Little Tudor Turtle: "Come on Wiz, lets get out of here, they are all hyped on that Jeopardy game of "Name That Negro". And see, I can understand their disdain because I don't know what you are trying to say... either"

    Wizard: "Do you remember the name Simon Wiesential? Well, he was a Nazi Hunter. Today... TODAY, I am talking about the retched inhumanity of slavery. See, the Jewish community didn't spend their time and money on feel good board games. They didn't have time for that nonsense. They built a center that sees over 1/2 million visitor a year! It was founded to challenge visitors to confront bigotry and racism and to understand the Holocaust in both historical and contemporary context. They know they can't afford the luxury of ever forgetting the REAL thang. The American Negro is tranquilized. They rest with their bellies full of special holidays and passes to the good neighborhoods and good government jobs and good straight hair and light skin"

    Little Misguided Tudor Turtle: Please Mr. Wizard, you're making me feel uncomfortable. Besides, slavery wasn't as bad as the Holocaust, so we should just let it go. If I was a slave...

    The Wizard: "Hold it right there, the Jews were some of the first slaves and I am going to let you have your wish. I am going to take you back to the shores of Africa. I'm going to be with you, but you will not be able to see me, but you will be able to hear me. When you have a problem, speak to me and I'll respond"

    Little Turtle: "BUT!"

    The Wizard: "But nothing, lets go"

    The little turtle has again made his move too soon. The wizard waved his magic stick and the turtle was off to Africa. We see him as a proud king standing over his flock. He's in the Congo. It's a hot and humid summer day. He hears a cry from afar, off in the brush. Then the scene changes. We hear the voice of the little turtle.

    Little Turtle: *yelling* "Mr. Wizard!" "Mr. Wizard!"

    Wizard: "Be quiet my son, there's nothing you can do now. You're at the bottom of a dark and dank slave ship"

    Little Turtle: "But where is my father?" "Where is my mother?"

    Wizard: "It doesn't matter now, you will never see them again. Conserve your energy and hold on to life. How do you feel?"

    Confused Little Turtle: "My back is on fire and there's an awful smell around me"

    Wizard: "That smell is death! That man chained next to you, he died several days ago. The man laying above you is dying of dysentery. That substance on your chest, and the rest of your body, is his bowel movement. That's also the feces of several slaves in the tiers above him. Lay still, that pain in your back is your flesh being rubbed off by the movement of the ship. Please hold on. Only one third of you will make it through this middle passage. You are not even half way there. STAY ALIVE!"

    Turtle: "But where am I, and where am I going?"
    an evil land"
    Wizard: "you are in a place that some would call a living hell, and you are traveling to

    Hundreds of days later.... cont....

  • CareyCarey | June 23, 2011 9:47 AMReply

    Cont.....

    Weak and dying little Turtle: "Mr. Wizard, why have we stopped and what is that sound hitting the ship?"

    Wizard: "You have arrived at your new home. It is a place called America. You are a slave. You are chattel that will soon be owned by an exploiter of black humans. Your wife is on another ship. Your sister died in the middle passage. While your brother was being lead to the top deck of his dungeon, he jump into the sea. He could no longer bare his pain. You may never see your wife again. It's also possible that she may not want to see you again, because she will be degraded, humiliated, raped and brutalized by her new slave masters. The product of those brutal attacks, her children by her new master, will also be slaves to be sold, or to be used to produce more slaves. Those sounds that you hear outside the ship, are the bodies of slaves that were thrown overboard from several miles out to sea. They died in the final leg of the journey and their bodies have drifted inland. The Governor of the state of South Carolina is appalled at the sight of those bodies. Not because of the death of humans but because of the stench of the bodies floating in his harbor"

    Suffering Little Turtle: "OH HELP ME LORD, I don't want to be a slave anymore! How many are like me? How many of my people have died"

    Wizard: "You asked how many have died on this journey? MILLIONS! This has been going on for hundreds of years. The Holocaust lasted a few years. There will be a severe price to pay for your freedom, if you ever achieve it!"

    Turtle: "I will run, I'd rather die trying to gain my freedom, than to live a life that's less than a dog's"

    Wizard: "Run then my friend. When you get a chance, run, and may God be with you"

    Several years later, the little turtle that wanted to be a slave, is seen withering in pain. He tried to escape his bondage.

    Turtle: "Mr. Wizard, what is this pain!? What is happening to me"

    The Wizard: "For your repeated attempts to run to freedom, you have a yoke around your neck and you have been branded with hot irons, just like cattle , "

    A FEW YEARS LATER:

    The little turtle is seen holding on to life. He has been castrated for his last attempt at freedom. Other slaves are seen hanging from trees with their genitals stuffed in their mouths. Word has spread that hundreds of freed black are being burned at the stake for a protest in the State of New York. The resilience, courage and spirit of the black man can not be broken. Angola Warriors started an uprising on the coastline of South Carolina. They tried to make it to a free colony in the State of Florida. They failed, all were killed.

    Wizard: "Twizzle Twazzle Twizzle Trone, time for this one, to come home. "How many times I tell you? Be just what you is and what you is not. Those that do this (people and turtles), are the happiest lot"

    The Little Turtle and the Wizard sat down for a long conversation. The wizard explained to the turtle that some Negroes believe they have arrived and thus, feel no need to pass down the real thang. They are content with their month of celebration and have forgotten their real past struggles. They'd rather dress to impress and win the big prize that goes along with knowing that famous black negro. The Jewish community has places like the Simon Wiesenthal Center. They will never forget and will not allow others to merge their history into a mere month long celebration of "we have overcome". The Black American has the NAACP and Black History Month.


    Are we there yet? Are you kidding me?! Can a serious film be made about American Slavery? The simple answer is yes, however, as my little journey must have demonstrated, some folks, black and white, ain’t ready for the real thang. They can’t stand the truth and therefore money money money ain’t gonna buy that - Honey.

  • Neziah | June 23, 2011 9:39 AMReply

    Someone should make a slave version of "The Spook Who Sat By The Door", that would be unbelievably amazing.

  • Neziah | June 23, 2011 9:31 AMReply

    Nightjohn and Rosewood are great movies.

  • Josh | June 23, 2011 9:30 AMReply

    If you want to attract audiences you will probably have to add some element of adventure. I would love to see an underground railroad movie, Harriet Tubman led a commando raid for crying out loud.

  • Vanessa | June 23, 2011 9:02 AMReply

    Djeli,

    I don't disagree with you there.

  • BluTopaz | June 23, 2011 8:58 AMReply

    re: blaxploitation flix, weren't most of these movies written/directed by White directors? That era is interesting because studios knew Blacks wanted to see us kicking ass on screen, and they provided the product. This time around with more studios, Black people having tons more money to spend on entertainment and craving better content, instead of being 'exploited' we keep getting the middle finger. Guess it was safer to placate us when we were depicted as buffoon pimps, drug dealers and crazy prostitutes with switchblades in their afros.

    but to the question: Maybe a novel like Song Yet Sung adapted for film would have some success. There was an important time travel aspect in McBride's story that could be compelling, if amped up quite a bit. And also a love story between two of the main characters, a Black woman and man. But historical movies don't do well unless there is some hero anyway, like Schindler's List. Someone mentioned revisionist history and i totally agree, if I'm going to watch a slave film i want to see evil White people die slow painful deaths.

  • Djeli | June 23, 2011 8:35 AMReply

    @ Vanessa

    I actually did my MA thesis on slave narratives, namely the WPA slave narratives which may be what you're referring to. You should know that any historian who reads the WPA narratives is certain to warn that you have to read beneath the surface. Ex-slaves were often giving interviews to white WPA workers (some of them prominent members in town; some even the descendants of their former owners who they may still have worked for), and they did a lot of dissembling--hiding their actual thoughts and telling interviewers what they thought they wanted to hear, an old survival tactic from the slave era. Some even thought, in the midst of the Great Depression when these interviews were taken, that the interviewers were govt officials there to provide them with monies if they spoke favorably. Others were crafty, often saying they were treated well but some *other* owner did horrible things to some *other* person--at times slipping up revealing they were talking about themselves. There's even a marked difference often if the interviewer is black (and Southern) or if he is white, or a black Northerner. Even when they weren't lying, at times you had elderly people who were children during the last years of slavery, and their recollections were those a child remembering easier days than the brutally racist and harsh Jim Crow system they now lived under, especially in the midst of poverty in the Depression. I'm not saying that there weren't some slaves who had different experiences from the norm. But understanding slave voices (what little we have) is often very difficult, as slaves usually kept one face for themselves and another for the larger world. When we read things like the WPA narratives we have peer between the lines, because the truth is often buried in the text

    Vanessa stated:

    >BTW I’ve read MANY slave narratives, I actually own a >book of them. There are quite a few of them saying they >loved their masters and wish to see them again in >heaven. Now they could very well be lying to the white >interviewer or suffered from the Stockholm syndrome (very >likely) or a combination of both. We don’t know and we’ll >never know but it’s worth exploring some of these things. >That’s all.

  • Djeli | June 23, 2011 8:22 AMReply

    as an aside, let's be REAL when we compare how "well" black movies do. Take Rosewood. Historical movies--except in rare instances--usually fare poorly at the box offices. Americans like to see Bey blow things up, rather than investigate the past. Rosewood took about $30 mil to make and grossed 13+ mil in 10 weeks release on 900+ screens. Not good. However, compare the pro-Confederate major Civil War epic Gods and Generals--took about $ 56 mil to make, was in theaters for near 11 weeks on 1500+ screens and STILL grossed slightly less than Rosewood. Not to mention while Rosewood received fair (though not great) reviews;Gods and Generals meanwhile was nearly universally panned, getting mediocre to negative reviews. Yet people often point to the "lack" of success of Rosewood as some example of why serious black/historical movies can't do well. Does Gods and Generals even more dismal showing (in comparison) mean there will be no more Civil War epics? Doubtful.

  • Vanessa | June 23, 2011 8:21 AMReply

    @eshowoman, the cranky film scholar

    it's not a fantasy of mine believe me. Just some facts, most white slave owners in the south during the 19th century did not own slaves or owned a handful they worked alongside with. What were those relationships/stories like? all I'm saying is we either see the evil slaveowner/brutalized slave or happy slave/loving slaveowner in the past.

    I'm sure SOME of the relationships were more complex than this. I already said the institution of slavery is EVIL, but humans are not necessarily all evil or all good.

    BTW I've read MANY slave narratives, I actually own a book of them. There are quite a few of them saying they loved their masters and wish to see them again in heaven. Now they could very well be lying to the white interviewer or suffered from the Stockholm syndrome (very likely) or a combination of both. We don't know and we'll never know but it's worth exploring some of these things. That's all.

  • Lynn | June 23, 2011 8:10 AMReply

    Can a serious film be made about American slavery?? No.

    American slavery is nasty, brutal and dehumanizing and nobody wants to see gruesome graphic images today on screen. Folks would rather watch a documentary about slavery instead of watching scenes depicting poor hungry Black slaves do Massas work.

    I agree with Zeus with this one. "It’s time to move on and start making films where we WIN and KICK ASS like the blaxploitation films did in the 70s."

    Oh, i miss those movies why can't we have Blacks kick ass in film these days?

    Oh and Hollywood would rather create films that show whites in a positive light like in the film "The Help", "Manderlay" or "Invictus".

  • Djeli | June 23, 2011 8:06 AMReply

    Numerous attempts have been made to make stories that deal with certain aspects of slavery--case in point, the much awaited Santo Domingo rebellion biopic. The problem has not been a lack of black audiences for such films (black audiences pretty much were central to the spate of 1970s slavery-era films), but a lack of appetite for such films among Hollywood green lighters and other media "gateway" figures who think slavery is just too touchy a topic (namely for white audiences) to deal with. About the only time this changes, is if the movie is made within the confines of a white-hero dynamic--like Spielberg's Amistad, which managed to put white America at ease by making it more about American exceptionalism than about slavery, and took a lot of historical license to do so. In fact, Danny Glover's Santo Domingo biopic has long been held up not because it won't make a riveting story--but because politically there is fear it will turn off white audiences. Glover himself claimed that he was asked "where are the white heroes" when he attempted to push the film. The reality is that outside of an academic setting, the topic of slavery is still taboo and not something that American society--or many Western societies--want to deal with. That goes for our media industries as well.

  • eshowoman, the cranky film scholar | June 23, 2011 8:05 AMReply

    There are plenty of stories of slaves rebellions, slaves who ran away and all black towns that could be told that would express the resilience and triumphs of black folks. But those would put whites in a bad light and whites they are too narcissistic to allow that.

    as for "There had to be owners and slaves that genuinely loved each other." Where did that "love" go when Black Codes, Jim Crow and the racist pogrom was intimated against blacks? There are hundreds of slave narratives and none of them talk about mutual loving relationships between mater & slave. I think you need to rethink you fantasy.

  • reg | June 23, 2011 7:31 AMReply

    (didn't much like "sankofa" myself)
    but on topic:
    i guess i basically agree with sergio (for once! ;-)) when he says that a realistic film about slavery is unlikely to be made and even less likely to do good box office. i also think mainstream hollywood is just as unlikely to make a nat turner or toussaint l'overture biopic or a sympathic film about any successful slave rebellion. more likely would be some kind of sci-fi allegory can feature wht actors as heroes.
    other than the subtle racism of capitalism, i have no idea why this should be.
    on too many portrayals of black misery: too many for who? for blk people? for wht people? if the story has yet to be really told in full, how can it be too many?
    as an aside: have you seen that commercial for ancestry.com, where the blk guy says shamefacedly that he might find something unpleasant in his family tree? the clear implication being that somehow having slaves as ancestors is something to be ashamed of. i find that mystifying and insulting and, perhaps, racist.
    as for "grey area" films about slave/owner love affairs. sure why not, as long as the basic fact that coercion and force and inhumanity infect every aspect of the relationship, i'm willing to give it chance. otherwise, how is any better than the portrayal of mammy's love for miss scarlet?

  • Marc Furi | June 23, 2011 7:14 AMReply

    I do agree with twhiner in that a good, powerful film about slavery wouldn't come out of America. Although I'd be ecstatic to see a film about a slave uprising that worked and the newly self-liberated get away. That would be empowering for black people to see something like this. I'm pretty sure this happened but all we are taught are the ones that almost happened but didn't succeed. Somehow the successful slave rebellions didn't make it to the history books for future generations to know about.

  • Marc Furi | June 23, 2011 7:07 AMReply

    I've had this conversation many times and totally agree with you. Too much pain for folks to deal with and support. I saw a documentary on the Tulsa genocide and was blown away by the level of brutality of the whites (machine guns and bi-planes!) and that happened in the 20th century and it made me furious for a good 2 months. Hell I'm angry now just thinking about it lol.

    So my solution is what Tarantino did with Inglorious Bastards and write a revisionist history slave narrative. Not sure how 'Unchained' is going to be in that respect but hopefully it will be authentic enough.

    The idea was exemplified in an episode of Boondocks titled the 'Legend of Catcher Freeman'. Sure they smoothed it out with comedy but the 1st 3 minutes of showing an anime kick ass self freed slave who terrorizes the south with martial arts prowess and ninja like fighting skills were quite therapeutic.

    Mandingo is still the most authentic and unapologetic I've seen till this day.

  • Xi | June 23, 2011 6:54 AMReply

    I think "Sankofa" is an excellent film that not only deals with slavery but also the importance of looking back and moving forward with a keen understanding of who you are, and why you are the way you are.

    I'm curious as to why it matters to some people that it's not about black American slavery? I understand we were impacted in different ways in different countries, but does that not mean we aren't able to pull from the movie?

  • twhiner | June 23, 2011 6:19 AMReply

    Sergio:
    You are on it as usual. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with looking back at the wrongs of slavery. You can't really move forward until you've dealt with the past and as long as both "former" masters and slaves refuse to heal this thing, it will never change.

    Long story short. WE'LL NEVER SEE AN AUTHENTIC STORY ABOUT SLAVERY COMING OUT OF THE USA. Period. Gray areas or not folks who comment about this thing have rarely read broadly on the topic. And I'm NOT talking about reading some smarmy KEN BURNS-ificaton of slavery, but reading a range of scholars from different disciplines.

    To those who think we should "get over it" and "get on with it" - I have one word for you: Shoah. Look it up. Or as one of my kid's inept idiot teachers said: "It's too difficult to teach this to kids - while the Jewish Holocaust is taught in FREAKING grammar school?! (Check out the ISBE - Illinois Board of Ed standards for social studies). When I pointed this out, she abruptly changed the subject. Outcome being that my little ones would know more about the Jewish Holocaust than about the kidnapping and bondage that affected over 200 MILLION Africans. Yep, over 200M. Thank God, they lived in a home where we gladly taught them their history.

  • Vanessa | June 23, 2011 5:50 AMReply

    To my comment about "genuine love" between masters/slaves...like I said I don't think in the same way we understand as love today but certainly a very complex feeling in *some* relationships.

    Anyways, I would like to definitely see some slave rebellion type of film where there's a black hero! Why hasn't this been done already? and NOT Django!

  • Zeus | June 23, 2011 5:38 AMReply

    @Monique


    "Black Runner" lol!

    Don't know if you meant to type that but that is a GENUIS title for it! LOL!

  • JMac | June 23, 2011 5:34 AMReply

    Agree to a point - if the film is a true revenge flick the way some people hoped Django would be, I think blacks would get all over that. Nobody wants to see the hardships, the degradation, the exploitation, the raping, the lynching, the maiming, the beating, the powerlessness, the hopelessness unless there's a huge dose of comeuppance that takes up 75% of the film. Forget Nat Turner, there'd need to be a film on the biggest slave rebellion in US history where the majority of the film is on the planning and the execution of the plan... conveniently leaving out any subsequent response from white slavers.

    And sorry, not buying that slave loving master crap. If you're in a position where anything you say and do can negatively impact your life (and the lives of anyone you hold dear) in the most extreme manner possible, whatever actions or emotions springing from that relationship wouldn't have any damn thing to do with "love." The word is survival.

    As for Roots, didn't black people riot after each episode? At least it touched a nerve despite the way it ended.

  • Zeus | June 23, 2011 5:34 AMReply

    This history should be kept to mostly PBS type documentaries. Should not be silenced but left to educate.

    I find it suspect that the only things historically we are in is the stories where we are getting our asses whipped! Mentally and physically. Or stories where we are fetching something for MASSA.

    Tired of it. Need more variety.

    Is it a wonder that films like THE HELP and ROSEWOOD gets greenlit but Hollywood suddenly has a "problem" with black on black love/sex? So we can be shown catching hell but can't be shown loving each other and getting our freak on?!

    Is this also why blaxploitation films disappeared (along with the studios going for the big box office after the success of JAWS)?

    No coincidence to me. They want us to continue to view ourselves as servants and walking "welcome" mattes.

  • Monique | June 23, 2011 5:28 AMReply

    I agree with some of what Zeus and Vanessa said.

    Vanessa, yes I'm sure there were gray areas in regards to some of the Slave/Master relationship - and I'm sure some of those gray areas manifested in ways akin to the Stockholm Syndrome.

    As for Zeus's comment, I've grown weary of black misery films as well, at least in the ways that overall theme has been portrayed in cinema thus far. Because there's all sorts of misery and going back to that 'gray' area again, it's not only black and white, nor is it all about oppression. I personally like melancholy films, it just seems that many of them involving black people is most times centered on race.

    ...and an Idris-Naomie starring Black Runner type film would be awesome! Maybe someone out there can help make that happen.

    Back to the topic at hand, I do think American Chattel Slavery can be presented in a serious way on film. It's not something I would personally want to cover as a filmmaker but there has to be some way to tell a story about it that honestly reaches people. Maybe the visionary who can do it right hasn't been born yet. I dunno.

    Oh and Sergio, I think I mentioned Queen once on the podcast, I had that book and actually watched the miniseries when it first aired. For me, the crux of the story was about Queen finding a place where she fit in the world, during a time of slavery, then Jim Crow -- it was her story of finding acceptance while being both black and white. It was a very sad story. I found little 'romance' in it. And we can debate whether the relationship between Queen's mom and her slave master was 'as' founded in true love as portrayed in the book and film but remember Alex Haley wrote that story...a black man...so go figure!

  • Damone | June 23, 2011 5:22 AMReply

    "I don’t think it has been explored fully."

    Agreed, Vanessa!!

  • Damone | June 23, 2011 5:21 AMReply

    Hmm...this is an interesting topic. Where I definitely agree in part with you Sergio, I also, in ways, disagree.

    I think that a film, if helmed (is that a word? Lol.) by the right people, and written by the right people, could be a powerful tool in the liberation of my people.

    For instance, a film that deals with the direct correlation of the "Willie Lynch Letter" (though I believe he has been revealed to be a conjured character) and how some of my brothas/sistas are still acting today. The link between the House Nigger/Field Nigger then and the "war" between Light Skinned/Dark Skinned folks now. Or the breaking of the family, which in many cases forced the Black woman to step up to the plate, etc. etc. etc.

    Maybe this won't be a box office hit, and perhaps that shouldn't even be the goal. Maybe it should be an independent film, written/produced/etc. by Black folks, in an attempt to educate those of us who need to be educated, on what went down, and how it's STILL affecting us today.

    I'd be more than interested in watching. And hell, the actor/writer/producer in my would be quite interested in helping bring something like that to the screen.

    But that's just me.
    What do y'all think? :)

  • Vanessa | June 23, 2011 5:00 AMReply

    I DISAGREE.

    Were most slaves "happy" to serve a master/mistress?? NO.

    Were all slaves brutalized/dehumanized and whipped?? NO.

    Was the institution of slavery wront/evil? YES.
    Yes, there were many HORRORS in slavery, but
    there's also a lot of gray area here.

    There had to be owners and slaves that genuinly loved each other, I don't care what anybody says. They were human after all.

    There were probably many complex relationships and emotions and many different types of slaves/owner dynamics.

    I don't think it has been explored fully.

  • Zeus | June 23, 2011 4:57 AMReply

    Agreed. It's time to move on and start making films where we WIN and KICK ASS like the blaxploitation films did in the 70s.

    Of course better written and more polished but have the same spirit.

    Its easy for white execs to allow stories where we are THE HELP. hint hint.

    I would love to make a BLADE RUNNER type, sci-fi, romance action film with Idris Elba and Naomie Harris. Both using their original British accents.

    Now that is one example of where black film needs to go. EMPOWERMENT! THINKING OUT THE BOX.

    Enough with the God damn black misery buffet!

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