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Harry Lennix: 'Black Filmmakers Give Us Terrible Images & Messages. I Reject Them Wholesale'

by Tambay A. Obenson
August 16, 2013 5:53 PM
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Harry Lennix isn't done yet apparently! 

Recall Sergio's recent interview with him in which he referred to Lee Daniels' The Butler as "Niggerfied... historical porn" after reading pages of the script, for which he was apparently offered a part - a post that generated lots of debate, as you'd imagine, and still continues to do so. Read it HERE if you missed it.

This time around, Lennix has taken to penning an op-ed for The Wrap (next time Harry, come to us for that sort of thing), in which he voices his rejection of what he calls "terrible images and messages" created by black filmmakers today, adding that, "I reject them wholesale -- our creations must have beauty."

Titled Black Entertainment Depicts a Stream of Craven and Depraved Sociopaths - Let's Reclaim It, here's a snip from the piece:

With greater frequency black filmmakers are saying terrible things about the inhabitants of Black America. While viewing a black film of the recent past (choose your own), I saw black women weeping their eyes out, scene after scene, abused and victimized by black men in a relentless parade of misery. What joy, I wondered, is to be found in this? Even in pathos, of course there is release. But surely there is a difference between pathos and sadomasochism.

Ironically, very little of artistic merit or craft is to be found in the dramatically bereft constructions of the other variety of black movie. Many of these projects feature very talented and attractive casts, slick direction, and high production values. The subject matter is seldom of great ambition or depth. They are designed to please the broadest possible demographic of black ticket buyers. Most of this work is innocent and innocuous enough, and thank goodness for this alternative. That stipulated, it would be less than honest to point to but a small few of these as artistically satisfying.

There appears to be a formula at work. On one side, form follows function: entire histories are corrupted, twisted fantasies concocted, so that the filmmakers can elicit the baser instincts of an audience. Then there is the inverse where function follows form: gorgeous people in thinly dramatic situations, scarcely requiring craft and imagination to execute.

All that said, once you get past the first 3/4 of his invective, towards the end of the piece, you'll see that, ultimately, the piece's purpose is really to plug the release of his upcoming new film, Mr Sophistication - a project we've been tracking for about 2 years now. 

Lennix makes the case for his new film being an attempt to "reclaim the definition of 'black film,'" and showing what is possible, instead of merely lamenting the status quo.

Directed by Danny Green, with a cast that includes, in addition to Lennix, RichardBrooks, GinaTorres, Rick Fox, Bruce McGillTatum O’Neal, Robert Patrick, Paloma Guzman, and Niki Crawford, Mr Sophistication's synopsis reads:

Mr Sophistication is the story of Ron Waters, who was the hottest young comic in Hollywood in the 90′s, and a personal protege of Richard Pryor. His political humor and his general “realness” made him one of a kind. His behavior as he climbed up the ladder caused such controversy that he had to leave Hollywood. After a self-imposed exile, Ron is back, having a second chance at fame. He’s also having a second chance at love – his wife wants to keep her man; the girl wants a fresh start. He wants to change the world.

Lennix doesn't say when exactly audiences can expect to see the film in theaters, although a recent update on the film's Facebook page says that it's coming in September, but with no specific day given. 

Per Lennix's op-ed:

At the time of this writing my company, Exponent Media Group (EMG), is on the precipice of releasing our first film. It is called “Mr. Sophistication.” We are proud of the film and we definitely hope that you will see and enjoy it. It is something that we poured our best efforts into, and have aspired as much as we might to refine its form, beauty, and entirety.

So there you have it! An op-ed on a mainstream movie website, with a provocative title and first 3/4, but, ultimately, is likely meant to stir up conversation, and interest in his next film, ahead of its release in a month.

Ho-hum... If he truly does feel as he states, Mr Lennix really should see more indie black films, and maybe also consider expanding his definition of what a "black film" is beyond the USA.

Feel free to read the full piece HERE.

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  • CCW | August 20, 2013 9:59 AMReply

    I'm just shocked by Harry Lennix both as a Black man and fellow Chicagoan. Like others, I was in agreement up to a certain point. Then when he went in on Black filmmakers all together, I shook my head in shame. Apparently he hasn't come across the likes of Dennis Dortch, Craig Ross Jr., Kaar'mu Kush, Barry Jenkins, and Terrence Nance to name a few. Lennix must still carry that residue of that Uncle Tom he played in "Mo' Money". I'm just saying.

  • Blackman | August 20, 2013 12:44 AMReply

    Harry Lennix writes breathlessly well. It is ALWAYS a treat to read a Black Man's pen. He praised as well as critiqued. He is NOT petty.

    Petty people do not SEE the GOOD. This man is of a genuine wholesome CENTER.

    He knows his path as a Blackman, artist, writer, producer, etc. and it AINT denigrating other Black people.

    Besides, aren't ya'll sick of that low vibe shit?

    If you NOT. You hurtin, hatin, or dead.

  • Jose | August 19, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    Can't agree that it's somehow grandstanding to talk about his own work as a better alternative to the stuff that's out there. Academics do it all the time, the critique scholarship and then put themselves forward. Is there any reason to think Lennix is doing this to make himself a buck? Or does he just believe in the quality of his work. Maybe his work isn't any better, but that's a debate worth having. Criticizing him for self promotion seems misguided.

  • Keith Josef | August 18, 2013 8:58 AMReply

    I am a huge admirer of Harry Lennix and his incredible commitment to his craft. He delivers quality and breath-full performances in all that he touches. However, I'm a bit disappointed in his grandstanding against what he calls "Niggerfied" black films. Yes, there's some questionable stuff out there that's irresponsible and exhausting, but there's also some great films. In fact, filmmakers like Rashaad Ernesto Green, Ava DuVernay, Victoria Mahoney, Steven McQueen and Andrew Dosunmu are doing their damndest to change the face of the black narrative and re-introduce the complexity that shapes all of our lives or points of view. It feels like Mr. Lennix is standing tall on super-ego. I say this (not because I want it to be true) because I don't see any evidence that he's supporting any of these new films or efforts to bring complexity to black cinema. I don't see any evidence that he's taking a stand and funneling his monies or energies into creating a foundation that supports filmmakers. I only hear him lament about so-called "Niggerfied" films and that our films should have beauty. Is the assumption he's the only who knows what beauty looks like or how to bring it to our films? Again, he's clearly not watched the films of Ava DuVernay or Andrew Dusunmu. That's awesome about his upcoming film, but I get the feeling that Mr. Lennix is geared up to show us "how it's supposed to be done" and that's a bit condescending. Again, bravo to him, but I do hope he joins the collective efforts of so many who want to bring complexity to black filmmaking. He's somewhat of a celebrity and he's the image or power to help. I want to read an article where he writes on behalf of THAT.

  • Donella | August 18, 2013 8:21 AMReply

    While I didn't read the script that Mr. Lennix read, I did see The Butler. It was Lee Daniels' at his best. He raised his game and found highly-skilled players to go for the win.

    I did see that Oprah Winfrey leveled some of the more "extra" aspects of the Gloria character and she was right to do so. Her interpretation of that character has been universally-praised. David Oyewelo did a tremendous job. Forest Whitaker was the quiet presence who held everyone together. All this due to the direction of Daniels and his persistence in gathering support to get the job done.

    It may be that Lennix read aspects of the script that revealed pathology unnecessary to the storyline (because Daniels has done this in the past), this time, it did not translate to the screen. Likely because he worked with veteran actors who knew better than to allow it.

    The theater I was in had a mixed crowd of men/women, Black/White, old/young that laughed, cried, and then clapped at the end.

    The Butler is a job well-done.

  • Blackman | August 20, 2013 12:50 AM

    THANK GAWWD, Okra was there to CHECK THAT BUSTED PUNK: Lee Daniels.

    Dood is low rent. We need more actors/actresses to STAND UP to dumbfucks like these and rearrange black narratives back to the positive frame.

    not some SHOCK AND AWE premise that denigrates black folks. Lee Daniels is psychologically unstable.

  • j | August 18, 2013 3:39 AMReply

    Harry makes valid points and he demonstrates integrity and shows he wont settle for less .Which is what most of the newer generations are all about they examplify the negatives of the film industry which is all about political business interests instead of artistic integrity good for him for standing his ground with his belief and values .He shows that there is hope as far a good quality actors still existing hes daring and uncompromising .He is all about elavating himself as and artist to higher levels which is what all artists and actor should strive to be .They should learn to not bring everything down to there level which means nothing but to raise the value of things to a transcendant higher undsterand of life .

  • floyd webb | August 18, 2013 1:25 AMReply

    Many of us who WANT to be in "Hollywood" adopt the worldview of that culture. It is a much more a culture than it is a physical place and what does one need to fit into that cultural worldview? Therein lies the problem.

  • Michelle Materre | August 17, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    Obviously Harry Lennix hasn't seen films such as "Free Angela" by Shola Lynch, "ELZA" by Mariette Monpierre, "Mother of George" by Andrew Donsumu, and the list could go on and on! Why is it that Hollywood is still the "mother/father/god" of all things cinema related for people of color? I think that Shadow and Act and programs like Creatively Speaking and Imagenation and AFFRM have more than proven otherwise!

  • Donella | August 18, 2013 8:31 AM

    Ava DuVernay [Middle of Nowhere] and Lee Daniels [Monsters Ball] told the same story [power to move past tragedy and find love and life again] VASTLY different ways.

    One was vulgar, loud, and exploitative. The was thoughtful, quiet, and hopeful.

    VERY different movies.

  • jasmine | August 17, 2013 9:07 PM

    Wow. Just wow! You lumped Ava Duvernay with Tyler and Lee Daniels?! I don't remember Emayatzy Corinealdi or Salli Richardson-Whitfield in some x rated sex scene.

  • Lauren | August 17, 2013 8:58 PM

    @Jaysmack! Man you are on target here! major cosign!

  • JaySmack | August 17, 2013 8:51 PM

    Had it ever occurred to you that perhaps Mr Lennix HAS seen fare like "Free Angela" and it is exactly that which prompted him to say what he has?
    Let's be brutally honest here, because clearly some black people just don't get it. Black filmmakers have become part of the problem. They know there's a certain way (i.e. racist iconography) that Hollywood likes to see black people portrayed and they cater to it. Consider Russell Simmons "Harriet Tubman sex tape." It's blatantly obvious he, and black filmmakers like him, are looking for a white audience. We all know this.
    And yet even black people who should know better will cheer him, and those like him, for this! But Russell Simmons isn't the only one. There is a formula, of sorts, that black filmmakers know they have to follow if they want to break out of the micro-budget indie "ghetto." That formula: Denigrate black people and watch the doors fly open for you.
    These white media types have the ability to make this tripe into part of the culture by carpet bombing every media outlet with promotions of this material and repeating/reshowing the work which keeps it alive and "relevant" in the public mind. They can heap "awards" on the makers of this work, which to audience translates into an undeniable certification of artistic legitimacy. And of course they make these people RICH!
    Even though the work is total racist propaganda their money and media control can make it an artificially "legitimate artistic accomplishment," when in truth it was a cherry-picked piece of drek the powers-that-be felt they could use.

    Take Ava DuVernay for example. She languishes in obscurity forever, working as a studio assistant, basically a secretary/personal assistant. Her first "films" are a couple of low-budget, typical female-coming-of-age stuff, but they predictably go nowhere. Then she makes a movie about a black man in prison and voila! She is the belle of the white media ball, win's the Palm D'or, and is instantly given a biopic about Dr King. Like that her career goes from the moon straight to the stars with no stops in-between.
    Lee Daniels was a nobody until he made a movie about a black man who is --wait for it!-- in prison, who gets executed by a white man, and then said white man goes on to have anal sex with the dead black man's widow who begs for it. Begs the guy who took her husband's life to all but rape her! Instantly awards and fame are his.
    Then Lee Daniels makes "Precious" and after that he goes from being a talentless chump to being a talentless chump with the ability to arbitrarily greenlight projects.
    But even without the machinations of white studio types Duvernay and Daniels are symptomatic of a FAR larger problem with black filmmakers.
    The black filmmakers working today produce low-brow fare and seem incapable of producing anything other than that, let's just be honest about that. They can hide behind rhetoric about "appealing to the market," "investors want to make their money back," but all these lies/excuses fall apart when one simply considers that most black filmmakers labor in obscurity. They aren't appealing to any market, nor are they making "investors" a profit. Whatever "merits" some may try to pretend Duvernay's work has, even they know Ava DuVernay's stuff is at best just more thinly-veiled relationship drama that women can obsess over. Her work says absolutely nothing. Though it does give whites cover to smile and strut over material that they would be called "racist" for presenting. That's the devils' bargain black filmmakers know they have to make. And they willingly do it.
    The crap that Tyler Perry, Ava Duvernay and Lee Daniels put out does real violence to black people's image, and degrades black culture because our people look at this sewage as somehow being a legitimate expression of genuine, black creative thought --and it's not!
    So-called "black" independent production companies are just as bad. Making crap that dumbs down audiences by glorifying --and legitimizing-- the "urban" nonsense that is choking the life out of black America. If it's not dysfunctional people obsessing over their dysfunctional dating/sex/marriage/lives, then it's drugs dealers, Tyler-Perry-wannabes etc.
    They can hide behind rhetoric about "investors" insisting on it, or "appealing to the market," but the truth is they are trying to win the cooning-for-Hollywood sweepstakes.
    But there's a party in all this far worse than white studio execs or their black suck-ups.
    And it's the black people on the internet who cheer these clowns. They are the ones who ought to be the most ashamed of themselves. They celebrate people who are everything that's wrong with the way film treats black people.
    Black filmmakers today don't produce work that's profound, it's not moving and not important. It's poorly-written, poorly-directed, and poorly acted. The white people who cheer it don't do so because they think it's any good. They do it because it gives them something to psychologically masturbate to. And while white media-types and internet bloggers are diddling their egos, black people's collective mentality is being bludgeoned into nothing and our culture is being degraded to even less than that.
    Harry Lennix assails black filmmakers for this and he is right!

  • BluTopaz | August 17, 2013 4:32 PM

    Agreed, and I find it interesting that Mr. Lennix seems to lump all of Black cinema into one pot with no distinctions at all. His over generalizations come off as lazy, particularly since he did not reference any of the films nor movements you have mentioned here.

  • belmont1929 | August 17, 2013 2:57 PMReply

    Thanks Harry for eloquently stating, and explaining, a few of the issues we struggle with when making Black film. Insightful analysis in the interest of art that elevates. Who cares where the interview was printed? If a writer approaches him is he supposed to refuse to talk while waiting for a Black venue? I love Shadow and Act, and its focus on work from Black artists, but hell, didn't you move to IndieWire???

    I revel and celebrate when films succeed in creatively depicting Black life without the kind of pandering, simplistic, repetitious, formulaic drivel that we are sometimes fed. I recognize and support independent Black film makers and their quest to explore all of the nuances of Black life without concern that their work will be called 'Black'.

  • Turner | August 17, 2013 3:14 PM

    @Belmont1929---I love Shadow and Act, and its focus on work from Black artists, but hell, didn't you move to IndieWire??? Exactly! Sometimes people like to forget what the real deal is! S&A ain't on bossip and who really owns that site anyway? We're all in this mess together; so stupid to pretend that anything is all black or all white. Let's move on. Geeze!

  • ScriptTease | August 17, 2013 8:47 AMReply

    I just want to see films starring Black Folks without making references about race, without all the heartache and pain, without all the cooning and clowning, without all the gangbanging, Etc...... but no one seems to be listening.

  • CC | August 17, 2013 3:43 PM

    Harry, BLOW IT OUT YOUR ASS and stop pandering.

    @ Lauren, taking a thought from the Emotions' song "Don't Ask My Neighbor", I don't know why you referenced your friend's opinion (throwing her under the bus), speak for yourself. I mean, have you seen black films that YOU'VE enjoyed? Furthermore, speaking for yourself, have all the black films that you've (apparently) begrudgingly watched been filled with cooning, clowning and gangbanging, etc? I know the answer so...

    PLEASE!!! Please stop talking silly while throwing all black films under the bus. What... you're not dropping silliness on the floor? Sure you are... to imply the all "Mainstream" films are superior to all "black" films is the silliest and the most regrettable comment of the month.

  • scripttease | August 17, 2013 2:20 PM

    @Lauren, it's a shame, and I'm pleading the fifth on my film choices. LOL

  • lauren | August 17, 2013 9:53 AM

    @Scripttease---You're right... I asked a friend a while back had she seen a particular "black" film, (so forgettable I can't even name it now) and she lamented the fact that she can't watch black films because they're too painful. She being a proud black woman and an avid cinefile couldn't bear them. See the hundreds of posts on the thread "Why white people don't like black films" makes me think there should be a "Why black people hate black films" thread as well and the nuclear question to ask any cinefile; addicted to the art of film, great writing, direction and performance, who's also black; to honestly answer the question :"If you were only allowed to watch; "Mainstream" films or "Black" films for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Ouch! There's a "Sophie's Choice" moment right there.

  • JEFTCG | August 17, 2013 2:26 AMReply

    Agreed. As filmmakers, it would be dangerous for us to dismiss Harry's viewpoint as "merely a plug". There is truth to his opening statements.

  • 90056 | August 17, 2013 2:08 AMReply

    Form follows function: Precious, Colored Girls, and others that peddle to the fears of the black woman.

    Function follows form: Homogeneous black romantic comedies: think like a man, best man, (Fill in the blank____man), that peddle to the hopes of black woman.

    I love that he not only states this, and defines it, but that he fearlessly rejects it.

  • James | August 17, 2013 1:03 AMReply

    I dont' think its fair to dismiss Lennix's statement as a conflated plug for his own project. I think what he is saying has merit and deserves an ear. If we are dissatisfied with the images of Blacks in media then we can't support those works that perpetuate the problem, and if possible offer alternatives. Seeing more Black indies is the problem...we don't! They don't get play.

  • AccidentalVisitor | August 17, 2013 12:13 AMReply

    I'm assuming the first film that he is referring to is "For Colored Girls" (and he would be right about that mess). I'm assuming the next group of films are the slick, black romances such as "Think Like a Man" (he would be right about those too). But he indeed may need to broaden his horizons, as other have suggested, to more independent works by black filmmakers.

  • bee | August 16, 2013 11:15 PMReply

    did anyone see casting director leah daniels butler go in on him on twitter?

  • lauren | August 16, 2013 10:33 PMReply

    Despite Mr Lennix self promotion motivation for the above, sad to say it's all too true.

  • Um No | August 16, 2013 11:32 PM

    Truth is all that matters. I don't give a damn if he holds a Pepsi can while talking. Its the damn truth. PERIOD.

  • critical acclaim | August 16, 2013 9:05 PMReply

    "all black filmmakers are evil and ignorant except me - go see my movie!" and then gives it to a white site. Total joke he is. Lost all respect. None, zero left.

  • Synthia | August 18, 2013 4:33 AM

    I agree Critical Acclaim. As I read Harry's essay, I found myself agreeing with him until I got to the part where he blamed only black filmmakers for the negative portrayals of blacks. I see right through him. He's one of the pretentious apologists for blacks, cozying up to whites and saying "Look, I'm not like them. I'm better."

    All these terrible, archaic and one-dimensional portrayals of blacks by white directors and white writers and he doesn't have the guts to include them in this rant. Oh, no. No, it's easier to bash black creatives, to bash your own. Something about that is spineless and weak. Without reading whole scripts and seeing whole movies, he's reached his conclusions, whether it's justified or not.

    He has a very narrow and limited aperture for viewing black film. He's ashamed of having to face the struggles of blacks on camera because he wants to be the condescending black superman that transcends history, that is too good for memories of history.

    I find this man to be despicable and I feel the poisonous energy from his joining the great social sport of black bashing. There is NOTHING noble about this... dismissing all black films without distinction...ALL, whole and in parcel. People can make excuses for him, but he speaks in dangerous and calculated generalizations, appealing to the great white masses to separate him from the black trash.

    He is in ominous company. Of course he chose an white venue for this. It fits his function. Form does follow function indeed.

    Regarding The Butler, there is nothing in the Butler that is demeaning or denigrating to the black existence, especially when the butler's own sociopolitical struggle is juxtaposed against the black civil rights activists and revolutionaries to create a complex balanced picture of the era. And there is plenty of loving and supportive black moments in it, although he claims these don't exist in black cinema.

    Harry Lennix is quite the artificial intellect, feigning to respect aesthetics but he demands only beauty in the black film experience as if he doesn't know that tragedy and suffering are also beautiful and as much a part of great art of any culture as triumph and heroism. In fact, all these traits often converge.

    Completely unimpressed with this man and his thinly veiled contempt for the totality of the black experience.

  • Carl | August 16, 2013 11:30 PM

    And your one of the convicted butt hurt negros he is talking about so of course YOU mad. lol

  • Amari | August 16, 2013 8:56 PMReply

    Sometimes I wonder if people with such negative views of Black Film want only positive one dimensional characters; think there is a real trend of shining the worst bits of black culture; or they simply want Will Smith type roles where the color of their skin has nothing to do with the character and black culture can just be something they deal with in real life as they escape the reality or being black.

  • JaySmack | August 17, 2013 8:56 PM

    "I wonder if people...want only positive one dimensional characters"
    What Lennix wants are movies stop portraying black people as negative "one dimensional characters."
    And your idea of "black culture" seems more like a white suburban teenager's wet dream than any progressive or appropriate group identity. You may love seeing black people run into the ground, that may be "normal" for you, but it's not normal for anyone else.

  • Monique a Williams | August 17, 2013 5:41 PM

    @FILMGUY I agree!

  • FilmGuy | August 16, 2013 11:53 PM

    I'd love to see a movie with black characters where their "blackness" wasn't the focus of the role. That would make them sort of...human? Hmm...

  • Miles Ellison | August 16, 2013 9:46 PM

    To be fair, there's not exactly a glut of positive portrayals of black people in any dimension. For this to be a real issue, such positivity would have to be a lot more prevalent than it is, and it isn't prevalent because there isn't really any demand for it.

  • No | August 16, 2013 8:54 PMReply

    Mr. Lennix doesn't cite any evidence of the kind of films that evoke that ill behavior. This lessens the impact of his indictment.

  • Um No | August 16, 2013 11:28 PM

    The hell it does!

  • JMac | August 16, 2013 8:16 PMReply

    Mr. Sophistication sounds like a Dave Chappelle biography. The film's website doesn't give me a good feeling and seems to pander to a different element. Business as usual unfortunately. Hope I'm wrong though.

  • violet | August 16, 2013 7:52 PMReply

    Was he referring to For Colored Girls when he mentioned " a black woman being victimized?

  • No | August 16, 2013 8:52 PM

    Or Bill Duke's "Dark Girls"?

  • Miles Ellison | August 16, 2013 7:58 PM

    Either that or Precious. Or any number of films, to be honest.

  • blah, blah | August 16, 2013 6:38 PMReply

    Mr. Sophistication betta' be the bomb!

  • Linda | August 16, 2013 5:57 PMReply

    *sort not sought

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